All good things of this earth flow into the city.
It's the last thing Alec sees, before everything goes wrong, neon letters lighting up in welcome, as the bathysphere carries him and Jace into Rapture. It's the last thing he sees before a loud boom echoes in the distance, a sudden shockwave rippling through the deep sea and hitting their small sub like a giant fist. It's enough to slam the bathysphere against the metal structure tunneling it into the city―and it's more than enough to violently fling both Alec and Jace against the sub's inner walls.
Alec doesn't even realize the impact knocked him out, until he wakes up, god knows how much later.
At first, he finds the lack of bright lights comforting, but the comfort is quickly replaced by fear. He lifts his head, ignores the pounding in his temples, blinking to clear his vision as he pushes himself into sitting position. He can feel textured fabric beneath his fingers, like carpet, and hard metal digging into his shoulder. His neck aches, and a glance behind him tells him he's been half-lying against the blocky seats of the bathysphere for what must be a disconcerting amount of time.
But at least he's alive. He's in one piece. And Jace―
Alec feels a cold weight settle in his gut as he realizes he's alone. Jace isn't here. Aside from Alec, this small, spherical submarine is empty.
Shit. Alec straightens slightly, looks around. Some of the lamps inside the bathysphere have been shattered, resulting in rather dim lighting. Perhaps the damage is from the impact that knocked him out in the first place. At least the sub seems to have made its way into the city, despite the troubles, the tunnel outside no doubt responsible for the thing not barreling through the water when that shockwave hit. The sub's door is open, and the interior is dry.
But Jace is still missing.
Alec slowly gets up from the floor, pulling his seraph blade from its holster. As he stands, the bathysphere rocks slightly, bumping against something surrounding it on the outside, the impact loud in the still silence. Alec takes a deep breath, feels the blade materialize in his hand, the runes glowing ever so slightly. He checks the comforting presence of his bow across his chest, and steps through the door.
The first thing he notices is the dead body on the floor. It only takes a moment to determine that it's a stranger, which brings some relief. But it's still a recent kill. Very recent.
Alec makes his way past the butchered man and slowly moves forward. It's dark out here, but with the greenish light from a tall window ahead, he can tell he's in a large, open space―even if he still can't make out most of it. The sound of his steps is muffled. Behind him, the bathysphere bobs silently in a pool of water, its brass edges gleaming slightly in the sparse light. The sub is completely useless, Alec concludes on second thought, the door cracked and not nearly intact enough to sustain the pressure of the deep sea a second time.
Suddenly, Alec starts to worry that this was a one-way trip.
The sound of scurrying footsteps makes him tense. For a few moments the silence returns, before being broken by the dragging, scraping sound of sharp metal against iron. More silence.
"Is it someone new?" a voice muses, echoing slightly from somewhere unseen. Alec looks up, bracing himself, trying to find the source. There appear to be structures above and around him, but he still can't see the culprit. The one whose voice is hoarse and frail, from old age or screaming or thousands of cigarettes, he can't be sure.
A loud clang makes Alec turn around, and a chill runs across his skin. There's someone sitting on the bathysphere, crouched and bent, eyes on him like a predator. Alec watches her for a moment, the stranger oscillating slowly as she curiously observes the new arrival. There's a humming, Alec notices. A melody, under her breath, the easy sound contrasting sharply with the large, curved hooks held in the stranger's hands.
Alec tightens the grip on his blade. All he can see is the woman's―the creature's?―dark-stained clothes, her bloodied, deformed face impossible to read.
Alec grits his teeth. Demons and beasts he knows, but he has never seen anything like this before.
A sudden, blood-curdling shriek of rage splits through the silence, as the woman leaps off the bathysphere. She lunges at Alec, who raises his blade, slashing with the weapon as the woman expertly jumps away. She moves fast, Alec notes. Too fast. He barely has time to consider it before she comes back, this time from the side, screaming as she furiously swipes at him with her hooks. Alec winces as one grazes his arm. It's only a surface wound, but it's enough to make him stagger, and the woman goes in for another attack.
It's a sudden flash of red and gold that sends the creature reeling, a blast of something like sentient fire and light. With a nasty crack, she hits a nearby wall and falls down, and doesn't move again.
This does not bring Alec any calm. If anything, it puts him more on edge.
"You okay?" an unfamiliar voice says, and Alec whips around. The stranger, a dark silhouette against the window behind him, snaps his fingers, summoning a ball of light to hover over the palm of his hand. It's a gentle blue, different from the angry flash from before.
Alec blinks, eyes adjusting to the light, brighter than that of the window. His head is still pounding, but he chooses to ignore it, instead observes this stranger. He looks nothing like the distorted creature that attacked Alec. He has a handsome face and watchful, bright eyes, lit up by the magical flame in his hand. He even looks somewhat familiar.
"I'm okay," Alec says, in a tone that's anything but friendly. His seraph blade is still raised in front of him, and the man nods slowly. He tilts his head, as though studying Alec.
"Shadowhunter, huh?" he says. "Never thought I'd say this, but what a pleasant surprise."
"What does that mean?" he asks, confused. The man doesn't seem to find the question unexpected.
"Well, aside from the sordid history between our respective peoples," he says, "it seems that shadowhunters down here are even less friendly than on the surface. So, seeing one from the surface is, under the circumstances, a pleasant surprise."
Alec blinks, even more confused. Then he glances at the flame in the man's hand.
"You're a warlock," he says, stating the obvious, yet somehow phrasing it as something halfway between a question and an observation.
"Ten points for you," the man says dryly. "Now that that's out of the way, we should maybe leave. There'll surely be more of those coming―" he gestures at the presumably dead creature crumpled on the floor― "and lurking in the dark with a bright light probably isn't helping."
He turns around to leave. Alec hesitates for about a second, before he follows, lowering his blade.
They've barely made it a few steps before a loud groaning of metal echoes through the stale, wet-smelling air, and both Alec and the stranger freeze. They watch as large panels slowly lower on the wall across from the bathysphere, revealing tall windows next to the first one. And through them, the ocean outside. Simultaneously, several lamps flicker to life, slowly dimming up until their strength somewhat mimics that of twilight. Like backup lights, Alec notes, rather than proper ones. It's only then that Alec realizes he's currently on a red-carpeted bridge, leading from the bathysphere to an open waiting area by the windows.
"Well," the warlock says, elegantly snuffing out the ball of light in his hand. "That's unexpected."
Alec throws him a glance. He's still not even remotely at ease, but for now his priority is getting out of here. They keep walking.
Everything around them bears a greenish-blue hue, courtesy of the ocean pressing against the windows. In the dim light, the large, empty space looks almost like a train station terminal―but any furniture is overturned, random objects and suitcases littering the floor. Screens are cracked and full of static, arrival and departure times replaced with canceled, repeated over and over in blinking letters. With the flickering lights and sound of dripping water, the abandoned hall feels more ominous than impressive. But still Alec can't help but wonder what it might have looked like, before. Aside from the mere existence of this place, the Clave knew nothing about it before sending in Alec and Jace.
There is no one around, no one besides Alec and this stranger, and Alec gets the distinct feeling that that isn't a good thing. There are bound to be more creatures like that other one, lurking around. He can't imagine this place came to look like this by accident.
"I'm Magnus, by the way," the man says after a while, and Alec turns to him, as they cross the wrecked hall, side by side. "And you are?"
He meets Alec's eye, and Alec finds himself barely hesitating.
"Alec," he says evenly. Magnus nods.
"Nice to meet you, Alec," he says, turning his gaze straight ahead. "Though I wish it had been under better circumstances."
Alec can't help but agree. Just coming to this place was unusually ill-planned, and his introduction so far has been wholly unexpected. He feels jumpy, unusually exposed. Even the slight crackling of a dying wall-fixture lamp startles him.
"How are you―?" he asks, before cutting himself off. He's not sure how to ask it, how to ask about any of this, if asking this man is even a good, or safe, idea.
"What?" Magnus says patiently, throwing him a glance. There's some smudged black makeup around his eyes, as though it looked impeccable not too long ago, but has since been ruined. Yet something about the way Magnus carries himself makes it look like it's on purpose, much like the rest of his stylish, albeit slightly unkempt attire.
"The thing, back there," Alec says, as Magnus ducks underneath a collapsed doorway. He seems to know where he's going, and Alec sees no tactical point in turning down a guide, for now. "You're not―" He says it a little awkwardly, gesturing.
"Erratic?" Magnus suggests, eyebrows raised as he glances back at Alec, correctly interpreting his question. "Bloodthirsty? Horribly deformed with an equally horrible fashion sense?"
Alec suppresses the impulse to give a surprised laugh at the guy's flippant humor, especially in their current situation. He follows Magnus instead, crouching to make it to the other side of the collapsed, stone doorway. They seem to have reached a staircase, a glowing sign at the top reading, lounge.
