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Winds of Change 3: Cyclone

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PART ONE

January 18th, 2017

Alec rapped his knuckles hard against the door to the bedroom shared by Jace and Clary.

"We should get going or you'll be late to your own party."

The door opened, revealing Clary – a slightly flustered looking Clary still in the process of completing her outfit. "We'll be late anyway," she declared unceremoniously. "He decided he's going to walk."

A jerk of her head made it clear that 'he' was Jace, who was sitting on the edge of their bed, adjusting his boots.

"It's long overdue," he declared, pulling the legs of his jeans down and reaching for the crutches he had dropped on the floor. "We'll be leaving in a few days – I'll have to be able to be on my feet all day then."

He pushed himself up, his balance a little precarious until he'd had a moment to adjust.

Recovering from an injury that would have left him permanently paralyzed if it hadn't been for the intervention of their Canadian friends – friends they couldn't even admit to having to most people they knew – was taking more time than he liked, though Brother Matthias, the Silent Brother who had taken it upon himself to oversee his unexpected improvement, never ceased to remind him that actually, he was progressing faster than anyone could have thought.

They'd taken Jace's suggestion that it was his angel blood that had done the trick without a challenge. It was the only thing anyone could think of to accomplish the feat.

Jace had hoped that by the time they set out to pursue their current project, under the disguise of giving Clary a more thorough Shadowhunter education and making up for her denied opportunity of spending time at various institutes as a child and teen, as was usual, he'd be back in full field condition.

That wasn't going to happen, as he had come to realize a while ago.

While he was recovering more with every day, there were still patches where sensation eluded him entirely – most notably a broad strip down the backs of his legs – and telling what his feet were doing was mostly guesswork. His muscle control varied, though he tried to convince himself that at this point, it was mostly a matter of balancing on feet that had well and truly fallen asleep – without the tingling and stinging when they eventually woke up.

He hadn't used a wheelchair in the house since the day he'd first found he could get from room to room using the walls and furniture for support, and it was high time that he discarded it for good. It would certainly be in the way when they were setting out. Having to deal with random institute people commenting on his condition if he needed support to walk would be bad enough. He was under no illusions that he wouldn't be able to get around entirely without help at least for the first part of their travels.

"The sooner we leave, the sooner we'll get there," he announced, making his way to the door.

The first steps always were the most difficult, while he had to convince himself that he wasn't going to fall in a graceless heap at someone's feet.

"What are you going to do if the street's iced over?" Izzy, coming downstairs impeccably dressed for the party and ready to set out, inquired.

"Cling to my parabatai's arm and entrust myself to his protection," Jace returned.

Alec laughed as he held the front door open. "Let's hope your parabatai doesn't twist his ankle or anything."

They had a way to walk. Jace's grandmother had offered to throw the party for her grandson's twentieth birthday, and he'd agreed, albeit a little reluctantly. She had done so much recently to prove she was working hard on improving their relationship.

"How does it feel, having your birthday in January now?" Izzy asked.

Finding that trying to shrug in response interfered with his ability to stabilize himself, Jace opted for a more verbal answer. "I don't know. After I changed my name so often this last half year, going from July to January for my birthday doesn't seem like that much of a difference."

Maryse and Imogen had determined Jace's real birthday, at his request, as closely as they could based on the date of his mother's death.

"Actually," Jace added, carefully maneuvering around the frozen puddle, "I think it's a relief to not have it be the day when Valentine gave me special things anymore."

"Right," Alec agreed. "I don’t think we should even be mentioning that name today. This day should be all yours."

His parabatai grinned at him. "Oh yeah? That's nice. But didn't you forget something relevant?"

Alec looked back at him, a slightly confused expression on his face.

"Presents," Jace clarified. "A birthday should have presents. I don't see you carrying any."

*

Jace wordlessly accepted Alec's offered arm to climb the stairs leading up to the front door of Herondale Manor. He'd spent hours just working his way up and down the stairs in the Lightwood residence as exercise, but he'd never done it at the end of an extended walk through town.

At least he'd be able to rest before he had to go back downstairs.

Down, he had found out, was a lot harder than up, and it wasn't just because the fall was a lot longer that way.

Imogen waited patiently at the top, where she pulled her grandson into a fleeting embrace.

"Happy Birthday, Jace," she told him. "Come inside. Dinner will be served as soon as Maryse and Max arrive."

Their mother was still out, collecting their youngest brother from the inquisitor's office, where Imogen had organized an opportunity for him to watch the inquisition at work for a couple of weeks, hoping to interest him in a career in that particular area.

Happy for the opportunity to sit down, Jace took the seat at the head of the table, with Clary at his side and Alec across the corner.

"Are you all set to leave on your grand tour?" Imogen asked as she slid into her own place. She looked at Alec as she continued: "Is your bow in working order again?"

Alec had spent many hours in the last few weeks fixing the damage that had been done to his special bow, to return it to its usual accuracy. He nodded. "As good as new." He'd put it through its paces on the shooting stand they had improvised for themselves during their time in Idris, and finally been happy with the results he got.

They continued to talk about their travelling plans while they waited for the rest of the family to arrive, and a good way through dinner.

It was a much more formal meal than any birthday Jace had ever celebrated, though Imogen had clearly made an effort to make it casual. The Herondale idea of 'casual' and the Lightwood one still wasn't quite identical.

All four of the young Nephilim relaxed noticeably when it became clear that the rest of the evening was meant to be an informal gathering of friends, centered in the outer sitting room – not because Imogen didn't want Jace's friends anywhere near her more personal rooms, but because that was where they could entertain themselves with a game of billiards or darts.

Lydia was the first of their friends to arrive, followed closely by Aline Penhallow. Presents were placed on a table where others, wrapped in brightly colored paper, already waited. Out of the corner of his eye, Jace spotted Alec slipping another small package between the assorted ones while he went to welcome Tatyana Redwood, one of the permanent residents of Alicante they had adopted into their circle in the last few weeks.

The victim of a mission gone awry, she'd once been – and officially continued to be – associated with the inquisitor's office. She hid the traces of the torture she'd been subjected to under a permanent glamor and had spent most of the last years hiding from the world. It had been Jace's aggressive insistence not to let his injury keep him back that had made her willing to talk to them initially, and their combined refusal to treat her as a victim to be pitied that had drawn her out.

"From my aunt and uncle," she said as she added a second, larger present to the one she had just handed him.

Jace frowned at the gift. "If your uncle had anything to do with that, I'll make sure to unwrap it outside, with a shield between me and the box."

They shared a brief laugh. Tatyana's uncle Anestis had not been convinced of the group's good intentions, though he had grudgingly warmed to them more recently, and even helped in clearing both Izzy and Alec of accusations designed to keep them out of the field.

Helen Blackthorn arrived last, staying at a well-calculated distance from Aline. Apparently, Herondale Manor qualified as a public location. Maybe Imogen Herondale was the issue there. The two didn't usually bother to hide their relationship before Maryse, though Aline had made her promise not to say anything about it to her mother Jia. Though the example of Alec and Magnus, and the acceptance of that relationship by Maryse Lightwood, served as a reminder that not all Nephilim were intolerant in that respect, Aline was still reluctant to disclose her relationship or her orientation to her parents, or risk having it done by anyone else.

They had briefly considered inviting Sophie Foxhunter, a girl a little younger than they. While not strictly speaking one of their group, she'd spent time with them as Isabelle tutored her in the anatomy of various species. Unfortunately, where Sophie was, her friend Linnie often wasn't far, and she was what amounted to the leader of Jace's local fan club.

Maybe they should have invited her after all, Jace mused when the cake was brought in. It was a beautiful chocolate and cream creation, topped with the linked Lightwood and Herondale sigils – another nod to his choice of Lightwood as his permanent name.

How much would that fan club shrink once some people started to realize that 'catching' him would not result in anyone getting the Herondale name?

On second thoughts, given the annoyance of having to deal with some of those girls – and most of them really were no more than that – at the New Year's Ball had been quite enough to make him certain that he didn't want to risk anyone trying to waylay him on his way home.

"I don't even want to cut that," Jace claimed when Imogen handed him the knife.

"That's too bad," Alec told him with a smirk. "Because we want to eat it, and wouldn't it be terribly undignified if we had to tear it apart with our bare hands?"

"I'll be curious to hear what you think of it," Imogen said, talking to Alec. "I hear you have developed quite some baking skills yourself."

"That's pie, not cake," Alec said, sounding a little absent-minded.

Imogen raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't know. I've never been offered any."

Alec had the good sense to look chagrined. "When we're back from the tour," he said. "I don't think there's time before." If he had any say in it, there wouldn't be any time afterwards either. He didn't make the pies, though that was what they were telling everyone. They were one of many ways in which their friends from Calgary were taking care of them, heavily spelled for good luck and protection.

By the same token, anyone who was a danger to the recipient of the pie tended to react in the worst manner to the magical pastry. Offering pie to guests had become a clear way of telling friend from foe for them – or rather, to confirm that those they wanted to trust were, in fact, safe to be trusted.

Unfortunately, thanks to prior experience, even her recent efforts weren't enough to convince them that Imogen Herondale would enjoy a piece of that pie – and none of them wanted to end up in a situation in which Inquisitor Herondale ended up ill from food supposedly produced in their kitchen.

Between them, they made short work of the cake, reducing it to no more than crumbs in record-time.

"You need to open your presents!" Aline reminded Jace just as he was eyeing the pool table, trying to gage if his legs would allow him a game.

"I thought I'd open those later, in private," he said, a mischievous glint in his eyes, as he sat back down to have both hands free. "But if you insist…"

Aline handed him the first present, a small box with a card attached that had been signed by Alec, Clary and Izzy.

Removing the wrapping paper with care, he folded it and placed it aside before he turned to the small box of dark wood it had contained.

The lid folded back, revealing a simple, open silver ring with one end shaped as the head of a bird of prey. He lifted it out of the box and looked at Isabelle. "Am I going to hurt anyone if I try it out?"

Electrum bracelets were not only special for the gold-and-silver alloy they were made of, but also for the spells placed on them that converted them into weapons that took up barely any space when compressed into the bracelet shape. Izzy had been the first of them to own one, her whip and staff a permanent accessory.

They had gotten one for Alec as a New Year's present, and now it seemed that they had decided that Jace, too, deserved a backup weapon of that kind.

"Go ahead," Izzy said. "We'll just stay out of the way."

Heeding her own words, she stepped aside, clearing space in front of Jace for the weapon to extend.

He snapped out his arm, giving the material the momentum it needed to understand what he wanted from it. The electrum seemed to turn liquid in his hand for a moment. When it solidified again, the thing he held no longer resembled a bracelet at all, but a slim length of bright metal topped with a knob that fitted perfectly into his hand.

He couldn't help a laugh at the sight. "You got me an electrum cane?" he asked, his eyes going back and forth between his friends and the object.

Still amused, he put the tapering end down and pushed himself to his feet, trying the feel of it.

It was much less support than even a single crutch – probably still a good way beyond his current walking skills. Leaning on it, however, his thumb brushed a small catch on the handle, and his smile widened when he understood the true nature of the object he was holding.

He sat back down before he pressed it and caught the shaft – or sheath – in his free hand as he pulled a long, slim blade free. "Think I can bring sword sticks back into fashion?"

"You can bring anything into fashion," Clary claimed. "Do you like it?"

He beamed at her. "I love it! But now we need to find an electrum weapon for you so you're not the only one of us without."

"I don’t have my birthday until August," Clary reminded him. "Plenty of time for you to find one!"

Maryse's present contained a set of new throwing knives, which was more than welcome. He had never gotten back most of his after the last time he had had to actually use them. He opened a number of presents with books and CDs, and made a show of teasing open the one from Anestis Redwood as if he expected it to explode in his hands.

It turned out to hold a container, about the size of a large thermos bottle. According to the enclosed description, it was spelled to purify any liquid put inside, rendering it drinkable. "And won't this come in helpful while travelling in the wilderness?" he said, nodding at Tatyana. "My thanks to your uncle." Of course, having once served in a squad sent out to track down particularly elusive or dangerous demons, of the kind that were usually found in remote locations where they had had a long time to take root already, Anestis Redwood knew precisely what would come in handy.

The small velvet pouch Alec had tried to hide among the presents was from Magnus. If Jace had any doubts about that before, he was certain the moment he emptied its content into his palm. There was a small silvery object, a ring with a tiny crystal worked into the top, and a small needle balanced in the middle, apparently held there by magic. Small as it was, it was a fully functional compass. He shook back his sleeve to expose the simple leather band he wore on his right wrist and snapped the new pendant to the charm bracelet concealed in it.

He'd thank Magnus in person the next time he saw him – which would probably be later that night.

While the official ban against warlocks in Alicante was absolute at the moment, Clary's recently discovered ability to use the Wood – that strange dimension Meliorn had once introduced them to – for travelling, had made that particular rule somewhat optional for them.

The first present that had been on the table was the last he opened: This was his grandmother's, and it was the largest of the lot. In fact, there were two identically wrapped packages – one rather square and the other flat and much longer than it was wide.

He opened that one first, not particularly surprised to find a seraph blade inside. The hilt was personalized, worked with his initials and the Lightwood coat of arms, once again overlapping the Herondale one. In design, it was a perfect match for the combat gear she'd given all of them for New Year's, and he assumed that if her determination to consider them all her grandchildren continued, Alec and Izzy would be getting matching swords for their next birthdays as well. Beneath the sword lay a dagger, the blade also made of adamas, the hilt a twin to the sword's, with the one notable difference that a piece of the pommel came off when twisted.

The other gift unwrapped to expose a box just small enough to fit into travelling luggage with only a little effort. With a single deft movement, he unlatched the two brackets that held it closed. It folded apart along the middle, revealing several rows of small bottles, each neatly labeled, with a sheet of paper placed in a pocket. A list in neat calligraphy informed him that he was looking at a collection of poisons and antidotes, to give their weapons an extra edge when they were out in dangerous territory.

He raised an eyebrow at Imogen.

She shrugged. "Poison-mixing has been a hobby of mine for a long time," she admitted. "May as well put it to proper use for a change."

January 19th, 2017

When he'd first received the fire message, Magnus had found it hard to believe what he read.

After three more passes of the missive, he finally concluded that he hadn't misread, hadn't missed some code, hadn't misinterpreted the author's meaning: He, the High Warlock of Brooklyn, was being summoned before the council of the New York warlocks like some boy who still looked his own age.

He had an idea that he knew what this was about.

What surprised him a little was that Catarina Loss hadn't thought to warn him.

His anger at her lasted only an instant. She had a child to take care of. He didn't know for sure who was involved in this, but he was certain that a good number of them wouldn't shy from threatening little Madzie if they thought it would secure them an advantage. Not all warlocks were friendly – just as not all werewolves or all shadowhunters were. Though he wouldn't ever have admitted to that where someone could hear him, he knew that some of them deserved every last thing that the Clave might threaten them with.

It still shouldn't have been the Clave's business to do that.

He considered ignoring the message. He could hole up in his loft, see what they would do when he didn't show up at the appointed time. The worst they could do? Try to rout him, probably. His loft was his lair, his haven - secure, well-protected. He could hold it against anything.

Not infinitely, of course. But long enough to make most of the others realize that it was a waste of energy.

Once, he might have done that, just to see what they really would do.

Once, he had been on his own, and what happened to him or anything around him had been his business and no one else's.

Things were different now.

There was little Madzie, and if she was being used to pressure Catarina into silence – and his suspicion that that was the case grew stronger with every second that passed – they would have no qualms about using her against him. It wasn't a secret that he adored the child and would have liked nothing better than to adopt her as his own – had he been in any situation to sensibly do that.

More important, however – far more important – was the question that slid into his mind like a thief in the night at first, but quickly settled down to stay.

Why fight?

What did he want in Brooklyn?

The warlocks of New York had been his life. They'd been all he let himself care about. He still cared about them, but it was no longer his all-encompassing purpose.

Because he had allowed himself to live a life again – his own life, not a life dedicated to keeping busy so as to forget that something was missing from it, so as to not allow himself to feel that empty hole he'd carried around inside himself.

Alexander's appearance in his life had given him back a purpose he had thought lost and locked away forever.

His life no longer belonged to the warlocks of New York first and foremost. It belonged to Alexander – and to himself.

What did it matter if he was the High Warlock of Brooklyn, with that in mind? Alexander wasn't in New York anymore, and no one could know if he'd ever return there for more than a visit. He could live his life anywhere. They could live their life together anywhere.

The decision felt as if it made itself, and once it was made, there was no turning back. The wards on his loft were strong. They'd keep his things safe until he had decided where he wanted to put them. There were a few objects he wanted out of the way just in case, but those were quick to gather: The painting Clary had made him so she could come through the Wood into the loft to guide him to Alicante when portals there were banned. His spell books, and a couple of his most volatile artifacts.

After a moment's thought, he decided to pack up his alchemy and potions supplies as well. He might need some of those as bribes.

*

Not wishing to be caught in some trap just for the sake of showing off his power, Magnus had portaled close to the designated meeting point and walked the rest of the way.

"You're late," the warlock standing guard by the entrance declared, his voice almost a snarl.

Magnus shrugged. "Had some business to take care of first," he said nonchalantly. "Shall we, then?"

The looming presence at his back that followed him in probably was supposed to be threatening. Magnus would have had to make an effort to be intimidated by it, and that was an effort he didn't feel like making.

He glanced around, taking in rows upon rows of warlocks. Most of the faces were familiar. Many of them were people he had helped in the past. A few owed him their lives.

"So," he said, not waiting to be addressed, as soon as he had taken in the assorted warlocks. "I can see you've assembled a nice tribunal. What's the crime you're accusing me of?"

He carefully avoided looking at Catarina, sitting among the assembly. One glance at her had told him that his suspicions had to be accurate.

Instead, he fixed his eyes on the warlock who seemed to head the jury. With an effort of will, he kept his posture relaxed, his hands hanging loosely by his sides. Betraying any kind of tension would only give them satisfaction. He wished the lighting had been better. He was dressed to dazzle, but what good was that if a light source was missing to make your glitter shine properly?

"Come on," Magnus continued when the answer did not come immediately. "Speak up. The High Warlock of Brooklyn is a busy man."

There was a bark of laughter from the warlock in charge. He wasn't anyone Magnus knew.

That shouldn't have surprised him. Those who had known him for years wouldn't have come up with such a plot. Some – or even many – of them may not have minded going along with it, but none of them would have wanted to be the one to speak out against him first.

Or the one to do so to his face.

"Magnus Bane," he intoned, showing a set of teeth that shouldn't have been in a human mouth, which made his speech moist and not entirely pleasant to listen to. "We have convened and consulted and come to the conclusion that you are not fit to remain in the position of the High Warlock. You've dishonored the office."

"Nice alliteration," Magnus commented drily. "And what did I do to dishonor the office?" He moved towards the speaker, walking with a bit of a swagger. Let him get at least this one brief impression of who Magnus Bane was.

"You've taken a Shadowhunter for a lover. Because of this relationship, you mismanaged your position during the recent conflict, proving that your loyalty to our people is no longer unquestionable, and that your judgment is clouded."

Raising one hand, Magnus shushed him. "The way I remember it," he declared. "I ended that relationship in order to prevent a conflict of interest."

"Yet you ran to your lover's aid, you broke your pact with the Seelie Queen and you resumed that relationship immediately thereafter. Since then, you disappeared from New York for weeks, unavailable, unreachable for anyone, and you continue to maintain your association with Alexander Lightwood and his family in spite of his removal from North America. Your loyalties clearly lie elsewhere."

Magnus shrugged, his eyebrows raised slightly. "Well, what can I say to that?" he asked. "I did what I could. I regret one thing in all of that, which is the time when I thought I had to tell Alexander that our relationship was over. So - you know what? You're right."

He could feel the gasp that went through the room at that admission. "My loyalty is not absolute. I have a family. A notable member of it happens to be a Shadowhunter. If you don't like that, I'll step down."

He allowed himself a small smile. There, he'd said it. He'd said it before anyone had had the opportunity to officially declare him demoted. Even now, he was the one in control.

"Step down?" The warlock in charge roared. "This is not an option you have. We find you unworthy of the title or the position, and we have taken it from you."

"Suit yourself," Magnus said. "Who's going to take over? You?" His laugh didn't even sound forced. "Have fun dealing with Aldertree. If that is all? Magnus Bane still is a busy man."

The other warlock's hand twitched, surprisingly fast, and Magnus felt himself caught in the chest by a blast of magic that lifted him right off his feet and slammed him backwards, throwing him to the floor.

Sloppy, he told himself. He should have anticipated something like that and had a block ready. Underestimating others never was a good idea.

Breathing had turned into an unpleasant experience all of a sudden, and he wondered idly if he should just try to do without for a while, but he clamped down on the pain as he rose fluently to his feet and touched two fingers to the brim of a hat he wasn't wearing. "Thanks for the boost. Don't bother with a guide – I'll find my way out. The door isn't that far."

"You have until sundown to leave New York," the warlock he supposed was going to be his replacement hissed. "After that, you'll be hunted by every member of this community if you as much as show your face within the borders of the city again."

"Wow," Magnus said, sketching a bow before realizing that that was a stupid thing to do with at least one cracked rib. "You sure like things dramatic, don't you? Well – I'll not waste your time or resources. Have a nice day."

He turned, throwing up a portal into the doorway just a moment before he stepped through – one last display of power and control for anyone who had the wits to understand.

*

"What the—Magnus?"

Magnus smiled at the familiar voice.

"Do you have space for one more member in your travelling party?" he asked, his eyes sparkling. "My duties in New York have, as you might say, evaporated just now."

His portal had taken him to Calgary, from where he'd commandeered Charlie's help to get him into Alicante. It had seemed the better choice, with the alternative being to tell Alexander about what had just happened on the phone and asking him to send Clary over to collect him.

Somehow, it had seemed like the kind of thing that should be shared in person.

"They what?"

Charlie and Magnus had stepped out of the Wood behind the Lightwood house, where the siblings had set up a small archery range for themselves. They had managed to interrupt Alec's session of re-familiarizing himself with his favorite bow, newly repaired.

"Can we go inside?" Magnus asked. While sheltered from most eyes behind the buildings, he didn't want to risk getting his favorite Nephilim into trouble just two days before their departure. There was a strict ban on Downworlders within the borders of Alicante at the moment, except with special permission – which Magnus did not have and probably stood no chance of acquiring any time within the next ten minutes.

Alec nodded, shouldering his bow. Instead of heading straight for the door, he took a detour past Magnus, leaning in for a gentle touch and a short kiss.

"I need to be off," Charlie said when they broke apart. "I'll see you tomorrow."

They nodded at her as she merged into the frost-covered greenery and disappeared from sight.

"Max won't be home from the inquisition office for another few hours, so we have some time," Alec said as he opened the door to let them in.

Magnus had counted on that. The youngest Lightwood was a bit of a liability in most of their borderline and downright illegal actions, and it was best to conceal them from him entirely. Smuggling a warlock into Alicante on a regular basis was definitely on the list of things Max didn't need to know about.

Following Alec into the comfortable living room, Magnus summarized the day's happenings.

"… so then I turned around and portaled to Calgary," he ended his account. "But this means I'm free to come with you all without having to take care of business or anything, so it's all for the best!" The more he'd been thinking about that aspect of things, the more he had actually become quite enthusiastic about his unexpected newfound freedom.

"Oh Magnus!" Alec's arms suddenly were around him, holding him tight.

Any other day, Magnus would have found that adorable, or even reassuring and comforting.

Today, he had portaled without taking care of his ribs first, exposing them to the strain of the dimensional gate, and then refused to admit his injury to the Gales, both because he had wanted to talk to Alexander quickly, and because he didn't fancy the talk the Aunties would have given him for jumping into a portal like that.

By now, he was reasonably sure that what he had assumed was a cracked rib was at least a broken one, and possibly two or three others damaged.

Alec felt him wince in pain at the pressure he applied, and released him immediately.

"What did they do to you?" His voice sounded as if he was preparing to take on the entire warlock community of New York single-handedly for having touched his boyfriend.

"I may have been hit by a spell," Magnus admitted. "It's nothing."

"You're in pain. That is not nothing." Alec's hands were gentle as he started to open Magnus' shirt to see what kind of injury it was hiding.

Suddenly, Magnus felt like he could put off healing himself a little while longer. Putting a healing on one's own body always was tricky to begin with, so why not enjoy a little tender, loving care from his Alexander before he set to work?

He winced again when he glanced down at himself and saw the angry, darkening bruise that marred one side of his ribcage.

"Magnus!" Alexander said, his tone dripping displeasure. "You should have let the Gales take care of that first!"

"It hurt less before I saw it," Magnus said, a little sheepishly. "Also, I wanted to be with you as soon as possible, and I didn't want to delay for the scolding they would have delivered along with the first aid."

Alec shook his head. "Stay where you are!" he ordered as he got to his feet again. "I'll get something to put on that."

Gingerly touching his side as soon as Alec was gone from the room, Magnus determined that it was probably a good idea to pour at least enough healing energy into himself to stabilize that rib. Alec could take care of the bruising, but if anything moved under his hands, he'd probably be in for worse than the aunties would have given him.

He finished just in time as his boyfriend returned, carrying supplies and followed closely by his sister, brother and Clary.

"Is it true?" Izzy asked as they settled on the other sofa, leaving Alec space to work. "You lost your status?"

"Yes," Magnus confirmed. "But it's all for the best, really. I've decided to enjoy my freedom." He gave a contented sigh when Alec carefully applied a washcloth soaked in cold water smelling of herbs to the swelling that was still increasing over Magnus' ribs. Damaged tissue didn't portal easily.

"Nothing broken?" Alec asked, the fingers of one hand probing ever so gently as his other hand soaked the cloth once more.

A small smile played on Magnus' lips. "Do you think I'm stupid enough to portal with broken ribs?"

"Yes," came the unanimous response from all four of them.

"You would," Alec followed up. "You think you're unbreakable."

"I'm self-repairing," Magnus claimed.

Clary gestured at the discolored skin. "Why didn't you repair that, then?"

"Boring," the warlock told her. "Much nicer when Alexander is taking care of me and kissing it better and all..."

Alec didn't even blush as he dipped his head to breathe a hint of a kiss just where the bruising was the worst. The feather-light touch barely registered and caused no pain, but sent a tingle of anticipation through Magnus. He brought his hand up, brushing Alec's hair with the tips of his fingers. "Do you mind if I join you?" he asked, his voice serious.

"Of course not," the young Nephilim was quick to reassure him. "Though you'll have to take a hotel with Charlie most of the time, I fear. The Institutes probably won't let you stay with us." He didn't have to say that that meant he was going to opt for the hotels as well if he could at all get away with it.

Alec put away the washcloth and unscrewed a jar of freshly scented salve to spread its contents generously on Magnus' bruised ribs. As he started to rub it into his boyfriend's skin, still careful not to exert any pressure that would cause pain, his fingers moved in the shapes of healing charms, leaving the suggestion of designs not dissimilar from runes shining on Magnus' skin in faint outlines of power.

That was another skill their Canadian friends had taught them that would get them into trouble if the wrong people learned about it. Shadowhunters were not supposed to be able to achieve any kind of effect without the use of a stele.

The stele, they had learned, was not only entirely unnecessary, but also potentially dangerous to them. They were still missing too many parameters to come to a reliable conclusion, but they knew enough by now that they avoided marking themselves.

"Your touch is magic," Magnus purred as Alec's hands repeated the lines one last time. "The pain's all gone now."

Chapter Text

January 20th, 2017

There was one last thing they wanted to do before they left Idris for their travels.

Their little project wasn't without risk – but then again, nothing they were doing right now was.

As they had slowly digested their realization that Valentine, believed killed by Clary by the banks of Lake Lyn several months before, was happily alive using the body of a convicted murderer, a plan to make his life at least a little less pleasant had started to take shape in their heads.

They'd discussed it jokingly at first, the entire idea too risky and unlikely to succeed to really consider.

The closer the date of their departure had come, the more often had they found themselves talking about those plans more seriously, however, until eventually they had caved and asked Charlie if she would be willing to help with putting them into practice after all.

Her irises had darkened as she'd let the power her family wielded fill her, as if gaging the feel of the future in which they had gone through with their plan. It gave her an eerie, almost inhuman air, not helped at all by her too-thin proportions that served to make her seem more like a Seelie than a human woman now and then.

"Just get me in close enough to the place," she'd said when her eyes had settled back into their regular Gale grey, while her hair had taken on a pattern of military camouflage, and stuck with it. Charlie's hair was a law unto itself.

They took their horses for a last ride. Izzy couldn't help a broad grin as she watched Clary in their middle. Eight weeks ago, her friend's riding skills had been close to zero, her fear of falling off the large animals drowning out the enjoyment of the ride. Now, she kept up with them as well as any Idris-bred Nephilim, used to horses as the main mode of longer-distance transport in a country where combustion engines didn't work and demon energy was severely frowned upon.

"We never found out where they buried Hodge," her brother observed as they passed a crossroads.

"Tatyana's still on it," Clary reminded him.

