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City of Shadows

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   “Oh my God,” Clary gasped as they pulled up, “You’re playing here?!

   Simon grinned, excitement pooling in his fingers and stomach as he switched off the engine. “Pretty cool, huh?” He’d been waiting for this reaction since learning they had a gig at Clary’s favourite club.

   She punched his arm, but she was grinning back at him. “You think? And here I thought you didn’t like it here. God, I’m so proud of you!”

   There was no line in front of the performer’s entrance of Pandemonium, but the alley was scattered with people come outside for a smoke or a hook-up. Simon conscientiously averted his eyes from the handful of kissing couples as he texted his bandmates to come help unload the van.

   Clary watched him. “Do you think they’ll hear their phones over the music?” she asked doubtfully.

   Simon shrugged as he pocketed his phone. “They’d better. I’m not carrying Eric’s drum set in by myself!”

*

   What am I doing here?

   This was not Millennium Lint’s usual crowd. Hell, this was the first time there’d ever been a crowd; playing in basements and the Alto Bar did not prepare one for the dry-ice fog and the LSD lights of Pandemonium, and now that Simon was actually standing on the stage, he was starting to rethink the part where this was a good idea.

   Eric clapped him on the back. “You ready for this?” he asked cheerfully.

   Simon debated the likelihood of his friends having any clothes he could borrow: his MADE IN BROOKLYN t-shirt suddenly had him feeling underdressed. There were people here with blue hair, for crying out loud! They wouldn’t want his weird brand of humour! “Um, I think so?”

   “That’s the spirit!”

   Simon brushed the strings of his bass as Eric went to check on the others. Deep breaths, Simon, he told himself. His glasses slipped down his nose a little, and he pushed them back up absently. You’re in a real club, with a real band. You’re good. You know you’re good. Don’t screw up and tonight could be the start of a beautiful relationship with Fame.

   He saw Eric talking to the manager and felt adrenalin coiling sickly in his gut.

   Deep breaths, he reminded himself.

   “On in five,” Eric mouthed at him, returning to the stage. Matt and Kirk exchanged grins in the corner of Simon’s vision; Simon tightened his grip on his bass and breathed.

   You can do this.

   It felt like no time at all before the club’s music wound down, stilling the dancers as if someone had pressed pause. The lights swung towards the stage, calling everyone’s attention to the band there, and – yeah, okay, that was nerve-wracking, all those curious/expectant eyes turned on him. Wow. For a split second Simon was overwhelmed by the wash of colour, the strange-cool clothing, the flash of conspicuous piercings in lips and eyebrows. Don’t those hurt?

   Then he remembered himself, and stepped up to the mike in front of him. His eyes found Clary in the crowd – she was beaming – and he talked directly to her, blocking out everyone else.

   “Hey guys,” his voice boomed out through the room. It felt unreal, separate from him, so that it was easier to slide a little deeper into the semi-cool persona of a bass player. “We’re Millennium Lint, and we have something to say: let us entertain you!”

   A ripple of laughter flowed through the crowd at the Queen reference. Simon grinned and glanced at the others, who nodded at him: they were ready, had been ready for weeks, they knew just what to do.

   Here goes nothing, Simon thought. His fingers found the opening chords of Make a Move, the music unwound like a roll of silk, and he opened his mouth and sang.

Test my reality
Check-if-there's-a-weak, spot,
Clingin' to insanity
In hopes the world will ease up,


Try to make it look like it's all somehow getting better,
'Cause I know how to play it pretty good against the measure...

*

   They. Went. Nuts.

   They like me, they really like me! Simon laughed to himself as the crowd danced themselves into a frenzy, hypnotised by the magic Simon and his friends wove with their instruments and voices. There was no real lightshow – there hadn’t been time to try and create one, even if Millennium Lint had known the first thing about lights, which they didn’t – but they didn’t need one: Pandemonium’s fairyland colours were more than enough, flashing and strobing as if they’d all been whisked away to some other world, some other planet with multi-coloured stars streaking past the stage. Simon felt juiced, electric and powerful and jubilant; his fingers never slipped, his voice never stuttered, and the words seemed to just flow out, never forgotten or mixed up.

