Back to Almost Paradise
Alec kept himself as busy as he could while he waited for Magnus, Catarina, Ragnor, and Lorenzo to return from Edom.
He knew why the trip was necessary, they’d discussed the pros and cons again and again. In the end, they’d all reluctantly agreed that since his magic was returning it seemed highly probable that Asmodeus’ memory would also be making a comeback at some stage. Therefore, the smartest option was to be in control of the process as possible. Although she had initially refused, Catarina had bowed to Magnus’ persistent persuasion and agreed to go along. Ragnor had grumped for a while and then announced he was going too.
Even the Spiral Labyrinth had agreed.
That didn’t mean that Alec liked the idea. The Asmodeus who’d been strewing the adjoining apartment with oil-paintings of the New York skyline might not have been the most congenial of men, and he wasn’t exactly easy to live with, but Alec couldn’t help but feel that the inconvenience of having his father-in-law around all the time and stinking up the place with turpentine might be preferable over returning Asmodeus to the Greater Demon he was before.
Even if helping him would leave him in their debt. Everything Alec had read indicated that the only thing worse than being in debt to a Greater Demon was having them indebted to you. It was like those mundane stories about the Fae. Except compared to Greater Demons, Fae were easy. They were mostly happy in their own realm, so they weren’t much trouble. Demons, on the other hand…
Of course, the options appeared to be a Greater Demon who was in their debt or a Greater Demon with a grudge. Possibly a Greater Demon with a grudge, who was in their debt. Alec would prefer for there to be no Greater Demons at all, but then no-one seemed to be taking his wishes into account. He’d just have to deal.
After reading the same contract for the third time and still having no idea what it said, Alec decided to do a quick sweep and look in on everyone else.
Jace was running one of his training sessions; this one was mixed; staff, knife, and hand-to-hand. There were people all over the place, so Alec went to see if Underhill needed him for anything.
“Everything’s under control, sir,” Underhill assured him. He hesitated. It was barely for a moment, but Alec had come to know his head of security quite well.
“What is it?”
“I’m not sure if…”
Alec frowned. Underhill wasn’t usually this bashful. “You might as well just tell me.”
Underhill sighed. “Here. Take a look at this, sir.” He handed over his tablet. It showed several weeks of a personnel schedule, all neatly filled out, aside from any of the usual identifying details such as name or rank. Only this couldn’t possibly be one person’s schedule. There were sporadic food breaks, but other than a couple of outliers—a single night off on a Thursday a couple of weeks ago, and Monday evenings through the night to Tuesday morning were set aside—this was the schedule of someone who was averaging barely two hours sleep a night.
A second look at the departments listed gave him enough information to make an educated guess as to the person who’s schedule it was.
Alec handed the tablet back. “How accurate is that?”
Underhill returned his gaze steadily. “I double-checked the time-stamps myself.”
“Shit.” Alec’s hands clenched. How had he missed this? “I’ll talk to her.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Alec went to find Izzy. He found her in the armoury going over one of the blades with Joshua Blackvine, pointing out imperfections that Alec couldn’t see. As soon as she saw him, she set Blackvine to making detailed notations on every blade they had in stock and then got up.
“Come on, Alec,” she said. “Let’s go and get some fresh air. You look like you’re about to explode with tension. What has you so on edge?”
“Magnus has taken Asmodeus to Edom,” Alec blurted. Even if someone was eavesdropping and took the information to the Clave, it wasn’t like they’d be able to do anything about it.
Izzy gave him a startled look. “That was today? I thought it wasn’t till Monday?”
“Izzy, it is Monday.”
“Oh, right.” She sighed. “Take me to lunch and buy me something full of sugar, big brother. Even better, two somethings.”
They went down the road to the little café that Izzy preferred.
“You’ve spent all morning imagining all the things that could go wrong, haven’t you?” she said when they were settled side-by-side at the corner table. It was the only spot that allowed them to keep an eye on both entrances and the road outside.
Alec sighed. “Can you blame me?”
“Magnus will be fine,” Izzy said calmly, stirring her coffee. She lifted it to her lips. “Ah. That’s the stuff.”
“What have you been up to?” Alec asked, trying to divert attention away from his quite reasonable concerns about his husband’s safety. “I missed you on Saturday.”
“There’s just so much to do all of a sudden.” Izzy dropped her head to Alec’s shoulder, smiling when he automatically wrapped his arm around her.
“You have three important jobs,” Alec pointed out. “There was bound to be a time conflict sooner or later. Are you sure you’re getting enough rest?”
Izzy groaned. “This is not the time to say, ‘I told you so,’ Alec. This is a time to give me a hug and to remind me that my big, strong, brother will do everything he can to help me.”
Alec used the arm around her to tug her closer into his side. “I don’t need to speak the obvious when my incredibly intelligent sister is around.” He laughed when she poked him in his ticklish spot. “Sorry, sorry. Truly though, is there anything I can do to help you?” He looked her over, taking in the dark shadows under her eyes. “It’s okay to ask for help, you know. A wise person I know told me that.”
She smiled up at him. It was unrestrained, a smile that he’d missed while they’d had Valentine on one side and the Clave on the other, their parents in between; all of them piling on the pressure. “I know,” she admitted. “I just…I’ve felt I need to prove myself for so long. I always had to be better, achieve more. It’s hard to let go of that mindset.”
“I know,” he sympathised. “You can’t keep putting these hours in though. I honestly don’t know how you’re still standing. Stamina runes can only help so much before it all comes crashing down. Isn’t Simon trying to drag you away? Are you seeing him at all, aside from when he’s coming in and out for his Deputy duties? I know that I’d be a wreck if I didn’t have Magnus to go home to.”
“You’d end up working twenty-hour days, seven days a week,” Izzy agreed. She sighed. “Simon is great, and the time I spend with him does leave me energised and happier, but he doesn’t really understand the pressure that I’m under. He does his best to be supportive…he never tries to make me feel bad when I can’t spend as much time with him as I’d like to, I just…” she shrugged. “It’s different than it is with you and Magnus, I suppose.”
Alec nodded thoughtfully. “That makes sense. Magnus knows what it’s like to be in a position where his decisions affect a large number of people, and where no matter what choice he makes there are going to be people who disagree with him, sometimes vocally. Simon…”
“Simon has personal concerns,” Izzy observed, “but he doesn’t really know what it’s like to have other people relying on him.”
“He’s very young,” Alec pointed out.
Izzy laughed. “Well, my previous long-term boyfriend was very old. I thought being the mature, experienced one in a relationship might be a bit refreshing.”
“What long-term boyfriend was this? You mean Meliorn? I thought he was a friend-with-benefits.”
Izzy gave a theatrical gasp. “Alec! Where did you hear that term?”
Alec just looked at her. “I’m pretty sure you explained it to me, Izzy. When you were telling me about how your ‘thing’ with Meliorn wasn’t serious.”
Izzy shrugged. “I think, in retrospect, it was more serious than either of us wanted to admit,” she confessed. “We were never exclusive, but there was always this feeling that maybe one day we would be. There were a couple of times when I thought he was trying to tell me that he’d be willing, but I was all hung up on the life-span thing.” She laughed ruefully. “I saw the look on his face when he saw me with Simon. He played it off, and he’ll never say anything about it, but…” she shrugged again. “I don’t like feeling that I might have hurt him.”
“Sometimes it’s unavoidable,” Alec said, giving her another squeeze. He remembered Lydia’s too-bright smile and her assurances that she would be ‘fine’ with a slight wince. “I guess it’s all part and parcel of being grown-ups.”
“Look at you, dispensing relationship advice,” Izzy teased gently. She brushed some crumbs off his shirt. “Sorry for getting you all messy.”
“I never mind when you get me messy,” Alec assured her, hearing the double meaning in her words and answering her in kind. He decided to lighten the tone. “Besides, it’s nothing to that time when you sprained your ankle setting traps for Jace in the mud-pit, remember? You made me come and get you, but then you said you weren’t done yet. You made me carry you around while you added the finishing touches. I came out of there with mud in my ears, Izzy.”
She laughed and sat up a bit. “Well, he shouldn’t have called me short-ass.”
Alec laughed too. “Izzy, I hate to be the one to break this to you…”
Izzy narrowed her eyes at him. “I hope you aren’t going to call me a short-ass, Alec.”
“Of course not. You’re exactly the right size to rest my elbow on,” he assured her. He ducked away from her retaliatory pointy finger to the ribs, laughing again.
Alec finished his lunch in a much better mood. Izzy always managed to make him feel better. It was a skill she’d had since she was baby.
They were just getting ready to leave when their phones chirped out notification of an incoming text. They exchanged a quick look as they reached for their phones. Aside from parental announcements, a text that came to both of them was pretty much guaranteed to be bad news.
It was from Magnus. He started out by stating that the matter wasn’t urgent, but then went on to request their presence, together, as soon as they could arrange it.
Izzy groaned. “I don’t have time!”
Alec just shook his head at her. She’d already heard his opinion on the matter, the only thing repeating it would achieve was getting her to dig in their heels. Lightwoods were a contrary bunch by nature, they didn’t like being told what to do. Which, considering that they were raised as soldiers, was rather amusing.
Izzy sighed. “Okay, big brother, you win. I’ll find someone else to take over the armoury full-time until we’ve finished going through Valentine’s artefacts. In the meantime, I’ll come with you to find out what bug is up your husband’s ass.”
When they got to the apartment, it was to discover Magnus pacing up and down the foyer worriedly. “Alexander!” he greeted Alec with a kiss. “Lovely to see you as always, Isabelle. And may I say that the shade of lipstick you’re wearing particularly suits you?” He reached out to give her a hug.
“What’s wrong?” Alec asked, starting to get worried. Magnus didn’t often display his nerves like this. “Will I need to cancel dinner tonight?”
“Good plan!” Magnus agreed without hesitation, which was even more worrying. Magnus loved entertaining, and typically nothing short of an apocalypse could stop him. Alec got out his phone and sent a quick text to Jace asking him to cancel on his behalf, assuring him that he was fine and promising to explain later. Jace would be able to feel he was okay with the parabatai rune, and would hopefully be able to assuage any fears that Maryse or Max might have.
“Let’s talk inside.” Magnus ushered them in. “Isabelle, let me introduce you to one of my oldest friends.”
Alec was a little surprised to see how full their apartment was.
Ragnor was sitting in the armchair which had been pulled over to the window to take advantage of the weak winter light. He had a small glass of amber liquid beside him on one of Magnus’ little tables, and he was paging through a large, cumbersome looking book. He glanced up at their entrance, observing Izzy with interest.
In the living area, Catarina, Lorenzo, Asmodeus, and Madzie were gathered around a monopoly board. They didn’t pay any attention to Alec and Izzy’s presence after a quick greeting.
Magnus’ flustered and anxious demeanour was a stark contrast to the relaxed manner of the other people present. He performed the introductions with his usual flourish and barely waited long enough for them to get the usual pleasantries out of the way.
“Alexander, Isabelle…” he wrung his hands together. Alec reached out to hold them gently in his own.
Ragnor put his book down. “Oh, just spit it out, old fellow.” He got up from his chair and picked up his glass before wandering over to join them. “I daresay it’s not as bad as your dithering will lead them to believe it is.”
Alec didn’t like seeing his husband so upset. “What’s wrong?”
Magnus heaved a huge sigh. He waved his hand, producing an orange drink in a tall glass for Izzy, a strawberry daiquiri for Alec, and his usual martini for himself.
“It’s not even lunchtime,” Alec pointed out with some concern. Magnus might enjoy his alcoholic beverages, but it wasn’t common to start this early in the day.
“You might be wanting a little fortification later,” Ragnor said with poorly disguised amusement.
“Come on, Magnus, it can’t be that bad,” Izzy said, starting to look alarmed. “Wait, are we expecting anyone else to join us?”
“No, no, I really only needed to speak to the two of you,” Magnus said. “I suppose I should explain. I’m sure you recall, Alec, that today was the day we were to take my father to Edom.”
Given Magnus’ use of ‘my father’ when speaking of Asmodeus, whatever had happened hadn’t managed to destroy the rapport that Magnus and Asmodeus had been building the last couple of weeks. Surely that was good news?
“How did that go?” Izzy asked, giving Asmodeus a more thorough inspection. To Alec’s eye, he certainly didn’t look any different.
Magnus shuddered. “Well, it appears that our previous foray there might have had one or two unintended consequences. Perhaps several, it’s hard to be exact.”
Ragnor laughed and sipped his drink.
“What kind of consequences?” Alec asked, trying his best to ignore Ragnor and be supportive of his clearly struggling husband. “I thought it would just be a burnt-up husk. It was looking pretty fiery when we were leaving.”
Magnus twitched. “When Catarina, Ragnor, and I made plans to visit, we had certain expectations about how it would go,” he began. “With unrestricted access to Edom, we expected my father’s magic levels to rapidly return to their pre-limbo state. Everything we know about Greater Demons and their connection to their demonic realms pointed in that direction. Then, with his magic fully restored, we anticipated that his mind would heal in fairly short order.”
“I take it that didn’t happen,” Izzy said.
“No,” Magnus said. “The thing is… The thing is…”
“Magnus is the new Lord of Edom,” Ragnor chimed in helpfully.
Magnus scowled at him. “You don’t have to just blurt it out like that, Ragnor! I was getting there!”
“Perhaps,” Ragnor replied dismissively. “But since I wanted you to arrive sometime before the next ice-age, I felt that some help would be required.”
Alec blinked. “You’re the new Lord of Edom? Does that mean that you’re a Greater Demon now? I thought it was only Greater Demons that could harness the power of the realms?”
Magnus winced. “That’s never been entirely accurate. Something that many people tend to forget, Alexander, is that there are other beings with power equal to that of the Greater Demons. It’s just…aligned a little differently, shall we say. Regardless, they have the same ability to harness the power of realms in general.”
Izzy leaned forward. “You mean the Angels? Angels can harness the power of demonic realms?”
“Not demonic realms, Isabelle,” Magnus explained. “Angels naturally inhabit Angelic realms. And not just any Angels, just as it’s not just any Demons. Arch Angels and Greater Demons…if you think of them as two sides of the same coin, equal and opposite at the same time…”
“Okay…but, you’re not a Greater Demon,” Alec said slowly. “You’re not an Arch Angel either. So…”
“I’m just saying that all our previous knowledge stated that only Greater Demons and Arch Angels were able to harness the realms,” Magnus said. “As you pointed out, I am neither of those things. Which is why it was such a big shock when we arrived, and the realm immediately started reacting to my presence.”
Izzy was starting to look as amused as Ragnor. “You’ve got a realm of your own? Isn’t this good news? Why are you acting so alarmed?”
Alec threw her a censorious glare that she ignored with the ease of long practice. “If we don’t know why and how something happened then it could backfire on us later.” He turned back to Magnus. “Is this why none of the other Greater Demons has made a move yet? You told me that they were mobilising for a fight.”
“We’ve got a pretty good idea of at least part of the answer,” Magnus said with a sigh. “After some discussion, we’ve worked out a probable timeline. There were several unique circumstances which we believe combined to create a rather unprecedented situation.”
“Tell us about it,” Alec encouraged.
“Firstly, at least chronologically, Asmodeus impregnated a human woman. She gave birth to one of the most beautiful, talented—”
“Modest, humble,” Ragnor muttered.
“—Warlock babies in the world,” Magnus continued, with a glare to Ragnor.
Alec had noticed that Ragnor’s interjections and wry asides worked to calm Magnus down. He was starting to like the snarky, irascible Warlock. No wonder Magnus counted him amongst his closest friends.
“This young Warlock was favoured amongst his father’s children,” Magnus said with his nose in the air. “So favoured was he that his father wished for him to join him in ruling his realm. To entice him, Asmodeus tried several times to show him the benefits. On one occasion, he allowed his son a stable connection to the realm, although he made sure that it connected through him.
“Our heroic Warlock eventually declined his father’s offer and left Edom, swearing never to return. He did his best to ignore the link, preferring to rely only on the magical gifts that were part of his Warlock heritage.”
Izzy looked fascinated. “You mean that you can keep the magic completely separate? How does that work?”
Magnus dropped his dignified stance. “It all comes down to the different ways our magic manifests,” he explained eagerly. “Most of the Shadow World come by their various powers by blood, as you know. For Vampires and Werewolves, the blood is cursed, and a bite is part of its transference. It’s violent—it has to be, because curses are not particularly nice things.
“The Nephilim were made when Raziel shared his blood with humans, and to this day, more Nephilim can be created by use of the Mortal Cup. The condition is also passed from parent to child. Did you know that historically, not every child of two Nephilim has been able to bear Angelic runes? But I digress. The Fae are another matter, but then unlike the rest of the Shadow World, they don’t have Mundane beginnings.
“Warlocks, on the other hand, are a more organic mix of Demon and Mundane physiologies. Our magic isn’t something that’s introduced by way of our blood, it is a part of us.” He looked uncomfortable for a moment.
Alec wondered if he was remembering what it was like to give up his magic.
Taking advantage of the brief pause, Izzy turned to Alec. “Are you as discomfited as I am to hear our Angelic heritage discussed like some sort of blood disease that we transmit to our offspring?”
Alec shrugged. “Yes, but he’s not wrong, is he? I wonder if a lot of the Clave’s insistence about how much better we are because of Raziel’s blessing is really a case of them sticking their fingers in their collective ears and shouting, ‘La, la, la, we’re totally better than those nasty Downworlders, so there!’”
Izzy smirked. “I would love to see you tell the Consul that.”
“I’d either be clapped in chains for treason or sent to the hospital for lunacy.”
“It would still be funny.”
“If you’ve finished?” Magnus asked impatiently. “Very well. As I was saying, Warlock magic is a part of us from birth. There is a time in our youth where we’re unable to access it, of course, but once we start using it, it’s there forever. Unless something untoward happens. But a Warlock’s magic and a Demon’s magic manifest themselves very differently.”
“What do you mean? Isn’t magic just magic?”
“Warlocks have…a reservoir, for want of a better term,” Magnus explained. “Each Warlock’s reservoir is different. Imagine it a little like a container that we carry around with us. Some might have a cup, some might have a shot glass. This container is fed from…imagine a thin hosepipe. The Warlock uses the magic in the container for various spells, etc. and then their core works to replenish the magic. It flows in through the hose until, eventually, the container is full again.”
Alec nodded. That seemed clear enough.
“Warlocks have a general feeling about the capacity of each other’s containers,” Magnus went on. “It’s not exact, not without a rather complicated incantation which can only be cast on someone with their consent, but we can generally tell who holds more power than who.”
“The ones with the larger containers are the more powerful Warlocks?” Izzy reasoned.
“Only to a point,” Ragnor interjected. “Size isn’t the only thing that matters. How you use what you have will make a significant difference in what you can achieve, and really, aren’t your achievements the true measure of the power you wield?”
Magnus rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, Ragnor, keep telling yourself that.” He sniffed theatrically. “He’s not wrong,” he admitted, sounding like saying that was like pulling screws. “But it’s less important for the purposes of our discussion.”
Alec leaned forward a little. “When we were looking for a way to wake Jocelyn Fairchild, and Hodge brought up pictures of three Warlocks that were said to be more powerful than you…”
Ragnor snorted. “Like any Warlock with sense enough to know what they were talking about would be inclined to tell the Clave such intimate Warlock business.” There was a threat in his tone that had Alec straightening up. At his side, Izzy was more alert as well.
Magnus waved his hand. “Oh, be quiet, you old curmudgeon. Alexander and Isabelle are some of the very best examples of Nephilim that I’ve ever known. They’re fully aware of the limitations of the Clave. Need I remind you that this information is going to be relevant to both of them shortly?”
Alec wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that. He glanced at Izzy, who was frowning as well. “I don’t intend to document any part of this conversation.” He paused. ”Unless what you have to say constitutes an imminent threat to the Shadow World. Even then, only if it’s relevant.”
“And Isabelle is even more liberal than her brother!” Magnus proclaimed.
Ragnor didn’t say anything, but his posture loosened quite considerably. Alec found himself relaxing slightly in response.
“So, just how powerful are you, Magnus?” Izzy asked, tossing her hair over her shoulder.
Magnus paused. “Well,” he said carefully, “let’s say that the average Warlock—not that there really is such a thing, but just imagine it for the purposes of this discussion—carries around a tea-cup worth of magic. They might have a hose-pipe that approximates the tubing used in hospitals to deliver blood transfusions.
“Then you have the more powerful Warlocks, the ones that become the High Warlocks, the ones that live long lives, the ones that come to the Clave’s notice. They might have a small bucket, with a hose-pipe more like a thin drinking straw, one you find attached to those juice packs.” He cocked his head to one side, glancing over to the group playing monopoly in the lounge.
Catarina called out, “Oh, just go ahead, Magnus. Madzie and I trust Alec and Isabelle, don’t we, sweetie?”
Madzie nodded enthusiastically. “You landed on my hotel,” she said to Asmodeus. “That’s going to cost you big-time, buddy!”
Lorenzo lifted his head to glare at Magnus before giving a sharp nod and returning his attention back to the game.
“Lorenzo and Ragnor each have small buckets,” Magnus said. “Lorenzo, I couldn’t tell you about, but Ragnor—being practically ancient—has worked carefully over the years to increase the size of his hose-pipe. That means that to someone who doesn’t know any better, he seems to have a larger container than he really does.”
Ragnor lifted his glass in a toast, and then drained it. “You’re being a terrible host, Magnus,” he complained, waggling it meaningfully.
