City of Fallen Angels – Chapter 15: BEATI BELLICOSI

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Chapter 15: BEATI BELLICOSI

The inside of the Ironworks was alive with ropes of shimmering multicolored lights. Quite a few guests were already sitting, but just as many were milling around, carrying champagne glasses full of pale, fizzing liquid. Waiters-who were also werewolves, Simon noted; the whole event seemed to be staffed by members of Lukes pack-moved among the guests, handing out champagne flutes. Simon declined one. Ever since his experience at Magnuss party, he hadnt felt safe drinking anything that he hadnt prepared himself, and besides, he never knew which non-blood liquids were going to stay down and which would make him sick.

Maia was standing over by one of the brick pillars, talking to two other werewolves and laughing. She wore a brilliant orange satin sheath dress that set off her dark skin, and her hair was a wild halo of brown-gold curls around her face. She caught sight of Simon and Jordan and deliberately turned away. The back of her dress was a low V that showed a lot of bare skin, including a tattoo of a butterfly across her lower spine.

“I dont think she had that when I knew her,” Jordan said. “That tattoo, I mean. ”

Simon looked at Jordan. He was goggling at his ex-girlfriend with the sort of obvious longing that, Simon suspected, was going to get him punched in the face by Isabelle if he wasnt careful. “Come on,” he said, putting his hand against Jordans back and shoving lightly. “Lets go see where were sitting. ”

Isabelle, who had been watching them over her shoulder, smiled a catlike smile. “Good idea. ”

They made their way through the crowd to the area where the tables were, only to find that their table was already half-occupied. Clary sat in one of the seats, looking down into a champagne glass full of what was most likely ginger ale. Next to her were Alec and Magnus, both in the dark suits theyd worn when theyd come from Vienna. Magnus seemed to be playing with the fringed edges of his long white scarf. Alec, his arms crossed over his chest, was staring ferociously into the distance.

Clary, on seeing Simon and Jordan, bounced to her feet, relief evident on her face. She came around the table to greet Simon, and he saw that she was wearing a very plain gold silk dress and low gold sandals. Without heels to give her height, she looked tiny. The Morgenstern ring was around her neck, its silver glinting against the chain that held it. She reached up to hug him and muttered, “I think Alec and Magnus are fighting. ”

“Looks like it,” he muttered back. “Wheres your boyfriend?”

At that, she detached her arms from his neck. “He got held up at the Institute. ” She turned. “Hey, Kyle. ”

He smiled a little awkwardly. “Its Jordan, actually. ”

“So Ive heard. ” Clary gestured toward the table. “Well, we might as well sit. I think pretty soon theres going to be toasting and stuff. And then, hopefully, food. ”

They all sat. There was a long, awkward silence.

“So,” Magnus said finally, running a long white finger around the rim of his champagne glass. “Jordan. I hear youre in the Praetor Lupus. I see youre wearing one of their medallions. What does it say on it?”

Jordan nodded. He was flushed, his hazel eyes sparkling, his attention clearly only partly on the conversation. He was following Maia around the room with his eyes, his fingers nervously clenching and unclenching on the edge of the tablecloth. Simon doubted he was even aware of it. “Beati bellicosi: Blessed are the warriors. ”

“Good organization,” said Magnus. “I knew the man who founded it, back in the 1800s. Woolsey Scott. Respectable old werewolf family. ”

Alec made an ugly sound in the back of his throat. “Did you sleep with him, too?”

Magnuss cat eyes widened. “Alexander!”

“Well, I dont know anything about your past, do I?” Alec demanded. “You wont tell me anything; you just say it doesnt matter. ”

Magnuss face was expressionless, but there was a dark tinge of anger to his voice. “Does this mean every time I mention anyone Ive ever met, youre going to ask me if I had an affair with them?”

Alecs expression was stubborn, but Simon couldnt help having a flash of sympathy; the hurt behind his blue eyes was clear. “Maybe. ”

“I met Napoleon once,” said Magnus. “We didnt have an affair, though. He was shockingly prudish for a Frenchman. ”

“You met Napoleon?” Jordan, who appeared to be missing most of the conversation, looked impressed. “So its true what they say about warlocks, then?”

Alec gave him a very unpleasant look. “Whats true?”

