The Fiery TrialCassandra Clare
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Simon was starting to wonder about the fires. The fires didn't like him. The fires moved around.
That seemed paranoid.
Outside, the trees were bare and the grass was brown. Inside, even the mold had retreated to its winter quarters between the stones in the basement walls. Shadowhunters didn't believe much in central heating. The Academy had fireplaces, never too close together, and never near enough to anyone. No matter where Simon sat, they were at the far end of the room, crackling away. The elites tended to get into rooms first, and they took the fireside seats. But even when they didn't--even when everyone entered at once--Simon ended up farthest from the fire. When you're cold, a crackling fire starts to sound like gentle, mocking laughter. Simon tried to dismiss this thought from his head, because clearly the fires were not laughing at him.
Because that was paranoid.
There were several fireplaces in the cafeteria, but George and Simon had stopped trying to get seats near them. Simon had enough to worry about. He was looking at his plate. He had also told himself to stop doing this. Stop thinking about the food. Just eat the food. But he couldn't help himself. Every night he teased it apart. Tonight looked to be some kind of stir-fry, but it appeared to have bread in it. There were peppers. There was something red.
It was pizza. Someone had stir-fried a pizza.
"No," he said out loud.
His roommate, George Lovelace, was already shoveling down his dinner. Simon just shook his head. These things didn't bother George in the same way. Back home in Brooklyn, if Simon had heard that someone had stir-fried a pizza he would not have been upset. He would have assumed that some hipster restaurant had decided to deconstruct the pizza because that is what hipster restaurants in Brooklyn do. Simon would have laughed, and maybe at some point it would have become popular, and then there would be trucks that sold stir-fried pizza, and then he would have eaten it. Because that is how Brooklyn works and because pizza. Best guess in this situation? Maybe someone dropped the pizza, or it broke up in the middle of cooking and for some reason the only conceivable solution was to put it in a pan and wing it.
The problem wasn't the pizza, not really. The problem was that the pizza made him think of home. Any New Yorker confronted with bad pizza will mentally return home for at least a few moments. Simon was born and raised a New Yorker in the same way the elites were born and raised Shadowhunters. It was a part of him--the hum and the throb of the city. It could be as rough as the Academy. He knew to look down for rats on the subway tracks or near the edges of public squares. He was trained instinctively to swerve to avoid getting splashed with dirty snow slush by cabs. He didn't even need to look down to step over puddles left by dogs.
Obviously, there were better parts than that. He missed coming over the Brooklyn Bridge at night and seeing the sweep of it all--the city lit up for the night; the grand, man-made mountains; the river surging underneath. He missed the feeling of being around so many people doing and making amazing things. He missed the constant feeling of the whole thing being a magnificent show. And he missed his family and friends. It was the holiday season now, and he should have been at home. His mother would have already taken out the menorah that he had painted at the do-it-yourself clay workshop when he was a kid. It was bright, decorated in thick, messy strokes of blue, white, and silver paint. He and his sister were in charge of making potato pancakes together. They'd all sit on the sofa and exchange gifts. And everyone he cared about was just a short walk away, a subway stop at the most.
"You've got that look again," George said.
"Sorry," Simon said.
"Don't be sorry. It's okay to be miserable. It's the holidays, and we're here."
This was what was so great about George--he always got it, and he never judged. There were many downsides to Shadowhunter Academy, but George made up for most of them. Simon had had good friends before. George was like having a brother. They shared a room. They shared their misery and their small triumphs and their terrible meals. And in the competitive atmosphere of the Academy, George always had his back. He never reveled in doing something better than Simon (and being built like one of the lesser Greek gods, George often did excel at physical things). Simon felt his spirits buoy again. Just that George knew what he was thinking--just having his friend there--it was everything.
"What's she doing here?" George asked, nodding his head at someone behind Simon.
Dean Penhallow had appeared at the far end of the room (near the laughing fireplace). She didn't usually come to dinner in the cafeteria. She never came near the place.
"Your attention, please," she said. "We have some wonderful news to share with all students at the Academy. Julie Beauvale. Beatriz Mendoza. Please join me."
Julie and Beatriz stood at the same time and looked at each other with a smile. Simon had seen that kind of smile before, that kind of synchronized movement. That was Jace and Alec all over. The pair made their way through the room. Chairs scraped as people made way, and there was the lightest murmur. The fire laughed and laughed and popped and laughed. When they reached the end of the room, the dean put an arm around each, and they all faced the school body.
"I am pleased to announce that Julie and Beatriz have decided to become parabatai."
A sudden rush of applause. Several people stood, mostly in the elite track, and hooted and called out. This was allowed for a few moments, and then the dean raised her hand.
"As you all know, the parabatai ceremony is a serious commitment, a bond broken only by death. I know this news will cause many of you to consider whether you will find a parabatai. Not all Shadowhunters have a parabatai, or even want one. In fact, most of you will not. That is very important to remember. If you feel, as Julie and Beatriz do, that you have found your parabatai, or if you want to speak to someone about any part of the ceremony or what it means, you can speak to any of us. We are all here to help you make this most important of decisions. But again, congratulations to Julie and Beatriz. In their honor, there is a cake this evening."