Listen up, listen up!
There's a devil in the church,
Got a bullet in the chamber
And~ this is gonna hurt! ”

   Clary was dancing. No surprise there – everyone was – but it gave Simon a special thrill to see her with her head thrown back to his music – to the sound he was creating, the magic he was weaving with fingers and voice.

   Magic words, he thought, grinning, and slid Millennium Lint into the song he’d written especially for tonight, thinking that this crowd would appreciate it;

It's time to feel~ the beat in my skin,
The people keep on beg~ging me to give in,
To the way~ that they want to move,
Too many people trying to tell you what to do –

 

I'm not, gonna tell you to dance,
Just gonna keep, on, doing my thing,
I'm not, gonna tell you to move,
Just gonna keep on playing the, way I'm playing –

 

Don't dance, don't dance, don't dance, don't dance
Don't dance, don't dance, don't dance, don't dance –

   No surprise that they loved this one – he’d poured so much feeling into writing it, trying to capture the transient emotions music evoked in him: the freedom of creating, the high of a good performance (even in a basement where nobody could hear you), the wild euphoria that was adrenalin and excitement and pride all mixed together into a glittering cocktail. His face and hair were wet with sweat and he didn’t care, barely noticed; he swung forward into the mike and sang, mocking and inviting the crowd in on the joke;

This isn't an apology,
Just some reverse psychology
'Cause-if-I-tell-you-not-to-do-something then I can guarantee...”

   He smirked, feeling wicked and wild. “You'll do it.”

   They went ape, the girls and a good number of the guys as well as he purred out the words. It wasn’t the drowning roar of an audience at a real concert, but a heck of a mental high-five nonetheless.

   It was so unbelievably awesome.

*

   They took a break after Don’t Dance. Simon didn’t realise how thirsty he was until he lowered his bass to its stand; his throat was a little sore from all the enthusiastic singing, but God, he felt like he was on top of the world. This must be how Superman felt the first time he saved the world.

   And this is how he felt with Lois Lane, he thought a minute later as Clary attacked him with a hug.

   “You guys were amazing!” she yelled over the music (which had come back on when the band announced their break). “I’ve never heard you play so well!”

   Simon grinned sheepishly. Without his bass in hand – without the mike – he could feel his cool slipping away, like water between his fingers. “I’m really glad you enjoyed it!” he shouted back. “I’m going to get a drink, do you want anything?”

   “A coke would be great!”

   With a nod, Simon began making his way through the crowd. At first it was a quest of nearly epic proportions – the place was packed as tightly as a can of sardines, and for a minute or two he thought there would be no reaching the bar. But then someone recognised him as from the band, and then another, and then there were dozens of people congratulating and complimenting him, happily moving out of his way. It was dizzying, the blur of people and voices; he could barely hear anyone and only had fleeting impressions of what they were saying, and with the lights and the height of the crowd he suddenly realised he’d gotten completely turned around. When he shoved his way out of the pack, he noticed, with a slight sinking of heart, that he was on completely the wrong side of the room.

   He didn’t relish the thought of pushing his way through again, and looked around to see if there were any vending machines or something on this side. It was a faint hope, but he clung to it, peering through the fog and the lights for some source of liquid nourishment.

   Which was when he spotted...them.

   His eyes were so used to the rainbow of colour that seeing a boy with blue hair didn’t even register. What drew his eyes back was the way Blue Hair was walking; graceful, but somehow reminiscent of a hunting animal – maybe a wolf – stalking prey. It was so out of place with the other happily dancing teenagers that he frowned, confused; it looked...sinister. Worrying.

   Simon’s concern spiked when he followed Blue Hair’s gaze to a – really beautiful girl in a white dress. She looked like the kind of figure Clary might like to draw, a fairytale princess – hair black as night and skin white as snow, that kind of thing.

   But she was smiling at Blue Hair, and Simon looked away sharply, feeling his cheeks warm. None of his business, he thought firmly, and was about to risk the crowd again when he saw a glint of light in the corner of his eye.

   When he turned back, he realised that what he had thought was a plastic stake in Blue Hair’s hand was actually a long, sharp knife.

   For a second, Simon just stared, unable to believe his eyes. A knife? What – why would anyone bring a knife to a club?

