“Be reasonable, Isabelle,” Alec pointed out, in that superior big-brother tone that seemed to imply that while she, Isabelle, might be prone to hysteria, he, Alec, was always perfectly calm. Even his posture—he was lounging in one of the overstuffed armchairs next to the Penhallows’ fireplace as if he didn’t have a care in the world—seemed designed to show off how unworried he was. “Jace does this when he’s upset, goes off and wanders around. He said he was going for a walk. He’ll be back.”
Isabelle sighed. She almost wished her parents were there, but they were still up at the Gard. Whatever the Clave was discussing, the Council meeting was dragging on brutally late. “But he knows New York. He doesn’t know Alicante—”
“He probably knows it better than you do.” Aline was sitting on the couch reading a book, its pages bound in dark red leather. Her black hair was pulled behind her head in a French braid, her eyes fastened on the volume spread across her lap. Isabelle, who had never been much of a reader, always envied other people their ability to get lost in a book. There were a lot of things she once would have envied Aline for—being small and delicately pretty, for one thing, not Amazonian and so tall in heels she towered over almost every boy she met. But then again, it was only recently that Isabelle had realized other girls weren’t just for envying, avoiding, or disliking. “He lived here until he was ten. You guys have only visited a few times.”
Isabelle raised her hand to her throat with a frown. The pendant slung on the chain around her neck had given a sudden, sharp pulse—but it normally only pulsed in the presence of demons, and they were in Alicante. There was no way there were demons nearby. Maybe the pendant was malfunctioning. “I don’t think he’s wandering around, anyway. I think it’s pretty obvious where he went,” Isabelle responded.
Alec raised his eyes. “You think he went to see Clary?”
“Is she still here? I thought she was supposed to be going back to New York.” Aline let her book fall closed. “Where is Jace’s sister staying, anyway?”
Isabelle shrugged. “Ask him,” she said, cutting her eyes toward Sebastian.
Sebastian was sprawled on the couch opposite Aline’s. He had a book in his hand too, and his dark head was bent over it. He raised his eyes as if he could feel Isabelle’s gaze on him.
“Were you talking about me?” he asked mildly. Everything about Sebastian was mild, Isabelle thought with a twinge of annoyance. She’d been impressed by his looks at first—those sharply planed cheekbones and those black, fathomless eyes—but his affable, sympathetic personality grated on her now. She didn’t like boys who looked as if they never got mad about anything. In Isabelle’s world, rage equaled passion equaled a good time.
“What are you reading?” she asked, more sharply than she’d meant to. “Is that one of Max’s comic books?”
“Yep.” Sebastian looked down at the copy of Angel Sanctuary balanced on the sofa’s arm. “I like the pictures.”
Isabelle blew out an exasperated breath. Shooting her a look, Alec said, “Sebastian, earlier today … Does Jace know where you went?”
“You mean that I was out with Clary?” Sebastian looked amused. “Look, it’s not a secret. I would have told Jace if I’d seen him since.”
“I don’t see why he would care.” Aline put her book aside, an edge to her voice. “It’s not like Sebastian did anything wrong. So what if he wants to show Clarissa some of Idris before she goes home? Jace ought to be pleased his sister isn’t sitting around bored and annoyed.”
“He can be very … protective,” Alec said after a slight hesitation.
Aline frowned. “He should back off. It can’t be good for her, being so overprotected. The look on her face when she walked in on us, it was like she’d never seen anyone kissing before. I mean, who knows, maybe she hasn’t.”
“She has,” Isabelle said, thinking of the way Jace had kissed Clary in the Seelie Court. It wasn’t something she liked to think about—Isabelle didn’t enjoy wallowing in her own sorrows, much less other people’s. “It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” Sebastian straightened up, pushing a lock of dark hair out of his eyes. Isabelle caught a flash of something—a red line across his palm, like a scar. “Is it just that he hates me personally? Because I don’t know what it is I ever—”
“That’s my book.” A small voice interrupted Sebastian’s speech. It was Max, standing in the living room doorway. He was wearing gray pajamas and his brown hair was disarrayed as if he’d just woken up. He was glaring at the manga novel sitting next to Sebastian.