"I was gonna say, a monster," Alec says, and Magnus cocks his head as they make their way up the red-carpeted stairs.
"Some might be inclined to disagree with you," he says with some bitterness, and while Alec understands what he means, he chooses to disregard it.
"I mean, you're not―" He can't help but be cautious; he doesn't know this man, after all. For all he knows, there's some nefarious reason he's so untouched by whatever else seems to have condemned this place. He might even be involved in Jace's disappearance. "Why aren't you like that thing?"
He gestures vaguely back the way they came.
"Maybe because I'm not from around here," Magnus says evenly, and elaborates when he sees Alec's frown. "I haven't been down here long enough to figure much out, only long enough to know what those things are capable of."
He says it tightly, and Alec nods slowly.
"So you don't know what they are?" he asks. Magnus shakes his head.
"From what I can tell," he says carefully, "they've been corrupted, somehow. Infected, by something or other. I don't know what."
Alec nods slowly, makes sure to keep this in mind. He and Jace were sent here for recon only, after all. He turns to Magnus, can't help his suspicion.
"How'd you know where I was?" he asks, unable to mask said suspicion, obvious in his curt tone. "How'd you know to be here?"
Magnus exhales, but doesn't seem too surprised or bothered by Alec's attitude.
"I was looking for an exit," he says evenly. "That terminal is the only one, it seems. It's mostly luck that had me arrive so conveniently."
Alec stops walking, almost at the top of the stairs.
"How'd you get down here, then?" he says, frowning. "There was only one sub."
Magnus sighs as he stops on a higher step, turning and looking down at Alec. The lighting from behind him is warmer than the greenish-blue from before, but it still creates a sharp silhouette of him yet again, here in the dark.
"Portal," Magnus says. "No sub necessary."
"Why?" Alec asks. "How?"
This time, Magnus's mouth curves into a small smile; light, but dangerous.
"That's a lot of questions for someone who just arrived here under equally suspicious circumstances," he says in a tone that matches his expression, as he starts walking again. "For all I know, you're here to help Valentine, and anything I tell you will just further his plans."
"I'd never help him," Alec says sharply, and Magnus's smile widens. That much Alec can see as he follows him to the top step. There's still an edge to the smile, and it puts Alec on guard.
"Then I suppose I know a little more about you, already," Magnus says. Alec watches him for a moment, hesitates.
"How'd you Portal down here?" he asks, can't help the interrogating tone. "We couldn't, because of the wards. I had to―" He pauses, gestures at the vast ocean pressing against the city from above. "Had to Portal to a damn lighthouse in the middle of nowhere, and take that bathysphere down here. It was the only way through."
Magnus hums in acknowledgment.
"Indeed," he says. "Let's just say there was a lot of work involved, and I just barely managed." He gives Alec a pointed look. "As you said, the wards are strong. I can't get past them from the inside, I've tried. Just getting any kind of message out has proven impossible, so far. Even for me."
Alec doesn't reply. He glances up, as Magnus turns back around. The lounge is even nicer than the hall they just left, albeit just as damaged, debris littering the floor. Alec looks around, notices buzzing neon signs advertising something called plasmids, next to what looks like broken-down vending machines. It's odd to the point of unsettling, to see such everyday things in such a dark, extraordinary place, and it makes Alec's brow settle into a tense frown.
Outside the windows ahead, the tall buildings that make up this city light up the ocean around them, the glow of even more neon signs filtering through the water and spilling into this room. Some of the lights are even working in here, mixing the ocean's chill with a pleasant, warm hue.
Alec remembers being torn between impressed and afraid, when Rapture first came into view from the auto-piloted bathysphere he and Jace rode down from the surface. This city is undoubtedly intricate and grand, the art deco buildings large and detailed, the whole thing a feat of architecture unlike anything Alec has ever seen. From the outside, one would never have guessed that the inside was broken.
Alec's attention turns to the only intact door in the room. Welcome to Rapture, it reads above, flanked on either side by large statues of strong, human figures. Opportunity awaits.
Magnus makes his way toward the door, as though unafraid, or at the very least somewhat certain. Alec watches him move, the way he does it with purpose and ease and fluidity, wine-red velvet jacket hugging his figure. Alec frowns, thinking about Magnus's phrasing of the wards being too strong even for him. And there is something familiar about the guy, something authoritative, something―
Alec feels almost embarrassed at his slow realization.
"Wait, you're―" His tone catches the warlock's attention, making him turn around. Spin around, with grace. Alec raises his hand, half-pointing. "Magnus, as in Magnus Bane?"
Magnus's mouth curves into a smile.
"The very same," he says with a gracious nod, as though he's been waiting for Alec to catch on.
"But you're a High Warlock," Alec says with a somewhat confused frown, as he covers the small distance between them. He knows of Magnus Bane, he has to, but he can't recall ever actually meeting him before. "Why are you even here?"
"I have my reasons, Mr. Lightwood," Magnus says. He eyes Alec up and down. "May I ask what brought the de facto head of the New York Institute here? I can't imagine it's for vacation purposes, despite how lovely the bottom of the Atlantic is, this time of year."
Alec quirks a small smile. Of course, Magnus couldn't just reveal he knew who Alec was, from the get-go. It should annoy Alec, but he reluctantly finds it charming.
"Actually," he says, pragmatically deciding to trust Magnus fully now, given his rank and good reputation, "I was sent here on a mission. We were, me and my parabatai. Just recon, for the Clave." He takes a deep breath, hit once again by the reality of the situation. "But we got separated. We came here in that sub, and there was an accident. When I woke up, Jace was gone."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he says, before adding, "Nice to hear the Clave is finally looking into Valentine's misdeeds, though."
"We had no idea it was this bad," Alec says, somewhat defensively. "No one did. No one does. All we know is that Valentine is up to something, and that whatever it is, it's starting to spill outside this place."
"Of course, the Clave steps in once things start affecting them." Magnus says it under his breath, but Alec catches it. At first he's annoyed, but he must admit that the guy is right.
"Well, what about you?" he retorts. "What are you doing here?"
Magnus gives him a look, as though deliberating. Then he sighs, apparently deciding to give into the question this time, now that Alec has shown him that same courtesy.
"Similar reason as you," he admits. "Though my trip is more of a pure rescue mission." He pauses. "Warlock children have gone missing. Not just in New York, but everywhere, snatched up and vanished. Recently, I found out they were being taken here, to Rapture. So I came here to take them back."
Magnus quirks a small smile.
"Well, the Clave refused," he says with a certain sharpness in his eyes. "And I'm very capable, I'll have you know."
He sounds almost teasing at the end.
"I don't doubt that," Alec says. Magnus is a High Warlock, after all. "But still. Coming to a place like this, without backup? Doesn't sound like a very smart move."
Magnus raises his eyebrows pointedly, and Alec somewhat sheepishly looks away when he realizes what he just said. He doesn't bother explaining how this was a covert mission, hence requiring minimal personnel and utmost discretion. Not to mention, he and Jace, or the Clave, didn't anticipate the place would be this badly off.
"Well," Magnus continues, "it was supposed to be quick. I Portal here, find the kids, bring them back to the surface. I wasn't expecting it to be so hard to get back out again. Nor was I expecting this place to be warded so extensively that even my powers are somewhat suppressed. It's made it difficult to fend off enemies, let alone free a group of children. Hence my search for more conventional means of escape, as well as my unfortunate, disheveled state." He does a presenting gesture, and Alec makes a point of not paying too much attention to his somewhat eccentric style. Mostly because it suits him incredibly well, disheveled or not. Noting his attractiveness simply isn't a priority at the moment. "Though the bathysphere you came here in isn't exactly equipped for deep sea conditions anymore, by the looks of it."
"Did you know it was me?" he asks after a moment. "In the bathysphere."
"I did not," Magnus says evenly, and Alec sees no reason why he would lie. "I was expecting a shadowhunter, or rather, a few. I wasn't expecting just one, and definitely not someone of your rank. Which, I'll admit, makes me somewhat confused."
Alec doesn't know how to reply, and Magnus doesn't seem to expect him to. Instead, he turns back around, and makes his way across the rubble, to the closed, only door.
They don't talk much, as they make their way through the tunnel-bridge that lies beyond. It belongs to the network Alec glimpsed from the bathysphere upon his arrival, the one connecting the buildings of the city. He finds himself marveling at the walkway's domed glass ceiling and the views it allows, schools of fish swimming past above his head. He swears he even glimpses a blue whale, in the distance.
While the walkway branches off into different directions with different vault doors, most of them appear damaged―Magnus seems determined to go through one intact door in particular. Alec follows, doesn't see what much else he can do, given the fact that he knows nothing about this place except the obvious; it's an underwater city owned by Valentine and used for his own, various needs. Alec still finds it hard to believe.