“Alexander,” said Magnus coldly, and Clary met Simons eyes across the table. Hers were wide, green, and full of an expression that said Uh-oh. “You cant be rude to everyone who talks to me. ”

Alec made a wide, sweeping gesture. “And why not? Cramping your style, am I? I mean, maybe you were hoping to flirt with werewolf boy here. Hes pretty attractive, if you like the messy-haired, broad-shouldered, chiseled-good-looks type. ”

“Hey, now,” said Jordan mildly.

Magnus put his head in his hands.

“Or there are plenty of pretty girls here, since apparently your taste goes both ways. Is there anything you arent into?”

“Mermaids,” said Magnus into his fingers. “They always smell like seaweed. ”

“Its not funny,” Alec said savagely, and kicking back his chair, he got up from the table and stalked off into the crowd.

Magnus still had his head in his hands, the black spikes of his hair sticking out between his fingers. “I just dont see,” he said to no one in particular, “why the past has to matter. ”

To Simons surprise it was Jordan who answered. “The past always matters,” he said. “Thats what they tell you when you join the Praetor. You cant forget the things you did in the past, or youll never learn from them. ”

Magnus looked up, his gold-green eyes glinting through his fingers. “How old are you?” he demanded. “Sixteen?”

“Eighteen,” said Jordan, looking slightly frightened.

Alecs age, thought Simon, suppressing an interior grin. He didnt really find Alec and Magnuss drama funny, but it was hard not to feel a certain bitter amusement at Jordans expression. Jordan had to be twice Magnuss size-despite being tall, Magnus was slender to the point of skinniness-but Jordan was clearly afraid of him. Simon turned to share a glance with Clary, but she was staring off toward the front door, her face gone suddenly bone white. Dropping her napkin onto the table, she murmured, “Excuse me,” and got to her feet, practically fleeing the table.

Magnus threw his hands up. “Well, if theres going to be a mass exodus. . . ,” he said, and got up gracefully, flinging his scarf around his neck. He vanished into the crowd, presumably looking for Alec.

Simon looked at Jordan, who was looking at Maia again. She had her back to them and was talking to Luke and Jocelyn, laughing, flinging her curly hair back. “Dont even think about it,” Simon said, and got up. He pointed at Jordan. “You stay here. ”

“And do what?” Jordan demanded.

“Whatever Praetor Lupus do in this situation. Meditate. Contemplate your Jedi powers. Whatever. Ill be back in five minutes, and you better still be here. ”

Jordan leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest in a clearly mutinous manner, but Simon had already stopped paying attention. He turned and moved into the crowd, following Clary. She was a speck of red and gold among the moving bodies, crowned with her twist of bright hair.

He caught up to her by one of the light-wrapped pillars, and put a hand on her shoulder. She turned with a startled exclamation, eyes wide, hand raised as if to fend him off. She relaxed when she saw who it was. “You scared me!”

“Obviously,” Simon said. “Whats going on? What are you so freaked out about?”

“I. . . ” She lowered her hand with a shrug; despite her forced look of casual dismissal, the pulse was going in her neck like a hammer. “I thought I saw Jace. ”

“I figured,” Simon said. “But. . . ”

“But?”

“You look really frightened. ” He wasnt sure why hed said it exactly, or what he was hoping shed say back. She bit her lip, the way she always did when she was nervous. Her gaze for a moment was far away; it was a look familiar to Simon. One of the things hed always loved about Clary was how easily caught up in her imagination she was, how easily she could wall herself away in illusory worlds of curses and princes and destiny and magic. Once he had been able to do the same, had been able to inhabit imaginary worlds all the more exciting for being safe-for being fictional. Now that the real and the imagined had collided, he wondered if she, like he, longed for the past, for the normal. He wondered if normalcy was something, like vision or silence, you didnt realize was precious until you lost it.

“Hes having a hard time,” she said in a low voice. “Im scared for him. ”

“I know,” Simon said. “Look, not to pry, but-has he figured out whats wrong with him? Has anyone?”

“He-” She broke off. “Hes all right. Hes just having a hard time coming to terms with some of the Valentine stuff. You know. ” Simon did know. He also knew she was lying. Clary, who hardly ever hid anything from him. He gave her a hard look.