   I have to get security, he thought suddenly, but the girl was slipping into a room marked NO ADMITTANCE and Blue Hair was following her and there wasn’t – there wasn’t time

   Shit shit shit. Simon scrabbled for his phone and fired off a text to Clary, trying to walk towards the room and text at the same time. Gy w/ knif in no admin room get scurty! Hoping that was understandable, he shoved the phone in his pocket and broke into a run.

   “Hey!” he shouted, as loudly as he could as he slammed the door open. “He has a –”

   He stopped, confused. The room was empty.

   What the – ?

   He turned around to look back the way he’d come, wondering if Blue Hair and the girl had slipped back out when he wasn’t looking. Not unless that kid was the Flash, he decided.

   When he looked back –

   It was as if some force field of invisibility or illusion had suddenly failed: there was the girl in her luminescent dress, tossing back her long sweep of hair with a smirk curved over her mouth; and there was Blue Hair, snapping and snarling and Jesus Christ, those weren’t human teeth!

   Two more boys were wrestling Blue Hair into submission with what looked like disgusting ease; the smaller blond one wrapped freaking piano wire around Blue Hair’s wrists while the darker-haired boy held him still, and Simon might have protested if Blue Hair wasn’t snapping teeth that belonged in a shark’s mouth, not a boy’s.

   Holy smokes, Batman!

   Simon made an elective decision and ducked behind one of the room’s concrete pillars. His heart was pounding, and he felt locked in place, as if all his muscles had abruptly seized. You’re seeing things, he told himself as his hands started to shake a little. You’re dehydrated and hallucinating. Or it was a trick of the light. Hadn’t he read somewhere that the brain only registered a set amount of what you saw, and filled in the rest as it pleased? Simon’s brain was hyped up on comic books and anime; maybe today it had decided to spice up what it was seeing.

   So why didn’t he believe that?

   “Are there any of your kind with you?” one of the boys said.

   ‘Your kind’? Oh God, I’ve gotten mixed up in a gang war. Simon nearly face-palmed himself before realising that They might hear.

   “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” He guessed that was Blue Hair, but it was strange; the voice was kind of whiny and annoyed, where Simon would have just been scared if some punks had tied him up with piano wire.

   But Blue Hair did have a knife, Simon reminded himself.

   “Really?”

   It was the same voice as before – one of the boys in black – but this time it made something in Simon shiver strangely. Just one word, but it was the way he said it; a long, slow drawl, almost a purr. It slid down Simon’s spine like warm honey, like the caress of a nail.

   This is so not the time! Simon yelled at his dick.

   “How about I clear things up for you?” the same boy asked, and Simon heard a rustle of fabric, like sleeves being pushed up. “How about these? Do you know what these are?”

   Blue Hair hissed and spat. “Shadowhunter.”

   Simon heard the smile as the boy said “Exactly. Well done. Now,” and Simon knew that sound from a hundred animes, a thousand video games; the sound of a blade coming free of its sheath, “How about we try this again?”

   “Stop kidding around, Jace,” another male voice said – the other boy, Simon assumed. “He’s not going to tell us anything.”

   “No!” Blue Hair protested. “I – I can give you information! I know where Valentine is!”

   “Seriously?” Jace scoffed. “By the Angel, every time we capture one of you bastards, you claim you know where Valentine is. Well, we know where he is too: he’s in Hell. And you can join him there – ”

   Simon didn’t even think about it; he stepped out from behind the pillar before he realised he’d meant to. “Stop it!”

   Jace whirled, so surprised that the knife in his hand flew from his grip to clatter against the floor. It shone in the dim neon light, and Simon’s eyes caught on it against his will: it looked as though it belonged in a video game, all long slender crystal with red jewels dotting the grip. When he glanced back up, all four of them – Jace, the other boy, the girl in the white dress, and Blue Hair – were all staring at him like they’d never seen a human before.

   Not a good thought, Simon thought nervously. It was too obvious that there was something really, really weird going on here.

   “What’s this?” The other boy – not Jace – demanded, glancing at Jace and the girl as if they might be responsible for Simon’s appearance.

   “A boy,” Jace said, regaining his composure. “Come on now, Alec, you’ve seen boys before.”

   The girl laughed, a clear, rich sound. “He’s got you there,” she grinned at Alec.

   Alec glared. “A mundie boy,” he said through gritted teeth. “Who can see us.”

   “Of course I can see you – I’m short-sighted, not blind, at least not when I’m wearing my glasses,” Simon said-slash-babbled – and then the word ‘mundie’ caught up with him. “Hang on, what did you just call me?”

