Jace stumbled to the edge of the Portal before stopping, a hand against the gilt frame. A strange hesitation seemed to have taken hold of him, even as Idris shimmered before his eyes like a mirage in the desert. It would only take a step—
“Jace, don’t,” Clary said quickly. “Don’t go after him.”
“But the Cup,” said Jace. She could not tell what he was thinking, but the blade in his hand was shaking violently as his hand shook.
“Let the Clave get it! Jace, please.” If you go through that Portal, you might never come back. Valentine will kill you. You don’t want to believe it, but he will.
“Your sister is right.” Valentine was standing amid green grass and wildflowers, the blades waving around his feet, and Clary realized that though he and they were inches away from each other, they stood in different countries. “Do you really think you can win this? Though you have a seraph blade and I am unarmed? Not only am I stronger than you, but I doubt you have it in you to kill me. And you will have to kill me, Jonathan, before I’ll give the Cup to you.”
Jace tightened his grip on the angel blade. “I can—”
“No, you can’t.” Valentine reached out, through the Portal, and seized Jace’s wrist in his hand, dragging it forward until the tip of the seraph blade touched his chest. Where Jace’s hand and wrist passed through the Portal, they seemed to shimmer as if they had been cast in water. “Do it, then,” said Valentine. “Drive the blade in. Three inches—maybe four.” He jerked the blade forward, the dagger’s tip slicing the fabric of his shirt. A red circle like a poppy bloomed just over his heart. Jace, with a gasp, yanked his arm free and staggered back.
“As I thought,” said Valentine. “Too softhearted.” And with a shocking suddenness he swung his fist toward Jace. Clary cried out, but the blow never connected; instead it struck the surface of the Portal between them with a sound like a thousand fragile shattering things. Spiderwebbing cracks fissured the glass-that-was-not-glass; the last thing Clary heard before the Portal dissolved into a deluge of ragged shards was Valentine’s derisive laughter.
Glass surged across the floor like a shower of ice, a strangely beautiful cascade of silver shards. Clary stepped back, but Jace stood very still as the glass rained around him, staring at the empty frame of the mirror.
Clary had expected him to swear, to shout or curse at his father, but instead he only waited for the shards to stop falling. When they did, he knelt down silently and carefully in the welter of broken glass and picked up one of the larger pieces, turning it over in his hands.
“Don’t.” Clary knelt down next to him, setting down the knife she’d been holding. Its presence no longer comforted her. “There wasn’t anything you could have done.”
“Yes, there was.” He was still looking down at the glass. Broken slivers of it powdered his hair. “I could have killed him.” He turned the shard toward her. “Look,” he said.
She looked. In the bit of glass she could still see a piece of Idris—a bit of blue sky, the shadow of green leaves. She exhaled painfully. “Jace—”
“Are you all right?”
Clary looked up. It was Luke, standing over them. He was weaponless, his eyes sunk into blue circles of exhaustion. “We’re fine,” she said. She could see a crumpled figure on the ground behind him, half-covered in Valentine’s long coat. A hand protruded from beneath the fabric’s edge; it was tipped with claws. “Alaric …?”
“Is dead,” said Luke. There was a wealth of controlled pain in his voice; though he had barely known Alaric, Clary knew the crushing weight of guilt would stay with him forever. And this is how you repay the unquestioning loyalty you bought so cheaply, Lucian. By letting them die for you.
“My father got away,” said Jace. “With the Cup.” His voice was dull. “We delivered it right to him. I failed.”
Luke let one of his hands fall on Jace’s head, brushing the glass from his hair. His claws were still out, his fingers stained with blood, but Jace suffered his touch as if he didn’t mind it, and said nothing at all. “It’s not your fault,” Luke said, looking down at Clary. His blue eyes were steady. They said: Your brother needs you; stay with him.
She nodded, and Luke left them and went to the window. He threw it open, sending a draft of air through the room that guttered the candles. Clary could hear him shouting, calling down to the wolves below.