Dead by Valentine's hand, Hodge had been denied the traditional Nephilim death ritual and transfer of his ashes to become part of the City of Bones due to his status as a traitor. Knowing what they did by now about his past and that of the Circle in general, with a number of assumptions they had once taken for granted carefully re-evaluated, they had resolved to at least make sure that their former teacher would not be lost from memory altogether.

Like all those deemed unworthy, Hodge would have been buried in a shallow grave at some crossroads in Idris. Once they found out where, they would at least have his grave marked in the mundane fashion.

Jace reined in his horse Crusader just after they turned onto the street that would lead them to where the wards protecting the property that had been his home for the first ten years of his life began.

"Time to call Charlie," he said.

They hadn't been sure if the wards would throw her off, so she had to join them outside of them.

Izzy pulled out her phone, texting a single word to their friend: Now.

Normally, phones, like anything based on electricity, didn't run in Idris. The phones treated by the Gales not only never ran out of battery without needing to be charged, they also defied the rules of Idris – both by working, and by connecting to a mobile cell that didn't, strictly speaking, exist.

They couldn't have said when exactly Charlie appeared by the side of the road. One moment she wasn't there and the next she was, completing a step she had started in a different dimension. Pushing her guitar onto her back, she approached Izzy's horse.

"Pretty boy," she commented, giving Demonsbane an appreciative pat. "I think we're both light enough that he can carry both of us. Don't you?"

Nodding, Izzy kicked free of one stirrup and extended one hand behind her back for Charlie to grasp and pull herself up.

It was clear the moment the Bard settled that she wasn't a stranger to horses.

"You can ride?" Izzy asked, slightly surprised. Thinking of the Gales as a variation of mundane city dwellers, she'd never considered that that might be part of her skillset.

Charlie laughed, a sound as musical as her voice. "I basically grew up on a farm, like most of my cousins. We only moved to Calgary a few years ago, remember?"

They followed Jace, remembering the way the wards around Wayland manor concealed even the crossing that led towards the property from all of them but him.

Jace stopped his horse again once they were a little way inside the wards. This time, he looked back to Alec. "Ready for a round of tracking?"

His parabatai nodded. Where tracking was concerned, it would have been the wiser course to have Magnus do it – but spending time out in the open with an illegal warlock in Idris, a day before they planned to leave on a tour that many disapproved of and that was only made possible because of the spectacular way in which discrediting them entirely had failed less than a month before, seemed to be pushing their luck a little.

Charlie, no less illegally in Idris, was a different matter in that all she needed to disappear without a trace was a bit of greenery or, in fact, sound.

And since no one had told them to stay away from Wayland Manor, who could blame the four of them for dropping by on the last day that Jace had the opportunity to show Clary where he had spent the first half of his life?

Magnus, in the meantime, was safely in Calgary, or more likely busily portaling back and forth under the protection of his wards, to the increasing anger of the New York warlocks, to transfer the contents of his loft. Or maybe he was simply summoning them, bit by bit, without the inconvenience of having to travel himself. They'd never asked him how far his summoning reach went.

Alec pulled out a thin strand of blond hair, held together with a piece of string. It belonged to the body Valentine now occupied. Most of the time when they had tried to track it, before they had known what exactly it was that they had acquired, there hadn’t been any result. Either he wasn't spending a lot of time in Idris, or he was spending most of his time under wards.

While within the wards, they hoped to get some advance warning of whether he was home or not.

Clasping hands around the hair, the two parabatai focused.

"Nothing," Jace said after several seconds had passed. "Either he's not here, or he has his anti-tracking rune on, or the wards prevent tracking even from within. Which means that we know exactly as much as we did before."

"That's what you have me for, isn't it?" Charlie asked. "As long as he doesn't somehow render himself deaf, no amount of deflection runes will protect your Valentine from my lullabies."

They approached the manor at a brisk clip, until Jace veered off the road to the right, cutting through the untouched snow.

"He'll know we were here if we leave tracks like that!" Alec pointed out without following him.

"He'll know we were here anyway," Jace told him. "And if he comes in and finds our horses tied up in front, we'll be unable to get away again."

"Go ahead." That was Charlie, leaning around Izzy to be seen. "I can cover up our tracks when we're wherever you're taking us."

It wasn't far. There was another, smaller building behind the manor: a wooden structure that looked like it had reached the end of its allotted service life years ago and was kept up only by sheer stubbornness.

"What's in there?" Alec asked. At a wave of Jace's hand, he slid off Thunder, landing elegantly in the snow, and walked over to help his brother dismount.

"Unpleasant memories," Jace told him. He clung to his saddle as he lowered himself onto the ground, carefully probing for the moment when his feet hit solid earth. Alec's hands steadied him. "It's a tool shed," he clarified. "Was a tool shed. Probably from way back when the real Michael Wayland lived here. He had a forge behind the house. There." He jerked his head to indicate the direction.

Looping Crusader's reins loosely around a low-hanging branch of one of the bare trees scattered across the meadow, Jace tensed the muscles in his arm to activate the first spell on the electrum bracelet he wore. It was an odd sensation as the material seemed to melt and flow down his arm and into his hand, stretching and growing into its intended shape. It might have been less disconcerting if the electrum had been cold or hot to the touch. As it was, it had taken on his body temperature perfectly, which made the experience only stranger.

"There wasn't ever much in that shed when we lived here. Valentine locked me in it a few times when he was displeased. It's runed and spelled all over."

That explained how it was still standing.

Alec shifted his position to let Jace lean on him with his free arm. The swordstick alone wouldn't be enough to keep him upright on uneven ground covered in snow.

A sharp whistle drew their attention to Charlie.

Whatever else that sound did, it ran down the line of hoof prints they had left behind, shaking and stirring up the snow until the white blanket looked once again unbroken.

"Good work," Alec said approvingly.

Charlie inclined her head his way and strummed a few notes on her guitar, putting more emphasis into them than any of the Nephilim had ever heard in that song. Allie had once said it was Charlie's variation of 'get into bed and don't make me come up there, kids!'

Izzy cracked a yawn, even though it hadn't been directed at her. The other three were also visibly shaking off the compulsion.

"Just in case someone's home after all," the Bard said.

Clary wasn't convinced. "Would it have worked if he's inside and we're out here?"

Laughing, Charlie pushed her guitar onto her back. "I once put an entire block of houses to sleep with it so Allie could talk to Jack's uncles in peace. It works."

Jace directed them to the back of the house, where a narrow stair led down to a cellar door. It looked rusty and unused, showing none of the signs of recent occupation that the front door did, which had originally alerted them to the fact that someone was using this place again.

At least with the handrail on one side and Alec on the other, Jace was reasonably safe from slipping and falling, though the snow piled on every single step added an extra level of difficulty.

They sketched an open charm on the lock, followed by a strategic application of Alec's shoulder to the door to make it move while Jace leaned into the wall at the bottom of the stairs.

He succeeded at the second attempt.

Instead of drawing NightSight charms on their eyelids, they pulled out their witchlight stones. A NightSight needed a little light to work with, at least, which made it unreliable in places like caves or basements.

The room they entered had been a storage room once, probably since before the first person had had the idea of putting an ice rune on a metal box to produce a freezer.

The room was still cold enough to serve as one, which was just as well. There was an unpleasant odor in the air, as if of meat left out for too long. Alec moved slowly, pivoting as far as he could with Jace leaning on him, his hand holding the witchlight stone outstretched. He frowned at what he saw in the eerie light.

Dark lumps were stacked on one wall, the shaggy greys and browns suggesting a heap of old furs.

Jace pointed with his stick, and Alec moved with him slowly, reluctant to approach the source of the smell.

"Is he hunting wolves in the forest?" Charlie asked, squinting. "And did he drag them in here all the way through the house?"

"Werewolves," Jace said tonelessly. "And he probably didn't feel like dragging them all the way back here. With the misdirection wards, he wouldn't have been at risk even in sight of the street. There's a larger entrance to the basement in front – wider stairs, wider door and all."

Clary had one hand clamped to her mouth. A moment later, she took it down as the smell, now that she knew where it was coming from, felt overwhelming. Better to breathe through her nose as little as she could…

"Do you think he caught Nightshade's visions?" she asked.

Izzy, entirely unperturbed by the dead bodies, crouched by the grisly heap to study them. "No," she declared. "I think these are pleasure kills. Hunted for fun, maybe for furs. Or because of his general dislike for Downworlders. No Nightshade visions controlling him."

"How can you be so sure?" Clary set her eyes on the door on the other side of the room and kept them there. "Because Nightshade never hoarded his kills?"

"No," Izzy said. "Because these are clean kills and relatively undamaged bodies. No signs of torture."

She straightened, half-turning to the others. "I know you don't want to see this. I don't want to see this. But I think we should take a picture of this so we have evidence if we need it."

Alec nodded wordlessly and raised his witchlight a little higher. "Go ahead."

Charlie's face hardened at what she saw in the flash from the camera phone. "I don't expect you'll let me put fire to this place with him inside?" she asked.

"I don't really care," Jace said.

"I care," Izzy objected. "I care about you murdering in cold blood. Even a monster like Valentine. So don't."

*

Luckily, the second door took them into a bare corridor with no further unpleasant finds.

"Where to?" Alec asked, his voice low in spite of Charlie's reassurance that if Valentine was in the house, he was fast asleep now.

Jace stood motionless, thinking. "I don't actually know," he admitted. "I've never seen where the wards are anchored. But I'm sure it must be down here somewhere. He never liked it when I came into the basement."

"Was that the kind of thing he locked you in the shed for?" Clary asked.

"No. Playing with my toys instead of studying my books when it was lesson time was the kind of thing he locked me in the shed for. Catching me down here was more the kind of thing he gave me a thrashing for that almost ended with having to call a Silent Brother to help with patching me up."

Alec could feel his parabatai's body tense in remembered pain.

"I think it scared him, too. He never beat me like that again. I also never came down here on my own again."

"If he's somewhere in this house, I'm going to kill him all over again," Clary declared, her tone suggesting that she meant every word. "Asleep or not."

Jace closed his eyes, thinking back to the time he had lived in this building.

"Let's try that door," he said after a few moments, pointing at one that, to the others, looked exactly like every other door along the corridor. "That's one I've never seen open, and I was standing there that day he caught me." The tip of his sword stick made a circle, indicating the spot.

"That memory clearly imprinted itself well," Charlie commented, moving forward almost as noiselessly as a Silent Brother. In the gloom, her thin frame seemed to disappear into the shadows, and it wasn't just because her naturally blonde hair had darkened to pitch black for the occasion.

The door wasn't locked, as Alec found when he reached for the handle.

He could feel Jace's apprehension in the new tensioning of his muscles as well as through their parabatai bond.

"If Clary wants to kill Valentine again, she needs to get in line," he hissed as he pushed the door open and shone his witchlight inside.

The room was bare, save for a round table of dark wood set at its center, a variety of both runes and warlock marks cut and charred into the top, with small gems and crystals set at several crossings of lines. A larger, clear stone sat at the center, firmly embedded in the wood.

"And here's our anchor," he declared. "Picture?"

Nodding, Izzy moved forward to snap one.

Jace let go of Alec, leaning against the edge of the table instead as he drew his new dagger.

"What is that?" Clary asked, horror and confusion warring in her voice.

They turned to follow her gaze and the light from her witchlight stone into the corner farthest from the door. The remnants of other designs were drawn on the floor, mixed chalk and char marks. The design was incomplete, broken when the centerpiece had been removed, but they all recognized the fragments that were still visible well enough: They had seen them on those circles they themselves had been held in just a few months ago.

At the time, they had been rendered immobile by magic and runes and poison. Whoever had been held in this room had not been so lucky. Manacles, now open, were concreted into the floor. So were rings with a length of chain still attached, and a larger metal ring, wide enough in diameter to encompass a human neck.

Or that of another creature…

"Is this where he kept his angel? Ithuriel?" Jace asked, saying aloud what all of them thought. "I'm not surprised he beat me senseless if he thought I was going to walk in on that." He shuddered. By now, they had every reason to believe that the creatures they called angels were neither benevolent nor helpful, that they belonged in their world as little as the demons did, and that they could be entirely, utterly merciless and ruthless, given the right incentive. What would have happened if that creature had escaped Valentine's bonds?

He didn't even want to think about the fact that both he and Clary carried that specific angel's blood, given by Valentine to their pregnant mothers.

Without thinking about it any further, he slammed his dagger down into the table top, breaking a line of the design there, then another one, then a third before he started to pry one of the smaller focus stones out of the wood. He would have liked to just cut out the large center crystal, but given the strength of the wards, he wasn't sure he would survive the backlash if he didn't weaken the surrounding workings first.

Wordlessly, the others joined in, sharing the work and ending with the tips of four daggers pushed against the largest crystal from four sides, pressing into the wood until they found purchase on the smoother material and then slowly, carefully levering it out.

"Done," Alec and Charlie declared as one. They were the two in their group who could see the sheen of power and magic with only a twist of their minds.

"Let's go upstairs," Jace suggested. "Since we're here already, we may as well go and check what he's hiding here."

"Apart from himself and a heap of dead werewolves?" Izzy's face was set in a grim expression. "Yes. Let's do that."

*

"This was my bedroom," Jace told them as he pushed open the door to look inside.

Clary appeared by his side that wasn't taken up by Alec, leaning into him a little as she looked. "I'm trying to imagine what it would have looked like when you were living here."

Jace blinked. "It didn't look much different."

The room was still furnished as it had been back then, with a bed and a desk, and a number of shelves, a chest of drawers and a wardrobe. There was a layer of dust on everything now. Valentine hadn't bothered to clean up here, and going by the lack of marks on the floor, hadn't been in here since he'd taken possession of the house again.

"There were books on the shelves and writing things on the desk," Jace clarified. "Clothes in the wardrobe. My weapons there." He pointed, suggesting a place next to the door that they couldn't see from where they were standing, still outside the room.

"It wasn't cluttered with toys or personal things or anything. Valentine always put great value on having things orderly and not keeping around stuff that wasn't needed." He looked at her, a hint of amusement in his eyes. "Did you think he would have given me stuffed toys to put on my bed? Little plastic Nephilim and Downworlders to act out battles with when I could as well have been training to learn to actually do the thing?"

His expression grew more serious when he realized that that was precisely what Clary had expected.

He shook his head. "With Valentine, everything had a place, and a purpose. There was no idle play. Getting distracted was something that could get you killed."

"So when you said he locked you in the shed for playing with your toys instead of studying…" Clary asked, moving back from the door as if she had lost all interest in further exploring Jace's childhood home.

"He gave me a chemistry set once," Jace said. "Experimenting kits to build scientific understanding and curiosity. Also things that would train my reflexes, balance, accuracy… that kind of thing."

Clary looked at him sadly. "Were you never allowed to do something just for the fun of it?"

Jace's eyes lit up a little. "Sure. On my birthday, he'd let me make all the decisions, choose what I wanted to do and when, what I wanted us to have to eat, anything."

Somehow, that also didn't seem to be what she'd wanted to hear.

Alec's grip on him tightened, his hand giving a reassuring squeeze. Jace wasn't quite sure what to make of it. His life with Valentine hadn't been so bad – if one looked past the fact that it had been Valentine posing as Michael Wayland, taking the identities of people he had murdered for himself and Jace. He wasn't sure he understood why hearing about that time of his life seemed to make them all sad.

"Let's see if he still uses his old study."

*

The rooms that had been Valentine's clearly were still used – or used once again, as was probably more accurate.

They spoke of that same military precision and minimalistic approach that Jace had mentioned. At least Valentine didn't apply different standards to his own life than to that he had carved for the boy he had tried to raise as his own.

Boys, really, since he had had his own son as well, hidden away from the world until he had decided that Jonathan Christopher Morgenstern had grown too dangerous and needed to be removed not only from Idris, but from the world they lived in.

"One disadvantage of having things so orderly," Izzy said as she took in the room, "is that if we touch anything in here, he'll know someone has been here."

"Yeah," Alec said, his voice dripping with a rare amount of sarcasm. "Because the footsteps all though the basement, the opened back door and the destroyed wards won't do that?"

"We should at least send a fire message to Imogen or someone and inform them that the wards on Wayland Manor are gone and they can come and collect whatever Valentine left behind," Clary suggested.

Jace had let go of Alec's arm and carefully moved closer to the desk, to look into the drawers before rifling through the papers on the table without much concern for avoiding discovery.

"My dear Mr. Morgenstern," he started to read out one of the letters. "Dated last week, by the way."

"If we send a fire message, we may as well tell them ourselves," Alec said. "No matter which of us does it, someone's bound to recognize the handwriting."

Leaning in the door frame, Charlie cleared her throat. She had stayed a few steps behind, not getting in the way while remaining at hand. "If you tell me what to write, I can do it."

Jace waved her into the room. Fishing a pen out of a holder on the desk, he placed it on one of the pages he had browsed. "Use the reverse of this," he suggested. "Just something like: The wards on Wayland Manor are down. Send someone to collect Valentine's old things."

As Charlie wrote, he went through the assorted pens and pencils until he had found what he wanted: a spare stele, placed like the one the others had found in the old Fairchild Townhouse several weeks earlier.

"When do we send it?" he asked.

Alec considered a moment. "May as well send it now and get lost," he decided. "Even if she starts putting together a mission immediately, we should have enough time to get out of the house and away – but even if we don't, we won't have the time to search this place properly. So we may as well maximize the time she has before he returns."

"That's what I was thinking," Jace agreed as he placed the tip of Valentine's stele on the paper Charlie handed him and drew.

*

"So this is where my grandparents died," Clary said as she took in what remained of the Fairchild Manor.

They had cut across the meadows and fields without returning to the main road, Charlie covering up their tracks until they were close to the path that led by the property that had belonged to Clary's grandparents. It belonged to Clary now, as far as they could tell.

There wasn't much to see. The walls that had encircled the manor were still standing, though overgrown and crumbling. The building was almost entirely gone, with a single wall towering above the rubble, a lone, silent sentry watching over the charred remains.

Even those remains could only be guessed at right now, covered as they were in a thick layer of snow.

"It's not much to see," Alec admitted.

"I'm still amazed no one cleaned it up and built something new here," Clary said. "I mean, they didn't know that mom was still alive, they didn't know that I existed… But they just left it like that."

"People were afraid." Jace kept Crusader close by Clary's side. "They thought the land here was cursed, and that trying to build or live here again would mean bad luck."

Clary blinked at him. "You're demon hunters, and you believe bad luck works like that?" she asked.

"We," Alec corrected from her other side, gesturing to encompass Clary as well. "We are demon hunters."

"Yeah," she agreed. "Do you believe it would be bad luck to build here again?"

Her friends shook their heads decisively, though if that was because they didn't believe in bad luck or because they all knew that Valentine had not killed himself and his son in that building, that he had, in fact, merely used the fire to cover up several murders and conveniently fake his own death, was impossible to tell.

"Do you want to rebuild?" Jace asked her. "When we're back from our tour?"

"Not immediately, probably." Clary tried to imagine the work that would have to go into that, the money it would cost, the organization needed. "But some day, maybe? It could be a place for all of us, made for us…"

*

Jace checked his packed bags one last time. They were going to leave early the next morning, taking a portal to the London Institute, which would be the first stop on their journey.

They hadn't heard from Imogen about the Wayland Manor, which was not surprising since she wouldn't be able to inform them about any kind of ongoing investigation.

Max had come home early, though, muttering darkly about something having come up that he wasn't allowed to be part of.

They had shared one last dinner with Maryse, after which Clary had declared she had one last errand to run, and quickly left the house.

That was unusual. She had acquired enough of the local language of Idris – mostly a mixture of German and French, as was logical for the geographic location of the hidden country – for everyday communication, but she rarely went anywhere without one of them accompanying her.

As he let himself drop onto their bed, glad to finally be off his feet, he wondered what it was that had been so urgent.

Probably some kind of paint or brush she'd realized she was out of. They had jokingly asked Clary if she was trying to fit an entire art studio into the magically enlarged bag she had received from the Gales the first time they'd departed Calgary.

Jace's own held a stack of unread books, as well as Imogen's poison box. He could have fit it in his regular bag, but it seemed like the kind of thing that was better kept close at hand.

Sliding out of his boots, he lifted his feet onto the bed without allowing himself to use his hands to help. He found the progress he was making painfully slow, no matter what the Silent Brothers and the medics said.

He dug his thumbs into cramping muscles, working with strained patience until they relented. He was already missing the time they had come to spend taking care of each other after their exercise and training for the day was complete, treating each of them in turn to a thorough massage to counter the unpleasant side effects of driving their bodies to their limits in the gym.

They would hardly have the time or the opportunity for that on their travels.

He heard the front door open and Clary return. For a moment, he considered forcing himself back to his feet to meet her at least outside the room, but he thought better of it quickly. The last thing he wanted to do was to delay their departure tomorrow because he overdid things today.

Or, well – because he overdid things worse than he already had.

He heard her talk to Alec and Izzy outside, confirming that her errand had gone well and she'd found everything she'd wanted.

Then he saw the door handle dip, and they followed her into the room.

Dropping her backpack by the bed, Clary joined him there, leaning in for a cuddle and a long, slow kiss.

"Max got a message to take tomorrow off," Alec announced. He sounded quite satisfied. "Nice to know they set to work so quickly – without actually knowing it, of course."

Jace met his parabatai's grin with one of his own. "I almost regret that we won't be here when whatever they determine is made public. Or maybe I'm actually glad about it. I can't quite decide." He turned back to Clary. "What did you buy? More art supplies in case you get bored on the road or need to paint us out of a pinch?"

She leaned her head into his shoulder, snuggling close. "No art supplies," she told him. "I'll show you later."

"Later?" he blinked in surprise. "Is it a secret?"

"I don't know." That sounded oddly genuine, and it sparked more curiosity in him.

"Who decides if it's a secret?" he asked.

"You do."

Jace shifted a little so he could hold Clary closer. "I have no secrets from Alec and Izzy," he told her.

He meant it. The last weeks had forged them together as a group in a way that left no space for things unsaid and secrets kept. Besides, how terrible could whatever Clary had gone to get be if it was something she'd found in a store in Alicante in less than half an hour's time after dinner?

Moving away from him, she fished in her backpack until she brought out a plain brown paper bag to hand to him. Its contents felt soft in his hands, causing him to loosen his grip immediately. Whatever it was, he didn't want to break it.

He needn't have worried, as he realized as soon as he took a look at the contents.

What he saw confused him at first, until Clary elaborated: "I got you something to put on your bed and clutter your room with."

"I see," Jace said. He reached into the bag to pull out its occupant – a golden-brown teddy bear, looking at him out of adorable black button eyes, its short fur velvety soft.

Not too long ago, he would have scoffed at such a gift. He wasn't a child. Even as a child, he hadn't needed such things – not for comfort and not for any other reason. It was a silly, useless waste of money.

But he wasn't that person anymore – or maybe it was simply because the giver was Clary. Instead of laughing at her gift, he marveled at the feeling of warmth that spread through him just at the fact that Clary had given him something. He remembered the look of complete adoration on Magnus' face when Alec had presented him with that silly gingerbread heart he'd bought in Heidelberg. He thought that he understood now where that look had come from.

He put the bag down, but kept the bear. It felt awkward in his hands, a foreign object he didn't know what to do with. And yet, he didn't want to let go of it. He suddenly felt terribly inadequate.

A second later, he mentally shook his head at himself. Feeling inadequate because of a stuffed toy? Now he was being utterly ridiculous.

"I have no experience with cluttering my room," he heard himself say. "You might need to show me how."

He could feel her relax by his side.

"That's okay," she said. "You're always a quick learner."

He still wasn't sure why she had felt the need for this particular gift. It wasn't like she had—

That was when he realized that he didn't actually know that. Clary's mother Jocelyn had burned her apartment and everything in it to destroy anything that could be used to track them – or to track Clary in particular. The destruction had been complete in her room. All she owned now were things she'd gotten after she had joined them.

"Too bad I don't have one I can give you in return. I'll see if I can remedy that in London."

"Strictly speaking, I guess you do," Izzy said.

Jace looked at the bear in his hands. "I can't give this one away. I just got it." How could she even suggest that? The question hung in his mind for only a second. Honest as he was, he had to admit to himself that until very recently, it wouldn't have been beyond him to do precisely that.

"That's not what I meant," she corrected him to his surprise. "See, when you first came to live with us, Mom and Dad got out some things for you. You had nothing but clothes and weapons with you, and they wanted you to feel at home with us…"

He remembered that time, just after he had thought he'd seen his father killed – after Valentine had once again faked his death to discard a persona that had outlived its usefulness. He'd come to the Lightwoods, and those first days had been a rush of confusion, rules he didn't know, people unfamiliar with the rules he had grown up with until then, thinking everyone abided by them; the other children, so odd, different from what he had imagined… yet, he thought he would have remembered if anyone had given him a toy like that. He didn't think it would have gone over well, and he hadn't even known enough to cover up his reaction at the time.

"But I never got anything like that," he told her.

"I know," Izzy said. "Mom heard you talk to Alec about something and guessed that it wasn't … what you'd want. But she kept some things. I saw them a couple of years ago and asked her about it – that's how I know."

There was that warm feeling again all over.

He looked at Izzy, his sister in everything but shared blood. "Do you think she'd let me have it? Even if I would just need it to give it to Clary?"

"I think so," Izzy said. "But we won't know for sure unless we ask her."

Chapter Text

January 21st, 2017

Alec was glad for the amount of portal travelling experience he had been able to accumulate with Magnus.

Stepping through a portal and making it seem effortless and elegant, rather than the wobbly affair of spinning and being pulled every which way at once that it was, required practice. Doing so while keeping an arm around one's parabatai to make sure he didn't end up in a heap at the feet of the venerable head of the London Institute, and letting go the moment Jace had secured his footing, was bordering on acrobatics.

Evelyn Highsmith, who had been the head of the London Institute for so long that some claimed the day she retired would be the end of an era, looked them over with an air that was definitely on the other side of disapproving.

It was probably their association with Imogen Herondale, her predecessor in office, that had led to them being welcomed by the old woman in person. Normally, surely, the arrival of a group of young travelers would not have been enough to make her play the welcoming committee.

Alec stepped forward, acutely aware of the sharp look she favored them all with.

"Alexander, Isabelle and Jonathan Lightwood, Clarissa Fairchild," he introduced them quickly.

He wondered if they should have dressed to impress more. They had settled for casual and practical, their outfits mostly made up of mundane clothes combined with the matching soft leather jackets from their field gear.

Silence seemed to stretch between them while the elderly head of the institute took her time composing an answer.

He stood, waiting, unwilling to intrude into the woman's territory uninvited, but just as unwilling to let her make him fidget in place. He noticed with satisfaction that the others were taking their cue from him, standing at ease but firmly in place.

"Well, come in then," the old woman said eventually. Once again, her gaze swept over each of them as they obeyed, and once again she didn't seem to like what she saw.

"You're here to study and learn," she said. It was a statement, not a question. Alec chose to understand it as one anyway.

"Yes," he said. "Clary in particular, since she grew up in the mundane world, but none of us will mind learning something new along the way."

In fact, they very much hoped to be learning a lot of new things.

"You may use the library freely," Evelyn Highsmith told him. "You will notify someone on duty when you leave the institute, including your intended destination and expected time of return."

Alec nodded, though the second requirement chafed a little. It wasn't unexpected, though. Their own institute had introduced a strict curfew a few months ago.

"We were hoping to speak to some of the residents about their specializations," he said, keeping his voice carefully neutral. "As you probably know, Clary has some skill with new runes, including a portal one. We were hoping that if she had some access to the work of Henry Branwell and could talk to someone who studied his records, she might be able to put the information to use."

In other words: Hopefully, by understanding more about the runic end of how portals worked, she might be able to figure out a way to keep them from shattering, leaving everyone who picked up the pieces with a guidepost to where they had gone. Using the Wood was well and good, but she needed a painting to enter it. Most situations they would have to get out of quickly would not have sufficiently large paintings at hand – and portaling into the Wood wouldn't work, because the only thing consistent in that dimension was change, and it was impossible to portal to where one had never been before.

Highsmith nodded curtly. "You may talk to any resident if they agree to give information, but do not pester them if they do not wish to engage."

She sounded unhappy, which made Alec suspect that Imogen had made sure that the answer would not be any less positive than the one they had just gotten. They'd have to see how cooperative the local Shadowhunters were, then.

"Do you intend to take Miss Fairchild into the field?"

"We intend to show her some of London," Alec said. "We do not intend to go out of our way to get into a mission, but if you need some extra hands, we are happy to help."

The old woman sniffed, and this time, her displeasure was clearly directed somewhere to Alec's left.

"Should we be needed for a mission, my brother will be our coordinator until he's fully healed." Alec kept his voice calm and reasonable.

"We'll try to avoid imposing on you," Highsmith said, though her tone suggested that what she actually meant was: I expect you will stay out of institute business while here.

She raised one hand and beckoned imperiously, which caused a young man to detach himself from the shadows by the door.

"This is George Winterstorm. He'll show you to your rooms. If you need anything, he's the one you talk to."

"Yes, Ma'am," Alec said, nodding at her in a motion that bordered on a tiny bow. "We'll do that."

With outstanding accuracy for her age, Evelyn Highsmith turned on her heel and strode out of the door, leaving them to their assigned guide.