“Hes been having bad dreams,” she said. “He was worried that there was some demon involvement-”

“Demon involvement?” Simon echoed in disbelief. Hed known that Jace was having bad dreams-hed said as much-but Jace had never mentioned demons.

“Well, apparently there are kinds of demons that try to reach you through your dreams,” Clary said, sounding as if she were sorry shed brought it up at all, “but Im sure its nothing. Everyone has bad dreams sometimes, dont they?” She put a hand on Simons arm. “Im just going to see how he is. Ill come back. ” Her gaze was already sliding past him, toward the doors that led onto the terrace; he stood back with a nod and let her go, watching her as she moved off into the crowd.

She looked so small-small the way she had in first grade when hed walked her to the front door of her house and watched her go up the stairs, tiny and determined, her lunch box banging against her knee as she went. He felt his heart, which no longer beat, contract, and he wondered if there was anything in the world as painful as not being able to protect the people you loved.

“You look sick,” said a voice at his elbow. Husky, familiar. “Thinking about what a horrible person you are?”

Simon turned and saw Maia leaning against the pillar behind him. She had a strand of the small, glowing white lights wound around her neck, and her face was flushed with champagne and the warmth of the room.

“Or maybe I should say,” she went on, “what a horrible vampire you are. Except that makes it sound like youre bad at being a vampire. ”

“I am bad at being a vampire,” Simon said. “But that doesnt mean I wasnt bad at being a boyfriend, too. ”

She smiled crookedly. “Bat says I shouldnt be so hard on you,” she said. “He says guys do stupid things when girls are involved. Especially geeky ones who previously havent had much luck with women. ”

“Its like he can see into my soul. ”

Maia shook her head. “Its hard to stay mad at you,” she said. “But Im working on it. ” She turned away.

“Maia,” Simon said. His head had started to ache, and he felt a little dizzy. If he didnt talk to her now, though, he never would. “Please. Wait. ”

She turned back and looked at him, both eyebrows raised questioningly.

“Im sorry about what I did,” he said. “I know I said that before, but I really do mean it. ”

She shrugged, expressionless, giving him nothing.

He swallowed past the pain in his head. “Maybe Bats right,” he said. “But I think theres more to it than that. I wanted to be with you because-and this is going to sound so selfish-you made me feel normal. Like the person I was before. ”

“Im a werewolf, Simon. Not exactly normal. ”

“But you-you are,” he said, stumbling over his words a little. “Youre genuine and real-one of the realest people Ive ever known. You wanted to come over and play Halo. You wanted to talk about comics and check out concerts and go dancing and just do normal things. And you treated me like I was normal. Youve never called me Daylighter or vampire or anything but Simon. ”

“Thats all friend stuff,” Maia said. She was leaning against the pillar again, her eyes glinting softly as she spoke. “Not girlfriend stuff. ”

Simon just looked at her. His headache pulsed like a heartbeat.

“And then you come around,” she added, “bringing Jordan with you. What were you thinking?”

“Thats not fair,” Simon protested. “I had no idea he was your ex-”

“I know. Isabelle told me,” Maia interrupted. “I just feel like giving you hell about it anyway. ”

“Oh, yeah?” Simon glanced over at Jordan, who was sitting alone at the round linen-draped table, like a guy whose prom date hadnt showed up. Simon suddenly felt very tired-tired of worrying about everyone, tired of feeling guilty for the things hed done and would probably do in the future. “Well, did Izzy tell you that Jordan got himself assigned to me so he could be near you? You should hear the way he asks about you. The way he says your name, even. Man, the way he ripped into me when he thought I was cheating on you-”

“You werent cheating. We werent exclusively dating. Cheating is different-”

Simon smiled as Maia broke off, blushing. “I guess its good that you dislike him so much that youll take my side against him no matter what,” he said.

“Its been years,” she said. “Hes never tried to get in touch with me. Not once. ”

“He did try,” Simon said. “Did you know the night he bit you was the first time he ever Turned?”

She shook her head, her curls bouncing, her wide amber eyes very serious. “No. I thought he knew-”

“That he was a werewolf? No. He knew he was losing control in some way, but who guesses theyre turning into a werewolf? The day after he bit you he went looking for you, but the Praetor stopped him. They kept him away from you. Even then he didnt stop looking. I dont think a days gone by in the past two years that he hasnt wondered where you were-”

“Why are you defending him?” she whispered.