She knelt down next to Jace. “It’s all right,” she said haltingly, though clearly it wasn’t, and might never be again, and she put her hand on his shoulder. The cloth of his shirt was rough under her fingertips, damp with sweat, strangely comforting. “We have my mom back. We have you. We have everything that matters.”
“He was right. That’s why I couldn’t make myself go through the Portal,” Jace whispered. “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill him.”
“The only way you would have failed,” she said, “is if you had.”
He said nothing, only whispered something under his breath. She couldn’t quite hear the words, but she reached out and took the bit of glass out of his hand. He was bleeding where he’d held it, from two fine and narrow gashes. She put the shard down and took his hand, closing his fingers over the injured palm. “Honestly, Jace,” she said, as gently as she’d touched him, “don’t you know better than to play with broken glass?”
He made a sound like a choked laugh before he reached out and pulled her into his arms. She was aware of Luke watching them from the window, but she shut her eyes resolutely and buried her face against Jace’s shoulder. He smelled of salt and blood, and only when his mouth came close to her ear did she understand what he was saying, what he had been whispering before, and it was the simplest litany of all: her name, just her name.
THE ASCENT BECKONS
THE HOSPITAL HALLWAY WAS BLINDINGLY WHITE. AFTER SO many days living by torchlight, gaslight, and eerie witchlight, the fluorescent lighting made things look sallow and unnatural. When Clary signed herself in at the front desk, she noticed that the nurse handing her the clipboard had skin that looked strangely yellowish under the bright lights. Maybe she’s a demon, Clary thought, handing the clipboard back. “Last door at the end of the hall,” said the nurse, flashing a kind smile. Or I could be going crazy.
“I know,” said Clary. “I was here yesterday.” And the day before, and the day before that. It was early evening, and the hallway wasn’t crowded. An old man shuffled along in carpet slippers and a robe, dragging a mobile oxygen unit behind him. Two doctors in green surgical scrubs carried Styrofoam cups of coffee, steam rising from the surface of the liquid into the frigid air. Inside the hospital it was aggressively air-conditioned, though outside the weather had finally begun to turn toward fall.
Clary found the door at the end of the hall. It was open. She peered inside, not wanting to wake Luke up if he was asleep in the chair by the bed, as he had been the last two times she’d come. But he was up and conferring with a tall man in the parchment-colored robes of the Silent Brothers. He turned, as if sensing Clary’s arrival, and she saw that it was Brother Jeremiah.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “What’s going on?”
Luke looked exhausted, with three days’ worth of scruffy beard growth, his glasses pushed up to the top of his head. She could see the bulk of the bandages that still wrapped his upper chest under his loose flannel shirt. “Brother Jeremiah was just leaving,” he said.
Raising his hood, Jeremiah moved toward the door, but Clary blocked his way. “So?” she challenged him. “Are you going to help my mother?”
Jeremiah came closer to her. She could feel the cold that wafted off his body, like the steam from an iceberg. You cannot save others until you first save yourself, said the voice in her mind.
“This fortune-cookie stuff is getting really old,” Clary said. “What’s wrong with my mother? Do you know? Can the Silent Brothers help her like you helped Alec?”
We helped no one, said Jeremiah. Nor is it our place to assist those who have willingly separated themselves from the Clave.
She drew back as Jeremiah moved past her into the hallway. She watched him walk away, mingling with the crowd, none of whom gave him a second glance. When she let her own eyes fall half-shut, she saw the shimmering aura of glamour that surrounded him, and wondered what they were seeing: Another patient? A doctor hurrying along in surgical scrubs? A grieving visitor?
“He was telling the truth,” said Luke from behind her. “He didn’t cure Alec; that was Magnus Bane. And he doesn’t know what’s wrong with your mother either.”
“I know,” said Clary, turning back into the room. She approached the bed warily. It was hard to connect the small white figure in the bed, snaked over and under by a nest of tubes, with her vibrant flame-haired mother. Of course, her hair was still red, spread out across the pillow like a shawl of coppery thread, but her skin was so pale that she reminded Clary of the wax Sleeping Beauty in Madame Tussauds, whose chest rose and fell only because it was animated by clockwork.
