The Evil We Love (Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy Book 5)Cassandra Clare
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There were, Simon Lewis thought, so many ways to destroy a letter. You could shred it into confetti. You could light it on fire. You could feed it to a dog—or a Hydra demon. You could, with the help of your friendly neighborhood warlock, Portal it to Hawaii and drop it into the mouth of a volcano. And given all the letter-destroying options available, Simon thought, maybe the fact that Isabelle Lightwood had returned his letter intact was of significance. Maybe it was actually a good sign.
Or at least a not-entirely-terrible sign.
That, at least, was what Simon had been telling himself for the last few months.
But even he had to admit that when the letter in question was a sort-of-maybe love letter, a letter that included heartfelt, humiliating phrases like “you’re amazing” and “I know I am that guy you loved”—and when said letter was returned unopened, “RETURN TO SENDER” scrawled across it in red lipstick—“not-entirely-terrible” might be overly optimistic.
At least she had referred to him as “sender.” Simon was pretty sure that Isabelle had devised some other choice names for him, none quite so friendly. A demon had sucked out all of his memories, but his observational faculties were intact—and he’d observed that Isabelle Lightwood wasn’t the kind of girl who liked to be rejected. Simon, in defiance of all laws of nature and common sense, had rejected her twice.
He’d tried to explain himself in the letter, apologize for pushing her away. He’d confessed how much he wanted to fight his way back to the person he once was. Her Simon. Or at least, a Simon worthy of her.
Izzy—I don’t know why you would wait for me, but if you do, I promise to make myself worth that wait, he’d written. Or I’ll try. I can promise I am going to try.
* * *
One month to the day after he sent it, the letter came back unread.
As the dorm room door creaked open, Simon hastily shoved the letter back into his desk drawer, careful to avoid the cobwebs and pockets of mold that coated every piece of furniture no matter how diligently he cleaned. He didn’t move hastily enough.
“Not the letter again?” Simon’s roommate at the Academy, George Lovelace, groaned. He flung himself down on his bed, sweeping an arm melodramatically across his forehead. “Oh, Isabelle, my darling, if I stare at this letter long enough, maybe I’ll telepathically woo you back to my weeping bosom.”
“I don’t have a bosom,” Simon said, with as much dignity as he could muster. “And I’m pretty sure if I did, it wouldn’t be weeping.”
“Heaving, then? That’s what bosoms do, isn’t it?”
“I haven’t spent much time around them,” Simon admitted. Not much that he could remember, at least. There had been that aborted attempt at groping Sophie Hillyer back in the ninth grade, but her mother busted him before he could even find the clasp on her bra, much less master it. There had, presumably, been Isabelle. But Simon tried very hard these days not to think about that. The clasp on Isabelle’s bra; his hands on Isabelle’s body; the taste of—
Simon shook his head violently, almost hard enough to clear it. “Can we stop talking about bosoms? Like, forever?”
“Didn’t mean to interrupt your very important moping-about-Izzy time.”
“I’m not moping,” Simon lied.
“Excellent.” George grinned triumphantly, and Simon realized he’d fallen into some kind of trap. “So then you’ll come out to the training field with me, help break in the new daggers. We’re sparring, mundies versus elites—losers have to eat extra helpings of soup for a week.”
“Oh yeah, Shadowhunters really know how to party.” His heart wasn’t in the sarcasm. The truth was, his fellow students did know how to party, even if their idea of fun usually involved pointy weapons. With exams behind them and only one more week before the end-of-year party and summer vacation, Shadowhunter Academy felt more like camp than school. Simon couldn’t believe he’d been here the whole school year; he couldn’t believe he’d survived the year. He’d learned Latin, runic writing, and a smattering of Chthonian; he’d fought tiny demons in the woods, endured a full moon night with a newborn werewolf, ridden (and nearly been trampled by) a horse, eaten his weight in soup, and in all that time, he’d been neither expelled nor exsanguinated. He’d even bulked up enough to trade in his ladies’-size gear for a men’s size, albeit the smallest one available. Against all odds, the Academy had come to feel like home. A slimy, moldy, dungeonlike home without working toilets, maybe, but home nonetheless. He and George had even named the rats that lived behind their walls. Every night, they left Jon Cartwright Jr., III, and IV a piece of stale bread to nibble, in hopes they’d prefer the crumbs to human feet.
This last week was a time for celebration, late-night carousing, and petty wagering over dagger fights. But Simon couldn’t quite find the will for fun. Maybe it was the looming shadow of summer vacation—the prospect of going home to a place that didn’t feel much like home anymore.
Or maybe it was, as it always was, Isabelle.
“Definitely you’ll have much more fun here, sulking,” George said as he changed into his gear. “Silly of me to suggest otherwise.”
Simon sighed. “You wouldn’t understand.”
George had a movie-star face, a Scottish accent, a sun-kissed tan, and the kind of muscles that made girls—even the Shadowhunter Academy girls, who, until they met Simon had apparently never encountered a human male without a six-pack—giggle and swoon. Girl trouble, particularly the brand involving humiliation and rejection, was beyond his comprehension.