Magnus sighed and waved his hand, refilling the glass. Alec remembered his own glass and decided that now was a good time to take a sip. It was cold and sweet, and tasted amazing.
“Catarina has a somewhat larger bucket,” Magnus went on. “She’s fairly skilled at the finer points of her magic usage—healers often are—so I really have no idea as to the size of her hose-pipe. Madzie’s bucket is half again the size of Catarina’s.”
Alec blinked in shock. He knew that his young friend was powerful, but that was surprising.
“That is one of the reasons that we’re so careful with her safety,” Magnus went on. “Her power levels are rare; it’s already attracted negative attention. There are far too many unscrupulous people out there who would like to take advantage of our dear one.”
Alec knew that all too well. “Over my dead body,” he said calmly, taking another sip of his daiquiri.
Magnus smiled at him. “I love you, Alexander. But back to the discussion… If we say that Madzie has a large bucket, holding maybe a gallon, then the amount I was born with would be akin to…”
“One of those industrial drums,” Ragnor said bluntly. “He’s always had a ridiculous amount of power. It’s why he uses it for the smallest things, and why he portals everywhere. For that mythical ‘average Warlock’ of earlier, a single portal would be enough to wipe them out for the better part of the day, and good luck getting any combat magic out of them afterwards. Cat and I—and Lorenzo too, for that matter—are far more versatile and have more options up our sleeves, but young Magnus here…” he shook his head. “If he didn’t use his magic almost constantly, strange things would be happening around him all the time as the excess found ways to bleed off.”
“Excess?” Izzy and Alec asked at the same time.
“Most Warlocks don’t have to worry about it,” Magnus said, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Their problems lie more with having enough magic to perform the tasks that they wish to, rather than to stop from setting fire to the drapes. When Madzie matures, she’ll need to make sure that she uses her magic on a fairly regular basis. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up as a rather skilled and in-demand warder, since wards require a constant influx of magic to maintain.”
Izzy poked Alec in the side with her finger. “You just always have to have the best toys, don’t you? By the Angel, you can’t do anything on a small scale. No wonder our mother was having a conniption fit when he crashed your wedding.”
“I’d really like the full story at some point,” Ragnor put in.
“Later,” Magnus said. “So, this drum of mine is fed by a largeish hosepipe. That’s comparatively, mind you. Relative to the size of the drum, it’s not large at all.” He sighed. “However, because of some meddling by Asmodeus, I also have another…source of power, shall we say.”
“From Edom,” Alec prompted.
“Yes. Now, the power from Edom is—as I’ve already explained—rather different from my own. Perhaps think of it as two immiscible liquids. Oil and water. I have a large barrel full of water, and at the top of it is a thin layer of oil that comes from a separate hosepipe; one that’s whisker-thin, and connected to Edom. Or, originally, to my father, and through him to Edom.”
“What did that mean for how you used your magic?” Izzy asked curiously.
Magnus shrugged. “To be honest, I tried my best to only use the water. My father and I…let’s say that we didn’t part on the best of terms. His oily magic reminded me of things I wanted to forget, of a person I didn’t want to be anymore. So I ignored it as much as possible.”
Ragnor laughed. “It ended up being a good way to get people to underestimate him,” he shared. “Demonic magic and Warlock magic resonate differently. There wasn’t enough demonic magic being generated to register to normal senses; only a proper scan—one that requires Magnus’ permission—can detect it unless he actively uses it. But because it’s layered on the outside of his Warlock magic, his Warlock magic ends up muffled. He feels as if he has less magic than he actually does.” He shrugged. “Not a great deal less, you understand, but enough that he’s been underestimated a time or two. And a Warlock’s two greatest weapons…”
“Are being overestimated, and being underestimated,” Magnus finished with the rote manner of someone repeating lessons that had been drummed into him. “The other advantage, of course, was that even though I swore to myself that I would never use it, I always knew that the power was there if I needed it. It wasn’t a large reserve, but it was enough that I would never be utterly dry.”
“Hang on,” Alec interrupted, having thought of something. “When you were talking about the Travellers, you said that you couldn’t sense the magic in them. But just now you said that magic is an integral part of a Warlock. Are they just not generating magic anymore? What can do that?”
“Oh, they’re still generating magic,” Magnus revealed offhandedly. “They just have nothing to store their magic in. Luckily none of them had particularly large reserves to begin with, which means that the magic constantly leaking out of them is a trickle. They probably won’t even register it. One or two of them might find themselves a little luckier than the average Mundane, is all.”
“Does that mean that when you agreed to trade your magic to Asmodeus…” Alec said slowly, “…you handed over your container?”
Magnus sighed. “It was a bargain that could never have worked if Asmodeus wasn’t both my father and a Greater Demon. Demons—and Angels, for that matter—understand and manipulate magic differently than Warlocks do. In part, I think it’s inherent in their beings…Angels and Demons don’t have magic so much as they are magic. Or…it’s less that they carry a container around that may run dry or be taken away, but more that they’re saturated with magic at all times. While in their realm, they’re constantly soaking the magic up, which is why killing a Greater Demon is no easy feat. And because Demons can’t be truly killed elsewhere… I’m sure you’re aware of the difficulties.”
Izzy sighed. “Which is why Lilith wasn’t intimidated in the slightest when we turned up to challenge her.”
Magnus smiled briefly. “I imagine that to her, it was rather like being growled at by an angry kitten. When I realised what you had all done, that you had come to Edom to confront her…” He shook his head. “Well, I didn’t hold out a great deal of hope.”
Alec frowned. He looked over to where Lorenzo was pretending not to be paying any attention to them. “Lorenzo would have known how hopeless it was.”
“We told him he could help save the world,” Alec said. “But if he believed it was hopeless, then why did he come?”
“That…you will have to discuss with him,” Magnus replied. He drained his glass and refilled it. “Now, where was I?”
“You were talking about a Greater Demon’s connection to their realm,” Izzy said, starting to sound impatient. “This is truly fascinating, but I’ve not heard anything that constitutes an emergency or actually requires my presence. Do you really need me here? I have a hundred and one things back at the Institute that needed my attention yesterday.”
“Unless someone’s life is at stake, then yes, you will want to be here,” Magnus said firmly. “Backtracking a little… There I was, connected to the magic of Edom through my father, but refusing to use that power. The next thing that happened, in our list of unusual circumstances, was Lilith’s departure to go to the aid of her ‘son.’ Its place on my timeline is a little wobbly, but it could be argued that without Lilith’s shenanigans on the Mundane plane, I would never have been desperate enough to go to Edom to bargain with my father.
“As everyone here is aware, the price my father demanded to assist me was my magic. I agreed, and arrived back in New York to discover Alec near death. His parabatai had been freed from Lilith’s grasp, as promised, and Sherwin had used the Mark of Cain to defeat Lilith, causing her to be banished back to Edom where she reformed in a weakened state.”
Izzy sighed. “He’s not even here, Magnus. You can call him by his real name, you know.”
Magnus waved his hand dismissively. “Asmodeus used the combination of his power and mine to ensure that Lilith—who was rather done-in—could not return to full strength. You might want to keep in mind that while Asmodeus was using my power, it intermingled with the demonic power of the realm. Not in such a way as they could not be separated again—oil and water, remember—but in such a way that my magic grew more familiar with the realm, and the realm grew more familiar with my magic.” He burped slightly. “An emulsifision. Emulsion. Whatever.”
Alec was starting to get an inkling of where this was going.
“I’m sure all of those who know what happened will realise that next on our list was my beloved Alexander bargaining with my father for the return of my magic. Asmodeus, not being one to settle for three-quarters of a cake when there might be a way to get the whole thing, agreed. His price, that Alec had to break my heart. His hope was, of course, that he could use my devastation to convince me to return with him to Edom, to rule at his side as he’d wished for centuries.”
Magnus paused for a long moment. “It might have worked,” he admitted, “if Maryse hadn’t come to visit me. She wanted to find out the meaning of something Alec had told her. The moment she saw me use my magic, she understood what must have happened. She showed me the Lightwood family ring that Alec had returned to her. When I realised…” He shook his head.
Izzy’s eyes were wide. Alec had never explained just how close Magnus had come to leaving, there hadn’t been any time. After it was all over, he and Magnus were married, it seemed less important. He could see a discussion about it looming in his future.
“It all made sense. My father’s extraordinary generosity, the way he happened to turn up when I was at my lowest. I was furious. I told him that I intended to banish him back to Edom, and he said that I would never be free of him. I was so angry, so scared that he was telling the truth…I overpowered him, opened a portal, knocked him out, and sent him through.” Magnus sighed, eyes on the floor as he remembered. When he looked up, he was wearing his practised smile. It warmed when he caught Alec’s gaze, gentling into something more genuine.
“Chronologically, the next thing that happened was the hostage exchange in the Seelie realm,” Magnus went on. “Blah, blah, Morningstar, blah, blah, Jonathon and Clary Morgenstern being forcibly separated by the reforged Glorious—” Magnus paused. “Or perhaps we should consider the fact that Glorious allowed itself to be reforged at all? Never mind. The end result is that Glorious exploded, sending shards infused with heavenly fire in all directions. Quite a few of them found their way into our lovely Isabelle here, the other two Nephilim within the same radius weren’t even scratched.”
Izzy frowned. “Wait. You think that being hit by those shards was intentional?”
Magnus raised his eyebrows at her. “I wouldn’t presume to educate a Nephilim about matters that concern angelic artefacts, but I do know that others before you have attempted to reforge Glorious, to no avail. There’s such a thing as coincidence, of course, and really who am I to say? But the end result is that Isabelle was infused with rather a lot of heavenly fire.
“Then Jonathon Morgenstern ripped a hole into Edom with Morningstar. He followed that desecration by destroying the sword so that the rift could never be reversed, thus dooming the Mundane plane to be overrun by asmodei. At this point—with Asmodeus stranded in limbo and, we’ve theorised, out of touch with Edom—Lilith freed herself and began to absorb Edom’s power. This is not something that happens instantly, of course, which is why we weren’t graced with her presence.”
“Thank the Angel,” both Alec and Izzy muttered in unison.
Magnus gave a wry smile. “Agreed. At this point, I portaled to my darling Alexander’s side for a touching reunion. I soon realised that the only way to keep my Alexander from wearing himself to nothing and then finally dying as a result of the rift was to close it. Which even I don’t have the power to do for long. Unless I have the power of Edom to fuel me. So…” He made a whooshing gesture.
Ragnor snorted. “Self-sacrificing idiot.”
Magnus turned on his friend. “I would like to have seen you do any better! But wait, you couldn’t, could you, because you were taken down by a Shax Demon!”
“I was taken by surprise,” Ragnor said with great dignity.
“Riiiiight,” Magnus replied, scepticism dripping off the word. “Moving along, a bunch of stupidly brave—or was that bravely stupid?—Nephilim get it into their heads to invade Edom and take on Lilith. In furtherance of that goal, one of them creates a rune that binds Nephilim to Downworlders. It is so effective that they’re able to bypass Edom’s most crucial defence, which is that no being with angelic blood can survive there.
“Having recruited the services of a hapless Warlock with enough power and knowledge to create a portal into Edom itself, they set off. Oh wait, first of all, Isabelle Lightwood, that fearless warrior woman, forger and wielder of the angelic blade Glorious, makes the utterly reckless decision to run off to Edom all by herself! It was a noble deed, of course, she hoped to stop her brother from making his own reckless choice. If there’s one thing that this generation of Lightwoods has perfected, it’s the habit of self-sacrifice. They should stop, or this poor little Warlock’s heart is going to give out from the stress!”
Alec looked at Magnus incredulously. “Excuse me, Mr Pot, I’d like you to meet my friend Ms Kettle.” He turned to Izzy. “Although he’s right, you should stop.”
Izzy rolled her eyes. “I was on borrowed time anyway, Alec. I’ve already told you, the heavenly fire was going to burn me up sooner or later.”
Magnus drained his glass again. “Well, buckle in, kiddies, cause now we’ve come to the fun part. Isabelle, against all the odds, succeeds in killing Lilith. A Greater Demon. In her own realm. Something that no angel blooded has ever achieved before. The realm—which previously had two Greater Demon Lords as previously ascertained—is now left rudderless. But wait, there is a presence that it recognises! Something that carries the taste of its own power! The magic is familiar and welcoming!” Magnus waved his hands as if he was conducting an orchestra.
Alec was rather glad that the glass was empty, or the room would have been showered with its contents.
“At this point, had nothing else happened, we theorise that Edom would have burned me out and then burned me up in a matter of hours. You will recall we’ve already established that I am neither an angel nor a Greater Demon?” Magnus filled his glass and drained it again. “But that didn’t happen. And do you know why that didn’t happen?”
Alec’s mind replayed the events. It wasn’t all that long ago, and his memory of the details was pretty clear. Izzy had burst into flame, heavenly fire engulfing her. A decision was quickly made to share the blaze amongst those present in an attempt to save her life, and then Clary—
“Clary joined you to Izzy using her new rune,” he realised. “I was joined to Lorenzo, Jace was joined to Meliorn, and Clary was joined to Simon, so that means that when Clary drew her runes on you…”
Izzy stood there with her mouth open.
Magnus nodded grimly. “It’s highly probable that anyone else present would have been burnt up by the heavenly fire. However, fallen or not, my father is the equal of the Arch Angels. Was an Arch Angel at one time, apparently. Even then, the combination of Edom’s hold and the blessing of Glorious would probably have been too much for just the two of us to cope with.”
“But we all joined hands, and the heavenly fire spread out amongst us all,” Alec recalled. “And then it—”
“—engulfed Edom,” Izzy said, eyes still wide with shock. “You said…it was…Edom was being destroyed! You said the rift didn’t matter because Edom was going to be destroyed!”
Magnus nodded sympathetically. “Most things are destroyed when engulfed in flame. Of course, we’re dealing with Angels and Demons here, and I should have remembered that. After all, everyone knows—”
“Fire cleanses,” Alec finished. He drained what remained of his daiquiri. “Can you give me something a little stronger this time?”
Magnus snapped his fingers. A trolley appeared beside him with a tray of filled shot glasses resting on the top.
Alec took the one closest to him and necked it, grimacing at the taste but appreciating the burn. “So, when Ragnor said that you were the new Lord of Edom…”
“He neglected to mention that as far as we can tell, there’s also a new Lady,” Magnus said with a nod. He wiggled his fingers at Izzy in a mocking little wave. “Hiya, roomie.”
“Out of the way Alec,” Izzy said, elbowing him aside so she could reach the tray.
Alec was struck with an awful thought. “Who’s going to tell our mother?”
Catarina, Madzie, and Ragnor left soon after.
“We promised to stay for emotional support,” Catarina explained to Alec as she gave him a goodbye hug. At Ragnor’s snort, she rolled her eyes. “Fine, Madzie and I were here for emotional support, and Ragnor was here because he enjoys making fun of Magnus.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Alec said, nodding companionably to Ragnor. Ragnor winked back.
Alec, Magnus, and Izzy joined Asmodeus and Lorenzo in the lounge, and Magnus conjured more drinks.
Since most of Magnus’ stress appeared to have been about telling Alec and Izzy of their new circumstances, he immediately lost a lot of the frenetic tension that had been driving him.
Of course, that might have been something with the amount of alcohol he’d imbibed. Alec was starting to feel a bit buzzed himself. Izzy was knocking them back like she was in some sort of competition.
“What I don’t understand,” Alec said, after half an hour of contemplation while they all got steadily drunker, “is how you even figured all of this out. It just seems…”
“Crazy,” Izzy supplied. “It seems crazy. How do you know that’s what happened?”
“We know the results,” Magnus said emphatically. He pointed his index finger at her. Alec couldn’t help noticing that blue mist was emerging from the end before sort of…evaporating away.
Asmodeus just shook his head and cradled his whisky.
Lorenzo looked much soberer than the rest of them. “Most of our conclusions are conjecture,” he admitted. “However, they do fit the facts we were presented with. The realm formerly known as Edom—”
Magnus snorted so hard that his current drink—something pale yellow and fruity-smelling with an umbrella—came shooting out his nose. Alec found it as endearing as everything Magnus did.
“—no longer resembles a demonic realm.” Lorenzo shrugged. “To be honest, the closest thing it comes to is the Seelie realm.” He cocked his head to one side. “Which given the influences that shaped it is not terribly surprising, I suppose.” He sipped his drink. “It is…green.” He said it the same way someone might describe the ambience around a rubbish dump.
Izzy brightened up. “I like green.”
Magnus nodded. “I like green too. My Alexander has the most incredible green eyes, you know.”
Izzy nodded seriously. “I know. I got ordinary brown, and he got these beautiful changeable things, and he doesn’t even care! Do you know what I would do to have eyes like his? It’s so not fair.”
“Isabelle, only say the word, and you shall have whatever colour eyes you wish,” Magnus promised. “Not that there’s anything wrong with your natural ones, of course. They’re delightful as they are.”
Izzy giggled. “There was this one guy I dated, he said they were like molten chocolate orbs.”
Alec screwed up his face.
Magnus recoiled. “You mean, melted and dripping down your face? That’s disgusting!”
“I know,” she giggled again and then sighed. “He was a good kisser, but lousy in bed. So much potential; wasted.”
Lorenzo looked interested. “Was he technically lousy, or just selfish? Because technique can be improved upon, but selfishness cannot.”
Izzy wrinkled up her nose. “Let’s just say that he didn’t care overly much if I got over the finish line, and it was a bit of a sprint in any case.”
“I don’t want to be listening to this,” Alec objected. “How would you like it if I started talking about my sex life?”
Izzy rolled her eyes. “I’m not Jace, Alec. I’d love to hear about your sex life. I bet Magnus knows a lot. If you hadn’t been so instantly smitten with him, you know I would have been on that like white on rice, right?”
“If I hadn’t been captivated by your brother’s charms, I would have been delighted to be your rice,” Magnus assured her.
“Are they always like this?” Asmodeus asked Lorenzo. “So endlessly complimentary?”
“I think they do it because they know that Alec likes to see them getting on together,” Lorenzo replied. “Of course, it could be that they both like being the centre of attention, and this way, they both win. Is everyone else imagining what they’d look like having sex together? Because I am.”
“He’s my son!”
“She’s my sister!”
Magnus and Izzy broke into laughter. Lorenzo smiled smugly.
“Let’s change the subject,” Alec said firmly. “Magnus, would you get me another drink? Thank you.”
Asmodeus nodded emphatically. “When we arrived in Edom, I felt a distinct difference in my being,” he said, speaking directly to Alec. Izzy and Magnus were still chortling. “Nothing that I can properly explain, just a sense of energy, perhaps. My son, on the other hand, started to glow.”
Alec blinked. “Glow?”
“He began to shine from within.”
Alec almost said that Magnus always shone from within, but he didn’t want to derail the conversation again.
“He lit up like a Protostar,” Lorenzo remarked. “We were all rather astonished. Mind you, the rather verdant landscape was considerably astonishing all on its own. Even as we stood there, trees—or things that looked like trees, at any rate, one can never be sure in other realms—blossomed and fruited. The fruit dropped to the ground where it quickly broke down and was absorbed into the leaf litter, and the cycle began again.”
Asmodeus snorted. “Apparently my son is focused on reproduction. Someone might want to explain a few facts of life to the boy.”
Alec frowned. Wasn’t there something that was supposed to happen with Asmodeus? He couldn’t remember. He should probably ask. “Did whatever was supposed to happen, happen?”
“What something?” Magnus asked, finally finished giggling.
“The thing,” Alec said. He went to gesture towards Asmodeus, remembering at the last minute that he was holding a beverage. “The thing that you went down there for. Wait. Is it down? Why do we always call it down?”
“Prejudice,” Magnus replied promptly. “Down is for Demons, up is for Angels. Down is bad, up is good. Fucked if I know why.”
“I like the way you get a bit sweary when you’re drunk.”
Izzy shook her head. “Alec, you like everything Magnus does.”
“That’s not true,” Alec protested, feeling like his objectivity was being called into question. “I don’t like his…” he glanced around trying to find something of Magnus’ that he didn’t like, “…his dressing-gown!”
Izzy raised her eyebrows. “Really?”
“No,” Alec confessed. “I do actually like his dressing gown. I like it even more when he takes it off, of course.” He blinked. He’d wandered off topic again. “But there was supposed to be a Greater Demon thing. In Edom.”
Izzy’s eyes went wide. “That’s right!” She turned to Asmodeus. “Are you a Demon again?”
Asmodeus sighed and drained his drink. He didn’t even gesture at Magnus, it just slowly refilled itself. “I was always a Demon,” he said mournfully. “But no, my memories haven’t mysteriously returned. My son explained how his connection to Edom used to be through me, yes?
Alec and Izzy nodded.
“Well, now my connection to Edom is through him. I’m definitely more powerful there than I am here, but I’m no longer Lord of the Realm.”
“He’s still a Greater Demon,” Magnus explained earnestly. “He’d probably be all-powerful again if he managed to kill and replace one of the other Greater Demons. Azazel, for instance.” He beamed at Asmodeus. “There you go, Father. Why don’t I help you destroy Azazel? Then you can have his realm.”
Alec nodded in agreement. That seemed like a great plan. He hadn’t forgotten how Azazel had switched out Magnus and Valentine, which lead to Magnus being tortured right in front of him.
Izzy looked slightly alarmed. “Perhaps you shouldn’t be sending out the war parties just yet, big brother. Making decisions like this is something best left till we’re all sober.”
