City of Bones – EPILOGUE: THE ASCENT BECKONS

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EPILOGUE: 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. ”

“Nothing?” echoed Simon, disbelief plain in his tone.

“Nothing,” Clary repeated firmly, glancing out the window so that he wouldn’t see the blood staining her cheeks. They were passing a row of restaurants, and she could see Taki’s, brightly lit in the gathering twilight.

They turned the corner just as the sun disappeared behind the rose window of the Institute, flooding the street below with seashell light that only they could see. Simon pulled up in front of the door and killed the engine, jittering the keys in his hand. “Do you want me to go up with you?”

She hesitated. “No. I should do this on my own. ”

She saw the look of disappointment flicker across his face, but it vanished quickly. Simon, she thought, had grown up a lot in these past two weeks, just as she had. Which was good, since she wouldn’t have wanted to leave him behind. He was part of her, as much as her drawing talent, the dusty air of Brooklyn, her mother’s laughter, and her own Shadowhunter blood. “All right,” he said. “Are you going to need a ride later?”

She shook her head. “Luke gave me money for a cab. Want to come over tomorrow, though?” she added. “We could watch some Trigun, pop some corn. I could use some couch time. ”

He nodded. “That sounds good. ” He leaned forward then, and brushed a kiss along her cheekbone. It was a kiss as light as a blown leaf, but she felt a shiver far down in her bones. She looked at him.

“Do you think that it was a coincidence?” she asked.

“Do I think what was a coincidence?”

“That we wound up in Pandemonium the same night that Jace and the others just happened to be there, pursuing a demon? The night before Valentine came for my mother?”

Simon shook his head. “I don’t believe in coincidences,” he said.

“Neither do I. ”

“But I have to admit,” Simon added, “coincidence or not, it turned out to be a fortuitous occurrence. ”

“The Fortuitous Occurrences,” said Clary. “Now there’s a band name for you. ”

“It’s better than most of the ones we’ve come up with,” Simon admitted.

“You bet. ” She jumped down out of the van, slamming the door behind her. She heard him honk as she ran up the path to the door between the slabs of overgrown grass, and waved without turning around.

The interior of the cathedral was cool and dark, and smelled of rain and damp paper. Her footsteps echoed loudly on the stone floor, and she thought of Jace in the church in Brooklyn: There might be a God, Clary, and there might not. Either way, we’re on our own.

In the elevator she stole a look at herself in the mirror as the door clanged shut behind her. Most of her bruises and scrapes had healed to invisibility. She wondered if Jace had ever seen her looking as prim as she did today—she’d dressed for the hospital in a black pleated skirt, pink lip gloss, and a vintage sailor-collared blouse. She thought she looked about eight.

Not that it mattered what Jace thought about how she looked, she reminded herself, now or ever. She wondered if they’d ever be the way Simon was with his sister: a mixture of boredom and loving irritation. She couldn’t imagine it.

She heard the loud meows before the elevator door even opened. “Hey, Church,” she said, kneeling down by the wriggling gray ball on the floor. “Where is everyone?”

Church, who clearly wanted his stomach rubbed, muttered ominously. With a sigh Clary gave in. “Demented cat,” she said, rubbing with vigor. “Where—”

“Clary!” It was Isabelle, swooping into the foyer in a long red skirt, her hair piled on top of her head with jeweled clips. “It’s so great to see you!”

She descended on Clary with a hug that nearly overbalanced her.

“Isabelle,” Clary gasped. “It’s good to see you, too,” she added, letting Isabelle pull her up to a standing position.

“I was so worried about you,” said Isabelle brightly. “After you guys went off to the library with Hodge, and I was with Alec, I heard the most terrific banging explosion, and when I got to the library, of course, you were gone, and everything was strewn all over the floor. And there was blood and sticky black goo everywhere. ” She shuddered. “What was that stuff?”

“A curse,” Clary said quietly. “Hodge’s curse. ”

“Oh, right,” Isabelle said. “Jace told me about Hodge. ”

“He did?” Clary was surprised.

“That he got the curse taken off him and left? Yeah, he did. I would have thought he’d have stayed to say good-bye. ” Isabelle added, “I’m kind of disappointed in him. But I guess he was scared of the Clave. He’ll get in touch eventually, I bet. ”

So Jace hadn’t told them that Hodge had betrayed them, Clary thought, not sure how she felt about that. Then again, if Jace was trying to spare Isabelle confusion and disappointment, maybe she shouldn’t interfere.