As she spoke, the lurking evil that were the Academy cooks were bringing out a large, uneven cake.
"You may now resume your meal, and please do have some cake."
"Where did that come from?" George asked. "Those two? Parabatai?"
Simon shook his head. Shadowhunter families twined around each other like climbing vines. It was easier to find your lifetime partner when you started from birth. Many at the Academy were strangers. Julie and Beatriz, in the elite track, had more connections to each other, but Simon had never gotten the idea that they were that close.
"Well, that was a surprise," George said in a low voice. "You all right?"
It had hit Simon like a bit of a blow. He had thought of asking Clary to be his parabatai. But parabatai were like Alec and Jace, training together as Shadowhunters since they were kids. Sure, Simon and Clary had known each other that long, but not in the throwing-knives-and-killing-demons way (except in video games, which, unfortunately, did not count). Simon started to move the idea of parabatai into the mental category of things he probably would not have. He was training all the time. He hadn't seen her. He was . . .
. . . very good at making up excuses.
He'd chickened out. He had seen his birthday coming, like a giant countdown clock. Every day he told him
self it was too late. Clary had come the day before his birthday, bringing him a Sandman Omnibus as a gift. By then, he told himself, the countdown was over. The buzzer went off in his mind. He was nineteen.
He'd tried to put it out of his mind. But now, looking at these two newly announced parabatai, he delivered himself a mental kick.
"It's not for everyone, Si," George said. "Come on. Eat up, and we'll go back and you can tell me more about Firefly."
In the evenings, Simon had been expanding George's cultural education by explaining the plot of every episode of Firefly, one by one. This had become a pleasant ritual, but it, too, had a countdown. There was only one more episode to go.
Before they could do this, the dean made her way past their table and stopped.
"Simon Lewis, if you would please come with me for a moment?"
People from other tables glanced over. George looked down and poked at his pizza-fry.
"Sure?" Simon said. "Am I in trouble?"
"No," she said, her voice flat. "No trouble."
Simon pushed back his chair and stood.
"I'll see you back at the room, yeah?" George said. "I'll bring you some cake."
"Sure," Simon said.
Many people watched him go, because that is what happens when the dean gets you in the middle of dinner. Most of the elites, though, had clustered around Julie and Beatriz. There were laughs and squeals and everyone was talking very loudly. Simon worked his way around them to get to the dean.
"This way," she said.
Simon tried to pause by the fire just for a second, but the dean was already moving toward the door that teachers used to enter and leave the cafeteria. The teachers didn't eat with them all the time. There was clearly some other place, some other dining room somewhere in the Academy. Catarina Loss was the only one who came regularly, and Simon got the impression that she did so because she would rather brave the terrible student food than sit around with a bunch of Shadowhunters in a private room.
Simon had never been in the hall that the dean led him down. It was more dimly lit than the halls the students used. There were tapestries on the stone walls that were certainly as threadbare as the ones in the rest of the school, but they also looked more valuable. The colors were brighter and the gold threading had the glint of real gold. There were weapons along these walls. The student weapons were all in the weapons room, and those had some kind of safety to keep them in place. If you wanted a sword, you needed to undo several straps to get it down. These were placed in simple holders, making them easy to snatch at a second's notice.
The noise of the cafeteria shrank away within the first few steps, and then there was quiet all around. The hall was a series of closed doorways, and the silence crowded him in.
"Where are we going?" Simon asked.
"To the reception room," the dean said.
Simon looked out of the windows as they passed. Here, the glass was a quilt of tiny panes, held together by lead piping. Each diamond of glass was old and warped, and the overall effect was like a cheap kaleidoscope, one that showed only dark and a very lightly falling snow. It was the kind of snow that didn't amount to anything on the ground. It would just dust the dead grass. The technical term for that level, he decided, was an "annoyance" of snow.
They reached a turn in the hall. The dean opened the first door after the turn and revealed a small but grand room, with furnishings that were not in the slightest bit broken or threadbare. Every chair in the room had legs of the same length, and the sofas were long and comfortable-looking with no visible sags or stuffing. Everything was upholstered in a lush, grape-purple velvet. There was a low table made of cherrywood, and on it was a massive and elaborate silver tea set with china cups. And sitting around the table on the fine-quality chairs and sofas were Magnus Bane, Jem Carstairs, Catarina Loss, and Clary, her red hair bright against her light blue sweater. Magnus and Catarina were together at the end (near the fire--of course it was, as in all other rooms, at the far end). Clary looked up at Simon, and though she smiled as soon as she saw him, her expression suggested that her invitation to this little party had also been recent and not well explained.
"Simon," Jem said. "So good to see you. Please have a seat."
Simon had only had a few encounters with Jem Carstairs, who was apparently as old as his wife, Tessa Gray. They both looked amazingly fit for 150 years. Tessa even looked pretty hot. (Maybe Jem looked hot too? As Simon had thought once before, he probably wasn't the greatest judge of male attractiveness.) Was it weird to think people who were twice as old as your grandparents were good-looking?
