"You're okay, then? Are you sure you don't need anything? I have a little access to food and bandages, if you want those. I just feel so useless sitting around and doing nothing while you all are trapped down here."
Isabelle leaned against the bars of the Alec's cell and looked deep into his eyes. He tried to look away and keep the pain hidden safely away, but his sister knew him much better. She could see how desperate he looked, how drawn and tired his face was. When Isabelle turned away from Alec, she saw the same look reflected in all her friends' faces. It was horrible to have to come down into the shadows of the basement, but she felt as if she belonged nowhere else.
"Please, Izzy," came Jace's voice. "Don't get yourself into trouble for us. Just keep doing what Valentine says."
Isabelle didn't leave Alec's side, but she turned all her attention of Jace. "You don't know what it's like, Jace. All I do is sit in my room and wander around the Institute, and Valentine follows me around. I hate having him watching me, acting as if I'm a willing member of all of this. I have to listen to him make plans for taking Idris, and I go to all the meetings, and I have to help, and…and I just hate all of this!"
"Because we don't," Derek said caustically. Isabelle shot him a frown. "Yes, all of us here are incredibly comfortable. In fact, we're considering asking Valentine if he'll let us live down here permanently. Do you think he'll mind much?"
"I know!" Isabelle cried. "I know it's horrible and know you're having a horrible time, but I don't know what to do. That's why I'm offering you some help. Please, let me help you."
"Isabelle, no," Alec said firmly. "No matter what happens to us, you can't risk getting yourself hurt. As long as you're working for Valentine, he won't kill us. You're the only thing that stops him from ending our lives."
"How can I be expected to sit here and let you suffer while I just lounge around?" Isabelle asked, the desperation and longing in her voice. "I feel like I'm becoming less and less of a shadowhunter every day. I just want to scream!"
"Scream all you want, Isabelle, just keep doing what Valentine says," Alec replied.
"But I'm being useless-"
Jace stirred a little at the idea of Isabelle sitting there hopelessly. He studied her tense profile and her glowing eyes, and an idea came to his mind slowly. "Isabelle, do you want to do something for me? Something that might help us stop Valentine's plan?"
Isabelle looked as though she'd been struck by lightning, she sat up so straight. Her eyes darted to Jace and a small smile was curling over her lips. "What you got in mind?"
"Valentine was going on about how much he wanted to get Clary back, and he had me write her a letter, begging her to come back." Jace rubbed his arm inconspicuously, hoping Isabelle wouldn't see the movement. "I figure that if he wants Clary so bad, maybe if we stop him, it'll ruin part of his plans."
"You want me to steal the letter?" Isabelle asked, her eyes shining with excitement. "Do you know where he's keeping it?"
"It must be in the library where he keeps his desk," Jace said quickly, ignoring the furious look on Alec's face. "If you can sneak in there and burn the letter we may be able to stop him."
"But he'll notice the letter is gone!" Alec said at once. "Valentine is no fool, Jace. He'll just have you write another one."
"Well, I'd rather have to keep writing letters than have one actually sent," Jace muttered.
"No, Jace," Derek said. "Alec is right. There's no point in taking the letter from Valentine, but is there a way to write a new one? "
"What do you mean?" Jace asked sharply.
"I mean, what if you wrote a new letter and Valentine sent the new one to Clary?" Derek's mind was moving rapidly, jumping from place to place in quick succession. "It could be a plan of some sort, or even just a warning. Anything that would give Clary the upper hand over Valentine."
"That's not half bad, bro," Simon mused. "Maybe, Jace, you could give Clary directions to where we're being held, and warn her about Jonathan. He's probably going to be worse than Valentine when it comes right down to it. She and Luke might be able to make a plan to beat him."
Jace paled a little at the idea of Clary meeting her brother. Jonathan was not easily dealt with, and Clary was in no position to be picking a fight with him. "I don't know if I want her coming here at all," Jace murmured guiltily.
Both Isabelle and Tori fixed Jace with a stare that could have curdled milk. "How can you say that?" Tori demanded, her hands already shaking with pent up rage. "Valentine is keeping us locked in cages, and has every intention of doing it until we die, and you want to keep the only person who can possible help us away? Have you gone completely insane?"
Jace flared. "I will not send Clary to her death."
"When are you going to accept that she's not some helpless little girl?" Chloe sighed loudly. "You keep treating her like she's a child, but now you've got not choice, Jace. Clary is the only person who can help us now."
"She's not ready to fight-"
"Neither were any of us!" Chloe returned. "Do you think me or Derek or Rae or Simon were ready to fight? I grew up living in posh apartments, and have just recently begun living on the streets. None of the four of us were trained to be warriors, but we came anyway. You have to let Clary come."
"I love her," Jace said simply, but his eyes were downcast. "I would do anything to keep her from coming here. I grew up with Valentine, and I know what he'll do to Clary if he gets his hands on her. I couldn't live with myself if I let her come to me."
