THE BEAUTY OF A THOUSAND STARS
The air was beginning to show the first warm promise of summer: The sun shone, hot and bright, down on the corner of Carroll Street and Sixth Avenue, and the trees that lined the brownstoned block were thick with green leaves.
Clary had stripped off her light jacket on the way out of the subway, and stood in her jeans and tank top across from the entrance to St. Xavier’s, watching as the doors opened and the students streamed out onto the pavement.
Isabelle and Magnus lounged against the tree opposite her, Magnus in a velvet jacket and jeans and Isabelle in a short silver party dress that showed her Marks. Clary supposed her own Marks were pretty visible too: all up and down her arms, at her belly where the tank top rode up, on the back of her neck. Some permanent, some temporary. All of them marking her out as different—not just different from the students milling around the school’s entrance, exchanging their good-byes for the day, making plans to walk to the park or to meet up later at Java Jones, but different from the self she had once been. The self who had been one of them.
An older woman with a poodle and a pillbox hat was whistling her way down the street in the sunshine. The poodle waddled over to the tree where Isabelle and Magnus were leaning; the old woman paused, whistling. Isabelle, Clary, and Magnus were completely invisible to her.
Magnus gave the poodle a ferocious glare, and it backed off with a whimper, half-dragging its owner down the street. Magnus looked after them. “Invisibility glamours do have their drawbacks,” he remarked.
Isabelle quirked a smile, which disappeared almost immediately. Her voice when she spoke was tight with repressed feeling. “There he is.”
Clary’s head snapped up. The school doors had opened again, and three boys had stepped out onto the front stairs. She recognized them even from across the street. Kirk, Eric, and Simon. Nothing had changed about Eric or Kirk; she felt the Farsighted rune on her arm spark as her eyes skipped over them. She stared at Simon, drinking in every detail.
It had been December when she’d seen him last, pale and dirty and bloody in the demon realm. Now he was aging, getting older, no longer frozen in time. His hair had gotten longer. It fell over his forehead, down the back of his neck. He had color in his cheeks. He stood with one foot up on the bottom step of the stairs, his body thin and angular as always, maybe a little more filled out than she had remembered him. He wore a faded blue shirt he’d had for years. He pushed up the frames of his square-rimmed glasses as he gestured animatedly with his other hand, in which he held a wad of rolled-up papers.
Without taking her eyes off him, Clary fumbled her stele out of her pocket and drew on her arm, canceling out her glamour runes. She heard Magnus mutter something about being more careful. If anyone had been looking, they would have seen her suddenly pop into existence in between the trees. Nobody seemed to be, though, and Clary stuffed the stele back into her pocket. Her hand was shaking.
“Good luck,” Isabelle said without asking her what she was doing. Clary supposed it was obvious. Isabelle was still leaning back against the tree; she looked drawn and tense, her back very straight. Magnus was busy twirling a blue topaz ring on his left hand; he just winked at Clary as she stepped off the curb.
Isabelle would never go talk to Simon, Clary thought, starting across the street. She would never risk the blank look, the lack of recognition. She would never endure the evidence that she had been forgotten. Clary wondered if she wasn’t some kind of masochist, to throw herself into the path of it herself.
Kirk had wandered off, but Eric saw her before Simon did; she tensed for a moment, but it was clear his memory of her had been wiped away too. He gave her a confused, appreciative look, clearly wondering if she was heading toward him. She shook her head and pointed her chin at Simon; Eric raised an eyebrow and gave Simon a Later, man clap on the shoulder before making himself scarce.
Simon turned to look at Clary, and she felt it like a punch to the stomach. He was smiling, brown hair blowing across his face. He used his free hand to push it back.
“Hi,” she said, coming to a stop in front of him. “Simon.”
Dark brown eyes shadowed by confusion, he stared at her. “Do I—Do we know each other?”
She swallowed back the sudden bitter tang in her mouth. “We used to be friends,” she said, and then clarified: “It was a long time ago. Kindergarten.”