“I’m not that drunk,” Alec argued.
“Alec, you’re toasted.”
Magnus nodded. “I’m afraid your sister is right, dearest, you’re sozzled.”
“Does anyone want me to keep telling them about how we worked out the events leading up to the new leadership structure of Edom?” Lorenzo asked acidly.
“Yes, please,” Alec agreed. He wasn’t that drunk, but Magnus and Izzy would never agree now that they’d said differently. Why did he want them to get on together again? It wasn’t fair if they ganged up on him.
“When it became apparent that Edom was reacting to Magnus, and that Asmodeus wasn’t recovering, Magnus allowed Catarina to do a full magic scan.” Lorenzo grimaced. “He’s now doing some strange amalgamation of Warlock and demonic magic, and he has numerous metaphysical bonds leading from his core. One of which leads to me.”
Alec tilted his head to one side. “You and Magnus have a metaphysical bond?”
“Magnus has several bonds,” Lorenzo said significantly. “Two of which are much larger than the rest.”
Izzy got it faster than Alec did. “You mean he’s bonded to everyone who came down to Edom to rescue him?”
“Naturally, once Catarina saw the bond that led to me, she insisted on scanning my magic too.”
Magnus snorted. “You didn’t put up much of a fight, Lorenzo.”
Lorenzo sniffed disdainfully. “I think I know how to pick my fights a little better, Bane. There was nothing to be gained by refusing her, and to be honest, I wished to know the results myself. As you may have expected—or maybe not, who can tell with you Nephilim—my magic has been changed as well. Not quite as dramatically as Magnus’, of course, but then who is as dramatic as Magnus?”
“He’s just jealous,” Magnus confided to Izzy and Alec. “My magic is far prettier than his. I’d be jealous too, if it was the other way around. Anyway, the two large bonds are going to my two favourite Lightwoods, with the largest one being connected to Isabelle. Which is when we started going over what we knew and theorising about what had happened.”
Alec frowned, rubbing his fingers together. He remembered the way they’d tingled the day that he’d accidentally set fire to his tablet. “Does that mean that the rest of us all have bonds to each other as well?”
Lorenzo shook his head. “No, thank the darkness. I—according to Catarina—only have three bonds. One to Magnus, one to you, and another to your sister.”
“Wait,” Izzy said. “How do you know you have a bond with me?”
“Because Catarina did the scan on me again after the two of you arrived,” Lorenzo revealed. “She said the results were quite clear.”
“It makes sense,” Magnus said. “It was the likeliest eventuality.”
Alec shook his head. “How does any of this make sense?”
“Look on the bright side, big brother,” Izzy said, starting to look more like her usual cheerful self. “If the Clave does try to crucify you, we can bust you out of prison and go hang out in Edom.”
Alec woke the next morning with the feeling that there was something he should be remembering.
Then the events of the previous day came back to him. He and Izzy had left the Institute before midday and then spent the bulk of the afternoon and early evening getting drunk with Magnus, Lorenzo, and Asmodeus. His mother would be horrified.
Although it was always possible that she would have been right there with them, matching them drink for drink, if she’d had to listen to the wildly improbable tale that they’d been subjected to.
Luckily he was spared the hangover that a drinking binge like the one he’d engaged in should rightfully have left him with. Thank the Angel for hangover potions.
Alec snickered quietly to himself. No, not the Angel, thank Magnus. He rolled over to observe his sleeping husband. He, Alec Lightwood-Bane, really was the luckiest man alive. Who cared what strange, realm warping shenanigans life tried to throw at them. This, right here, right now, made it all worth it.
Alec tried to hold onto that feeling of serenity after arriving at the Institute. He walked right into the middle of the first serious dispute between a Shadowhunter patrol leader and the Downworlder Deputies on his team.
Underhill had been handling the matter admirably but didn’t bother disguising the look of relief on his face when he spotted Alec. He immediately turned the issue over and retreated, leaving Alec to work out the problem.
Alec wasn’t interested in hearing impassioned declarations. He was having flashbacks to Clary Fray’s arrival, and that kind of behaviour was the last precedent he wanted to set. He glared at all three of them. “I want you in my office with your written reports in one hour.”
The issue that caused the controversy turned out to be something that would have come across Alec’s desk anyway. If Alec ran his Institute the way it was run when he was a child, the whole matter would have been pretty cut and dried. The Shadowhunter technically had a higher rank, and the matter under question was an out-of-control werewolf. The patrol leader gave the order, and his patrol was expected to follow it. Disobeying direct orders in the field was a serious business, and for the safety of everyone, it couldn’t be encouraged.
However, patrol leaders were supposed to follow specific guidelines before giving their orders, and their patrol members could disobey in extreme circumstances. Just what those circumstances were, under the Deputy Downworlder Initiative, had yet to be finalised by the Cabinet.
Alec resisted the urge to bang his head against the desk. He needed to solve this without destroying everything they’d spent the last month trying to create.
“Glen Carstairs,” Alec said, once he had his thoughts in order. “You’re the patrol leader, and therefore, according to the Downworld Deputy Initiative Charter, your orders in the field are to be obeyed.” He waited for the triumph to flash in Carstairs’s eyes, noted the resentful defiance in Emma Forsyth. “However, in the field, nothing is ever cut and dried. When a patrol leader comes across a situation that needs to be solved, and they have an expert on their team, they’re expected to take their advice into consideration. Unless they happen to be privy to some other knowledge that may supersede or negate that advice, of course. A patrol leader also has to weigh factors such as potential casualties amongst witnesses, which may be of less concern to a narrowly focused expert.”
Carstairs was starting to look a little worried, while Forsyth was standing up straighter.
Alec pinned Carstairs with a glare. “So, tell me. Explain the extenuating factors that caused you to ignore Emma Forsyth’s expert recommendation and instruct your team to terminate the subject.”
Carstairs’ brow started to glisten slightly. “I, uh, felt that Forsyth might be allowing her bias to colour her interpretation of the situation.”
Alec stared at him for a few moments. “I need more than that. Tell me what factors convinced you that the Werewolf in question was behaving aggressively out of choice, rather than undergoing a temporary loss of control that might have had any of several mitigating factors. Tell me what convinced you that a—” his eyes flicked down to the report in his hand, “—twelve-year-old girl, bitten without her consent and doing her best to cope, had to die.”
Carstairs gulped. He was looking visibly uncomfortable now. “The Accords—”
“The Accords state that unless civilian life is in imminent danger, all reasonable steps must be taken to apprehend those found committing unlawful actions so that an investigation can commence.” Alec didn’t even raise his voice. “There were six of you. Even if you had somehow run out of the tranquilisers that are part of your mandated equipment—which I see from your equipment log, you had not—you have a Warlock on your team. A Warlock perfectly capable of containing a Werewolf, since he proceeded to do so.” Alec leaned forward slightly. “Was there inculpatory evidence that has not been documented? Tell me what factors contributed to the order you gave your team to use murder to solve the situation you encountered.”
Carstairs shook his head. “I…None, sir. The Werewolf was obviously feral, and…” He trailed off, dropping his eyes to the ground.
Alec’s voice stayed level. “If Forsyth hadn’t ignored your order and stepped in, if Fukō Riku hadn’t assisted her, then you would have been disciplined for first-degree murder. You would have been sent to the adamas mines for a minimum of ten years. The only reason I wouldn’t have had you de-runed and exiled is because the number of available Angel-blooded beings that can safely extract the adamas is currently at a crippling low. Quite frankly, your blood is more valuable than you are.
“However, because of the actions taken by these two, the actions that you filed a disciplinary report over, you are merely being demoted.” He narrowed his eyes. “I will personally place a martially enforced censure in your file that will ensure you are never considered for promotion again. And if you ever cross my path on a disciplinary matter in the future, you better be able to show me a squeaky-clean record, because I will check.”
Carstairs’ face went pale. A martial censure was no simple matter. It was an old law, rarely used in modern times but still active. It meant that if anyone wanted to promote Carstairs past the level that Alec demoted him to, it would need to go to a full hearing. At that hearing, Alec would be allowed to challenge the other party to single combat. Alec was widely considered to be the second-best warrior of his generation, behind his parabatai. Unless Carstairs somehow gained an invaluable skill essential to the Clave’s continuation, he was never going to be promoted. And Carstairs really wasn’t that bright.
Alec kept his face impassive as he watched the reality of what his future would be dawn on Carstairs’ face. “I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that the disciplinary report you filed will be fully investigated. Now get out of my sight.” He waited until Carstairs had gone before turning his gaze back to a relieved looking Fukō and a vindicated looking Forsyth. “Now. You’ve both been accused of breaking your patrol leader’s orders in the field.” They both began to look uncertain. “That’s a serious offence, and we have several procedures that need to be followed. Do either of you refute the charges?”
“Uh, no, sir,” Forsyth said, sounding a lot less sure.
Alec looked enquiringly at Fukō, who shook his head. “I need a verbal acknowledgement,” he prompted.
“Then until further notice, you’re both placed on suspension and will no longer be rostered on patrol,” Alec said briskly. “An investigation will be carried out into your actions, and a hearing will be held in one week. If your actions are found to have been justified, then you’ll be reinstated without penalty. As this is a bit of a landmark case, penalties for unjustifiable acts are yet to be determined. According to the Initiative Charter, you will each be allowed an advocate of your choice to speak at the hearing.” He let his gaze soften. “Obviously, at this time I can’t make any predictions about how your hearing will go, but if you wish to continue to assist the Institute while you’re suspended from patrolling, then we would be grateful. Please let Underhill know what you choose, and how you can be contacted. Dismissed.”
He watched them go. Emma looked slightly confused, but Fukō murmured into her ear, and her expression changed to relief.
Well, it had to happen sooner or later. At least this one was quite clear-cut. Hopefully, everyone would pick up the messages Alec was trying to send, and the Downworld contingent wouldn’t react badly to two of their members being placed on suspension for doing the right thing.
Alec fully expected the investigation to come back, clearing both Forsyth and Fukō of any wrongdoing. He hoped that the process of investigation would reassure both groups that no-one would be running over things rough-shod. If this was going to work, everyone had to be on board.
He was starting to make progress with his paperwork when Izzy stopped by.
“I handed the armoury duty off permanently,” she informed him, taking the chair in front of his desk. “I’ll send the proper reports through to Alatini this afternoon, but I thought you’d probably like to know.”
Alec sat back. “I’m glad to hear that you’re delegating something. But why the armoury? You love weapon-smithing.”
She shrugged. “Yes, and I can still keep up with it in my spare time. My qualifications don’t automatically lapse just because I’m not in charge down there anymore.” She grinned at him impishly. “I’m worth more to you in the lab and the infirmary.”
Alec smiled back. “I’m sure Simon will be pleased that he’ll get to see you more often.”
Izzy’s smile died slightly.
Alec frowned. “Izzy? What’s wrong?”
“I’m wondering if maybe this thing with Simon might not be the best idea after all,” she said, sounding uncertain.
“Why do you say that?”
She winced. “I might not have been entirely honest with you yesterday. Simon has asked me to cut back my hours; several times. But I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. It wasn’t until you told me you thought I was doing too much that I really considered it. And now I don’t want to tell Simon. How can I tell him that his advice isn’t important, but the moment my brother suggests something, I immediately reconsider?”
“I can’t answer that for you.”
“He told me a couple of weeks ago that he knows how close we are, and he doesn’t mind,” Izzy went on. “But the fact that he even thought to say that annoyed me. Is it wrong? Am I doing this relationship thing wrong?”
“No,” Alec assured her. “No, Izzy, I don’t think you’re doing it wrong. Keep in mind that I might not be the best person to be asking. Firstly, I’ve only ever been romantically attached to one person, and secondly, you’re my sister! I’m always going to be on your side.” He made a slight face. “Especially when it comes to Simon.”
She looked down at her hands.
Alec couldn’t stand seeing her look so downcast. “Hey, here’s an idea. Why don’t you talk to Magnus about it? He’s had more experience than anyone else I know.” He shook his head. “Get him to tell you his count. But he’s been in a lot of relationships, some which ended well and some which ended badly. He’ll be able to give you good advice.”
“You give great advice,” Izzy assured him loyally, looking a bit happier.
Alec shrugged, not bothered. “You’re probably the only person who would ever say so.”
“I think you’d be surprised.”
They sat in silence for a moment, and then Izzy blinked as if a thought had occurred to her. “Has Mom stopped by to ask why you cancelled last night?”
“I imagine she’ll ask Magnus when she has coffee with him.” Alec looked at the time. “Asked.”
Izzy rose hurriedly. “In that case, I think that it might be in my best interests to leave you right now.”
Alec got to his feet too. “She’s not just going to storm in here.”
Izzy raised her eyebrows. “It’s cute that you think so.” She shook her head and smiled at him. “I’m really happy for you, you know? This is everything I ever wanted for you. I was so worried that you’d end up sacrificing any chance for happiness on the altar of ‘duty to the family name.’”
“Yes, I know,” Alec said, pulling her into a warm hug. “Some days I think you might even be happier about it than I am. Isn’t it funny…all those years of being careful not to put a toe out of line in service to ‘the family name’ and it’s only now that we’re charging through the world, making our own rules and living by our own creed, that ‘the family name’ has really been restored.”
“After facing down the end of the world with just a bow and a staff, I think our perspectives have shifted a bit.”
“Don’t think that I’ve forgotten that I’m only finally coming to realise what you’ve been trying to tell me for years,” Alec reminded her. “I’m sorry that you had to fight this fight all alone for so long.”
“I was never alone, Alec,” she assured him, squeezing him tightly. “You might not have agreed with me, but you never tried to stop me, and I always knew I could count on you to be there when I needed you.”
The door to Alec’s office burst open, and Maryse strode in.
“Alec! Izzy! I’m glad I caught you both! Please tell me that Magnus has been smoking some whacked out Warlock crack and you haven’t all turned into magic-wielding denizens of another realm!”
Izzy groaned and hid her face in his jacket. He could just make out her muffled words. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
Getting Maryse calmed down turned out to be harder than Alec thought it would be. Primarily because, as well as revealing the recent changes they’d undergone, Magnus had also informed her of their unfruitful plan to restore Asmodeus to all his Greater Demon glory.
“What on earth were you thinking?” Maryse demanded. “How could you even consider such a thing? Do you imagine the Clave is going to take this knowledge lying down? They’re going to take the Institute from you, Alec! You’ll be lucky if you’re not exiled!”
“What Magnus chooses to do with his father is none of the Clave’s business,” Alec responded. “No one was harmed, and there was never any intention to harm anyone. The only ones with the right to object would be the Spiral Labyrinth—according to Magnus, they’re disinclined to meddle with what Warlocks do so long as it doesn’t involve mayhem that causes them work—or Lorenzo Rey, the High Warlock of record. He was actually there.”
Maryse scoffed. “Don’t be naïve, Alec! You can’t possibly think that a lack of official jurisdiction will stop the Clave from acting as they see fit? And you!” She whirled on Izzy, who had been edging slowly towards the door. “You’re supposed to be the sensible one! Why didn’t you do something about this!”
Izzy only looked shocked for a moment. “Well, that’s a change of tune.” She lifted her chin and moved back into the room. “For the record, no one actually consulted me about the advisability of taking Asmodeus back to Edom.” She let that sit there for a few seconds before raising her eyebrows. “If they had, I would have pointed out the same thing that Alec did. For all the Clave likes to posture, they only have as much power as the rest of the Shadow World gives them.”
“The Downworld has never successfully united against the Clave,” Maryse pointed out.
Izzy shrugged. “For a long time, the various factions were happy enough to fight amongst themselves and let Shadowhunters take on the bulk of the Demon-killing. Valentine’s actions, the Circle’s actions, have changed that. They’re not prepared to just sit back and allow themselves to be bossed around anymore. They’ve come to a place where they’re willing to work together. If the Clave gets in their way, starts trying to muscle their way in where they’re neither wanted nor needed, then the Downworld revolt that Idris has been so afraid of is going to happen.
“I’m sure it won’t have escaped everyone’s notice that the Shadowhunters who have the trust of the Downworld? A vast majority of them report to Alec. The rest of them are either Alec’s friends or his Allies. If the Clave wants a fight, then all they have to do is try to throw their weight around.”
Maryse looked imploringly at Alec. “Asmodeus is a Greater Demon. Surely you see why the Clave would claim jurisdiction! What of the many crimes he’s known to have been part of?”
Izzy’s eyes flashed angrily. “Stop trying to make Alec feel like he did something wrong! Magnus had every right to make his own choices when it came down to his own father. Asmodeus can’t be held accountable for any of his crimes, not when he doesn’t remember them. Even if he did, it’s not like Greater Demons are subject to the Accords!”
Maryse took a deep breath and tried again. “The Clave is going to come after you! After both of you, if you’re not careful!”
Izzy tossed her hair. “If the Clave goes after Alec, then they’re going to have to deal with something worse than an Uprising.” Izzy looked every inch the imposing warrior she had trained all her life to be. Her eyes gleamed with hints of gold, reminding Alec of Magnus’ cat-eyes. “They’ll have me to worry about. The Clave isn’t ready for what I would do in defence of my brother. Not to mention his stupidly powerful husband, and the entirety of New York’s Downworld.”
Maryse blinked. She looked back and forth between Alec and Izzy a couple of times before all the fight went out of her body. She slumped into the chair Izzy had just vacated. “I need a drink,” she muttered.
Alec shrugged. “Yeah, that was our reaction yesterday.”
When Maryse looked up, that familiar fire from their youth was back in her eyes. “Right. If you insist on poking this bee’s nest, then we’re going to make sure we have every bit of protective gear we can assemble in place. I’m calling a family meeting, tonight, at the loft. Alec, Izzy, I expect you both to be there. Bring everyone who was involved with that shambles down in Edom.”
Dragging Jace away from his evening plans—he’d taken to trailing random patrols to see how long it took them to notice him—wasn’t all that difficult once Alec informed him that Maryse expected him to be there. They might be all grown now, and the relationship might have changed in the last few months, but Alec, Izzy, and Jace had spent so long with her as their commanding officer that obeying her instructions was hard-wired into them at this point.
Izzy had volunteered to contact Simon and Meliorn, leaving Alec to talk to Lorenzo. It was also his task to phone and inform his husband that Maryse had commandeered their flat for a family meeting.
“If that’s okay,” Alec finished, feeling a little uncomfortable.
“Don’t worry yourself, my love,” Magnus replied soothingly. “I was the one who got her all riled up in the first place. I confess I expected something of the kind. Our home is always open to your family, for whatever use they wish to put it to.”
“Don’t tell Jace that,” Alec said jokingly. “We might find ourselves hosting an impromptu dungeon session.”
Magnus sniffed. “There’s no such thing as an impromptu dungeon session; they require careful planning. I’ll have to explain it to you some-time. But about this evening; do you think I should invite Catarina and Ragnor?”
“If you want,” Alec said, not caring either way. “I’m not sure it’s really going to be the sort of discussion that Madzie needs to be present for.”
“You make a good point. Very well, I’m sure we can tell them anything they need to know later.”
“Asmodeus should probably be there though.”
Magnus’ voice turned amused. “Oh, I don’t think that will be a problem, dearest. Judging by his comments after Maryse left this morning, he’s quite taken with her.”
Alec blinked. That was a scenario that hadn’t presented itself to him before. “She’s with Luke.”
“I did point that out, but he didn’t seem to find that much of an impediment,” Magnus replied, eyes twinkling. “Apparently, he thinks Luke’s rather easy on the eyes too.”
“Please stop telling me this,” Alec begged. “I really don’t want to be thinking about your father having a threesome with Luke and…no. Just…no!”
“Well, it’s taken your mind off your worries for a moment, hasn’t it, darling? I daresay the small matter of a closely averted apocalypse, and a bit of metaphysical adjustment look like a happy option now?”
Alec couldn’t help but smile. “Magnus, the best cure for a seemingly unsurmountable problem is not to introduce another, even worse problem.”
“Well, it’s a method that I picked up from a young Shadowhunter of my acquaintance,” Magnus admitted. “You might remember her. Whippet thin, masses of red, bouncy hair, strident voice, strong opinions.”
Alec groaned. “Please don’t tell me you’re advocating for the Clary Fray school of conflict resolution, Magnus. I don’t think I can cope.”
Magnus laughed. “I’m sure you’ll be able to convince me that other ways are better if you really put your mind to it.”
“Fine,” Alec said, trying to sound grumpy. “You wear the silver and sapphires; I’ll bring my fire helmet.”
“Why, Alexander,” Magnus breathed.
Alec cleared his throat, feeling a little bit uncomfortable talking about this at work. He still had at least two hours of paperwork before he could get away. But if he left early enough, then he and Magnus would be able to spend a little time together before everyone else arrived. “I’ll see you at three.”
“Oh, Alexander,” Magnus said again, his voice low and throaty. “I’ll be waiting.”
Alec hung up, wondering if he had any hope of concentrating on his work. For the first time in his life, he could understand the impulse to say, ‘What the hell’ and just head home.
Steeling his will, he opened the folder of requisitions that needed to be read through and approved. It was going to be a long two hours.
Alec wasn’t terribly surprised when his father sent his apologies. Robert had never been much of a hands-on parent, leaving most of their rearing to Maryse. Now that he wasn’t living in the same city as the rest of them, he seemed content to keep contact to a minimum. Alec knew that the distance hurt Izzy the most. He usually felt resentful on her behalf but was still feeling distinctly mellow after the two hours he and Magnus had spent playing Fireman Rescues Grateful Millionaire. He was feeling uncommonly charitable.
