“And you don’t think we’re smart enough to know the difference?” asked Simon.
“I don’t think you’re smart enough not to get turned into a rat by accident.”
Simon glared at him. “I don’t see that it matters what you think we should do,” he said. “Considering that you can’t go with us in the first place. You can’t go anywhere.”
Jace stood up, knocking his chair back violently. “You are not taking Clary to the Seelie Court without me and that is final!”
Clary stared at him with her mouth open. He was flushed with anger, teeth gritted, veins corded in his neck. He was also avoiding looking at her.
“I can take care of Clary,” Alec said, and there was hurt in his voice—whether because Jace had doubted his abilities or because of something else, Clary wasn’t sure.
“Alec,” said Jace, his eyes locked with his friend’s. “No. You can’t.”
Alec swallowed. “We’re going,” he said. He spoke the words like an apology. “Jace—a request from the Seelie Court—it would be stupid to ignore it. Besides, Isabelle’s probably already told them we’re coming.”
“There is no chance I’m going to let you do this, Alec,” Jace said in a dangerous voice. “I’ll wrestle you to the ground if I have to.”
“While that does sound tempting,” said Magnus, flipping his long silk sleeves back, “there is another way.”
“What other way? This is a directive from the Clave. I can’t just weasel out of it.”
“But I can.” Magnus grinned. “Never doubt my weaseling abilities, Shadowhunter, for they are epic and memorable in their scope. I specifically enchanted the contract with the Inquisitor so that I could let you go for a short time if I desired, as long as another of the Nephilim was willing to take your place.”
“Where are we going to find another—Oh,” Alec said meekly. “You mean me.”
Jace’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, now you don’t want to go to the Seelie Court?”
Alec flushed. “I think it’s more important for you to go than me. You’re Valentine’s son, I’m sure you’re the one the Queen really wants to see. Besides, you’re charming.”
“Maybe not at the moment,” Alec amended. “But you’re usually charming. And faeries are very susceptible to charm.”
“Plus, if you stay here, I’ve got the whole first season of Gilligan’s Island on DVD,” Magnus said.
“No one could turn that down,” said Jace. He still wouldn’t look at Clary.
“Isabelle can meet you in the park by Turtle Pond,” said Alec. “She knows the secret entrance to the Court. She’ll be waiting.”
“And one last thing,” Magnus said, jabbing a ringed finger at Jace. “Try not to get yourself killed in the Seelie Court. If you die, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do.”
At that, Jace broke into a grin. It was an unsettling grin, less a flash of amusement than the gleam of an unsheathed blade. “You know,” he said, “I have a feeling that that’s going to be the case whether I get myself killed or not.”
Thick tendrils of moss and plants surrounded the rim of Turtle Pond like a bordering of green lace. The surface of the water was still, rippled here and there in the wake of drifting ducks, or dimpled by the silvery flick of a fish’s tail.
There was a small wooden gazebo built out over the water; Isabelle was sitting in it, staring out across the lake. She looked like a princess in a fairy tale, waiting at the top of her tower for someone to ride up and rescue her.
Not that traditional princess behavior was like Isabelle at all. Isabelle with her whip and boots and knives would chop anyone who tried to pen her up in a tower into pieces, build a bridge out of the remains, and walk carelessly to freedom, her hair looking fabulous the entire time. This made Isabelle a hard person to like, though Clary was trying.
“Izzy,” said Jace, as they neared the pond, and she jumped up and spun around. Her smile was dazzling.
“Jace!” She flew at him and hugged him. Now that was the way sisters were supposed to act, Clary thought. Not all stiff and weird and peculiar, but happy and loving. Watching Jace hug Isabelle, she tried to school her features into a happy and loving expression.
“Are you all right?” Simon asked, with some concern. “Your eyes are crossing.”
“I’m fine.” Clary abandoned the attempt.
“Are you sure? You looked sort of … contorted.”
