Alec sighed and looked at the blast zone. Unless the hellhound he’d been tracking had developed the ability to breathe fire, this destruction meant that someone else had decided to get involved. Someone who packed a lot of damage. Unfortunately, the lack of burnt acid smell meant the hellhound probably had escaped. Alec inspected the blackened concrete again. He didn’t have an m-scan with him, because this had started as a simple case of track and destroy. But no m-scan meant there was no way to discern what kind of magic had caused this. If it had been magical in origin to begin with. Tech had been up for a couple of hours now, so either this happened before that, somewhere early this morning, or someone had nuked this spot with more old-fashioned technical weaponry.
According to the petitioner, the hellhound had last been sighted at dawn, however, so a magical blast of some kind right before the tech hit could still fit the timeline.
Looking around, at the buildings with the paneled up windows, and the empty street leading up to the water, he doubted he’d be able to find any witnesses either. This case was beginning to look like it’d be a pain in the ass. The scorch marks were pretty even, which meant the target hadn’t been scorched, or burned so hard it had been completely disintegrated. Alec hoped it was the first, because he didn’t want to have to write a report on someone—or something—that powerful. Beings with this capability for destruction were seldom on the Order's good side, and Alec didn’t want to face them alone.
He checked the border of the scorch marks but couldn't find any tracks. But when he made a wider circle around the burned area, he found a spot of ichor that had eaten down the pavement. Weirdly enough, right next to it there was a trace of glitter. Except for leprechauns, he didn’t know of any creatures that used or secreted glitter, especially not ones that were seen together with hellhounds. Still, a lead was a lead, a witness a witness, and a trace could be followed, so Alec searched the street for any signs of ichor or glitter.
He found traces of both, leading up to the waterfront, where the ichor seemed to disappear into thin air. On the right, there was some kind of old packhouse, with barred windows and a couple of trees growing out of the roof. But it was a building of three stories and still standing, so Alec took notice. On closer inspection, the ground floor was some kind of shop, with a nice billboard that said ‘Artifacts of Magic, Spells of Power’. It was written in some kind of glitter ink, so Alec figured he’d find his witness here.
Soft bells chimed when he entered the shop, and Alec was on guard immediately. While the shopfront was filled with random artifacts, the place felt filled with magic, even with the tech up. Either there was a lot of stuff here that was magical by nature, or the owner was very powerful and exuded magic. Said owner, however, was nowhere in sight.
“WHO DARES ENTER MY SHOP?” a loud voice suddenly boomed, seemingly coming out of the walls. Alec stood his ground and didn’t jump. He hadn’t become Master-at-Arms to be easily spooked by such an obvious scare tactic.
“I’m from the Order,” he said to the empty room. “I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.”
“I don’t usually deal with the Order,” the voice said. It was quickly followed by a man walking in from the back of the store. He stopped in his tracks once he noticed Alec, though. “Who are you?”
“Alec Lightwood, Order of Merciful Aid, Master-At-Arms,” Alec introduced himself, showing the man his Order ID.
“At your mercy, indeed,” the man said, voice breathy. He blinked a couple of times, and then straightened up a bit. “Magnus Bane, Warlock,” he introduced himself.
Alec was distracted by Magnus’ smile, and the way he rocked his shoulders. But he was on a case, and had no time for flirty smiles. Or warm eyes with glittery eyeliner. Or bright and shiny clothes that seemed completely impractical, but were terribly... pretty.
“Early this morning, two blocks away, a hellhound tried to grab Farah Goldsmith, a girl of fourteen years old. Luckily grandmother Goldsmith is of the paranoid sort, and had gifted her granddaughter with protective charms, so the attack failed,” Alec explained. “They asked for assistance by the Order, and I tracked the hellhound to the waterfront, where it disappeared. I did find a trace of glitter leading here, though.”
“Aha,” Magnus said non-committal. He was still smiling, but his face had become less open somehow. Alec realized this was a man who knew how to keep a secret. He didn’t care though, Farah and her family were in danger, and he’d get to the truth some way.
“Did you see anything?” Alec asked.
“Not really,” Magnus said. “Except for this tall, dark and handsome stranger darkening my doorway, but brightening my day.” He winked.