Max couldn’t make it either. The Idris trials were always held over the last and first weeks of the year, and the presentation would be held on the final day. Alec had made room in his timetable to go and support his youngest brother, and he knew Izzy and Jace had done the same. He really felt for his mother. It would be the first of their trials that she’d missed.
The first part of the evening involved Magnus, Izzy, Lorenzo, and Alec going over everything they’d discussed the day before, explaining the changes in Edom, in Magnus and Lorenzo’s magic, and in Izzy and Alec.
Jace seemed to find the whole thing hilarious. Simon and Luke listened with open-mouthed shock. Meliorn was more composed, Alec couldn’t make out any reaction, either good or bad. Maryse looked very much as though she wished that there was something she could take a seraph blade to.
As soon as their story was finished, Magnus handed out the drinks. Alec wondered if his family were in danger of becoming alcoholics.
“But wait,” Simon said, after thinking about it for a few minutes. He and Izzy had chosen not to sit together. Alec wondered if that meant that Izzy had broken up with him, but since neither of them had said anything decided that he shouldn’t either. “That means that if it’s happened to us, it’s happened to Clary too, right? She could be in danger! We need to make sure she’s okay!”
“I’ve strengthened the wards around her,” Magnus informed him. “I’ve attached sigils to several items that she carries with her everywhere; her necklace, her wallet, and her phone. I’ll be notified if anything unusual happens.”
Maryse had listened to the whole story carefully and with gritted teeth. “This may not be as bad as I first thought,” she said finally. “Are any of you able to sketch out this rune that Clary created? I want to study it.”
“Jace was always the best at recalling how obscure runes were shaped,” Alec said thoughtfully. “I confess that, at the time, I was more concerned with how long it was taking to get to Magnus. I didn’t fully pay attention to the steps involved in getting there.”
“I’ll give it a go,” Jace said with a shrug. “I wasn’t paying as much attention as I maybe should have been either.” He took the paper and pencil that Magnus offered him and began to sketch. “It went a little bit like this.”
Luke and Maryse both watched with interest as Jace drew, the pencil moving over the paper in sure motions.
“There.” Jace put the finished drawing down on the table for everyone to see. “That’s it, to the best of my memory.”
Maryse drew in a shocked breath.
“Wait,” Luke said sharply. “You’ve drawn these two pieces completely separately. Were they placed on different parties, or did both parties received both pieces?”
“Both parties received both pieces,” Alec said. “The second one kind of stung a little, but nothing too extreme.”
Simon and Jace nodded agreement. Izzy leaned over Maryse’s shoulder to get a closer look at the runes Jace had drawn.
Maryse had gone white. “Did she draw them in the same order on each of you?”
Alec pulled the drawing a bit closer. “She did this one first,” he pointed at the one on the left. “I remember thinking that it resembled the parabatai rune, a little.”
“No, she did that one second,” Simon disagreed. “That mark through the centre of the line was the last stroke.”
“Magnus?” Izzy said, looking up. “Do you remember?”
“I confess I was paying more attention to the Shadowhunter who was literally on fire right in front of me,” Magnus said. “I know that there was a rune, I know that it wasn’t in any way debilitating. I know that by the time we made it through the portal, there was no sign that a rune had ever been drawn on my skin.”
“Mine disappeared too,” Izzy confirmed. “I don’t know why I didn’t think to question this earlier. Runes always leave a mark, always. The only thing that can make them disappear is a glamour.”
“Or de-runing,” Maryse said, still looking pale. “The Silent Brothers use an ancient artefact. They re-draw each of the runes with a stele so dark that light seems to be sucked into it. It’s agonisingly painful, and when it’s complete, it’s as if the runes had never existed.” She shuddered.
It was the most Maryse had ever said about the ritual that had ended her life as a Shadowhunter. The whole process was a Clave secret, not talked about and thus much whispered about. Alec could remember talking about it with Izzy and Jace before they’d passed their final trials, rumours spoken softly in hidden corners. To be de-runed by the Clave was considered a fate worse than death by many Nephilim. Not many survived it for long.
Magnus stiffened in shock at her description. “Absorbs light and shadows? You mean, like this?” He snapped his fingers and a sharp, wicked-looking knife encased in crystal appeared in his hands. At first, it looked like ordinary dark steel, but it soon started emanating a dark chill that gradually deepened. All the warmth in the loft seemed to be sucked away, and the steel grew even blacker. It was an ominous feeling. Alec felt uncomfortable being that close to it, and his hands twitched. He suddenly wanted his bow very badly.
Maryse nodded and let out a choked sob. Luke enfolded her in his arms.
It was Lorenzo’s turn to grow pale. “Bane! You have a St—”
“Do not speak its name!” Magnus snapped.
“—a cursed blade? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is, what could happen if the wrong person got hold of it?”
The knife somehow continued to grow darker, and the chill was so pronounced that Alec could see his own breath vapour. Asmodeus leaned forward with apparent interest but made no attempt to reach out and touch it.
Magnus snapped his fingers again. The blade disappeared, and the room immediately began to warm up again. “Do you take me for a simpleton, Rey, of course I know!” he said irritably. “I’ve been around for centuries, please desist from trying to teach me my own craft!
“They are forbidden!” Lorenzo said, starting to look angry. “For good reason! How could you think…why on earth would you…tell me you did not create such a thing!”
“What on earth would give you the I idea that I forged it myself?” Magnus demanded, eyes flashing. “It was something that I picked up over a hundred years ago, during that whole business with Axel Mortmain. I believe you will agree that my hands are more reliable than his were?”
Lorenzo subsided slightly. “Well, if you want to put it like that, I sup—”
“Having found myself in possession of such a thing, what precisely would the High Warlock of Brooklyn suggest that I do with it?” Magnus asked eyebrows raised challengingly. “Which of my brethren would you counsel me to entrust with its security? You?”
“Magnus, what was that?” Alec asked, shaking his shoulders to get rid of the tension that had filled them while that dagger was there. The rest of the room looked similarly discomfited although, by the horrified look he was directing at Magnus, only Meliorn seemed to have any idea what the Warlocks were talking about.
Magnus broke the stare down he was having with Lorenzo. “That, my dear Alexander, was a…no, I will not mention its name. It’s unnecessary, and frankly just knowing it could put you in danger. Let’s just say that it’s a forbidden forged item. The Spiral Labyrinth has decreed that any who are implicated in the creation of those items are to be immediately put to death, with everything they own destroyed.” He sent a sharp glance Lorenzo’s way. “I assure you that I have never used it, nor do I intend to. I—and some close friends—removed it from the hands of the man I believe to be its creator. Together we determined that I would be the best person to keep it safe.”
“It is good for you that I know you are a man who can be trusted,” Meliorn said seriously. “Otherwise it would likewise be my duty to strike you down. Our King has declared such things to be abominations. I know not how they are created and do not wish to. My King has decreed that any such that come to our attention are to be destroyed.”
“I would gladly destroy it,” Magnus said, eyebrows still high. “Provided someone can tell me just how such a thing is achieved.” He sent a scathing glance Lorenzo’s way. “I have discovered two methods, neither of which are what I would call safe. They involve considerable danger, not only to me but also to the continent I happen to be standing on at the time. I know what happened to Atlantis! Remember also that I must somehow obtain this information without alerting all and sundry to the blade’s existence, and my knowledge of its whereabouts.”
Meliorn met his eyes. “I must inform my King that you have this; my oaths allow nothing less. He will no doubt demand that some action is taken. For all that he is quick to judge, he is known to be open to reason.” He winced, and some of his formality dropped away. “This…is probably a good time. With the Queen’s recent…malefactions…known by all, there will be room to bargain.”
“I will not release the dagger to the Unseelie King,” Magnus warned him. “However, I’m open to learning how to destroy it, and I’m willing to allow him to send a representative to observe when I do so. Until then, it’s safest where it is.”
Meliorn considered that. “I believe that will be acceptable.”
“Well, Lorenzo?” Magnus’ tone could have cut diamond.
Lorenzo set his jaw stubbornly, before relaxing with a sigh. “Fine. Do what you want, Bane. You always do anyway.”
Magnus softened. “You do see why I would keep such a thing secret?”
Lorenzo nodded. “I do.” He frowned slightly, his gaze sharpening as it narrowed in on Maryse, who was still being comforted by Luke. “You tell us that the Clave has a St—”
“Must I repeat myself? Do not name it!” Magnus interrupted. “Let us instead say that the Clave has a cursed item whose creation is proscribed by every Shadow World government that I know of. Including their own. If it is in the form of a stele…”
“Then they created it themselves,” Lorenzo finished. He shuddered. “If Valentine had known of it…if he had managed to acquire it and put it to use…”
“We already know that they use it.” Meliorn’s voice was flat. “My King will be…displeased…to hear such a thing.” He rose to his feet and bowed to Maryse. “You have my respect. To undergo the direct touch of such a thing and to emerge with your mind intact…it shows a formidable character indeed.” The edge of his mouth twitched upwards, and his glance slid over to Isabelle so briefly as to seem almost accidental.
Izzy was wearing a thunderous frown that Alec could feel mirrored on his own face. Jace didn’t look any happier.
“You know what,” Alec said. “You’re right, it’s probably better that we don’t know more about this, whatever it is. But now I’ve got a new goal.”
“We’ve got a new goal,” Jace corrected him.
“Let’s not get carried away,” Maryse said, regaining some semblance of her usual composure. “The Clave and its practices aren’t going anywhere, so let’s deal with what’s in front of us before we start looking for new crusades.”
Alec exchanged looks with his siblings. They were absolutely all on the same page. They would let this drop for now, but in the future, there would be a reckoning. A glance over at Magnus showed that he was observing them thoughtfully. Alec raised his eyebrows in slight challenge.
Magnus gave an infinitesimal nod and then turned his attention to Maryse. “Before we got side-tracked, there seemed to be something about the runes that concerned you.”
Maryse traced her index finger over the two marks that made up the rune that Clary had drawn on them. “This one here has several similarities to the parabatai rune,” she said. “This one…is almost a twisted reflection of the other.” She looked up at them. “I’m not sure how much knowledge you have about demonic runes? Magnus, I know you must have a level of proficiency, based on your work with Henry Branwell in constructing the portals.”
Magnus tilted his head to one side and examined what Jace had drawn again. “Yes, I see what you mean, Maryse. This second one could be a variation of a binding rune…I confess my interest in demonic runology has waned somewhat in the last century. It was only ever a hobby, and when Henry passed on, I lost much of my enthusiasm for it.”
Maryse sat back with a sigh. “I’m beginning to…I think I know why the Angels were so upset with Clary. It was nothing to do with what she did to Jonathon after all. This—” she poked at the page with her finger, “—is what concerned them.”
Magnus was still examining both marks. “Hmm…yes…with the horizontal line, and then…” He tilted his head the other way and then turned the page around. His eyebrows shot up. “Yes…my goodness. I wonder why I never noticed that before?”
“This is no time to be cryptic,” Lorenzo said testily.
Magnus looked up. His eyes had started to glow again. “Maryse was correct, the rune on the right has elements from demonic rune structures that I’m familiar with. The left hand one,” he held the page the right way up so that they could all see it, “the one that Maryse said reminded her of the parabatai rune? If you drew it upside down, then it also has aspects of demonic runes.” He turned the page around and traced one of the curves with his forefinger.
Luke leaned forward. “Yes, I see what you mean,” he murmured. “It’s the same with the other one, but in reverse. But surely just turning a rune upside down doesn’t change its meaning or function.”
“It would depend on what order you drew the strokes in,” Alec pointed out. “We’re taught that the order, direction, depth, and speed of the strokes can also affect the rune’s function. That’s at the very heart of runology.”
Luke raised his eyebrows. “I don’t know what you were taught, but when I was learning, we were more concerned with rote repetition. We drew the runes in the way we were instructed until we could draw them blindfolded. We certainly weren’t schooled in the theory behind stroke order.” Everyone looked to Maryse.
Maryse shrugged. “I was trying to raise three brilliant children to be a credit to the Lightwood name, while simultaneously keeping them from dangerous subjects that would draw negative attention from the Clave. They’ve received rather deep instruction in a variety of the more esoteric disciplines. Quite frankly, it was a difficult job finding inoffensive topics to keep their interest.”
Izzy laughed. “Well, that explains why I always seemed to get lumped with idiots when we went to Idris for the trials.”
Jace snorted. “You remember when Jorge Stormvale told you that being a know-it-all was unattractive? And that he was going to show you that fighting skills were more important to succeeding as a Shadowhunter than knowing the exact tensile strength of the Honjo Masamune?”
Alec smirked. He certainly remembered. He always enjoyed watching his sister beat sense into ignorant dickheads who thought that, since she was gorgeous and relatively small, she was easy prey.
Izzy sniffed. “I’ve fought Mundanes that lasted longer in a fight than he did.”
Maryse rolled her eyes. “I got a complaint from his parents, you know. They objected to you breaking both his arms. It meant he couldn’t hold his stele well enough to use the bone-setter, and he had to forfeit the trial. That lack of ranking had enough of an impact on his evaluation to set him back two years.”
Simon blinked. “I take it two years is bad?”
“Finishing his training two years after his peers would have a lifelong impact on his career,” Luke explained, shaking his head. “Did you really have to break both his arms? It seems harsh.”
“She did him a favour,” Alec said, folding his arms. “Jorge Stormvale’s standard runes were pretty shoddy; if he’d tried using a bone-setter with his non-dominant hand, he might have killed himself.”
“I know,” Izzy agreed. “Which is why I did it. I thought about breaking his legs as well, but it was only the second day of the trials, and the whole point was that I didn’t want him to die, so…”
“Thank the Angel for small mercies,” Maryse muttered. “I thought that once you were grown, you’d stop regularly causing me stress. How mistaken I was.”
“I wish I could tell you that it got easier, but that would be a lie,” Magnus said sympathetically. He twisted the paper around again. “I really wish I could talk to Biscuit about this, find out what was going through her head when she drew these.”
“Clary said they just come to her,” Simon put in. “She told me that some of them were visions and that those ones were from Ithuriel, but others just made sense.”
Magnus sighed. “Combining angelic and demonic runes doesn’t ‘make sense,’ Steve. We’re lucky that she didn’t just blow you all up the moment she tried to apply them.”
“Hey, they worked, didn’t they?” Simon defended.
“The Angels were pretty pissed,” Jace recalled. “Knowing what we know now, I’m surprised they didn’t just appear and smite us all if they hated it so much.”
“What I want to know,” Simon said heatedly, “is why the Angels got hot and bothered enough about Clary to take her runes away and wipe her mind, but didn’t seem to care what Jonathon was doing. He sliced a rift open between Alicante and a demonic realm! And they did nothing!”
“You make a good point,” Magnus agreed. “The Angels disapproved when she drew them, but not enough to intervene. Then, after we returned from Edom, they gave her an ultimatum. An ultimatum that anyone who knew her would have known that she would not abide by.”
“That means that what happened down in Edom either angered or worried them,” Izzy continued. “Or both.”
Meliorn had been listening intently. “Pass me your witchlight,” he said abruptly to Izzy. She raised her eyebrows but did as he asked.
The glowing stone didn’t dim when it changed hands. Meliorn didn’t say anything, just handed the stone to Simon. The glow remained steady.
Simon gulped. “This is not good.”
“Give it here, Mr Blue,” Lorenzo said. He held the glowing stone in his hand and examined it. “I think we’re getting a little closer to the answer.” He passed the stone to Alec, who gave it to Magnus. The glow remained steady. Magnus passed it to Asmodeus. It immediately started glowing a dark red.
“Well, we know it works,” Magnus said. He lifted his hand and gazed at it while his fingers twitched. Blue mist emerged from his fingertips to swirl around his hand in a sinuous dance. “My magic looks the same. And it doesn’t feel any different.”
Lorenzo was doing something similar with his golden magic.
Alec reached out to run his fingers through the magic in Magnus’ hands. He loved the feel of it; it always felt slightly tingly, like a miniature electrical storm. Today, it reacted to his touch by pressing against his fingers like a pleased cat. Alec dropped his hand, startled. “It’s never done that before.”
Magnus and Lorenzo exchanged glances. Magnus made a ball of blue flame which he passed to Alec. Lorenzo made one of gold which he handed to Jace, who gave it to Simon. Simon tried to pass it to Luke, but the moment Simon was no longer touching it, it dissolved into the air.
Magnus’ blue flame went from Alec, to Izzy, to Meliorn. Meliorn gazed at it consideringly, then offered it to Maryse.
No one seemed in the least surprised when the blue evaporated.
“So much for temporary,” Alec said with a sigh.
Asmodeus had been sitting to one side, watching the events of the evening avidly. He laughed, drawing everyone’s attention to him. “The lot of you are all much more entertaining than anything I’ve found on Netflix. Why don’t I just say what you’re all tiptoeing around? Whatever those runes did, whatever happened in Edom with the heavenly fire and Lilith’s death, you are now all different than you were. No longer Nephilim, no longer Warlocks, or Seelie, or Vampires. What’s more, whatever you have become scared the Angels enough that they immediately acted to stop your friend from placing her new runes on anyone else.”
They all stared at him.
Simon got to his feet. “If I’m not properly a Vampire anymore, does that mean that I can eat normal food? Cause if I can, then I’m going out to get some latkes right now.”
“No need to rush off, Solomon,” Magnus said, flicking his fingers and then handing over a small plate with three latkes on it. “Go on, see what you think.”
Simon lifted one slowly to his mouth, took a deep breath, closed his eyes and took a bite.
Alec realised he was holding his breath. He wasn’t even sure what he wanted to happen, whether Simon being able to eat food again would be a good thing or a bad thing.
Simon opened his eyes again, and then let out a pornographic moan.
Magnus raised his eyebrows. “Well, I think that answers that question.”
“I don’t even need to wait to see if I feel sick!” Simon declared around a mouth half full of potato cake. “The taste alone…I didn’t realise how dull everything tasted! Someone, order me a pizza! Oh god, I’ve got to tell Clary! She’ll be so…” His face fell. “Thrilled.”
Alec felt a twinge of sympathy. “If we’ve discovered what it was that the Angels wanted to keep hidden enough that they risked intervening, is that going to make getting them to give Clary’s memories back easier or harder?”
Meliorn shook his head. “What reason do these Angels have to do anything that you want? Their reason for taking her memories has not grown less. No, I would even say it has grown more. Now that we know what her runes can do…”
“But why do they care?” Simon asked, carefully picking up the last crumbs of latke and licking them off his fingers.
“Because Angels are arrogant beings of power that don’t like change?” Lorenzo suggested. He rolled his eyes at the shocked look Maryse and Luke sent him. “Oh, come now. Don’t tell me you still believe all those children’s tales the Nephilim tell each other about the goodness of the Angels. Angels and Demons are in conflict. Both have involved humanity in their struggles, treating us as if we are stones in a cosmic game of Go. Angelic power and demonic power have been balanced for aeons, and that’s the way they like it.”
Magnus nodded. “I’m sure we can all name elders who are so set in their ways that they’re deaf to anything other than what they know to be ‘right.’ Now imagine that sort of mindset with thousands of years of weight behind it.”
Alec’s brain flooded with horror as the truth of the matter dawned on him. “It’s you two,” he said, glancing between Izzy and Magnus. “What happened to you two, what you’ve become. Magnus, with the power of a demonic realm and the knowledge of how to use it; and Izzy, infused with enough heavenly fire to destroy one of the more powerful Greater Demons in her own realm…now you’re joined, sharing strengths…the strengths of both sides. You’re upsetting the balance.”
“They’re freaking out,” Jace concluded. “They tried to forbid Clary to use her new runes again, and then when she ignored their decree, they stripped her memories from her. They must have hoped that without her as a catalyst we would remain ignorant of what had occurred.”
“Which we very well might have,” Izzy mused. “With Clary out of the way we took a step back and started to focus on rebuilding what Valentine and Jonathon had tried to tear down. Who knows if we ever would have come to realise the truth.”
“But then the Travellers arrived,” Lorenzo continued. “Amongst them a being that turned our focus once again onto Edom and the events that took place there.”
Everyone turned to look at Asmodeus. He sat with folded arms, a sardonic smile gracing his usually saturnine countenance. He inclined his head in a short, mocking bow. “Happy to be of service.”
Simon stared at his hands. “Meliorn was right. The angels aren’t going to help us. If Ithuriel was still alive…”
Jace frowned. “Hang on. Is Ithuriel really dead? I thought we’d established that Angels and Demons can only be killed in their own realms? Does that mean that he’s hanging out in whatever angelic realm he belongs to?”
“Ithuriel was killed by Lilith,” Magnus reminded him. “Lilith was a Greater Demon. Greater Demons and Angels generally don’t mix it up down here with us part-mundanes unless the circumstances are exceptional, so we don’t have a lot of information about what happens. It’s possible that she completely destroyed him. We don’t know.”
Izzy shook her head. “Even if Ithuriel isn’t dead, he’s clearly not willing to help us. We need to stop wasting time going over ‘what-ifs,’ and deal with what we’ve got. The way that I see it, if those of us who went to Edom really are a new demon/angel/human hybrid, then Alec, Jace, Clary, and I are no longer obliged to look to Raziel or the other Angels for guidance.”
“She’s right,” Magnus said abruptly. “Together, we wield the power of a realm. That puts us on the same level, politically at least, as a Greater Demon or an Arch Angel. And Clarissa belongs to us, not to them.”