"I'll leave you to it," the dean said, and again there was something missing in her tone. It was like she had just said, "I'll just give you this dead snake." She closed the door.
"We're having tea," Magnus said. He was measuring out spoonfuls of loose tea leaves into the strainer of a tiny teapot. "One for each cup. One for the pot."
He set the tiny tea canister aside and picked up one of the large silver pots and poured steaming water through the strainer into the teapot. Catarina was watching him do this with a strange fascination.
Jem looked at ease in a white sweater and dark jeans. His black hair had a single, dramatic streak of silver in it that stood out against his brown skin. "How are you finding the training?" he asked, leaning forward.
"I don't bruise as much anymore," Simon said, shrugging.
"That's excellent," Jem said. "It means you're finding your feet and deflecting more blows."
"Really?" Simon said. "I thought it was because I was dead inside."
Magnus dropped the lid back onto the tiny tea canister very suddenly, making a loud clanking noise.
"I'm very sorry to interrupt your dinner," Jem said. He had a formal way of speaking that was the only thing about him that really showed his age.
"Never be sorry about that," Simon muttered.
"I take it the food in the Academy isn't its best feature."
"I'm not sure it has a best feature," Simon replied.
Jem smiled, his face lighting up. "We have cakes here, and scones. I think these are of a slightly higher quality than you are currently used to."
He indicated a china plate full of small cakes and scones that looked very edible. Simon didn't hesitate. He grabbed the closest scone and shoved it into his mouth. It was a bit dry, but it was better than anything he'd had in a while. He knew crumbs were falling out of his mouth and onto his dark T-shirt, but he found himself not caring.
"Okay, Magnus," Clary said. "You said you would explain why you brought me here when Simon got here. Not that I'm not happy to see you, but you're making me nervous."
Simon nodded and chewed to show he agreed and backed Clary up 100 percent, as best friends were supposed to do. At least he hoped he was communicating that.
Magnus pulled himself up. When a very tall warlock with cat eyes pulls himself up to attention, it changes the mood in the room. There was suddenly a real air of purpose, with an undercurrent of strange energy. Catarina sank back into the sofa, dropping into Magnus's shadow. It wasn't like Catarina to be so silent. Catarina was the blue-tinted voice of reason and minor rebellion in the hallowed halls of the Academy.
"I've been asked to bring you both a message," Magnus said, twisting one of the many rings that adorned his long fingers. "Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn are to become parabatai. The ceremony requires two witnesses, and they have asked for you to be those witnesses."
Clary raised an eyebrow and looked over to Simon.
"Of course," she said. "Emma's a sweetheart. Definitely. I'm in."
Simon was midreach for another scone. He drew back his arm.
"Definitely," he said. "Me too. But why couldn't they just send us a letter?"
Magnus paused for a moment and looked at Catarina, then turned to Simon with a wink.
"Why send a letter when you can send something truly magnificent?"
It was a very Magnus thing to say, but it rang a little h
ollow. Something about Magnus seemed a little hollow. His voice, maybe.
"The ceremony will be performed in the Silent City tomorrow," Jem said. "We have already arranged permission for you to attend."
"Tomorrow?" Clary said. "And we're just being asked now?"
Magnus shrugged elegantly, indicating that sometimes things like this just happened.
"What do we have to do?" Simon asked. "Is it complicated?"
"Not at all," Jem said. "The position of the witness is largely symbolic, much like a wedding. You have nothing you have to say. It's just a matter of standing with them. Emma chose Clary--"
"I can understand that," Simon said. "But Julian wouldn't choose me. We hardly know each other. Why not Jace?"
"Because Julian isn't particularly close to him either," said Jem, "and Emma made the suggestion that you and Clary, as best friends, would be meaningful witnesses for them. Julian agreed."
Simon nodded as if he understood, though he wasn't sure he did, really. He remembered having spoken to Julian at Helen and Aline's wedding, not long ago. He remembered thinking what a weight he had on his slight shoulders, and how much he seemed to hold contained, hidden and within. Perhaps it was simply that there was no one else Julian cared for enough to stand as his witness? No one he looked up to? That was incredibly sad, if so.
"In any case," said Magnus. "You are to stand with them as they go through the Fiery Trial."
"The what?" Simon asked.
"That is the true name of the ceremony," Jem said. "The two parabatai stand inside rings of fire."
"Tea's ready," Magnus said suddenly. "Never let it sit for more than five minutes. Time to drink up."
He poured two cups from the small pot.
"There's only two cups," Clary said. "What about you?"
"The pot is small. I'll make another one. These are for the two of you. Drink up."
The two cups were presented. Clary shrugged and sipped. Simon did the same. It was, to be fair, exceptional tea. Maybe this was why English people got so excited about it. There was a wonderful clarity to the flavor. It warmed his body as it went down. The room was no longer cold.
"This really is good," Simon said. "I don't really do tea, but I like this. I mean, they give us tea here but one time I had a cup that had a bone in it, and that was one of the best cups I had."