She took her mother’s thin hand and held it, as she’d done yesterday and the day before. She could feel the pulse beating in Jocelyn’s wrist, steady and insistent. She wants to wake up, Clary thought. I know she does.
“Of course she does,” said Luke, and Clary started in the realization that she had spoken aloud. “She has everything to get better for, even more than she could know.”
Clary laid her mother’s hand gently back down on the bed. “You mean Jace.”
“Of course I mean Jace,” said Luke. “She’s mourned him for seventeen years. If I could tell her that she no longer needed to mourn—” He broke off.
“They say people in comas can sometimes hear you,” Clary offered. Of course, the doctors had also said that this was no ordinary coma—no injury, no lack of oxygen, no sudden failure of heart or brain had caused it. It was as if she were simply asleep, and could not be woken up.
“I know,” said Luke. “I’ve been talking to her. Almost nonstop.” He flashed a tired smile. “I’ve told her how brave you’ve been. How she’d be proud of you. Her warrior daughter.”
Something sharp and painful rose up the back of her throat. She swallowed it down, looking away from Luke toward the window. Through it she could see the blank brick wall of the building opposite. No pretty views of trees or river here. “I did the shopping you asked,” she said. “I got peanut butter and milk and cereal and bread from Fortunato Brothers.” She dug into her jeans pocket. “I’ve got change—”
“Keep it,” said Luke. “You can use it for cab fare back.”
“Simon’s driving me back,” said Clary. She checked the butterfly watch dangling from her key chain. “In fact, he’s probably downstairs now.”
“Good, I’m glad you’ll be spending some time with him.” Luke looked relieved. “Keep the money anyway. Get some takeout tonight.”
She opened her mouth to argue, then closed it. Luke was, as her mother had always said, a rock in times of trouble—solid, dependable, and totally immovable. “Come home eventually, okay? You need to sleep too.”
“Sleep? Who needs sleep?” he scoffed, but she saw the tiredness in his face as he went back to sit down by her mother’s bed. Gently he reached to brush a strand of hair away from Jocelyn’s face. Clary turned away, her eyes stinging.
Eric’s van was idling at the curb when she walked out of the hospital’s main exit. The sky arced overhead, the perfect blue of a china bowl, darkening to sapphire over the Hudson River, where the sun was going down. Simon leaned over to pop the door for her, and she scrambled up into the seat beside him. “Thanks.”
“Where to? Back home?” he asked, pulling the van out into the traffic on First.
Clary sighed. “I don’t even know where that is anymore.”
Simon glanced at her sideways. “Feeling sorry for yourself, Fray?” His tone was mocking, but gentle. If she looked past him, she could still see the dark stains on the backseat where Alec had lain, bleeding, across Isabelle’s lap.
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” She sighed again, tugging on a wayward curl of copper hair. “Everything’s changed. Everything’s different. I wish sometimes it could all go back to the way it was before.”
“I don’t,” said Simon, to her surprise. “Where are we going again? Tell me uptown or downtown at least.”
“To the Institute,” said Clary. “Sorry,” she added, as he executed a terrifically illegal U-turn. The van, turning on two wheels, screeched in protest. “I should have told you that before.”
“Huh,” said Simon. “You haven’t been back yet, right? Not since—”
“No, not since,” said Clary. “Jace called me and told me Alec and Isabelle were okay. Apparently their parents are racing back from Idris, now that someone finally actually told them what’s going on. They’ll be here in a couple of days.”
“Was it weird, hearing from Jace?” asked Simon, his voice carefully neutral. “I mean, since you found out …”
His voice trailed off.
“Yes?” said Clary, her voice sharply edged. “Since I found out what? That he’s a killer transvestite who molests cats?”
“No wonder that cat of his hates everyone.”
“Oh, shut up, Simon,” Clary said crossly. “I know what you mean, and no, it wasn’t weird. Nothing ever happened between us anyway.”