“What are you suggesting?” Maryse asked sharply.
Magnus met her gaze with glowing eyes. “I’m not suggesting anything, I’m stating a fact. The Angels don’t have the jurisdiction over her that we assumed they did. That information could become a handy bargaining chip if we discover how to wield it appropriately.”
“What if revealing that we know about it backfires?” Luke challenged. “Regardless of anything else, they still clearly have the power to affect those of us with Angel blood.”
Lorenzo nodded to Magnus. His eyes were glowing faintly too. “Magnus isn’t suggesting we leap up and make accusations,” he explained. “However, our leverage in any discussion about the restoration of her memories has increased. It’s a trick card that they won’t expect us to have, and therefore valuable.”
Maryse took a deep breath. “If you travel this path, you might very well end up severing ties with the Clave. I beg of you all, consider the full ramifications of your actions before you proceed. Think of the good that you’re doing in the Shadow World right now, the strides that the New York Institute has been taking.”
Luke laid his hand over hers in support. “I agree. Let’s not do anything rash. We have time to work out what we want to do, and right now Clary isn’t going anywhere. As the closest thing she has to family, I’m going to want more assurances than you’ve given tonight before I agree to you subjecting her to even more upheaval.”
Simon sat up, leaning forward. “But, Luke, we can make them fix her.”
“Or, the Angels might decide that she’s too dangerous to live,” Magnus said, with a nod to Luke.
Jace set his jaw. “But we’ve all agreed that the release of Valentine’s documentation will make her a target. Don’t we owe it to her to do our best to restore what the Angels took?”
“Clary knew what she was risking when she used that rune to kill Jonathon,” Maryse reminded him. “She didn’t fight the punishment the Angels handed down. We should respect that.”
Simon scoffed. “How could she have possibly known what the Angels would do to her?”
Alec wanted to make a pithy comment about Clary’s history of doing whatever she wanted without regard to the likely consequences of her actions but realised that it probably wouldn’t help. Instead, he raised his voice so that it would be heard above what was rapidly developing into an argument. “Let’s table this discussion for now. There’s currently no urgency, and we’re all very busy people. We should all go away and think about things. Next Monday we’ll bring our thoughts together and discuss our options like calm, rational adults.”
Alec was still working on getting the December monthly reports into a state ready to be submitted to the Clave when his mini-Council arrived to go over the findings from Valentine’s bunker. Everything they’d found had been sorted, copied, compiled, and now they were awaiting Alec’s final order before releasing it.
“Some of it’s pretty grim reading,” Alatini said, looking slightly sick. “Most of the time he comes off as completely deranged, but some of his ideas are…” He shook his head. “I really don’t know if we want to make thoughts like this public. What if we’re just giving other twisted sickos a template for their perversion?”
“Reading this stuff isn’t going to make people into psychos,” Underhill disagreed. “Knowing the depravities that Valentine sunk to might stop others from trying to emulate him.”
Izzy tapped her fingernails thoughtfully on the table. “The positives and negatives do a reasonable job of cancelling each other out, as far as concerns about the influence the knowledge will have on the Shadowhunter community,” she stated. “We can deal with that as and when it occurs. The most important reason to get this information out is to show the Downworld that when we say we want honesty and transparency, we mean it.”
“If we try to hide some of Valentine’s crimes, it might look like we’re sympathetic to his cause,” Alec agreed. “His Circle was a stain on the Clave, one that they tried to cover over rather than remove. We all know how that went. Our only options are to emulate the Clave and hide this, or let everyone see the whole gory truth.” He got up from the table and looked out the window. “Psychos are going to be psychos, no matter what information they have access to. The Downworld is owed this.”
“We’re really going to do this.” Alatini sounded apprehensive
Alec squared his shoulders and turned back to his mini-Council. “By my authority as Head of the New York Institute, I order you all to initiate Plan VOB3.2, approved yesterday. The first section contains instructions for the dissemination of the information we recovered from Valentine’s Ottawa bunker on the 24th of December. This is to be begun immediately, and I expect all steps to be complete by the end of the day. Thank you for all of your hard work. Dismissed.”
Underhill and Alatini just nodded before leaving, but Jace and Izzy lingered.
“Don’t try and take all of the blame for this one, Alec,” Jace said seriously. “Izzy and I are right behind you, you know that. Let us take some of the heat.”
Alec shook his head. “Ultimately, it’s my decision, Jace. The responsibility is mine, and I’ll take whatever consequences that come. If the worst happens and I end up exiled, then the two of you will still be here to continue the work that we’ve begun.”
Izzy scoffed. “Like we’re going to hang around to be Clave stooges if they’re so up their own asses that they can’t see that you’re the best thing to happen to them in centuries.”
“She’s right,” Jace said when Alec shook his head. “You’re almost solely responsible for the unprecedented amount of co-operation that we’ve been receiving from the Downworld leadership.”
“The two of you—Izzy in particular—were trusted by various Downworld elements long before I got my head out of my ass,” Alec objected.
Izzy gave a slow nod. “Perhaps. But we weren’t doing anything with it, Alec. You’re the one who’s driving widespread change. You’re the one everyone is looking to. You’re always so ready to take responsibility when things go wrong; you need to start taking responsibility when things go right as well.” She hugged him, hard. “If the Clave tries to get rid of you for doing the right thing, then Jace and I—and quite a few others—will be defecting right along with you. We can start up our own organisation, the Lightwoods. We can be based in Edom, and we’ll kick ass all over the place with none of this bullshit bureaucracy to hold us back.”
Alec hugged her back. “Bureaucracy is one of those unavoidable evils, Izzy,” he informed her, feeling better almost despite himself. “In the right hands, it’s as deadly a weapon as my bow. But I get your meaning. The primary reason that I made it a direct order is for protection. Right now, there’s really not much they can overtly do to me other than dismiss me. The rest of you—especially Underhill and Alatini—don’t have that security. In a way, they’re risking more, because other than Dad and Max, everyone I care about is already in on this, I know they support it. I’m pretty sure Max will come down on our side, and Dad…” Alec shrugged. “There’s not much I can do about that.”
Izzy released him. “I suppose I better go and get on with getting all this explosive stuff out there where it can blow the Clave’s collective tiny mind. I’ll see you later on. I’ll come over to your place tonight, and we can make a spirited attempt to clean out Magnus’ drinks trolley.”
“I’ll warn him to have the hangover potion ready.”
Two hours later, Alec received his first outraged phone call.
Magnus took one look at his face when he got home that evening and got out his favourite body oils.
“Whose great idea was it to release all of Valentine’s data out into the world, anyway?” Alec groaned as Magnus’ talented fingers worked his trapezius.
“I think it was your parabatai who suggested it first,” Magnus murmured. He shifted his weight where it was resting on Alec’s ass, making him groan for an entirely different reason. “You know, there are various ways to relieve tension. After I’ve finished with your massage, do you think you will be up to exploring some of the other variations?” On the word ‘up’ he shifted his weight again in an unsubtle suggestion.
This time Alec’s groan was one of disappointment. “No time,” he groused. “Izzy and Jace are coming over, and we’re going to spend the evening drowning our sorrows.” His voice went up at the end there when Magnus’ thumb dug into a particularly sensitive spot.
“Will you be wanting my special remedies in the morning?”
“If you’ve got some, that would be much appreciated,” Alec said gratefully. “If not, then it won’t be the first time we’ve all gone in with hangovers.”
“I’m going to need to do some more brewing,” Magnus mused. “I wonder if I’ve got enough kelpie blood?”
“Feel free to send Jace out to get what you need,” Alec offered.
Asmodeus wandered past the recently conjured padded table and into the kitchen, looking like a fashion editor’s idea of an artist. The smell of oil paint and turpentine followed him. “I’ve been trying to capture what Edom looks like, but I need new brushes,” he announced as he rummaged through the fridge. “The ones I have aren’t doing the job.”
Magnus’ sigh was dramatic. “Is the credit card I gave you no longer working? You’re free to order whatever you like.”
Asmodeus slammed the fridge closed. “I need to go to an art shop, Magnus! I want to be able to test the bristles in person. I’ve also been thinking about incorporating a lino-print method, but I really need to talk about it with someone who’s versed in the subject.”
“By all means, go to an art shop!” Magnus said irritably, his touch turning from seductive to brisk. “No one is stopping you!”
Asmodeus sniffed and wandered over to watch what they were doing. “What is stopping me, is that I have no idea where I should be going or who I should be talking to,” he pointed out. “You’ll need to arrange for someone to come with me. Preferably someone who knows their way around.”
The mood had been thoroughly broken. Alec wasn’t particularly body-shy, but his father-in-law walking in on a moment that had—for all its outward innocence—been heading steadily towards bedroom activities made him feel uncomfortable about all the skin he was displaying. His feelings must have transmitted themselves to Magnus through his skin because only moments later, he gave Alec’s back one last rub before getting down. Alec immediately reached for his t-shirt, pulling it over his head with some relief.
The faint disappointment he thought he saw on Asmodeus’ face only reinforced his feelings on the matter.
“I suppose I could send Simon along,” Magnus said thoughtfully, rubbing the oil that still coated his fingers into his hands slowly. “I’m sure Biscuit made a habit of toting him along with her when sourcing her own art supplies. If nothing else, it might distract him from his romantic woes.”
Alec took the opportunity to escape the conversation. He didn’t feel comfortable talking about Izzy’s love life right now. He’d never liked the idea of Simon as a partner for her, and hearing that they were having problems made a small, mean, part of him satisfied and pleased. A much more significant part of him was concerned about Izzy and how she was coping. He wondered if she had anyone other than Magnus to talk about these things with. Jace was preoccupied, Alec was hardly an expert, and Clary was out of the picture. Even if she’d been there, she was Simon’s friend before Izzy’s, so she probably wouldn’t be terribly helpful anyway.
Perhaps Maryse? Alec considered that for a moment before shaking his head. Possible, but not probable. Hopefully, Izzy would let him know what was happening when she’d sorted everything out to her liking.
He opened the fridge to see if there were enough leftovers that they wouldn’t have to bother with ordering dinner. “One of these days I really need to learn to cook,” he muttered as he cautiously sniffed a container of lemon chicken. He wrinkled his nose. Nope.
He turned to throw it in the rubbish bin, just in time to catch his husband’s appalled reaction.
Magnus quickly smiled. “Why change a winning formula? A delightful, tasty, gourmet, epicurean experience is only a wave of the fingers away.”
Alec stared at him. “You don’t think I can do it, do you?”
“I don’t think that you need to do it,” Magnus temporised. “Really, darling, you’re so busy all the time. Let me do this for you. Now, is there anything you’d like?” He waved his fingers in the air, with such a hopeful expression on his face that Alec couldn’t deny him.
“Maybe something spicy,” Alec decided. “It’s been a while since we had a proper curry.” The cooking lessons idea could wait for another time. One where Asmodeus wasn’t watching the exchange with barely concealed interest. Right now, it was more important to eat something to prepare for the night ahead.
Since becoming the Institute Head, Alec didn’t spend nearly as much time as he used to in the Ops Centre. There was no time, administrative tasks, keeping up with the comings and goings of the myriad of personnel, and the nitty-gritty of Shadowhunter life took up the bulk of his day. He’d started making a point to spend at least half an hour a day down on the floor. Sometimes he needed the familiar bustle to soothe his frayed nerves.
This was one of those days.
The Clave Council, no doubt gathered in another emergency session to try and work out what they wanted to do with the bomb Alec had dropped on the Shadow World, called to berate him.
The thing that annoyed him most was that the whole exercise was a waste of everybody’s time.
Representatives for the Spiral Labyrinth, the Praetor Lupus, and the Unseelie King had already made public statements supporting both Alec’s actions and ‘the Clave’s new dedication to transparency in their dealings.’
Everyone involved knew that such high approval, combined with his visibility, limited what the Clave could do to him as a direct result of his actions. The Downworld wouldn’t stand for it, and Shadowhunter numbers were at the lowest they’d been in centuries. Any punishment the Clave wanted to give him would have to be long term and focused on a different matter entirely.
It was pointless, and Alec needed to take a break and refocus his mind.
He was listening intently to his people plan to take care of a nesting Kuri that had been detected in Cunningham Park when a trickle of cold slithered up his spine.
He didn’t know how he knew, but something, somewhere, was going wrong.
“Alec!” Izzy called from across the room. “Alec, there’s something—” Before she could finish what she was saying, a portal unexpectedly opened up in the Ops Centre.
This was alarming. The Institute was supposed to be warded against incoming unsecured portals. Alec was already reaching for the knife that he’d taken to wearing on his belt when he realised that he could feel the unmistakable tingle of Magnus’ magic. He hesitated for a moment, then drew his knife. Best to be prepared, and he couldn’t think of any happy or fun reason that Magnus would have done this.
A moment later, Simon stumbled through, looking like he’d been rolling around in an abattoir. The portal winked close behind him.
Alec peripherally noticed that the people around him dropped their battle-ready stances, and made a mental note to follow up on that with Underhill and Jace later.
“Simon!” Izzy said, appearing at his side and reaching out to him with both hands. “Are you okay?”
“I was barely scratched, most of this blood isn’t mine,” Simon said, looked wildly around the Ops Centre before focusing on Alec. “It’s Asmodeus’. We were attacked on Rockwell, almost where it intersects with Fulton. Magnus is going to open a portal directly there in five minutes. He said to bring everyone you can spare.”
“How many attackers?” Alec asked, signalling Benedict Wentworth, a member of Underhill’s security group, to bring his gear. He strode over to the nearest workstation, nodding in thanks at the group using it who were already saving their work and getting ready to get out of his way.
“A lot,” Simon said, shifting his weight uncomfortably at Alec’s side. “Six? Over five, at least. I wasn’t really counting them. Alec…they tried to disguise themselves—you know, masks, hoods, black leather cat-suits—but they were definitely Shadowhunters.”
Alec stiffened. “They what?”
The Ops Centre, which had begun to return to its usual bustle once the portal situation had been resolved, went utterly silent.
“How sure are you?” Izzy asked, her voice like the crack of her whip.
Simon hung his head miserably. “I only saw runes on two of them, but they were unmistakable. The others could have been Downworlders or Demons, I suppose, but they moved like Shadowhunters.”
“Did Magnus suggest we bring a medic?” Alec asked shortly, eyes and fingers flicking over the display in front of him. The sensor information confirmed Simon’s story, the only signs of demonic blood in that area of Brooklyn were Magnus’ familiar icon, located right next to another one that would have to be Asmodeus.
“Magnus was calling Catarina as he opened the portal,” Simon reported. “Would Shadowhunter medics even be able to help?”
Alec shook his head. “Magnus would have said something if he wanted medical aid. If I’m wrong, we can just portal any injured straight to the infirmary. Izzy, get some extra restraints and a blade that Simon can use. Simon…be ready to go,” Alec cast a swift glance around at the people available, focusing on two recently returned patrol groups that still looked relatively fresh. “I’ll take two teams with me. T9 and T14, have you seen combat today?”
“No, sir,” answered Reo Kaido, leader of T9.
Marta Coldridge of T14 was standing at attention, almost bursting with eagerness. “We ran into a lone Croucher, sir, but we followed standard procedure, no special skills required, and we were able to terminate it in under a minute without making physical contact.”
“Both of you are with me,” Alec ordered. “Make sure your teams are in order, and your gear is compliant with regulations.”
“Alec!” Jace arrived at a run. A quick glance showed Alec that his parabatai was fully equipped. “Magnus called. He said he had the situation contained for the moment but that a portal would be opening to his location in a couple of minutes.”
“Jace, take charge of T14,” Alec said, just as Izzy and Simon reappeared and Wentworth returned with Alec’s gear, handing it over one piece at a time. “T9, report to Izzy. Our first priority is containing the situation and making sure none of the assailants escape. If Magnus tells you to do something, I expect you to do it. Underhill, until we get back with more information about who these Shadowhunters are, I want the Institute on blue alert.”
The portal opened, and Alec led his team through to where Magnus was waiting.
“Alexander!” Magnus’ tone was jovial, but his face was anything but. He was standing in the centre of the street, his right arm held up, palm open and fingers splayed. His left was directing a continuous stream of magic at a grey-faced, twitching Asmodeus who lay crumpled at his feet. Up and down the street were various black-clad figures, frozen in place like living statues, a shimmering veil of blue explaining their paralysis. “So glad you could make it!”
“Are you alright?” Alec demanded as the last of his hastily assembled group followed him out of the portal.
“I’m uninjured, dearest,” Magnus replied tightly. “My father, however, appears to be suffering from the aftereffects of being hit by poisoned arrows. In the usual way of things, a ‘mortal’ wound taken on this plane would be nothing more than an inconvenience. Given the indeterminate nature of his current existence, I thought that it was better to err on the side of caution and ensure that he doesn’t snuff it prematurely.”
“What do you need us to do?” Alec asked. “Simon said that you had already called Cat.”
“I thought you might be good enough to take these decidedly rude people off my hands,” Magnus’ attention was mostly on his father, who hadn’t moved. “They’re rather in the way; it’s tiresome to have to divide my attention like this.”
Alec nodded, as though the rather astonishing feat of magic that was being played out in front of him was a commonplace occurrence rather than the impressive display of power and precision that it actually was. “Are there any others aside from the ones I can see?” He did a quick count. “Eight Shadowhunters? In a failed ambush where your target numbered two? I don’t know whether to be pleased that you failed, or disgusted. Magnus, you can drop your spell. Izzy, bind them. The rest of you, I want one of you to a prisoner.”
If Izzy was a little rougher than she really needed to be, none of Alec’s team complained.
“So, there’s not going to be any fighting?” Jace complained. “I was looking forward to fileting some dickheads. Izzy gave me this new knife to try out.”
Alec shrugged. “If you get lucky, one of them might try to make a break for it. At that point they’re resisting arrest and fleeing, so you can do what you want. It’s not like we’ll have to answer to the Downworld about brutality.”
Jace perked up visibly and trotted over to where the attackers were being herded into a small area. They shrank back from his approach.
Izzy finished what she was doing. “Simon, please go with Jace and make sure these idiots are put behind bars. You’ll need to stay with them until other Downworld representatives can arrive to oversee matters.”
Alec raised an eyebrow. “You’re not going with them?”
“I’ll stay as your backup.” She met his gaze squarely. “The Institute Head shouldn’t be out in the field without at least one guard, Alec, and you know it.”
“Fine. Magnus, a portal, if you would?”
Alec watched as Jace, Simon, T9 and T14 marched the eight black-clad attackers through. As soon as the portal was closed, he dropped his air of disinterest and knelt beside Asmodeus, checking him over gently. “Did Cat give you an ETA?” Even as he finished speaking, Magnus’ phone started ringing.
Moments later, Catarina and Ragnor arrived through the portal that Magnus had made for them. Catarina immediately took over from Magnus, while Ragnor cast a swift, assessing glance over the scene. When he was done, he scowled furiously at Alec.
During their previous interactions, Ragnor had seemed handsome, charming in a dry English fashion, and fond of dark, wry humour. There had been no indication of the intimidating power that was on display now. Ragnor Fell was not happy, and he was quite ready to let everyone in the vicinity know about it.
“Oh, don’t be absurd you cantankerous cabbage,” Magnus muttered. He turned to Alec.
Alec automatically opened his arms to receive him, distracted from Ragnor’s glower by Magnus’ distress. “Are you going to be okay?”
“I don’t know,” Magnus’ voice was muffled as he pressed his face into Alec’s neck. “A few months ago, I thought I’d killed him myself, so why…”
“Magnus,” Catarina called, brow furrowed as magic streamed from her fingertips. “I’m not… I don’t think this is going to work. I’m not used to healing Greater Demons, and the poison is interacting with him in ways that I have no idea how to counter. He’s not getting better. All I’m doing is slowing the rate at which he’s getting worse.”
Magnus took a deep breath before stepping out of the protection of Alec’s embrace. “We need to take him to Edom.”
Alec tried not to show his reaction to that statement. He knew it was irrational, but the idea of Magnus in Edom without him made his stomach knot up with stress. His head knew that it wasn’t like that other time, when Magnus going to Edom meant that he was leaving Alec, maybe forever, but his heart didn’t like the idea of being separated from his husband by a whole dimension.
“We should go back to your apartment,” Ragnor suggested. “Opening a portal to another realm out here in the open is just asking for trouble.”
“I’m coming with you,” Alec announced.
Magnus jerked his head around to stare at Alec. “What? No! Dearest, we don’t know if you’ll still have the immunity that Clary’s rune gave you!”
“The evidence points to us all still being affected,” Alec pointed out. “Simon and Meliorn both activated Izzy’s witchlight! And remember the time I fried a tablet when I got angry?” He drew closer, lifting a reassuring hand to his husband’s worried face. He dropped his voice slightly. “Edom is your domain now, remember? Yours and Izzy’s. If nothing else, I have complete trust that neither of you would ever hurt me, not if you could possibly help it. Let me come.”
Magnus smiled at him, a pained echo of his usual beaming joy. “You always take my breath away, Alexander. Very well. But if I see any hint that the realm is causing you discomfort, I’m sending you back immediately.”
Alec rested his forehead against Magnus’. “Agreed.”
Izzy’s bright voice broke the moment. “I’m coming too, of course.”
Magnus sighed and closed his eyes. “Generations of Lightwoods have done their best to shorten my life, you know. How ironic that it’s the generation that I love to distraction that is most likely to give me grey hairs.”
