Sebastian met his look evenly. “I don’t know what you mean, Morgenstern.”

“He means,” said Alec, stepping forward, “that if you really think what you just did was justified, you won’t mind coming with us to the Accords Hall and explaining yourself to the Council. Will you?”

A beat passed before Sebastian smiled—the smile that had charmed Clary before, but now there was something a little off-kilter about it, like a picture hanging slightly crookedly on a wall. “Of course not.” He moved toward them slowly, almost strolling, as if he didn’t have a worry in the world. As if he hadn’t just committed murder. “Of course,” he said, “it is a little odd that you’re so upset that I killed a man when Jace was planning on cutting his fingers off one by one.”

Alec’s mouth tightened. “He wouldn’t have done it.”

“You—” Jace looked at Sebastian with loathing. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Or maybe,” Sebastian said, “you’re really just angry because I kissed your sister. Because she wanted me.”

“I did not,” Clary said, but neither of them was looking at her. “Want you, I mean.”

“She has this little habit, you know—the way she gasps when you kiss her, like she’s surprised?” Sebastian had come to a stop now, just in front of Jace, and was smiling like an angel. “It’s rather endearing; you must have noticed it.”

Jace looked as if he wanted to throw up. “My sister—”

“Your sister,” Sebastian said. “Is she? Because you two don’t act like it. You think other people can’t see the way you look at each other? You think you’re hiding the way you feel? You think everyone doesn’t think it’s sick and unnatural? Because it is.”

“That’s enough.” The look on Jace’s face was murderous.

“Why are you doing this?” Clary said. “Sebastian, why are you saying all these things?”

“Because I finally can,” Sebastian said. “You’ve no idea what it’s been like, being around the lot of you these past few days, having to pretend I could stand you. That the sight of you didn’t make me sick. You,” he said to Jace, “every second you’re not panting after your own sister, you’re whining on and on about how your daddy didn’t love you. Well, who could blame him? And you, you stupid bitch”—he turned to Clary—“giving that priceless book away to a half-breed warlock; have you got a single brain cell in that tiny head of yours? And you—” He directed his next sneer at Alec. “I think we all know what’s wrong with you. They shouldn’t let your kind in the Clave. You’re disgusting.”

Alec paled, though he looked more astonished than anything else. Clary couldn’t blame him—it was hard to look at Sebastian, at his angelic smile, and imagine he could say these things. “Pretend you could stand us?” she echoed. “But why would you have to pretend that unless you were … unless you were spying on us,” she finished, realizing the truth even as she spoke it. “Unless you were a spy for Valentine.”

Sebastian’s handsome face twisted, the full mouth flattening, his long, elegant eyes narrowing to slits. “And finally they get it,” he said. “I swear, there are utterly lightless demon dimensions out there that are less dim than the bunch of you.”

“We may not be all that bright,” Jace said, “but at least we’re alive.”

Sebastian looked at him in disgust. “I’m alive,” he pointed out.

“Not for long,” said Jace. Moonlight exploded off the blade of his knife as he flung himself at Sebastian, his motion so fast that it seemed blurred, faster than any human movement Clary had ever seen.

Until now.

Sebastian darted aside, missing the blow, and caught Jace’s knife arm as it descended. The knife clattered to the ground, and then Sebastian had Jace by the back of his jacket. He lifted him and flung him with incredible strength. Jace flew through the air, hit the wall of the Gard with bone-cracking force, and crumpled to the ground.

“Jace!” Clary’s vision went white. She ran at Sebastian to choke the life out of him. But he sidestepped her and brought his hand down as casually as if he were swatting an insect aside. The blow caught her hard on the side of the head, sending her spinning to the ground. She rolled over, blinking a red mist of pain out of her eyes.

Alec had taken his bow from his back; it was drawn, an arrow notched at the ready. His hands didn’t waver as he aimed at Sebastian. “Stay where you are,” he said, “and put your hands behind your back.”

Sebastian laughed. “You wouldn’t really shoot me,” he said. He moved toward Alec with an easy, careless step, as if he were striding up the stairs to his own front door.