*

George Winterstorm was a tall, wiry young man about their own age, with a head of unruly black hair and blue eyes that looked a little too serious to match the rest of his appearance.

"We're stuck with each other then," he said unceremoniously. "Might as well get along."

"No objections to that," Alec said, offering his hand.

Izzy moved to stand beside him. "Did she assign us the broom closet, or do we actually get rooms?"

George laughed, which immediately brought him up a few notches in their eyes. "You are getting rooms, but I fear they're the farthest from the dining hall." He glanced at Jace. "I can see if we can swap at least one…"

"Are these rooms that are the farthest from the dining hall close to each other?" Jace asked.

"Side by side," George confirmed.

"Then we shall gladly keep those, and I'll be thankful for an extra opportunity to exercise," Jace declared.

George didn't seem entirely convinced, but there was a hint of relief in his eyes at not having to try and manipulate the room assignments. "Lightwood and Fairchild," he said instead. "We were expecting Herondale."

"Grandmother," Alec said. "Imogen Herondale is. No, wait. Let me disentangle that." He had never tried to refer to Imogen Herondale as his grandmother before, and the thought left him with what felt like a knot in his tongue. Since she had asserted more than once in the last weeks that if Jace insisted on being a Lightwood, she insisted on being all the Lightwood siblings' grandmother, he thought he probably would do well to get used to the concept.

"I got it," George said, chuckling again. "And you don't want to have your high and mighty ancestor dangling before you all the time. I get that, too."

They didn't ask him if he had one of his own.

"So, George…" Izzy began as they fell into step around him.

He raised one hand to stop her. "Geordie. Please. George is what my grandmother calls me. And, well, Mrs. Highsmith."

"Geordie, then," Izzy confirmed. "I'm Izzy. Alec, Clary, and Jace." She pointed at each of them in turn.

The last name brought up his eyebrows. "Jace? How do you get that from Jonathan?"

"Initials," Jace answered. "J.C."

They drew curious looks as they moved along the corridors. It seemed that their arrival was a well-known fact in the institute.

The London Institute was located in an old church, its size rivaling the one they had in New York, and glamored to look as abandoned and derelict from the outside. Inside, it was glorious, though in a very different way. The New York Institute was all high-tech and the latest of angelic-power technology displayed prominently everywhere, the luxury of the personal quarters the only thing reminiscent of the days in which the building had first been constructed.

This institute had kept much of its traditional look, the walls decorated with tapestries, paintings and embroidery generously distributed.

Clary veered off the path George set to study a large oil painting depicting a group of Nephilim in combat.

Noticing that they were no longer all with him, Geordie retraced his steps to stand beside her. "These are probably some of your friends' ancestors," he told her, pointing at two of the men. "Gabriel and Gideon Lightwood."

"Gideon?" Clary asked. "Is that --?"

"That's where my middle name is from, yes," Alec confirmed.

Izzy joined them, peering at the two figures Geordie had pointed out. "And his wife was Sophie."

"They were Benedict's children," Alec elaborated further. They'd done a little unsolicited study of their family's most dishonorable member by way of stealing the court files a while ago. Clary would know where to place the name.

Their guide made a face. "I wasn't going to mention that."

"Long in the past," Alec told him with a shrug. "Do we know what that painting shows?"

"Something of the artist's imagination, I think," Geordie told him. "Are you trying to learn the painting by heart?" The last was directed at Clary, who made no effort to hide that she was conducting a close scrutiny.

"Clary's an artist herself," Jace said. "You should see her work – it's great. Even when it's not me saying it."

"Even when it's…?" the other man looked a little confused, though it was clear that the information went a long way towards explaining Clary's interest in the canvas. That was just as well – the last thing he needed to know was that by the time Clary was done memorizing the precise layout of colors, the technique and some notable features or flaws she could find when scanning from the Wood, they were going to have a free entrance into the London Institute from any location that had a painting large enough to step into.

At least, that was the theory. The practice was that Clary still had to be within a certain range of a painting to sense it if it wasn't one she had made herself.

"He has to like my work," Clary said, laughing. "He's my boyfriend."

"Oh." The expression on Geordie's face was unreadable. "How many rooms were you planning to sleep in?"

"Usually, we use three, but we've shared more to a room when space was scarce," Alec said. Actually, they had slept more to a bed, too – that once at the Gales' place in Calgary, when they'd needed the proximity for reassurance…

"Then I'm very sorry to inform you," the local Shadowhunter declared, "that you have been assigned four rooms with no connecting doors. Also that Mrs. Highsmith is very particular about such things."

They looked at each other, then at Geordie. "Seriously?"

"Seriously.

*

The rooms they were given may have been the farthest from the dining hall, but they were spacious and lavishly furnished. All four dropped off their bags, carefully sketched some charms on them to keep unwanted hands off, and returned into the corridor.

"What are your plans?" Geordie asked. He had waited for them. Apparently, he took his assignment seriously.

"Maybe you could show us around the institute first, so we know where everything is," Alec suggested. "That is, if we're not keeping you from anything more important? If no one's going to take offense, we'll take Clary out for lunch. We have a few friends we want to meet up with. We'll be back in time for dinner, and that should leave us with time to spend in the library or talk to a few people tonight."

Geordie nodded. "That should work. I'll let the cook know you won't be around for lunch." He led them down the corridor and turned left at the first branch. "The institute is less confusing than it looks, though most people do get lost a few times in the beginning. Do you need me to come with you when you go into town?"

"I think we'll manage," Alec said. "We have GPS on our phones. I feel bad for intruding on your time as we are already."

The other man shrugged. "Don't worry about that. My time mostly belongs to Mrs. Evelyn Highsmith and anything she would do with it. I'm assigned to her as her personal assistant."

He gave them a confused look when that drew a bout of laughter from all of them.

Instead of following up on it, he turned to Jace. "Are you going out into the city, too?"

"I think so," Jace said. "Don't worry - I'm not as helpless as I look."

That reminded Alec of something else. "Do you think we can use the institute's practice area? Gym? Whatever you call it. We're on a mission to study, but we should still keep our fighting skills up."

"I'll show you where," Geordie promised. "And I don't see why not, as long as there's space."

They walked past a number of recreation rooms, all of them kept in the same Victorian splendor their bedrooms displayed. Alec tried to picture the layout of the building as they proceeded, keeping track of where, roughly, they were in relation to the outside. He found that it wasn't as difficult to keep his bearings in the building as Geordie seemed to think.

"You'll want to talk to Mary and Richard Eaglefeather about Henry Branwell," Geordie told them as they neared a broad stairwell that led onto a higher floor, towering over a smaller stair down into the basement. "They love the old things down there, and if there's anything of interest, they'll have read it."

"Can you point them out to us?" Alec asked.

"I'll do you one better," Geordie said, grinning. "I'll make sure you're seated with them at dinner."

"That'd be awesome!" Clary declared. "We can—"

She didn’t get around to explaining what they could, since Geordie chose that moment to push open the wide double doors that led into the institute's library, giving them a view of a room that put even the main library of Idris to shame – not in size, maybe, but certainly in splendor.

"I'm suddenly not sure I feel up to going out into the city after all," Jace said, staring at shelves that reached all the way to the ceiling, with narrow galleries running around the outside of the room where the two upper floors would have been to provide access. The entire room was glorious, from the carpet of high-pile red and gold to the mahogany desks placed at intervals for those who wanted to work here, and the leather and velvet sofas and armchairs arranged around low tables for those looking for a more relaxing reading experience.

Alec elbowed his parabatai gently in the ribs. "Save it for after dinner. You'll have time enough for the library later."

"With this library at hand?" Jace gave him a horrified look. "There'll never be enough time!"

*

The weather was cool but dry, and the streets were free of ice. They appreciated that as they made their way down Piccadilly. Magnus had taken the lead, walking arm in arm with Alec. Not a single sheet of paper would have found space between the two lovers.

Clary gave a soft sigh and an amused chuckle. "Hearts in love – how beautiful," she said.

Izzy looked at her friend with some amusement. It wasn't hard to imagine that Clary would have liked to mirror them with Jace, but any plan in that direction was foiled by the fact that Jace didn't have a hand free. He preferred being able to match their pace somewhat reliably to cuddling with Clary while he walked.

They passed a street vendor's booth that sold paintings and prints, requiring them to walk single-file past a large number of canvases framed and set up on the sidewalk.

"Haven't you seen enough art for the day?" Jace teased her fondly as she stopped to look at some of the pictures.

The first place Magnus had taken them to after they had met up had been the National Portrait Gallery, much to Clary's delight.

"It's your personal educational tour, Biscuit," Magnus had told her. "You should see something other than dusty Shadowhunter vaults and sweaty training sessions."

Faced with the choice of braving the mysteries of the London Tube or spending time on their feet, they'd opted to walk to their next destination.

"That there is the Wellington Arch," Magnus informed them as they approached what looked like a gate house set in the middle of a small park. "And that there is a statue of Wellington himself." He pointed at the sculpture of a mounted figure on a pedestal. There was a soldier standing at each of its corners – that much was evident even though the details of their uniforms and gear eluded the Nephilim.

"Come here," Magnus said, leading Alec off the main path and onto the brown grass that would probably grow into a nice lawn in a different season. "You have to stand right here to truly appreciate that sculpture."

They stood where he pointed. Studying the man on the horse, they saw nothing unusual about him. His nose was extraordinary in size, and he sat on his steed proudly and straight-backed, apparently ready to conquer the world.

Trying to spot whatever it was Magnus wanted them to see, Izzy dropped her gaze, taking in all of the monument.

A moment later, she laughed. "Magnus, you have the mind of a five-year-old!"

The other three looked at her uncomprehendingly while their warlock guide laughed. "Sometimes that's the best mind to have."

"I don't see it," Jace announced. "Whatever it is…"

"Lower left," Izzy said. "The soldier facing away from us."

A snort of laughter came from both the young men as they followed her instructions.

"Now that is a very undignified thing to do at the feet of your commander," Jace declared.

That being taken care of, they continued on their way, leaving the miniature park again at the other end.

"That's where he lived," Magnus told them, pointing at the building across the street.

Alec looked. It seemed that it housed a museum that was currently closed for renovations. At least that was what the sign out front seemed to suggest. "Who?"

"Old Atty Wellesley." Magnus gestured back towards the statue. "The Duke of Wellington. He threw some amazing parties in that house. Odd fellow, but a good taste in music."

"Really?" Alec was trying hard to imagine his Magnus in the company of dignified high-ranking military officers and found himself failing at the task.

"He had a nude statue of Napoleon Bonaparte in his staircase," Magnus continued. "At least three times as tall as the original. I don't even want to think about how many miles of polonaise we danced in those rooms, and up and down those stairs and past the emperor."

The memory made his eyes shine, and Alec was suddenly convinced that he spoke nothing but the truth.

"One night, Camille and Ragnor came along. You could scare him into needing an escort home if you told him a good ghost story, you see – and there we were, two warlocks and a vampire, riding the coach with him and having the time of our lives, and he never knew what he had let into his home."

Alec frowned. "Riding the coach? Is that a euphemism?"

"Only for dragging each other through the house on a rug," Magnus said, still smiling. "Party games haven't improved since then."

They crossed the street, joining a large group of mundanes who apparently thought the traffic lights were only a general suggestion.

A large, open gate brought them into a vast expanse of green with the occasional fountain, statue or flowerbed arrangement.

There were people everywhere, in spite of the cold: walking hand in hand, jogging or cycling along the paths. A group of mounted men and women in uniform rode by, causing a number of tourists to pull out their cell phones and cameras.

"We used to go riding in Hyde Park," Magnus said. "I'd like to say it wasn't as full then, but that would be a lie."

He took them a good way into the park, away from the direct proximity of the gates. Eventually, he pointed at a patch of clear grass. "What do you say to that spot for lunch?" he asked.

"Fine with me," Alec declared, rummaging in his hold-all messenger bag for his quilt already.

"Only if you help me back up when we're done," Jace said.

His parabatai nodded, knowing fully well that if Jace used his help to get back to his feet, he was doing so solely for the sake of convenience. Getting up from the ground was one of the first things he had learned when he had started to walk again.

Izzy caught a corner of the quilt as soon as Alec shook it out, helping him spread it flat.

They let themselves drop on it, benefitting from the fact that the quilt was enchanted to keep the user warm in winter and cool in summer. The frozen earth stood no chance against a Gale quilt, and they remained comfortable even if they were going to stay sitting there for an extended period of time.

There were other people nearby who were picnicking as well, and Alec wondered briefly how many of those were going to pay for sitting on the cold ground like that.

Under the cover of their bodies around him, Magnus went through the motions of his summoning, letting an assortment of foods appear between them. They probably came from some of the restaurants they had passed on the way. He certainly had looked into them with enough interest.

They had just settled comfortably around the treats Magnus had brought in for them, Clary leaning into Jace to make up for the lack of cuddling on the way, and Alec into Magnus to continue the same some more, when a small shadow came dashing across the grass and scurried over the quilt, making a beeline for the assorted food.

Diving nose-first into a container with fries that someone was now probably missing from their order, their unbidden guest grabbed what it could hold and retreated the way it had come, its pace considerably more leisurely now that it had what it had aimed for.

Alec blinked. "Did a squirrel just steal some of our lunch?" he asked, not quite daring to believe his eyes.

"It looked like a squirrel stealing some of our lunch," Izzy confirmed.

It only took a few seconds before another one made a go at a plate of cookies.

Clary lunged forward to shoo it away. The plate tipped over, spilling cookies on the quilt.

Their furry dinner companion ran, its prize firmly between its teeth.

"They weren't this insolent back then!" Magnus declared. "I swear they weren't."

Another one was waiting a little off to the side, trying for a different approach: that of looking cute and hungry and waiting to be handed free food voluntarily.

Alec sighed at the sight of those large, dark eyes wistfully eyeing their feast. He broke another cookie in half and held one piece out to the small animal. "There, you may as well have some, too, after your brothers already got some," he told it.

"I'm not sure eating that kind of thing is actually good for the squirrels," Clary cautioned.

Alec looked at her, one dark eyebrow raised. "I don't think it makes much of a difference. They're clearly apt at stealing what they like, not what is good for them."

The next one approached, climbing right over Jace's outstretched leg. A look around told them that the other picnickers fared no better, though it seemed like they didn't mind. In fact, it almost looked as if they'd come more to feed the squirrels than to actually have any food of their own.

"Magnus, do you have a squirrel repelling spell up your sleeve?" Clary asked. She had collected the spilled cookies again and was nibbling on one while trying to guard their lunch.

"Not sure," Magnus said. "It's not a thing you need very often." He grinned at her. "But I think a general pest protection spell should do."

Hearing that, their guests started to chatter excitedly. Then, as if on command, they shook themselves, fluffing up their coats until they appeared twice their size, just before they turned and raced away, brown streaks dashing across the grass as fast as their legs would carry them.

"I don't think they liked being called a pest," Izzy mused, loading a paper plate with food to enjoy the rest of her meal uninterrupted.

"I didn't know you did spells that secretly with no whooshing and waving!" Alec laughed, bending down a little to kiss Magnus' cheek.

Magnus looked a little confused. "Sometimes I do, but this time I didn't," he said. "They were gone before I could even start."

That brought them to high alert immediately, all laughter gone from their faces. If something had just scared off the squirrels – and it had done so, well and good: There wasn't a single furry creature in view anymore – then it was probably a good idea for them to be on the lookout. They weren't squirrels, but plenty of things that qualified as scary would be just as dangerous to them.

No one else seemed to notice anything. Some of the people in the vicinity started to make disappointed noises, looking around and trying to entice the rodents to come back.

It took only a few seconds before Izzy pointed, relieved. "They smelled the apex predator, that's all!" she declared.

As they followed her finger, they found two figures approaching them down the path. They, too, were walking arm in arm. Both were tall, the man dressed in washed-out jeans and a matching jacket over a t-shirt that seemed a bit too cool for the season. His hair was a light blond, looking almost sun-bleached. Two faint scars marked his face: a crescent on one cheek and a vertical line down the other. The former looked like a sports accident. The latter looked deliberate.

The woman by his side was Charlie.

"Charlie! Jack! Here!" Izzy waved to draw their attention.

Their smiles turned into full grins, and they sped up their steps as they approached.

"Nice corner you've found here," Jack declared, sinking down on the quilt cross-legged to help himself to some of the remaining fries.

Half Gale and half dragon, Jack was certainly enough to make any local squirrels run for cover even in his two-legged shape. The people around them took no notice of his arrival. Clearly none of them were sensitive to anything beyond the absolutely ordinary. Even with the glamor he wore that concealed the slightly uncanny features he retained when in skin instead of scales, those who had a knack for sensing the other would have reacted.

"If I'd known you were coming, I would have summoned more food," Magnus grumbled, but his eyes were sparkling. "No wonder Charlie's looking starved again with the amounts you eat."

The corner of Charlie's mouth twitched upwards in a wry smile. A particularly powerful working of magic she had engaged in several years before to save the world from complete destruction had taken a permanent toll on her body. She'd come out of the experience nearly starved, her powers feeding on the substance of her physical form. She hadn't been able to maintain a truly healthy weight or appearance since then, though at least a bardic glamor could take care of the second when she was performing.

Everything comes with a price, as she liked to remind them. Sometimes the price was worth it. This one, she insisted, had been.

*

Jack held up the last cookie. "Poor, lonely thing," he noted.

Before their friends had joined them, they had been reasonably warm from below on account of the quilt, but cold everywhere they weren't snuggling into each other. Jack had taken care of that. The dragon part of him radiated heat as well as any space heater.

"Well, go ahead and put it out of its misery," Magnus suggested.

Jack looked at the cookie, wiggled two fingers, and laid it on top of the plate freshly filled with a heap of identical ones. "There. Now it has friends again."

He picked up one of his creations and put it in his mouth.

Alec frowned as Jace reached for the plate. "The cookies are dirt," he said, pointing at a patch next to the quilt where the ground had acquired a dent.

Magnus summoned things from elsewhere, which strictly speaking amounted to stealing the things he took.

Jack created things anew, but he needed matter to use as a basis. Earth was around everywhere, and he liked to use that. Each of them had a perfect pair of grass-and-earth boots from him, fitting more perfectly than any others they had ever owned. They had been careful not to wear them recently. It was impossible for the attentive watcher to miss that they hadn't ever seen a cobbler's hand and that no industrial machines had touched them.

"They were dirt," Jack said, munching on another one. "Now they are cookies."

A small group of young people was walking past them, slowing at the feeling of warmth that emanated from their group. Jack toned down the effect just a little.

It wasn't enough. The first of their unbidden company was frowning slightly, trying to spot the source of the heat.

She opened her mouth to comment on it just as Izzy grabbed the plate with the cookies and half-pivoted where she sat to hold it up to the group. "Hungry?" she asked, forestalling any questions. "Would you like some cookies? They're amazing!"

It appeared that even sorcery-made Gale food held a certain appeal.

The first of the group reached out to take one, biting into a corner carefully. His eyes lit up. "Amazing," he declared around a mouthful of cookie. "May I take another one?"

"Take as many as you like," Jack said. "There's more where those came from."

That drew a laugh from his friends, while not only the young man but also his companions helped themselves to a supply of cookies.

By the time they were done, Charlie was playing a low, unobtrusive tune on her guitar.

"Go on," it said. "There's nothing here for you to see. Just move along."

They did, chatting about whatever it had been that had been on their minds before.

"You just fed them dirt." Alec said to his sister, his tone accusing though his eyes sparkled with mirth.

Izzy shrugged. "They liked it."

"You should try them," Jack threw in. "They really are better than they sound."

"Thanks," Alec said. "I still think I'll—Magnus?"

His boyfriend's body had tensed next to him, in reaction to something only the warlock could feel.

Magnus looked around slowly. "Someone just portaled in somewhere around here," he said.

They were all looking now, until, eventually, Alec pointed. "Catarina Loss." His voice was thick with relief.

Following his finger, Magnus nodded as he gracefully got to his feet. "I'll be right back."

*

"Magnus." Catarina had stopped a little way off, watching him and gaging his reaction. Even if she didn't exactly expect him to be angry at her, she wasn't running the risk that he might be.

"Catarina." He approached, his arms and face open.

As it happened, he wasn't.

"Have they made a mess of New York already and need me to come back?" He drew her into a brief embrace.

Her face was serious as she shook her head. "I'm sorry about what happened," she began.

"I'm not." Magnus gestured towards the group of Nephilim and Gales on the quilt. Charlie and Jace were now also trying to talk Alec into trying the cookies. "I'm free to go where I will, without any guilty conscience about abandoning my duties. Seen that way, they did me a favor."

She noticed that he said 'they', rather than 'you'. He could see her relief.

"I couldn't warn you," she told him anyway. "They would have—"

He raised a hand. "Shh. I know. It's alright." He put an arm around her and steered her down the path, away from the group. If they wanted to listen in, they all had perfectly good listening charms to use. "If you've wasted all the energy to portal here only to apologize to me, I'll be very cross with you. Why have you come? Are you leaving New York and looking for a place?"

Catarina shook her head. "I can't. My work is there. It's important. I can't leave the hospital."

There would be other hospitals, other places where she could work to heal and help, mostly those who never learned how lucky they were to have Catarina Loss as a nurse, or a doctor, or whatever she was currently acting as. It had been nurse more often than doctor recently, Magnus thought. Coming by the right documents to work a new mundane life got harder with every decade that passed. Presenting the right documents to work certain trades was even worse.

She probably had patients she was working on, magically, secretly, in ways no one would ever realize. People whose lives she was saving. She wouldn't abandon those. After these, there would be others. She wouldn't abandon those either. Unless called away to help with some kind of disaster or forced to leave by outside circumstances, Catarina was rooted in New York as well as the Gales were in Calgary.

"What do you need?" he asked. They had joked that he owed her a favor after she had healed his shredded hands, held together by magic and fresh scars, a few months before. He didn't need to owe her anything to help her if she required or desired his help. She was one of his, just as he knew he was one of hers. They'd always be there for each other if they needed someone.

She heaved a sigh. "It's Madzie," she said eventually. "I love that child, and I don't want to give her up, and I hate to have her uprooted again just when she's settled but – she's not safe in New York anymore. And I'm not safe for anyone while they have her to pressure me with. You get around, Magnus. Do you know someone who might be able to take her in, where they can't reach?"

Unspoken understanding passed between them. Magnus knew what she was thinking of, precisely. He'd had that same thought before she had finished her second sentence.

"I'll talk to them. I'll let you know, but I assume the answer will be yes."

Chapter Text

The dining hall was as large and glamorous as the rest of the London Institute. It was a huge and brightly lit room with a long table where everyone seemed to meet to share the meal.

True to his word, Geordie had placed them near a couple who were quick to strike up conversation with them.

"You're interested in portals?" the woman, Mary, asked Clary as soon as they had completed their introductions.

She nodded. "I have this rune that makes one, you see." It wasn't a secret, and word had probably gotten around about it already anyway.

"So why do you need to learn more about them?" her husband – 'Call me Rick' – asked. "Sounds like you should be teaching us, not the other way around. You must know all about them if you can make them."

Clary laughed. "See, that is precisely the problem here. I know barely anything about them. The runes come to me in something like visions. I have no knowledge about the background. I can make a portal, I can hold it for a short time, and when I can't hold it anymore, or when I'm through, it shatters and leaves portal shards all over the place. That's a bit inconvenient."

"I imagine it would be," Mary Eaglefeather agreed. "I'm not sure any of Henry's records will help you, but we can certainly make sure that you find them."

"He mostly provided the designs," Rick added. "The magical part of it was done by a warlock. Who it was isn't recorded anywhere, but most people who have dealt with these things have no doubt that it was Magnus Bane. You may know him from New York."

That drew a snort of laughter not only from Clary, but also from her friends, who were listening.

"What's funny?" the Eaglefeathers wanted to know.

"Magnus Bane is my boyfriend," Alec said, quite proudly. "And he's presently in London. We spent the afternoon out with him. He's been over every aspect of portals from the warlock end with Clary over and over again. Unsuccessfully."

The look they gave him was impossible to interpret. They didn't seem quite certain if they wanted to be shocked at that revelation, or enthusiastic about it.

Mary was the first to settle for the latter. "Do you think you could introduce us? Talking to someone who actually knew Henry – he might be able to help us make sense of some of the contraptions that are stored down there. It's not like we know where he was trying to go with every single piece he worked on, you see…"

"I can ask him," Alec said. "But unless you can get your head of institute to lift the ban, he won't be able to come in to have a look, so I'm not sure how much good it'll do."

"Who's the woman there?" Clary asked, trying to point unobtrusively with her fork.

The person she indicated stood out by her choice of rather old-fashioned clothes, which seemed to belong into a different century altogether. Not a single rune was visible. She had a close eye on the servers. There was something off about her beyond the unusual attire, though she couldn't put her finger on it.

"Bridget Daly," Rick said. "Our cook and housekeeper. She's a mundane, but don't think that means you can walk all over her. She must be well into her 150s by now…"

"You're kidding," Clary accused him. "Mundanes don't live that long."

"Neither do Shadowhunters normally," Mary pointed out. "If she knows what's preserving her, she isn't saying."

The woman was glaring at them, apparently fully aware of who they were talking about.

"I would try to stay on her good side, too," Rick added. "For a mundane, she's amazing with weapons."

The four exchanged a long look. Bridget Daly was not on their list of people to talk to, but it sounded as if putting her there would be a good idea.

*

January 22nd, 2017

Jace woke to the distinct feeling that there was someone in the room with him.

That wouldn't have been surprising in and of itself. He was used to waking up next to Clary these days. Feeling her, hearing her move nearby, never unsettled him. It even was reassuring.

This was different. This presence clearly didn't belong in his room.

And Clary couldn't be in the room anyway, because Evelyn Highsmith was too old-fashioned to allow an unmarried couple to share a bed, or even a room, as memory suddenly supplied.

So what was going on there?

Striving for silence as he moved, he rolled over, the turn carried more by his arms and upper body than his legs, close to the way he had gotten used to in the last months. His legs hadn't woken up yet. They lagged behind the rest of his body most days.

A woman was bent over his bag, fiddling with the zipper and failing to get it to move.

Jace allowed himself a silent smile. The charms held well.

It wasn't until she moved away, her posture radiating displeasure, that he realized that he wasn't looking at a woman at all, strictly speaking. Her progress was perfectly noiseless, her splendid dress with all its frills and lace not even rustling as she shifted from the duffle to the messenger bag. She cast no shadow in the diffused morning sunlight streaming through the high window.

He didn't need either of those things to understand, as the feeling of wrongness in the room fell into place. He was looking at a ghost. And a ghost burglar trying to go through his possessions to boot.

Learning of his Herondale origin had added an entirely new logic to his innate ability to see ghosts – including even those that normally did not wish to be seen and were able to evade the Sight. It was a hereditary trait in that family.

Mundanes liked to draw ghosts as transparent, ethereal white or grey beings somewhat reminiscent of their human shapes. Truth be told, so did a lot of Nephilim. He wasn't sure if that was how normally Sighted people saw them. To his eyes, the ghost in his room, just like any other ghost he had encountered, looked no different from any person at first glance.

Only a closer scrutiny showed that her edges didn't quite match. She lacked volume, looking somewhat like a picture, a life-sized photograph superimposed on the world she moved in, rather than actually being present in it.

She was the idea of the woman she had been – or the image of herself that she held in her own mind when she had refused to move on to the next world.

All that lack of substance didn't keep her from interacting with the world around her. She had fully expected to be able to open his duffle, and save for the charms probably would have succeeded.

Presently, she was eying his messenger bag. The next moment, she reached out with one hand, picking up the item sitting on top of it.

"Put that back." The words had left Jace's mouth before he could make a conscious decision to speak or continue to watch.

The ghost startled, whirling and clutching the teddy Clary had given him more tightly. She hadn't realized he had woken up. The way she stared at him suggested that as far as she was concerned, it shouldn't have made much of a difference anyway. Her words confirmed his suspicion. "You can see me?"

"Obviously," he told her drily. "Put. It. Back. Now" He found himself emphasizing every single word.

He still wasn't sure why he had decided to drop the bear in his bag before they left, but the night before, he had taken it out, feeling somewhat silly as he did so. It came from Clary. It was the next-best thing he could get to having her actually in the room with him while they were staying at the London Institute. He'd put it on top of the bag, where he could watch it as he fell asleep. Actually having it in the bed with him felt a bit too ridiculous.

"Aren't you a bit too old for a teddy bear?" The ghost asked, an unpleasant tone in her voice.

"I wouldn't know," Jace told her. "I only got it the other day."

He sighed at the ghost's sneer.

"My fiancée gave it to me." Judging by her dress, the ghost looked old enough to not be familiar with the concept of a girlfriend. "So don't make me get up and come over there."

He put all the mental power that he could muster in the last words, bearing down on the ghost with every ounce of focus. It wasn't exactly a bluff, but he also wasn't exactly in the right kind of condition to jump elegantly out of bed and retrieve his belongings.