Alec remembered some of the fantasies he’d indulged during the first couple of days after Magnus had traded his magic to Asmodeus, back when all he could think about was that he and Magnus would get to grow old together. “You’d make an extremely fetching silver fox.”
“Bite your tongue!” Magnus sounded more like his usual self.
“Poetic justice,” Ragnor said acerbically. “You’ve been giving me grey hairs since I met you. Are we going to get this show on the road any time soon, or are you waiting for someone to break out an orchestra so that you can commemorate the moment with a dance number?”
“I’m struggling to remember why I was so anxious to restore you,” Magnus informed him haughtily. “No doubt some variation of Stockholm syndrome.” He stepped away from Alec and opened a portal. “It’s infuriating when you’re right. Come then, we’ll head back to the loft and portal to Edom from there.”
Izzy looked concerned. “Will he be okay going through a portal? I thought unconscious people who went through portals ended up in limbo.”
“Magnus will encase Asmodeus in magic,” Ragnor explained as Magnus joined Catarina and began to wrap filaments of blue around his prone father. “So long as Magnus maintains physical contact with it—and him—at all times, traversing the portal should be safe enough. It’s a tricky feat to achieve, but well within his capabilities. It’s a loophole that only a few can exploit, and it’s knowledge that we Warlocks don’t usually reveal to Shadowhunters.”
“I imagine it’s a pretty steep learning curve,” Izzy remarked. “The first time someone tried it, the situation must have been pretty dire.”
Ragnor gave a short laugh. “The first time it happened the idiot who was doing it wasn’t fully aware of the limitations of portals,” he shared. “The invincibility of youth.”
Magnus used his magic to lift his now fully cocooned father, grasping an ankle with the hand that wasn’t directing the flows of power. “If you believed everything Ragnor told you, you’d come away with the impression that he was a staid old Warlock who never took any risks,” he commented. “Come along, Alexander, Isabelle. Ragnor, please tidy up here before joining us. We’ll be ready for an inter-realm journey in a few minutes.
Magnus had described the changes that Edom had gone through in the few short months since Alec’s last tumultuous visit but hearing about it and seeing it were very different matters. There was a background vibration that thrummed against his skin. It didn’t feel threatening at all, in fact, it was quite pleasant.
“It’s like a jungle,” Izzy said, looking around with wide eyes. “Only, not. The sky is golden.”
“Where did all these trees come from?” Alec asked, sizing up a ginormous bell-shaped specimen nearby. About two hundred feet to the left of it was a completely different type of tree that rose high into the sky. “I don’t remember Edom having any trees. One or two scrubby bushes, and some withered looking grass…no trees. And is that thrumming feeling normal?”
“It’s beautiful,” Izzy whispered.
When Alec looked over at her, he was slightly alarmed to notice that she’d started to shimmer gently. “Izzy!”
“What? Don’t you think it’s beautiful, Alec? I used to think that this is what heaven would look like.” The glow radiating from under her skin was intensifying as the seconds passed.
“Izzy, look at your skin!” Alec looked over to Magnus, only to discover that his husband was also glowing brightly.
“Don’t concern yourself, Alexander,” Magnus assured him. “Last time, the shine wore off after about an hour and did no harm.” He gave Alec a thorough once over. “You don’t look as if you’re in imminent danger of burning up.”
“I feel fine,” Alec assured him. He took a moment to assess how he felt. Now that he was paying attention, he felt clearheaded and invigorated. The thrum from earlier was fading. “Wow, I feel better than fine, I feel great.”
“Good,” Magnus replied, his focus turning towards Asmodeus, who was laid out on a bed that Magnus had produced with a wave of his hands.
Alec took a closer look. Under the golden sky, Asmodeus’ colour looked a little better. Less sickly, more like his usual healthy tones. His breathing seemed more relaxed, too, and he’d stopped convulsing.
Izzy’s gasp drew his attention. She was staring at her hand, which was wreathed in dancing flames.
“Will you just relax, big brother? I’m fine,” Izzy assured him. “I was just surprised.”
“How can you be fine?” Alec demanded. “Your hand is on fire! Last time that was happening you were warned to stay away from anything demonic, or you would burn up!”
The fire sank back into her skin before flaring up again. “It’s not the same; this time I’m controlling it. Hey, watch this!” Izzy formed a ball of flame and then threw it into the air, where it hung for a few seconds before dispersing.
Alec felt some of the battle-ready tension fade from his body. “Izzy, my favourite sister… Do you think you could stop trying to give me a coronary? Cat’s dealing with something else, it wouldn’t be fair to ask her to stop just so that she can get my heart working again.”
“I couldn’t do this back home,” Izzy muttered to herself. “I wonder why?”
“It’s not terribly surprising that contact with the realm greatly facilitates your access,” Magnus said absently, his attention still on Asmodeus. “It’s why Greater Demons don’t leave their realms very often. Cat, what can you tell me?”
“I think he’s on the mend,” Catarina said, sounding tired. “At this point, I don’t think my help is necessary, or even particularly effective.” She looked up at Alec. “I’ll expect a sample of that poison as soon as you find out what it was. I need to run tests.”
Alec nodded seriously. “Of course. As soon as we get back, I’ll get in touch with Lorenzo. They’re going to have a hard time keeping their secrets under a truth spell.”
“I assure you, Alexander, that I am fully capable of providing any truth spells that you need,” Magnus objected, without looking up from his father.
“You’re too personally involved,” Alec reminded him gently. “If we use Lorenzo’s services, then we remove an avenue that could be used for objection later on.”
Magnus sniffed. He waved his hand, and a recliner appeared beside the bed that he sank into gracefully. “I’m sure that if you prefer the magical services of that second-rate hack, then it’s entirely your own affair.”
Izzy snorted. “I’m pretty sure that you’re the only Warlock Alec would like to service him,” she said slyly, forming another ball of flame and gently throwing it from one hand to the other. “The only person, period. Do you know that for years he’s been held up as some sort of dedicated, sexless, ideal warrior that all young Shadowhunters should aspire to emulate?”
“What?” Alec spun on his heel to glare at her. “I was not! I was constantly being told that I needed to do better!”
“Oh, they didn’t say those things where you could hear them,” Izzy said dismissively, eyes on her game. “But did you never wonder why there wasn’t more of an outcry when you got made Institute Head at such a young age? It was because, for years, various instructors had been using your lack of sex life as proof of your dedication to the Clave.”
Alec blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Think about it. You weren’t beating Jace’s scores on the field—no one was—but you were getting the nearest, and you didn’t have the wild streak that he did. So why do you think the marriage offers stopped once you reached twenty-one? It’s because everyone believed that you’d dedicated yourself to the Clave.”
“How did they know anything about my sex life?”
“Oh, Alec,” Izzy shook her head. It might have been Alec’s imagination, but the balls of flame she was playing with looked like they were shrinking. “You should know by now that Shadowhunters are all gossips of the highest order. We just like to be classy about it, so we only ever gossip if we can be sure the person or people we’re gossiping about won’t find out about it. After all, you know about Liam Lindquist, right?”
“You mean that he’s been sleeping his way through the Institutes in the southern hemisphere and we’re expecting him to arrive in the north within the next two years?”
“Right, and what about Nora Balogh?”
“She’s jilted three fiancées already and announced her fourth engagement a month ago.” Alec was starting to see what she meant. “But…what about when I kissed Magnus at my wedding to Lydia?”
Izzy laughed, letting her now noticeably smaller flames sink back into her hands. “Oh, by then the damage was done. If they tried to paint you as dangerously unstable and prone to fits of lunacy, they would have undermined their own rhetoric. The whole thing was hilarious.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” Alec was feeling bewildered.
“I didn’t know about it either until after your wedding,” Izzy replied. “The first one, I mean. By then we had other things to worry about, and it’s only recently that we’ve had room to breathe again. It slipped my mind.”
“One day someone will tell me the full story about this wedding,” Ragnor remarked. “Magnus, old chap, I don’t suppose you could rustle up something to drink? I’m feeling a little parched.”
Magnus gave him a look, but also flicked his fingers. A small wooden table with a full tumbler on it appeared next to Ragnor.
“Where is all this stuff coming from?” Alec wondered. “I thought that when Warlocks conjured things, they just moved them from one location to another.”
“That’s the most efficient use of magic,” Ragnor said, taking a sip of his drink and grimacing slightly. “Provided the item you want isn’t on the other side of the world, that is. More advanced practitioners can just transmute items into their desired form. The fewer similarities between the thing being changed and the end result, the more magical power and finesse it takes. Magnus has enough power that he can transmute air molecules into whatever he chooses. Although, even after years of practice, he can’t make a decent cognac.”
“It’s the one kind of magic that can quickly deplete my reserves,” Magnus added. “At least, usually. Down here I haven’t noticed a drain. If I wanted to, I could make the most exquisite cognac known to man. But why would I want to? I don’t like cognac. Other ungrateful louts should either accept what they’re given or make their own.”
“Will I be able to make stuff out of nothing as well?” Izzy asked, looking excited.
Magnus winced slightly.
“That’s where the ‘finesse’ part comes in,” Ragnor informed her. “You’ll require a great deal of practice before you can do anything on that level. On the other hand, so long as you’re here,” he gestured to the green surroundings, “then you’ll no doubt have unlimited resources with which to work.” He took another sip. “Provided you don’t try anything on too large a scale.”
Alec frowned. “But if Magnus and Izzy are going to have near unlimited power, then why did Lilith need time to regenerate herself?”
Magnus sighed. “My father and Lilith shared this realm, but they were hardly friendly co-habitants. They were locked in a constant struggle, each trying to be the best, the strongest. In fact, I suppose you could say that we have my father to thank for Lilith’s reduced strength during the recent…unpleasantness. They were each both so determined to limit the other that they chained down the energy available, made it very difficult to access.”
“That was why he wanted your magic,” Izzy realised. “He wanted magic that wasn’t tied to this realm, that way, he had more than her.”
Magnus nodded, expression pensive.
“But if having your magic was so crucial to maintaining supremacy here, then why did he risk giving it back?” Alec asked. “I know he had a plan to manipulate you into joining him down here, whereby he would have had access to your power without having to wield it personally, but why take the gamble?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe he wanted company,” Izzy suggested. “I imagine it would have gotten a little boring down here with only Lilith to talk to. She didn’t really come across as the conversable type.”
“If he ever gets his memories back, I’ll be sure to ask him,” Magnus promised. “Of course, that’s providing he doesn’t immediately try to reduce me to a particularly stylish smear on the landscape, of course.”
“You really think he’d do that?” Alec asked, thinking about the man they’d been sort-of living with for the last couple of months. “He has known about the limbo thing for a while, and he hasn’t seemed terribly vengeful about it.”
Magnus shrugged. “We can’t base our expectations of what he’ll be like after regaining his memories on how he’s been lately. Our memories are what make us who we are. Without them…” He sighed. “The man we’ve been living with isn’t real. Reality is an ancient Greater Demon, one that has a reputation for holding grudges.”
“It might not turn out as badly as you fear,” Catarina said gently.
“Or it might be worse,” Ragnor put in.
Catarina turned on him. “You’re not helping, Ragnor. Although, neither am I really. Magnus, if you have no further need of me, I should back to what I was doing. If he starts going downhill again, I can always come back.”
“Of course,” Magnus said, getting to his feet. “Thank you so much for your help, my dear. I don’t know what I would do without you. Ragnor, will you be heading back too?”
“I imagine you’ll need someone to stay with your father while you’re ferrying people to and fro,” Ragnor replied, taking Magnus’ recently vacated seat. “Now, this is nice. Set me up with a new bottle and a copy of Variations on Fire, and I’ll be happy enough here for the next little while. In fact, be a chap and bring my library trunk with you when you come back, would you? I’ve decided that this would be a nice place for a bit of a rest.”
“Don’t think I don’t know about the stash of brandy you keep in your trunk, you disreputable old lush,” Magnus said tartly, handing over a brandy bottle and a large, leather tooled book that he pulled out of nowhere. “Very well. Alexander, Isabelle, I assume you will be needing to get back to the Institute?”
“I suppose we should.” Alec felt a strange reluctance to leave this peaceful place. A glance at Izzy showed that she was feeling the same way. “Ragnor is right, it’s lovely here. We should come back when we’ve got a bit more time.” He blinked as a thought occurred to him. “I might see if I can wangle some time off. My father-in-law was brutally attacked, after all. There must be some sort of dispensation to cover that. I’m pretty sure the Clave won’t object since just today I’ve had four Councillors tell me they think I’m a bad influence. It’s not even lunchtime yet! I think that might be some kind of record.”
“That’s a great idea,” Izzy agreed. She tossed her hair back. “If I’m officially the Lady of Edom, then I should really start spending more time here, right? And have you seen the hours I’ve been putting in? No one will argue that I’m due some time off.
Alec nodded. “I know Underhill will be relieved.”
Izzy was looking more and more enthusiastic. “Maybe we can come back tonight. I want to start on my magic lessons, and Alec might need some too. Unless you like blowing up tablets.”
Alec had forgotten about that. “That’s right. I can learn magic too!”
Magnus beamed at them. “I’ll work on a lesson plan right away. It will give me something to think about while I watch over my father.”
“Yes, yes,” Ragnor said. “Top-up my drink before you go, would you? Maybe provide some cheese and crackers, in case I get peckish.”
Magnus rolled his eyes but gave his fingers a familiar flick. “Gather round, my dears. Let’s get you back home.”
By the time Alec and Izzy returned to work, Lorenzo had been called and was waiting to question the prisoners. Alec handed the investigation over to Underhill—since he, Izzy, and Jace might be considered too close to the victims for impartiality—and started filling out the paperwork that came with arresting eight Shadowhunters all at once.
The interrogation didn’t take long. This particular group of dissidents were part of the same conspiracy as Penmount but were operating entirely separately. Whoever headed the group looked to have been working hard to keep the various cells isolated from each other. It was very annoying, but it made sense that whoever it was would have learned their lesson from the way Valentine ran things. For all his shadowy dealings, Valentine hadn’t been the subtlest of beings.
Dealing with the men and women who had attacked Asmodeus and Simon took up the rest of the day. By the end of it, Alec was sick of the whole thing. Bigots and assholes who thought the best way to make an argument was by killing people. He was glad that none of the eight captured were personally known to him, but it was still disheartening that the organisation he’d spent his life serving housed people like this, and in some cases, enabled them.
He was getting to work on a proposal for security upgrades that Underhill had given him that morning, having submitted his reports on the initial arrest, when Izzy came in, Jace and Simon following her like two slightly confused ducklings.
She threw herself into the chair in front of Alec, eyes bright. “I figured out what to do about Clary.”
Alec leaned back in his chair. “You have?”
“We can’t just leave her as she is,” Simon said. “Those nutters know about her, Alec. They know where she lives, where she studies. Sooner or later they’re going to make a try for her. What if they use that poison on her? Will she even last long enough for someone to get her help?”
Alec grimaced. Underhill had made sure to ask about the substance that the attackers had used on their arrows, but it turned out none of them knew what it was. They’d received orders, told where to pick up the poison and how to use it, but that was it. They’d also incinerated what was left over. All the analysts had to work with was what could be taken from the treated arrows that were unfired.
Alec had sent half the arrows off to Catarina, informing her that she should choose who was best to work on them, and given the remainder to Izzy. But lab work took time, and in the meantime, they were all vulnerable.
Especially Clary, who the attackers admitted was a target, along with the senior members of the New York Institute and various other prominent names, including Jia Penhallow and other Council members. At least that meant that the Clave wouldn’t be trying to pretend that this was all a misunderstanding. They were extremely adept at looking out for themselves, of course.
“What’s your plan?” Alec asked.
“Making sure that she’s safe is our main priority,” Izzy said. “Where else would she be safer than in Edom?”
“Okay,” Alec said slowly. “But Clary doesn’t remember anything about the Shadow World. How are you going to convince her to let you take her somewhere she doesn’t even believe exists? We can’t just kidnap her.”
“Well, duh.” Izzy made a ‘ta-da’ gesture at Jace, who was lurking grumpily behind her with his hands in his pockets. “We send Jace.”
“But she doesn’t remember Jace.”
“No, but they have that connection, remember? They trusted each other with barely any introduction last time; we should use that connection to get her to agree to come with us. Once we’re in Edom, we’ll have all the time in the world to explain everything to her.”
Simon leaned forward. “Even if she doesn’t get her memories back, she’ll be safe.”
Alec thought about it. It was a crazy idea, but upon reflection, it had a high chance of success. Possibly one of the most astonishing things about it was that they came to him before just running off to do what they thought was best. He took a careful look at Jace. His parabatai was being uncharacteristically quiet about all of this. “Have you asked for Luke’s opinion?”
Izzy looked a little sheepish. “Not yet.”
“He really doesn’t have a say,” Simon put in. “She’s eighteen, she doesn’t need a legal guardian’s permission to go wherever—or do whatever—she wants.”
Alec glared at him. “Luke has just as much interest in Clary’s welfare as you do. I’m sure he’d be concerned to hear that she’s in danger and pleased that you’ve come up with a solution. So, go tell him. The only reason he would object is if he thinks of possible issues, in which case these are also things that you need to consider. Come back to me when you’ve had a proper discussion with him.”
“But Clary could be attacked at any moment!” Simon wailed.
Alec raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “Then I suggest you get on with it.” He softened his demeanour slightly. “If you can get Luke’s agreement, then I’ll add my voice to yours when you present the idea to Magnus.”
Jace’s gaze skipped around the room, landing everywhere but on Alec. “We thought you could talk to Magnus about it.”
Alec crossed his arms. “This is your plan; you do the hard lifting. Besides, this is right up Magnus’ alley. I can’t see him disagreeing, not if you’ve got everyone’s approval.”
Jace gave an aggrieved sigh. “Fine. Come on, you two.”
Izzy shook her head, getting to her feet. “You and Simon can go. I’ve got a pile of work I need to get done. Thanks, big brother. I’ll see you later.” She left in high spirits, fairly bursting with energy.
Simon gave a confused blink. “What’s gotten into her? Is she on drugs or something? This morning she was acting normally, but now…”
“Izzy’s fine,” Alec said brusquely. “Now, if I could have my office back?”
“We’ll return as soon as we’ve talked to Luke.” Jace held the door open for Simon, who still looked preoccupied.
“Or just send a message,” Alec suggested, pulling up the document he’d been working on. “We’d need to wait for Magnus to get back from Edom before we can proceed in any case.” Putting their short visit out of his mind, he got back to work. If he wanted to feel comfortable taking the next few days off, several tasks needed to be completed.
Having cleared his desk of everything that needed to be taken care of, Alec was able to leave the Institute with a clear conscience. He left Underhill in charge with Alatini as back-up and arrived at the loft only a little after his usual home time, planning to take the next couple of days off. His husband’s father had been attacked and grievously wounded, after all, he was owed some compassionate leave.
Jace and Simon arrived only fifteen minutes or so after Alec, and they already had Clary in tow.
Jace waved vaguely in Alec’s direction. “This is my brother, Alec.”
“Hi,” Alec said awkwardly, shaking the hand she extended. He raised an eyebrow at Simon. “I take it Luke gave you the okay?”
Simon shrugged. “Well, Luke’s objections were mainly focused on the upheaval to her schooling. But then Jace pointed out that being attacked and poisoned would likely have a pretty huge effect on her life, and so, in the end, Luke agreed.”
Clary looked around with big eyes. “Wow, this place is amazing! I’ve had dreams about a place like this! I bet it’s lovely in the Autumn, with the golden sunlight. Oh, hi, Alec, I’m Clary. Wow, you two are brothers? You look nothing alike!”
Jace frowned. “Alec’s parents adopted me.”
Clary looked horrified. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to step on any sensitive spots. Is that why you got the tattoos? They don’t quite match, but they’re clearly in the same style.”
Jace looked as baffled as Alec felt. “That’s okay. It’s not like it was a secret or anything. And these markings are…a cultural thing, I guess you could say.”
“Oh. Well, I thought…never mind.” Clary smiled her pretend smile, the one she’d used when dealing with Clave officials that she didn’t like.
“Have you already talked to Magnus?” Alec asked, getting tired of the awkward silence. “I’m a bit surprised he didn’t let me know that he’d arrived back.”
“Magnus is Alec’s husband,” Simon informed Clary. “They live here.”
Clary grabbed hold of the conversational opening. “How lovely! How long have you been married?”
Alec cocked his head to one side, considering. “It’ll be three months in about a week.”
“So, you’re newlyweds!” Clary’s smile this time was genuine. “How’s that working out for you?”
Alec’s smile was probably covering his whole face. “I’m happier than I’ve been in my entire life.”
“Alexander, my love!” Magnus said from the doorway. Alec hadn’t heard the portal, so the wards must have warned him that someone without the sight was present. “The feeling is mutual, I assure you.”
Alec met Magnus a few steps from the door, leaning down to kiss him hello. “How is your father?”
“His vital signs have improved greatly, although he has yet to awaken. It looks as though it’s a waiting game for the moment.”
Alec studied his husband’s face, noticing the slightly pronounced stress lines around his eyes. “I don’t know what use I’ll be, but I’ve arranged my schedule so I don’t have to be back at the Institute until Monday.”
Magnus smiled and leaned in to touch their foreheads together. “Your very presence will be a delight, mon chéri.”
Alec couldn’t have held back his sappy smile if he’d tried. Which he didn’t. If they’d been alone then that would have been a perfect segue into more intimate activities, but they had an apartment full of people, so it would have to wait.