Simon raised a doubtful eyebrow. “I must have been a really charming six-year-old, if you still remember me.”
“I do remember you,” she said. “I remember your mom, Elaine, and your sister, Rebecca, too. Rebecca used to let us play with her Hungry Hungry Hippos game, but you ate all the marbles.”
Simon had gone a little pale under his slight tan. “How do you—that did happen, but I was alone,” he said, his voice shading past bewilderment into something else.
“No, you weren’t.” She searched his eyes, willing him to remember, remember something. “I’m telling you, we were friends.”
“I’m just . . . I guess I don’t . . . remember,” he said slowly, though there were shadows, a darkness in his already dark eyes, that made her wonder.
“My mom’s getting married,” she said. “Tonight. I’m on my way there, actually.”
He rubbed at his temple with his free hand. “And you need a date to the wedding?”
“No. I have one.” She couldn’t tell if he looked disappointed or just more confused, as if the only logical reason he could imagine for her to be talking to him had disappeared. She could feel her cheeks burning. Somehow embarrassing herself like this was harder than facing down a gaggle of Husa demons in Glick Park. (She ought to know; she’d done it the night before.) “I just—you and my mom used to be close. I thought you should know. It’s an important day, and if things were right, then you would have been there.”
“I . . .” Simon swallowed. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “It never was your fault. Not any of it.” She leaned up on her tiptoes, the back of her eyelids burning, and kissed him quickly on the cheek. “Be happy,” she said, and turned away. She could see the blurred figures of Isabelle and Magnus, waiting for her across the street.
She turned. Simon had hurried after her. He was holding something out. A flyer he’d pulled from the rolled stack he was carrying. “My band . . . ,” he said, half-apologetically. “You should come to a show, maybe. Sometime.”
She took the flyer with a silent nod, and dashed back across the street. She could feel him staring after her, but she couldn’t bear to turn around and see the look on his face: half confusion and half pity.
Isabelle detached herself from the tree as Clary hurtled toward them. Clary slowed down just enough to retrieve her stele and slash the glamour rune back onto her arm; it hurt, but she welcomed the sting. “You were right,” she said to Magnus. “That was pointless.”
“I didn’t say it was pointless.” He spread his hands wide. “I said he wouldn’t remember you. I said you should do it only if you were okay with that.”
“I’ll never be okay with it,” Clary snapped, and then took a deep, hard breath. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault, Magnus. And, Izzy—that can’t have been fun for you, either. Thank you for coming with me.”
Magnus shrugged. “No need to apologize, biscuit.”
Isabelle’s dark eyes scanned Clary quickly; she reached out a hand. “What’s that?”
“Band flyer,” Clary said, and shoved it toward Isabelle. Izzy took it with an arched eyebrow. “I can’t look at it. I used to help him Xerox those and pass them out—” She winced. “Never mind. Maybe I’ll be glad we came, later.” She gave a wobbly smile, shrugging her jacket back on. “I’m heading out. I’ll see you guys at the farmhouse.”
Isabelle watched Clary go, a small figure making its way up the street, unnoticed by other pedestrians. Then she glanced down at the flyer in her hand.
SIMON LEWIS, ERIC HILLCHURCH, KIRK DUPLESSE, AND MATT CHARLTON
“THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS”
MAY 19, PROSPECT PARK BAND SHELL
BRING THIS FLYER, GET $5 OFF YOUR ENTRANCE FEE!
Isabelle’s breath hitched in her throat. “Magnus.”
He had been watching Clary too; he glanced over now, and his glance fell on the flyer. They both stared at it.
Magnus whistled between his teeth. “The Mortal Instruments?”
“His band name.” The paper shook in Isabelle’s hand. “Okay, Magnus, we have to—you said if he remembered anything—”
Magnus glanced after Clary, but she was long gone. “All right,” he said. “But if it doesn’t work, if he doesn’t want it, we can never tell her.”
