Jace stepped back. “After you.”
When Clary stepped inside, a wave of cool air enveloped her, along with the smell of stone and candle wax. Dim rows of pews stretched toward the altar, and a bank of candles glowed like a bed of sparks against the far wall. She realized that, apart from the Institute, which didn’t really count, she’d never actually been inside a church before. She’d seen pictures, and seen the insides of churches in movies and in anime shows, where they turned up regularly. A scene in one of her favorite anime series took place in a church with a monstrous vampire priest. You were supposed to feel safe inside a church, but she didn’t. Strange shapes seemed to loom up at her out of the shadows. She shivered.
“The stone walls keep out the heat,” said Jace, noticing.
“It’s not that,” she said. “You know, I’ve never been in a church before.”
“You’ve been in the Institute.”
“I mean in a real church. For services. That sort of thing.”
“Really. Well, this is the nave, where the pews are. It’s where people sit during services.” They moved forward, their voices echoing off the stone walls. “Up here is the apse. That’s where we’re standing. And this is the altar, where the priest performs the Eucharist. It’s always at the east side of the church.” He knelt down in front of the altar, and she thought for a moment that he was praying. The altar itself was high, made of a dark granite, and draped with a red cloth. Behind it loomed an ornate gold screen, etched with the figures of saints and martyrs, each with a flat gold disk behind his head representing a halo.
“Jace,” she whispered. “What are you doing?”
He had placed his hands on the stone floor and was moving them back and forth rapidly, as if searching for something, his fingertips stirring up dust. “Looking for weapons.”
“They’d be hidden, usually around the altar. Kept for our use in case of emergencies.”
“And this is what, some kind of deal you have with the Catholic Church?”
“Not specifically. Demons have been on Earth as long as we have. They’re all over the world, in their different forms—Greek daemons, Persian daevas, Hindu asuras, Japanese oni. Most belief systems have some method of incorporating both their existence and the fight against them. Shadowhunters cleave to no single religion, and in turn all religions assist us in our battle. I could as easily have gone for help to a Jewish synagogue or a Shinto temple, or—Ah. Here it is.” He brushed dust aside as she knelt down beside him. Carved into one of the octagonal stones before the altar was a rune. Clary recognized it, almost as easily as if she were reading a word in English. It was the rune that meant Nephilim.
Jace took out his stele and touched it to the stone. With a grinding noise it moved back, revealing a dark compartment underneath. Inside the compartment was a long wooden box; Jace lifted the lid, and regarded the neatly arranged objects inside with satisfaction.
“What are all these?” Clary asked.
“Vials of holy water, blessed knives, steel and silver blades,” Jace said, piling the weapons on the floor beside him, “electrum wire—not much use at the moment, but it’s always good to have spare—silver bullets, charms of protection, crucifixes, stars of David—”
“Jesus,” said Clary.
“I doubt he’d fit.”
“Jace.” Clary was appalled.
“I don’t know; it seems wrong to make jokes like that in a church.”
He shrugged. “I’m not really a believer.”
Clary looked at him in surprise. “You’re not?”
He shook his head. Hair fell over his face, but he was examining a vial of clear liquid and didn’t reach up to push it back. Clary’s fingers itched with the desire to do it for him. “You thought I was religious?” he said.
“Well.” She hesitated. “If there are demons, then there must be …”
“Must be what?” Jace slid the vial into his pocket. “Ah,” he said. “You mean if there’s this”—and he pointed down, toward the floor—“there must be this.” He pointed up, toward the ceiling.
“It stands to reason. Doesn’t it?”
Jace lowered his hand and picked up a blade, examining the hilt. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “I’ve been killing demons for a third of my life. I must have sent five hundred of them back to whatever hellish dimension they crawled out of. And in all that time—in all that time—I’ve never seen an angel. Never even heard of anyone who has.”
“But it was an angel who created Shadowhunters in the first place,” Clary said. “That’s what Hodge said.”
“It makes a nice story.” Jace looked at her through eyes slitted like a cat’s. “My father believed in God,” he said. “I don’t.”
“At all?” She wasn’t sure why she was needling him—she’d never given any thought to whether she believed in God and angels and so forth herself, and if asked, would have said she didn’t. There was something about Jace, though, that made her want to push him, crack that shell of cynicism and make him admit he believed in something, felt something, cared about anything at all.
“Let me put it this way,” he said, sliding a pair of knives into his belt. The faint light that filtered through the stained-glass windows threw squares of color across his face. “My father believed in a righteous God. Deus volt, that was his motto—‘Because God wills it.’ It was the Crusaders’ motto, and they went out to battle and were slaughtered, just like my father. And when I saw him lying dead in a pool of his own blood, I knew then that I hadn’t stopped believing in God. I’d just stopped believing God cared. There might be a God, Clary, and there might not, but I don’t think it matters. Either way, we’re on our own.”
They were the only passengers in their train car heading back uptown. Clary sat without speaking, thinking about Simon. Every once in a while Jace would look over at her as if he were about to say something, before lapsing back into an uncharacteristic silence.
When they climbed out of the subway, the streets were deserted, the air heavy and metal-tasting, the bodegas and Laundromats and check-cashing centers silent behind their nighttime doors of corrugated steel. They found the hotel, finally, after an hour of looking, on a side street off 116th. They’d walked past it twice, thinking it was just another abandoned apartment building, before Clary saw the sign. It had come loose from a nail and it dangled hidden behind a stunted tree. HOTEL DUMONT, it should have said, but someone had painted out the N and replaced it with an R.
“Hotel Dumort,” Jace said when she pointed it out to him. “Cute.”
Clary had only had two years of French, but it was enough to get the joke. “Du mort,” she said. “‘Of death.’”
Jace nodded. He had gone alert all over, like a cat who sees a mouse whisking behind a sofa.