"You know what I hear," Chloe said, and her voice softened. "All you keep saying is 'I', but this isn't about just you, Jace. I know you love Clary, and I know you want her to be safe, but there are more lives at stake than you realize. This isn't just about you, or even about the rest of us trapped down here, this is about the rest of the shadowhunters, and even about the rest of the Downworlders."
"She's right, Jace," Isabelle said. "If Clary doesn't stop Valentine now, he'll move out and take over the Clave. And once he has the Clave under his command, he'll send them out to destroy all the Downworlders. He'll kill everyone who isn't one of us. Then what?"
"He'll move onto the humans," put in Magnus. "He has admitted once that if he has the Mortal Cup he can make a new race of shadowhunters. He'll demand that the humans surrender their children to him. What can they do stop him?"
"Well, what can Clary do?" Jace asked, though everyone in the cellar could hear the surrender. "She doesn't have the training or the skills to stop him."
"But, combined, we do," Chloe said at once. "We just need to be free of this place."
Jace bowed his head to the inevitable. "I'll write the letter."
Tori gave a thankful sigh. "Let her know how to get down here in the safest, fastest way possible. She'll be able to let us out, and we can meet Isabelle on the second level, and then we can end this."
"How do you propose we end this?" Jace asked sharply.
"We'll figure that out when we're out of these cages," Magnus answered, looking Jace over smugly. "Just write the damn latter."
Isabelle vanished up the steps in a flurry of dark hair. She held onto the door that led to the cellar, listening carefully to the other side and checking that no one unsavory was waiting there. She slipped through the door and down the many halls, making sure to walk on carpet wherever she went to muffle the fall of her footsteps. When she reached the doors to the library, she placed her palms on the door and pressed it open inch by inch to stop the inevitable creaking. When it had only been open a crack, she darted in and down the bookshelves to the desk at the very end.
Here, she paused, looking as the polished mahogany and the high-backed chair. It was an awful risk to take the letter, and if caught, could result in any number of innocent people being killed. But, just looking at the desk reminded her of Hodge, and how he had resided there since she had been a little girl. He had been killed by Valentine, maybe not physically, but he was dead. His memory was gone, only to be replaced by the image of a traitor and a thief, and it was Valentine's fault. He was the poison of so many roots.
Isabelle took a deep breath and cleared the distance between herself and the desk. Her hands hit the drawer where the letter was with a pulsing energy, and she jerked the drawer open. Inside, as she expected, was the letter and sealed envelope. One quick motion and the letter was in her hand. She slammed the drawer shut, snatched a pen and note from the table, and backed away from the desk as quickly and quietly as she could.
The trip back to the cellar was like a victory march. She didn't meet Valentine or Jonathan, and the door to the cellar remained how she had left it: slightly ajar. No one was down there, tormenting her friends and family, and the chance to stop Valentine was wide open. Back down the stairs, and back into the stuffy, dark room where her family was being held.
When she returned, a collective sigh escaped the crowd. "You got the letter?" Chloe asked hopefully. "You weren't caught or stopped?"
"If she had been, do you really think she'd be here now?" asked Tori, but there was a frantic note of hope in her voice too.
"It all went fine, but I don't know where Valentine it, so the faster you write this, Jace, the better." Isabelle slipped the paper and pen through the bars of Jace's cell, and carefully went to work on the envelope. Using a small knife allowed to her by Valentine, Isabelle managed to cut the seal cleanly and remove the blood-inked note. She stared at the paper a minute before reached up to the nearest torch and lighting it on fire. Jace, meanwhile, had set to work on the letter.
He carefully gave instructions on how to reach the basement, and gave an explicit warning not to try and engage Jonathan in any fight. As he finished off his instructions, he added a desperate note at the bottom:
I'm sorry I ever hurt you, Clary. I love you.
Somehow, he hoped, Clary would believe the message and forgive him for the horrible things he'd done. And it was with that desperate wish that Jace folded the letter and handed it back to Isabelle through the bars. She didn't read it, but slid it into the envelope and looked expectantly at Magnus.
"I can't reseal the letter, Magnus, so I'm hoping you've got enough magic in you to do it."
Magnus scrunched up his nose at her. "What kind of High Warlock would not have the ability to seal an envelope? Really, Isabelle, sometimes I wonder if being away from the clubs and nightlife of New York had driven you mad."
Isabelle handed him the envelope with a smirk. "You and me both, Magnus."
Magnus took the envelope and pinched it between his fingers, running them along the length of the opening. It glowed green for just a minute, and then he handed it back to Isabelle looking pleased. "I think that ought to do it for a letter. Now, run along and hide that back in Valentine's desk. The faster you do that, the better, I think."
Isabelle clutched the letter close to her, but her eyes fell on Jace, who was staring off through the bars of his cell. "Thank you, Jace, for doing this. I know how hard it must have been for you."