As they leave the connecting walkway, it quickly becomes clear that Rapture has been reduced to a damaged, sorry state. Debris and broken stone litters the geometrically-patterned floors and carpets. Pillars, walls, and doorways, all wrecked to some degree, stylish furniture overturned in these public spaces. Sporadic leaks cause tiny waterfalls to gush from the ceilings and run down stairs, leaving puddles of water in their wake, big and small. What little light there is comes mostly from adjoining rooms and hallways, from the buildings outside the windows, from flickering light fixtures on the walls.
Alec uncomfortably notices long-dead citizens littering the floor, or sitting propped up against the walls. Some just bloodied, others deformed―like the one who attacked Alec in the bathysphere terminal.
Along with the intermittent creaking of this particular skyscraper's structure, distant sounds of dripping, hissing, and scraping fill the dank, dim air. There's even music flowing from hidden speakers throughout the halls, low and tinny, mostly happy. Along with the characteristic art deco decor, it creates an interesting effect with all the damage and death.
This place feels not only abandoned, but frozen, in some kind of poisoned, isolated bubble.
"So," Magnus says as they vigilantly make their way through the darkened halls. It's been too long already since they encountered any opposition, in Alec's opinion. "Your parabatai...?"
"Jace," Alec supplies.
"Jace," Magnus says. "What do you think happened to him?"
Alec shakes his head, keeps an eye on their surroundings. They've walked up yet another flight of stairs, and reached a high-ceilinged hall with large banners hanging from above. It looks like little boutiques occupied this area―long since looted and destroyed, of course. There are even large potted plants, somewhat overgrown but placed neatly in rows, and Alec has less trouble believing how splendid this place must have looked, in its prime.
"No idea," he says, prefers not to think about what might have happened to Jace, in all honesty. "Maybe one of those things took him. All I know is he wouldn't leave on his own, not without me."
"There were no traces?" Magnus asks. A clattering noise makes both him and Alec react, but it seems to be a false alarm.
"None that I could see," Alec says. "I can try tracking him through our bond, but―"
"Hey!" The sudden presence of another voice sends a jolt of cold tension through Alec's body, and he instinctively raises his blade. Magnus raises his hand, as though ready to summon whatever magic he might need for a possible altercation. But there's no one in sight. "Shortwave radio," the voice says, after a moment. "Over here."
Alec frowns suspiciously, then spots a radio attached to the wall. He exchanges a look with Magnus, before walking across the rubble and dead leaves on the floor, with some hesitation. He grabs the radio and watches it for a moment, before holding in the talk-button and bringing the device closer his mouth.
"Hello?" he says, feeling a little ridiculous, but he barely has time to give Magnus a shrug before the radio crackles to life.
"There you go," says the voice on the other end, relieved. "I've been trying to reach you. You could do to stay put for just a minute or two, you know. Would have made it easier for me."
Alec just gapes at the radio, the grimy, wireless contraption in his hand. He doesn't recognize the male voice on the other end, and especially not its distinctive, working-class Irish accent.
"Who are you?" Alec asks.
"You can call me Atlas," the man says. Alec frowns, throws Magnus a glance.
"Atlas," he repeats, with some dubiousness, as he makes his way back to Magnus, covering the few feet of space between them. "What do you want from us?"
"To help," Atlas says. "You're not the only ones with people you care about at Valentine's mercy."
Alec meets Magnus's eye. He looks hesitant, suspicious, but he doesn't dissuade Alec from saying or doing anything else. Alec takes this as a good sign.
"How do you know about that?" he says into the radio. There's barely five seconds of silence, before the radio once again crackles to life.
"Forgive me," Atlas says. He sounds almost sheepish. "I have access to some of the surveillance systems from here, and I, uh... I overheard your conversation, earlier. I tried to get through to you through the radio in the bathysphere, but it was damaged. I know where you are, I've been following your movements since you arrived."
Alec feels a chill run down his spine at the prospect of being watched, and he glances at Magnus. Magnus looks as surprised and concerned as he feels, but tightens his jaw and carefully looks around the open space. He spots something then, and nods at it. Alec looks over and sees the telltale circle of green dots hidden in the shadows, up in the corner above a doorway. A camera, no doubt. Which means that Atlas―whoever he is―already has a definite advantage over both Alec and Magnus.
"The sentries usually shoot on sight," Atlas explains, apparently seeing Alec look straight into the camera, and at the sentry it's attached to. "I've hacked it, made it stand down. I'd avoid the ones with red lights, though. They're not as friendly."
Alec takes a steadying breath.
"Where are you?" he says into the radio.
"Not close, I'm afraid," Atlas says, a little ruefully. "Far from where you are, at the moment barricaded in a control room over near the Farmer's Market."
"Then how could you help, exactly?" Alec asks. "What good are you if you're on the other side of the city?"
"Like I said," Atlas says. "I have access to some of Rapture's surveillance systems. I can keep track of where Valentine's men are, not to mention Splicers and the like. And as mentioned, I've also managed to hack into some security systems. I might be able to help you along the way, from here. Open otherwise closed doors, as it were. Like the barriers on the windows in the arrival bay," he adds pointedly.
Convenient, Alec thinks, somewhat suspiciously, recalling how that place just came to life as he and Magnus started leaving. The look he gets from Magnus says he agrees.
"Splicers?" Alec asks, deciding to shelf that suspicion for the moment.
"Those ugly bastards that crawl around this place," Atlas explains. "Some shadowhunters, some mundanes, all monsters. There are some Forsaken too, but Splicers are the ones you should worry about. They're tricky, and a lot more clever."
Alec keeps his eyes on Magnus's, both of them equally unsettled and slightly comforted to have a name for those things.
"Fine," Alec says, sheathing his blade. "You wanna help? What's in it for you?"
When Atlas replies, it's with a heavy sigh.
"My wife and son," he says. "I tried to get them out of this place. I led them as far as Smuggler's Hideout, but they were attacked. My wife is injured. They managed to get inside a bathysphere, but now they're just as trapped as I am. I just want to get to them, and get out of here. That's all."
Alec hesitates a little longer, this time. He makes sure the talk-button isn't held when he turns to Magnus.
"What do you think?" he asks in a low voice, trying not to move his lips too much, lest Atlas can see―if not hear―what he's saying.
"I'm not sure," Magnus says, following Alec's example. "I wouldn't be surprised if he's lying, given the insanity that seems to abound, down here. For all we know, he could lead us into a trap, for whatever reason."
Alec senses something else, and he frowns.
"But?" he says, and Magnus sighs.
"But," he says, "I also wouldn't be surprised if he's telling the truth. Not everyone down here may be a complete monster. Yet. He could just be one of the decent ones. Maybe he does have a family, and maybe they do need our help."
"Maybe he doesn't," Alec says. "And maybe they don't."
"Do you want to risk it?" Magnus asks. It's a neutral question, not charged with guilt or speculation. "He could be a valuable ally."
Alec exhales, looks down at the floor. The damp, debris-filled, cracked floor.
"I don't know," he admits. "I just wanna find Jace, and get out of here."
"Well," Magnus says. "Then I have a proposal." Alec looks back up at him. "We make a deal with this Atlas person, or at least pretend to. He helps us find Jace, and the children. We return the favor, and then use that apparently functional bathysphere of his to get out of here."
"And if there is no wife and son?" he asks. Magnus gives a minute shrug.
"Then there is no wife and son," he says. "But at least we'll have what we came here for."
Alec takes a deep breath, waits for some other input from Magnus, but it doesn't come. He licks his lips.
"Alright," he says into the radio, glancing up at the camera. "It's a deal."
"Thank you," Atlas says, his tone filled with relief. "Bless you."
"We need to find my brother, first off," Alec says, in no mood for pleasantries.
"Right," Atlas says. "I'll see what I can do. For starters, there are quite a few areas that should really be avoided by anyone who'd prefer to stay ali―"
There's only a split second of metal dragging against the floor to give Alec a heads-up, before Magnus has shoved him to the side and sent a flare of red into the air behind him. Alec drops the radio and turns on the spot, his bow freed and in hand with an arrow nocked, in a matter of moments. All he registers is an oozing, bloody face and heavy breathing, someone running at him at a fast pace, with a dirty lead pipe in the middle of being swung.
As the stranger comes barreling towards them, the first thing Alec notices is that Magnus's attack barely affected the man. The creature, he thinks. It must be another one of those Splicers. Though it moves differently from the first―less erratically, and more like a furious tank, out for blood. It moves just as fast, but without finesse, so before it comes within swinging-range, Alec fires his arrow, hitting the creature in the chest. The sound it makes is disgusting, an angry wail mingled with groaning shouts, seemingly more upset about being hit, than the pain it causes.