“But it can’t be the hotel,” Clary said. “The windows are all boarded up, and the door’s been bricked over—Oh,” she finished, catching his look. “Right. Vampires. But how do they get inside?”
“They fly,” Jace said, and indicated the upper floors of the building. It had once, clearly, been a graceful and luxurious hotel. The stone facade was elegantly decorated with carved curlicues and fleur-de-lis, dark and eroded from years of exposure to polluted air and acid rain.
“We don’t fly,” Clary felt impelled to point out.
“No,” Jace agreed. “We don’t fly. We break and enter.” He started across the street toward the hotel.
“Flying sounds like more fun,” Clary said, hurrying to catch up with him.
“Right now everything sounds like more fun.” She wondered if he meant it. There was an excitement about him, an anticipation of the hunt that didn’t look to her as if he were as unhappy as he claimed. He’s killed more demons than anyone else his age. You didn’t kill that many demons by hanging back reluctantly from a fight.
A hot wind had come up, stirring the leaves on the stunted trees outside the hotel, sending the trash in the gutters and on the sidewalk skittering across the cracked pavement. The area was oddly deserted, Clary thought—usually, in Manhattan, there was always someone else on the street, even at four in the morning. Several of the streetlights lining the sidewalk were out, though the one closest to the hotel cast a dim yellow glow across the cracked pathway that led up to what had once been the front door.
“Stay out of the light,” Jace said, pulling her toward him by her sleeve. “They might be watching from the windows. And don’t look up,” he added, but it was too late. Clary had already glanced up at the shattered windows of the higher floors. For a moment she half-thought she glimpsed a flicker of movement at one of the windows, a flash of whiteness that could have been a face, or a hand drawing back a heavy drape—
“Come on.” Jace drew her with him to melt into the shadows closer to the hotel. She felt her heightened nervousness in her spine, in the pulse in her wrists, in the hard beat of blood in her ears. The faint drone of distant cars seemed very far away, the only sound the crunch of her own shoes on the garbage-strewn pavement. She wished she could walk soundlessly, like a Shadowhunter. Maybe someday she’d ask Jace to teach her.
They slipped around the corner of the hotel into an alley that had probably once been a service lane for deliveries. It was narrow, choked with garbage: moldy cardboard boxes, empty glass bottles, shredded plastic, scattered things that Clary thought at first were toothpicks, but up close looked like—
“Bones,” Jace said flatly. “Dog bones, cat bones. Don’t look too closely; going through vampires’ trash is rarely a pretty picture.”
She swallowed down her nausea. “Well,” she said, “at least we know we’re in the right place,” and was rewarded by the glint of respect that showed, briefly, in Jace’s eyes.
“Oh, we’re in the right place,” he said. “Now we just have to figure out how to get inside.”
There had clearly been windows here once, now bricked up. There was no door and no sign of a fire escape. “When this was a hotel,” Jace said slowly, “they must have gotten their deliveries here. I mean, they wouldn’t have brought things through the front door, and there’s no place else for trucks to pull up. So there must be a way in.”
Clary thought of the little shops and bodegas near her house in Brooklyn. She’d seen them get their deliveries, early in the morning while she was walking to school, seen the Korean deli owners opening the metal doors set into the pavement outside their front doors, so they could carry boxes of paper towels and cat food into their supply cellars. “I bet the doors are in the ground. Probably buried under all this garbage.”
Jace, a beat behind her, nodded. “That’s what I was thinking.” He sighed. “I guess we’d better move the trash. We can start with the Dumpster.” He pointed at it, looking distinctly unenthusiastic.
“You’d rather face a ravening horde of demons, wouldn’t you?” Clary said.
“At least they wouldn’t be crawling with maggots. Well,” he added thoughtfully, “not most of them, anyway. There was this one demon, once, that I tracked down to the sewers under Grand Central—”
“Don’t.” Clary raised a warning hand. “I’m not really in the mood right now.”
“That’s got to be the first time a girl’s ever said that to me,” Jace mused.
“Stick with me and it won’t be the last.”
The corner of Jace’s mouth twitched. “This is hardly the time for idle banter. We have garbage to haul.” He stalked over to the Dumpster and took hold of one side of it. “You get the other. We’ll tip it.”
“Tipping it will make too much noise,” Clary argued, taking up her station on the other side of the huge container. It was a standard city trash bin, painted dark green, splotched with strange stains. It stank, even more than most Dumpsters, of garbage and something else, something thick and sweet that filled her throat and made her want to gag. “We should push it.”
“Now, look—” Jace began, when a voice spoke, suddenly, out of the shadows behind them.
“Do you really think you should be doing that?” it asked.
Clary froze, staring into the shadows at the mouth of the alley. For a panicked moment she wondered if she’d imagined the voice, but Jace was frozen too, astonishment on his face. It was rare that anything surprised him, rarer that anyone snuck up on him. He stepped away from the Dumpster, his hand sliding toward his belt, his voice flat. “Is there someone there?”
“Dios mío.” The voice was male, amused, speaking a liquid Spanish. “You’re not from this neighborhood, are you?”
He stepped forward, out of the thickest of the shadows. The shape of him evolved slowly: a boy, not much older than Jace and probably six inches shorter. He was thin-boned, with the big dark eyes and honey-colored skin of a Diego Rivera painting. He wore black slacks and an open-necked white shirt, and a gold chain around his neck that sparked faintly as he moved closer to the light.
“You could say that,” Jace said carefully, not moving his hand away from his belt.
“You shouldn’t be here.” The boy raked a hand through the thick black curls that spilled over his forehead. “This place is dangerous.”
He means it’s a bad neighborhood. Clary almost wanted to laugh, even though it wasn’t at all funny. “We know,” she said. “We just got a little lost, that’s all.”