“Because you should know,” said Simon. “I sucked at being a boyfriend, and I owe you. You should know he didnt mean to abandon you. He only took me on as an assignment because your name was mentioned in the notes on my case. ”

Her lips parted. As she shook her head, the glittering lights of her necklace winked like stars. “I just dont know what Im supposed to do with that, Simon. What am I supposed to do?”

“I dont know,” Simon said. His head felt like nails were being pounded into it. “But I can tell you one thing. Im the last guy in the world you should be asking for relationship advice from. ” He pressed a hand to his forehead. “Im going to go outside. Get some air. Jordans over at that table there if you want to talk to him. ”

He gestured over toward the tables and then turned away, away from her questioning eyes, from the eyes of everyone in the room, the sound of raised voices and laughter, and stumbled toward the doors.

***

Clary pushed open the doors that led out onto the terrace and was greeted by a rush of cold air. She shivered, wishing she had her coat but unwilling to take up any time going back to the table to get it. She stepped out onto the terrace and shut the door behind her.

The terrace was a wide expanse of flagstones, surrounded by ironwork railings. Tiki torches burned in big pewter holders, but they did little to warm the air-which probably explained why no one was out here but Jace. He was standing by the railing, looking out over the river.

She wanted to run over to him, but she couldnt help hesitating. He was wearing a dark suit, the jacket open over a white shirt, and his head was turned to the side, away from her. She had never seen him dressed like this before, and it made him look older and a little remote. The wind off the river lifted his fair hair, and she saw the little scar across the side of his throat where Simon had bitten him once, and she remembered that Jace had let himself be bitten, had risked his life, for her.

“Jace,” she said.

He turned and looked at her and smiled. The smile was familiar and seemed to unlock something inside her, freeing her to run across the flagstones to him and throw her arms around him. He picked her up and held her off the ground for a long time, his face buried in her neck.

“Youre all right,” she said finally, when he set her down. She scrubbed fiercely at the tears that had spilled out of her eyes. “I mean-the Silent Brothers wouldnt have let you go if you werent all right-but I thought they said the ritual was going to take a long time? Days, even?”

“It didnt. ” He put his hands on either side of her face and smiled down at her. Behind him the Queensboro Bridge arced out over the water. “You know the Silent Brothers. They like to make a big deal out of everything they do. But its actually a pretty simple ceremony. ” He grinned. “I felt kind of stupid. Its a ceremony meant for little kids, but I just kept thinking that if I got it over with fast, Id get to see you in your sexy party dress. It got me through. ” His eyes raked her up and down. “And let me tell you, I am not disappointed. Youre gorgeous. ”

“You look pretty good yourself. ” She laughed a little through the tears. “I didnt even think you owned a suit. ”

“I didnt. I had to buy one. ” He slid his thumbs over her cheekbones where the tears had made them damp. “Clary-”

“Why did you come out here?” she asked. “Its freezing. Dont you want to go back inside?”

He shook his head. “I wanted to talk to you alone. ”

“So talk,” Clary said in a half whisper. She took his hands away from her face and put them on her waist. Her need to be held against him was almost overwhelming. “Is something else wrong? Are you going to be okay? Please dont hold anything back from me. After everything thats happened, you should know I can handle any bad news. ” She knew she was nervously chattering, but she couldnt help it. Her heart felt as if it were beating a thousand miles a minute. “I just want you to be all right,” she said as calmly as she could.

His gold eyes darkened. “I keep going through that box. The one that belonged to my father. I dont feel anything about it. The letters, the photos. I dont know who those people were. They dont feel real to me. Valentine was real. ”

Clary blinked; it wasnt what shed expected him to say. “Remember, I said that it would take time-”

He didnt even seem to hear her. “If I really were Jace Morgenstern, would you still love me? If I were Sebastian, would you love me?”

She squeezed his hands. “You could never be like that. ”

“If Valentine did to me what he did to Sebastian, would you love me?”