It―he―shouts something, the words slurred together and angry, distressed, but Alec doesn't pay attention. Before the Splicer can swing his lead pipe and actually hit something―up close, Alec can see that its red stains are more than just rust―Magnus has fired a bolt of red right in the creature's face.
It stops it dead in its tracks, slumping to the floor with a heavy thud. The lead pipe is still gripped tightly in hand, but judging by the slack, empty expression on that mutilated face, the threat has been dealt with. Alec takes a deep breath, glances at Magnus with an appreciative nod, relieved to see that his only ally so far is alright.
His only ally, aside from Atlas, whoever the hell he is.
The thought of it suddenly makes Alec irritated, and he picks up the discarded radio from the floor.
"What happened to watching our backs, Atlas?" Alec bites out, and the response is quick.
"I'm not omniscient," Atlas says, a little defensively. "You've seen how they move, I'd barely have time to warn you. Especially if they drop from the ceiling, like some others tend to do. The cameras only cover certain, smaller areas. Had I seen this one coming, you'd have two seconds of warning, at best."
Alec files that information away. It may be useful, knowing there are limits to what those sentries can see―and fire at. Still, it's not a particularly good first impression for this guy to make. Alec takes a breath to say as much, but Magnus stops him with a look.
We need him, his eyes seem to say, and Alec grits his teeth. He knows he's right. Damn it.
"Fine," he says into the radio, his voice controlled. "Where to?"
The longer they walk, the more Alec comes to realize how big this place really is. As they start making their way to higher ground, up through stairs and the occasional―highly questionable―elevator the city view outside becomes even more impressive. Alec can't imagine ever getting used to seeing a shark suddenly swim past the window, as though Rapture is no more than a bright, artificial intrusion in its home.
"I don't like this," Alec says after a few minutes of silence, as he and Magnus make their way through a wrecked and abandoned bar. There's a half-rotted corpse slumped over the counter, but such sights have already become commonplace in just a matter of hours.
"Really?" Magnus says. "I had no idea. I must have missed the first ten times you said it."
Alec throws him a look. He wants to resent Magnus for talking back at him so easily, but instead he finds himself withdrawing. He sighs.
"Sorry," he says, knowing that Magnus is right. "I just― We've been walking for ages, and all we've seen so far is that swarm of Forsaken in the Wharf. Nothing else, and no Jace."
"And no children," Magnus agrees. "But moving is better than staying still."
Alec nods, winces slightly as a sudden ache flares up in his right leg, just below his knee. Magnus notices, frowns.
"You okay?" he asks.
"Yeah," Alec says. He used an iratze earlier to heal the cut that first Splicer made on his arm, as well as soothe his headache. This pain is different. "I think it might be Jace. Something's happened."
"You feel anything else?"
Alec shakes his head.
"No," he says. "But this is good, it means he's alive. I just hope he hasn't done anything stupid."
He reminds himself that this is Jace he's talking about, but decides to pretend his brother is a sensible and non-impulsive person, just for now.
"Gentlemen," Atlas's voice says, startling them both. "I think I may have an idea where to find your friend."
Alec feels a tiny surge of relief, pushing aside his apprehension at Atlas's timing being so on point. It's not like Jace hasn't been Alec's focus before this moment, after all.
He grabs the radio from his holster.
"Where?" Alec asks bluntly. Then he notices the blinking red light on the side of the radio. It wasn't blinking before, and Alec realizes, with some annoyance, that the battery is running low. Of course, it is. Why would anything like that be maintained in a place like this? Hell, they're lucky this radio is even usable―they've come across plenty of destroyed ones since they found it.
"He's lurking around Fort Frolic," Atlas says. His voice is drifting in and out with the static, the signal irregular here, at best. "At least, I think it's him on the surveillance cameras. I haven't seen him around here, before. He's not moving much, but he seems alive enough."
"Where the hell's Fort Frolic?" Alec mutters through his relief, for the millionth time wondering how anyone keeps track of where places are down here.
As if to answer his question, Magnus pulls a map from his pocket, one they found a few floors down. He keeps it folded between his middle- and forefinger as he graciously hands it to Alec, who just nods at it. He makes sure not to stare too long at Magnus's hands, as he does. He does have rather nice hands. Miraculously, the black nail varnish is nearly perfectly intact, and his rings look classy, rather than overdone. Alec guesses there's magic involved.
Stop noticing his hands. Alec mentally smacks himself and refocuses, while Magnus unfolds the map. Fort Frolic seems to be an entertainment complex in a separate building, and Alec curses under his breath. It's far, but at least they have somewhere to go. What else are they supposed to do, than trust that Atlas is telling the truth?
"Thanks," Alec says, somewhat reluctantly, into the radio. "We'll head that way. We're gonna shut this thing off, though, don't want the battery dying if we need you."
"Fair," Atlas says. "But a word of caution, friends. Fort Frolic ain't as happy as it sounds. Last I checked, Sander Cohen still runs that place, and he's the nastiest bugger you'll ever meet."
Alec meets Magnus's narrow-eyed gaze.
"What do you mean?" Alec says into the radio. "Who's Sander Cohen?"
"A mundane, calls himself an artist," Atlas says wryly. "Others would call him a creative, dyed-in-the-wool psychopath. Just be careful."
Alec nods, grits his teeth.
"Understood," he says. "We'll check in later."
With that, he turns the radio off.
"How many shadowhunters joined him down here?" Magnus asks, making Alec promptly look away from him as they walk side by side. He can't really help watching how Magnus moves―so assuredly despite the obvious danger and the unsafe environment, as though he owns the place. Alec likes that, he decides. It makes him feel safe in a way that has little to nothing to do with strategy or fighting.
"Valentine?" he says. "We're not sure. But along with all the mundanes that have strangely moved away and vanished over the past several years, we're guessing the city has at least ten-thousand people. Had."
"Some ambition," he says, eyeing the dilapidated but thoughtfully crafted surroundings, and the sputtering, exposed wires along the walls. "Building a city this big for so few."
"Wasn't really up to him," Alec says, moving slowly. "From what we can tell, the city was already built when he took it over. The guy who built it, Ryan-something..." Alec shakes his head. "His idea was a lot like Valentine's, except from a more mundane perspective. Finished this place in the late forties, with all amenities, ready to live in. But it was never populated. Ryan mysteriously died just before he could make it happen." Alec gives Magnus a pointed glance, before looking back straight ahead. "Then Valentine came in, made it his own, almost like he was waiting for it to be ready for him. And now here we are."
Magnus's expression turns into one of vague disgust.
"Well, his uses for it have been... interesting," he says. "I wonder if he realized what it would turn into."
"You mean, did he realize it would become a nightmare full of Forsaken, corrupted shadowhunters and mutated mundanes?" Alec cocks his head. "I'm guessing no."
"Are you always this sassy, under pressure?" Magnus says after a moment, and Alec quirks a small smile, can't help himself.
"Who says I'm under pressure?" he says.
"I don't know," Magnus says airily. "Maybe you're trying to impress me."
Alec flushes. He glances at Magnus, whose gaze is thankfully directed elsewhere. Never has he heard someone so blatantly throw comments like that at him, not in the way Magnus does it. It sounds almost... flirty.
"I'm a little busy focusing on the things down here trying to kill us," Alec says.
"Those things used to be human beings," Magnus points out. Alec nods.
"Used to be," he says somberly. "And this is what happens when you put thousands of human beings in an isolated place, with nowhere to go."
"I'd love to disagree with you," Magnus bitterly says. "But I'm afraid I can't."
He eyes a faded poster on the wall, one of several like it they've seen since they arrived. A man chooses, it says, in large, bold letters, with a sketch of Valentine's stern face. A slave obeys. Alec recalls hearing theories from the Clave about Valentine's true purpose in creating this place, about how Valentine always spouted angry rhetoric long before he vanished and brought his followers here.
"Sounds like something he'd say," Alec remarks, nodding at the poster as they pause to read it. "From what we know, his aversion to obeying was what made Rapture happen, in the first place."
"A utopia free of the Downworld plight," Magnus says bitterly. "How charming."
Alec watches Magnus's face for a moment, the way his expression hardens as he speaks. It's the sudden urge to make the expression melt away that has Alec turning straight ahead again, to keep walking.
He glances to his side after a few steps, and startles when he notices that Magnus isn't there. He relaxes a moment later, however; Magnus is still in place, watching something else on the wall, a frown on his face.
"What?" Alec asks.
"Have you seen this?" Magnus says, points at something in front of him. Alec moves closer to get a better look, searching the torn, bloodstained wallpaper and broken plaster with his gaze. Then he finds it.
"Is that―?" he starts, but finishing the question is redundant. There's a faded, yellow poster depicting a rough drawing of a dark-haired man, strong and assertive, gazing into the distance. Underneath it, red lettering reads, Who is Atlas?