“Anyway,” Isabelle went on, “it was horrible, and I don’t know what we would have done if Magnus hadn’t showed up and magicked Alec back to health. Is that a word, ‘magicked’?” She crinkled her eyebrows. “Jace told us all about what happened on the island afterward. Actually, we knew about it even before, because Magnus was on the phone about it all night. Everyone in Downworld was buzzing about it. You’re famous, you know. ”

“Me?”

“Sure. Valentine’s daughter. ”

Clary shuddered. “So I guess Jace is famous too. ”

“You’re both famous,” said Isabelle in the same overbright voice. “The famous brother and sister. ”

Clary looked at Isabelle curiously. “I didn’t expect you to be this glad to see me, I have to admit. ”

The other girl put her hands on her hips indignantly. “Why not?”

“I didn’t think you liked me all that much. ”

Isabelle’s brightness faded and she looked down at her silvery toes. “I didn’t think I did either,” she admitted. “But when I went to look for you and Jace, and you were gone…” Her voice trailed off. “I wasn’t just worried about him; I was worried about you, too. There’s something so … reassuring about you. And Jace is so much better when you’re around. ”

Clary’s eyes widened. “He is?”

“He is, actually. Less sharp-edged, somehow. It’s not so much that he’s kinder, but that he lets you see the kindness in him. ” She paused. “And I guess I resented you at first, but I realize now that was stupid. Just because I’ve never had a friend who was a girl doesn’t mean I couldn’t learn how to have one. ”

“Me too, actually,” said Clary. “And Isabelle?”

“Yeah?”

“You don’t have to pretend to be nice. I like it better when you just act like yourself. ”

“Bitchy, you mean?” Isabelle said, and laughed.

Clary was about to protest when Alec swung into the entryway on a pair of crutches. One of his legs was bandaged, his jeans rolled up to the knee, and there was another bandage on his temple, under the dark hair. Otherwise he looked remarkably healthy for someone who’d nearly died four days before. He waved a crutch in greeting.

“Hi,” Clary said, surprised to see him up and around. “Are you …”

“All right? I’m fine,” Alec said. “I won’t even need these in a few days. ”

Guilt swelled her throat. If it hadn’t been for her, Alec wouldn’t be on crutches at all. “I’m really glad you’re okay, Alec,” she said, putting every ounce of sincerity into her voice that she could muster.

Alec blinked. “Thanks. ”

“So Magnus fixed you?” Clary said. “Luke said—”

“He did!” said Isabelle. “It was so awesome. He showed up and ordered everyone out of the room and shut the door. Blue and red sparks kept exploding out into the hallway from underneath the floor. ”

“I don’t remember any of it,” said Alec.

“Then he sat by Alec’s bed all night and into the morning to make sure he woke up okay,” Isabelle added.

“I don’t remember that, either,” Alec added hastily.

Isabelle’s red lips curved into a smile. “I wonder how Magnus knew to come? I asked him, but he wouldn’t say. ”

Clary thought of the folded paper Hodge had thrown into the fire after Valentine had gone. He was a strange man, she thought, who’d taken the time to do what he could to save Alec even while betraying everyone—and everything—he’d ever cared about. “I don’t know,” she said.

Isabelle shrugged. “I guess he heard about it somewhere. He does seem to be hooked into an enormous gossip network. He’s such a girl. ”

“He’s the High Warlock of Brooklyn, Isabelle,” Alec reminded her, but not without some amusement. He turned to Clary. “Jace is up in the greenhouse if you want to see him,” he said. “I’ll walk you. ”

“You will?”

“Sure. ” Alec looked only slightly uncomfortable. “Why not?”

Clary glanced at Isabelle, who shrugged. Whatever Alec was up to, he hadn’t shared it with his sister. “Go on,” said Isabelle. “I’ve got stuff to do anyway. ” She waved a hand at them. “Shoo. ”

They set off down the hallway together. Alec’s pace was fast, even on crutches. Clary had to jog to keep up. “I have short legs,” she reminded him.

“Sorry. ” He slowed down, contrite. “Look,” he began. “Those things you said to me, when I yelled at you about Jace …”

“I remember,” she said in a small voice.

“When you told me that you, you know, that I was just—that it was because—” He seemed to be having trouble forming a complete sentence. He tried again. “When you said I was …”

“Alec, don’t. ”

“Sure. Never mind. ” He clamped his lips together. “You don’t want to talk about it. ”

“It’s not that. It’s that I feel awful about what I said. It was horrible. It wasn’t true at all—”

“But it was true,” said Alec. “Every word. ”

“That doesn’t make it okay,” she said. “Not everything that’s true needs to be said. It was mean. And when I said Jace had told me you’d never killed a demon, he said it was because you were always protecting him and Isabelle. It was a good thing he was saying about you. Jace can be a jerk, but he—” Loves you, she was about to say, and stopped. “Never said a bad word about you to me, ever. I swear. ”

“You don’t have to swear,” he said. “I know already. ” He sounded calm, even confident in a way she’d never heard him sound before. She looked at him, surprised. “I know I didn’t kill Abbadon either. But I appreciate you telling me I had. ”

She laughed shakily. “You appreciate me lying to you?”