Alec rolled his eyes. “Besides me. There’s a big scorch mark on the pavement only a block away, that wasn’t you?”
“The tech is up,” Magnus said. “Which means I’m pretty powerless at the moment. I can still help you to a fertility potion for the wife?”
“Not married,” Alec said.
“A love potion for the girl of your dreams?” Magnus asked.
Alec snorted. “No need for those,” he said, and then forced himself back on track. Even if Magnus' smile had broadened at his response. “Please just show me where you last saw the hellhound.”
“Alright, if you’re offering a romantic walk by the waterfront, how can I refuse?” Magnus said, and gestured to the doors.
Alec rolled his eyes, but didn’t object. If letting him flirt meant Magnus was cooperative, Alec would let him do all the flirting he wanted. It wasn’t exactly a hardship.
They made their way back to the waterfront. It was a clear day, so they could easily see the ruins of Manhattan, the skyscrapers having been the first buildings to crumble under the first magic shift, now over 30 years ago. Brooklyn had managed to rebuild, to adapt to the changed world, where magic attacked everything made out of technology. Manhattan had devoured itself, and was still too dangerous to enter.
“Still an impressive view,” Alec said, looking over the East River.
“Indeed,” Magnus said, not looking at the city, but at Alec instead. He smiled softly, then sighed, resigned. “The hellhound attacked me on Main St., I defended myself—“
“With a lot of firepower,” Alec interrupted him.
Magnus grinned. “Always aim to impress. I hit it, but somehow it deflected and ran off. Tech hit while I followed it, so I couldn’t track it with magic. I think I saw it last here, where it seems to have disappeared into thin air.”
Magnus shrugged. He didn’t seem to take the threat very seriously. But then he probably wasn’t the target either.
“Are you familiar with the Goldsmiths? Any idea who would want to harm the youngest daughter?” Alec asked. It was a long shot, but shops like Magnus’ tended to act as central hubs for communities like this, attracting a varied clientèle of people with and without power. If Magnus was as powerful as Alec suspected, his reputation with his neighbors would mean he’d know most of the players.
“Old Lady Goldsmith has been known to buy a protective charm, or two, at my shop,” Magnus said. “Glad to know they work.” Magnus’ smile was proving to be quite irresistible, since Alec couldn’t help but smile back.
“I’m pretty sure you saved the girl,” Alec said. “For now.”
“What do you mean, for now?” Magnus asked. "Those charms worked like a charm."
Before Alec could answer, he felt the magic shift, a current of energy running through his body. Like suddenly, he could breathe a little deeper, could see a little clearer, taste the world a little more.
Magnus looked the same, yet different, slightly more otherworldly. Where before he looked like he wore glitter as makeup, now it seemed like the glitter was part of his skin. His hair reached a little higher, the streaks in were it a little brighter. When he blinked, suddenly his eyes were a golden yellow, pupils black slits.
He had eyes like a cat, and Alec was mesmerized. Magnus was possibly the most beautiful man he’d ever met. Everything about him was so… magical.
“That’s better,” Magnus said.
“Yeah, uhm. Much better. I—” Alec was interrupted by a loud snarl behind him. When he turned around, the hellhound was approaching, red eyes flashing. Alec pushed Magnus behind him, pulled an arrow from his quiver and aimed, but the hellhound seemed to simmer in and out of existence.
“I see what the problem is,” Magnus said, standing so close, Alec could feel his breath on his neck. “They come back. I wouldn’t worry. I nearly killed it before, together we’ve definitely got this.”
“No,” Alec said, shooting an arrow right through the hellhound, to no avail. “Shit. The problem with hellhounds is that—”
Four more hellhounds appeared behind the first one, fanning out in an attempt to circle them.
“—Once they have the taste of a target, they keep coming back with more, until they’ve killed it and carried the remains to their den, destroying everyone standing in their way.”
"Ah," Magnus said, with no further comment.
Alec let loose two more arrows, but the hellhounds were fast and unpredictable in their movements. It didn’t help that their bodies weren’t quite solid. Magnus fired off some blasts and bolts of magic, but like Alec’s arrows, they never seemed to quite touch the hounds.
“I think we need to hit them with holy water,” Alec said. “Can you keep them off, while I coat my arrow?”