Alec’s eyes narrowed. His hands went up in a graceful, even series of movements; he drew the arrow back and loosed it. It flew toward Sebastian—

And missed. Sebastian had ducked or moved somehow, Clary couldn’t tell, and the arrow had gone past him, lodging in the trunk of a tree. Alec had time only for a momentary look of surprise before Sebastian was on him, wrenching the bow out of his grasp. Sebastian snapped it in his hands—cracked it in half, and the crack of the splintering made Clary wince as if she were hearing bones splinter. She tried to drag herself into a sitting position, ignoring the searing pain in her head. Jace was lying a few feet away from her, utterly still. She tried to get up, but her legs didn’t seem to be working properly.

Sebastian tossed the shattered halves of the bow aside and closed in on Alec. Alec already had a seraph blade out, glittering in his hand, but Sebastian swept it aside as Alec came at him—swept it aside and caught Alec by the throat, almost lifting him off his feet. He squeezed mercilessly, viciously, grinning as Alec choked and struggled. “Lightwood,” he breathed. “I’ve taken care of one of you already today. I hadn’t expected I’d be lucky enough to get to do it twice.”

He jerked backward, like a puppet whose strings had been yanked. Released, Alec slumped to the ground, his hands at his throat. Clary could hear his rattling, desperate breath—but her eyes were on Sebastian. A dark shadow had affixed itself to his back and was clinging to him like a leech. He clawed at his throat, gagging and choking as he spun in place, clawing at the thing that had hold of his throat. As he turned, the moonlight fell on him, and Clary saw what it was.

It was Simon. His arms were wrapped around Sebastian’s neck, his white incisors glittering like bone needles. It was the first time Clary had seen him actually look fully like a vampire since the night he’d risen from his grave, and she stared in horrified amazement, unable to look away. His lips were curled back in a snarl, his fangs fully extended and sharp as daggers. He sank them into Sebastian’s forearm, opening up a long red tear in the skin.

Sebastian yelled out loud and flung himself backward, landing hard on the ground. He rolled, Simon half on top of him, the two of them clawing at each other, tearing and snarling like dogs in a pit. Sebastian was bleeding in several places when he finally staggered to his feet and delivered two hard kicks to Simon’s rib cage. Simon doubled over, clutching his midsection. “You foul little tick,” Sebastian snarled, drawing his foot back for another blow.

“I wouldn’t,” said a quiet voice.

Clary’s head jerked up, sending another starburst of pain shooting behind her eyes. Jace stood a few feet from Sebastian. His face was bloody, one eye swollen nearly shut, but in one hand was a blazing seraph blade, and the hand that held it was steady. “I’ve never killed a human being with one of these before,” said Jace. “But I’m willing to try.”

Sebastian’s face twisted. He glanced down once at Simon, and then raised his head and spat. The words he said after that were in a language Clary didn’t recognize—and then he turned with the same terrifying swiftness with which he’d moved when he’d attacked Jace, and vanished into the darkness.

“No!” Clary cried. She tried to raise herself to her feet, but the pain was like an arrow searing its way through her brain. She crumpled to the damp grass. A moment later Jace was leaning over her, his face pale and anxious. She looked up at him, her vision blurring—it had to be blurred, didn’t it, or she could never have imagined that whiteness around him, a sort of light—

She heard Simon’s voice and then Alec’s, and something was handed down to Jace—a stele. Her arm burned, and a moment later the pain began to recede, and her head cleared. She blinked up at the three faces hovering over hers. “My head …”

“You have a concussion,” Jace said. “The iratze should help, but we ought to get you to a Clave doctor. Head injuries can be tricky.” He handed the stele back to Alec. “Do you think you can stand up?”

She nodded. It was a mistake. Pain shot through her again as hands reached down and helped her to her feet. Simon. She leaned against him gratefully, waiting for her balance to return. She still felt as if she might fall over at any minute.

Jace was scowling. “You shouldn’t have attacked Sebastian like that. You didn’t even have a weapon. What were you thinking?”