“You did it out of kindness,” he said. “That means a lot, that you would be kind to me, even after how I treated you. ”

“I think Jace would have been pretty pissed at me for lying if he hadn’t been so upset at the time,” said Clary. “Not as mad as he would be if he knew what I’d said to you before, though. ”

“I’ve got an idea,” said Alec, his mouth turning up at the corners. “Let’s not tell him. I mean, maybe Jace can behead a Du’sien demon from a distance of fifty feet with just a corkscrew and a rubber band, but sometimes I think he doesn’t know much about people. ”

“I guess so. ” Clary grinned.

They’d reached the bottom of the spiral staircase that led to the roof. “I can’t go up. ” Alec tapped his crutch against a metal step. It rang tinnily.

“It’s okay. I can find my way. ”

He made as if to turn away, then glanced back at her. “I should have guessed you were Jace’s sister,” he said. “You both have the same artistic talent. ”

Clary paused, her foot on the lowest stair. She was taken aback. “Jace can draw?”

“Nah. ” When Alec smiled, his eyes lit like blue lamps, and Clary could see what Magnus had found so captivating about him. “I was just kidding. He can’t draw a straight line. ” Chuckling, he swung away on his crutches. Clary watched him go, bemused. An Alec who cracked jokes and poked fun at Jace was something she could get used to, even if his sense of humor was somewhat inexplicable.

The greenhouse was just as she’d remembered it, though the sky above the glass roof was sapphire now. The clean, soapy smell of the flowers cleared her head. Breathing in deeply, she pushed her way through the tightly woven leaves and branches.

She found Jace sitting on the marble bench in the middle of the greenhouse. His head was bent, and he seemed to be turning an object over in his hands, idly. He looked up as she ducked under a branch, and quickly closed his hand around the object. “Clary. ” He sounded surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you,” she said. “I wanted to know how you were. ”

“I’m fine. ” He was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. She could see his still-fading bruises, like the dark spots on the white flesh of an apple. Of course, she thought, the real injuries were internal, hidden from every eye but his own.

“What is that?” she asked, pointing to his closed hand.

He opened his fingers. A jagged shard of silver lay in his palm, glimmering blue and green at the edges. “A piece of the Portal mirror. ”

She sat down on the bench next to him. “Can you see anything in it?”

He turned it a little, letting the light run over it like water. “Bits of sky. Trees, a path … I keep angling it, trying to see the manor house. My father. ”

“Valentine,” she corrected. “Why would you want to see him?”

“I thought maybe I could see what he was doing with the Mortal Cup,” he said reluctantly. “Where it was. ”

“Jace, that’s not our responsibility anymore. Not our problem. Now that the Clave finally knows what happened, the Lightwoods are rushing back. Let them deal with it. ”

Now he did look at her. She wondered how it was that they could be brother and sister and look so little alike. Couldn’t she at least have gotten the curling dark lashes or the angular cheekbones? It hardly seemed fair. He said, “When I looked through the Portal and saw Idris, I knew exactly what Valentine was trying to do, that he wanted to see if I’d break. And it didn’t matter—I still wanted to go home more badly than I could have imagined. ”

She shook her head. “I don’t see what’s so great about Idris. It’s just a place. The way you and Hodge talk about it—” She broke off.

He closed his hand over the shard again. “I was happy there. It was the only place I was ever happy like that. ”

Clary plucked a stem from a nearby bush and began to denude it of its leaves. “You felt sorry for Hodge. That’s why you didn’t tell Alec and Isabelle what he really did. ”

He shrugged.

“They’ll find out eventually, you know. ”

“I know. But I won’t be the one who told them. ”

“Jace …” The surface of the pond was green with fallen leaves. “How could you have been happy there? I know what you thought, but Valentine was a terrible father. He killed your pets, lied to you, and I know he hit you—don’t even try to pretend he didn’t. ”

A flicker of a smile ghosted across Jace’s face. “Only on alternate Thursdays. ”

“Then how could—”

“It was the only time I ever felt sure about who I was. Where I belonged. It sounds stupid, but …” He shrugged. “I kill demons because it’s what I’m good at and what I was taught to do, but it isn’t who I am. And I’m partly good at it because after I thought my father had died, I was—cut free. No consequences. No one to grieve. No one who had a stake in my life because they’d been part of giving it to me. ” His face looked as if it had been carved out of something hard. “I don’t feel that way anymore. ”

The stem was entirely denuded of leaves; Clary threw it aside. “Why not?”