He lifted his head. “Jace and Simon brought Clary here.”
“Yes,” Magnus sounded amused. “I noticed, sayang.” That deserved another kiss, one Alec was only too willing to administer.
“Do you have to do that where other people can see you?” Jace broke the moment with his usual grace and tact. “Clary Fray, this is Magnus Bane.”
Magnus released the hold he’d taken on Alec’s shirt. He carefully smoothed the slightly rucked-up fabric down, before turning to smile at Clary. “Nice to see you again, my dear.”
“Hi,” Clary said, looking a little nervous. “Jace said that you had something you needed to tell me?”
“Oh, he did, did he?” Magnus’ genial smile turned into a frown for Alec’s parabatai. “How nice of Jace to entrust such a sensitive topic to me. No doubt it’s for the best, but a bit of warning might have been nice.”
Jace rolled his eyes. “Well, you’ve been…out of town all day. It’s not like I could just call you on the phone.”
Magnus ignored him. “The truth is, Biscuit—”
Clary mouthed ‘biscuit’, but Jace shook his head at her.
“—there have been some strange goings-on that concern you. We need to tell you about them, but before that, we need to establish a bit of background.”
“Wait,” Jace said suddenly. “Is it safe to talk about that stuff here? Won’t the…you know…be watching?”
Magnus sniffed. “I assure you that my protections are good enough to foil both the best of my father’s people and his political rivals. They wouldn’t be kept out for long, but it would be long enough for us to be alerted and to find somewhere more comfortable to be.”
“What are you talking about?” Clary’s voice had sharpened. She was beginning to sound more like herself.
“There are some…people…that would no doubt object to me sharing this information with you.” Magnus patted her hand soothingly. “Jace was merely expressing his concern that they may have bugged my apartment, and could, therefore, be on their way here to stop me from telling you what I think you should know.”
“You’re being very cloak and dagger about this,” Clary said suspiciously. “Are we talking about organised crime? Because if we are, I want nothing to do with it.”
“Yes and no. Just listen to me for a while.”
Rather than waste his time listening to Clary get the ‘so you’re a member of a secret sect of demon-hunters’ speech, Alec decided to pack a bag for his anticipated stay in Edom. Magnus would only be too happy to conjure whatever he asked for, of course, but Alec enjoyed the comfort and familiarity of his own things.
When that was done, he pulled out his phone and made sure his mother and his little brother wouldn’t be concerned if they tried to reach him in his absence, before calling Izzy to let her know that the plan was in motion and that as soon as Clary agreed, they would be heading back to Edom.
“Can you delay them for another half an hour?” Izzy asked distractedly. Alec could hear typing in the background. “I just need to get these notes written up and then I can take the next two days off. It’s going to take at least that long before the lab-work comes back.”
“I’m pretty sure that they’ll be talking for longer than half an hour,” Alec assured her.
Izzy’s typing faltered. “Do you think we should invite Meliorn and Lorenzo? Since the rest of us will be there?”
Alec sat on the edge of the bed. “I can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t come. But would they want to?”
“You don’t think they’ll want to see what’s been happening down there since we destroyed Lilith?”
“Since you destroyed Lilith,” Alec pointed out, feeling the familiar swell of pride. His little sister had singlehandedly killed a Greater Demon, in her own realm!
“Just give them a call, big brother,” Izzy instructed him, her typing picking up speed again. “If they don’t want to come then fine, that’s on them. At least we’ll have given them the opportunity.”
“As you command, oh slayer of demons,” Alec said. “See you soon.”
To his surprise, both Meliorn and Lorenzo were keen on the idea of joining them.
“Bane might have given me a bit more warning,” Lorenzo said huffily. “I’ll need to make arrangements for one of my people to stand in for me in my absence. We can’t all go galivanting around the realms at a moment’s notice, you know. Some of us have responsibilities to attend to.”
“Magnus can’t hear you,” Alec pointed out. “He’s in the other room giving Clary Fray the truncated version of Shadow World: A History, in the hope that she’ll agree to come with us.”
Lorenzo made a disgruntled noise. “Drat. I suppose I’ll have to find some other way to work it into the conversation. I’ll be there as soon as I get my people organised.”
Meliorn just asked when and where to meet them, thanked Alec for inviting him, and hung up.
By the time Alec made it back out into the lounge, Magnus had the photo albums out, and was talking about the Circle, Valentine, and the Mortal Instruments. Clary was listening with shock, hands wrapped around something fruity-looking with an umbrella poking out the top. She periodically glanced over to where Jace and Simon were hanging out by the windows playing a spirited game of Hot Hands, with Simon using his vamp-speed and Jace using his runes.
Alec peered over Magnus’ shoulder. There was a photo there of Jocelyn, Clary, Jace, Izzy, Simon, and Luke. Alec was clearly visible in the background, and Magnus must have been the photographer. Sure enough, just over the page was the same group of people, only with Magnus slightly in front of them and clearly taking a selfie.
“I don’t remember any of this!” Clary exclaimed. “My mom died in a car accident, and I don’t remember ever meeting any of you people before.”
“Yes, well, it appears that the angels were quite thorough,” Magnus said sympathetically.
“But why would they do that?” She said, sounding more and more agitated. “What benefit does it gain anyone if I don’t remember all…this…”
“We think it had something to do with your special gifts,” Jace said, abandoning his game and coming back to take a seat opposite her. “The thing was, they only wanted you to use those gifts in the way that they approved of. But you were more interested in saving lives than playing by the rules, and when you did something that they had expressly told you not to do, well…”
“And you all just left me like this?” Now she was starting to get angry. That was a side of Clary that Alec was a lot more familiar with.
“We had no way to restore your memories ourselves,” Simon told her earnestly. “We were worried that if we started just randomly experimenting, then the angels would notice, and things would get worse.”
“Worse?” Clary shrieked. “How could they possibly be worse? Since my mom died, I’ve been alone, Simon! No close friends, no family, just me! And now you tell me that I have this group of people who you say love me like family; if you really love me like family then where were you? Where were you when she was buried? I stood at her graveside alone!”
Jace gave a pained grimace. “I’m pretty sure that’s a fabricated memory, Clary. We were all at your mother’s funeral.”
“Oh, you were? Prove it!”
Jace was looking fidgety. “We didn’t take any photos. It’s not the sort of thing—”
“But there would have been an order of service, or something, right?”
“It…wasn’t really like that.” Jace looked at Alec for help.
“We’re not making any progress here,” Alec interrupted them, not really wanting to get into all the details surrounding Jocelyn’s death if he didn’t have to. “The whole point of this is to get Clary’s memories back. We should just go to Edom and see what we can do. It will save a whole lot of explaining.”
“My Alexander has rather gone right to the centre of the matter, as usual,” Magnus said after a brief pause. “If you can believe that there are things beyond your current understanding, and you put any credence in our claims to know and care for you…”
“Come with us, Fray,” Simon pleaded. “I want my best friend back.”
“We’ll need to wait until Meliorn and Lorenzo get here, and Izzy’s on her way too.”
Simon frowned. “Why do we need to wait for them? Why are they coming?”
Magnus blinked, before sending a brilliant smile Alec’s way. “What a wonderful idea, darling! By combining our energies, the eight of us managed to tame an entire realm. Compared to that, a little memory restoration should be a piece of cake!” He turned to Clary, his expression softening. “But only if you wish to try it, my dear. I promise you that no one here is going to force you into anything.” He sent a quelling frown Simon’s way. “No matter how much Shuster wants ‘his best friend back.’”
“I thought his name was Simon.”
Magnus waved his hand. “Whatever. Get the door, would you, Alexander? I believe the charming Isabelle has arrived.”
Alec opened the door to the corridor just as Izzy approached. He raised his eyebrows at her black leather jeans, bright red tube top, and the black leather jacket that she’d taken to wearing recently. Her black and white boots gave her at least three extra inches. “You decided to get changed?”
“I’m the Lady of Edom, big brother, and I intend to look the part.” She breezed past him. “Magnus and I are going to be the best-dressed realm rulers the dimensions have ever seen, and leather never goes out of style.”
“Isabelle, dearest!” Magnus rose to his feet and came forward to kiss her cheeks. “You, of course, are already familiar with our guest. Clary, this lovely woman is Isabelle Lightwood, Alexander’s sister.”
“It’s good to see you, Clary,” Isabelle said warmly. “How are you feeling? A bit overwhelmed, I imagine?”
Clary’s eyes almost popped out of her head when she saw Izzy, but when she recovered her poise, she seemed somewhat relieved to have another woman to talk to. Alec suddenly wondered if she’d felt uncomfortable, given that she’d been brought to a place alone with a group of strange men. It hadn’t occurred to him before because the Clary he knew wouldn’t have minded. But this wasn’t the Clary he knew, not yet anyway. The sooner they got her memories back, the better.
Edom was just as beautiful as it had been that morning. The welcoming thrum that vibrated up from his boots was felt a little wilder. Perhaps because Alec had been expecting it, it was much more noticeable.
Jace, Simon, and Meliorn all looked around with great interest.
“Wow,” Jace said. “Are you sure you brought us to the right place, Magnus? We were supposed to be going to Edom. E…Dom. This looks more like something out of a fantasy story.”
“It’s certainly had a makeover,” Simon agreed.
“It is magnificent,” Meliorn breathed. “Such vibrant life…I have never been anywhere that felt like this.”
Clary wasn’t yet recovered from the portal and looked more shocked than interested. Lorenzo graced his surroundings with a critical stare that reminded Alec suddenly of Ragnor.
Which begged the question… “Where are Asmodeus and Ragnor?”
“They’re in the house I made, of course.” Magnus affected an innocent air that didn’t fool Alec in the slightest.
Magnus pouted. “It’s no fun if you don’t want to play with me. Fine. I left a glamour on it in case something big and nasty wanted to break in during my absence. There you go.” He flicked his fingers.
A group of trees off to one side shimmered and disappeared, revealing a house that hadn’t been there that morning.
“It’s beautiful,” Alec said admiringly. Magnus had recreated one of the many places they’d visited together, a delightful eco-friendly hotel constructed primarily of bamboo located in the uplands of Bali. They’d stopped in for a meal on their way through and agreed that they’d like to come back one day for a proper stay. It had surprised Alec a little at the time. Magnus made such a production about enjoying the luxuries of life—and that particular hotel had a decidedly rustic air to it—but it ended up being just another facet of the man he loved so much.
Jace looked at it critically. “It is? It looks like one step above a derelict hut.”
“Ignore him,” Izzy said, eyeing the structure in front of her. “I like it. It fits in with the surroundings.”
“She’s right,” Clary agreed, tilting her head to one side. “I wish I had my pencils with me. I’d love to draw it.”
Magnus directed a smug smile in Jace’s direction. “I can always trust you to have exquisite taste, Isabelle. Here,” he pulled an ornate wooden box out of the air with one hand, and a sketchbook with the other. “Draw to your heart’s content, my dear.”
“We do actually have a purpose here,” Lorenzo reminded them.
“Have I reached the afterlife?” Meliorn muttered, standing with his hand pressed against the tree with the bell-shaped canopy that had drawn Alec’s attention when he’d first arrived. “This can surely not be the desolate wasteland we travelled to previously.”
Jace looked at the tree with calculating eyes. “Look at the way those branches are spaced out. That is a tree that’s just asking to be climbed.”
Simon came over to stand beside him. “I see what you mean.” He peered upwards. “I wonder how high up you can get? Those branches look pretty sturdy.”
Jace was wearing his mischievous grin. “Only one way to find out. Hey, Lewis. I bet that I can get higher than you, faster than you.”
“Oh, you are on, Herondale!” Simon was grinning now too.
Clary sidled up to Jace, clutching her wooden box and art paper. “Did you know that your sister is glowing? Is that something that Shadowhunters do?”
Jace glanced over at Izzy for a moment. “I wouldn’t say it’s normal, exactly, but then down here nothing’s really normal. If Izzy, Alec, and Magnus aren’t bothered, it’s probably nothing to worry about.”
Izzy tossed her hair. “Thank you, Jace, your concern for my welfare is underwhelming.” Even that was glowing.
Jace rolled his eyes. “You know as well as I do that Alec wouldn’t just be standing there if your firefly imitation was anything to stress about.”
Izzy laughed. “True,” she admitted. “Alec got his freak-out over and done with this morning.”
“Did you recreate the interior too?” Alec asked Magnus, trying to ignore the group over by the tree.
“I took a few liberties.” Magnus took Alec by the hands and pulled him towards the door. “I think you’ll like what I did with the master bedroom.”
Lorenzo cleared his throat ostentatiously. “Excuse me! We have a task to perform! Might we perhaps take care of that before we all get hopelessly distracted? Some of us have already had a long, tiring day, interrogating criminals!”
Magnus openly scoffed at him. “Oh, come on, Lorenzo, I’ve already been informed that Alec left that up to Underhill. Or should I say, Andrew.” Nevertheless, he released one of Alec’s hands and stopped dragging him inside.
Lorenzo lifted his chin and stared at Magnus, the effect only slightly ruined by the reddening of his ears. “Say what you want to say, Bane.”
“I’m just saying that you might not want to continue down this track. If you feel you must, then, by all means, don’t let me try to stop you. I assure you that I would never abuse my close relationship with the Head of the Institute to get hold of the security footage.”
Alec shook his head, a smile twitching his lips. “Come on, Magnus, he does have a point. The sooner we get Clary’s memories sorted out, the sooner we can finish up here and…” He trailed off, not comfortable spelling out his intentions in front of so many people.
“Inspect the master bedroom,” Magnus finished for him. “Alexander, as always you make a compelling argument. Very well, let’s get on with this.” He dropped Alec’s other hand and strode forward, blue mist gathering at his fingertips.
Clary stepped forward to meet him, head held high.
Simon raised his hand. “Um, is this going to hurt her?”
Magnus laid his hands, now entirely wreathed with blue, either side of Clary’s head. “It’s a little late to be asking that question, Scott. But no. This is just a diagnostic. I ran one just after your memories were taken, and now I want to make sure nothing has changed since then. We need as much information as possible before we make any attempt at resolution.”
Clary relaxed. Magnus closed his eyes and frowned slightly as his magic formed into filaments of azure, weaving themselves into a loose mesh that completely encased her skull before sinking inwards, disappearing from view. Moments later, Clary’s eyes glowed brightly, the white glow of the Angels.
Magnus dropped his hands and stepped back.
“Clary, are you alright?” Simon reached out to touch her, stopping just short of her face. He turned to Magnus. “Why did her eyes go all freaky? I thought the Angels couldn’t reach her here!”
“They can’t,” Magnus assured him. “That wasn’t a direct response. It was a trigger, reacting to the touch of my magic.” He took a deep breath and spoke directly to Clary. “So, the non-technical explanation is that your memories and abilities have been encased in a sort of…malleable film of power. It’s really quite beautifully done; it allows your mind to develop and grow while limiting access to the things they want to keep hidden from you.”
“So how do we fix it?”
“Normally, I would say that it can’t be fixed.” Magnus raised one hand, cutting off the objections that Jace, Simon, and Clary all started to make. “Normally, I said. These are not normal circumstances, are they? You see, there are theoretically several ways to affect someone’s memories—”
Lorenzo rolled his eyes. “Please cease with all the dramatics, Bane. We don’t want a lecture on the history of mind-manipulation, we want to get this over and done with so that we can go home.”
Magnus gave an exaggerated sniff. “Fine. Briefly, then, meddling with the mind is always an extremely delicate process; quite aside from the moral aspect, it’s incredibly easy for things to go wrong. When you start talking about adjusting the work that someone else has performed, the likelihood of failure increases exponentially. Each additional factor; my unfamiliarity with the being doing the work, that they belong to an entirely different species; adds more risk.
“Therefore, it is only in the direst of circumstances that I would even consider poking my metaphorical fingers into the mix. So, when the idea of bringing you here was first brought up, my agreement was more about getting you to safety than because I had any great expectation that I would be able to resolve your problem.”
“You had me brought here on false pretences?” Clary folded her arms, all her weight on her back foot.
Magnus raised his eyebrows. “You don’t think that you should listen to the full explanation before jumping to conclusions? Besides, I didn’t ‘have you brought’ anywhere, my dear. I was presented with your presence and told to ‘explain things’. I never promised that your memories would be returned, only that I would try. Any ‘false pretences’ outside of that were either made entirely on your own, or by Jace and Sawyer. I suggest that you take it up with them.”
Clary shifted her attention to Jace and Simon, who were standing side by side. “Well?”
Jace shrugged unrepentantly. “The most important thing was making sure you’re safe. I’m not sorry.”
Simon toed the ground like a chastised child. “If we’d turned up on your doorstep saying, ‘Hey, Clary, you have no memory of us, but we’re secretly your friends from another life! We think you might be in danger from invisible assassins; come with us to another realm where we can keep you safe! By the way, your memories may never return!’ would you have listened, or would you have dismissed us as nut-jobs? It was hard enough getting you to come and see Magnus.”
Clary’s postured softened. “I suppose you have a point. But I still don’t like it.”
Magnus nodded understandingly. “Another reason that anyone sensible would avoid tampering with the Angels’ handiwork is that doing so will probably draw their attention, and possibly retribution. Making sure that we’re somewhere they can’t reach us before beginning is only logical. With that in mind, I had formulated a vague strategy whereby we would perform a sort of magical purification in the hope that the film of Angelic power would be dissolved, or even just dislodged.”
Lorenzo curled his lip in a sneer. “Why am I not surprised to discover that you were flying by the seat of your pants.”
Magnus ignored the interruption. “However, Alexander suggested that all of those who were party to the events of last November should be present. That’s when I had my brainwave. The eight of us together were able to withstand and absorb the pressure of an entire demonic realm. If we were to join forces then surely one spell, no matter how intricately wrought, would be a piece of cake.”
Alec cleared his throat. “It was Izzy who suggested that Lorenzo and Meliorn should be here.”
Magnus gave Izzy a penetrating stare.
“What?” Izzy shrugged. “It just made sense.”
“Your connection with the realm bears investigation,” Magnus said thoughtfully. “As does mine, of course. But that’s a focus for another time. To cut a long explanation short, I believe that if we join hands together, as we once did to save Isabelle, then Isabelle should be able to use her heavenly fire to purge Biscuit of any spells that are on her.”
Simon tilted his head to one side. “You mean like a system restore.”
Clary’s hands were on her hips. “You think that joining hands is going to magically give me my memories back? Are we going to sing kumbaya as well? Have you people cracked?”
Izzy shrugged and smiled at her reassuringly. “I don’t know that song, so no. You wouldn’t want to hear Alec singing in any case. Why don’t we just give it a try? If Magnus is wrong, what harm will it do?”
“Excellent!” Lorenzo clapped his hands together briskly. “Come on then. We should probably repeat the same formation that we used in November, yes? Which means that I have Meliorn to my right, and Mr Lightwood-Bane to my left. Mr Alec Lightwood-Bane, that is.”
“Wow you really want to get out of here,” Jace said as they formed a circle and joined hands. “You have a hot date you’re missing out on or something?”
“Some of us are less impressed by grandstanding and more by competence and efficiency, Mr Herondale,” Lorenzo said, conviction exuding from every pore.
Alec might even have believed him if he hadn’t been to one of his parties. This was probably about Underhill again. Still, bringing that up would only drag this thing out, and besides, Alec preferred not to gossip unless it was relevant. In which case, it was less gossip and more the sharing of possibly vital information. At least, that’s what Magnus had told him.
Clary frowned. “I’m not noticing anything different.”
“Isabelle?” Magnus prompted.
“How exactly am I supposed to go about this?” Isabelle asked. Only her too-tight grip on his hand gave Alec any indication that she was nervous.
Magnus smiled reassuringly at her. “You know you can call the fire to your hands; I saw you wielding it this morning. Concentrate on its cleansing aspect and summon it the same way. If that doesn’t work, then we can look at other methods.”
“Fine, just give me a moment.” Izzy took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The rest of them waited, watching her.
Several moments later, Alec felt a warm tingle in the hand that she was holding.
“I can feel that!” Clary sounded astonished. “It’s like…I don’t know what it’s like. But it feels good.”
The warm tingling spread swiftly throughout Alec’s whole body. When it reached his right hand, he felt Lorenzo’s connecting hand twitch.
“It is…much gentler than it was last time around,” Lorenzo murmured.
“Understatement,” Simon agreed a moment later. “Is anything happening yet?”
“We might need to give it a little while,” Magnus cautioned. “It does not do to be hasty when magic is involved. That’s how mistakes are made. Careful, considered, caution. Those are a Warlock’s watchwords.”
A snort of derision heralded Ragnor’s arrival on the scene. He didn’t approach or say anything, just watched from his spot leaning in the doorway of the house that Magnus had built.
Alec was starting to relax into the feeling when Clary gasped loudly. Her eyes flew open, once again glowing that white glow. As Alec watched, the white gradually deepened into the gold that he’d seen in the rest of them. Eventually, the gold died away.
“Those utter bastards,” Clary said, releasing the hands she was holding. Alec dropped Lorenzo’s hand but kept holding Izzy’s. Izzy made no attempt to let go either. “I was prepared to lose my runes. I was prepared to lose my special abilities and even my place at the Institute. How dare they take my memories? How dare they take my family?”
“Clary?” Simon asked, hopefully.
“Yeah, Simon. It’s me.” Her furious expression gave way to a tremulous smile. “Same Fray, new day. Only I’m really a Fairchild, so does that even work anymore?”