She sobered, if from the knowledge of why the bear was dear to him or because she was yielding to his will, he didn't know. He had never tried to banish a ghost before, though he had read that it was possible. It seemed like a waste of effort. Usually, they didn't bother anyone.

Most ghosts also had better things to do than to break into people's bedrooms. Was it possible that he had been housed in her room?

While he watched her carefully return the little toy to where she had taken it from, he tried to put her appearance into a time and context.

"Do you live here?" he asked her before she could get up to any other mischief.

A corner of her mouth twitched into a smile that probably hadn't looked any more pleasant in life than it did now. "I don't live at all."

Jace rolled his eyes at her. "Is the London Institute your usual haunt?"

"What if it is?"

"We're going to be here a few days," Jace said, putting all the authority he could muster into his voice. "I would like to know if I need to warn my friends." And possibly add some more wards to their things, he added silently. Hopefully, Charlie would know some charms to repel ghosts.

"I don't even understand why you can talk to me," the ghost pouted a little, which wasn't any more becoming than her previous sneer. She could have been pretty, but not with the displeasure permanently etched into her features.

"Family thing," Jace said. "Don't try to distract. Do I have your word that you will leave my things and those of my friends alone? That is the three other guests of the Institute right now."

"You sound like her," the ghost complained.

Jace fought down his annoyance and forced himself to remain outwardly relaxed. Anything that betrayed that he was really out of his depth dealing with ghosts would be a bad idea – he was certain of that. "Answer," he told her. "And then tell me who 'she' is."

The ghost produced a sound that was neither very ghostly nor particularly ladylike. "Alright, alright. I won't touch your things."

"Or those of my friends," Jace prompted.

She looked at him unhappily. "Or those of your friends."

"There," Jace said, putting some kindness into his voice. "That wasn't so hard. Now, who do I remind you of?"

This time, the answer came promptly. "Imogen Herondale. She was head of institute here a while ago."

"My grandmother," Jace told her. Just like her… she hadn't thought it necessary to warn him of the ghost. "Did you rummage through her things as well?"

"Once," the ghost admitted.

Jace's voice was drily amused when he answered. "I take it she found out."

The ghost nodded her blonde head. "She said if she found me in her things again, she'd have me bound to something and locked in a small container."

"That sounds about right," Jace said. "She tried that with me and I'm not even a ghost."

*

Walking down the seemingly neverending corridors of the London Institute, Alec finally spotted the head of flyaway red curls he had been looking for.

That morning, the two women and he had accepted Geordie's invitation to join some of the younger members of the London Institute for a run. They had returned from it to find Jace comfortably holed up in the library, absorbing a book

"The Eaglefeathers were called out," he'd announced when he had spotted them. "They should have time for you after lunch, though."

Apparently, Jace had opted for staying out of everyone else's way, and they'd joined him, rifling through the immense library's directory and pulling what books seemed pertinent to their investigations. They weren't really expecting anything entirely new and shocking to be lying around openly in a publicly accessible library, but maybe there would be pieces that fit somewhere.

After lunch, which was as formal an affair as the last night's dinner had been, and used the same seating order, Clary and Izzy had accompanied Mary and Richard into the basement, to go through Henry Branwell's records together. Jace had declared that he needed to work off some energy.

Alec had offered to come to the gym with him, but his brother had declined. "I really just want to work on using less support to get to places," he'd declared. "If I have you there, I'll be tempted to switch to combat practice all the time."

That left Alec with time on his hands. Magnus had gone to Calgary to talk to Allie. Unless they used Charlie's time-travelling skills, he wouldn't be back for hours. Knowing the toll it took on her body, they tried to avoid any non-vital time-travelling, and Alec suspected that preventing boredom didn't qualify as vital.

He had just decided to return to the library, when he had another idea.

Finding the Institute's housekeeper was a lot more difficult than striking up a conversation with her, as he found out as soon as he approached her.

"Aren't you supposed to be in the basement, digging in Henry's old things?" she asked him, though not unkindly.

Alec gave her a slightly sheepish smile. "Actually, my sister told me to get lost when I tried to join them. She thinks I'll drop and break something and we'll be bound to the institute for a decade to work off the debt."

The woman laughed. "So you're trying to get a head start?"

"I was going to ask you if there was anything I could help with," he admitted. "I don't think volunteering for field duty to pass the afternoon would go over too well with the Head of Institute. I don't think she likes us a great deal."

"She has very precise ideas of how things should be done," Bridget Daly allowed. "You must forgive her for that – she isn't getting any younger."

Alec fell in step next to her. As they walked, he couldn't help but notice the surveillance cameras placed at intervals, concealed well to fit in the building's overall style, but doubtlessly there. After the relative freedom of their own home in Alicante, knowing himself continually supervised felt worse than it had back in New York.

"She might also be wondering if the Herondale boy has come to check out his new institute. It was in Herondale hands for a long time, until Imogen handed it over to her."

Giving her a surprised look, Alec shook his head. "If by the 'Herondale boy' you mean Jace, she doesn't need to worry. He's a Lightwood by upbringing and by choice. The Herondale part is more a technicality. He's also said many times that he doesn't want to run an institute at all."

"He might still reconsider," the old woman told him. "Now, what is it you really wanted to talk about?"

"Am I that obvious?" Alec asked.

At her nod, he continued: "Back in New York, Valentine's son Jonathan came to our Institute impersonating Sebastian Verlac. We thought he was Sebastian then. He came from this institute."

She nodded. "I know who you are talking about. Go on."

"I was thinking that maybe I should find out a bit about who Sebastian Verlac was – the real Sebastian. It doesn't seem fair to his memory to keep thinking of him as Jonathan."

They had talked about that. Most of all, they thought they owed it to Aline to stop thinking of Jonathan Christopher Morgenstern when her cousin was mentioned. They had briefly considered asking Aline to tell them about him. In the end, they had decided against it. Aline and Sebastian had been close. They didn't want to tear open a wound that had just stopped bleeding.

The idea of talking to the housekeeper, rather than to any of his fellow Nephilim, wasn't exactly his own. It had come from one of the mundane books the Gales had given them to read. He hoped she wasn't going to demand to know why he was talking to her, out of all the people in the institute. Explaining that would be a bit difficult.

"A quiet one," she told him. "Very serious. Very orderly. He liked exacting, precise work with lots of fiddling. He was growing those little trees – you keep them in dishes this size," she gestured, "and they get trimmed and cut into different shapes. He did rune shapes, and said they didn't count as real bonsai trees because of that. That was the farthest he ever strayed from the rules until the day he vanished. His specialization was the seraph blade. He wasn't one for flashy style or flashy weapons."

"Jonathan told us he had studied greater demons," Alec threw in when she stopped to think a moment.

She shook her head. "I'd be surprised. He was more of a groundwork person. He was happiest when put on assignments that were very straightforward. Go in, kill or arrest, get out. He studied lairs and hive behavior. He wasn't a bad instructor either. A very good eye for detail."

Alec tried to reconcile that information with the Sebastian they had known. Most of it didn't mesh. Of course it wouldn't. They hadn't been the same person after all.

"How did he disappear?"

The way she raised her hands said "Damned if I know" as well as if she had spoken the words out loud.

"He left the institute and never returned. Maybe he was going for a run, or needed to do some shopping – just something he was doing on his own. It was strange, because he was the last person who would have put himself into a dangerous situation. With some of the other young people, you expect that some day you'll hear they picked a fight with something larger and stronger than they are, and return battered or not at all. Sebastian? Never. There was some joking that he accidentally got himself arrested by the mundane police, but those jokes didn't last for long."

Alec had followed her into a room and picked up a feather duster to help with the work as she talked.

"He – that is, Jonathan posing as Sebastian – claimed he'd been taking yin fen and needed to get away to battle his addiction," he said.

The housekeeper shook her head. "Can't imagine that. And I think if they'd found anything in his room, either then or when they packed up his things, word would have gotten out. He can't have had much more on him than his clothes, his stele and a blade when he disappeared."

 

January 23rd, 2017

The little girl was looking around curiously before she glanced up at Catarina. "You said we don't portal into people's living rooms." Her tone was a little accusatory.

"These people have given express permission for me to portal you in here," Magnus told her earnestly as he went to sit in the spot Alec had kept free for him on the sofa.

They had left London after dinner, which brought them to Calgary just in time for lunch. They were planning to spend the night with their friends, and continue on to their next destination the following morning. As far as the London Institute was concerned, they were travelling by mundane means, to give Clary some experience in how to handle situations where portals were not an option.

Spotting Alec, the girl sent an excited wave his way.

Alec waved back in kind.

"That's right," Allie said as she came over to put an assortment of food on the sofa table so they could snack. Coming right from a meal, the Nephilim hadn't eaten much during lunch. "Because we wanted to meet you. I'm Alysha. What's your name?"

"Madzie," the girl said, squinting at the plate of pie Allie was carrying. "Why is there magic in your cake?"

"That's a nice name," Allie said. "The cake is called pie, and the magic is there to protect the people who eat it and to ward against people who may mean them harm. Would you like to try some?"

Madzie looked up at her foster mother again. When Catarina nodded an encouragement at her, she bobbed her own head.

"Then why don't you go over to the kitchen and have Katie there give you a plate and a fork?" Allie suggested.

"Sweet," Allie said to Catarina. "As I told Magnus, we'll be happy to have her, but you must understand that our experience with congenital sorcerers is very limited."

Catarina blinked. "Your experience with what?"

"In our family," the grey-haired woman who had settled regally in the sole armchair, explained, "we use charms to affect the world around us. Sorcery – your kind of magic – is something some of our family turn to when they grow too hungry for power and control. We hunt them, we kill them. Jack is the first Gale sorcerer alive."

Beatrice Gale was one of the four members of Calgary's first circle – the women of the family who benefitted of the extra burst of power that having gone through menopause gave them. They ran the family with a degree of manipulation and intervention that many of the younger family members chafed at a little at least – but ultimately accepted as necessary. First circle was what controlled the Gale power. Besides, the girls and women at least knew that their own turn at being an "Auntie" would come one day.

While officially, there was no ranking within first circle, sheer force of personality and stubbornness counted for something, and Bea had been the unchallenged leader almost since the moment she had settled in this town.

Jack, straddling a chair with one hand and his chin on the backrest, raised the glass of orange juice he held in salute.

"I can't help it," he said. "I was born a sorcerer. It's just how I do things."

"The point being," Bea said, preventing him from continuing, "Jack will be able to teach her some, but he also travels. Magnus will be able to teach her some, but while I expect he will spend more time here now that he's moved into the house by the park, he'll also want to be where Alexander is."

When Magnus had come to Calgary, presenting his situation to Allie and asking her if they had a place where he could store his things until he had the time to go looking for proper accommodation, the young woman had laughed. "What's wrong with one of the houses on Macewan Glen Drive?" she had wanted to know.

He had blinked at her once, his eyes narrowing. "Nothing," he'd said. "You want to sell that to me?"

The house, previously rented out to someone, had become vacant at the end of December. Even then, Allie had not doubted that they would need it soon – and guessed that it would be one or several of their New York friends who would move into it.

That was how the world worked for the Gales: If something happened, it did so for a reason. The net result always was positive.

After some small magical alterations, the house on Macewan Glen Drive, adjacent to the ones already occupied by Gale family, was now Magnus' new lair – with rooms kept at hand for Izzy, Clary and Jace.

"She is very young," Allie said, watching the girl accept the requested items from her cousin. "Maybe lessons are not necessary immediately."

"She's very strong for her age," Catarina pointed out. "Valentine made her learn magic far beyond her years. Lessons can't be avoided."

"Elessar." That suggestion came from Allie's husband Graham. He was a Gale by marriage, something that had once been very rare and still was far from common. Being a seventh son of a seventh son and wielding the power that came with that had probably helped. So had, in an odd way, the fact that he had been a sorcerer's assassin at the time they had first met.

"Wonderful," Bea said, her voice dripping sarcasm. "We'll have a Court teach a baby sorcerer. What has this family become?"

"Very inclusive," Allie told her firmly. "I'll ask Melissa to talk to Elessar about this."

Elessar was the name chosen by one of the beings the Gales called Courts and the Nephilim called Seelie knights. Basketball enthusiasts, he and his sister had come to spend some time at Calgary's university. His interest in actual university studies had only perked when he had developed an interest in Melissa Gale. Though it had only been three months since she had officially presented him to the family, he was now accepted as a part of it – and by the same token expected to pull his weight where helping out the family was concerned.

Madzie returned to the sofa table, holding out the plate she'd been given to Allie.

A moment later, she frowned in concentration as she sampled the pie.

"Not to your taste?" Allie asked.

"I can taste the magic," the girl told her. "And it tastes a bit like the one in Magnus' pie, but different."

"It was probably a slightly different charm," Allie told her.

Katie came over with an extra plate for Catarina, who had taken a seat at the end of one of the sofas.

Bea turned her attention towards Madzie. "Come here, child," she told her as soon as her plate was cleared.

Madzie glanced once again at Catarina, clearly not certain if she was supposed to obey the old woman.

At another encouraging nod, she went to stand by the armchair, meeting Bea's dark eyes.

"You're not a warlock," she noted. "But your eyes are strange."

That drew a laugh from Auntie Bea. "That is because I'm old."

Invariably, the Gales were born with grey eyes. Once the women reached that last stage of greatest power, their eyes darkened, until there was no way to tell iris from pupil anymore.

Bea's gaze slid a little lower. "Aren't you getting hot indoors, wearing that scarf?"

The girl nodded shyly.

"Then why don't you take it off and hang it with your coat?"

Madzie's hand went to her scarf, but she stopped short of pulling it off. "I don't know…"

"Do you like being hot?" Bea inquired.

The girl shook her head slowly.

"Give her time, Auntie Bea – and stop frightening her," Allie threw in.

Katie had come over and crouched down before Madzie, bringing her face roughly to the child's level. "Look," she said, pointing. "Jack there is half a dragon. The stag in that painting? That's Allie's brother David. Charlie has some friends who are Selkies. Our Auntie Gwen is married to a Leprechaun, and they live next door. The store downstairs rents out mailboxes to a minotaur, a loireag and a couple of corbae, in addition to assorted other people who live here. I don't think you'll stand out – do you?"

Madzie's eyes had grown larger with every word she'd said. "Which half?" she asked when Katie finished.

"Which half what?"

"Which half of him is a dragon?" She pointed at Jack.

He let a hint of golden scale play over his face as his hands morphed into dragon paws – human-sized dragon paws, at least – before he settled back into his human shape. He dropped the glamor he used to smooth his features into something unnoticeable. "My mother's side," he said.

"Madzie," Magnus said. "I know the old lady is scary, but I promise you she doesn't actually bite. I came here quite badly hurt last year, and they took very good care of me. Even the old scary ladies. All four of them."

"Especially the old scary ladies," Auntie Bea corrected him.

"Maybe so," Magnus admitted.

"Madzie," Bea said slowly. "What's that short for?"

"It's just my name," the girl said. "It's not short for anything."

A plume of smoke escaped from Jack's human nostrils, making her giggle. "They'll make up a nice long name for you if you stay with us," he said. "And a middle name, too. They did for me: I came as just Jack, and now I'm Jack Archibald Gale."

"Archibald!" Madzie's amusement intensified.

"It's his grandfather's name," Bea pointed out, a rare smile on her face now.

"I don't know my grandfather's name," the girl said.

Catarina leaned forward where she sat. "Her godmother's name is Iris."

Bea nodded at her wordlessly, while she tapped on her phone briefly. "Magdalena Iris … Loss?" She looked at the warlock.

Catarina nodded. "That works."

"We'll have Roland take care of the paperwork, then," Bea said. Turning back to Madzie, she asked: "Do you know why you're here?"

She lowered her eyes, studying the tips of the shoes she wore. "Catarina says New York isn't safe for me anymore, and I have to go somewhere else because another bad man might come and steal me otherwise."

"There's an entire big family here who can keep you safe," Allie said. "And protect you until you've learned to protect yourself. There'll be other children, as well. Won't that be fun?"

"Why can't Catarina stay, too?" Madzie wanted to know.

Catarina spoke before Allie or any of the other Gales could say anything along the lines that she was welcome to stay if she chose. "We've been over this, kiddo. I need to go back to New York to work."

"But you'll visit?" There was hope in her voice.

"Oh, you bet I'll visit! But let's wait and see – maybe you'll be so busy with your new friends that you won't have any time for me at all!"

"Never!" Racing through the room, Madzie launched herself at the woman who had, though only for a few short months, been her foster mother to hug her tightly. "I would never!"

Holding her, Catarina gave her a fond smile. "You know what's even better? Magnus and Alec have bought a house very near here. They'll also be visiting a lot, and they'll bring Clary, too."

"And Jace," Jace added. "They'll bring Jace, too."

"Hey," Katie said, offering a hand to Madzie. "Why don't the two of us go and check on Allie's boys? She has four, you know, and I think the older ones are just a little younger than you. They'll sure be happy to play."

"Where are they?" Madzie asked, looking around.

"In Evan and Edward's room with Charlie. Down that corridor." Katie pointed. "I'm sure everyone else here has super boring things to talk about. We'll make sure to let you know when Catarina has to leave so you can say goodbye to her."

*

The boring grown-up talk was soon interrupted by the arrival of a number of children of varying ages, all carrying school bags. Some of them made a beeline for the kitchen to help themselves to a snack. One of the older boys came skipping over to where Jace was sitting immediately.

"I learned a new piece!" He declared.

Jace laughed. "You'll have to play it to me some time soon, then. I don't know if we're going up to Mount Royal today…"

"Oh, we don't have to!" the boy declared. "Mom and dad bought a piano, and we're neighbors now, so you really only have to come over for dinner!"

The four Nephilim and Magnus exchanged a look. "Was that an invitation?"

The boy nodded enthusiastically. "Mom said we must have you over for dinner the first time you spend a night here!"

"Well then," Alec said. "Tell her we're very happy to accept the invitation, but ask her if she's sure today is a good time."

"It will be! Dad messed up the numbers on the shopping list and bought way more than we needed, so we already knew there'd be guests for dinner!"

"That is an interesting world view," Catarina noted.

Magnus looked at her with a shrug. "It works for them."

"Too many people here to do homework now," one of the older girls declared. "Who wants to go outside?"

"If you want to go to the playground, see if Madzie wants to join you," Allie told her. "And Evan and Edward, too. They're in the boys' room."

"Oh!" The girl gave what sounded very much like a happy yelp. "She's here?" With that, she dashed off down the corridor that led to the apartment's other rooms.

"Who will go with the children?" Catarina asked when none of the adults seemed to be in any hurry to find outdoor clothing.

Allie, cutting herself a narrow piece of the pie, turned towards her. "They know the way," she said reassuringly. "They go there all the time. The older children keep an eye on the younger ones."

"But Madzie's a warlock. If her magic gets away from her…"

"It will be no more of an issue than if one of our kids messes up a charm," Allie said. "Don't worry. There are many of ours, and only one of her."

Catarina didn’t seem entirely convinced, but realizing that if this was how things were done in Calgary, it was how they would be done once she was back in New York, she said nothing.

A moment later, Madzie came back into the room, trailed by two identical-looking blond boys roughly her size. "These are Evan and Edward," Madzie told Catarina, her tone very serious. "They're my new friends. Lyla says we should all come to the playground with her and the other children..." She trailed off as she looked around the room. "So many children!"

"Well, have fun there, kiddo," Catarina told her. "I'll still be here when you come back."

That, it seemed, had been the main issue on Madzie's mind. Once reassured, she joined the flood of children headed back out the door, with the older ones giving the younger ones a hand with boots and coats.

"Which of the families will she be staying with?" Catarina asked when the door had closed again.

Allied gave a shrug. "All of our families are willing to take her in. Let them play the afternoon together, and then we'll see where she'll fit best. If she hits it off with one of them right away, that's where she'll go."

"Like Jace and me," Alec noted. "Except that we got lucky because we didn't really have a choice."

Chapter Text

January 24th, 2017

"Whose idea was it to set out at stupid o'clock?" Izzy asked, yawning.

It was four in the morning, and they were packed and ready to leave after a very short night in which they had done their best to get at least a few hours of sleep.

The house that Alec and Magnus insisted belonged to all of them seemed a little larger on the inside than it was on the outside. The ground floor had a generous kitchen and dining area combined in one, a spacious living room with plenty of book shelves that were barely filled at this point, a gym and a sauna with a bathroom. The first floor somehow had grown three suites of rooms, each with a small sitting room, good-sized bedroom, a study with all amenities modern technology could afford, and a bathroom that was nothing short of luxurious. Two guest rooms completed the setup. The second floor housed a sunlit studio for Clary, as well as several rooms Magnus could use for alchemy and spellwork.

"Let's call this the Calgary Institute," Alec had joked when they had finished their tour of the house the night before.

"Do you like it?" Magnus had almost looked nervous as he waited for an answer.

"Like it?" Alec asked. "Are you kidding? I love it! It's perfect!"

Dinner with their Gale neighbors had been a pleasant, relaxed affair, and Richard had gotten the opportunity to present his newest piano skills to Jace. They had taken their leave quite early, in order to catch some sleep before they had to depart again.

Mumbai was twelve and a half hours ahead of Calgary. Barring the use of time travelling, they had to leave now to arrive at four thirty in the afternoon. They needed the extra time, since they would not be able to portal directly to the institute, but needed a slightly less conspicuous location to appear in. The Fire Message they had received had suggested they should arrive by five.

"Don't we need someone who has been to Mumbai before to portal there?" Clary asked as they waited for Magnus to finish a particularly big yawn.

"We have," Alec said, pointing at Izzy and himself.

"I have, too," Magnus added. At least that was what he probably said. He was yawning again, which took a toll on his intelligibility.

Alec stepped forward. "Here," he said. "Let me put a caffeine charm on you. We don’t want you to mess up the portal because you are half asleep."

He drew the charm on Magnus' cheek and followed up with a kiss.

"I'll take Jace and Clary through," he said when they broke apart. "Izzy can take Charlie and Jack, and you just take care of the portal, okay?"

"I'm not that tired, Alexander," Magnus said. "But let's do that."

*

Once again, their ways parted, with Magnus, Charlie and Jack setting out to prowl the bazaars and find accommodation somewhere – which shouldn't be an issue between an application of Gale luck and Magnus' magic – while the Nephilim made their way to the institute.

To mundane eyes, the Mumbai Institute was a skyscraper under construction.

Beneath the glamor, it was a modern building with the latest of angelic power technology.

The man who met them at the door smiled broadly when he spotted the Lightwoods.

"Alec! Izzy! You have grown!"

Alec laughed at the greeting. "You haven't, Raymond." He squinted at the other man. "Actually, you may have shrunk a little. Clary, Jace – meet Raymond Shadowscale. He was our tutor when we were assigned to this institute for our studies."

Raymond Shadowscale looked to be in his early fifties, with grey mottling the dark brown of his short hair and beard. His tan spoke of many hours spent in the sun without protection, looking a little burned-in. He was dressed in loose cotton trousers and shirt, with a broad belt that carried a dagger sheath and a seraph blade.

"Ah, so this is the illustrious Jace," Shadowscale said. "If you'd come to the family a few years earlier, we would have met before, too. Max told us all about you, though."

"I hope at least some of it was good," Jace replied. He knew the instructor from Alec and Izzy's tales, of course, and he found that he liked the impression he made in real life.

Young Nephilim not yet ready for field service spent time in various institutes for their studies and training, though these were limited to theory and what practice could be offered inside the safety of institute walls. After they got their first field runes, they continued to serve spells in different locations, this time to gain field experience there.

It had become a bit of a Lightwood family tradition that their children spent six months in this institute.

"A surprising amount of it was, actually," Shadowscale said. "He loves all three of you a lot."

"You wouldn't know it if you listened to him right now," Alec told him.

The older man raised his eyebrows. "How is Max? I heard of his mishap with Valentine's son."

Alec made a face. "Better than he was, worse than he could be. Head injuries are tricky, and he's easily frustrated. He wants to have skills, not regain them."

Shadowscale nodded and turned his attention to Jace again. "Whereas you are clearly all for regaining skills. Was there no chance you could have convinced him?"

"None," Jace said. "Believe me, I tried. Even seeing that I am making progress didn't do the trick – it only made him more gloomy. But you're mistaken. I hate regaining skills. I just know better than to argue when my body clearly disagrees."

"Right." The older Nephilim gestured towards a corridor. "I'll show you to the guest quarters. Alec and Izzy know where they are, but for the sake of formality, let's pretend they don't."

The siblings laughed.

"It's been over ten years!" Alec exclaimed. "I don't think I could find anything anymore. I wouldn't even expect things to be in the same place they were when I left."

"They mostly are," Raymond assured him as he started to walk, setting a brisk pace with only a marginal glance to see if Jace would protest. His next words were directed at Clary: "And you are the young lady who is the reason for this visit? I should thank you – these two would never have dropped by to say hello to their old instructor otherwise."

"I don't know that I'm a lady," Clary said, "but we're on tour to introduce me to the Shadowhunter world beyond what the New York Institute and Alicante have to offer, yes."

He didn't ask her why that was necessary. Most likely, he knew anyway. "You should stay for longer," he told her instead. "Maybe not six months, but one or two, surely. You will not be able to learn a lot in just a couple of days."

"This is not so much a training stay," Alec explained, "and more meant to show her the different places where we work, the different ways in which we work. We'd like to show her some of the institute's specializations, of course, and maybe talk to people who specialize in subjects that interest her. But we're really trying to give her a broad overview of our presence around the world. Then when we're done, Clary can pick which institutes she'd like to spend time at for training."

"So should I treat this as a marketing tour?" Shadowscale asked with a smirk. "Do I need to polish up my sales pitch before morning?"

"It can't hurt in any case," Alec said, grinning.

They stepped onto an elevator. As their guide tapped a panel with his stele, the doors closed again and the car started upwards with a smooth hum.

"It will probably help her decision if you don't insist that Clary and Jace sleep in separate bedrooms," Izzy suggested sweetly. "That's what London did, and they were both miserable."

"We should be able to manage that," Shadowscale said, laughing.

The elevator stopped on the fifth floor, where they were led down a corridor with patterned walls and to a door that looked precisely like every other one they had passed so far.

"This isn't where I planned to put you," Raymond Shadowscale told them, "but in light of your family's connection to the Institute, and as a personal favor from me – have a look and see if this is to your liking."

He pushed the door open, revealing a spacious sitting room with strategically distributed cushioned furniture. The color theme was a pleasant mix of blues, with some yellow highlights adding variety.

"The suite?" Alec asked. "That's … unexpected."

His former instructor shrugged. "It's not in use right now, and we're not going to need it for anything else for these few days. If you let Jace and Clary have the master bedroom and take the smaller ones for yourself and Izzy, everyone should be happy."

"We are!" Izzy said, forestalling any answer Alec might give to insist that they could do with less pretentious accommodation. "Thank you so much, Raymond!"

"Wonderful," the man said. "Then take your time to get settled. Best send me a fire message if you need me – the building's a bit large to go looking for me in person. Do you have plans for tonight?"

"The Shadow Market," Alec told him immediately. "We never got to see it when we were here! We're not going to pass up on that."

That brought him a laugh. "Well, I figure you are old enough for it now. Stay safe. Go armed just in case and don't get into trouble."

*

"I thought we were going to talk to a warlock," Clary said when they had left the institute.

After the continuing cold of winter in New York, Alicante, London and Calgary, the Indian heat felt heavenly and hellish at once to them.

"It's not even that hot yet," Raymond Shadowscale had laughed when he had heard her sigh about it.

In light of the temperatures, they had opted against wearing full field gear. They could have put on charms to keep cool beneath it, but they wanted to avoid the kind of suspicion surely caused if they showed up and weren't affected by the climate.

Instead, they were dressed as tourists, their glamors keeping any mundanes from spotting four young people armed with swords and a bow.

"We are," Izzy told her. "And we're hopefully going to find her where we're going."

It wasn't too far from the institute, and they were on their way there at a leisurely pace. Jace had opted for his sword stick and was walking arm in arm with Clary, with an additional equilibrium charm applied to add a small safety margin just in case they did get into trouble.

Charlie, Jack and Magnus met them half-way there. They were walking towards them, the crowds still in the street weaving around them in that way glamors made people evade the user.

Jack looked Jace up and down. "You've downgraded?"

"A little, for now," Jace confirmed. "I'm okay for short distances, and I don't want to look any more vulnerable than I have to where we're going."

Magnus laughed. "The Shadow Market is not actually a den of Downworlders out for your blood, you know."

"I do know," Jace returned. "But I still feel more confident holding electrum."

To mundane eyes, the entrance to the shadow market led to a narrow passage boarded up towards the back.

For those who could see though a glamor, the passage turned at the end, opening onto a hall bursting with bright colors and noise.

Clary stopped in her tracks to stare for a moment. There were stalls and booths set up inside a room that seemed to go on forever, stretching for longer than she could see. Light shone down from the high ceiling, though it was impossible to tell from where they stood if that was sunlight falling through a glass roof or warlock spells brightening the bazaar. The myriad of bright colors swamped her for a moment. Suddenly feeling a little dizzy, she almost held on to Jace's arm for support, realizing at the last moment that it was supposed to work the other way around.