“Because of you,” he said. “If it weren’t for you, I would have gone with my father through the Portal. If it weren’t for you, I would go after him right now. ”

Clary stared down into the clogged pond. Her throat burned. “I thought I made you feel unsettled. ”

“It’s been so long,” he said simply, “that I think I was unsettled by the idea of feeling like I belonged anywhere. But you made me feel like I belong. ”

“I want you to go somewhere with me,” she said abruptly.

He looked at her sideways. Something about the way his light gold hair fell into his eyes made her feel unbearably sad. “Where?”

“I was hoping you’d come to the hospital with me. ”

“I knew it. ” His eyes narrowed until they looked like the edges of coins. “Clary, that woman—”

“She’s your mother too, Jace. ”

“I know,” he said. “But she’s a stranger to me. I only ever had one parent, and he’s gone. Worse than dead. ”

“I know. And I know there’s no point in telling you how great my mom is, what an amazing, terrific, wonderful person she is and that you’d be lucky to know her. I’m not asking this for you, I’m asking for me. I think if she heard your voice …”

“Then what?”

“She might wake up. ” She looked at him steadily.

He held her gaze, then broke it with a smile—crooked and a little battered, but a real smile. “Fine. I’ll go with you. ” He stood up. “You don’t have to tell me good things about your mother,” he added. “I already know them. ”

“Do you?”

He shrugged slightly. “She raised you, didn’t she?” He glanced toward the glass roof. “The sun’s almost set. ”

Clary got to her feet. “We should head out to the hospital. I’ll pay for the cab,” she added, as an afterthought. “Luke gave me some cash. ”

“That won’t be necessary. ” Jace’s smile widened. “Come on. I’ve got something to show you. ”

“But where did you get it?” Clary demanded, staring at the motorcycle perched at the edge of the cathedral’s roof. It was a shiny poison green, with silver-rimmed wheels and bright flames painted on the seat.

“Magnus was complaining that someone had left it outside his house the last time he had a party,” said Jace. “I convinced him to give it to me. ”

“And you flew it up here?” She was still staring.

“Uh-huh. I’m getting pretty good at it. ” He swung a leg over the seat, and beckoned her to come and sit behind him. “Come on, I’ll show you. ”

“Well, at least you know it works this time,” she said, getting on behind him. “If we crash into the parking lot of a Key Food, I’ll kill you, you know that?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Jace. “There are no parking lots on the Upper East Side. Why drive when you can get your groceries delivered?” The bike started with a roar, drowning out his laugh. Shrieking, Clary grabbed hold of his belt as the bike hurtled down the slanted roof of the Institute and launched itself into space.

The wind tore her hair as they rose up, up over the cathedral, up above the roofs of the nearby high-rises and apartment buildings. And there it was spread out before her like a carelessly opened jewelry box, this city more populous and more amazing than she had ever imagined: There was the emerald square of Central Park, where the faerie courts met on midsummer evenings; there were the lights of the clubs and bars downtown, where the vampires danced the nights away at Pandemonium; there the alleys of Chinatown down which the werewolves slunk at night, their coats reflecting the city’s lights. There walked warlocks in all their bat-winged, cat-eyed glory; and here, as they swung out over the river, she saw the darting flash of multicolored tails under the silvery skin of the water, the shimmer of long, pearl-strewn hair, and heard the high, rippling laughter of the mermaids.

Jace turned to look over his shoulder, the wind whipping his hair into tangles. “What are you thinking?” he called back to her.

“Just how different everything down there is now, you know, now that I can see. ”

“Everything down there is exactly the same,” he said, angling the cycle toward the East River. They were heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge again. “You’re the one that’s different. ”

Her hands tightened convulsively on his belt as they dipped lower and lower over the river. “Jace!”

“Don’t worry. ” He sounded maddeningly amused. “I know what I’m doing. I won’t drown us. ”

She squinted her eyes against the tearing wind. “Are you testing what Alec said about some of these bikes being able to go underwater?”

“No. ” He leveled the bike out carefully as they rose from the river’s surface. “I think that’s just a story. ”

“But, Jace,” she said. “All the stories are true. ”

She didn’t hear him laugh, but she felt it, vibrating through his rib cage and into her fingertips. She held on tightly as he angled the cycle up, gunning it so that it shot forward and darted up the side of the bridge like a bird freed from a cage. Her stomach dropped out from under her as the silver river spun away and the spires of the bridge slid under her feet, but this time Clary kept her eyes open, so that she could see it all.

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