“Just to be clear,” George said, in the rich brogue that even Simon couldn’t help but find charming, “you don’t remember anything about dating this girl? You don’t remember being in love with her, you don’t remember what it was like when the two of you—”
“That’s right,” Simon cut him off.
“Or even if the two of you—”
“Again, correct,” Simon said quickly. He hated to admit it, but this was one of the things about demon amnesia that bothered him the most. What kind of seventeen-year-old guy doesn’t know whether or not he’s a virgin?
“Because you’re apparently running low on brain cells, you tell this gorgeous creature that you’ve forgotten all about her, reject her publicly, and yet when you pledge your love to her in some goopy romantic letter, you’re surprised when she’s not having it. Then you spend the next two months mooning over her. Is that about right?”
Simon dropped his head into his hands. “Okay, so when you put it that way, it makes no sense.”
“Oh, I’ve seen Isabelle Lightwood—it makes all the sense in the world.” George grinned. “I just wanted to get my facts straight.”
He bounded out the door before Simon could clarify that it wasn’t about how Isabelle looked—although it was true that she looked, to Simon, like the most beautiful girl in the world. But it wasn’t about her curtain of silky black hair or the bottomless dark brown of her eyes or the deadly liquid grace with which she swung her electrum whip. He couldn’t have explained what it was about, since George was rig
ht, he didn’t remember anything about her or what the two of them had been like as a couple. He still had some trouble believing they ever were a couple.
He just knew, on a level beneath reason and memory, that some part of him belonged with Isabelle. Maybe even belonged to Isabelle. Whether he could remember why, or not.
He’d written Clary a letter too, telling her how much he wanted to remember their friendship—asking for her help. Unlike Isabelle, she’d written back, telling him the story of how they first met. It was the first of many letters, all of them adding episodes to the epic, lifelong story of Clary and Simon’s Excellent Adventure. The more Simon read, the more he remembered, and sometimes he even wrote back with stories of his own. It felt safe, somehow, corresponding by letter; there was no chance that Clary could expect anything of him, and no chance that he would fail her, see the pain in her eyes when she realized all over again that her Simon was gone. Letter by letter, Simon’s memories of Clary were beginning to knit themselves together.
Isabelle was different. It felt like his memories of Isabelle were buried inside a black hole—something dangerous and ravenous, threatening to consume him if he got too close.
Simon had come to the Academy, in part, to escape his painful and confusing double vision of the past, the cognitive dissonance between the life he remembered and the one he’d actually lived. It was like that cheesy old joke his father had loved. “Doctor, my arm hurts when I move like this,” Simon would say, setting him up. His father would answer in an atrocious German accent, his version of “doctor voice”: “Then . . . don’t move like that.”
As long as Simon didn’t think about the past, the past couldn’t hurt him. But, increasingly, he couldn’t help himself.
There was too much pleasure in the pain.
* * *
Classes may have been over for the year, but the Academy faculty was still finding new ways to torture them.
“What do you think it is this time?” Julie Beauvale asked as they settled onto the uncomfortable wooden benches in the main hall. The entire student body, Shadowhunters and mundanes alike, had been summoned first thing Monday morning for an all-school meeting.
“Maybe they finally decided to kick out all the dregs,” Jon Cartwright said. “Better late than never.”
Simon was too tired and too uncaffeinated to think up a clever retort. So he simply said, “Suck it, Cartwright.”
Over the last several months of classes, training, and demon-hunting disasters, their class had grown pretty close—especially the handful of students who were around Simon’s age. George was George, of course; Beatriz Mendoza was surprisingly sweet for a Shadowhunter; and even Julie had turned out to be slightly less snotty than she pretended to be. Jon Cartwright, on the other hand . . . The moment they met, Simon had decided that if looks matched personalities, Jon Cartwright would look like a horse’s ass. Unfortunately, there was no justice in the world, and he looked instead like a walking Ken doll. Sometimes first impressions were misleading; sometimes they peered straight through to a person’s inner soul. Simon was as sure now as he’d ever been: Jon’s inner soul was a horse’s ass.
Jon gave Simon a patronizing pat on the shoulder. “I’m going to miss your witty repartee this summer, Lewis.”
“I’m going to hope you get eaten by a spider demon this summer, Cartwright.”
George slipped an arm around both of them, grinning maniacally and humming “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”
George had, perhaps, embraced the spirit of celebration a little too enthusiastically of late.
Up at the front of the hall, Dean Penhallow cleared her throat loudly, looking pointedly in their direction. “If we could have some silence, please?”
The room continued chattering, Dean Penhallow continued clearing her throat and asking nervously for order, and things could have gone on like that all morning had Delaney Scarsbury, their training master, not climbed up on a chair. “We’ll have silence, or we’ll have one hundred push-ups,” he boomed. The room hushed immediately.
“I suppose you’ve all been wondering how you would keep busy now that exams are past?” Dean Penhallow said, her voice rising at the end of her sentence. The dean had a way of turning almost everything into a question. “I think you’ll all recognize this week’s guest speaker?”
An intimidating barrel-chested man in gray robes strode onto the makeshift stage. The room gasped.