There was an urgency to the question that she didnt understand. Clary said, “But then you wouldnt be you. ”

His breath caught, almost as if what shed said had hurt him-but how could it have? It was the truth. He wasnt like Sebastian. He was like himself. “I dont know who I am,” he said. “I look at myself in the mirror and I see Stephen Herondale, but I act like a Lightwood and talk like my father-like Valentine. So I see who I am in your eyes, and I try to be that person, because you have faith in that person and I think faith might be enough to make me what you want. ”

“Youre already what I want. You always have been,” Clary said, but she couldnt help feeling as if she were calling into an empty room. It was as if Jace couldnt hear her, no matter how many times she told him she loved him. “I know you feel like you dont know who you are, but I do. I know. And someday you will too. And in the meantime you cant keep worrying about losing me, because itll never happen. ”

“There is a way. . . ” Jace raised his eyes to hers. “Give me your hand. ”

Surprised, Clary reached her hand out, remembering the first time hed ever taken her hand like that. She had the rune now, the open-eye rune, on the back of her hand, the one hed been looking for then and hadnt found. Her first permanent rune. He turned her hand over, baring her wrist, the vulnerable skin of her forearm.

She shivered. The wind off the river felt as if it were driving into her bones. “Jace, what are you doing?”

“Remember what I said about Shadowhunter weddings? How instead of exchanging rings, we Mark each other with runes of love and commitment?” He looked at her, his eyes wide and vulnerable under their thick gold lashes. “I want to Mark you in a way that will bind us together, Clary. Its just a small Mark, but its permanent. Are you willing?”

She hesitated. A permanent rune, when they were so young-her mother would be incensed. But nothing else seemed to be working; nothing she said convinced him. Maybe this would. Silently, she drew out her stele and handed it to him. He took it, brushing her fingers as he did. She was shivering harder now, cold everywhere except where he touched her. He cradled her arm against him and lowered the stele, touching it softly to her skin, moving it gently up and down, and then, when she didnt protest, with more force. As cold as she was, the burn of the stele was almost welcome. She watched as the dark lines spiraled out from the tip of it, forming a pattern of hard, angular lines.

Her nerves tingled with a sudden alarm. The pattern didnt speak of love and commitment to her; there was something else there, something darker, something that spoke of control and submission, of loss and darkness. Was he drawing the wrong rune? But this was Jace; surely he knew better than that. And yet a numbness was beginning to spread up her arm from the place the stele touched-a painful tingling, like nerves waking up-and she felt dizzy, as if the ground were moving under her-

“Jace. ” Her voice rose, tinged with anxiety. “Jace, I dont think thats right-”

He let her arm go. He held the stele balanced lightly in his hand, with the same grace with which he would hold any weapon. “Im sorry, Clary,” he said. “I do want to be bound to you. I would never lie about that. ”

She opened her mouth to ask him what on earth he was talking about, but no words came. The darkness was rushing up too fast. The last thing she felt was Jaces arms around her as she fell.

After what seemed like an eternity of wandering around what he considered to be an extremely boring party, Magnus finally found Alec, sitting alone at a table in a corner, behind a spray of artificial white roses. There were a number of champagne glasses on the table, most half-full, as if passing partygoers had abandoned them there. Alec was looking rather abandoned himself. He had his chin in his hands and was staring moodily into space. He didnt look up, even when Magnus hitched a foot around the chair opposite his, spun it toward him, and sat down, resting his arms along the back.

“Do you want to go back to Vienna?” he said.

Alec didnt answer, just stared into space.

“Or we could go somewhere else,” said Magnus. “Anywhere you want. Thailand, South Carolina, Brazil, Peru-Oh, wait, no, Im banned from Peru. Id forgotten about that. Its a long story, but amusing if you want to hear it. ”

Alecs expression said that he very much did not want to hear it. Pointedly he turned and looked out over the room as if the werewolf string quartet fascinated him.

Since Alec was ignoring him, Magnus decided to amuse himself by changing the colors of the champagne in the glasses on the table. He made one blue, the next pink, and was working on green when Alec reached across the table and hit him on the wrist.