Just as she had steadied herself, the smells reached her - a bouquet of unfamiliar spices wafting over her and requiring her to take another few moments to adjust.

And there she had thought the Christmas Market in Heidelberg had been overloaded!

As she glanced at her friends, she saw that Magnus had dropped the glamor from his eyes. Jack, similarly, showed his somewhat uncanny not-quite human face.

Neither of them stood out. Many of those she could see bore the unmistakable signs of a Warlock or Seelie.

At her nod, they started to walk down the row of stands and booths on one side of the hall slowly, looking at the goods they passed.

"Highness," someone said, awe in the high-pitched voice.

"Just Jack," Jack replied nonchalantly. "Highness is my mother."

He was browsing the titles on the spines of the books sold by that particular vendor. They were in a language Clary couldn't read, but that she was reasonably certain was not written in the same letters as the signs she had seen outside of the Shadow Market.

She reached for one that was propped open to study the illuminations.

The moment her hand touched the binding, she jerked back, almost dropping the book. What looked like a very fine-grained leather felt strange. For a split second, she could have sworn that the material was still alive.

"Spellbooks from the UnderRealm," Jack explained. "You want to be careful with these. Some are spelled to trap those unwary or those without the right power and skillset to use them."

Jack picked up a small volume and handed it to Magnus. "This seems to be down your alley."

The Warlock took it, flipping through it while Alec looked over his shoulder.

"You might be right," he allowed. "But the price is outrageous."

The Dragon Prince glanced at the tag and nodded. "Good point."

Several minutes of vicious bargaining later, the book disappeared into Magnus' magical hold-all messenger bag.

"I could have watched that all evening," Alec told Magnus, leaning close to almost-whisper into his ear.

Magnus laughed. "Then I'll just have to find some more things to buy here, so I can give a repeat performance."

As they continued onwards, Clary found herself glancing at the food stalls. Though it was late afternoon in Mumbai, she felt about ready for breakfast.

Jace's hand on her arm tightened a little when he noticed where her eyes were going. "Don't," he cautioned. "Seelie food. It has odd effects. Usually reversible, but we don't need the distraction or the delay now. We'll eat at the institute later."

She nodded, indicating that she had understood.

Izzy drew them to a booth run by a pointy-eared gem merchant.

Most of the goods sold there went far beyond the budget any of them had available. Towards the rear of the displayed stones, however, there stood a number of small, cubic containers that looked like glass. Suspended in each of them was a tiny, spelled crystal. It wasn't hard to guess what Izzy was thinking: with the right kind of wire setting, those would attach easily to the charm bracelets they had.

Magnus picked up one of the cubes and handed it to Alec. "If I may interfere with your choice – take this one," he recommended.

"Cleansing?" Alec asked. "What's a tiny piece of cleansing going to do?"

"Save you if you have a demon-infected wound and no healer nearby," Magnus said practically. "I can strengthen the spell to give you a couple of uses instead of one before it needs to be recharged, but small as it is, it may make a difference one day."

That was impossible to argue with. With a nod, Alec set the container with the small stone aside and started going through the stack to see if there were any more like it.

Izzy placed a cube with a green crystal next to Alec's. "Poison detection will also help," she decided.

"Deflection," Jace said, handing Clary a red stone cut into a diamond shape. "At this size, it probably won't actually keep you safe entirely, but it'll make you a bit harder to hit with missiles and the like."

She smiled at him. "Good idea, but I'm out of money."

"That's okay," he said. "I'll pay for it." He continued to go through the cubes, reading the descriptions and trying to decide which one he wanted to take for himself.

"Spell detection?" Clary asked, joining the search.

Alec shook his head immediately. "We're carrying too many spelled objects already. It'll just go off all the time and we'll not know if it's a warning or just reacting to our own things."

"Regeneration," the merchant suggested with a pointed look at how Jace was leaning on his sword stick.

"I'm already regenerating, but thank you for the suggestion," Jace returned.

Jack reached through between them and picked up a cube with a crystal cut into a tiny, multi-faceted ball. "Masking," he said. "I used to have one of these, but larger. They conceal your presence and make you look ordinary."

"I don't want to be ordinary," Jace said, but he took the cube anyway.

"What happened to yours?" Izzy asked Jack, just as the vendor informed him: "If you wish to replace it, you may have a look at these!" She pointed at a collection of similarly cut crystals.

"I gave it to Meliorn." Jack sounded so matter-of-fact about it as if he was routinely handing out precious magicked gems to random Seelie. "He's going to need it the day he decides to leave his queen and join us on the light side of the force."

"How do you know he's going to decide to do that?" Clary wanted to know.

"Won an intuition check," Jack said, grinning. "Besides, he's already done it. He just doesn't know it yet."

The crystal he chose was slightly teardrop shaped, set already as an earring. He pocketed it instead of putting it on.

"Where'd Charlie go?" Alec asked, turning and scanning their vicinity for the Bard.

"Wherever the closest instruments are sold I'd wager," their half-dragon friend replied. "She'll catch up."

As they continued to move more deeply into the hall, it became evident that the room must have been magically enlarged. There was no way that there could be this much space inside the building they had entered.

"I don't think I've ever seen so many Downworlders in one place," Clary noted in a voice so low that only her friends could hear her.

"It's one of the largest gathering places in our world," Magnus allowed. "It's hard to keep the peace with so many in close quarters, but it's also good to know where to go if you really need to stock up on some item or another and don't mind paying for it."

He was right, of course. As she looked around, she saw that not far from them, two men brushed against each other in the crowd. One was dressed in a formal western suit, while the other wore more colorful garments, decorated with beaded patterns.

The more brightly attired man took a step back and drew himself up to full height, snarling at the offender. The fangs he exposed answered the question of how the room was lit: It couldn't possibly be sunlight if a vampire was walking openly through the room.

The man in the suit hissed back. His fingernails turned into claws as the shape of his fingers changed and his hands sprouted a pelt of dark hair. His features shifted, the jaw lengthening to make space for a different kind of dentition.

Clary couldn't help but note the control the man had over his change. She'd only ever seen Luke and Maia and the other members of their werewolf pack change all the way.

She could feel Jace shift his stance to balance himself in case he had to draw his blade. Alec and Izzy both had a hand on their sword hilts. Clary followed suit. She sensed power gather behind her as Magnus and Jack both collected energy to use at need.

Before the two men could come to blows, however, a third figure stepped forward. Dressed a blue and gold combination Clary had seen around the market before and taken for some kind of uniform, this one was swinging a baton-like weapon to separate the two.

As he turned, she could see multi-faceted insect eyes in an otherwise human face.

"Warlock?" she asked.

Magnus nodded. "Some are working for the Market. It doesn't make you rich, but it's better than some things you could be doing."

He let most of the power he held dissipate as the warlock on duty sent vampire and werewolf on their ways.

Clary paid more attention to the uniformed people after that.

"They're certainly quick to stop trouble and prevent it from happening," Charlie's voice said behind her. Apparently the other woman had caught up with them.

Turning, Clary saw that she was carrying a new instrument.

"Pretty," she said. "What does it sound like?"

"Interesting," Charlie told her. "I'll have to learn to actually play it, but I think it'll add some value to my repertoire – both performative and in terms of charms."

*

"There we are," Magnus said, preventing any further discussion of music. He pointed them at a booth labeled Indira Lock: Wards, Protections and Containment.

Following their friend, they approached the woman seated there. If she was Indira Lock, then her warlock mark must have been concealed beneath her clothing or glamored into invisibility – something none of the other warlocks seemed to be doing within the market. Her looks were nothing short of striking, but nevertheless perfectly passing for a regular human.

Magnus seemed to have no doubt as to her identity. "Madame Lock," he greeted her as she looked up. "I am Magnus Bane. I believe that we had a mutual friend – Ragnor Fell."

"Had?" she asked. "Is he no longer your friend, Magnus Bane?"

"I fear that he is no longer alive," Magnus returned.

Her expression was clouded with sadness for a moment before she resumed her professional mask. "How did it happen?"

"Demon attack," he said. "He died defending a secret entrusted to him in order to keep a friend alive and safe."

"You were there?"

Magnus nodded. "Ragnor died in my arms. I tried to heal his wound, but it was not enough. I am sorry – he is greatly missed."

"He spoke of you quite often," the woman said. "We must drink to his memory – later. Have you come merely to inform me of his death? You bring an odd entourage for that." She gestured at their group.

At her words, Magnus shifted a little to let Alec step up next to him and the others come closer.

"Alexander Lightwood," he introduced. "My partner. He and his friends have a matter they require some help with. A matter connected to wards and bindings."

Indira Lock inclined her head slightly in Alec's direction. "That is my specialization," she said. "But my services are not for free. Even for the friends of friends. You keep strange company, Nephilim."

"We keep the best company," Alec told her, before coming straight to the point. "There is a set of wards we have encountered several times now. We need to learn more about their origins. Previous attempts have led to dead ends. Any input you might have would be valuable. We will pay for your time and your knowledge, of course."

"Of course you know better than to believe that your status as one of them would mean that you can walk out without paying the fee." She held his eyes as she spoke.

"I don't think we would be keeping this kind of company if we were the type who'd think that," Alec replied. He kept his tone light, but the tension in his body increased ever so slightly.

"I would vouch for his integrity – and that of his friends – if it makes any difference," Magnus offered.

The other warlock made a vague gesture, though she seemed to accept his words. "Come," she said as she rose from her chair. "Let us sit more comfortably to discuss your issue with wards."

"Should we talk about the fee first?" Alec asked.

His voice was low, the question directed at Magnus, but it was Indira Lock who replied: "How can I set your fee before I know the amount of skill involved in solving your problem? I am sure that Magnus Bane will make certain that I do not over-charge you."

At Magnus' nod, they followed her to an arrangement of cushions around a low table. Many of the service providers had similar setups behind their front booths, allowing them to talk to potential clients in relative privacy. The noise of the market abated the moment they stepped through the wards Indira had put up around her own consultation area.

As they settled, a teenaged boy approached, distributing tea and placing a platter with small treats on the table. His clothes were cut to accommodate a prehensile tail.

"My apprentice," Indira said. "Please, enjoy the chai and anything else you like. I assure you that it is all safe for mortals."

"And for Nephilim, I hope," Charlie said. She had taken the place across from the warlock, closest to the booths, her new instrument at her feet and her guitar on her knees.

The comment brought her a quizzical look from Indira. "And for Nephilim," she confirmed. Turning to Magnus, she added: "You may add your own warding to keep our conversation private if you wish."

"Thank you," he replied, nodding at Charlie.

The tune she started to pick was pleasant, a background sound easy to forget or to enjoy as desired. The music spread, resting on the inside of Indira's existing wards without touching them and preventing anything they spoke from even reaching that layer of protections already around them.

"A Bard," the warlock said. "That's a rare one. Your control is impeccable. Now I understand why they would have you in their company."

Charlie inclined her head, accepting the sideways compliment. "It's my pleasure to help out friends in need," she claimed.

Alec took out several folded sheets of paper and smoothed them out on the table. The first set showed close-ups of various parts of circles put together of designs that looked very much like runes, though not all of them had been known to them when they had first seen them. While using the precisely same arrangement, the pictures clearly showed different circles: some were put on bare earth, others on grass in different seasons. Two were drawn in chalk, two burned in with a stele.

The most recent photograph showed the remnants of another, near-identical circle – the one they had found in the basement of Wayland Manor.

Alec allowed himself a mental grin at the thought of Valentine coming home to find the Inquisition in his lair.

Finally, he added an ink drawing of the complete circle.

"We know what they do," he said. They knew that very, very well indeed. The four of them had been trapped in them.

There had been a fifth circle, larger, more elaborate, holding Magnus as the final bait for a demon general to be summoned. Alec couldn't find it in himself to regret that they hadn't taken a picture of that one. Magnus had been hurt, close to death, and in dire need of help.

"What we need to find out is where they come from. We haven't found them in any books on wards and bindings that we have checked. We haven't found anyone familiar with the precise design."

Indira Lock went through the pictures one by one. She lingered the longest on the complete ink drawing. "This," she said after a long silence. "This will be my payment. When you walk out of here later, I will keep this design."

Alec gave her a surprised look. "What would you do with it?"

She spread her hands in a gesture replacing a shrug. "I specialize in these things. This belongs in my collection of spells. Don't worry, Shadowhunter – I know the rules by which we are to practice our magic. If you find these circles abused, you will know which warlock you gave them to, so I will have every reason to limit their use to cases that I am very, very certain of."

That hadn't even been the predominant thought on his mind. They had given the designs to another warlock before – or, strictly speaking, Magnus had – though she had only been able to provide them with a lead of very limited use.

"Agreed," he said. "Assuming you actually have something to tell us about them."

"I have not actually ever seen these before," Indira told him. She took a sip from her own cup. "But I have a good idea of what they are. If I am right, they are very old."

Magnus watched her, outwardly the very image of a relaxed but intent listener. Alec knew him well enough to realize that his boyfriend was paying very close attention to the woman. He would spot the slightest attempt at concealing anything from them.

Instead of prompting her to go on, betraying his impatience, Alec waited, letting the silence stretch as long as Indira wished. They were paying her for a result, not for the time it took her to get there, after all.

"You may have seen parts of this in history books," she finally said. "Or in legends and tales. If you go back far enough, it can be difficult to tell one from the other. I can assure you that it isn't a myth."

Going by the certainty in her voice, Alec had to wonder if, whatever she was going to tell them, she'd been there. There was no way to tell the age of a warlock once they'd stopped aging physically. She had the looks of someone in her early twenties, but she might just as well have been a thousand years old.

Well, maybe not a thousand. Few warlocks lived that long without fading and eventually going dormant.

"When your kind was still figuring out how to go about things, there were some who thought that demons should be reasoned with. They caught a few but did not banish them. They kept them imprisoned to study them. They learned some of their language. They tried to communicate. They found out that all the demons would tell them, once communication was possible, were lies. So they changed the focus of their studies, and turned towards the most efficient ways to banish them instead." Her smile was pleasant, though her tone left no doubt that the experience would have been anything but that for the demons in question.

"Since you cannot keep demons in a regular cell – not even the special cells they keep for other beings in Idris –, they devised a trap that would allow them to store their catches. It must have been a cooperation of warlocks and Nephilim who had studied their runes in greatest detail. Their work resulted in a binding that would hold whatever was chained inside suspended in a single moment of time, unable to leave it."

"Sounds about right," Alec admitted. Except for Magnus, they hadn't been chained. The four Shadowhunters had been injected with a potion that kept them immobilized. Thinking back, Alec was secretly glad that he and Izzy had been rescued before the other potion had worn off. By the time they had regained consciousness, they had been safe, able to wait for the remaining effect to dissipate in relative comfort.

Clary and Jace had woken to an unresponsive body, laid out naked in the Wood.

"Where did this happen?" Izzy asked. "Alicante?"

Indira made a vague motion. "Who can tell? It was an experiment conducted a long time ago, and it was declared unsuccessful and probably purged from the record as a waste of time."

"Who was the warlock involved in the creation of the bindings?" Alec put his chai down and fixed her with a hard look. She wasn't lying and she wasn't deliberately keeping back information on the questions they asked, but he had a suspicion that there were things she wasn't going to say unless asked specifically about them.

"Try Pierre Haine," she suggested. "He was one of Elphas' students. His earlier lot was always happy to cooperate with Idris. He trained them well for that."

"Only the early ones?" Alec asked. "What happened to the later ones?"

"That is not a question you have paid to hear the answer to," the warlock pointed out.

"Indira." Magnus' voice held an edge. "You are being paid very generously. I believe you can throw in an extra answer."

She glared at him, but relented. "Later, his advice was to stay well clear of any of you. He called his sister all kinds of things for choosing to stay in Alicante. She's still there, for all I know, so if you want to know anything more about him, ask her."

"She's not exactly talking to us," Jace told her. "Believe me, we've tried."

She also wasn't particularly easy to have any kind of meaningful conversation with. Her body may have been impervious to aging, but her mind had apparently suffered. What she had told them had been disjointed, barely ever in response to what she had been asked, and not generally making a lot of sense. In the end, she had chased them off with a spell.

"Well, that's all I can tell you about it," Indira said. "Can't say I ever considered travelling to Idris and offering my services anyway."

"Pierre Haine," Alec said, returning to the former subject. "Is he still around?"

"I don't know." The answer came fast, but sounded genuine. "I never met him. I only heard of him. If I'd met him, I surely wouldn't need your drawing."

That was a point that was hard to contest.

"One last question." Alec could feel her running out of patience with them, and while he was certain that the promise of the template and the powerful presence of Magnus, Jack and Charlie would be enough to get some more answers from her, he didn't want to push their luck. "Have you ever heard of these being used to trap angels as well as demons?"

She stared at him wordlessly for several seconds. "No," she said eventually. "Who would be so insane?"

"Valentine Morgenstern," Clary said, tapping the picture taken in the basement of Wayland Manor.

"You understand what that means?" Indira Lock asked.

The four exchanged a look. What the warlock had just realized for the first time was not entirely new to them anymore. Izzy's voice was cold when she spoke. "That with the right kind of spell, angels are no more powerful than any demon. Not as omnipotent as they want to be seen."

"If one was to say that in the wrong kind of company," the warlock said, "it could come dangerously close to blasphemy."

"Yes." Alec said. "The wrong kind of company will not hear it. Not from us in any case."

He could feel a wave of heat from where Jack was sitting. Their half-dragon friend was flexing his metaphysical muscles.

"You need not threaten me, Dragon Lord," Indira Lock told him, her outward calm unperturbed. "I have little love for the Nephilim and will surely not tip off anyone if there is someone among their own lines getting ready to cause some havoc."

"I should hope it won't come to that," Alec told her. "And it's Dragon Prince actually."

Jack gave him a rueful smile. "Just when I thought I wouldn't have to hear the word 'Highness' again today…"

*

"I'm dead," Jace groaned. "I think I'll sleep right here tonight."

They were gathered in the suite's sitting room, trying to draw out the time until they would have to catch at least some sleep.

Time zones and the associated issues with sleep were something they hadn't sufficiently thought about when they had put together their travelling plans, making them as random as they could to avoid anyone from guessing where they were going to go next. Institutes were always open to any Nephilim who requested entry, and since they didn't actually intend to be involved in institute business, they were planning to appear unannounced in most cases – precisely to prevent the wrong people from being tipped off about their whereabouts. They were going to contact only those institutes ahead of time where there were people they knew personally.

They couldn't discuss the findings of the day – not in full view of the cameras. While they could have taken care of those with a charm, it didn't seem wise to leave a trail of mysteriously failing surveillance equipment wherever they went.

"Do you need me to carry you into your bedroom?" Alec asked his parabatai. It wasn't hard to see that Jace had overestimated himself a little that day. They had spent almost another two hours exploring the Shadow Market before walking back to the institute, where Jace and Clary had been given a brief tour, complete with all the tales of misdeeds Alec's and Izzy's younger selves had committed.

By the end of it, he had been dragging his feet. The lower third of his back had been one solid source of pain and his left shoulder and hip were protesting the one-sided strain of leaning increasingly heavily on his cane.

He almost accepted his brother's offer. "Uh, no. But a strong shoulder to lean on would be appreciated," he decided at the last instant.

"And a pair of strong hands to rub the cramps out of your muscles. I get it." Alec was laughing. "Come on, parabatai. Let's get you to bed."

Jace was just awkwardly pushing himself back into a vertical position, when he remembered something that almost made him insist that he could make it on his own after all. The thought lasted only a second. Hadn't he said just a few days ago that he had no secrets from Alec or Izzy?

Even so, he half-expected a jibe when they had reached their destination, and Alec spotted the plushy bear sitting behind his pillow.

Then he found himself smiling in surprise when his own eyes fell on it. When they had first taken possession of the room, Jace had taken his teddy out and put it there for Clary to see when she returned after inspecting their bathroom.

He didn't know when she'd come back into the bedroom on her own, but it was clear that she had done so. His bear now had company, the two fluffy toys sitting as much arm in arm as they anatomically could.

Alec said nothing about them. He merely ensured that Jace made it safely to the bed before he knelt to undo the laces on his boots. He moved slowly, making sure that his friend saw what he was about to do and had the opportunity to protest if he so desired.

Another day, he might have. Today, he was too sore and tired to even consider it. He suspected that out of the four of them, he would be the one who would have the least trouble falling asleep.

"Get ready for bed," Alec told him. "Then have Clary get me if you need help getting to the bathroom and back, and after that I'll see what I can do about making at least some of those muscles relax so you won't wake up unable to move tomorrow."

Jace was about to thank him when the other man cut him off.

"Don't," he recommended, a grin on his face and his eyes sparkling. "I expect you to return the favor next time I get myself beat up on a mission or something."

"May that day be far in the future," Jace groaned. "We really don't need two invalids on the team."

Chapter Text

January 25th, 2017

A glance at the time told Jace that he would have been wise to set an alarm the night before. Another one to the side told him that in contrast to him, Clary had not overslept.

She had left a note on her side of the bed.

Alec said to let you sleep and just wake you in time for lunch. I'm sitting in on a class on runes this morning. Alec's on the archery range and Izzy went to the library.

She had left a small round tray with coffee and breakfast by the side of the bed for him, too.

Experience had made Jace keenly aware that rushing got him nowhere at the moment. With half a cup of coffee inside him, he started a series of careful loosening and stretching exercises, noting to his surprise that he was far less sore and stiff than he had feared after the previous day's exertion.

Either his body was actually remembering that walking for a few hours at a leisurely speed was not considered strenuous exercise, or the charmed and spelled oil Alec had rubbed into his muscles had been immensely effective.

Encouraged by the result either way, and knowing that no one was going to hear the noise and rush in to help if he ended up face-first on the floor, Jace gauged the distance between the bed and the bathroom door, and determined that he could figure out where he had left his electrum bracelet or at least one crutch later.

It was a wobbly endeavor, but he eventually declared it another victory on his way back to full health, though he resolved that the next time he would try this particular stunt, he would do so with his boots on. His feet still didn't feel like they were entirely part of his body.

Finally washed, shaved and fully dressed, he found that he had just enough time before noon to make it worth the effort to track down at least one of his friends. He thought he remembered where the library was from the last day's tour, which made Izzy the target of his quest.

He found her at a panel, taking notes while scanning the database for something, absorbed in her work.

"Hey, Iz."

The sound of his voice made her turn, a moment of surprise quickly clearing the way for a bright smile.

"So you've rolled out of bed after all. Grab a chair and be my secretary then. Your handwriting's neater than mine. That is, unless you want to join Alec and play with weird arrows?"

That wasn't as tempting as it could have been. While he had worked to improve his archery skills in the last month or two, it had never been his weapon of choice. He pulled up a chair and settled, picking up the notebook and pen Izzy had been using.

"If I help you now, will you have some time for combat training after lunch?"

He didn't wait for her confirmation to browse the notes she had taken. The top-most line said: Lock trained by Elphas. That wasn't shocking news after their talk the last day, but it was nice to see the suspicion confirmed.

Beneath, she had started to put down the known whereabouts of Pierre Haine over time, marking the periods during which he had been close enough to an institute to conceivably cooperate with the Shadowhunters in any kind of project with an X before the line. The first few were already marked with notes on why they were unlikely to relate to the demon catching experiments.

"I'm learning more about institute history than I ever thought I'd need," Izzy told him. She pulled up the next dataset, scrolling back in time until she had the period that overlapped Haine's presence in the area.

Jace studied the screen over her shoulder.

"They only had two Shadowhunters present and no real property on which they could have kept prisoners. Unlikely."

She confirmed his verdict and clicked on to the next institute while he added a note.

"Paris," she said. "This is definitely one we need to consider. Enough people, enough space and he's even listed as associated warlock."

Jace frowned at the next entry. Izzy had already marked it with an exclamation mark. "Milan? But there is no institute in Milan."

"There used to be one," she told him. "I checked it before I started going through everything chronologically. It was abandoned in 1698."

"Abandoned?" That felt wrong. "Have you ever heard of an institute just being abandoned?"

"Not before this morning," she agreed. "And there's more."

She tapped the screen and pulled up the entry. "It wasn't a small one. Look at the people last assigned to it. You'll find that one of them stands out."

He didn't have to look far. The date Izzy had named was enough to make him drop his eyes to the entries starting with "M" immediately. "Aveline Montclair. You're suggesting that this is where the demon plague started."

That disease had struck the Shadowhunter community without warning and very nearly driven them to extinction. While Baba Agnieszka, the ancient warlock who resided in Idris and was said to be the older sister of Elphas the Unsteady, hadn't seemed entirely sane, she had cited the first person known to have contracted it as a reason not to talk to them.

"Do you get a different impression?"

Jace put an exclamation mark of his own behind Izzy's. "No. And I think we should go and check out what is left of this place."

*

Iceland

"Why couldn't we go to another hot place next?" Clary asked almost as soon as they stepped out of the portal.

"We could have," Alec told her. "If you'd told us where you wanted to go next before we left."

They had departed after dinner, late enough to not show up just in time for lunch at their next destination in spite of the time difference. Raymond had looked relieved when Alec had told him that they did not need to use the institute's portal to continue their travels, but had booked a private passage with a warlock.

The warlock in question was presently throwing up a small heat shield around them, reducing the bite of the icy winds of Iceland.

They had come out on what looked like a barren volcanic landscape, drifts of snow only adding to the inhospitable appearance.

"Is there really an institute here?" Clary looked around, frowning. "I can't imagine no one would notice it if you dropped a cathedral or a big chunk of a building here, even with a glamor on it."

"Not all institutes are that big," Izzy told her friend. "This one, for example, is rather on the cozy side."

"I can't wait to take a flight beyond the Wall," Jack said, sounding entirely serious about it.

"Which wall?" Now it was Alec's turn to be confused.

Charlie's grin was evident in her voice. "They shot part of that TV show with the dragons we watch around here," she explained. "We'll be having a look at that while you question your colleague on his work."

*

Their group split up, with Magnus, Charlie and Jack waving at them as they made their way towards the institute named the Reykjavik Institute in spite of the fact that it was not exactly within the city's borders. It was simply the only settlement in Iceland sufficiently well known to name an institute after and enable people to place it immediately.

"I wish we could just spend the night with them," Izzy sighed. "That hotel Magnus and Charlie picked sounded wonderful."

Alec laughed. "You can still run back and tell them you want to go with them instead," he suggested. "The three of us can manage."

She glared at him. "I'm not going to let you walk into a potentially hostile institute on your own."

"Potentially hostile?" Jace raised an eyebrow at her. "Are we expecting ambushes everywhere now?"

"Yes," Izzy returned. She sounded entirely serious about it.

Jace was just trying to figure out how high he thought the risk of running into someone who belonged to the faction that wanted them dead out here was when he hit a patch of ice under the snow on the path.

First his crutch slipped out from under him the moment he tried to lean on it. Then his ankle folded, the boot not quite up to resisting the sudden pressure of his weight applied at the wrong angle.

A stab of pain shot up his leg as he went down on one knee in the snow.

For a split second, he welcomed it. It meant there was sensation where there previously had not been any.

On the heels of that moment of relief came the realization that he had no way to judge the severity of his injury. The pain quickly abated to a dull throb. Was that because he had merely stretched something in that joint farther than it should have gone, and it was now grumbling a little at him, or was his body simply not up to sending through the message properly yet?

"Jace?" Alec had jumped to his side and was looking down at him. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah," he claimed, hoping that it was true. "Slipped on some ice."

Hoping that none of the others saw what he was doing, he sketched a charm on his boot, stiffening the material just in case. There was no way around walking on that ankle now anyway, unless he wanted Alec to carry him. He couldn't very well sit in the snow and take his boot off immediately.

Carefully placing his crutch and reaching for the hand his parabatai offered, he hoisted himself back to his feet and took a cautious step. The pain intensified a little when he put his weight on the ankle, but either his joint or the boot held. He nodded at the others. "I'm okay. Let's take this slowly. The ground's a bit treacherous here."

*

Alec had felt the echo of Jace's pain in his own ankle and was relieved to notice that there were no flare-ups as they continued on their way. Nevertheless, he found himself glancing at his parabatai more often than usual. Jace was walking more carefully than he had, which was just as well given the condition the path was in.

Iceland's only institute looked like a cottage nestled into the volcanic landscape. Alec wasn't even sure that it was glamored to look like anything that it wasn't. Though the island was brimming with Downworlder presence, and there was barely any place in the world where entrances into the Seelie realm were as dense and as permeable as they were here, there had never been a particularly strong Shadowhunter representation.

The Sight was abundant here, with many mundanes perfectly capable of seeing and interacting with things beyond the ordinary. The ratio of those humans with Seelie blood was unusually high as well, and many were trained to handle whatever the local Downworlders might throw at them. Demons coming to Iceland were as likely to be chased off by a sudden alliance formed of Sighted mundanes and their distant Seelie relatives as they were to be banished by Nephilim – more so, probably, since there were more of the former than there were of the latter.

As it was, the institute was more of a formality, the residents tolerated but not particularly valued as the keepers of the peace in the metaphysical area.

The main reason their group had come here had a name:

Eugene Bearclaw was a scholar who studied the original three Nephilim and, following the currently-popular theory that Jonathan, Abigail and David had originated in Iceland, had come to this cold country months ago to try and uncover some traces of them.

