He indicated with a gesture that she should dismount, and after a moment’s hesitation, Clary slid off the horse and into his arms. She clutched him as he caught her, her legs unsteady after the long ride. “Sorry,” she said sheepishly. “Sorry — I didn’t mean to grab you.”
“I wouldn’t apologize for that.” His breath was warm against her neck and she shivered. His hands lingered just a moment longer on her back before he reluctantly let her go. “I like that coat,” he said, his eyes lingering on her as his hands had done a moment ago. “Not only does it feel great, but the color makes your eyes look even more green.”
All this wasn’t helping Clary’s legs feel any less unsteady. “Thanks,” she said, knowing full well she was blushing and wishing heartily that her fair skin didn’t show color so readily. “So — this is it?” She looked around — they were standing in a sort of small valley between low hills. There were a number of gnarled-looking trees ranged around a clearing. Their twisted branches had a sort of sculptural beauty against the steel-blue sky. But otherwise… “There’s nothing here,” Clary said with a frown.
“Clary.” There was laughter in his voice. “Concentrate.”
“You mean — a glamour? But I don’t usually have to —”
“Glamours in Idris are often stronger than glamours elsewhere. You may have to try harder than you usually do.” He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her gently. “Look at the clearing.”
Clary looked. And silently performed the mental trick that allowed her to peel glamour from the thing it disguised. She imagined herself rubbing turpentine on a canvas, peeling away layers of paint to reveal the true image underneath — and there it was, a small stone house with a sharply gabled roof, smoke twisting from the chimney in an elegant curlicue. A winding path lined with stones led up to the front door. As she looked, the smoke puffing from the chimney stopped curling upward and began to take on the shape of a wavering black question mark.
Sebastian laughed. “I think that means who’s there?”
Clary pulled her jacket closer around her. She felt suddenly, unaccountably cold — the wind blowing across the level grass wasn’t that brisk, but there was ice in her bones nevertheless. “It looks like something out of a fairy tale.”
Sebastian didn’t disagree, just started up the front walk. Clary followed. When they reached the front steps, Sebastian took her hand. Immediately, the smoke curling from the chimney stopped forming itself into question marks and began puffing out in the shape of lopsided hearts. Clary snatched her hand back, felt immediately guilty, and reached for the door knocker to disguise her embarrassment. It was heavy and brass, shaped like a cat, and when she let it fall it hit the wooden door with a satisfying thwack.
The thwack was followed by a number of popping and clicking noises. The door shuddered and swung open. Beyond it, Clary could discern only darkness. She looked sideways at Sebastian, her mouth suddenly dry. Like a fairy tale cottage, she’d said. Except the things that lived in cottages in fairy tales weren’t always benevolent…
“At least it isn’t decorated with candy and gingerbread,” Sebastian said, as if reading her thoughts. “I’ll go in first, if you like.”
“No.” She shook her head. “We’ll go in together.”
They’d barely cleared the threshold when the door slammed shut behind them, shutting out all light. The blackness was relentless, impenetrable. Something brushed up against Clary in the darkness and she screamed.
“It’s just me,” Sebastian said irritably. “Here — take my hand.”
She felt his fingers grope for hers in the darkness and this time she seized onto his hand with a feeling of gratitude. Stupid, she thought, clutching Sebastian’s fingers tightly, stupid to come in here like this — Jace would be furious --
Light suddenly flickered in the darkness. Two bright eyes appeared, green as a cat’s, hanging against the blackness like jewels. Who is there? said a voice — soft as fur, sharp as ice shards.
“Sebastian Verlac and Clarissa Morgenstern. You saw us coming up the walk.” Sebastian’s voice rang out clear and strong. “I know you’re expecting us. My aunt Elodie told me where to find you. You’ve done work for her before —”
I know who you are. The eyes blinked, plunging them both momentarily back into darkness. Follow the torchlight.