"I suddenly have a lot of questions," Magnus says in a low voice.
"You and me, both." Alec turns to Magnus, who meets his eye. Not for the first time, Alec just really appreciates having Magnus with him down here.
He looks away again.
"We'll make sure to ask him about it," Alec says, eyeing the peeling poster. "I don't trust him, but I don't like going around blind, either. He's our only option, for now."
"Agreed," Magnus says, and again, the fact that he does agree makes Alec feel all the more certain and secure.
"Come on," he says, stepping away from the wall and resuming their route. "We're almost there."
They're like cockroaches, Alec thinks, these Splicers. Overly aggressive, overpowered cockroaches, with a penchant for improvised weapons and imaginative ways of using them.
He can guess which ones used to be shadowhunters, and which ones used to be mundanes. While they're all erratic and vicious, yelling profanity as well as seemingly random threats and demands as they attack, some have a distinctly more deliberate feel to them. Like they know what they're doing, like they know where to strike and how Alec intends to move before he does it. Like they've had similar training to his.
They have a slightly harder time with Magnus, whose offensive abilities are less predictable. As a group of several Splicers ambush him and Alec outside what appears to be an apartment complex, the fight quickly gets ugly. But they have a little more insight now into how these things operate―and what kind of damage they can withstand.
"Balcony," Alec says, drawing his bow, and Magnus immediately turns his attention to the ledge on their right. The balcony they're on overlooks a courtyard-like area below, and as Alec looses his arrow and hits an oncoming Splicer in the head, he sees a burst of golden red out of the corner of his eye. The Splicer he spotted climbing over the balcony's ledge falls down, with a nasty shriek, and Alec pulls another arrow from his quiver. Damn it, he's running low.
The way these things crawl on the ceiling and walls is unnatural, limbs contorted and clawlike, long and thin. They're moving too fast, like spiders skittering across a surface, chittering excitedly under their breaths, as though thrilled at the prospect of killing the two intruders in their midst. Alec lets loose his arrow, hitting another Splicer in the head―it's the safest target, and requires the least ammunition. But despite it, and despite falling to the floor, the creature keeps crawling across the splintered wood, like a decapitated chicken. It prompts Magnus to shoot a crackling flame toward it for good measure, and the thing finally stops moving.
But it's not enough.
As though egged on by the fall of its former comrade, a Splicer swings from the ceiling, curved blade in hand, muttering eagerly as he lands on the floor.
"There you go," he says, voice thin and quivering like a violin's string, breathy and full of glee. Like he's trying to calm an animal that's been cornered, sliding back and forth in a quick, zigzag pattern as he moves closer, crouching, weapon raised. "I'm not gonna hurt ya, not gonna hurt ya―"
Alec barely has time to take in its twisted features, half-hidden beneath a white mask, before the Splicer attacks. Alec lowers his bow and uses his free hand to pull his seraph blade from its holster, unceremoniously slashing it across the Splicer's throat. Thankfully, it's enough, and the creature emits a hissing, dying breath, before falling to the floor and going still.
It's only after a few seconds of silence, bow drawn once more and his eyes darting around the large, empty space, that Alec takes a slow, deep breath of relief.
"Looks like that's the last of them," Magnus says. He sounds exhausted, and Alec throws him a concerned glance, before pushing the sentiment aside. Magnus can look after himself.
"For now," Alec agrees, lowering his bow. He takes the unused arrow and puts it back in his quiver, quickly feeling to see how many are left. Four. He can manage with that, especially if he retrieves whatever used arrows are still in okay shape.
Alec takes a moment to take in the appearance of the Splicer on the floor, the last one to fall. The man looks scarred and twisted, lip sliced and curled in a permanent, manic grin. He's wearing a rabbit mask, of all things, cracked and blood-stained, covering the top half of his face. It's a feeble attempt at hiding the grotesquery underneath, and none of it is enough to hide the black rune etched into his skin. It's on his neck, only one of many, and while nothing about this guy looks really human anymore, it saddens Alec to know that he used to be a shadowhunter. A backwards-thinking, Downworld-hating shadowhunter, but still.
How desperate and brainwashed does someone have to be to not only follow Valentine down here, but to willingly turn themselves into this?
"Time to check in," Magnus says, breaking Alec out of his thoughts. Alec looks up at him. Magnus's expression is one of apprehensive wariness and suspicion, and Alec nods, sheathing his seraph blade and shouldering his bow. He grabs the radio from his holster and turns it on as they start walking, before looking to Magnus for one last encouraging nod.
"Atlas," Alec says into the radio. It takes no more than a second to get a reply.
"Am I glad to hear from you," Atlas says. He does sound relieved. "I lost sight of you for a bit, there. Any difficulties?"
"We're fine," Alec says stiffly. He hesitates, doesn't want to push this guy. Magnus spares him from it, and takes the radio out of his hand.
"Actually, we couldn't help but notice the posters on the walls," Magnus says lightly, to the point of sarcasm. "Looks like you've got some fans, down here. Care to explain?"
There's a pause, during which Alec and Magnus lock eyes, before Atlas replies.
"I didn't mean to mislead you," he says. "But it's not what it looks like."
"Interesting," Magnus says, as he and Alec start walking.
"You don't understand," Atlas says. "After Jonathan died, this place somehow became even more unhinged, chaos reigned. Someone had to try and speak for the people caught in the middle of it."
Alec frowns, recognizing the name.
"Wait, Jonathan?" he asks, angling the radio towards him while keeping it in Magnus's hand. He very briefly allows himself to note that Magnus's hand is both warmer and smoother than he somehow expected. Not that he's been thinking about it. "Valentine's son?"
"The very same," Atlas confirms, sounding tired and oddly sad. "He's not exactly missed, around here, but he did provide Valentine with some resistance. And while Valentine has come to see me as a threat since his death, I accept now that Rapture is a lost cause, despite my efforts. It's why I planned to leave with my family, but Valentine wouldn't have it, hence the situation we're now in." He pauses. "You two aren't the first I've tried to help, but I'll be damned if you're not the last. I've had enough of this place."
Alec meets Magnus's eye. He looks concerned, unsure, and Alec can't help but mirror it. Their own misgivings aside, however, this could be a good opportunity to collect some more information―Atlas is the best source they've come across, after all.
"What happened?" Alec asks into the radio. "With Jonathan, and Valentine."
A few seconds pass, before the radio crackles back to life.
"Jonathan was..." Atlas starts, sighing. "He didn't like how Valentine was running things, believed that they could do more than just mix all that demon stuff with shadowhunter blood, more than play around with warlock experiments. Not to mention more than just waste their efforts on mundanes. Which failed half the time, as you can see, with all the Forsaken."
Something heavy about Atlas's voice tells Alec that this is something he still feels ashamed of ever being part of, even indirectly. Just by living in this place, contributing to it.
"Jonathan became Valentine's enemy," Atlas continues. "His own son. Their quarrel turned into a civil war, fighting over control of Rapture, and Jonathan eventually had plenty of people on his side. Many of us were caught in the crossfire. And then he died, killed by Valentine's men." There's a pause. "Jonathan was no hero, far from it. All their war did was trap hundreds of us in between. But his death triggered a lot of shite down here, woke a lot of anger that was already beneath the surface. I tried to pick up the pieces, but... You can see how it went."
"Forgive me," Magnus says dryly, "for not sympathizing with someone who moved to a place full of people that want to eradicate my kind."
"I never wanted that," Atlas says, somewhat defensively. "I just wanted safety for my family, for my wife and son. Patrick nearly got his head bitten off by a rogue werewolf once, back home, and the Clave did nothing. You don't understand what that does to a father. I was desperate." Another pause. "Now I'm starting to think that the danger they're in is my punishment for bringing them here, in the first place. I didn't know, I swear it. I've just been trying to set things right. To do right by the people still here, and keep my family safe."
Alec looks down at the floor, nodding slowly. He can respect that, can understand it, despite not agreeing with the methods.
"This place needed someone to lead it, and it fell to me to do so." Atlas sounds so tired, as though disappointed in his lack of success. "I'm not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. These people would liberate themselves. They just... made me into something I wasn't."
Alec hesitates, tries to think of something to say, but Atlas beats him to it.
"Fort Frolic is up ahead," Atlas says, his tone light but in a forced kind of way. "Your brother hasn't moved very far. You should be able to find him."
"Right," Alec says, happy to be off the hook. "Thanks."
"No problem," Atlas assures him, static becoming more pronounced as they make their way through a hallway found on the map. The ceiling is dark and solid-looking here, perhaps it's interfering with the signal. "I'll just be―" The static makes his following words unintelligible.
"Atlas," Alec says, but there's nothing but static when Atlas replies, and Alec sighs. "Okay." He says under his breath, shutting off the radio to conserve the battery. They have no idea how much of it is left, but they're not taking any chances. He turns to Magnus. "Guess we're alone again."