“What, this?” Sebastian held out the copy of Angel Sanctuary. “Here you go, kid.”
Max stalked across the room and snatched the book back. He scowled at Sebastian. “Don’t call me kid.”
Sebastian laughed and stood up. “I’m getting some coffee,” he said, and headed for the kitchen. He paused and turned in the doorway. “Does anyone want anything?”
There was a chorus of refusals. With a shrug Sebastian disappeared into the kitchen, letting the door swing shut behind him.
“Max,” Isabelle said sharply. “Don’t be rude.”
“I don’t like it when people take my stuff.” Max hugged the comic book to his chest.
“Grow up, Max. He was just borrowing it.” Isabelle’s voice came out more irritably than she’d intended; she was still worried about Jace, she knew, and was taking it out on her little brother. “You should be in bed anyway. It’s late.”
“There were noises up on the hill. They woke me up.” Max blinked; without his glasses, everything was pretty much a blur to him. “Isabelle …”
The questioning note in his voice got her attention. Isabelle turned away from the window. “What?”
“Do people ever climb the demon towers? Like, for any reason?”
Aline looked up. “Climb the demon towers?” She laughed. “No, no one ever does that. It’s totally illegal, for one thing; and besides, why would you want to?”
Aline, Isabelle thought, did not have much imagination. She herself could think of lots of reasons why someone might want to climb the demon towers, if only to spit gum down on passersby below.
Max was frowning. “But someone did. I know I saw—”
“Whatever you think you saw, you probably dreamed it,” Isabelle told him.
Max’s face creased. Sensing a potential meltdown, Alec stood up and held out a hand. “Come on, Max,” he said, not without affection. “Let’s get you back to bed.”
“We should all get to bed,” Aline said, standing up. She came over to the window beside Isabelle and drew the curtains firmly shut. “It’s already almost midnight; who knows when they’ll get back from the Council? There’s no point staying—”
The pendant at Isabelle’s throat pulsed again, sharply—and then the window Aline was standing in front of shattered inward. Aline screamed as hands reached through the gaping hole—not hands, really, Isabelle saw with the clarity of shock, but huge, scaled claws, streaked with blood and blackish fluid. They seized Aline and yanked her through the smashed window before she could utter a second scream.
Isabelle’s whip was lying on the table by the fireplace. She dashed for it now, ducking around Sebastian, who had come racing out of the kitchen. “Get weapons,” she snapped as he stared around the room in astonishment. “Go!” she shrieked, and ran for the window.
By the fireplace Alec was holding Max as the younger boy squirmed and yelled, trying to wriggle out of his brother’s grip. Alec dragged him toward the door. Good, Isabelle thought. Get Max out of here.
Cold air blew through the shattered window. Isabelle pulled her skirt up and kicked out the rest of the broken glass, thankful for the thick soles of her boots. When the glass was gone, she ducked her head and jumped out through the gaping hole in the frame, landing with a jolt on the stone walkway below.
At first glance the walkway looked empty. There were no streetlights along the canal; the main illumination here came from the windows of nearby houses. Isabelle moved forward cautiously, her electrum whip coiled at her side. She had owned the whip for so long—it had been a twelfth birthday present from her father—that it felt like part of her now, like a fluid extension of her right arm.
The shadows thickened as she moved away from the house and toward Oldcastle Bridge, which arched over the Princewater canal at an odd angle to the walkway. The shadows at its base were clustered as thickly as black flies—and then, as Isabelle stared, something moved within the shadows, something white and darting.
Isabelle ran, crashing through a low border of hedges at the end of someone’s garden and hopping down onto the narrow brick causeway that ran below the bridge. Her whip had begun to glow with a harsh silvery light, and in its faint illumination she could see Aline lying limply at the edge of the canal. A massive scaled demon was sprawled on top of her, pressing her down with the weight of its thick lizardlike body, its face buried in her neck—
But it couldn’t be a demon. There had never been demons in Alicante. Never. As Isabelle stared in shock, the thing raised its head and sniffed the air, as if sensing her there. It was blind, she saw, a thick line of serrated teeth running like a zipper across its forehead where eyes should be. It had another mouth on the lower half of its face as well, fanged with dripping tusks. The sides of its narrow tail glittered as it whipped back and forth, and Isabelle saw, drawing closer, that the tail was edged with razor-sharp lines of bone.
