The Fiery Trial (Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy #8)(11) by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson

“The East River,” he said to himself, casting a glance around.

The East River was not somewhere to be at night, in the cold, in a small rowboat shaped like a swan. The East River was dangerous, fast, and deep.

He felt something bump the back of his tiny swan, and turned expecting a trash barge or a freighter. Instead it was another swan-shaped boat. This one contained a young girl, maybe thirteen or fourteen, in a tattered prom dress. She had long blond hair drawn up in uneven pigtails, giving the impression of constant lopsidedness. She pulled her swan to the side of Simon’s and, seemingly without a care in the world, pulled up her skirt and stepped from one boat to the other. Simon instinctively reached one hand out to help her and one hand to steady himself. He was sure that the transfer would cause their little swan to topple, and while it did sway uncertainly as the weight distribution changed, somehow they stayed upright. The girl dropped herself next to Simon on the bench. The swan was designed for people to cozy up to each other, so she was pressed against his side.

“Hi!” she said happily. “You’re back!”

“I . . . am?”

There was something wrong with the girl’s face. She was too pale. There were deep circles all the way around her eyes, and her lips were faintly gray. Simon wasn’t sure who she was, but he got a very uneasy feeling.

“It’s been forever!” she said. “But you’re back. I knew you’d come back for me.”

“Who are you?”

She fun-punched him in the arm, like he’d told a great joke.

“Shut up,” she said. “You’re so funny. That’s why I love you.”

“You love me?”

“Shut up!” she said again. “You know I love you. It’s always been you and me. You and me forever.”

“I’m sorry,” Simon said. “I don’t remember.”

The girl looked around at the churning river and dark buildings as if this was all very wonderful and exactly where she wanted to be.

“It was all worth it,” she said. “You’re worth it.”

“Thanks?”

“I mean, they killed me for you. They dumped me in a trash can. But I don’t hold it against you.”

The chill was now inside of Simon as well as out.

“But you’re looking for her, aren’t you? She’s so annoying.”

“Clary?” Simon asked.

The girl waved her hand as if blowing away a cloud of unwanted cigarette smoke.

“You could be with me. Be my king. Be with Queen Maureen. Queen Maureen, queen of death! Queen of the night! I ruled over all of this!”

She swept her hand toward the skyline. While it seemed unlikely that this very young girl could have ruled over New York, there was something about the story that rang true. He knew this. It was his fault. He didn’t do anything exactly, but he could feel guilt—terrible, crushing guilt and responsibility.

“What if you could save me?” she asked, leaning into him. “Would you?”

“I . . .”

“What if you had to pick?” Maureen said, smiling at the thought. “We could play a game. You could pick. Me or her. I mean, you are the reason I died, so . . . you should pick me. Save me.”

The clouds, ever watchful when something interesting was going on, crowded back in. The wind kicked up and the river took on a heavy wake, rocking the boat from side to side.

“She’s in the water, you know,” Maureen said. “The water in the fountain that comes from the lake. The water in the lake that comes from the river. The water in the river that comes from the sea. She’s in the water, in the water, in the water . . .”

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