Magnus smiles, a certain lightness to the expression.
"I would have loved to hear that, under different circumstances," he says smoothly, and Alec feels an odd drop in his stomach. It's not a bad feeling. It just takes him by surprise, that's all, and he quirks a small smile in return as he looks straight ahead.
He doesn't admit out loud that he kind of agrees with Magnus's statement.
"I got you something," Magnus says cheekily, and Alec frowns, a little impatient. He can feel that Jace must be nearby. His leg aches suddenly at the thought, and he hopes that his brother is okay.
"What's that?" Alec asks, giving Magnus's find a closer look. Magnus gestures at a dead body on the floor, and Alec nods slowly, an exaggerated frown of consideration on his face. "A corpse. You shouldn't have."
Magnus gives him a tired look.
"I was referring to the object next to the corpse," he says patiently, and as he does, Alec spots it too. He lets out a softly stunned breath, before crouching down and picking up a quiver from a puddle on the floor. It’s soaking wet, stained with blood and demon ichor, but there's still a decent number of arrows inside. He turns to Magnus as he stands back up.
"Thank you," he says, and Magnus smiles.
"Don't thank me," he says lightly, as Alec eyes the dead body on the floor. Unlike the monsters they've encountered so far, this shadowhunter seems to have died as herself, and died fighting. Somehow that makes Alec sad. "You're only moderately useful with your seraph blade, and now I won't have to watch your back once your arrows run out."
Alec gives him a flat look, but can't help but feel the corner of his mouth tug in a smile, as he takes the undamaged arrows from the quiver and adds them to his own.
"So considerate," he says.
Alec discards the now-empty quiver, and gives the dead shadowhunter one last look, before he and Magnus start walking again.
"He should be around here," Magnus says. There's something almost comforting about his tone, and Alec guesses he's noticed Alec's tension the closer to their destination they've gotten. He must admit he appreciates it.
They arrive at a staircase, a large glowing sign at the top. Welcome to Fort Frolic, it reads in golden yellow, and something about just the design fills Alec with a sense of leisure and enjoyment. Which, of course, must be the intention. Judging by the map they found, this used to be where Rapture's citizens would go for a good time. Even from here, Alec can see the bright neon lights and signs marking various shops within, and even a concert hall. He also glimpses crude-looking, white sculptures that bear a distinct resemblance to the masked Splicers of this city, animal ears and all.
They continue past Fort Frolic without going inside; Atlas said he saw Jace nearby, after all, and considering his warning about that deranged artist, going inside doesn't seem like a good idea. Alec glimpses posters on the walls as they leave the stairs and doors behind. They advertise shows and exhibitions, with a face taking up the posters' space along with the words. The face is that of a man, with white theater makeup and red lips, as well as an exaggerated pencil mustache―the name Sander Cohen accompanies it underneath.
It's when they round a certain corner that Alec gets a strange feeling in his gut. Magnus seems to notice, and glances at him.
"What?" he asks, his voice low.
"Not sure," Alec murmurs, but readies his bow, all the same. It's darker here, but Alec knows full well that well-lit doesn't necessarily mean safe, anyway.
There's a pile of debris ahead, and what looks like old, discarded furniture. They walk past it, but the sudden sound of exerted breathing makes Alec whip back around, bow at the ready. Like the ones they've encountered so far, this culprit does stand slightly crouched with bloodied clothes, weapon at the ready―but it only takes a split second for Alec to determine it's not an enemy. He recognizes that blond hair.
"Jace?" he says, voice tight with suspicion and relief. Jace straightens, shock written across his face as he lowers a seraph blade gripped in his hand.
"Alec?" he breathes, as Alec shoulders his bow. "What― What the hell―" He cuts himself off, instead limping over to his parabatai. "You're okay?"
Alec meets him halfway, pulls him into a hug and just closes his eyes for a moment, basking in the utter relief of having found his brother alive.
"I'm okay," Alec says, pulling away from the embrace. "You?"
"A little banged up," Jace says, and as he says it, his knees seem to fold underneath him. Alec holds him up, draping his arm over his own shoulders.
"A little?" Alec says, can't help but sound irritated beneath the worry.
"It's just a broken leg," Jace says, gritting his teeth and hissing in a sharp breath as he tries to stand properly. "I'm fine."
Alec just gapes, baffled, then looks over at Magnus, who shrugs. Alec sighs.
"I can't believe you," he says to Jace, starting to lead them both back over to the corner Jace emerged from, hidden behind the debris and furniture they just passed. It seems like the safest option, for now.
Magnus appears on Jace's other side, putting his other arm over his shoulders for support, and while Alec feels a surge of appreciative warmth for the gesture, Jace just frowns.
"Uh, hi," he says. "Who are you?"
Alec closes his eyes for a moment, summoning patience.
"Jace, Magnus," he says. "Magnus, Jace."
"Magnus," Jace says, almost dubiously, eyes on the warlock. Magnus just smiles, an expression somehow friendly yet simultaneously incredibly patronizing. Alec hates how endearing he finds it.
"Magnus Bane," Magnus clarifies. "High Warlock of Brooklyn. Pleasure."
Jace's expression turns from suspicious to a little more stunned at that.
"High Wa―" he turns to Alec. "Okay, why?"
"Later," Alec says, somehow more tired now than he was a minute ago. Maybe he was driven by sheer determination up until this point, and now that Jace has been found, the exhaustion is starting to catch up with him. "Have you used an iratze?"
"Considering I lost my stele," Jace says, as they help to lower him to the floor to lean against the wall, "no. Doubt it'd do much good, though. It's a broken leg, not a paper cut."
He winces as he tries to settle more comfortably, and Alec is once again aware of that dull ache below his own knee. It's not as bad now as before, but it's there.
"Perhaps I can help," Magnus suggests, and Alec turns to him.
"No," he says, a little too quickly, making both Magnus and Jace give him an odd look. "You―" Alec stumbles for a moment, but recovers. "You've been fighting since you got here, and you said yourself the wards are affecting your magic. You need to save your energy."
Magnus's expression softens slightly, his mouth tugging in something like amusement.
"I appreciate the concern, Alexander," he says, and Alec blinks at the use of his full name. "But I can handle it." Alec doesn't reply this time, just presses his lips together as Magnus sinks down beside Jace. "May I?"
Jace throws Alec a look, getting a nod in response, and gives Magnus the go-ahead.
Alec makes a point of keeping an eye on their surroundings, bow at the ready, but he still can't help glancing over as Magnus begins. There's a warm-looking, blue vapor over Jace's wound, enveloping it and ghosting over his right leg as though feeling out for any damage. His pant leg is torn and there's a bit of blood, but Magnus's treatment doesn't seem painful; Jace appears more fascinated, than anything. Alec looks at Magnus then, whose expression is one of focus, but he seems to be doing okay.
Good, Alec thinks, turning back to the empty area around them. Magnus is a good ally to have, and Alec would hate if anything were to happen to him. That's all it is.
"What happened?" he asks Jace, throwing him only a glance. "Back at the bathysphere."
Jace shakes his head.
"No idea," he says. "I got knocked out, woke up and someone was carrying me. Something. Then there was a fight, I― I barely remember any of it. But I got away somehow, just kept running. Had to grab this off of a dead guy," he says, gesturing at the seraph blade now resting on the floor next to him. "Whoever took me also took my stele, and my weapons. They must have dosed me with something too, 'cause it took hours before I could really get anywhere without collapsing. Then I ended up in there."
He nods in the direction of Fort Frolic.
"Thought there might be people there," Jace says, wincing as Magnus's magic starts stitching his bones back together in earnest. "Actual people. And I was right. Not the kind of people I was hoping for, though."
Alec thinks of Fort Frolic's eerily bright and happy-looking design, boasting such life and revelry with not a single living person in sight. Like a trap.
"We were warned about some guy there," Alec says carefully. "Sander Cohen."
"The guy who looks like a fucking mime?" Jace says. "That's the one. Complete lunatic. I don't know if you saw his statues?"
He says it almost sardonically, and Alec brings to mind the sloppily sculpted figures of plaster he and Magnus saw on the way here.
"What about them?" he asks.
"They're people," Jace says, and Alec swears he both looks and sounds afraid, beneath that perpetual confidence of his. "They're all made of people. That's his thing, apparently. He likes turning people into art, any way he can. Likes to just straight-up kill them too, when they don't cooperate." He turns to watch Magnus's magic, and Alec notes that Magnus looks tired now, but still alright. "He wanted me for his collection, he said. That's how I broke my leg, running and fighting and getting pushed off a damn balcony. He sent some of those mutant things after me, but I took care of them. I hid here, just meant to sit tight for a minute, catch my breath. But then, yeah―" He gestures at his leg pointlessly. "At least they haven't found me."