“Stop that,” he said. “People are looking. ”

Magnus looked down at his fingers, which were spraying blue sparks. Maybe it was a bit obvious. He curled his fingers under. “Well,” he said. “I have to do something to keep myself from dying of boredom, since youre not talking to me. ”

“Im not,” said Alec. “Not talking to you, I mean. ”

“Oh?” said Magnus. “I just asked you if you wanted to go to Vienna, or Thailand, or the moon, and I dont recall you saying anything in response. ”

“I dont know what I want. ” Alec, his head bent, was playing with an abandoned plastic fork. Though his eyes were defiantly cast down, their pale blue color was visible even through his lowered eyelids, which were pale and as fine as parchment. Magnus had always found humans more beautiful than any other creatures alive on the earth, and had often wondered why. Only a few years before dissolution, Camille had said. But it was mortality that made them what they were, the flame that blazed brighter for its flickering. Death is the mother of beauty, as the poet said. He wondered if the Angel had ever considered making his human servants, the Nephilim, immortal. But no, for all their strength, they fell as humans had always fallen in battle through all the ages of the world.

“Youve got that look again,” Alec said peevishly, glancing up through his lashes. “Like youre staring at something I cant see. Are you thinking about Camille?”

“Not really,” Magnus said. “How much of the conversation I had with her did you overhear?”

“Most of it. ” Alec prodded the tablecloth with his fork. “I was listening at the door. Enough. ”

“Not at all enough, I think. ” Magnus glared at the fork, and it skidded out of Alecs grasp and across the table toward him. He slammed his hand down on top of it and said, “Stop fidgeting. What was it I said to Camille that bothered you so much?”

Alec raised his blue eyes. “Whos Will?”

Magnus exhaled a sort of laugh. “Will. Dear God. That was a long time ago. Will was a Shadowhunter, like you. And yes, he did look like you, but youre not anything like him. Jace is much more the way Will was, in personality at least-and my relationship with you is nothing like the one I had with Will. Is that whats bothering you?”

“I dont like thinking youre only with me because I look like some dead guy you liked. ”

“I never said that. Camille implied it. She is a master of implication and manipulation. She always has been. ”

“You didnt tell her she was wrong. ”

“If you let Camille, she will attack you on every front. Defend one front, and she will attack another. The only way to deal with her is to pretend she isnt getting to you. ”

“She said pretty boys were your undoing,” Alec said. “Which makes it sound like Im just one in a long line of toys for you. One dies or goes away, you get another one. Im nothing. Im-trivial. ”

“Alexander-”

“Which,” Alec went on, staring down at the table again, “is especially unfair, because you are anything but trivial for me. I changed my whole life for you. But nothing ever changes for you, does it? I guess thats what it means to live forever. Nothing ever really has to matter all that much. ”

“Im telling you that you do matter-”

“The Book of the White,” Alec said, suddenly. “Why did you want it so badly?”

Magnus looked at him, puzzled. “You know why. Its a very powerful spellbook. ”

“But you wanted it for something specific, didnt you? A spell that was in it?” Alec took a ragged breath. “You dont have to answer; I can tell by your face that you did. Was it-was it a spell for making me immortal?”

Magnus felt shaken to his core. “Alec,” he whispered. “No. No, I-I wouldnt do that. ”

Alec fixed him with his piercing blue gaze. “Why not? Why through all the years of all the relationships youve ever had have you never tried to make any of them immortal like you? If you could have me with you forever, wouldnt you want to?”

“Of course I would!” Magnus, realizing he was almost shouting, lowered his voice with an effort. “But you dont understand. You dont get something for nothing. The price for living forever-”

“Magnus. ” It was Isabelle, hurrying toward them, her phone in her hand. “Magnus, I need to talk to you. ”

“Isabelle. ” Normally Magnus liked Alecs sister. Not so much at the moment. “Lovely, wonderful Isabelle. Could you please go away? Now is a really bad time. ”

Isabelle looked from Magnus to her brother, and back again. “Then, you dont want me to tell you that Camilles just escaped from the Sanctuary and my mother is demanding that you come back to the Institute right now to help them find her?”

“No,” Magnus said. “I dont want you to tell me that. ”

“Well, too bad,” Isabelle said. “Because its true. I mean, I guess you dont have to go, but-”

The rest of the sentence hung in the air, but Magnus knew what she wasnt saying. If he didnt go, the Clave would be suspicious that hed had something to do with Camilles escape, and that was the last thing he needed. Maryse would be furious, complicating his relationship with Alec even further. And yet-

“She escaped?” Alec said. “No ones ever escaped from the Sanctuary. ”

“Well,” said Isabelle, “now someone has. ”

Alec slunk down lower in his seat. “Go,” he said. “Its an emergency. Just go. We can talk later. ”

“Magnus. . . ” Isabelle sounded half-apologetic, but there was no mistaking the urgency in her voice.