   Jace made a dismissive gesture, and for the first time Simon noticed the elaborate, swirling tattoos sheathing both his arms. “Go away, mundie boy.”

   Simon blinked. “What? No!”

   Jace cocked his head. “Why not?”

   Simon gaped at him. “Why n – because – because you’ll kill him,” he pointed at Blue Hair “if I do!”

   “Yes,” Jace said patiently, as if explaining something blatantly obvious to someone very slow. “But there’s no need to worry,” he added brightly, ducking down to snatch up his fairytale knife. “That’s not a human, little boy. It may look like a human and talk like a human and maybe even bleed like a human. But it’s a monster.”

   Simon bristled at the little boy, but the girl spoke before he could. “That’s enough, Jace.”

   “My friend is bringing the security personnel,” Simon said quickly before Jace could do more than twirl his blade between his fingers. It spun like a glittering Catherine wheel. “They’ll be here any minute.”

   “He’s lying,” Alec said, but he looked doubtful suddenly. “Jace, will you – ”

   There was no telling what he would have said (although Simon had his suspicions): with a screech of rage and probably pain Blue Hair ripped through the wire around his hands and lunged for Jace with nails that glittered like metal.

   What happened next – what happened next happened too quickly for Simon to really see; it only processed later. The girl’s arm snapped, something gold and shining flashed from her hand and struck like a serpent, wrapped around Blue Hair’s throat; and Jace, in the same moment, as the boy with shark’s teeth screeched like a harpy, whipped his hand forward and –

   Plunged his crystal knife deep into Blue Hair’s chest.

   Black gunk exploded from the wound. Simon’s arms flew up to protect his face with a little moue of disgust, because ick, there was no way that stuff was hygienic, he was going to need all kinds of anti-bacterial wipes. And, yep, when he lowered his arms his sleeves were covered in it.

   “That,” he said deliberately, “Is disgusting.”

   No one was listening to him. Heck, Simon wasn’t listening to himself. He wondered, a little too calmly, if he was going into shock, and if shock caused hallucinations, because Blue Hair was writhing on Jace’s knife (wow, that sounded bad) and –

   Simon blinked, removed his glasses, rubbed at them with a bit of clean shirt, and replaced them.

   No, Blue Hair was still – folding up, smaller and smaller, a bizarre kind of melting-dissolving thing. Simon stared, unable to comprehend what he was seeing, until Blue Hair just – disappeared. Completely. Gone.

   “Did someone drug me?” Simon wondered aloud. As all eyes turned to him, he corrected himself, “No, you can’t have, I haven’t had anything to drink yet.”

   “What’s he babbling about?” Alec snapped.

   Jace shrugged, and raised a gold eyebrow at Simon. “What are you babbling about, mundie boy?”

   Simon screwed his eyes shut, but when he counted to ten, they were all three still there, and his sleeves were still covered in black – blood.

   The body – Blue Hair – was still gone, with only a splatter of ichor to show it had ever been there.

   “They return to their home dimensions when they die,” said Jace, seeing him look. “In case you were wondering.”

   “Jace!” the girl snapped.

   Jace walked forward, mind-bogglingly nonchalant for a person who had just killed someone. His knife – it didn’t look like a knife, really, more like a slender stake of glass – was smeared with black, and he wiped it off on his trousers with an ease – a familiarity that sent chills down Simon’s spine, before looking up and meeting Simon’s gaze. “He can see us, Isabelle,” he said. “He already knows too much.”

   Jesus, that didn’t sound good. Simon wondered if this was where he was supposed to put his hands up and tell them he didn’t want any trouble; that’s how it would go if they were playing to a script. But they weren’t, and Simon – didn’t want to be that pathetic. He would be lying if he said he wasn’t scared – terrified, more like, he’d never seen anyone die outside of a game console and these three were so creepily blithe about it – but it wasn’t like the ‘no trouble’ line ever worked, anyway.

   He held his breath and waited, praying that Clary would show up sometime in, oh, the next five seconds or so.

   “So what do we do with him?” Isabelle demanded. She cracked her whip, and Simon might have made a joke about dominatrix if he hadn’t seen how the thin cord had burned Blue Hair’s throat.