Simon gasped too, but it wasn’t the appearance of the Inquisitor that had blown his mind. It was the girl trailing after him, glaring fiercely at his robes like she hoped to set them on fire with her mind. A girl with a curtain of silky black hair and bottomless brown eyes: the Inquisitor’s daughter. Known to friends, family, and humiliatingly rejected ex-boyfriends as Isabelle Lightwood.
George elbowed him. “You seeing what I’m seeing?” he whispered. “You want a tissue?”
Simon couldn’t help remembering the last time Izzy had shown up at the Academy, for the express purpose of warning every girl in school away from him. He’d been horrified. Right about now, he couldn’t imagine anything better.
But Isabelle didn’t look inclined to say anything to the class. She simply sat beside her father, arms crossed, glowering.
“She’s even prettier when she’s angry,” Jon whispered.
In a miraculous triumph of restraint, Simon didn’t spear him in the eye with a pen.
“You’ve nearly completed your first year at the Academy,” Robert Lightwood told the assembled students, somehow making it sound less like a congratulations than it did like a threat. “My daughter tells me that one of the mundanes’ great heroes has a saying, ‘With great power comes substantial responsibility.’”
Simon gaped. There was only one way Isabelle Lightwood, as far from a comics nerd as a person could get, would know a line—even a mangled one—from Spider-Man. She’d been quoting Simon.
That had to mean something . . . right?
He tried to catch her eye.
“You’ve learned a lot about power this year,” Robert Lightwood continued. “This week I’m going to talk to you about responsibility. And what happens when power runs unchecked, or is freely given to the wrong person. I’m going to talk to you about the Circle.”
At those words, a hush fell across the room. The Academy faculty, like most Shadowhunters, were very careful to avoid the subject of the Circle—the group of rogue Shadowhunters that Valentine Morgenstern had led in the Uprising. The students knew about Valentine—everyone knew about Valentine—but they learned quickly not to ask too many questions about him. Over the last year, Simon had come to understand that the Shadowhunters preferred to believe their choices were perfect, their laws infallible. They didn’t like to think about the time they’d been nearly destroyed by a group of their own.
It explained, at least, why the dean was hosting this session, rather than their history teacher, Catarina Loss. The warlock seemed to tolerate most Shadowhunters—barely. Simon suspected that when it came to former members of the Circle, “barely” was too much to hope for.
Robert cleared his throat. “I’d like all of you to ask yourselves what you would have done, were you a student here in Valentine Morgenstern’s day. Would you have joined the Circle? Would you have stood by Valentine’s side at the Uprising? Raise your hand, if you think it’s possible.”
Simon was unsurprised to see not a single hand in the air. He’d played this game back in mundane school, every time his history class covered World War II. Simon knew no one ever thought they would be a Nazi.
Simon also knew that, statistically, most of them were wrong.
“Now I’d like you to raise your hand if you think you’re an exemplary Shadowhunter, one who would do anything to serve the Clave,” Robert said.
Unsurprisingly, many more h
ands shot up this time, Jon Cartwright’s the highest.
Robert smiled mirthlessly. “It was the most eager and loyal of us who were first to join Valentine’s ranks,” he told them. “It was those of us most dedicated to the Shadowhunter cause who found ourselves the easiest prey.”
There was a rustling in the crowd.
“Yes,” Robert said. “I say us, because I was among Valentine’s disciples. I was in the Circle.”
The rustling burst into a storm. Some of the students looked unsurprised, but many of them looked as if a nuclear bomb had just gone off inside their brains. Clary had told Simon that Robert Lightwood used to be a member of the Circle, but it was obviously hard for some people to reconcile that with the position of the Inquisitor, which this tall, fearsome man now held.
“The Inquisitor?” Julie breathed, eyes wide. “How could they let him . . . ?”
Beatriz looked stunned.
“My father always said there was something off about him,” Jon murmured.
“This week, I will teach you about the misuses of power, about great evil and how it can take many forms. My able daughter, Isabelle Lightwood, will be assisting with some of the class work.” Here he gestured to Isabelle, who glanced briefly at the crowd, her impossibly fierce glare somehow growing even fiercer. “Most of all, I will teach you about the Circle, how it began and why. If you listen well, some of you might even learn something.”
Simon wasn’t listening at all. Simon was staring at Isabelle, willing her to look at him. Isabelle studiously stared at her feet. And Robert Lightwood, Inquisitor of the Clave, arbiter of all things lawful, began to tell the story of Valentine Morgenstern and those who had once loved him.
* * *
Robert Lightwood stretched out on the quad, trying not to think about how he’d spent this week the year before. The days after exams and before the summer break were, traditionally, a bacchic release of pent-up energy, faculty looking the other way as students pushed the Academy rules to their limits. A year ago, he and Michael Wayland had snuck off campus and taken a boldly illicit midnight skinny-dip in Lake Lyn. Even with their lips firmly sealed shut, the water had taken its hallucinogenic effect, turning the sky electric. They had lain on their backs side by side, imagining falling stars carving neon tracks across the clouds and dreaming themselves into a stranger world.