Jace glanced up. “Back so soon?”
“Not for long.” Alec reached down to pluck an apple off the table with a gloved hand. “I just came back to get—him,” he said, gesturing toward Simon with the apple. “He’s wanted at the Gard.”
Aline looked surprised. “Really?” she said, but Jace was already rising from the couch, disentangling his hand from hers.
“Wanted for what?” he said, with a dangerous calm. “I hope you found that out before you promised to deliver him, at least.”
“Of course I asked,” Alec snapped. “I’m not stupid.”
“Oh, come on,” said Isabelle. She had reappeared in the doorway with Sebastian, who was holding a bottle. “Sometimes you are a bit stupid, you know. Just a bit,” she repeated as Alec shot her a murderous glare.
“They’re sending Simon back to New York,” he said. “Through the Portal.”
“But he just got here!” Isabelle protested with a pout. “That’s no fun.”
“It’s not supposed to be fun, Izzy. Simon coming here was an accident, so the Clave thinks the best thing is for him to go home.”
“Great,” Simon said. “Maybe I’ll even make it back before my mother notices I’m gone. What’s the time difference between here and Manhattan?”
“You have a mother?” Aline looked amazed.
Simon chose to ignore this. “Seriously,” he said, as Alec and Jace exchanged glances. “It’s fine. All I want is to get out of this place.”
“You’ll go with him?” Jace said to Alec. “And make sure everything’s all right?”
They were looking at each other in a way that was familiar to Simon. It was the way he and Clary sometimes looked at each other, exchanging coded glances when they didn’t want their parents to know what they were planning.
“What?” he said, looking from one to the other. “What’s wrong?”
They broke their stare; Alec glanced away, and Jace turned a bland and smiling look on Simon. “Nothing,” he said. “Everything’s fine. Congratulations, vampire—you get to go home.”
NIGHT HAD FALLEN OVER ALICANTE WHEN SIMON AND ALEC left the Penhallows’ house and headed uphill toward the Gard. The streets of the city were narrow and twisting, wending upward like pale stone ribbons in the moonlight. The air was cold, though Simon felt it only distantly.
Alec walked along in silence, striding ahead of Simon as if pretending that he were alone. In his previous life Simon would have had to hurry, panting, to keep up; now he discovered he could pace Alec just by speeding up his stride. “Must suck,” Simon said finally, as Alec stared morosely ahead. “Getting stuck with escorting me, I mean.”
Alec shrugged. “I’m eighteen. I’m an adult, so I have to be the responsible one. I’m the only one who can go in and out of the Gard when the Clave’s in session; and besides, the Consul knows me.”
“What’s a Consul?”
“He’s like a very high officer of the Clave. He counts the votes of the Council, interprets the Law for the Clave, and advises them and the Inquisitor. If you head up an Institute and you run into a problem you don’t know how to deal with, you call the Consul.”
“He advises the Inquisitor? I thought—isn’t the Inquisitor dead?”
Alec snorted. “That’s like saying, ‘Isn’t the president dead?’ Yeah, the Inquisitor died; now there’s a new one. Inquisitor Aldertree.”
Simon glanced down the hill toward the dark water of the canals far below. They’d left the city behind them and were treading a narrow road between shadowy trees. “I’ll tell you, inquisitions haven’t worked out well for my people in the past.” Alec looked blank. “Never mind. Just a mundane history joke. You wouldn’t be interested.”
“You’re not a mundane,” Alec pointed out. “That’s why Aline and Sebastian were so excited to get a look at you. Not that you can tell with Sebastian; he always acts like he’s seen everything already.”
Simon spoke without thinking. “Are he and Isabelle … Is there something going on there?”
That startled a laugh out of Alec. “Isabelle and Sebastian? Hardly. Sebastian’s a nice guy—Isabelle only likes dating thoroughly inappropriate boys our parents will hate. Mundanes, Downworlders, petty crooks …”
“Thanks,” Simon said. “I’m glad to be classed with the criminal element.”