   Oh, God, please don’t let me die tonight, he pleaded. Not on the very first night of Millennium Lint’s success!

   “Let him go,” Jace said quietly. He was staring at Simon with a strangely intense expression, one that Simon had never seen directed at himself before and had no idea how to interpret. His eyes were a strange colour, Simon noted almost without surprise – it wasn’t as though things could get much stranger. They were almost colourless, or beyond colour; like light.

   “Maybe we should bring him back with us,” Alec suggested thoughtfully. “I bet Hodge would like to talk to him.”

   “No way are we bringing him to the Institute,” Isabelle protested. “He’s a mundie.”

   That word again. It pricked at Simon’s brain, but he couldn’t remember where he’d heard it before.

   “Or is he?” Jace asked softly. The velvety murmur was worse than Isabelle’s snapping or Alec’s frustration, and he still hadn’t looked away from Simon. “Have you had dealings with demons, little boy? Walked with warlocks, talked with the Night Children? Have you – ”

   “Did you run out of alliteration?” Simon interrupted. “ ‘Night Children’ – what is that, vampires, probably, could you not think of any verbs beginning with v? Verbalize, vent, venerate, vacuum – that’s a good one, have you vacuumed with vampires – ”

   “Simon?” It was Clary’s voice. He whirled around. Clary was standing by the storage room door, beside a large man Simon assumed was one of the bouncers. “Are you okay? What happened to the guy you saw?”

   Simon stared at her. Then he looked back – at Jace, Isabelle, and Alec, none of whom looked surprised by Clary’s apparent blindness. Jace was holding his knife in full view, and both he and Simon were splashed with ichor.

   Jace grinned and swept a mocking bow.

   Slowly Simon turned back to Clary, feeling his heart sink as he realised what he must look like, standing alone in a random storage room. “I think I got confused,” he said quietly, hating his face for turning red. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Clary, whose concerned expression was quickly becoming embarrassed, or the bouncer, who just looked annoyed. “It was a mistake. I’m sorry.”

   Behind him, Alec laughed.

*

   Simon returned to the stage after fending off Clary’s questions and finally getting that drink, but the magic was gone. He played well, sang well, the crowd still seemed happy, but he was in safe mode. All his higher functions were disabled or otherwise occupied. The words, the chords – they came automatically, but his mind was miles away, swooping and swerving like a bird.

   What the hell had he seen?

   “Are you really all right?” Clary asked doubtfully when they left the club. Simon was driving the van home; tomorrow he would have to make the rounds, dropping off everyone’s instruments, but for tonight it was easier to just load them all in the van. “You seem kind of...I don’t know, off.”

   He made himself smile at her. “I’m fine.”

   She frowned at him, but didn’t push. They discussed how the performance had gone, how the crazy rumours about Pandemonium were absolutely true, and joked about someday hearing Millennium Lint on the radio – everything, in short, except Simon’s apparent mental breakdown.

   He still hadn’t made sense of it by the time he pulled in outside his apartment building.

   “Simon! How did it go?” His mom, Jocelyn Fray, put down her paintbrush as he walked in and raised her eyebrows at whatever his face was doing. “Uh oh. That bad?”

   He shook his head. “No, it – it was great.” But his enthusiasm – so potent just an hour or so ago – had dwindled almost to nothing. “Mom, is there any history of mental illness in our family?”

   She laughed, but it sounded a little strained. “Why on earth do you ask?”

   “I saw some guys that no one else could see,” he answered absently, without even thinking about it. He fully expected her to laugh it off, but – “Mom? Are you okay?”

   Jocelyn had gone pale, as washed out as her white paint. After a beat she ducked her head and her gaze returned to her painting, but he could tell that she wasn’t seeing her canvas. “I’m fine, sweetheart. I’m glad it went well, but it’s late. I’m going to crash, okay?” She gathered up her things while he stared at her, bewildered by her strange reaction. “Remember to turn off the lights.”

   “Of course,” he answered automatically.

   It wasn’t until she was gone that he realised she had never answered his question.

 


This chapter's songs are

Make a Move - Icon for Hire (You can download a male-pitched version of this song, and pretend Simon is singing it, at https://www.box.com/s/nvxag3vizh2app8l6mi4)

This Is Gonna Hurt - Sixx A.M.

Don't Dance - Simon Curtis