“Fine. ” Magnus stood up. “But,” he added, pausing by Alecs chair and leaning in close to him, “you are not trivial. ”

Alec flushed. “If you say so,” he said.

“I say so,” said Magnus, and he turned to follow Isabelle out of the room.

Outside on the deserted street, Simon leaned against the wall of the Ironworks, against the ivy-covered brick, and stared up at the sky. The lights of the bridge washed out the stars so there was nothing to see but a sheet of velvety blackness. He wished with a sudden fierceness that he could breathe in the cold air to clear his head, that he could feel it on his face, on his skin. All he was wearing was a thin shirt, and it made no difference. He couldnt shiver, and even the memory of what it felt like to shiver was going away from him, little by little, every day, slipping away like the memories of another life.

“Simon?”

He froze where he stood. That voice, small and familiar, drifting like a thread on the cold air. Smile. That was the last thing she had said to him.

But it couldnt be. She was dead.

“Wont you look at me, Simon?” Her voice was as small as ever, barely a breath. “Im right here. ”

Dread clawed its way up his spine. He opened his eyes, and turned his head slowly.

Maureen stood in the circle of light cast by a streetlamp just at the corner of Vernon Boulevard. She wore a long white virginal dress. Her hair was brushed straight down over her shoulders, shining yellow in the lamplight. There was still some grave dirt caught in it. There were little white slippers on her feet. Her face was dead white, circles of rouge painted on her cheekbones, and her mouth colored a dark pink as if it had been drawn on with a felt-tip marker.

Simons knees gave out. He slid down the wall he had been leaning against, until he was sitting on the ground, his knees drawn up. His head felt like it was going to explode.

Maureen gave a girlish little giggle and stepped out of the lamplight. She moved toward him and looked down; her face wore a look of amused satisfaction.

“I thought youd be surprised,” she said.

“Youre a vampire,” Simon said. “But-how? I didnt do this to you. I know I didnt. ”

Maureen shook her head. “It wasnt you. But it was because of you. They thought I was your girlfriend, you know. They took me out of my bedroom at night, and they kept me in a cage for the whole next day. They told me not to worry because youd come for me. But you didnt come. You never came. ”

“I didnt know. ” Simons voice cracked. “I would have come if Id known. ”

Maureen flung her blond hair back over her shoulder in a gesture that reminded Simon suddenly and painfully of Camille. “It doesnt matter,” she said in her girlish little voice. “When the sun went down, they told me I could die or I could choose to live like this. As a vampire. ”

“So you chose this?”

“I didnt want to die,” she breathed. “And now Ill be pretty and young forever. I can stay out all night, and I never need to go home. And she takes care of me. ”

“Who are you talking about? Whos she? Do you mean Camille? Look, Maureen, shes crazy. You shouldnt listen to her. ” Simon staggered to his feet. “I can get you help. Find you a place to stay. Teach you how to be a vampire-”

“Oh, Simon. ” She smiled, and her little white teeth showed in a precise row. “I dont think you know how to be a vampire either. You didnt want to bite me, but you did. I remember. Your eyes went all black like a sharks, and you bit me. ”

“Im so sorry. If youll let me help you-”

“You could come with me,” she said. “That would help me. ”

“Come with you where?”

Maureen looked up and down the empty street. She looked like a ghost in her thin white dress. The wind blew it around her body, but she clearly didnt feel the cold. “You have been chosen,” she said. “Because you are a Daylighter. Those who did this to me want you. But they know you bear the Mark now. They cant get to you unless you choose to come to them. So they sent me as a messenger. ” She cocked her head to the side, like a birds. “I might not be anyone who matters to you,” she said, “but the next time it will be. They will keep coming for the people you love until there is no one left, so you might as well come with me and find out what they want. ”

“Do you know?” Simon asked. “Do you know what they want?”

She shook her head. She was so pale under the diffuse lamplight that she looked almost transparent, as if Simon could have looked right through her. The way, he supposed, he always had.

“Does it matter?” she said, and reached out her hand.

“No,” he said. “No, I guess it doesnt. ” And he took her hand.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19