Like all institutes, this one opened its doors willingly when Alec touched it and gave it a slight push. All Nephilim were welcome in any institute, at any time.

They had barely closed the door behind themselves when two small figures appeared in the single door that led out of the vestibule and deeper into the building.

"Oh," one of them announced. "More guests!"

"Hang your coats somewhere and come on in!" A woman's voice called from the other side of the door.

Noticing that the other three were looking at him, Alec shrugged and slid out of his jacket to do as he was told, before following the retreating children.

The room he entered was probably what passed as the dining hall in this institute. It looked rather like a large living room, with a fire crackling merrily in an open hearth, spreading a pleasant warmth. A long, sturdy wooden table stood at the end farthest from the fire, equipped with a number of mismatched chairs that looked worn but serviceable - the same description that could be used for the sofa and armchairs arranged in front of the fireplace.

Alec looked around, trying to guess through which of the doors leading out of this room the two children had disappeared.

He was spared the decision of where to check for the residents, or the need to call out to see where an answer was coming from, when a woman walked in.

"Welcome," she said, looking Alec over. "What brings you to our—Oh." The other three had entered as well, arranging themselves behind their leader. "I didn't realize you were that many."

"We're only four," Izzy said.

The woman gave a wry smile at that comment.

"Four is as many as the people usually living in this institute, counting the pre-rune-age children," she pointed out. "And we already have a guest. We'll have to see where we can find space for you. Are you here for Seelie studies, or did you want to annoy Eugene a bit?"

"The second, probably," Alec admitted. He wondered how many guests the little institute had seen since the man had taken up his project here. "We were hoping to be able to ask him some questions."

She chuckled. "Doesn’t everyone? If they're about the first three, he will surely be happy to answer. You'll have to excuse me and my husband for not sitting with you when you do your interview, though. We've heard it all too many times these last few weeks."

"I didn't realize so many came to talk to him."

"It's a popular subject," the woman said. "But usually, they come alone or in pairs. Four at once – we only have the one guest room. Well – I guess Jon can sleep in Silvia's room for a couple of nights, and one of you can sleep on the sofa. What we'll do with the others, though…"

"Actually, we can take a hotel," Izzy said quickly. "Really. It's no problem at all. We wouldn't want to make anyone give up his room for us."

"My sister is right," Alec agreed quickly. "We should have taken into account that your space would be limited. We'll find accommodation for the night elsewhere."

She made no effort to hide her relief. "That is appreciated," she assured them. "But first, please – sit down and let the fire warm you up a bit while I go and see where Eugene is hiding."

They complied, fitting themselves on the sofa side by side.

As soon as their host had left them to find the historian, Alec took out his phone to text Magnus and fill him in on the change of plans.

His boyfriend wrote back almost instantly, sending a line of increasingly happy smiley faces followed by a message promising to book two extra rooms.

"Does this qualify as Gale luck?" Izzy asked.

Alec gave her a sideways look. "Because you get to enjoy the hotel, or because I get to spend the night with Magnus?"

"Both," his sister decided.

They didn't have any opportunity to further discuss that particular question, since the woman who ran the Reykjavik Institute returned, followed by an older Shadowhunter. Like most scholars, he was past the age typically found in the field, his hair and beard nearly white. He was carrying a thick file folder that he put down on the low table between the sofa and the armchairs to push it their way.

"I hear you're interested in our ancestors," he said, nodding at all four of them. "It's nice to see young people actually showing an interest in subjects other than how to hunt and kill. Most who come to talk to me about my work are much older."

The smile Alec returned was a little forced. He couldn't quite pinpoint it, but something about the man made him uncomfortable.

"We find that one does not preclude the other. We're helping our friend Clary here get an idea of the world beyond our home institute and Idris, and we thought we'd use the opportunity to improve our own education in subjects that are of interest to us as well. You are Eugene Bearclaw?"

The old man nodded. "I have studied Jonathan, David and Abigail Shadowhunter for many years," he told them, indicating the folder. "Have a look at my files."

"Do you concur with the theory that they came from Iceland?" Jace asked while Alec flipped back the cover and started to leaf through the pages, slowly and with Izzy looking at them along with him.

"I thought it was a promising direction," Bearclaw said. "That's why I came here."

"Thought?" Clary was leaning in to catch a glimpse of the notes as well. "You no longer do?"

"No," he agreed. "There is nothing to support that theory that I could find. Not only that, but by talking to the local historians, I have come to the conclusion that if the three were from this area of the world, then part of our other legends about them – the part specifically that we consider most likely to be accurate – would have to be wrong."

Alec looked up from the page he had been browsing. "And what part is that?"

"The part where the entire purpose of the journey the three were taking was to take Abigail to Jerusalem to be married. If we discard that as an option, then, looking at the attitude the mundanes had at the time, there is no conceivable reason why a young woman from a good family would have been traveling that far with only her brother and one of his friends for company. Even so, it seems unlikely, though at least not impossible."

The tone he struck was one that suggested they should know what he was talking about already.

"I assume it's possible that they started out with a larger party but were the only ones remaining at the time? The demon infestation in that part of the world was bad back then. That was how it all came to happen, wasn't it?" Jace suggested.

Bearclaw shot him a look that was impossible to read. "If they had lost almost all of their party by the time they reached the Swiss border, either the demon situation was much worse than anything we imagine, or they can not have had a very good escort."

"Or else there's something wrong about the story we have," Izzy added. "What is your current best guess about where they were from?"

His face darkened. "I do not guess, young lady." His voice matched his expression, deeply disapproving. "I establish a working theory based on what facts I can uncover, and then I go in pursuit of discovering whether that theory can be upheld."

Izzy rolled her eyes in Alec's direction, facing away from the historian.

Her brother's lips thinned for a moment. "Do you have a new working theory already?" he asked.

"No," Bearclaw said. "Beyond that they probably came from a location much closer to the place that is now Idris."

"Have you found anything about who the man Abigail was supposed to marry was?" Clary wanted to know. "Maybe there would be documents on the arrangements on that end."

The surprise in his eyes suggested that he hadn't even thought about that as an option before.

"No. The most specific thing to be found in our documents is that he was from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is large."

"Speaking of marriage," Alec threw in. "Have you ever encountered any evidence that any of them did marry, at any point of their lives? I mean – a lot of families like to trace their lines back to them, but we haven't been able to find any actual evidence of that."

"Highly unlikely," Bearclaw said. Judging by his tone, as far as he was concerned, Alec had just suggested something too silly to seriously consider. "Surely they were beyond such matters. I do not doubt that some of us carry the blood of Jonathan Shadowhunter – it would have been a very great honor for any young woman to continue his lineage. But there is not even any evidence of 'Shadowhunter' as a family name continuing anywhere beyond those three."

"Only Jonathan?" Jace leaned forward a little, holding the old man's eyes. "What about David? Would it not have been just as much of an honor?"

A muscle twitched in Bearclaw's face. "David was no warrior. Warriors were what was needed at the time. What is still needed. David did the logical thing by retreating from the world and making sure that he did not pass on his gentler disposition to the next generation."

"I read somewhere that he was even married," Izzy said. "I just don't quite remember where."

Bearclaw scoffed at that. "I have studied them for many years, and I can assure you that I have never read anything so ridiculous anywhere."

They couldn't very well tell him that they had taken the information from the very source – out of the journal of David the Silent himself.

"What about Abigail?" Clary asked.

"Have you ever seen a pregnant woman fight?" Bearclaw returned. "Can you imagine a woman go into the field and fight while there is a young child waiting at home? We know that Abigail was fierce and as much a warrior as her brother after she drank from the Cup. I am certain that she left the task of creating more Nephilim to other women. More – I believe that at the time, the idea was that those who became Nephilim should focus on their holy tasks, and not waste time and energy on such matters as physical procreation. They would have filled their ranks from the mundanes around them, using the Mortal Cup. Only when it became clear that that was never going to be enough did they turn towards continuing our kind in the direct manner."

"That is an interesting theory," Alec said. "Can you recommend any literature to read on that?"

"I do not need any literature to come to a logical conclusion," came the answer. "Are you implying that I am making things up?"

"I would never do that," Alec hurried to assure him, hoping that he sounded more genuine than it felt. If he hadn't intended to imply that before, the man's reaction had certainly raised that question.

*

"I have a working theory based on what facts I have observed today that Eugene Bearclaw is a moron," Jace declared as he let himself drop onto the sofa. The rooms they had in the hotel of Magnus' and Charlie's choice were small but comfortable, each with a twin bed placed facing a sofa that covered most of one wall, giving them plenty of space to sit together after a dinner that had left all of them wondering if they had just eaten mundane or Seelie food, or a mixture of both.

At least it hadn't had any odd side effects.

"Have you done some field work to see if you can uphold that theory?" Alec asked, one eyebrow raised at his parabatai.

"I have," Jace claimed. "I have found no evidence to contradict it."

They had been happy enough to have an excuse to sleep away from the small institute, which had started to feel quite crowded when the second adult Shadowhunter permanently in residence there had returned from his trip into town. He had brought two part-Seelie friends, clearly to the displeasure of their permanent guest, who didn't seem to approve of fraternizing with the locals.

How they could have managed without that, considering that the local Nephilim community regularly amounted to only one couple and their children, was beyond the four of them.

The attitude and comments of the old historian had only added to their wish to spend the night in more pleasant company, however – especially once it became clear that he didn't seem inclined to retreat into the guest room while they were still in the house, instead treating them to lecture upon lecture on what he thought the past of their species had looked like.

"My studies suggest the same," Izzy declared. "Though I admit that he said one thing today that got me thinking."

"The part where it makes no sense that they were traveling to Jerusalem for an arranged marriage but not taking any guards, servants or other entourage?" her brother asked. "That was possibly the only sensible thing he said all afternoon."

Charlie, who had unceremoniously settled on the rug along with Jack, chuckled. "I was thinking I might like to sneak into one of your institutes and have a look at some of your people myself, but suddenly I'm no longer sure it's worth the effort."

"Most people aren't that bad," Alec told her. "But I'm not sure it is a good idea either way. It would be very risky if you were found out..."

"If you all just accept the fact that the institute lets someone in as evidence that they're alright to have there, I don't see why they would," Charlie pointed out.

Alec thought about it for a moment. It was true. Nephilim showing up were usually welcomed in any institute, never questioned or required to identify themselves. "If you really want to, we'll let you know when we hit an institute that looks suitable," he offered.

"Oh yes," Charlie said. "If you stumble upon one that happens to have a big music collection, for example."

"Speaking of stumbling," Clary said, turning to Jace. "Have you overdone things again, or did you hurt your foot when you fell earlier? Don't think I didn't notice you were limping when we came here."

"Just a little bit," Jace tried to deflect. "I think I strained something when I tripped. It didn't bother me when we walked to the institute, but it's started to feel a bit sore."

At his words, Jack glanced over, taking a look at Jace's foot. "So that's why you have a reinforcement charm on your boot?"

"A precaution just in case," Jace insisted. "I may have twisted the ankle a little."

Alec gave him an exasperated look. "What you mean to say is that you don't even know if you hurt yourself. Come on, parabatai – off with the charm and the boot and let's have a look at that. Just in case."

"It didn't hurt before," his brother assured him, though he did wipe the charm from his boot and started to undo the laces. "It barely hurts now."

Alec wasn't deterred. "You can barely feel your feet, so that's not exactly reassuring."

Jace glared at him, but winced when he pulled on his footwear without looking at what he was doing. He didn't like the stab he felt in his ankle from that.

Directing his glare downwards, he pulled the leg of his jeans away and loosened his bootlaces a little more to reduce the resistance. "It's not reassuring," he admitted. "Neither is that my boot seems to be a lot more clingy than it was this morning, and it's not from a charm."

"You are surprisingly unconcerned about that," Magnus noted. "Does that mean that if your ankle is beyond a simple iratze, you won't bother the resident warlock with it but go see the hotel doctor instead?"

"What would I have to do to have the resident warlock take a look?" Jace asked. There was absolutely nothing wrong with his boot, but his ankle had done its best to fill every bit of space that was inside it. He gave up and pulled the laces out altogether to open his boot far enough to extract himself from it.

Under the sock, his ankle was discolored in angry shades of red and blue.

"It never occurred to you to say anything?" Alec asked, moving to take Jace's foot and run his hands over the injured joint, carefully probing.

"I didn't think it was bad," Jace insisted. "It looks like it should hurt, though."

"You think?" Clary's voice had acquired a rare degree of sarcasm.

Magnus knelt next to his boyfriend, taking over from him to probe with his magic. "Damaged ligaments," he declared. "Be glad you don't feel it."

"Thank you," Jace groaned. "Now that I know, I do feel it."

The warlock raised an eyebrow at him. "Then maybe we should just bandage your ankle and leave it like that so you remember?"

"I—Ouch! Magnus, don't do that!" Jace had paled the moment Magnus had tried to turn his foot sideways. The resulting pain was not of a quality he found it in himself to be grateful for feeling.

"How did you walk on that all day?" Clary inquired curiously.

"He was basically walking on the boot, not the ankle," Jack offered. "You'll want to elevate that so the swelling goes down a bit."

Jace glared at him. "I want a good Iratze on it so I'll be able to walk tomorrow," he corrected. "Magnus... please?"

The warlock couldn't help a chuckle at Jace's pleading look.

"Alright," he agreed. "For Alec."

"For Alec?"

Magnus grinned as magic started to sparkle around the tips of his fingers. "Of course. If I leave it as it is, he will have to suffer the echo for however long it takes!"

Chapter Text

January 26th, 2017

"Which part of walking halfway across Calgary is related to resting your ankle?" Magnus asked.

"The part where everyone neglected to buy a car and I really need some fresh air that portaling over to the Enchantment Emporium just won't give me," Jace replied.

Though Magnus had taken care of the damage from the injury, somewhat compounded by the fact that Jace had continued to walk on it for the rest of the day, the night before, he had recommended that the young Shadowhunter didn't jump right back into action.

As a result, they had chosen to insert another day in Calgary, where they could relax without having to fear any further attempts on their lives or keep up appearances of any kind.

They had spent the morning distributing some of the items Clary had brought from Idris inside of sketchpads and notebooks in their house, before following Allie's invitation to have lunch at the apartment over the magic shop.

"Oh, now it's my fault for not buying a car along with the house?" Magnus laughed. "Alright, be that way. But don't expect me to fix your foot again if you overdo it."

Actually, Jace thought that walking worked out surprisingly well this day. He wasn't sure if he had simply reached the next stage of his recovery, or if Magnus pouring some of his magic into him had done anything to help, but he thought he was keeping up a better speed than he had before, without feeling as if he was about to fall over any moment. He almost felt as if he could have done with just an arm linked with Clary for extra balance, but hadn't quite dared to push his luck that far. He could about imagine the earful he would have gotten from Alec if he'd suggested as much.

Auntie Gwen Gale and her husband were minding the store when they arrived, using the front door through the sale room rather than walking all the way around to the back of the building, where a private entrance would have allowed them to bypass the business.

"You look good," Gwen greeted them, her gaze appreciatively sliding over each of them in a manner that suggested she meant that in more than one way. "Nice and solid through the glass."

"Your potion does wonders," Alec confirmed.

When they had first come to Calgary, the ClearSight charm on the shop windows had shown them faded and blurry. According to the Gales, that was a sign that something was weakening their hold on this world. They were reasonably sure by now that the effect was connected to the runes the Nephilim burned into their skin with their steles, though the precise mechanism remained unknown.

The four of them had ceased to use the steles, resorting instead to an application of charms just like the Gales did – while concealing the same from everyone who would have found the mere suggestion that such a thing was even possible blasphemous.

The aunties had conspired to produce a potion that, over the course of several months, appeared to have reversed the blurring effect. So far, that was all that had happened.

They left the store through the door marked as "Employees only", behind which a corridor led to a set of stairs that accessed the apartment. On the way, they passed the large magical mirror in its ornate frame that Allie's grandmother had put up without ever consulting the user manual.

Glancing into it in passing, they found themselves reflected as usual, with each of the Nephilim sporting a set of impressive feathered wings: gold- and silver-tipped black for Alec and Izzy, copper for Clary and a bright gold for Jace. Mirror-Magnus had no wings, but wore a fiercely protective expression, fiery magic blazing around his hands.

"The chains are new," Izzy observed.

In their reflections, the four of them wore manacles, connected to a set of dull grey chains that hung torn and broken from the metal rings around their wrists.

Alec rubbed his own bare wrist in an automatic motion as he studied the image. "Is it telling us to break free of the fetters put on us, or is it congratulating us on having done so?" he asked.

"I'd like to assume the second," his sister told him. "But I'm afraid we still have a lot of work ahead of us. At least it's left our clothes on today."

"Don't give it any ideas," Clary muttered.

In addition to the magic that gave this mirror a certain ability to communicate through the way it changed the images it showed, it had been imbued with a very pubescent sense of humor. Whenever it had nothing else to say, it would remove the clothes of whatever reflections it showed. Sometimes, it did so even in addition to whatever it was trying to convey.

Entering Allie and Graham's living room, they found themselves immediately assaulted by the whirlwind that was Evan and Edward, Allie's older sons.

"Uncle Alec! Uncle Magnus!" They greeted their favorite adopted family members. "Did you bring us anything?"

"Let's see if we did," Magnus said good-naturedly, picking up Evan just as Alec did the same with Edward.

"We learned a charm!" Evan announced as soon as they had settled on the sofa, the twins on their knees. "Jack and Elessar took Madzie to the park and we couldn't come along because we dis-tract her!"

The words came out in a rush, but the boy clearly made an effort to pronounce what was probably a new word for him.

"So Mommy showed us a charm! Want to see?"

"Oh yes!" Alec said immediately. "Of course!"

The boy stretched to fish a crayon from the table and, with great concentration, put it on the palm of his hand, where he drew a simple design. Once completed, the charm gave off a slight glow. It was far from the bright sunlight the adult Gales and the Nephilim could achieve with the same charm, which was surely owed to the boy's young age.

"Me, too!" His brother announced, repeating the feat with apparently identical effect. "It's for getting up and not turning on the lights!"

"Oh yes," Magnus said, holding out his own hand. "Can you teach it to me?"

Allie watched the two men with her sons, smiling fondly at the scene.

"Those two should have children of their own," she said to Clary and Jace, who had gone over to help set the table.

"I'm sure they will once we settle down," Jace told her. He opened a cupboard. "How many will there be for lunch?"

"Charlie's keeping Adam and Arthur busy and Jack and Elessar are giving Madzie a lesson but will surely be back in time for lunch. Graham's going to take the store but Auntie Gwen and Joe will eat with us." She let him do the math on his own.

"How is Madzie doing?" Clary wanted to know.

"She's a great kid," Allie said. "She loves having a sister - and so does Lyla."

Allie had been the only Gale girl of her generation to grow up without any sisters at all. While the cousins did their best to make up for it, she had felt the lack keenly at times. Her relief when the children had come back from the playground and Lyla had as much as announced that Madzie would be her own special little sister had been almost palpable.

"I never would have expected Elessar to be that enthusiastic about teaching the kid, though," Allie continued. "Even Auntie Bea admitted that he is fitting into the family much better than anyone would have thought."

That was impressive, considering that it had only been a couple of days since the young warlock had arrived.

"By the way…" Allie turned from the oven she had just checked. "Do you have any more friends who will need places soon? Two more tenants decided they were going to move in the last two days."

"Not that I know of," Jace said. "Except – maybe our mother and Max could take one? I'm not sure they're really safe in Idris. But I don't think anyone's really planning on relocating."

"Magnus wasn't planning on relocating either when it happened," Graham pointed out. Coming from the bedroom, he crossed the room to the front door. "I'll send Gwen and Joe up in a moment."

The door flew open just as he reached for the handle, and the young warlock launched herself into the room, followed at a more sedate pace by Jack and Elessar, both glamored into ordinary human likenesses.

"Gary let me ride!" Madzie announced happily, before freezing in place and looking around at the guests. "Magnus! Alec! Clary!" She didn't seem quite sure which one of them she wanted to welcome first.

Jace and Izzy, whom she had had the least contact with before she had come to Calgary, took over setting a the table, collecting cutlery and relieving Clary of a stack of plates to free her she so could greet the child.

"And who is Gary?" she asked Madzie as she knelt to help the little girl take off her coat and winter gear.

"Elessar's bodyguard!" Madzie announced. She made Clary's self-assigned task more difficult by bouncing up and down in place. "He turns into a really pretty horse and he let me ride in the park. He runs awfully fast but I get to hold on to his mane!"

Iris Rouse had claimed that Madzie was shy and didn't talk much, back when they had first met her. Apparently, all it took to change that was to give her the opportunity to take a gallop on a shapeshifter who turned into a meat-eating horse.

"And why did you not bring Gary over for lunch?" Allie wanted to know. "I'm sure he's hungry after all that running around."

Elessar laughed. "I'm sure he is, but I think his tastes run rather to food that is less dead and more wiggly right now. I believe he said something about rabbits and rats."

"Why don't you ever eat rabbits and rats instead of clearing out our entire pantry?" Allie asked, looking at Jack.

The half-dragon raised his eyebrows at her. "One word: Size. Do you know how many rats I'd have to eat for a meal? Go wash your hands, kid. You petted that bad excuse for a horse."

*

Jace had settled behind the Enchantment Emporium's counter with a book. Once they had finished eating, Gwen had apparently remembered that he had not been entirely useless in the shop back when they had spent a couple of weeks in Calgary, and suggested that he go and relieve Graham.

It almost hadn't been an order, and he really didn't mind complying. It wasn't difficult work. Every item was priced, and if he needed any information he didn't have, Allie was one text message away. He was perfectly capable of recording anything he did sell in the ledgers and putting the money in the cash box, and earning a little mundane money on the side couldn't hurt.

What he hated was that the Aunties continued to insist on calling him Jonathan. It was a Gale family tradition: The Aunties used full names, or even first and middle names. They weren't going to break with their habit just because he hated his name.

He glanced up as the door opened, and immediately tried to look as unintimidating as he could.

He knew the customer who had just entered. At least, he had dealt with her before. She was a loireag who rented one of the mail boxes. She made every effort not to appear seductive and open herself up to any accusations that she might be trying to entice anyone into her waters.

"Hi!" she said, brightening up a little when she saw who manned the counter. "I thought you left! You haven't been here for months."

"We've been here on and off," Jace said. "Just not working. Would you like your mail?"

It was an unnecessary question, really. Why else would she have come?

She nodded, studying him with her head cocked to one side.

Jace stood and turned, not bothering with any kind of walking aid for the two steps that separated him from the mail boxes. Remembering which of the cubicles was hers, he tapped it lightly. This late in the month, surely he could assume she had paid for her mail box already and didn't owe any fees until next week.

As could be expected, her cubicle was filled with Amazon orders that he placed on the counter for her.

Her eyes still hadn't strayed from him, the attention she treated him with unusually intense.

"Do you need anything else?" he asked her.

"You're different," she declared.

Jace glanced down. "I'm still recovering from an injury, but I'm getting there."

Her hair flew as she shook her head, a few random drops still clinging to it landing on the counter.

"You're more you. There. Here." She clamped her mouth shut and made an effort to focus on what she wanted to say. "You're dangerous."

"I'm not here on Shadowhunter business," he said. "Even if I was, I wouldn't harm you unless you broke the Accords."

"I do believe you." He was half-surprised that she sounded serious, rather than appeasing. "You're not dangerous to me, but you're getting ready to set your world on fire."

His world? Their world? It was funny that she needed to make the distinction. So she didn't see a risk for the world as a whole?

He had to admit that with the way their research was going, she probably wasn't far off the mark.

"I just hope our world won't set us on fire instead," he told her.

Unexpectedly, that drew a laugh from her. "You can always come and douse the flame in my river then," she suggested.

*

Charlie had a guitar and her new instrument out and was fiddling with the tuning. Jack and Graham had left on newspaper business as soon as Jace had taken over the store.

With Alec and Magnus immediately pressed into service again to entertain the children after lunch, Izzy and Clary gave Allie a hand with clearing the table and getting the kitchen back into order.

Madzie was showing off the new magic she had learned that morning. The young warlock had discarded her scarf, though she now wore a charm on either side of her neck that deflected eyes. It wasn't that her gills were charmed into invisibility – people just weren't going to look there in the first place.

As Clary was watching, the girl turned her attention to a bouquet of flowers on the table and stretched out her hand towards them.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then the blossoms, previously just at the edge of starting to wilt, froze, covered by a thin layer of ice. A moment later the vase, made brittle by the sudden frosting and unable to contain the rapidly freezing contents, shattered.

Frozen flowers and stems broke as they landed on the table. Magnus' hand shot up to keep any fragments of vase from hitting a child.

With a yelp of displeased surprise, Madzie lost control of her spell.

The ice melted as quickly as it had frozen, water running off the table and onto the floor.

"I didn't mean to do that!" The girl was looking around frantically, uncertain of what to expect. "I just wanted to keep them pretty!"

"It's just a vase," Charlie said practically as she set her instruments aside. "Calm down, kid. You're going to break larger things sooner or later. We all have. Let's clean this mess up, and I'll tell you about the time Jack accidentally turned two of his cousins into butterflies when we're done."

Allie grabbed a tea towel and tossed it across the room.

"Have Charlie show you the drying charm," she ordered as she reached to get out a dustpan so someone could take care of the shards.

While Izzy went to do that, Allie looked at the red-haired Shadowhunter. "Anything wrong? You look more concerned than a little mishap like that warrants."

"It just reminded me of a memory my mother shared with me about my brother," Clary said slowly. "One of the things that told her that he was evil even when he was a very little child. I know it's not the same situation, but—it makes me wonder. Do you not mind destructive magic in your living room at all?"

Allie frowned a little at the younger woman. "We were all young once. We've all had the magic get away from us. Often in ways far more spectacular than a few frozen flowers and a broken vase. It happens. We learn. There are enough adults around to contain anything that happens. What was the terrible thing your brother did that tipped off your mother about his evil nature?" Her tone strained to stay this side of sarcastic at the last sentence. "Wasn't he barely more than a baby when your father abducted him?"

Clary nodded. "In the memory she showed me, he killed some flowers."

"Like that?" Allie gestured towards the table.

"No. Not quite like that."

Allie shook back her sleeve. "Can you show me?"

Wetting her finger, Clary drew the memory sharing charm on herself before putting her hand on Allie's wrist. It was harder to pull up the memory her mother had given her than it would have been with one of her own. She made sure to get every last bit of it, though.

She had felt shocked when Jocelyn had shown it to her. Of course, she had thought that Jace – her Jace, whom she had been in love with in spite of thinking he was her brother at the time – had been the boy in the memory. She had also felt Jocelyn's own reaction to the scene.

Allie only looked thoughtful.

"I saw a woman cutting flowers, carrying a very young child," she said calmly after a moment. "I then saw the child wilt the flowers with a flare-up of magic, and the woman start to panic."

"Seems like an accurate description," Clary said. No one else was paying attention to them right now. Izzy and Alec were keeping the boys away from any shards that might still be lying on the floor, while Charlie and Magnus showed Madzie how to fix the mess she had left behind.

"And your mother took that as evidence that the boy was evil?"

Clary nodded. "He killed the flowers and he didn't stop."

Allie's expression shifted towards disbelief. "Babies that age don't know what good or evil means. Trying to classify anything he did in those terms is madness."

"But it was destructive." Clary wasn't even sure if she was defending Jocelyn's interpretation because she was her mother or because she had felt Jocelyn's reaction when she had shared her memory. She had been Jonathan's mother as well. Surely she had known how to interpret her son's actions?

But Allie was right, of course. How would a child that young understand a concept like good and evil? And Allie was a mother, too, and even beyond that, her experience with children in the big Gale family surpassed her own – or Jocelyn's, for that matter – by far.

"If we accept a theory according to which your brother somehow magically understood evil and killing at that age, we may as well also accept a counter-theory in which he was able to sense the life force of things – that seems a possibility, since he was able to withdraw it from those flowers. In that case, he would have seen your mother start to kill the flowers – by cutting them – and then reacted by imitating what she did, except not with a knife."

Clary stared. She wouldn't have thought of that as a possible interpretation.

"Do you really think that is what happened?"

Allie gave her a wry smile as she shook her head. "No. I think what probably happened was one of two things. Babies watch what their parents pay attention to, and they will show a certain interest in them, just because clearly they must be interesting if their Mommy or Daddy thinks so. Like another child might have reached out with a hand, he may have reached with his magic – except that flowers and blossoms are delicate things and can't take a whole lot, and certainly not raw power. Expecting a flower to survive that kind of attention would be about the same as expecting the same flower to survive being stepped on in combat boots. Even if it's just the bitty magic a baby may a give off. Then your mother freaked out and so did he, because clearly the person who was supposed to keep him safe saw danger somewhere."

She blinked. That sounded a lot more likely than a deliberate attack on the flowers. To her own horror, she realized that it was still hard to replace the reaction Jocelyn had shared along with the memory with that.

"What's the other thing?"