“What we were all thinking.” Alec, unexpectedly, came to her defense. “That he’d just thrown you through the air like a softball. Jace, I’ve never seen anyone get the better of you like that.”

“I—he surprised me,” Jace said a little reluctantly. “He must have had some kind of special training. I wasn’t expecting it.”

“Yeah, well.” Simon touched his rib cage, wincing. “I think he kicked in a couple of my ribs. It’s okay,” he added at Clary’s worried look. “They’re healing. But Sebastian’s definitely strong. Really strong.” He looked at Jace. “How long do you think he was standing there in the shadows?”

Jace looked grim. He glanced among the trees in the direction Sebastian had gone. “Well, the Clave will catch him—and curse him, probably. I’d like to see them put the same curse on him they put on Hodge. That would be poetic justice.”

Simon turned aside and spat into the bushes. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, his face twisted into a grimace. “His blood tastes foul—like poison.”

“I suppose we can add that to his list of charming qualities,” said Jace. “I wonder what else he was up to tonight.”

“We need to get back to the Hall.” The look on Alec’s face was strained, and Clary remembered that Sebastian had said something to him, something about the other Lightwoods…. “Can you walk, Clary?”

She drew away from Simon. “I can walk. What about Hodge? We can’t just leave him.”

“We have to,” said Alec. “There’ll be time to come back for him if we all survive the night.”

As they left the garden, Jace paused, drew off his jacket, and laid it over Hodge’s slack, upturned face. Clary wanted to go to Jace, put a hand on his shoulder even, but something in the way he held himself told her not to. Even Alec didn’t go near him or offer a healing rune, despite the fact that Jace was limping as he walked down the hill.

They moved together down the zigzag path, weapons drawn and at the ready, the sky lit red by the burning Gard behind them. But they saw no demons. The stillness and eerie light made Clary’s head throb; she felt as if she were in a dream. Exhaustion gripped her like a vise. Just putting one foot in front of the other was like lifting a block of cement and slamming it down, over and over. She could hear Jace and Alec talking up ahead on the path, their voices faintly blurred despite their proximity.

Alec was speaking softly, almost pleading. “Jace, the way you were talking up there, to Hodge. You can’t think like that. Being Valentine’s son, it doesn’t make you a monster. Whatever he did to you when you were a kid, whatever he taught you, you have to see it’s not your fault—”

“I don’t want to talk about this, Alec. Not now, not ever. Don’t ask me about it again.” Jace’s tone was savage, and Alec fell silent. Clary could almost feel his hurt. What a night, Clary thought. A night of so much pain for everyone.

She tried not to think of Hodge, of the pleading, pitiful look on his face before he’d died. She hadn’t liked Hodge, but he hadn’t deserved what Sebastian had done to him. No one did. She thought of Sebastian, of the way he’d moved, like sparks flying. She’d never seen anyone but Jace move like that. She wanted to puzzle it out—what had happened to Sebastian? How had a cousin of the Penhallows managed to go so wrong, and how had they never noticed? She’d thought he’d wanted to help her save her mother, but he’d only wanted to get the Book of the White for Valentine. Magnus had been wrong—it hadn’t been because of the Lightwoods that Valentine had found out about Ragnor Fell. It had been because she’d told Sebastian. How could she have been so stupid?

Appalled, she barely noticed as the path turned into an avenue, leading them into the city. The streets were deserted, the houses dark, many of the witchlight streetlamps smashed, their glass scattered across the cobblestones. Voices were audible, echoing as if at a distance, and the gleam of torches was visible here and there among the shadows between buildings, but—

“It’s awfully quiet,” Alec said, looking around in surprise. “And—”

“It doesn’t stink like demons.” Jace frowned. “Strange. Come on. Let’s get to the Hall.”

Though Clary was half-braced for an attack, they didn’t see a single demon as they moved through the streets. Not a live one, at least—though as they passed a narrow alley, she saw a group of three or four Shadowhunters gathered in a circle around something that pulsed and twitched on the ground. They were taking turns stabbing it with long, sharpened poles. With a shudder she looked away. Copyright 2016 - 2023