Isabelle drifted over, Jace a pace behind her. She was wearing a long black dress with boots and an even longer cutaway coat of soft green velvet, the color of moss. “I can’t believe you did it!” she exclaimed. “How did you get Magnus to let Jace leave?”
“Traded him for Alec,” Clary said.
Isabelle looked mildly alarmed. “Not permanently?”
“No,” said Jace. “Just for a few hours. Unless I don’t come back,” he added thoughtfully. “In which case, maybe he does get to keep Alec. Think of it as a lease with an option to buy.”
Isabelle looked dubious. “Mom and Dad won’t be pleased if they find out.”
“That you freed a possible criminal by trading away your brother to a warlock who looks like a gay Sonic the Hedgehog and dresses like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?” Simon inquired. “No, probably not.”
Jace looked at him thoughtfully. “Is there some particular reason that you’re here? I’m not so sure we should be bringing you to the Seelie Court. They hate mundanes.”
Simon rolled his eyes upward. “Not this again.”
“Not what again?” said Clary.
“Every time I annoy him, he retreats into his No Mundanes Allowed tree house.” Simon pointed at Jace. “Let me remind you, the last time you wanted to leave me behind, I saved all your lives.”
“Sure,” said Jace. “One time—”
“The faerie courts are dangerous,” cut in Isabelle. “Even your skill with the bow won’t help you. It’s not that kind of danger.”
“I can take care of myself,” said Simon. A sharp wind had come up. It blew drying leaves across the gravel at their feet and made Simon shiver. He dug his hands into the wool-lined pockets of his jacket.
“You don’t have to come,” Clary said.
He looked at her, a steady, measured look. She remembered him back at Luke’s, calling her my girlfriend with no measure of doubt or indecision. Whatever else you could say about Simon, he knew what he wanted. “Yeah,” he said. “I do.”
Jace made a noise under his breath. “Then I suppose we’re ready,” he said. “Don’t expect any special consideration, mundane.”
“Look on the bright side,” said Simon. “If they need a human sacrifice, you can always offer me. I’m not sure the rest of you qualify anyway.”
Jace brightened. “It’s always nice when someone volunteers to be the first up against the wall.”
“Come on,” Isabelle said. “The door is about to open.”
Clary glanced around. The sun had set completely and the moon was up, a wedge of creamy white casting its reflection onto the pond. It wasn’t quite full, but shadowed at one edge, giving it the look of a half-lidded eye. Night wind rattled the tree branches, knocking them against one another with a sound like hollow bones.
“Where do we go?” Clary asked. “Where’s the door?”
Isabelle’s smile was like a whispered secret. “Follow me.”
She moved down to the edge of the water, her boots leaving deep impressions in the wet mud. Clary followed, glad she was wearing jeans and not a skirt as Isabelle hiked her coat and dress up over her knees, leaving her slim white legs bare above her boots. Her skin was covered in Marks like licks of black fire.
Simon, behind her, swore as he slipped in the mud; Jace moved automatically to steady him as they all turned. Simon jerked his arm back. “I don’t need your help.”
“Stop it.” Isabelle tapped a booted foot in the shallow water at the lake’s edge. “Both of you. In fact, all three of you. If we don’t stick together in the Seelie Court, we’re dead.”
“But I haven’t—” Clary started.
“Maybe you haven’t, but the way you let those two act…” Isabelle indicated the boys with a disdainful wave of her hand.
“I can’t tell them what to do!”
“Why not?” the other girl demanded. “Honestly, Clary, if you don’t start utilizing a bit of your natural feminine superiority – I just don’t know what I’ll do with you.” She turned toward the pond, then spun around again. “And lest I forget,” she added sternly, “for the love of the Angel, don’t eat or drink anything while we’re underground, any of you. Okay?”
“Underground?” said Simon worriedly. “Nobody said anything about underground.”
Isabelle threw up her hands and splashed out into the pond. Her green velvet coat swirled out around her like an enormous lily pad. “Come on. We only have until the moon moves.”