“Clary!” Simon scooped her into his arms and swung her around ecstatically. “You’re back!”
Izzy dropped Alec’s hand and joined in the hug, with Jace following soon after.
Lorenzo and Meliorn stood slightly apart, both smiling.
Alec moved to Magnus’ side, wrapping an arm around his waist and watching the reunion fondly. It was good to have Clary back. He had no doubt she would embroil them in some new drama almost immediately, but still, getting her memories back was the right thing to do.
Eventually, Jace, Izzy, Clary, and Simon disentangled themselves.
Something about what she’d said pinged in Alec’s brain, and he frowned. “Wait, you didn’t know the Angels were going to take away your memories? But what about the letters you wrote?”
Clary blinked. “What letters? I didn’t write any letters!”
Simon reached inside his jacket and pulled out a slightly battered looking envelope. “Here, read the one I got.”
Clary read through the single sheet of paper with raised eyebrows. When she got to the end, she turned it over and checked out the back, before reading through it again a little more slowly. “I can see why you thought this was from me. It’s my writing, and this is totally some of the things that I was thinking. If I was going to write letters, this is I would have said. But I didn’t write this.”
Jace shook his head. “If you didn’t know you were going to lose your memories, what was all that goodbye stuff you were doing at Alec’s wedding?”
“I thought I was going to stop being a Shadowhunter, Jace! I already know the rules, no Mundanes in the Institute, remember? To tell you the truth, I was already pretty sure that I didn’t want to hang around the Institute and have what I’d lost waved in my face all the time!” Her eyes filled with tears, and she sniffed. “I’d spent part of the afternoon organising what was left of my mother’s estate, making sure I had a place to live. I had my acceptance into the Academy, so at least I would still be able to do something I loved.”
Alec didn’t think he’d ever seen Jace look at Clary with such a cold, assessing look on his face. “You were going to run away. I was baring my heart and soul to you, and you just planned to leave.”
“Hey!” Simon interjected. “Stop giving her a hard time! We just got her back, can’t you take even five minutes to be happy?”
“Of course I’m happy that she remembers us now!” Jace snapped. “That doesn’t mean that we have to all of a sudden forget that this whole memory-loss thing was something that she deliberately brought on herself!”
Clary’s tears had given way to fury. “I already told you, I didn’t know that I was going to lose my memory!”
Jace folded his arms. “Would that have stopped you?”
“I had to stop Jonathon, Jace! He was my brother; it was my responsibility! People were dying!”
Jace stepped right into her personal space. “The Angels gave you an ultimatum, but you had options. We were all right there, we might have figured out a way to stop Jonathon that didn’t result in you losing your powers. But we’ll never know now because you didn’t trust us.” He took a step back. “Like always, you just did what you wanted.”
“You think I wanted this?”
This wasn’t getting them anywhere. Simon was right about one thing; this was supposed to be a happy moment. There would be plenty of time later to chew Clary out about her habit of running off with no regard to anything but what she personally wanted or thought was right.
“Hey, time out! Jace, this isn’t the time.” Alec matched glares with his parabatai until Jace reluctantly lowered his gaze. “It’s good to have you back, Clary, it’s been almost boring without you. I’m even all up-to-date with the paperwork.”
“It’s good to see you too.” Clary came over and hugged them, before moving onto Lorenzo. She’d just finished hugging a slightly bemused Meliorn when she caught sight of Ragnor watching from the doorway. “Wait, I know you. Ragnor? Ragnor Fell? But you’re dead.”
“Am I?” Ragnor responded. “How very dull that sounds. No wonder it didn’t take.” He glanced briefly over his shoulder at something behind him. “Magnus, old boy, if you’re not too busy I think there’s something back here you might wish to a have a look at.”
“Can’t it wait?” Magnus asked, beaming all over his face. “We’re in the middle of a reunion here, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Suit yourself,” Ragnor shrugged. “I thought you might like to know that your father is close to waking.”
Magnus blinked. “Yes, I suppose that is rather pressing. Forgive me, Biscuit, I’ll speak with you when this is taken care of.” Alec turned to accompany him. “Don’t be absurd, Alexander. I’m sure that I’ll be able to manage without you. Stay and enjoy the reunion.”
Alec fondly shook his head. “You’re my husband, Magnus. Let me support you when you need it.” He smiled a little. “Face it, you’re probably not going to need me all that often, are you?”
Magnus took Alec’s face in his hands and stared him in the eye. “I always need you, Alexander. Please don’t doubt that.” He kissed Alec softly, before releasing his face and stepping back. “But I take your meaning. Come on then, let’s see how the irascible old fellow is doing.”
Clary’s voice came clearly through the door. “What, Magnus’ father? Asmodeus? Wasn’t he dead? Or out of the picture for good?”
“Remind me to arrange some soundproofing,” Magnus murmured.
The interior of the small house was distinctly more substantial than the exterior suggested. Alec recognised Magnus had drawn the overall style from the same resort, all bamboo and glass, but it was from the more sophisticated dining areas rather than the simpler, rustic cottages.
Magnus led Alec into a room at the back, where Asmodeus was lying on a raised futon. He wasn’t awake yet, but his eyes were moving quickly behind his eyelids. His arms and legs were almost spasming, jerking in a way that was creating chaos out of the blankets.
“Whatever’s going on in there doesn’t look pleasant,” Ragnor observed. “I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or a bad sign.”
Alec glanced at him. “How do you mean?”
“Last week, Asmodeus and I discussed his dreams,” Magnus, said, twisting the ring on his left index finger. “He told me that, as far as he knew, he didn’t have dreams. That sometimes he awoke with a feeling of dread, but nothing else to speak of. Either he was lying to me, or something’s changed.”
“Maybe he just didn’t remember?” Alec suggested. “Could whatever it was that wiped his memories in the first place be suppressing them?”
Magnus shook his head. “We would have seen other signs. The mind is immensely complicated, and the sort of spell-work required to repress his dreams but leave his current memory unaltered would have required constant tweaking. There are no signs of spell-work on any of the Travellers, let alone something of that magnitude.”
Alec sighed. “You think that he’s reacting like this because his memories are returning, then?”
“They could be,” Ragnor shrugged. “All we know for sure is that something disturbs his rest. Are the dreams unpleasant because he’s remembering a history he dislikes? Or is it the near past he is reacting to? Is this a side effect of the poison, or is something else about this realm affecting him? Many questions, not much data to form conclusions from.”
Alec nodded. The last few months had shown him a side of his father-in-law that he’d found himself enjoying. Asmodeus was less buoyant and naturally jubilant than Magnus; he had a similar keen intellect and dark humour but had seemed no more inherently cruel than many people Alec had met. He hoped that, whatever happened, the sardonic man that he’d come to know wouldn’t be subsumed by his memories.
No doubt it would be worse for Magnus. Magnus, with the heart so big it had room for everyone, even the stray cats that live in the street. Magnus, who never really stopped loving people once he’d started, who’d been hurt time and time again because once he gave someone the power to hurt him, they had that power forever. Magnus, whose heart had never healed from the tears his father had ripped in it over the centuries.
Magnus, who was visibly squaring his shoulders and wiping all signs of concern and apprehension from his expression. Magic swirled around him for a moment before sinking back into his skin. He’d stopped looking like the Magnus that Alec loved. It was almost alarming.
Ragnor wordlessly squeezed Magnus’ left shoulder as Alec nudged his right.
“Hey,” Alec said softly. “We’ve got this.”
Magnus turned disbelieving eyes on him. “We’ve got this?”
Alec smiled a little at the memory of the last time he’d had a conversation like this. “It’s no problem. We’re Lightwood-Banes.”
Magnus let out a dramatic sigh, even as some of the tension left his back. “Alexander, mon chéri, I don’t know how to break this to you but just announcing your surname doesn’t actually solve world-shattering problems.” He rolled his eyes. “Recent history notwithstanding.”
Alec shrugged. “On a scale ranging from a stubbed toe to the universe imploding, I think that this rates a little lower than the earth being overrun with Demons due to an open rift into a Demon realm, don’t you? I remember what happened last time I said that.”
“A dashing Warlock leapt into the fray and disintegrated the horde of demons that were a hairs-breadth from reaching you.” Magnus gave him the stink eye. “I also remember that part particularly well.”
Alec cocked his head as something occurred to him. “Hang on, if you were there to hear Izzy and me talking, then why did you wait until the last moment to act?”
Magnus cleared his throat. “Well. I may have been a little distracted. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, Alexander, but, when you draw your bow, sometimes your shirt rides up a little. It’s not much, just enough to expose that absolutely delicious part of your abdomen and—”
Alec felt his ears heat up. “You took time out of a potentially world-ending crisis to stare at my stomach?”
Ragnor sighed wearily and shook his head. “Oh, Magnus. I wish I could say that I was surprised to hear this.”
“I feel so attacked right now,” Magnus said mournfully. “My husband and my oldest friend, joining forces to gang up on me. What did I do to deserve this?” He paused for a moment before adding, “You don’t need to answer that.”
Alec was just glad to see Magnus looking more like himself again.
Increased activity had him turning his attention back to Asmodeus. Barely two seconds later, Asmodeus’ eyes flew open. They were golden and demonic, the same eyes that Alec loved seeing on his husband.
Magnus stepped forward slightly, placing himself a little in front of Alec. “Father?”
“Magnus!” Asmodeus sat up. He closed his eyes as he inhaled a deep, shuddery breath. As he breathed out, he opened them again to reveal that they were once more back to the brown that Alec remembered. “Magnus Lightwood-Bane, Alexander Gideon Lightwood-Bane, and Ragnor Fell. I’m not in limbo. This is real.”
Magnus’ magic gathered around his hands, lining them in a dark purple glow. “Yes. Your memories have returned then.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes. There are things you must know, a danger that awaits. Limbo is not as empty as we had theorised it to be.”
That was surprising. Alec had expected Asmodeus to prevaricate, pretend continued amnesia. Although, dire warnings of a nebulous monster were equally suspect.
Magnus’ eyebrows rose slightly, he squared his shoulders, narrowed his eyes and set his mouth. He looked dangerous, powerful, and devastatingly attractive. Alec tried to concentrate on what was happening, but this day had been one cock-tease after the other. His body was reacting predictably to the sight of his husband looking and sounding like a total badass.
“I’ll take my leave,” Ragnor said quietly. “Magnus, I’ll be outside. Call me if you need me.”
Magnus nodded sharply, not taking his eyes off his father.
Asmodeus slowly arranged his pillow so that he could lean against the headboard. His movements were slow and deliberate, and his hands were shaking slightly. When he looked comfortable, he raised his eyes to Alec. “Before I tell you of my experience in limbo, and of the creature that resides there, I wish to speak to my boy alone.”
“Stop calling me that!” Magnus snarled, moving so that Alec was directly behind him. “Do me the courtesy of addressing me in the way that I wish to be addressed, or this ends now!”
“Very well. Magnus, I wish to speak with you alone.”
Alec shook his head. “That isn’t happening.” Magnus twisted so that they could exchange glances. He looked undecided, so Alec decided on a compromise. “I’ll wait outside the door. The illusion of privacy is the best you’re going to get right now.”
Alec squeezed Magnus’ hand supportively and took a position that allowed him to see into the room.
Magnus arranged his chair so that he was facing Asmodeus, which allowed Alec to observe both of their profiles. “Right. What is it that you needed to get me alone to say?”
Asmodeus stared at his hands. They were no longer trembling. “When I came to see you after returning your magic, I told you that I took your magic to bring you closer, that I wanted another chance to be your father again.”
“You also said that you wouldn’t take no for an answer, that you would always find your way back to me.”
Asmodeus raised his eyes for a moment and then dropped them again. It was a strangely submissive posture for someone who was accustomed to being deferred to.
Magnus frowned. “You truly think that I would swallow such mendacious falsity? For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve spouted lie after lie. Like a fool, I’ve given you chance after chance. I wanted to believe you. But no more! This time, you made a miscalculation. This time you didn’t wait until I was at my lowest before trying your tricks! What a credulous fool I must have appeared over the centuries! What a hopeful, naïve idiot. But no longer.”
He turned his back and started walking towards the door.
“Magnus.” It was a single word, said with a pleading that Alec had never thought to hear from any Demon, let alone a Prince of Hell.
Magnus halted just short of the door but didn’t turn back around. “What?”
Asmodeus’ had slumped against the headboard. “Do you want to know the secret to making your lies so believable that even those who should know better believe them?”
With back safely turned to his father, Magnus’ inner turmoil was evident on his face, although his posture remained rigid. “Surprise me.”
“The secret is to speak the truth,” Asmodeus sighed. “When I spoke of the pain of losing you, when said I wanted you by my side and spoke of caring for you, those words were true. My intentions were not benign, of course. My motives were entirely selfish, I didn’t care for what you wanted. My only thought was for myself; I see that now. It’s been so long since I…” He trailed off.
Magnus’ face twisted.
“I spent aeons in Edom, you know. After the fall, after I split with my angelic kin—” Asmodeus paused, before starting again. “Higher Demons don’t interact with each other in any meaningful manner. Every moment is spent in a life or death struggle to reach the top. Once you get there, you spend every moment fending off those wishing to attain what you’ve striven for, whose only desire is to take that which you’ve achieved. Trust…” He shook his head. “Trust is a luxury that cannot be afforded. There is only ambition.”
Magnus remained stationary.
Asmodeus must have taken that as encouragement because he kept talking. “That’s the defining truth of the difference between Demons and Angels, you know. Demons are ambition, and have no trust; Angels are trust, but have no ambition. Demons scrape and claw and destroy each other in our quest to the top; Angels stay static, content to remain as they are. Every now and again, an Angel shows signs of ambition. That Angel loses the trust of the others and Falls. Unless they are both lucky and immensely skilled, they’re ripped to pieces almost immediately. The same thing happens to Demons who trust. Annihilation.”
Magnus smoothed out his expression and turned on his heel so that he was once more facing his father. “What are you trying to say?”
Alec came into the room so that he could stand at Magnus’ side and support him.
“My life as a Higher Demon has not been one that I particularly enjoyed. I Fell because I was not content with stagnation. I had no intention of just dying, and so I fought. I wished to avoid the capriciousness of a master, so I learned the moves of the game and grew proficient in playing it. I rose until I was the equal of Lilith, the oldest and most inherently powerful of us. We fought each other to a standstill, and thus it remained for aeons.”
Magnus rolled his eyes. “Is there a point here anywhere?”
Asmodeus sighed. “None of those victories brought me as much joy as I’ve felt these last few weeks in New York. I had come to believe that love and trust were delusions of the weak-minded because trusting another is surely madness. When it benefits them, they will inevitably betray you.”
“If you were so certain of that, then why did you repeatedly try to get me to join you?” Magnus lifted his chin slightly.
“Because I wanted companionship,” Asmodeus said simply. “I was convinced that allowing anyone close was a mistake that could only cause my humiliation and death, and yet…”
Magnus’ face twisted up. “I can’t stay and listen to this right now. Alexander. Would you stay here while I go and check on the others? I’ll send Ragnor back to relieve you.”
“That’s fine.” Alec leaned forward and gave Magnus a quick kiss. “I’ve got a couple of things I want to talk to Asmodeus about in any case. Let Ragnor get a little bit of socialising in, if he wants.
Magnus scoffed. “That old grouch can’t stand socialising. I’ll offer him a fresh bottle and a selection of canapes, and he’ll be happy as a pig in mud until they both run out.”
“Okay.” Alec kissed him again. “Well, tell him he can wait for a bit. Now, go. I’m not sure about Meliorn, but Jace needs to go back, and I imagine Lorenzo is champing at the bit. I’m pretty sure he has a date.” They exchanged a conspiratorial smile. “Ask Simon if he made arrangements to stay before you let him, will you? I know Izzy sorted out her schedule and informed those that she needed to that she was taking leave, but as far as I know, Simon is still rostered on for morning patrol.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Magnus promised. He kissed Alec again, sent a stiff nod towards his father, and left.
Alec waited until he was gone and then took the seat that Magnus had recently vacated. “What is a Higher Demon? I’ve never heard of them before.”
Asmodeus turned his head slowly and studied Alec. Alec felt the pressure of that gaze but didn’t flinch. He’d spent his life being scrutinised regularly by those looking to find fault with him, and now that he knew that Asmodeus was metaphorically de-fanged, he wasn’t nearly as scary as he used to be.
Whatever it was he was looking for, he must have found it. “A Higher Demon, or Devil, is another name for one of the Fallen. I believe those on the earthly plane lump us all together with Greater Demons.”
“Is there that much difference?”
Asmodeus smiled patronisingly. “Of course there is. A Higher Demon is a Fallen Angel, one who has embraced the power of the demonic realms and integrated it into their being. Those of us who rule realms like to call ourselves Princes of Hell, although that is primarily an affectation. Ordinary Demons, the ones classified as Lesser Demons, are natural denizens of the realms who can wield demonic power. Sometimes a Higher Demon will gift a Lesser Demon in service to them with their blood; these become Greater Demons. I would imagine that is where the confusion comes in.”
Music started to filter in from outside. It sounded like a party atmosphere had prevailed.
Alec sat back slightly. “That makes sense. So, it’s like Lesser Demons are Mundanes, Greater Demons are Nephilim, and the Higher Demons are Angels.”
“Simplistic, but close enough.”
“When Warlocks…” Alec groped for a delicate way to say what he was thinking. Then he remembered who he was talking to. “Our understanding is that Warlocks have a Demon father and a human mother. Are Lesser Demons and Greater Demons fathering Warlocks, or is it only the Higher Demons?”
“Lesser Demons are unable to reproduce with anything other than other Lesser Demons,” Asmodeus replied with a glint in his eye. “Greater Demons, by virtue of their blood gift, are more versatile. They are probably responsible for a great majority of the Warlock births. Higher Demons…we procreate rarely, and when we do, it’s often for a purpose. Our progeny tends to be significantly stronger than the Warlocks around them, so it’s not hard to identify them.”
Alec tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling, adding this information to the rest of the stuff he’d learned recently about warlock magic. He blinked as a thought occurred to him. “So, you’re saying that, bringing things back to their most basic level, Magnus is half-Angel?”
Asmodeus smirked. “Not just half-Angel, little Nephilim. Half Arch Angel. The only one currently alive.”
Alec blinked and then leaned forward furiously. “He’s that rare, that valuable, and you took his magic away from him and left him helpless?”
Asmodeus rolled his eyes. “I never intended for that situation to be permanent. I assure you that I was keeping an eye on matters; if he had ever been truly on the brink of death, I would have returned his magic to him. Luckily, the lover that he’d sacrificed so much for was at least willing to protect him in return.”
“You couldn’t have just saved him the heartache?”
“Did I not make myself clear earlier? To a Higher Demon, trust, love…these things are weaknesses to be exploited. I truly thought I was doing the right thing by my son by extracting him from that, by hardening his heart.”
Alec snorted. “Right, it was a selfless desire to help him.”
“I believe I have already stated that it was entirely selfish. But putting your own wants and desires first doesn’t necessarily mean that others can’t benefit.” Asmodeus sighed. “Right now I don’t know whether to thank that limbo creature, or curse it.”
Alec frowned. “What can you tell me about this limbo creature?”
Asmodeus waved that away. “That’s a topic best discussed with your entire coterie, I believe. Let us just say that the being that resides there is of some concern. But it’s not an urgent matter, it will keep until everyone can be gathered.
Alec took the time to observe his father-in-law. If he’d been asked to give his opinion, he would have said that Asmodeus had been truthful so far. Of course, only minutes ago, Asmodeus had spelt out the best way to deceive people, so Alec wasn’t sure he could trust his own instincts.
Usually, it wouldn’t matter. Alec would wash his hands of the situation and move on. But Magnus’ involvement complicated things. Alec knew that, despite his harsh words, Magnus still cared deeply for his father and yearned to have a relationship that wasn’t so antagonistic.
Finally, he decided blunt honesty was the only way to go.
He leaned forward and looked Asmodeus in the eye. “You’re aware that we destroyed Lilith. We did that while she was here, in Edom. We can do the same to you, if circumstances dictate. I would prefer not to, because Magnus…” Alec shook his head. “But he’s mourned you once. He can do it again, if necessary. So, this is how it’s going to go. Despite what you’ve done, you’re getting this one chance. If I find out that you intentionally betrayed Magnus again; if I ever think for a moment that this is all a trick? Then I won’t hesitate. Understand?”
Asmodeus stared back. “You’re quick to make promises that you expect your peers to abide by. Will they really be willing to let bygones be bygones?”
Alec raised one eyebrow. “No-one said anything about bygones, Asmodeus. I only said that we wouldn’t kill you until you intentionally betray Magnus. I’ll add an addendum onto that; the way that I understand it, you’re now essentially Magnus’ subject. That means that you’re bound to follow his rules. You break those, on purpose, then I’ll treat that as a betrayal.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
Alec sat back again, satisfied that he’d gotten his point across. “I can’t speak for the wider Downworld community, but I’m fairly confident that our small circle will follow my lead.” He offered Asmodeus a bland smile. “I’m not known for tolerating threats to my friends and family.”
“I understand.” Asmodeus rested his head on the wall behind him, closing his eyes. “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to be alone now.”
Alec got to his feet. “I’m glad that you’re doing better,” he said gently. “I’ll send Ragnor back. If you ask nicely, he might share his brandy.”
He was feeling hopeful as he went out to join the party.