“I think she does it for attention,” Alec said. “She’s the only girl in the family too, so she has to keep proving how tough she is. Or at least, that’s what she thinks.”
“Or maybe she’s trying to take the attention off you,” Simon said, almost absently. “You know, since your parents don’t know you’re gay and all.”
Alec stopped in the middle of the road so suddenly that Simon almost crashed into him. “No,” he said, “but apparently everyone else does.”
“Except Jace,” Simon said. “He doesn’t know, does he?”
Alec took a deep breath. He was pale, Simon thought, or it could have just been the moonlight, washing the color out of everything. His eyes looked black in the darkness. “I really don’t see what business it is of yours. Unless you’re trying to threaten me.”
“Trying to threaten you?” Simon was taken aback. “I’m not—”
“Then why?” said Alec, and there was a sudden, sharp vulnerability in his voice that took Simon aback. “Why bring it up?”
“Because,” Simon said. “You seem to hate me most of the time. I don’t take it that personally, even if I did save your life. You seem to kind of hate the whole world. And besides, we have practically nothing in common. But I see you looking at Jace, and I see myself looking at Clary, and I figure—maybe we have that one thing in common. And maybe it might make you dislike me a little less.”
“So you’re not going to tell Jace?” Alec said. “I mean—you told Clary how you felt, and …”
“And it wasn’t the best idea,” said Simon. “Now I wonder all the time how you go back after something like that. Whether we can ever be friends again, or if what we had is broken into pieces. Not because of her, but because of me. Maybe if I found someone else …”
“Someone else,” Alec repeated. He had started walking again, very quickly, staring at the road ahead of him.
Simon hurried to keep up. “You know what I mean. For instance, I think Magnus Bane really likes you. And he’s pretty cool. He throws great parties, anyway. Even if I did get turned into a rat that time.”
“Thanks for the advice.” Alec’s voice was dry. “But I don’t think he likes me all that much. He barely spoke to me when he came to open the Portal at the Institute.”
“Maybe you should call him,” Simon suggested, trying not to think too hard about how weird it was to be giving a demon hunter advice about possibly dating a warlock.
“Can’t,” Alec said. “No phones in Idris. It doesn’t matter, anyway.” His tone was abrupt. “We’re here. This is the Gard.”
A high wall rose in front of them, set with a pair of enormous gates. The gates were carved with the swirling, angular patterns of runes, and though Simon couldn’t read them as Clary could, there was something dazzling in their complexity and the sense of power that emanated from them. The gates were guarded by stone angel statues on either side, their faces fierce and beautiful. Each held a carved sword in its hand, and a writhing creature—a mixture of rat, bat, and lizard, with nasty pointed teeth—lay dying at its feet. Simon stood looking at them for a long moment. Demons, he figured—but they could just as easily be vampires.
Alec pushed the gates open and gestured for Simon to pass through. Once inside, he blinked around in confusion. Since he’d become a vampire, his night vision had sharpened to a laserlike clarity, but the dozens of torches lining the path to the doors of the Gard were made of witchlight, and the harsh white glow seemed to bleach the detail out of everything. He was vaguely aware of Alec guiding him forward down a narrow stone pathway that shone with reflected illumination, and then there was someone standing on the path in front of him, blocking his way with an upraised arm.
“So this is the vampire?” The voice that spoke was deep enough to nearly be a growl. Simon looked up, the light stinging his eyes to burning—they would have teared up if he’d still been able to shed tears. Witchlight, he thought, angel light, burns me. I suppose it’s no surprise.
The man standing in front of them was very tall, with sallow skin stretched over prominent cheekbones. Under a close-cropped dome of black hair, his forehead was high, his nose beaked and Roman. His expression as he looked down at Simon was the look of a subway commuter watching a large rat run back and forth on the rails, half-hoping a train will come along and squish it.
“This is Simon,” said Alec, a little uncertainly. “Simon, this is Consul Malachi Dieudonné. Is the Portal ready, sir?”
“Yes,” Malachi said. His voice was harsh and carried a faint accent. “Everything is in readiness. Come, Downworlder.” He beckoned to Simon. “The sooner this is all over, the better.”