Jace heaved a sigh, but when he turned to face Isabelle, his eyes seemed to have a faint, hopeful light in them. "We can't stay here forever, and if Clary is the only person who can get us out, I guess I'll have to call on her." Isabelle, at a loss for words, nodded and turned and fled up the stairs.
Watching her go, Chloe felt her heart thump a little faster. It was the same feeling, the same excited, desperate feeling, that she got when they first found out Alec and Isabelle were coming to rescue them from the Edison Group. They were running out of time all over again, and for some reason, it made every small victory seem that much greater. Just watching Isabelle go made her body sing with hope. But, looking over at Jace, she realized that as great as any small victory felt, any small risk was like a mountain collapsing on a person.
Jace was hunched over, and his face was blank and lost. She knew he wanted Clary back painfully, but he would never risk putting her in danger unless it was absolutely necessary. This was one of those horrible times when Jace was going to have to put Clary in danger, and it was settling on him like a wet blanket. He wasn't comfortable with it, he could barely move with the weight. It was almost too much for him.
"You can't feel guilty, Jace," Chloe said, eyeing him speculatively. "Clary isn't some helpless little girl anymore, and you know it. You watched her at Lyle House and the Edison Group, and you know what she's capable of. Clary is ready for something like this, ready to fight Valentine on her own."
"You say I can't feel guilty, but I do," Jace replied, and looked up at Chloe. "You tell me not to feel bad, to trust that everything is going to be fine, to believe that Clary and Luke are going to pull through. But, for some reason, I feel miserable. I should never have drawn Clary into this life."
"It wasn't your choice, though," said Magnus, and his voice seemed to be very clear and reasonable in the cellar. "You're not god, Jace, and you don't get to decide what happens to Clary. If every person who ever loved someone had the ability to protect that person, there would be no war, no crime, no danger."
"I could have protected her. I-I could have stayed behind," he murmured. "I should have stayed with Clary, just like she said. If I had stayed behind, she and I would be coming together now to help you. She wouldn't be alone."
"Yes, she would," said Tori loudly. "Come on, Jace, do you really not know yourself that well? If you had stayed behind and received a letter from Valentine, you would have made Clary stay behind anyway, just so you would know she's safe. This is the only way you're finally going to admit that Clary is ready to be on her own."
Jace frowned, a little confused. "Do you think I would really have done that?"
"Do you need a show of hands?" Tori asked, and smiled around the cellar. "You're in love with Clary, and you're not going to let her fight unless you have absolutely no choice."
With a half-hearted laugh, Jace said, "So, according to you, this is the only way that I was ever going to let Clary go into battle without me? There is no force in the world, no power of heaven or hell, that would have stopped me but Valentine?"
"Well," said Tori, and she was smirking, "when you put it like that it makes it sound as if we've got the very Devil on our hands, but, yeah, I think this is the only way."
Jace smiled darkly. "We do have the very Devil on our hands," he said, his mind on his step brother, "but I don't think we're talking about Valentine."
"Clary, are you awake?" Luke asked, holding the door to her room open only a little. "Clary?"
"I'm up," she said softly, her mind still on the nightmare and the message from the angel. "Is it time to go?"
Luke glanced over his shoulder as Max, who slouched by with a very dour look. "Well, it's time to get up and get our stuff together. Rae is downstairs making breakfast right now, it smells like pancakes and bacon."
Clary wondered vaguely if, not matter what catastrophes were occurring over the world, a guy will always be concerned with the aspects of a meal. She sat up and rubbed her arms, yawning and trying to force the image of Jace's torn wings from her mind. "When will we be leaving? I can probably get another hour of sleep-"
"I'd rather you eat something before we go, Clary. There's a long day ahead of us, and it's best to start on a full stomach." Luke opened the door wide and came in. He saw the look on her face and frowned. "Are you not feeling alright, Clary?"
"I'm fine, Luke, just tired." She swung her legs around and placed her feet on the cold wood floor. It made her wish for those few days she'd spent each night with Jace. It didn't matter how cold the night had been, she was always warm. "I'd like to have this day over and done with soon."
"Come downstairs and eat, it will wake you up. I'm sure you'll feel better after a meal." Luke wandered over to Clary and helped her to her feet. She seemed a little lost, but her grip, once on Luke, was steadfast.
The two made their way down to the kitchen where Rae really was preparing a meal. When she saw Clary, Rae gave her a small smile and offered up a plate of pancakes. "You look starved, have a bite to eat before we get moving."
"I'm not really-"
"Eat, Clary," Luke ordered, not unkindly, and placed her at the table. "We have a long time ahead of us. Try to relax and eat until we have to go."
Clary watched Luke leave the kitchen, her eyes narrowed as she picked at the pancakes. How was she supposed to relax when everyone she cared about was in danger? Her thoughts swirled as she turned her attention back to her food. It was then, as she was staring at her food, that the fire in the living area burst into life and a letter was expelled from the flames.