I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still.
Isabelle was the only one who wasn't afraid to go to the faerie market.
"It's not about fear," Alec said flatly. "It's reckless. Even Jace wouldn't be that stupid."
They were prone to agreeing with each other, her brothers, but Jace gave her a wry, apologetic smile before saying, "There are other ways to get the intel, Iz."
They didn't often head into enemy territory, so to speak, when it came to the Seelies. Not when they could help it. It was too easy to get tricked, tangled up, lost in time going sideways instead of forward. It took a special kind of Shadowhunter to keep their wits about them in a place like that, but it went without saying that Isabelle was one of a kind.
"But are the other ways even half as fun?" Isabelle said, smile dancing on her lips. Then she admitted, "Plus I want to get my hands on some of their fruit so I can test it. Can you imagine what we could do with that knowledge?"
The mission was really a cover for that, at least for Isabelle; heading into the Seelie Glade so that she could get her hands on some fey goods for a little scientific evaluation was of more interest to her than investigating a magical disturbance at the edge of Central Park. Her mother had always found Isabelle's interest in Seelies distasteful, but Isabelle couldn't help the fascination when there was so much they didn’t know, and so much they didn't even try to know.
But Alec was right, too. It was reckless, and there were safer alternatives. Trying to make off with anything from the market could be enough to earn the displeasure of easily offended faeries and there was no predicting the consequences of that. The market was the definition of dangerous, populated by denizens of both the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, as well as the solitary fey. There were no rules, no laws, no end to tricks and trades. It was dangerous but Isabelle had faith in herself. Someone had to.
Isabelle dressed to impress and to blend in at the same time: the Shadowhunter special. She wore close-fitting black lace up to her throat and down to her wrists, which helped obscure her runes a little bit, and black leather leggings for the comfort factor. She filched some family heirlooms for trading material and off she went.
Entrances to the Seelie Glade were difficult to locate unless one was looking very carefully. They changed all the time, so the same spot wouldn't necessarily be reliable for a second visit, and they were differentiated by the most mild of details: leaves that were greener, air that smelled sweeter, the faintest sound of music in the air. But the faerie market wanted to be found.
At the base of the one of the larger rocks ringing Central Park, Isabelle could feel something stirring in the seam of the earth. Light seemed to burn at the edges of rocky crevasses, and the sound of distant drumming found its way under Isabelle's skin until her pulse was thrumming in time with it. A rune would be the easiest but most obvious way to get in, so Isabelle nicked the tip of her finger and pressed a spot of blood onto the rock. Blood was always useful. There was a crescendo of noise like an avalanche and then pure, complete silence. A staircase led her down into the earth.
As Isabelle descended, anticipation making her limbs tingle, she had the strangest sensation of going down and up at the same time. At first it became darker, the air dense and almost wet. The drumming turned into rich, sinister music. She could hardly single out instruments, only a sense of something both exuberant and menacing at once. The deeper she went the closer it got, until she found herself stumbling into an open-air market with spices in the breeze and a dark sky studded with stars yawning high above.
A thrill ran down Isabelle's spine.
She knew all about the different kinds of Seelies. She had studied them in books and dealt with them on missions. She knew the anatomy of every subspecies and had even had a few unlucky specimens on her table. But it was different to be amongst the Seelies in a place that they had so carefully crafted for their own needs, that had existed and mutated over centuries until the market was almost a living, breathing entity. Every inch of it was alive. Isabelle felt a surge of guilt over her clinical curiosity.
The market had tables of every kind: heavy dark wooden tables with clawed feet that dug into the dirt and were heaped with golden bowels overflowing with fruit; narrow enameled end tables clustered with strange, sparkling terrariums; overturned barrels and dark messy vats of mysteriously glinting objects; even folding tables stuck out here and there, ordinary amongst the ominous glamor but stacked with wares just as bizarre as any more grandiose stand.
And there were also the people: Seelies of every stripe crowded and bumped one another as they haggled over this or that, made demands or got into fights. There were elegant Seelie knights mingling with gnarled, grotesque goblins; mischievous pixies flitted through the sea of people rapid as a flickering light; dryads left trails of leaves in the wake; sprites tried to filch little knickknacks from the most overloaded of tables.
A silver dish of silver apples caught Isabelle's eye, but as she approached to try to barter with the spriggan who kept fondly picking up one or two and shining them on his shirt, she heard a smooth voice just to her left.
"A Shadowhunter so far from home," the man said. "What damage are you planning on bringing to our little glen?"
She turned and came face to face with a Seelie only a little taller than her, with long dark hair streaked with crisp blue and a leaf imprinted on one cheekbone. His face was exceptionally handsome in its angular symmetry, with a strong jaw and a generous mouth that shone faintly gold. A white linen shirt hung open over his bare chest, and his skirt and boots appeared to be made of the same white armor, small circular plates that fit together to create the effect of glimmering, iridescent scales.
Isabelle drank in the sight of him. She wanted him even more than one of the apples.
"No damage," she said honestly. "I'm here on reconnaissance."
With a low, doubtful hum, he said, "To what end?"