“I’ll need your strength to shield us both,” Magnus said.
“Take what you need,” Alec said over his shoulder. Immediately he felt Magnus’ hand on his hip, thumb sliding slightly under his shirt, touching bare skin.
“Sorry, it only works skin on skin.”
Magnus’ breath was hot in his ear, and Alec shivered. He hadn’t been this close to someone in ages. Especially not someone he was this attracted to. He shook his head. He needed to focus, or they’d be torn to shreds.
He grabbed for his flask of holy water, that was attached to his belt. It only worked wet, or he would have coated arrows in his standard quiver. The arrowheads needed to be covered with it completely for it to work, and his hands couldn’t touch them, so it was finicky, detailed work that needed all of his focus.
He felt Magnus’ energy pull and push against his own, through the hand on his hip, until he felt the hairs on his arms stand up. Everything seemed to push outwards from him, and for a second, Alec lost his breath. The dust on the street blew in front of them, in a wide circle around them. If Alec squinted, he thought he could see the edges of the ward. He’d never seen, or felt, magic quite like this.
One of the hellhounds jumped at the ward, and was thrown back, screeching and whimpering. But the ward flickered, so Alec figured they didn’t have much time. “Will the arrows go through?” he asked.
“They might, but they’ll lose a lot of power. My magic is the opposite of holy, so the effect of the holy water might be lost,” Magnus said.
Alec filed that away for later. “Then on my count, drop your ward, and aim your magic for the two on the right. I’ll get the others first.”
He felt Magnus tighten his fingers on his hip in acknowledgement. “On your count, Alexander.”
“One, two, three, NOW,” Alec yelled, and let loose the first arrow, without waiting for Magnus to drop the ward, trusting him to do so. He followed it up with the next one right away, while out of the corner of his eye he saw Magnus fire off his blue bolts of magic.
The hounds cried and howled, but six arrows and ten breaths later, they all lied dead on the street.
“Well done,” Alec said, moving to check if the hounds were truly dead, and to retain his arrows.
“Not exactly the romantic stroll I had in mind,” Magnus said, slightly breathless.
Alec could relate. Working that close with someone, being that in sync… He needed to catch his breath a bit himself.
“I liked it,” he said and immediately felt the blush rise in his cheeks. He ducked his head, and bent down to grab an arrow. But he still saw Magnus’ pleased little smile from the corner of his eyes.
“Alec,” said Lydia, Knight-Protector of the Brooklyn Chapter, from the doorway of his office. “We’ve received a special request for your assistance. Apparently—“ Lydia arched her brow, “you’d be the perfect assistant to track and detain an escaped magical cat.”
“A magical cat,” Alec said. “What does it do? Throw up acid hairballs? Conjure up fish?”
“According to the owner, it morphs into a Sphinx, and is currently blocking a street in Dumbo,” Lydia read from her notes.
Alec stood up. Sphinxes could be harmless, but more often they tended to be sneaky and spiteful. As Master-at-Craft, it would make more sense to send Isabelle over, so he wasn’t sure why he was the one the petitioner requested.
“Who’s the petitioner?” Alec asked, while crossing the hallway to the armory and grabbing his gear. He’d try to lure the Sphinx by answering their questions first, but if he was to detain it, he might need a netting harpoon.
“Magnus Bane,” Lydia said.
Alec turned around, harpoon in hand. He should have known. “Does Mr. Bane know that the Order charges according to income, which means that he’ll spend a great fortune on detaining this cat?”
Lydia grinned. Alec braced himself. “I informed him. According to Mr. Bane, you’re worth every penny.”
Alec groaned. “Also according to Mr. Bane, the cat resembles his owner in that, and I quote, he’s a sucker for a pretty face,” Lydia continued, with a definite laugh in her voice.
Alec bumped his head against the arrow cabinet.
“Shall I decline then?” Lydia asked.
Alec thought of Magnus’ smiles, the mirth in his eyes while he flirted ostentatiously. About the way he moved his hands while he conjured magic, and the prickle of it on his skin. “No,” he said. “I’ll take it.”
He grabbed the last of his gear and walked out of the armory. “There better be a new set of Martin arrows bought from the payout, though,” he said while passing Lydia.
“In your dreams, Lightwood,” she yelled after him.