“The what?” Clary turned, her hand still in Sebastian’s, in time to see a number of torches flare up in a line, one catching fire from the next, until a blazing path was lit before them. They followed it hand it hand like Hansel and Gretel following the breadcrumb trail in the dark forest, although Clary wondered if the children in the fairy tale had been holding hands quite so tightly…
The ground crunched softly underneath. Looking down Clary saw that the path was lined with shards of gleaming black, like the carapaces of enormous insects. “Dragon scales,” Sebastian said, following her gaze. “I’ve never seen so many…”
Dragons are real? Clary wanted to say, but stopped herself. Of course dragons were real. What was it Jace always said to her? All the stories are true. Before she could repeat that thought aloud, the path opened out and they found themselves standing in a wide-open garden bathed in sunlight. At least, at first glance it looked like a garden. There were trees, whose leaves gleamed silver and gold, and paths laid out between banks of flowers, and in the center of the garden a sort of pavilion with bright silk walls. The torchlit path continued in front of them, leading up to the pavilion, but as they followed it Clary saw that the flowers on either side of the path were ingenious creations of paper and cloth. There were no insects buzzing, no birds chirping. And when she glanced up, she saw that there was no sky overhead, just a painted backdrop of blue and white, with a single blazing light shining down on them where the sun ought to have been.
They had reached the pavilion. Inside it, Clary could just glimpse the soft, moving gleam of candlelight. Her curiosity won out over her nerves and she let go of Sebastian’s hand and ducked through a gap in the heavy silk hangings.
Clary stared. The inside of the pavilion looked like something out of an illustrated copy of the Arabian Nights. The walls were gold silk, the floor covered in embroidered rugs. Floating golden balls spilled incense that smelled like roses and jasmine, the scent so thick and sweet it made her cough. There were beaded pillows scattered everywhere and a big low couch, scattered with tasseled cushions. But that wasn’t the reason she was staring. She had been prepared for something fantastical, even bizarre. She had not, however, been prepared for the sight of Magnus Bane — wearing a gold mesh vest and a pair of transparent silk harem pants — puffing gently on a fantastically large hookah with a dozen snaky pipe-arms curling out of it.
“Welcome to my humble abode.” The smoke that floated up around Magnus’ ears formed itself into little stars as he grinned. “Anything I can get you? Wine? Water? Ichor?”
Clary found her voice. “An explanation would be nice. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Clary.” She hadn’t even noticed Sebastian follow her into the pavilion, but there he was, staring at her in horror. “There’s no need for you to be rude.”
“You don’t understand!” She turned to Sebastian, dismayed by the look on his face. “Something’s not right —”
“It’s all right, Clary,” he said. He turned to Magnus, his jaw set firmly. “Ragnor Fell,” he began, “I am Sebastian Verlac —”
“How nice for you,” Magnus said kindly, and snapped his fingers once.
Sebastian froze in place, his mouth still open, his hand partially outstretched in greeting.
“Sebastian!” Clary reached out to touch him, but he was as rigid as a statue. Only the slight rise and fall of his chest showed that he was even still alive. “Sebastian?” she said, again, but it was hopeless: she knew somehow that he couldn’t see or hear her. She turned on Magnus. “I can’t believe you just did that. What on earth is wrong with you? Has whatever’s in that pipe melted your brain? Sebastian’s on our side.”
“I don’t have a side, Clary darling,” Magnus said with a wave of his hookah. “And really, it’s your own fault I had to freeze him outside Time for a short while. You see, you were awfully close to telling him I’m not actually Ragnor Fell.”
“That’s because you’re not actually Ragnor Fell.”
Magnus blew a stream of smoke out of his mouth and regarded her thoughtfully through the haze. “Actually,” he said, “for all intents and purposes, I am.”
Clary’s head had begun to ache, whether from the thick smoke in the room or the effort of restraining her overwhelming urge to punch Magnus in the eye, she wasn’t sure. “I don’t get it.”
Magnus patted the sofa beside him. “Come sit down next to me and I’ll explain,” he purred. “You trust me, don’t you?”
Not really, Clary thought. But then again, who did she trust? Jace? Simon? Luke? None of them were around. With an apologetic glance at the frozen Sebastian, she went to join Magnus on the couch.