Alec supposes that what Jace described would be enough to cause serious injury even to a shadowhunter, if they're missing a stele. He knows Jace is tough, knows that he can take more than most people can handle, especially given his past. But still, he places a hand on Jace's head, ruffles his blond hair just slightly. He feels a bit silly doing it, and Jace would scoff and slap his hand away with some comment, under any other circumstances, especially with a stranger sitting right there. But these aren't any circumstances, and they're both too relieved to have each other safe and sound to care.
By the time Magnus is done healing Jace's leg, he practically sags where he sits, letting out a heavy, sharp exhale as the blue vapor dissipates. Alec makes a move to check on him, to help him up, but refrains.
"You okay?" he asks instead, unable to keep the genuine concern out of his voice.
"Quite alright," Magnus assures him, smiling slightly even as he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "I just need a moment. More importantly, how's your leg?"
He directs the question at Jace, who experimentally puts his boot against the floor, applying some pressure and bending his joints.
"Hurts a little bit," he says. "But I think it's okay. Should be fine to walk."
Magnus nods, pleased to hear it.
"Good," he says. He heaves himself up in a way that looks less graceful than Alec has gotten used to seeing from him, and he has barely stood up before he wavers. Instantly, Alec grabs him by the shoulder, steadying him as he stands up tall.
"You sure you're okay?" he asks. Damn it, since when does he fuss like this? He doesn't even know this guy, not really.
"I'm fine, Alec," Magnus says, turning to him. Alec is a little startled by how close he is, but he decides to ignore that―especially when he sees Magnus's tired, but fondly exasperated expression. Alec nods, swallows.
"Right," he says, releasing Magnus's shoulder and taking a step back. He holds his gaze for another few moments, Magnus undoubtedly less fine than he says he is. Still, Alec respects his wish to pretend otherwise, for now.
"Yeah, I'm fine, too," Jace says from the floor. "Thanks."
Alec inhales, turns to him. Jace narrows his eyes, as though asking something, but Alec doesn't answer. Instead he holds out his hand, which Jace takes and uses to pull himself off the floor, picking up the seraph blade as he goes.
"We should really get moving," Jace says. "Doesn't look like Cohen or his pets like to leave Fort Frolic unless they have to, but still."
"The Splicers?" Magnus asks, as the three of them start walking away from the corner by the stairs. "He controls them?"
"That's what they're called?" Jace says. "Huh. And yeah, looks like. Don't know how, though." He pauses, turns to Magnus, slight suspicion in his eyes. Alec recognizes it as a milder form of what he felt when he first met Magnus, down here. "So what's Magnus Bane doing here?"
Magnus throws Alec a look, but it's brief, in a way that makes Alec think he meant to ask something but then decided against it.
"I'm looking for warlock children who've been taken," Magnus says bluntly. "I have no doubt they've somehow ended up here."
"Wait, children?" Jace frowns. "Like, young ones?"
Magnus frowns as well.
"Yes," he says apprehensively.
"I might have seen them," Jace says, making Alec glance at him in surprise. "Or, one."
"What are you talking about?" Magnus's voice takes on a sense of urgency, and Alec can't blame him.
"Well, you know the... thing that was carrying me, when I woke up?" Jace says. "There was a kid there, too. A girl, couldn't have been older than eight. I was pretty out of it, but I do remember thinking how weird it was. How weird she was."
Jace frowns, shaking his head as he tries to remember.
"I don't know," he says. "She had a ponytail, a blue dress. But she was really pale, and her eyes were glowing. And she didn't seem scared at all." He glances around the hallway they've found their way into, and catches on something in particular. "She looked kind of like that, actually."
He points at something by the wall, a vending machine of some kind, with a gentle, fluorescent glow. It's flanked on either side by statues depicting small girls with pale blue dresses. They look more like life-sized dolls, their smiles big and bright, but they actually look subdued compared to the round, pink neon sign above; Gatherer's Garden.
"Man, these creep me out," Jace says as they all stop to take a closer look.
A sign on the wall helpfully points to the machine, the word Plasmids glowing in only slightly more subdued letters. Alec remembers seeing something just like this in the lounge outside the bathysphere terminal, when he first arrived.
"What the hell is a Plasmid, anyway?" Alec wonders out loud, frowning, eyeing the red-colored bottles and syringes behind the glass. Jace shrugs, and Magnus shakes his head.
"Not sure," he says, reading the different names and options listed―electro bolt, telekinesis, winter blast, just to name a few. "But there seems to be a variety to choose from. Different abilities for different tastes."
"What, like― Like powers?" Jace says, disbelief coloring his tone. "Just injecting them? Is that even possible?"
"I suppose you could use a spell, or a potion," Magnus muses. "It's risky, but it might be enough to grant mundanes, and even Nephilim, some temporary abilities like those of a warlock, for instance. But anything more long-term, or permanent?" He shakes his head. "Not possible."
"Hypothetically possible?" Alec asks, and Magnus hesitates.
"You'd have to essentially rewrite a person's DNA to make it accommodate something so unnatural," he says, gesturing with his hands. Just the idea seems to make him uncomfortable. "It's not a good idea. It's wildly unpredictable, and it would kill you. Most likely."
"And less likely?"
Magnus turns to Alec, a grim look on his face.
"It would work," he admits. "With the right modifications. But you'd become damaged, over time. You'd change. Probably into something like the Splicers we've seen."
He says it pointedly, and Alec nods slowly.
"At least we know why they're called that, then," Jace says, and Alec feels more disgusted than intrigued about that revelation. "So, basically they're... not shadowhunters, anymore? Or human?"
Magnus shakes his head, his expression almost sad.
"No," he says. "I don't believe so. Given the demonic energy required to make it happen in the first place, not to mention the addictive nature and long-term use... It's not something that's reversible. Those poor creatures are stuck like that. Anything that made them human has been corrupted beyond repair. My guess is all they can even think about anymore is the drug. It affects the mind as much as the body. They must be horribly dependent on it, at this stage."
Alec wants to feel bad about this, but he can't bring himself to. Sure, there must be people who came here genuinely looking for a better life―like Atlas's family―and he can't imagine what Rapture must have been like when it all started falling apart. But then he thinks about the Splicers and the Forsaken, even the humans left in a human state, and what they've all turned themselves into... Alec has a hard time sympathizing with any of them.
"Come on," he says, stepping away from the vending machine. "We gotta move."
They resume heading down the darkened, debris-littered hallway. There's a leak up ahead, water gushing from the ceiling―it would be a beautiful curtain, had it been anywhere but in an underwater building. Here, all it does is act as a stark reminder of just how little stands between the pressing ocean outside and the comparably fragile people in here.
Alec throws Jace a glance. He would be lying if he said having him by his side again doesn't make him feel ten times better than he did. Sure, they're still stuck here, and Alec gets the sense that it will only become more dangerous the further along they get, but for the moment, he takes this victory. Jace is safe, Magnus is safe, and that's all that matters.
"I suppose I'll give them points for creativity with those masks," Magnus says, as they pass by a couple of dead Splicers on the floor. It's a man and a woman, wearing the white half-face coverage of a cat and a rabbit, respectively.
"From what I can tell," Jace says, "there was a party when the riots broke out. The ones that finally wrecked this place, I mean."
Magnus throws Jace a flat look.
"A party?" he says. "As much as I can respect going out like that, I find it hard to believe."
Jace points at a faded, dirty poster on the wall as they pass it by, which depicts a white, patterned rabbit mask surrounded by confetti. Rapture Masquerade Ball 1959, it reads. Alec wouldn't even have noticed the poster if Jace hadn't pointed it out, considering how the dim lighting and torn paper make it blend in so easily. And given all the other graffiti and faded propaganda around the city, it doesn't exactly stand out. Now that he pays attention, though, there are plenty of this poster in particular plastered over the walls here around Fort Frolic.
"Really," Jace says, his tone turning unsettled and somewhat disgusted. "Cohen talked about it fondly. Like it was the good old days. And makes sense, I guess. I mean, a big bash, everyone who means something is there? Great time and place to start an uprising, if you ask me. And those... Splicers. They aren't exactly all there, but most of them seem to think this place is still up and running as usual, even though it's definitely not. Maybe they just wear the masks to hide, or they just never took them off. I mean, they look pretty damn gross, underneath."
Clinging to their humanity, maybe, Alec thinks, and he eyes the poster more closely as he walks by. The ball is set for new year's eve, 1958, and he frowns.
"That was almost two years ago," he says. He turns to Jace as they keep walking. "It's been like this for that long?"
"Apparently even longer," Jace says with a shrug. "The riots were just the tipping point. But it looks like people were becoming monsters and killing each other over nothing, way before that. That's all I know."
Alec pauses, processes this.