"The other thing," Allie said, "is that maybe he was hungry. He was fussing a bit in the first part of that memory. In that case, maybe he found that tiny bit of life force in the blossoms and absorbed it. Then his mother freaked out and you know the rest."

The response came without giving her time to think. "But wouldn't absorbing the life force from something also be evil? What if he'd taken it from a person?"

"It would be no more or less evil than eating is." Allie gestured around the kitchen. "We do absorb the life force from plants and animals, you know – we just don't usually take the direct route. What is or isn't appropriate to eat is something we learn. Ask Jack about how confused he was that we don't eat our uncles here. Still, he understood the rule that we don't eat anything we can have a conversation with and that I didn't want him to eat the pigeons I knew in person. He still lives by that. Also … Jonathan was how many months old there? Did you see Evan and Edward show off their light charm earlier?"

Clary nodded.

"Then you saw how weak the charm is at their age. They will learn control and gain strength as they grow up, like we all did. Just as Madzie will learn more control and gain strength as she grows up. With guidance and a good set of values taught to him by his parents, your brother would have grown up knowing what was or wasn't appropriate to feed on. If this is what happened, your mother was judging a baby for reducing a need when a solution was presented, and for not understanding her own code of ethics. Either way – I see no reason to declare that your brother was born evil."

"You're good at presenting those things," Clary observed.

That drew a hesitant chuckle from Allie. "I have practice. The Aunties were afraid David would turn bad because he wasn't quite living to the plan they had for him; there was also the issue of finding a place for Jack and his congenital sorcery in the family. No one is born good or evil, Clary. It's all decisions we make, based on the values we were taught."

 

Brussels, January 27th, 2017

Alec glanced sideways, enjoying the sight of Magnus ready for battle. His boyfriend was dressed all in close-fitting black. His make-up had been applied from the set Alec had given him at the Gales' Midwinter party – spelled for additional protection, and with a filter on the eye shadow that would help reduce the glare of lights too bright to be comfortable, while brightening up dim surroundings.

He could have stood and watched that perfect figure forever.

They had work to do, though.

Alec himself was dressed in full field gear for the first time since they had set out, wearing the equipment Imogen Herondale had given them, complete with Maryse' addition of a boot knife and the electrum bracelet from his friends. He carried his bow on his back. Where they were going, quarters would be too close to shoot effectively.

When they had presented themselves at the Brussels Institute, they had asked to talk to Marie-Louise Stargazer, one of the resident Nephilim, as soon as they had explained the general reason for their visit and dropped their bags off in some of the Institute's guest rooms.

Marie-Louise was a diminutive person who never ceased her work on assembling a crossbow while she talked to them.

"Tell you what?" she had said when Alec had presented their research request to her. "How about we make this a quid pro quo? You help me, I help you."

"What is it that can we help you with?" Alec had asked her.

 "We have a bunch of basements to clear out," came Marie-Louise's answer. "You take care of some of them, and we'll talk tonight. See it as additional training for your friend."

"Clearing out basements is training?"

The woman had laughed at that. "Clearing them of demons, silly," she had told him. "Swamp demons, to be precise. We have a huge variety of them and they get into everything."

They had parted a few minutes later, with the four travelers planning to return to their rooms to change into combat gear and report to join her team. She hadn't even given Jace's swordstick a second glance after taking in their group for the first time, and since Jace hadn't protested, Alec hadn't felt the need to point out his parabatai's current condition either.

"Lightwood!" Stargazer had called after him just before they cleared the doorway. "My cousin in New York tells me you got yourself a warlock boyfriend. If you can get him here, take him along. Anything that'll speed up the work is welcome."

Brussels, they were told as they walked through the streets along with four Nephilim from the local institute, was built on swamp land that had never been properly drained. Even the least sighted mundanes couldn't miss the presence of those creatures that thrived in the eternally soggy soil. There were quite a few buildings in the city that stood empty, marked as for rent or for sale, but never finding anyone willing to live there.

They were the kinds of buildings that exuded an unpleasant, moist smell the moment one walked through the door.

What mundanes took as a sign of wet basements and nothing else had an even more unpleasant reason more often than not: Many of those abandoned cellars and basements were infested with a variety of lesser demons.

Apparently, the local Shadowhunters had a quota to fulfill: Clearing out ten basements converted into an evening off. All it managed to do was to keep the infestation from becoming unmanageable. While the city was riddled with those damp underground spaces, the demons always returned.

"We need to get eighteen more cleared between us so we can all take tonight off," Marie-Louise had told them, indicating her own quartet. She had handed each of them a map on which a multitude of buildings was marked in red. "You can see where demon presence has been reported. Check the ones you've done with your stele, and they'll be crossed off of everyone's maps."

The door to the first building they had picked had come open easily with an unlocking charm. The demonic smell had been thick in the air the moment they had stepped inside.

Now they were standing at the bottom of the stair, facing a closed door.

"Ready?" Alec asked.

Magnus nodded, and the others followed suit. According to their map, which seemed to be the latest of Nephilim technology and spit out additional information once touched with a stele, they were expecting a nest of as many as a dozen demons in the rooms ahead of them.

Izzy and Clary had their swords out. Jace held a throwing knife ready.

"Then let's go!" He sketched a light charm on the door and kicked it open. As it folded into the room, a group of lesser demons surged up from where they had been lounging on the damp concrete floor, clearly displeased at the disturbance of their rest by light and Nephilim.

Magnus' first firebolt and Jace's knife hit almost in the same instant.

Alec rushed in, his blade a blur that took the head off of one demon and sliced through the body of another.

His sister was by his side in an instant, guarding his back as he guarded hers. Clary was weaving around another one of the demons, trying to get a good hit at its core. Jace had thrown another knife before drawing the long, slender electrum blade. With the strongest equilibrium charm he and Alec had been able to put on him boosting his balance, he seemed confident enough as he skewered a demon that tried to rush him.

Realizing that two of their targets were trying to slither away, Magnus redirected his own efforts, switching from burning up the enemy one at a time to sealing the soaked spot near the bottom of one wall that had served as the entrance and exit point for the demons.

The entire fight took no more than ten minutes.

Once Jace had retrieved his knives, they spent another ten walking through every room of the basement, checking their demon detection crystals at intervals to make sure nothing else was hiding there, before they marked the building as complete on their map.

"That felt too easy," Clary said as they climbed the stairs back to street level.

Alec shook his head. "Not really. They were very minor demons."

"They're mostly a problem because they appear in hordes," Magnus added. "If any mundanes had moved in here, they would have felt the effect on their health soon enough. The demons would have leeched off some energy, made them susceptible to disease…This may not be very glamorous work, but it is certainly necessary."

They stepped back out into the street, and Alec carefully closed the door behind them, wiping off any traces of the charm he had used to open it just as he had previously removed the light from the cellar door.

"Where to now?" Jace wanted to know. His face was glowing with a happy radiance that reflected unmistakably just how much he had missed work like this.

Alec consulted his map. "There are two buildings with minor infestations side by side just a few streets over," he determined. "We can split up and take those in one go."

*

"So, let's see if all that grinding this afternoon did any good," Clary said as they walked into the bar where Marie-Louise had told them to meet her and her friends.

"All that what?" Alec asked, not sure if he had heard correctly. The word didn't seem to make sense in context.

"Grinding," Clary repeated. "You know…"

Alec turned to look at her. "I don't, actually."

"Oh." She thought for a second. "See, in computer games, sometimes you have to do a lot of the same task over and over again to get somewhere. Like, to get an NPC to give you a quest reward or to advance your character, to level up, to gain strength so you can kill a boss, something like that. That's called grinding. Except when it's about collecting a lot of the same item, because then it's called farming."

"Mundanes are weird," Alec declared, which drew a chuckle from Magnus. "What's an NPC?"

"A character that's not controlled by the player. Like – in a computer game, Marie-Louise would be our NPC and the quest would have been to clear so-and-so many basements and then return to report to her and get information we need to progress on our quest. To win the game."

"Uh-huh." He wasn't sure if he liked having their lives compared to a computer game, though he couldn't deny that Clary's explanation sounded somewhat relatable. "Why would anyone do that? It sounds boring."

"To get somewhere with the game. Like we did the basements to get Marie-Louise to talk to us."

"But the basements weren't boring," Alec corrected. "Doing the same thing while staring at a screen sounds like it would be."

"Actually," Izzy threw in. "The basements did get a little boring towards the seventh or eighth one."

"I thought they were quite refreshing," Magnus said. He had changed into tight black pants with a strategic application of glitter and a shirt of burgundy silk that draped around his body in ways that had to have at least a little magical help.  A black coat with shiny golden embroidery protected him from the Belgian winter.

Alec's eyes shone as he looked at his boyfriend, as if he hadn't spent most of the walk from the Institute admiring the warlock's beauty. To Magnus' happy surprise, Alec had allowed him to put a little make-up on him as well. Focusing on the awesome appearance that was Magnus Bane made it easier to not feel self-conscious about that, even though Magnus had kept his promise to keep it simple and not very obtrusive, and Alec had to admit that he had liked what he'd seen in the mirror.

To his immense relief, none of the others had laughed when they had seen him.

"The question is," Clary continued down her previous path, oblivious to Alec's contemplations, "was it part of the main quest, or are we merely doing a side quest right now?"

"Explain," Alec told her.

"The main quest is what takes you to the main goal in the game. Side quests are little extra things on the side that you can do to fill your time and add extra gameplay. Transferred to our situation: Will what she can tell us actually give us information that helps, or will it just open up another line of investigations for us that doesn't necessarily connect to anything?"

"As long as she does have something to say, we'll at least gain some input," he returned. "Where it fits is something we'll just have to see. Luckily, life isn’t a computer game. Oh wow."

He had just pushed open the door into the main guest room. The explosion of color felt overwhelming at first. The walls were painted in a saturated blue and decorated with apparently random circles of bright colors. The chairs placed around small tables were a glaring red that only added to the visual onslaught.

A set of pool tables was set up at the rear of the room. Marie-Louise and her friends had already claimed one of them.

They walked over to join the quartet, who waved as soon as they spotted them.

"The busy New Yorkers!" One of them exclaimed. "Thank you again for giving us a hand today. If you're always that efficient, you'll be welcome any time here if you want to take an extended holiday."

"It won't be a holiday if they spend it killing swamp demons," another one of Stargazer's group replied. She turned to look them over. "Did your leg heal miraculously in the last two hours?" she asked Jace.

He didn't bother to correct her. With the charms he had put on earlier still not entirely dissipated, he had snapped the bracelet to his arm as soon as they had entered the building. Going by her tone, she thought the electrum sword stick was primarily either a fashion statement or a fancy backup weapon.

"Didn't want to cause trouble by brandishing a pointy stick," he claimed. "Are you playing?"

"Almost done with this round," she returned. "You can join the next one."

Alec was about to turn to Marie-Louise, when a shouted comment distracted him.

"Hey, bard! Will you play, or is that guitar just for decoration?"

As he turned towards the speaker, he spotted two more familiar figures sitting at the bar. Jack was cradling a tankard of Belgian beer, while Charlie had a tumbler of whiskey before her.

"I can play," Charlie agreed, lifting the guitar onto her knee.

"Bard, right," one of the other Nephilim said, his voice low but with a scornful note to it. "Every other musician who can hit a note somewhat decently gets to call themselves a bard these days… Who's the last actual Bard on record?"

Alec fixed him with a cool look. "Charlotte Marie Gale," he informed the man.

"I don't think I ever heard of her," came the response. "Where did you read—"

He didn't get any farther than that. Charlie had put her hands to the strings of her instrument and started to play a tune that silenced the bar almost instantly.

They had heard Charlie play before many times. They had heard her play casually, and they had heard her play her charms. They had heard her play magic that was life-saving and destructive. They had heard her play with a local band in a bar. They hadn't ever heard her Perform before.

The moment she started to play, she had the attention of everyone within earshot. The music captured all listeners, drawing them in, becoming part of them just as they became part of the song. It was an experience unlike any other they had ever had with music before.

It said, very clearly and to everyone who had the wits to understand, that Charlie deserved the capital B in the word 'Bard'.

It didn't even matter if they understood the language. Charlie had picked a slow ballad, and she sung it not to her audience's ears, but directly into their souls. While the song lasted, they were the outlaw secretly riding to meet his beloved; the girl's desperation at being used as bait to trap her lover became part of them; they felt the shot as she gave her own life to warn him, and his fury as he learned of it and raced back to join her in death. They could feel the chill of his ghost, forever riding towards that inn.

She followed up with a happier song that almost made her audience forget the haunting quality of her first choice.

The bar was silent for a moment when she silenced her guitar with a hand on the strings as that song came to an end. Then everyone started to talk at once.

Several people pledged to cover her tab for the night.

Charlie turned back towards the bar to find her glass had been refilled.

"You drink for free, Bard," the bartender told her. "Only a fool would take money from your kind."

"I don't curse those who make me pay for what I consume," Charlie told him, but she picked up her glass and raised it his way. "I drink to your health."

"Wow," the Shadowhunter who had previously doubted Charlie's bardic abilities sighed. "I didn’t expect that. Did you expect that?"

Alec grinned. "Never expect anything when dealing with a Bard and you'll never be disappointed."

He waved at Charlie when he saw her look their way, and she responded in kind.

"You know her?"

"We've travelled with her." As far as Alec was concerned, that was about all the detail the other Shadowhunter needed to know about their relationship with the Gales – any Gales – right now.

Marie-Louise Stargazer came to join them before the other man could ask anything else. She pointed at one of the round tables surrounded by conspicuously empty red chairs. "Sorry, Antoine – but I need to keep up my end of our bargain and answer some questions. We wouldn't want their Bard friend to put a geas on me if I don't live up to my promises, do we?"

It was impossible to tell if she was serious about that, but they willingly followed her to the table and settled there.

"Isn't it frustrating to study werewolves and then be sent to an institute that specializes in swamp demons?" Izzy asked the short woman.

Marie-Louise laughed. "We do other things than swamp demons, too," she said. "They're more of a background annoyance. Like doing laundry and shoveling snow."

"Have you tried shoveling the snow into the cellars?" Alec asked. "Freeze the swamp demons…"

"You may think you're funny," the local Shadowhunter noted, "but actually we have tried freezing the ground to slow them down. It doesn't work. They still pass through ice. Now… which one of you studies werewolves?"

Clary raised a hand. "Actually, my … mother's kind of but not boyfriend was a werewolf. So it's a subject of personal interest."

Stargazer raised an eyebrow at her. "Who left?"

"She died."

"Sorry to hear. Line of duty?"

Clary made a vague noise. "Kind of." She wasn't going to go into the details of how a demon possessing Alec had killed her. "We were in Alicante recently," she added quickly, changing the subject. "Izzy showed me the museum under the lab." As she talked, she pulled out her sketchpad and flipped it to the page that held a drawing of the odd werewolf specimen kept there.

"Ah," Marie-Louise said. "I know that one."

"What do you think about it?" Clary asked.

"Fake." Her tone was very determined. "Good work, but probably someone's idea of art. Or I guess it could be some shy Seelie we don't ever usually meet. But I suspect if you took it out of the case and examined it, you'd find someone built that on purpose."

"I beg to differ." The man Alec had talked to before had wandered over with them and stood nearby, listening in on the conversation.

Marie-Louise looked up at him. "What do you mean, Antoine? Do you want me to believe you've seen one of these in the wild?"

He shook his head.

"Not in person."

"Then how?" Alec asked. He reached for Clary's drawing and angled it so the other man could have a better look at it.

"I was assigned to the Cluj Institute before this one," Antoine said. He pulled a chair out from under a nearby table and turned it so he could sit down with them. "I know it's all vampires, vampires, vampires, but you shouldn't forget that it's right there by the Carpathian Mountains, and those house quite a few large werewolf packs. Some of them cooperate nicely with us."

"Especially when it's about hunting vampires, I bet," Izzy threw in.

He gave her a one-sided grin that was as good as a confirmation. "So there was this one wolf I used to cooperate with. Andrei Ardelean, a sub-leader of one of the two main packs near the institute."

"Like a beta?" Clary asked.

Antoine considered that. He seemed to hear the term "beta" for the first time in that context. "I guess," he agreed. "Anyway, we spent a lot of time out in the mountains staking out targets and observing. One night when we were both freezing and not daring to light a fire, he tells me about this wolf who came wandering into their pack not long after he was turned. Apparently, she would just sit out the coldest day in wolf shape, curl up and sleep. Refused to understand that they needed to preserve as much of their humanity as they could. He said their alpha eventually sent her on her way so she wouldn't endanger the entire pack with her behavior. But he did tell me that if he looked as gorgeous when changed as she did, he might have considered it, too. Said that she was larger than most of them, and she looked like she had her own groomer when she joined them. Seems she grew a bit shaggier as she spent more time with them, but she was always a beauty in wolf shape."

"You've never mentioned that!" Marie-Louise sounded a little insulted.

He gave her an apologetic glance. "You never asked. His description was the first thing I thought of when I saw that model for the first time."

"Weren't we going to visit Cluj anyway?" Clary asked.

"Yes," Alec confirmed. "Because of the vampires, vampires, vampires."

"Seems like we should talk to the werewolves, werewolves, werewolves a bit instead," his sister said.

"Andrei Ardelean." Jace repeated the name slowly. "A pack name?"

Antoine nodded. "You speak Romanian?"

"A little," Jace confirmed. "Is there anything we should know when we talk to him – or do you have any suggestions on how to find him in the first place?"

"The institute should be able to contact him, if he's still alive," the other man said. "He'll be happy if you talk to him in Romanian. Tell him you met Antoine Whitescar. I hope our cooperation was as comfortable for him as it was for me. We never had any of the usual issues when cooperating with Downworlders." He glanced at Magnus, who had a hand resting on Alec's knee. "Just as you don't."

Chapter Text

Brussels, January 28th, 2017

"I like it here," Alec sighed, snuggling a little closer to Magnus.

"That's because they're pretty lax with enforcing orders from Alicante," Magnus noted. His head was cushioned on Alec's shoulder, a stray lock of his hair tickling his boyfriend's throat.

"Mmm-hm," the other man admitted. "I'm of half a mind to request a permanent transfer."

"Really?" Magnus shifted, raising his head a little to look at Alec.

He shook his head. "No, not really. But I do wish we could do this at every institute."

Marie-Louise, Antoine and their local friends hadn't left the least doubt when they had departed from the bar that they expected Magnus to come with them to sleep at the institute. "As long as Alicante doesn't ask, Alicante won't know," the small woman had told them. "He helped with the work, the least we can offer him is dinner, a bed and breakfast."

They had done even more, including Charlie and Jack in their invitation.

Simply knowing that their entire party was sleeping under the same roof was reassuring. Having Magnus right there by his side was an extra perk. Alec didn't think that he had slept as deeply or as well in any of the institutes they had visited so far or, for that matter, in New York since their return from their first stay in Calgary.

Magnus' foot brushed against Alec's leg under the blankets, sending a pleasant tingling through his body.

His fingers idly stroked his boyfriend's shoulder in response, drawing a low hum from Magnus.

The other man's hand found Alec's thigh, teasingly making its way across it, fingertips probing and impressively driving home the fact that they were both naked under the covers.

"Do we have time to produce some more energy for Charlie to use for the taxi service?" Magnus whispered.

A soft moan escaped Alec as his body reacted to Magnus' touch. "We better. I don't think there's enough cold water in this institute that'd make it safe to put on jeans now."

 

Sydney, Australia

They had briefly considered making Cluj their next destination and trying to talk to Antoine's werewolf friend as soon as possible.

After some consideration, he had offered to contact him by fire message first, and see if he could pave the way for them a little. As a result, they had decided to give it a few days at least, and to continue on their planned route instead.

Their next step, it turned out, was unknown country for Magnus as well. Nothing had ever drawn him to Australia before.

Luckily, Charlie had been there quite a few times in the past. It wasn't just that the Gale family had once considered branching there, and sinking down roots for another family group just as they had in Calgary. Her younger sisters had done a lot of scouting for them at the time, and found the Australian landscape, the Australian fauna and, not least, the Australians quite to their liking.

Through the Wood, Brussels and Sydney were only a few minutes' walk apart.

Charlie played a jaunty tune that led their way.

Their speed was only slightly reduced by the fact that Jace hadn't unfolded his sword stick.

"You're using charms," Alec accused him when they were halfway through the second verse.

His parabatai gave him an unapologetic grin. "Sure I am. It works - I even did ten minutes on the treadmill this morning while you and Magnus were delaying breakfast. I'll just reduce their strength a bit every day from here on, and I think I'll be fine in a week or so."

"That's cheating," Alec said, but he matched Jace's expression. All of them welcomed his return to full health.

*

It wasn't far from where they emerged near the Botany Bay, stepping out of the Wood into Australian heat, to the Sydney Institute.

The scrutiny they received when they presented themselves there was casual at best.

"You've come to the wrong place," the man who had received them near the entrance declared as soon as Alec had said the word "research".

"Wrong?" How could any institute be the wrong place for any Nephilim? Even the smallest institutes would have some interesting things to offer, and the Sydney one wasn't small.

The other man laughed. "You've come to learn about the Scorpion Riders. Everyone comes to learn about the Scorpion Riders. Ever since they included that in that idiotic handbook for children, everyone has come to learn about the Scorpion Riders. We don't keep the information on that here. You need to go to the Alice Springs Institute for that."

"We haven't, actually," Alec corrected. "We've come to talk to Malachi Redfern."

That brought him a surprised look, followed closely by a shrug. "You're still in the wrong institute," he said. "He's on rotation in Alice Springs. Where they won't have the time to deal with you."

"It's still worth a try." Were there really so many young Nephilim dropping by following that trail of suggested research targets – which Alec knew and had mostly discarded as boring when he had been at the age of reading that particular book – that it warranted this amount of annoyance?

"What's so special about Alice Springs that you would expect the people there to have no time to talk about their research interests?" Clary asked.

The local Shadowhunter laughed. "Look here." He walked to where the institute's three-dimensional maps were and pulled up one that showed all of Australia. "This is where we are. This is where our institute is. We cover this area. This is where the Melbourne Institute is. They cover this area. This," he pointed at a small, bright spot at the center of the map, "is where the Alice Springs Institute is. They cover this area." He generously swept his hand around the vast expanse of desert that made up most of the inner portion of the continent.

"Why is there nothing in between here and there?" Clary asked, pointing.

"Because it's all desert and not capable of supporting an institute," the man told her, his tone suggesting that it should have been obvious. "The demons don't care, and some rather vicious Seelie thrive on it, but we don't. Alice Springs is the only settlement away from the coast that's large enough to sensibly sustain a group of Nephilim that would be able to make a difference."

"So basically, Australia has a save point in the middle?" Clary seemed amused – a sentiment the older Shadowhunter didn't share.

"Well," Alec decided. "We'll try. You have a standing portal to Alice Springs, surely? We can be there and back within a few hours, and then we'll be off your hands and out of your institute again."

The institute's representative gave him a dark look. "They won't be very happy to have another group drop in and annoy them," he tried once again.

In part, it was that insistence on trying to keep them away that hardened Alec's resolve to go precisely where they intended to. "If you're saying we can't use your portal, we'll hire a warlock or take mundane transport. Surely there are ways to get there."

He got a sigh for that. "No, take the portal," he relented. "I wouldn't want to be the one blamed for your disappearance in the desert. But don't come back and complain to me that no one was happy to see you."

 

Alice Springs, Australia

The welcome they received at the Alice Springs Institute was only marginally more cordial.

The woman who took charge of them sighed and led them to a bare corridor with a long row of chairs. "You can wait there," she told them. "It may take a while before Redfern has time to talk to you. Don't go in and disturb him in his work. I hope you're not easily bored."

With that, she wandered off, leaving them to their wait.

"This is the kind of situation where sending a fire message ahead would have been useful," Jace mused.

"This is the kind of situation where sending a fire message ahead would have gotten us a polite answer telling us to come talk to him the next time he is on holiday in Alicante, which is probably going to be about a decade from now," Izzy returned.

They had been positioned just outside of the institute's infirmary – a sensible place to wait for a medic, probably. A number of people walked in and out through the single door leading off of the section of corridor they waited in. No one as much as glanced their way.

Not knowing what Malachi Redfern even looked like, they could only hope that he had been informed of their presence and would approach them when he had a moment of time to spare.

Just when they were starting to consider taking a careful look inside after all, sudden commotion broke the quiet.

A young woman came rushing down the hallway just short of a run. "Team incoming," they heard her say as the door swung shut behind her. "Walked in on a Seelie nest. They had mutated snakes and scorpions."

They exchanged a look. That didn't sound good, though for all they knew it might as well have been an everyday occurrence here. They could only hope that they wouldn't soon be sitting between concerned friends and relatives. It hadn't been that long since they had been the concerned relatives, and they remembered the long wait while the medics and the Silent Brothers were working on Max all too well.

Moments later, the team she had announced came in – some of them walking on their own, battered and bloody but not too badly off, others leaning on friends or carried through.

An older woman in a medic's coat stood in the door now, directing those who came in speedily but without panic. It was clear that this was being treated as serious, but neither out of the ordinary nor reason for panic.

A young man dropped on a chair across from where the four sat, wiping a hand over his forehead and leaving behind a smear of blood and something green. "If those scouts don't improve their work, they'll get all of us killed some day," he groaned. "We weren't expecting half of what we found there."

A frown creased his face as he looked at them. "I don't know you. Are you newly assigned?"

"Just visiting," Alec said. "We were waiting to talk to Malachi Redfern."

The other man gave a mirthless laugh. "You'll be waiting for a few hours. A lot of those wounds are poisoned. They'll be difficult to treat."

"We were expecting a long wait," Alec said.

His sister was studying the other man. "Is some of that blood yours?" she asked.

He shook his head vehemently. "Nah, I'm fine."

Alec could see why Izzy was wondering. The man didn't look fine. Actually, he seemed to grow paler with every second.

"You sure?" Isabelle rose from her chair. "How about we at least find a bathroom and clean you up a bit and make certain? You look a bit—"

"I said, I'm fine!" the man snarled at her, surging to his feet as well. "I won't—" That was as far as he got before his knees buckled and he toppled across the corridor.

"Idiot," Izzy said as she dropped to one knee by the fallen man. Alec was by her side in an instant, helping her turn him over. "Medic!"

Either no one heard her or no one had any time to spare.

Trying to get an idea of whether the man was actually wounded or simply reacting badly to seeing blood and injuries, Izzy pushed aside his torn sleeve, uncovering a long, shallow cut on his forearm. It had barely bled, but the skin around it was already discolored a dark, angry shade of red.

"Poisoned wounds indeed," she said.

"I'd offer you something out of the kit Imogen gave me," Jace said helpfully. "If you have any idea what we're dealing with."

Izzy shook her head as she glanced at the door again. Clary had opened it and stuck her head inside to acquire help, but didn't seem very successful at it yet.

"Don't tell me this is stupid," Isabelle said with a look at her brother. "I know it isn't particularly smart."

With that, she touched a finger to the drying blood the now-unconscious man had smeared on himself and used it to draw a charm on the scratch on his arm. It was the general antidote the Gales had used on them back when they had first rescued them and not known what precisely the nature of the poison or potion was that rendered them unable to move.

"Is that going to do any good?" Alec's voice was at a whisper. He shifted into a better position to lift the limp figure up and carefully pushed himself to his feet.

"Better than nothing," his sister noted.

Clary moved, holding open the door for him to step through.

A nurse hurrying through the room spotted them. About to yell at them to get out, she realized just in time that they were bringing in another patient, and pointed at a cot. "Some day, Thomas is going to kill himself with his dislike for the infirmary," she groaned, gesturing at a cabinet with supplies. "Can you clean him up a bit for the medic?"

They nodded as one. Alec was already halfway to collecting what they needed.

Jace made short work of his shirt, using the fabric to wipe away as much of the blood and dirt as he could in the process.

He wordlessly turned the unconscious man's arm for Izzy to see. Charms drawn in blood were particularly powerful. They knew that.

They hadn't expected the kind of effect they had gotten, though: The scratch looked a lot more like a scratch and less than a severe health-hazard that might cost the man his arm if not treated properly.

"Let's hope it got to what was in his system already, too," Izzy muttered. "We'll have trouble explaining this one or getting them to believe there was more to that without explaining things we really shouldn't be explaining."

Thomas stirred when Alec touched his skin with a cloth soaked in cold water.

Blinking, he looked up at them, confused for a moment before apparently realizing where he was.

"I told you, I'm fine!" he snarled, with a surprising amount of vehemence behind the words.

"You did," Jace returned coolly. "A moment before passing out." He had one hand on the other man's shoulder, keeping him in place.

The man on the cot raised his arm to inspect the scratch. If any of them had doubted before that he had known he was injured, this told them otherwise.  They might have been willing to accept a claim that the adrenalin rush of the battle had covered up the pain before, but he clearly knew exactly where to look.

"That's not even contaminated." There was a bit of surprise in his voice. He hadn't expected that. "There's absolutely no reason why I should be here."

"You fainted," Izzy said practically. "That's a reason. At least let them check you out to make sure you didn't hit your head."

"You'll have to sit on him if you want to keep him here," one of the three Nephilim sitting off to the side noted. "Or knock him out again. He's terrified of the infirmary, or the medics."