The moon what? Shaking her head, Clary stepped out into the pond. The water was shallow and clear; in the bright starlight, she could see the black shapes of tiny darting fish moving past her ankles. She gritted her teeth as she waded farther out into the pond. The cold was intense.
Behind her, Jace moved out into the water with a contained grace that barely rippled the surface. Simon, behind him, was splashing and cursing. Isabelle, having reached the center of the pond, paused there, up to her rib cage in water. She held out her hand toward Clary. “Stop.”
Clary stopped. Just in front of her, the reflection of the moon glimmered atop the water like a huge silvery dinner plate. Some part of her knew that it didn’t work like this; the moon was supposed to move away from you as you approached, ever receding. But here it was, hovering just on the surface of the water as if it were anchored in place.
“Jace, you go first,” Isabelle said, and beckoned him. “Come on.”
He brushed past Clary, smelling of wet leather and char. She saw him smile as he turned, and then he stepped backward into the reflection of the moon—and vanished.
“Okay,” said Simon unhappily. “Okay, that was weird.”
Clary glanced back at him. He was only hip-deep in water, but he was shivering, his hands hugging his elbows. She smiled at him and took a step backward, feeling a shock of icier cold when she moved into the shimmering silver reflection. She teetered for a moment, as if she’d lost her balance on the highest rung of a ladder—and then fell backward into darkness as the moon swallowed her up.
She hit packed earth, stumbled, and felt a hand on her arm, steadying her. It was Jace. “Easy does it,” he said, and let her go.
She was soaking wet, rivulets of cold water running down the back of her shirt, her damp hair clinging to her face. Her drenched clothes felt as if they weighed a ton.
They were in a hollowed-out dirt corridor, illuminated by faintly glowing moss. A tangle of dangling vines formed a curtain at one end of the corridor and long, hairy tendrils hung like dead snakes from the ceiling. Tree roots, Clary realized. They were underground. And it was cold down here, cold enough to make her breath puff out in an icy mist when she exhaled.
“Cold?” Jace was soaking wet too, his light hair almost colorless where it stuck to his cheeks and forehead. Water ran from his wet jeans and jacket, and made the white shirt he was wearing transparent. She could see the dark lines of his permanent Marks through it and the faint scar on his shoulder.
She looked away quickly. Water clung to her lashes, blurring her vision like tears. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine.” He moved closer, and she could feel the warmth of him even through his wet clothes and hers, thawing her icy skin.
A dark shape hurtled by, just out of the corner of her eye, and hit the ground with a thud. It was Simon, also soaking wet. He rolled onto his knees and looked around frantically. “My glasses—”
“I’ve got them.” Clary was used to retrieving Simon’s glasses for him during soccer games. They always seemed to fall just under his feet, where they were inevitably stepped on. “Here you go.”
He slid them on, scraping dirt off the lenses. “Thanks.”
Clary could feel Jace watching them, feel his gaze like a weight on her shoulders. She wondered if Simon could too. He stood up with a frown, just as Isabelle dropped out of the heavens, landing gracefully on her feet. Water ran from her long, streaming hair and weighed down her heavy velvet coat, but she barely seemed to notice. “Oooh, that was fun.”
“That does it,” said Jace. “I’m going to get you a dictionary for Christmas this year.”
“Why?” Isabelle said.
“So you can look up ‘fun.’ I’m not sure you know what it means.”
Isabelle pulled the long heavy mass of her wet hair forward and wrung it out as if it were wet washing. “You’re raining on my parade.”
“It’s a pretty wet parade already, if you hadn’t noticed.” Jace glanced around. “Now what? Which way do we go?”
“Neither way,” said Isabelle. “We wait here, and they come and get us.”
Clary was not impressed by this suggestion. “How do they know we’re here? Is there a doorbell we have to ring or something?”
“The Court knows all that happens in their lands. Our presence won’t go unnoticed.”
Simon looked at her with suspicion. “And how do you know so much about faeries and the Seelie Court, anyway?”