Aline twitched and made a noise, a gasping whimper. Relief spilled over Isabelle—she’d been half-sure Aline was dead—but it was short-lived. As Aline moved, Isabelle saw that her blouse had been sliced open down the front. There were claw marks on her chest, and the thing had another claw hooked into the waistband of her jeans.
A wave of nausea rolled over Isabelle. The demon wasn’t trying to kill Aline—not yet. Isabelle’s whip came alive in her hand like the flaming sword of an avenging angel; she launched herself forward, her whip slashing down across the demon’s back.
The demon screeched and rolled off Aline. It advanced on Isabelle, its two mouths gaping, talons slashing toward her face. Dancing backward, she threw the whip forward again; it slashed across the demon’s face, its chest, its legs. A myriad of crisscrossing lash marks sprang up across the demon’s scaled skin, dripping blood and ichor. A long forked tongue shot from its upper mouth, probing for Isabelle’s face. There was a bulb on the end of it, she saw, a sort of stinger, like a scorpion’s. She flicked her wrist to the side and the whip curled around the demon’s tongue, roping it with bands of flexible electrum. The demon screamed and screamed as she pulled the knot tight and jerked. The demon’s tongue fell with a wet, sickening thump to the bricks of the causeway.
Isabelle jerked the whip back. The demon turned and fled, moving with quick, darting motions like a snake. Isabelle darted after it. The demon was halfway to the path that led up from the causeway when a dark shape rose up in front of it. Something flashed in the darkness, and the demon fell twitching to the ground.
Isabelle came to an abrupt stop. Aline stood over the fallen demon, a slender dagger in her hand—she must have been wearing it on her belt. The runes on the blade shone like flashing lightning as she drove the dagger down, plunging it over and over into the demon’s twitching body until the thing stopped moving entirely and vanished.
Aline looked up. Her face was blank. She made no move to hold her blouse closed, despite its torn buttons. Blood oozed from the deep scratch marks on her chest.
Isabelle let out a low whistle. “Aline—are you all right?”
Aline let the dagger fall to the ground with a clatter. Without another word she turned and ran, disappearing into the darkness under the bridge.
Caught by surprise, Isabelle swore and dashed after Aline. She wished she’d worn something more practical than a velvet dress tonight, although at least she’d put her boots on. She doubted she could have caught up to Aline wearing heels.
There were metal stairs on the other side of the causeway, leading back up to Princewater Street. Aline was a blur at the top of the stairway. Hiking up the heavy hem of her dress, Isabelle followed, her boots clattering on the steps. When she reached the top, she looked around for Aline.
And stared. She was standing at the foot of the broad road on which the Penhallows’ house fronted. She could no longer see Aline—the other girl had disappeared into the churning throng of people crowding the street. And not just people, either. There were things in the street—demons—dozens of them, maybe more, like the taloned lizard-creature Aline had dispatched under the bridge. Two or three bodies lay in the street already, one only a few feet from Isabelle—a man, half his rib cage torn away. Isabelle could see from his gray hair that he’d been elderly. But of course he was, she thought, her brain ticking over slowly, the speed of her thoughts dulled by panic. All the adults are in the Gard. Down in the city are only children, the old, and the sick….
The red-tinged air was full of the smell of burning, the night split by shrieks and screams. Doors were open all up and down the rows of houses—people were darting out of them, then stopping dead as they saw the street filled with monsters.
It was impossible, unimaginable. Never in history had a single demon crossed the wards of the demon towers. And now there were dozens. Hundreds. Maybe more, flooding the streets like a poisonous tide. Isabelle felt as if she were trapped behind a glass wall, able to see everything but unable to move—watching, frozen, as a demon seized a fleeing boy and lifted him bodily off the ground, sinking its serrated teeth into his shoulder.