“Mark.” Julian turned his head toward his brother, his blue-green eyes suddenly unguarded, as if he were about to say something he had been desperate to say for a long time. “If you—”
The hill seemed to crack apart. A large square in the front of it peeled away from the rest and swung open like a door. Mark’s mouth fell open. He had heard of such things, hills with doors in the sides, but he had never seen one.
Light glowed from the opening. It seemed to be a corridor, winding into the heart of the hill. A young faerie woman with gently pointed ears, her pale hair bound back with ropes of flowers, stood in the entryway, holding a lamp. She reached out a hand toward them.
“Come,” she said, and her voice had the undeniable accent of the Seelie Court. “Come quickly, before they reach you, for the King’s riders are savage and they will not leave you alive.”
“And you?” Julian said. “Do you mean us well?”
Only Julian would argue with providence, Mark thought. But then Julian trusted no one but his family. And sometimes, not even them.
The woman smiled. “I am Nene,” she said. “I will aid you and not harm you. But come, now, quickly.”
Mark heard Cristina whisper a thank-you. Then they were all racing again, not daring to look behind them. One by one they leaped through the door and onto the packed earth inside. Mark and Julian came last, carrying Kieran. Mark caught one last glimpse of the dark riders behind them, and heard their screams of disappointed rage. Then the door slammed shut behind them, sealing up the hill.
Emma looked around in wonder. The entranceway bore no traces of having been carved out of a hillside. It was made of smooth ash-colored stone, the roof of blue marble patterned with gilded stars. A shadowed corridor led deeper into the hill.
The faerie woman, Nene, raised her lamp. It was filled with darting fireflies that cast a limited glow over their small group. Emma saw Julian with his mouth set in a hard line, Cristina holding her pendant tightly. Mark was lowering Kieran to the ground, his hands gentle. It took her a moment to realize Kieran was unconscious, his head lolling back, clothes dappled in blood.
“We are on Seelie Lands now,” said Nene. “You can use your runes and witchlights.” Her gaze on Kieran was troubled. “You can heal your friend.”
“We can’t.” Julian flipped his witchlight out of his pocket. Its illumination rushed over Emma like the relief of water in the desert. “He’s not a Shadowhunter.”
Nene drifted closer, her pale eyebrows arched in consternation. Mark was on the ground, holding Kieran, whose face was drained icy-white, his closed eyes pale crescents in his blanched face. “Is he a Hunter?” she asked.
“We both—” began Mark.
“Is there anything you can do for him?” Emma interrupted, before Mark said too much.
“Yes.” Nene knelt down, setting her lamp on the floor beside her. She took a vial from the inside of the sleeveless white fur jacket she wore over her dress. She hesitated, looking at Mark. “You do not need this? You are not injured?”
He shook his head, puzzled. “No, why?”
“I brought it for you.” She uncorked it. Setting it to Kieran’s lips, she crooned something under her breath in a language unfamiliar to Emma.
Kieran’s lips parted and he swallowed. Pale gold liquid ran from the corners of his mouth. His eyes fluttered open and he pulled himself upright, swallowing a second mouthful and a third. His eyes met Nene’s over the rim of the bottle and he turned his face away, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. “Save the rest,” he said hoarsely. “It’s enough.”
He staggered to his feet, Mark helping him. The others had put away their steles. A new Healing rune burned on Emma’s arm, an Energy rune beside it. Still, her body ached, and her heart hurt. She kept seeing her father, over and over, looking up at her from the grass.
It hadn’t been him, not really, but that didn’t make the image less painful.
“Come,” said Nene, putting the vial away. “The drink will only sustain him a short time. We must hurry to the Court.”
She started down the corridor and the others followed, Mark supporting the staggering Kieran. Julian had his witchlight stone out, and the hall was bright. The walls looked like intricate mosaic from a distance, but up close Emma could see that they were clear resin, behind which the petals of flowers and wings of butterflies were pressed flat.
“My lady,” said Cristina. Her hair, like Emma’s, was tangled with leaves and burrs. “What did you mean you brought that drink for Mark? How did you know he would come here?”
“We had guests, here in the Court,” said Nene. “A Shadowhunter girl with red hair and a blond boy.”
“Jace Herondale and Clary Fairchild,” guessed Emma.
“They told me of the Blackthorns. That was a name I knew. My sister Nerissa loved a Blackthorn man, and had two of his children, and died of her love of him when he left her.”
Mark stopped in his tracks. Kieran gave a slight hiss of pain. “You’re my mother’s sister?” he said incredulously.
“I think they usually call that your aunt,” said Emma.
Mark gave her a dark look.
“I am the one who carried you and your sister to your father’s doorstep and left you there for him to raise,” said Nene. “You are my blood.”
“I am beginning to wonder if any of you do not have a long-lost relative in Faerie,” said Kieran.
“I don’t,” said Cristina, sounding regretful.
“Half Mark’s relatives are faeries,” pointed out Emma. “Where else would they be?”
“How did you know I would need saving?” said Mark to the faerie woman.
“The phouka who let you through the moon gate is an old friend,” Nene said. “He told me of your journey, and I guessed your mission. I knew you would not survive the Lord of Shadows’ tricks without aid.”
“The burning arrows,” Julian said. The corridor had now turned from stone and tile to packed earth. Roots dangled from the ceiling, each one twined with glimmering flowers that lit the darkness. Veins of minerals in the rock shimmered and changed as Emma looked at them. “That was you.”
Nene nodded. “And a few others, of the Queen’s Guard. Then I had only to stay a few steps ahead of you and open this door. It was not simple, but there are many doors to Seelie, all over the King’s Lands. More than he knows.” She cast a sharp look at Kieran. “You will not speak of this, will you, Hunter?”
“I thought you imagined me Nephilim,” said Kieran.
“That was before I saw your eyes,” she said. “Like my nephew, you are a servant of Gwyn.” She sighed softly. “If my sister Nerissa had known her son would grow to be so cursed, it would have broken her heart.”
Julian’s face darkened, but before he could speak, a figure loomed up in front of them. They had reached a place where the corridor opened into a circular room, with other hallways leading off it in a dizzying array of directions.
Blocking their forward progress was a faerie knight. A tall, wheat-skinned man with a somber expression, he wore robes and a doublet of brilliant multicolored fabric. “Fergus,” said Nene. “Let us go by.”
He arched a dark brow and replied with a torrent of words in an odd, birdlike language—not angry, but clearly annoyed. Nene held up a hand, her voice sharp in response. As Emma watched her, she thought she could detect some resemblance to Mark. Not just the pale blond hair, but the delicacy of her bones, the deliberateness of her gestures.
The knight sighed and stepped aside. “We can go now, but we will be called to an audience with the Queen at first light,” said Nene, hurrying forward. “Come, help me get the Hunter to a room.”