Isabelle was crumpling the paper in her fist, already reaching for her stele with her other hand. “Whatever you say. But we have to at least try.”
Magnus nodded, shadows chasing shadows in his gold-green eyes. Isabelle could tell he was worried about her, afraid that she’d be hurt, disappointed, and she wanted to be angry at him and grateful to him all at once. “We will.”
It had been another weird day, Simon thought. First the lady behind the counter in Java Jones who’d asked him where his friend was, the pretty girl who always came in with him and always ordered her coffee black. Simon had stared—he didn’t really have any close girl friends, certainly no one whose coffee preferences he might be expected to know. When he’d told the barista she must have been thinking of someone else, she’d looked at him like he was crazy.
And then the redheaded girl who’d come up to him on the steps of St. Xavier’s.
The front of the school was deserted now. Eric had been supposed to give Simon a ride home, but he’d disappeared when the girl had come up to Simon, and he hadn’t reappeared. It was nice that Eric thought he could pick up ladies with such blithe ease, Simon thought, but annoying when it meant he was going to have to take the subway home.
Simon hadn’t even thought about trying to hit on her, not really. She’d seemed so fragile, despite the fairly badass tattoos that decorated her arms and collarbone. Maybe she was crazy—the evidence pointed that way—but her green eyes had been huge and sad when she’d looked at him; he’d been reminded of the way he’d looked himself, the day of his father’s funeral. Like something had punched a hole right through his rib cage and squeezed his heart. Loss like that—no, she hadn’t been hitting on him. She’d really believed they’d meant something important to each other, once.
Maybe he had known that girl, he thought. Maybe it was something he’d forgotten—who remembered the friends you had in kindergarten? And yet he couldn’t shake an image of her, not looking sad but smiling over her shoulder at him, something in her hand—a drawing? He shook his head in frustration. The image was gone like a silver-quick fish slipping off a line.
He cast his mind back, desperately trying to remember. He found himself doing that a lot lately. Bits of memories would come to him, fragments of poetry he didn’t know how he’d learned, glancing recollections of voices, dreams he’d wake up from shaking and sweating and unable to recall what had happened in them. Dreams of desert landscapes, of echoes, the taste of blood, a bow and arrow in his hands. (He’d learned archery in summer camp, but he’d never cared that much about it, so why was he dreaming about it now?) Not being able to get back to sleep, the aching sense that there was something missing, he didn’t know what but something, like a weight in the middle of his chest. He’d put it down to too many late-night D&D campaigns, junior year stress, and worrying about colleges. As his mother said, once you started worrying about the future, you started obsessing about the past.
“Anyone sitting here?” said a voice. Simon looked up and saw a tall man with spiky black hair standing over him. He wore a velvet prep school blazer with a crest emblazoned on it in glittering thread, and at least a dozen rings. There was something odd about his features. . . .
“What? I, uh. No,” Simon said, wondering how many strangers were going to accost him today. “You can sit, if you want.”
The man glanced down and made a face. “I see that many pigeons have pooped upon these stairs,” he remarked. “I shall remain standing, if that’s not too rude.”
Simon shook his head mutely.
“I’m Magnus.” He smiled, showing blinding white teeth. “Magnus Bane.”
“Are we long-lost friends, by any chance?” Simon said. “Just wondering.”
“No, we never got along all that well,” said Magnus. “Long-lost acquaintances? Compadres? My cat liked you.”
Simon scrubbed his hands over his face. “I think I’m going crazy,” he remarked, to no one in particular.
“Well, then, you should be all right with what I’m about to tell you.” Magnus turned his head slightly to the side. “Isabelle?”
Out of nowhere, a girl appeared. Maybe the most beautiful girl Simon had ever seen. She had long black hair that spilled over a silver dress and made him want to write bad songs about starry nights. She also had tattoos: the same ones the other girl had sported, black and swirling, covering her arms and bare legs.
“Hello, Simon,” she said.