Isabelle smiled at him, red lips and white teeth, and watched the interest flare in his eyes. "Can't a girl be curious?"
"Not when that girl is a Shadowhunter," he said.
"How about when that girl is Isabelle Lightwood?" she asked flirtatiously, holding out her hand.
"For that I have no answer," he replied, but his lips curved a little and he did take her hand. He didn't let it go right away either, thumb smoothing over each of her knuckles in turn. "You may call me Meliorn."
They began to walk through the rows of vendors, occasionally sidestepping sprites and nixies. "I'm not here to cause trouble," Isabelle told him, bringing a hand up to make an X over her chest. "Cross my heart."
He gave her a sideways look that indicated he was not entirely convinced. "Lightwood, you said? Forgive me, but I know your people. I've dealt with them before. The Lightwoods aren't strangers to causing trouble, as you say." In repeating her words back to her, he imbued them with a faint irony.
An automatic defense pressed at Isabelle's lips, but she knew her family had always been rather…strident in their methods. "Not all Shadowhunters are alike," she said after a moment, coloring slightly, which was unlike her. "Some of us believe in being fair and protecting the people who need it."
"Mm." Meliorn walked with his back very straight and his hands clasped behind him. "That is not always a concern of Seelies."
"I thought you were the Fair Folk?" she teased, and earned a smile from him.
"There are many ways to be fair," he said evenly. It was then she noticed that their walk was leading somewhere. At what seemed to be center of the vast market was a packed dirt floor where a number of unusual creatures writhed and twirled around one another to the strange music. The band stood just off the makeshift dance floor: frog-faced men playing long skinny stringed instruments, tiny sprites throwing themselves bodily against massive drums, and women with cats' tails dragging their claws over elaborate harps. "Do you dance, Isabelle Lightwood?"
Isabelle reached up to pull the chopsticks from her hair, letting it cascade down her back in dark waves. She smiled at him, playful. "Would you like to find out?"
Again Isabelle was faced with the singular sensation of experiencing too opposites at once: the dance was breakneck fast except for when it was tenderly slow; Meliorn's hands were firm and strong except for when they were gossamer light. Isabelle spun until she couldn't see or find breath for her exhilarated laughter. She let him guide her with a steady hand on her waist, the delicate touch of his fingertips over her arms. They turned towards each other and away, their hands met and parted. The songs didn't seem to have an end. Instead they blended and flowed one right into the next, or perhaps there was only one song that went on and on without ceasing.
"Our revels can become overwhelming," Meliorn murmured in her ear, voice barely carrying over the music. "Do you need to rest?"
But Isabelle only grinned at him. "Never," she declared before impetuously leaning in to kiss him.
There was one simple rule a Shadowhunter learned upon entering a world not their own: never taste anything, or you could be trapped. Satisfy temptation and lose everything. It was a kind of magic that both fascinated and repelled Isabelle; she could not resist the urge to try and have everything she wanted all at once.
Meliorn tasted like sweet summer blackberries. His lips parted against hers and Isabelle understood why people could get caught here for decades.
She twined her fingers in his hair and pressed herself close, arching against him shamelessly. They weren't dancing now but the feeling was the same. One of Meliorn's hands floated along the curves of her body, trailing over ribcage and waist and hip, and Isabelle was so hot she shivered.
He kissed her lightly as he pulled away, once on her mouth and once on her cheek. "The sun is coming up, Isabelle Lightwood. You have tarried very long indeed."
"No, but – I just got here," she protested.
"'Here' is a tenuous concept at best," he told her with a slight smile. "If you remain much longer you might forget the way out."
This wasn't why Isabelle came here but she couldn't find any part of herself that regretted it. Her mother would be terribly ashamed of her. The thought made Isabelle smile.
"I never get stuck," she informed Meliorn, but a quick look around revealed that she no longer had any idea which direction she'd come in from.
"You are very bold and very determined." He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "And very beautiful."
Isabelle turned her gaze back to him, smile getting softer. "Would you like to see me again?"
She knew he couldn't lie.
Meliorn bent his head to kiss her. "I would like," he said, "nothing more."
Isabelle emerged into the cool dawn happily exhausted. She walked back to the train slowly, enjoying the slight nip in the air against her overheated skin. Her body ached pleasantly like it did after a long training session but Isabelle liked that she hadn't done anything except have fun to get the same feeling.
Once she was back in her room, she looked in her mirror and saw that Meliorn had tucked a flower into her hair, right behind her ear. It smelled sweet, like lilac, but the blossoms were miniscule and periwinkle blue, with tightly furled little petals. Isabelle felt an odd swoop in her chest and before she could think better of it, she was tugging the heaviest book from her shelves so she could press the flower between its pages.
That wasn't the sort of thing she did, normally, but her pulse spiked at the thought of seeing him again.
When she opened her purse to put all those untraded Lightwood gems back where they belonged, a shining silver apple rolled out too. Isabelle let out a surprised laugh, lifting it up to study its gleaming surface, and though it was reckless, she took a bite. It tasted like blackberries.