Simon moved to go to the chief officer, but Alec stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Just a moment,” he said, addressing the Consul. “He’ll be sent directly back to Manhattan? And there will be someone waiting there on the other side for him?”
“Indeed,” said Malachi. “The warlock Magnus Bane. Since he unwisely allowed the vampire into Idris in the first place, he’s taken responsibility for his return.”
“If Magnus hadn’t let Simon through the Portal, he would have died,” Alec said, a little sharply.
“Perhaps,” said Malachi. “That’s what your parents say, and the Clave has chosen to believe them. Against my advice, in fact. Still, one does not lightly bring Downworlders into the City of Glass.”
“There was nothing light about it.” Anger surged in Simon’s chest. “We were under attack—”
Malachi turned his gaze on Simon. “You will speak when you are spoken to, Downworlder, not before.”
Alec’s hand tightened on Simon’s arm. There was a look on his face—half hesitation, half suspicion, as if he was doubting his wisdom in bringing Simon here after all.
“Now, Consul, really!” The voice carrying through the courtyard was high, a little breathless, and Simon saw with some surprise that it belonged to a man—a small, round man hurrying along the path toward them. He was wearing a loose gray cloak over his Shadowhunter gear, and his bald head glistened in the witchlight. “There’s no need to alarm our guest.”
“Guest?” Malachi looked outraged.
The small man came to a halt before Alec and Simon and beamed at them both. “We’re so glad—pleased, really—that you decided to cooperate with our request that you return to New York. It does make everything so much easier.” He twinkled at Simon, who stared back at him in confusion. He didn’t think he’d ever met a Shadowhunter who seemed pleased to see him—not when he was a mundane, and definitely not now that he was a vampire. “Oh, I almost forgot!” The little man slapped himself on the forehead in remorse. “I should have introduced myself. I’m the Inquisitor—the new Inquisitor. Inquisitor Aldertree is my name.”
Aldertree held his hand out to Simon, and in a welter of confusion Simon took it. “And you. Your name is Simon?”
“Yes,” Simon said, drawing his hand back as soon as he could. Aldertree’s grip was unpleasantly moist and clammy. “There’s no need to thank me for cooperating. All I want is to go home.”
“I’m sure you do, I’m sure you do!” Though Aldertree’s tone was jovial, something flashed across his face as he spoke—an expression Simon couldn’t pin down. It was gone in a moment, as Aldertree smiled and gestured toward a narrow path that wound alongside the Gard. “This way, Simon, if you please.”
Simon moved forward, and Alec made as if to follow him. The Inquisitor held up a hand. “That’s all we’ll be needing from you, Alexander. Thank you for your help.”
“But Simon—” Alec began.
“Will be just fine,” the Inquisitor assured him. “Malachi, please show Alexander out. And give him a witchlight rune-stone to get him back home if he hasn’t brought one. The path can be tricky at night.”
And with another beatific smile, he whisked Simon away, leaving Alec staring after them both.
The world flared up around Clary in an almost tangible blur as Luke carried her over the threshold of the house and down a long hallway, Amatis hurrying ahead of them with her witchlight. More than half-delirious, she stared as the corridor unfolded before her, growing longer and longer like a corridor in a nightmare.
The world turned on its side. Suddenly she was lying on a cold surface, and hands were smoothing a blanket over her. Blue eyes gazed down at her. “She seems so ill, Lucian,” Amatis said, in a voice that was warped and distorted like an old recording. “What happened to her?”
“She drank about half of Lake Lyn.” The sound of Luke’s voice faded, and for a moment Clary’s vision cleared: She was lying on the cold tiled floor of a kitchen, and somewhere above her head Luke was rummaging in a cabinet. The kitchen had peeling yellow walls and an old-fashioned black cast-iron stove against one wall; flames leaped behind the stove grating, making her eyes hurt. “Anise, belladonna, hellebore …” Luke turned away from the cabinet with an armful of glass canisters. “Can you boil these together, Amatis? I’m going to move her closer to the stove. She’s shivering.”