Simon just stared. It was entirely out of the realm of anything he had ever imagined that a girl who looked like this would ever say his name like that. Like it was the only name that mattered. His brain sputtered to a stop like an old car. “Mgh?” he said.
Magnus held out a long-fingered hand, and the girl placed something into it. A book, bound in white leather with the title stamped on it in gold. Simon couldn’t quite see the words, but they were etched in an elegant calligraphic hand. “This,” Magnus said, “is a book of spells.”
There didn’t seem to be a response for that, so Simon didn’t try for one.
“The world is full of magic,” said Magnus, and his eyes were sparkling. “Demons and angels, werewolves and faeries and vampires. You knew all this, once. You had magic, but it was taken from you. The idea was that you would live out the rest of your life without it, without remembering it. That you would forget the people you loved, if they knew about magic. That you would spend the rest of your life ordinary.” He turned the book over in his slim fingers, and Simon caught sight of a title in Latin. Something about the sight sent a zing of energy through his body. “And there’s something to be said for that, for being relieved of the burden of greatness. Because you were great, Simon. You were a Daylighter, a warrior. You saved lives and slew demons, and the blood of angels rocketed through your veins like sunlight.” Magnus was grinning now, a little manically. “And I don’t know, it just strikes me as a little fascist to take all that away.”
Isabelle tossed her dark hair back. Something glittered at the hollow of her throat. A red ruby. Simon felt the same zing of energy, stronger this time, as if his body were yearning toward something his mind couldn’t recall. “Fascist?” she echoed.
“Yes,” Magnus said. “Clary was born special. Simon here had specialness thrust upon him. He adapted. Because the world isn’t divided into the special and the ordinary. Everyone has the potential to be extraordinary. As long as you have a soul and free will, you can be anything, do anything, choose anything. Simon should get to choose.”
Simon swallowed against his dry throat. “I’m sorry,” he said. “But what are you talking about?”
Magnus tapped the book in his hand. “I’ve been searching for a way out of this spell, this curse on you,” he said, and Simon almost protested that he wasn’t cursed, but subsided. “This thing that made you forget. Then I figured it out. I ought to have figured it out a lot sooner, but they’ve always been so strict about Ascensions. So particular. But then Alec mentioned to me: They’re desperate for new Shadowhunters now. They lost so many in the Dark War, it would be easy. You’ve got so many people to vouch for you. You could be a Shadowhunter, Simon. Like Isabelle. I can do a little with this book; I can’t fix it completely, and I can’t make you what you were before, but I can prepare you to be able to Ascend, and once you do, once you’re a Shadowhunter, he can’t touch you. You’ll have the Clave’s protection, and the rules about not telling you about the Shadow World, those will be gone.”
Simon looked at Isabelle. It was a little like looking at the sun, but the way she was looking back at him made it easier. She was looking at him as if she had missed him, though he knew that wasn’t possible. “There’s really magic?” he asked. “Vampires and werewolves and wizards—”
“Warlocks,” Magnus corrected.
“And all of that? It exists?”
“It exists,” Isabelle said. Her voice was sweet, a little husky and—familiar. He remembered the smell of sunlight and flowers suddenly, a taste like copper in his mouth. He saw desert landscapes stretching out under a demon sun, and a city with towers that shimmered as if they were made of ice and glass. “It’s not a fairy tale, Simon. Being a Shadowhunter means being a warrior. It’s dangerous, but if it’s right for you, it’s amazing. I wouldn’t ever want to be anything else.”
“It’s your decision, Simon Lewis,” said Magnus. “Remain in the existence you have, go to college, study music, get married. Live your life. Or—you can have an uncertain life of shadows and dangers. You can have the joy of reading the stories of incredible happenings, or you can be part of the story.” He leaned closer, and Simon saw the light spark off his eyes, and realized why he’d thought they were odd. They were gold-green and slit-pupilled like a cat’s. Not human eyes at all. “The choice is up to you.”