"How did we not know about this?" he says, mostly thinking out loud, and he can't help the hopeless disbelief shining through. He gets a soft, sympathetic look from Magnus, before the warlock quickly looks away.
"Because Valentine has obviously done his best to make sure no one gets into Rapture," Jace says. "Or even knows about it. But judging by what this place is like, he's done an even better job of making sure no one, and nothing, gets out." He pauses. "We shouldn't have come here, Alec."
Alec shakes his head.
"No, we shouldn't have."
Magnus stops dead, and Alec immediately stops with him. He opens his mouth to ask what's wrong, but Magnus brings a finger to his own lips in a shushing gesture. His expression has turned tense, attentive, and Alec throws Jace a glance.
A low, chittering sound catches their attention then, and they look up. Alec watches the ceiling intently, listening, the ever-present creaking and groaning of the city's metal structures mingling together with the constant dripping and flowing water around them. Perhaps it was a false alarm. Then, some plaster falls from the ceiling near the other side of the hall, and Magnus pulls his shoulders back.
"Just a suggestion," Magnus says quietly. "But maybe we should head somewhere less open?"
He keeps his eyes on the ceiling, but whatever made the noise seems to have scurried off. All the same, Jace raises his blade, runes lighting up obligingly.
"Good idea," he says, and the three of them start moving again, a little faster now than before.
They don't get far before Magnus throws his arm out to block the shadowhunters' path.
"Wait," he says. Alec registers a slight ripple in the air ahead, it's all the warning they get.
A man suddenly comes charging at them, as though materializing out of nowhere. Flames seem to flow from his flesh, and as a fire ball comes shooting towards them, Magnus instinctively raises his hand, magic erupting from his palm like a shield. But as the flames are dealt with, the creature is no longer there. Instead, there's a loud, vacuum-like noise, leaving behind nothing but a wisp of black smoke and a foul smell.
"Where'd he go?" Jace says, speaking for all of them, and Alec draws his bow, keeping his breathing steady. He turns around, his back to Magnus's, while Jace mirrors him in order to keep their attention on all sides.
"Don't know," Magnus says tensely. "But spontaneous teleportation is a rather unique skill one doesn't see very often."
"Considering what I've seen down here, already," he says ruefully. "I'm not surprised."
A loud whoosh draws Magnus's attention to the left. The Splicer is suddenly so close Alec can't even make out his features. It's all just bloodied and burned, mouth stretched wide in a pained, rasping scream, arms alight with hot flames as he reaches for him. The chill of fear down Alec's spine is controlled in a split second, and he raises his bow, loosing an arrow. The Splicer screams, before vanishing with that same loud noise from before, leaving the air still and foul-smelling once again.
"What are the odds he'll show up on your side, next time?" Alec asks Jace, somewhat dryly, pulling another arrow from his quiver.
"I'd say, high," Jace replies.
He's proven right only a few moments later, when the Splicer reappears out of thin air and Jace slashes at him with his blade, prompting him to vanish once more. Alec barely has a second to consider where he might materialize next, before the telltale whoosh makes him turn his head. The Splicer gapes wide as he screams, heading toward them at an unsettling speed, and Alec makes what he knows might be a bad move. He turns on the spot and fires an arrow that buries itself in the Splicer's head, before he lets himself stop to think.
He's lucky―the Splicer stops in his tracks and falls to the floor, the flames from his flesh slowly dying out as their host's heart stops beating. Alec draws a breath of relief, feels every muscle in his body uncoil. He didn't realize how terrified he was, not just for himself but for his companions. Both of them.
Magnus turns to him, meets his eye as Alec lowers his bow.
"Thanks," he says, and Alec swallows.
"Yeah," he says stupidly, stepping away from Magnus, Jace following suit. Alec holds Magnus's gaze for a little while longer, suddenly finding it hard to look away. Then he blinks, and looks away anyway. "Let's keep moving."
Isabelle knows that something is wrong. She's had a bad feeling about this whole thing ever since her brothers left, and she tries to keep it under control as she makes her way through the halls of the New York Institute. Alec should be here, running it. But he refused to let Jace go to Rapture alone, to let him descend into whatever that city is, without the support of his parabatai. And sending anyone but Jace seemed out of the question as far as the Clave was concerned; he is their best and brightest, after all. And this whole thing does concern Valentine, who's been in the wind for nearly a decade.
But even so, something doesn't feel right. It's been too long already, since Jace and Alec left. Too long since they departed New York by Portal, and no word yet, no fire message, nothing. Izzy doesn't care how under-wraps this recon mission is, they should have heard something by now.
"Why haven't they reported back?" Izzy asks as she approaches her mother, talking to someone in the op center.
"Isabelle―" Maryse starts, in a low voice that's asking her daughter to calm down.
"It's been almost ten hours," Izzy points out, unable to keep some anger out of her voice. "And no word. Something is wrong."
Maryse presses her lips together, but seems to decide that there's no use in trying to make Izzy relent. She turns to the shadowhunter next to her.
"Excuse me," she says, and the man gives her a nod, closing the folder in his hands before walking away. Maryse turns back to her daughter. "Lower your voice."
"Why?" Izzy says. "Am I embarrassing you?"
Maryse bites back some frustration, taking her daughter's upper arm and leading her into a nearby hallway. Her grip isn't tight by any means, mostly a way of guiding Isabelle as she goes. This hall is abandoned compared to the op center, but Maryse still looks around before turning back to Izzy.
"Calm down," she says. "Everything is fine."
Izzy frowns, confused.
"Really?" she says doubtfully. "Because as far as I can tell, you sent your sons down there on their own, and now they're stuck for all we know. Or worse. They barely knew what they were going into to begin with, and I knew even less. And even now, no one will tell me anything."
Maryse sighs, puts her hands on her hips. The concern on her face looks more maternal than a moment ago, and Izzy realizes that her mother is just as worried as she is. Perhaps that's what makes her open up and tell Izzy what she knows.
"We've been gathering intel on Rapture for weeks," she explains in a lower voice. "We only recently found out it even existed, let alone where. But Valentine has been running it for years, already. Some believe it really is just his own personal domain, but given the disturbances and disappearances more recently, others aren't so sure."
"What does that mean?" Izzy says, folding her arms. Maryse's jaw tightens, and there's obvious concern in her expression.
"I don't know," she admits in a low voice.
"What kind of disappearances?" Izzy presses. "I thought it was just shadowhunters, voluntarily going with him?"
"Mundanes, as well," Maryse says. "By the looks of it. And others have reportedly been taken, but―"
"Taken?" Izzy frowns.
"It's not important."
"We've had reports of warlocks going missing," Maryse says dismissively, with some impatience, "but to tie those disappearances to Rapture is more than a little unreasonable."
"But someone has?"
Maryse sighs. The expression on her face is one of weary concern, along with frustration at her daughter's inability to let things go. But Isabelle wants to know everything the Clave does about this place her brothers have been sent to. It won't help in any way, but she can't just sit here in the dark.
"The High Warlock of Brooklyn," Maryse says tightly. "He petitioned the Clave to allow a rescue mission on behalf of the warlocks. He claimed that they'd found solid proof of Valentine, and Rapture, being involved in the disappearances. But it was circumstantial, at best. We can't afford to risk shadowhunters' lives for something so vague. A recon mission was all Jace and Alec were authorized for, we couldn't just have a Downworlder tag along for his own purposes, and risk everything."
She sounds almost defensive, and Izzy frowns.
"So you rejected him?" she asks.
"What's important right now," Maryse says, putting her hands on Izzy's upper arms, "is to make sure Jace and Alec make it home. We're looking into ways of getting through Rapture's wards, but it's not easy. It's why the High Warlock asked the Clave in the first place, even he had trouble, and knew we had another way in."
"So how did Alec and Jace get down there?" Izzy asks, her frown still in place.
"We were provided with coordinates to a lighthouse," Maryse says. "The legitimate route into the city went from there, but only once." Someone calls for her from the op center, and she glances over there, before turning back to her daughter. "Isabelle, listen to me. I know you're worried, but we're working on it, alright? And your brothers are the best we have, and they have each other. They'll be fine."
Izzy presses her lips together. She doesn't quite believe Maryse, but it's hard not to be affected by those words said in such a motherly, confident tone. She nods, and Maryse gives her a small, relieved smile. She squeezes Izzy's arm gently, before letting go and making her way back into the op center.
Izzy turns around, watching her go. She thinks about what her mother just told her, about the wards and the missing warlocks, about the High Warlock petitioning the Clave to help. It all seems a little too related to be circumstantial.
She knows who the High Warlock of Brooklyn is; Magnus Bane is a hard person to miss, in the shadow world. Maybe he'll have learned something since he spoke to the Clave. Maybe enough to actually get into Rapture, at the very least.
Isabelle turns her back on the op center, heading for the Institute's front doors, a new sense of purpose in her step.