"I just don't see the point!" Thomas insisted. "There's nothing wrong with me."

"Oh, so you're habitually falling unconscious when you see a pretty woman?" Alec asked him. "Do sit on him, Jace."

"I know a beautiful rune that binds you to the cot," Jace suggested. "They used it on me last time I took a wound."

One of his colleagues perked up at that. "Do you also usually try to escape from the infirmary?"

Jace laughed. "No, actually I'm pretty good about that. They just didn't want me to move. I'm pretty sure I can reproduce the rune, though."

He pulled out his stele and held it up. "What shall it be, Thomas? Will you stay on your own, or do we need to make you stay?"

"So what happened to you all?" Izzy asked, moving over to the next cot to check on the woman placed there. She was awake, though looking a bit feverish. Picking up a fresh rag, Izzy started carefully wiping the traces of the recent battle from her skin. Blood was seeping through a hastily applied bandage on the side of her torso. "Should you even be out here?"

The patient's eyes moved over the young woman's face. She clearly had trouble focusing.

"She got a dose against the venom," one of the least-injured informed them. "It'll probably be a while before she's coherent enough to talk to you."

"There was a nest of Seelie in the desert, taking out mundanes who ventured out too far," one of the others informed them. "They were a bit more than we expected, and they had a couple of very minor demons with them – and some weird wildlife. They love to cross-breed the local animals with some Seelie ones and see what happens."

Peeling off an edge of the bandage, Izzy surreptitiously sketched the charm she had used on Thomas there as well.

"Cold…" the woman muttered.

"I know," Izzy told her, quickly running the washcloth over her patient's skin. "But clean will still be better." She knew the woman hadn't been talking about the water. She remembered the effect of that antidote charm, the icy feeling that it left on the skin, only too well.

*

"Thank you," one of the medics in charge told them. "Your help was greatly appreciated."

Not having anything else to do, the four of them had started to prepare the patients waiting for someone to take care of them by cleaning them up and changing soaked bandages and compresses. Assuming that there was a reason no one had activated their iratzes, they refrained from doing the same, though they did use the antidote charm on some who weren’t awake enough to report on the strange experience. It apparently sped up the work of the antidote they'd already been given, further simplifying the remaining work for the medics, though they never found out about that.

"It was no more than anyone would have done," Alec quickly assured him. "Sitting out there and waiting for everyone to finish when some more hands were clearly useful would have been wrong."

The medic brushed an errant lock of strawberry blond hair from his face. "What were you waiting for, by the way?"

"To talk to Malachi Redfern," Alec replied. "There's a research issue we're interested in that we were hoping he could help us with."

"Oh my!" The man exclaimed. "Did I lose your Fire Message without replying? I'm terrible with keeping up with my correspondence! Where did you travel from?"

"We're doing a bit of a world tour with our friend here right now," Alec said, neglecting to reply to the Fire Message part of the man's statement. "So the opportunity to visit Australia was welcome enough."

"Alright then," Redfern said. "I owe you for the help you gave us today. So – how about we meet in the arboretum in half an hour? That way, we can all shower and change first, and I'll have dinner brought there for us."

Alec didn't feel any need to point out that they had come right from a late, generous Belgian breakfast. His stomach actually stirred at the thought of food. Apparently, helping out in the infirmary was hungry work.

"That would be great – if you can point us to a place where we can do that. We were hoping to be back in Sydney for the night, so we didn't ask for accommodation."

*

The arboretum, it turned out, was somewhat like the greenhouse of the New York Institute, but larger and more impressive for being in a desert environment.

Inside the glass walls, the air was pleasantly warm without being hot, the plants apparently direct imports from Idris.

They settled under a large tree, where a folding table had been set up with some food and cool drinks for them. Light was provided by a setup that must have come from a warlock's workshop.

"I've heard of you," Redfern said, looking at Jace. "I couldn't place your name immediately – the article I read called you Herondale. You're the young man who just beat all the odds and recovered from a wound that should have been irreversible."

"Pure angel blood," Jace said. "Does wonders. Nevertheless, I have to strongly recommend against experimenting on unborn children. Or on angels, for that matter."

"You have a point there," Redfern agreed. "Now, what brought you to Australia?"

They looked at Izzy.

"We were talking to Baba Agniezska a little while ago," she said. "She mentioned the Demon Plague, and it seemed kind of interesting. Then we found that there's very little on it to be found in the history books, and then we found out that you've been studying diseases that can affect Nephilim, so we figured we'd give it a try."

He studied her for a moment. "How much do you understand about diseases and how they spread?"

"A little," Izzy returned. "I'm a forensic pathologist. I know about discovering pathogens and about how they're passed on. I know that none were ever isolated for the Demon Plague, which is not surprising given the time when it happened."

"Based on what you read, how do you think it spread?" Redfern asked. Izzy had his complete attention now, making her feel a little as if she was being examined for a degree.

"I don't know." It was a truthful answer. "Going by what I read, there is no indication that there was only one specific transmission method. It seems that it spread randomly, and that it would jump from institute to institute, even across continents. I'd say it seems as if direct contact with anyone or anything infected wasn't even necessary, but that's complete bullshit. More likely, the people at the time didn't know what was relevant and therefore didn't keep the relevant things in the records."

"Any other theories?" Redfern wanted to know.

There was a moment of silence. Izzy exchanged a look with her brother, waiting for his slight nod before she spoke. Doubtlessly, the exchange wasn't lost on Redfern, but he did not comment on it.

"The only other thing we could think of was that maybe it wasn't a disease in the regular sense at all, but a concerted demon attack that was launched in various places at the same time. It seemed unlikely. Still seems unlikely. That kind of large-scale coup would have required immense organization. I'd rather go with the theory that it was carried in the paper of Fire Messages or something along those lines."

"Interesting theory," the man said. "Since ink is carried on a fire message, it stands to reason that a disease could be, too."

"But it is not your theory," Izzy noted.

He took a fruit from the bowl on the table, tossed it up and caught it again. "No. It still wouldn't explain why some people seemed entirely immune, while others succumbed immediately. Or how things like the sudden flare-up in Lisbon happened, where the disease had already run its course, and then there was one last victim after several weeks – a man who had previously seemed immune."

"What do you think?" Alec leaned forward, curious to hear the answer.

Malachi Redfern took a bite out of his fruit and chewed thoughtfully before he swallowed. "I think the Demon Plague wasn't a disease at all. I don't concur with your concerted demon attack suggestion either – as you said, that would require far too much organization. As far as I am concerned, the thing that we call the Demon Plague was a curse. A powerful curse that targeted everyone who met its specifications."

Izzy picked up the thought smoothly. "And what would those have been?"

"Who can tell now?" the older man asked. "Considering how many died, it would have been something common among Nephilim."

Alec picked a cube of cheese and a grape, savoring the familiar taste after the more local fruits he had tried before. "Let's assume there was a curse," he said. "Where did it come from?"

"Somewhere in the forests around Alicante." Redfern's answer came surprisingly fast and decisively. "Aveline Montclaire left the city and spent two days in the forest. She returned, cancelled the rest of her stay in Idris and travelled back to her home institute. This was in the pre-portal era, so she would have travelled by horse, then by carriage when she fell ill on the road. She was in a bad way when she reached Milan, and died before the night was over. Then the Plague started to spread in the institutes and soon after that in Alicante."

"In the institutes and then in Alicante?" Jace asked. "If it came from Idris, shouldn't it have spread in Alicante first?"

Izzy was nodding to herself. "We never considered that one before. If it spread like diseases do, she should have left behind a trail of death between Idris and Italy."

"But it didn't," Redfern confirmed. "It broke out in a number of institutes that housed some of her relatives and closer friends, then in Alicante, and then it spun entirely out of control."

"So you think that she found something during those two days, and then she passed that on to others?" Clary was wearing a deepening frown.

He nodded.

She didn't seem any closer to the answer. "How would she have duplicated whatever it was often enough to spread it? Would a duplicate even carry the curse? You said this was pre-portal era. What could have been distributed quickly enough to account for the way the Demon Plague spread?"

"Knowledge," Redfern, Alec and Izzy said as one. "A piece of knowledge that triggered a taboo of some kind," he added. "If there's a physical embodiment of it, it would probably be in the Milan Institute. It's sealed up and guarded with good reason…" he trailed off as he noticed the look that passed between the four of them.

All of them had lost a shade of color. Each of them could see their own thoughts reflected in the others' eyes.

Redfern could not know what those thoughts were. He had no doubt about the underlying principle, however.

"Whatever you are thinking of saying, do not say it," he warned sharply. "I do not want to know."

Pushing back his chair, he rose. "I've told you all I can contribute to your research. I think it's time for you to catch the portal back to Sydney now. I'll make sure it'll be activated for you."

He didn't wait to for their confirmation before leaving.

 

Calgary

"We need to stop jumping time zones like that," Izzy declared. "We went from morning, to late afternoon, an hour or so back, did some work, had a very late-night dinner, and now it's even earlier in the morning… We need to stay at least roughly in the same time zone for a while when we're done here."

She was right, of course. Alec found himself yawning and sketched a caffeine charm on his arm.

Magnus was curled up comfortably against him on the sofa, almost purring at the way Alec stroked his hair.

"Let's wait until Allie and the aunties wake up, then talk to them about any advice they might have for protection for where we're going next," he decided. "Then we can check out Milan – that'll bring us back to the time zone we started out from this morning. If we do Paris next, we'll be sleeping in the same time zone we last slept in. And hopefully by the time we're through there, Antoine will have given us the go-ahead to visit Cluj. That's just a one-hour difference."

"Sounds good to me," Clary confirmed. She and Jace were standing in the open space between the sofa table and the door, going through a hand-to-hand drill at a quarter speed, with Jace correcting her movements while testing his own balance.

Charlie was running her hands over the strings of her Indian instrument, working on getting control of the music it produced. "Don't get me wrong," she said, her fingers never ceasing their movement, "but if the knowledge you found in that journal really is what you think triggered the curse, why are you still alive?"

"Maybe because we haven't drawn attention to the fact that we have it yet," Alec suggested. "They don't know it yet, so they haven't taken any steps against us."

"They," Charlie repeated.

"The angels." That was Izzy. "The same angels that told David they would kill Jonathan if he shared the knowledge with him – or anyone else he shared it with. The same angels who take some sick delight in carving up and torturing demons. The same angels that have made us tools for whatever their actual agenda is."

"The same angels that made us as their weapons and then added a self-destruct mechanism," Jace added, referring to the harmful effect use of their steles had on them.

Magnus shifted a little against Alec. "I should have talked to Agnieszka," he said. "Maybe she would have told me more than she did you."

"She told us to come back when we'd found our wings so that we wouldn't die from what she could tell us, the way Aveline Montclair did," his boyfriend pointed out. "Or at least that's what we made of her words – but if that interpretation is true, then she, at least, assumed there was a way that we could protect ourselves against the curse, or whatever it actually is. Something that is connected to birds."

"To wings," Jack corrected. "I have wings, and I'm not a bird."

Alec raised an eyebrow at him. "Do you think she told us to bring you along as our dragon protector?"

The half-dragon laughed. "Not really, no. I just meant that not every winged creature is a bird. She may as well have meant that you need to acquire the protection of an angel, for one thing."

"I don't think I want the protection of an angel," Izzy said. "Not anymore."

She gave the enkeli rune on her skin a dark look.

Since meeting the Gale family, the four Nephilim had covered up most of their runes with charms that they applied freshly every time they needed the effect, rather than activating the runes burned into their skin. Taking a page out of Valentine's book, they covered up the shiny traces of the new marks with glamors.

The enkeli rune was an exception. It was stated as representing their bond to the angel Raziel, and to strengthen that bond, but they had been unable to find anything about the specifics on how it worked.

None of them felt it worth the risk to see what kind of effect applying that rune as a charm might have – especially not since they had learned more about just how fatal the attention of the angels could be.

"You know we can probably figure out a way to remove those," Charlie said, following her eyes.

"Not sure we dare try," Izzy told her. "Not while we have no idea what we might trigger with it."

It was tempting, though. That time they had participated in the Gales' ritual that renewed and strengthened the family's power, something had happened to them – or tried to, and been blocked. They all agreed on one thing: the enkeli runes had been at the source of that block.

"Maybe before the next ritual if Allie agrees," Alec said. "We'll have to do it sooner or later, and it's probably safer when there's a lot of power flying around to mask what's going on."

And to give them a boost in case they needed to defend themselves against some sort of attack immediately. He left that part unspoken, but saw it clearly reflected in Charlie's eyes as she nodded.

"I bet Allie regrets the day David saved me," Izzy said. "Your family had such a nice, controlled life before that, and now we're pulling you into all kinds of things."

Charlie laughed. "Actually, Allie loves you," she told them. "She's always been all for having the family less exclusive. You should have seen how happy she was after Magnus sent her that message asking if the house was still free. She'd like absolutely nothing better than if you were to cut ties with Idris and move to Calgary permanently and just become – some of us."

"Can't do that." Alec's voice was firm. "We're too connected, and they are our people. Our family. Our friends. And whatever is going on with us is going on with all of them, too. We can't just abandon everything."

"I know." Charlie put aside her new instrument and reached for her guitar instead. "So does Allie. She still wants to keep you safe, so she hates that you're spending so much time where her power can't reach. She'll do anything she can to protect you anyway."

Chapter Text

Milan, Italy

The Milan Institute had been a manor house a little outside of the city at the time. These days, it looked like a ruin set behind high walls, overgrown and reminiscent of a cursed castle.

Very little of it was a glamor.

Their little group boldly approached the single gate in that wall, ready to take a look at the secrets locked behind the wards.

"You okay, big brother?" Izzy asked.

Alec kept blinking and shaking his head as he glanced back and forth between what had once been a large institute and the street that led past it.

"I'm trying to make out anything useful there," he said. "But I can't even see the actual wards through the brightness."

He had his magic vision on, and though he kept adjusting it, he couldn't find a point where he could spot the wards without being blinded by them.

"Whoever built these wards was very serious about not letting anyone in."

"Well, we'll see about that," Jace said. He was still keeping up with them without using his sword stick, but the effort was starting to show. The charms he had used to boost himself were wearing off.

"Who wants to do the honors?" Izzy asked, stopping by the gate.

Alec stepped forward. "I'll do it." As their leader, he thought that he was the one who should take whatever the wards would throw at them if they tried to breach them.

Magnus put a hand on his shoulder. "If it doesn't let you in on its own, step back and don't try anything," he cautioned. "Let Charlie and me try to deactivate them first."

The Shadowhunter nodded at his boyfriend. "Understood." Then, placing one hand on the rusty metal of the gate, he gave it a slight push.

"In the name of the Angel Raziel, I request entrance," he said, feeling a little silly as he did so. Normally, the gates and doors to any institute would open at a touch by one with angel blood.

This time, nothing of the sort happened. The gate gave no sign of budging, and it wasn't just that the hinges and the lock were blocked by rust.

Alec was sure of that when, after a second, the metal suddenly grew cold under his fingers, the temperature dropping so fast that he didn't have the time to release it. A small yelp of pain escaped him as he jerked away.

Jace flinched as the echo hit him through their bond.

"It definitely doesn't want us in there," Alec determined, cradling his injured hand.

"Let me see that," Magnus told him, reaching for his boyfriend's wrist.

Alec didn't resist. The palm of his hand was blistered and painful, though it still felt oddly cold.

Magnus' forehead creased in concentration as he passed the tips of his fingers just far enough above Alec's damaged skin to avoid contact.

The blue light sparkling around them was absorbed by the Shadowhunter's hand without any visible effect.

"There's magic in this," Magnus determined. "I'd say it's meant to be a good, strong warning that can't just be reversed at a moment's notice. I'm sure I'll be able to fix it, but not while standing out here in the street. We should go home and take care of this."

Blinking on his magic vision again, Alec could see the power lingering in his hand. He tried to flex his fingers and winced. "It's not spreading," he stated with some relief. "Is it going to leave any permanent damage if we don't take care of it immediately?"

Already guessing at what Alec's next decision would be after hearing the answer, Magnus scowled at him as he spoke: "I expect not. But I hate knowing you're in pain."

"It's not that bad," Alec claimed. He wouldn't be able to shoot with that hand, but they weren't expecting anything that could be shot inside either. "Charlie, can you try your deactivation charm?"

"Plug your ears," Charlie recommended. The deactivation chord she played ranked highly among the most unpleasant sounds a musical instrument could produce. Unfortunately, this time it did nothing to reduce the glare of energy the wards gave off.

"Must have a power source somewhere," Charlie determined.

"Let's see if getting in over the wall works," Jack suggested. He stepped back from the group to give himself some space to change.

"Don't fly into the wards," Alec cautioned. "We don't want deep-frozen dragon."

"No, we don't," Jack agreed, just before his human shape burst into flames to give way to the much larger one of a golden-scaled dragon. Though not yet at his full size, he was almost twice as tall as Alec now.

He glanced up and down the street before he flexed his wings. A glamor prevented any regular people who happened to pass by from spotting the large winged reptile in the street, but it wouldn't keep them from feeling the sudden rush of air when he took off.

Determining that the street was clear, Jack reared up on his hind legs, and let a powerful beat of his wings carry him into the air.

They watched him as he circled, magic from a spell he cast radiating from his front paws and making the wards around the former institute light up where they hit.

After several passes, it was obvious that the entire property was encased in a protection spell.

Try throwing something over the wall! Jack's voice sounded inside Alec's head.

The others must have heard it, too, since Izzy and Jace stooped immediately to pick up some rocks.

Izzy's flew first, striking an invisible barrier with a small, soundless flash of light.

It went in, Jack reported from above. But it disintegrated into dirt first.

They didn't bother to tell him not to touch the barrier.

With a last sweep around the wall and a last application of his magic to the wards, Jack returned to where they were waiting, shrinking and changing shape just before he touched the ground.

He used a patch of moss from the wall to fashion some clothes for himself.

"That green looks good on you," Magnus observed.

"Thanks, I guess," Jack returned. "I think you saw it – the wards go all the way up and around. Someone went to some real effort to keep what's in there in – or what's out here out."

"Call me crazy," Charlie said, "but I don't think these are Nephilim wards. They don't feel like anything I saw in Idris – not even that affair around Wayland Manor."

They looked at Magnus, who turned towards the former institute, his hands raised for a spell of his own as he probed the structure of the wards. "I can tell you they're nothing like mine," he said. "But I could have told you that before. I am not getting any specific information on their origin. No signature from a specific warlock I'd recognize."

He drew back one arm and made a throwing motion, adding a little flourish at the end.

A ball of magic left his hand, hitting the invisible barrier. Instead of going through or rebounding, it spread, seeping into the wards as if it was a raindrop hitting a water surface.

"I can break through them," Jack said suddenly. "It wouldn't be pretty, and it would require some preparation to prevent collateral damage. It might also tip off someone if they're rigged to sound an alarm in case anyone manages to break in. But it's doable."

"Same," Magnus said. "Brute force could do the trick, and I do have the power to back it up. But it wouldn't be fast, and it wouldn't be unnoticeable. It might even draw mundane attention."

"Not for now then," Alec decided. His hand had started throbbing in time with his heartbeat, and he had to make an effort not to let it take away his attention.

It didn't escape Magnus' notice.

"Can we go somewhere to take care of that now?" the warlock asked, gesturing.

Alec almost agreed, but stopped himself at the last moment. "We'll go to Paris as planned," he said. "Let me show this to a medic in the institute there. I want to know if they recognize the type of ward that did this and react in any manner."

"Isn't that a needless risk?" Magnus clearly wasn't convinced of the merit of that idea.

Neither was Izzy. "They'll put runes on you."

"If they do, I'll take more of the fixing potion. They put plenty of runes on Jace after he was wounded, remember? We haven't done anything illegal – or even particularly strange. We're travelling to show Clary things, we've learned about the abandoned institute, we've come here, and I did exactly what we'd normally do to get into any institute. It bit me. I don't even have to lie."

"I don't like it," Izzy informed him.

He gave his sister a wry grin. "Objection noted. I'll do it anyway. Shall we be on our way then?"

 

January 29th, 2017

Paris, France

"Izzy, are you up?" Alec was knocking on the door to his sister's room a little more forcefully than he strictly speaking needed to.

"Now I am," she replied, though the fact that she was fully dressed already when she opened suggested that that was stretching the truth a bit. "What do you need?"

"Some help with this." Alec lifted his injured hand a little. "This is just silly."

Izzy raised an eyebrow at him. "It's supposed to keep you comfortable and in as little pain as possible," she noted.

He rolled his eyes, and she stepped aside. "Come on in, and let's see what we can do."

He had presented himself to the medics in the Paris Institute the night before, initially only telling them that he had accidentally touched a ward. He had left the infirmary with his palm covered in a healing salve, the hand wrapped in a thickly padded bandage, and his arm in a sling to keep him from hitting his hand against things or accidentally trying to use it – and with orders to let it heal for a few days before he tried to do anything with it.

By now, he had found that he preferred doing things with a hurting right hand to doing things with only his left. Even without putting the sling back on in the morning, however, he had found that his hand was wrapped too well to get any use out of it.

"Did he say you could take the bandage off?" Izzy asked, studying the wrappings.

"No," Alec replied truthfully. "But I really don't care. I'd just do it myself, but I think it probably shouldn't be entirely uncovered and I don't think I can put on a new bandage properly with only the other hand."

Izzy made a disapproving sound. "You really shouldn't go against the medic's advice, brother," she told him, but she was already teasing out the ends of the bandage to comply with his wishes.

Sitting on the edge of Izzy's bed, Alec winced when his sister carefully tugged the padding away from his palm. The blisters had opened, leaking fluid onto the cotton and making it stick to the raw flesh beneath.

"I should send you back to the medic with this," Izzy noted. She dug into their own backpack for the kit of charmed first-aid supplies that Peggi Gale, the family's pharmacist, had given them to take on their travels.

"I should meet up with Magnus and have him fix this," Alec returned. "I didn't even learn anything of interest. That medic didn't care about the ward in the least."

"So you're suffering for nothing." Izzy poured a cleansing fluid on Alec's palm and started carefully wiping away what fibers were still sticking to him. "Try seeing it as a noble sacrifice."

He laughed. "Sometimes noble really does equal stupid, doesn’t it?"

"More often than not," Izzy agreed.

As she went through the supplies they had to find a salve to match Alec's injury, he carefully flexed his fingers. His hand hurt, and his palm felt like the skin was too tight to stretch all the way, but whatever the medic had put on the wound the last night had had some effect: he thought it hurt less than it had initially.

Having found what she'd been looking for, Izzy applied a generous amount of a creamy substance to her brother's hand, making sure to cover every part of the wound. Then she tore open a package that looked suspiciously of mundane origin.

"What's that?" Alec wanted to know.

"Fancy mundane bandages," Izzy informed him. "According to the label, they don't stick to open wounds or burns. Shouldn't stick to that either then." She used it for a first layer of bandaging, covering it up with a regular one that wouldn't draw attention.

"Thank you," Alec said, carefully curling in his fingers to test the degree of pain the movement caused. "I think I'll have to admit to Magnus that I do need his help with this before we move on. Probably shouldn't risk being caught in a battle situation with only one good hand."

"At least you should be safe enough in the archives even with only one good hand," Izzy pointed out. "And look – you have a convenient excuse to want to look at the institute's ward archives now. You just ran afoul of a weird ward."

Alec's smile looked a little forced. "I don't think I needed an excuse for that other than some interest in history."

"Right," his sister told him. "Because anyone would believe you that you're interested in history."

"Of course I am!" Alec returned, sounding a little contrary. "Why wouldn't I be? Wait – what are you trying to imply? What would people assume I'm interested in?"

Izzy's initial chuckle quickly turned into a full laugh. "Don't worry, big brother. You'll be fine. It was just a joke. Now let's go and find breakfast before Jace and Clary eat it all."

*

In contrast to the medic, Izzy had left his fingers free for use. It was something that Alec greatly appreciated during breakfast, but that almost made him ask his sister if Peggi had packed any of those mundane painkillers she had given Magnus back when he had been injured in a non-magically-reversible way when he met with the others for a training session afterwards.

"Looks like we're matched pretty well this morning," Jace told him with a grin. The two men had batons out that they used in place of swords, exchanging blows that put Jace's balance to the test – even with the charms.

Though Alec wielded his with his left hand, his right still had input to give on every movement he made for balance or otherwise. It was a distraction, and the forced change to his usual movement patterns was telling in addition to it.

Resolving to put more effort into practicing swordplay with both hands, Alec gritted his teeth as inadvertently clenching his fist when he blocked Jace's swing forearm on forearm ignited a new stab of pain.

"Don't go easy on him, Jace," Izzy recommended from where she was working with Clary. "If he wants to fight with that hand, he should get to enjoy it properly."

On second thoughts, maybe asking Izzy for painkillers was not a good idea right now.

He caught Jace's baton on his own and swept his parabatai's feet out from under him with one leg. It wasn't strictly speaking a fair move, but if they got into a combat situation, chances were that any opponent who realized Jace's current weakness would use it.

Jace didn't complain but rolled, catching Alec's next strike while still on his knees, then threw himself sideways and rolled again to give himself enough space to get back to his feet for another attack. The charms he wore beneath his glamor did good work.

*

Francoise Winterstorm was an older Shadowhunter who was in charge of the library and archives at the Paris Institute. She had given them a critical look when they had asked to look at the institute's historical records, as if fearing for the safety of any documents that were given into the hands of the younger generation.

Instead of rushing her, the four had waited patiently until she had nodded curtly and let them into a small, dusty room with a table and a set of chairs at the center, while the walls were lined with shelves.

"Put anything you take out back where you took it from," she told them. "Don't write in the old books, don't get any stains on the paper, and if you tear anything by accident, inform me immediately."

With that, she left them to the archive.

Izzy walked along the shelves, which were unlabeled. Pulling out a book here and there quickly proved that the volumes were sorted chronologically, at least.

Still, it took a while of searching before they found anything relating to Pierre Haine and the work he had been involved in.

Clary gave up trying to help them after a few minutes. Her French was still rudimentary, and even with the Speak in Tongues charm they had used to allow her to communicate freely with the local Nephilim, she was lacking the skill to decipher the old-fashioned language used in the books.

"Try this one," Jace told her. "It's in Latin."

She glared at him. Her studies of Latin were not progressing the way she would have liked. The other three were perfectly comfortable reading that language, but she found it daunting. Maybe she was trying to acquire too many languages at once. Maybe Latin just wasn't for her.

"I'll take notes," she said instead, taking out a blank notebook. "Just let me know if you find anything of interest."

They worked in silence for a while, with only the sound of pages being turned audible in the room. Clary fished out a sketchpad and a pencil, busying herself with sketching her friends.

"Gerald Merryweather and Warlock Haine declare the demon binding studies complete," Alec read out after a while. "The project was a partial success. We can assume that it would be possible to bind demons indefinitely. The main target of the study must be considered a failure, however: While communication is possible, the demons speak only lies. There will be no reasoning with them."

He turned the volume he had read from around so the others could see the page. "Say, is it me, or do we know the writing from this entry?"

They looked, following his pointing finger.

The book he had open was an institute log, recording the relevant occurrences on a day to day basis, including the commencement and completion of more elaborate projects as well as the more memorable events of daily Shadowhunter business.

Most of the entries were made in black ink, in a variety of handwritings that were different degrees of illegible.

Even without being able to make sense of the words, Clary could see that the entry Alec referred to stood out. The letters were neat and even, looking almost printed in the middle of the handwritten notes above and below.

Izzy had her phone out and opened her pictures, placing the screen next to the page so they could see the enlarged photograph along with the log.

"Unless producing writing like this is something that every Silent Brother can do," she concluded, "there was some reason that David thought it worth to leave a note on the end of that study."

Jace had his elbows on the table and rested the tips of his fingers against each other as he thought. "Any thoughts on why one of them – no matter if David or any other – would take an interest in that?" he asked.

Izzy snapped a picture of the page. "I can hazard a wild guess," she offered.

"So can I," Jace said.

Alec had taken the log back and was browsing backwards, scanning the pages to see if he could spot any more entries referring to the studies conducted.

"July 5th," he read after a few moments. "Demon brought in for questioning." He looked up. "Normal handwriting."

He turned another page.

"July 3rd: Study demon banished. June 29th: Demon specimen brought in for questioning. June 28th: Demon brought for questioning, banished before wards were in place."

Clary was scribbling down the dates and notes now, as Alec went back page by page, reading out anything that sounded like it belonged to the studies in question. They didn't stop when the door opened and a young man entered.

Walking directly to one of the shelves, he returned a book he had brought and reached for another one, then stopped to listen to what Alec was reading out.

At the end of the page, Alec stopped, looking up at him.

"I know where you'll find more exciting material on that," the young man declared. He couldn't be any older than sixteen. His dark locks were held back by a bandana that was probably meant to look warrior-like.

"Where's that?" Alec asked.

"Merryweather's journals," the young man answered. "Of course if you ask Francoise, you'll find out that such a thing doesn't exist. The actual records for the studies are gone, by the way. Burned."

"They burned them?" Clary wasn't sure what to think of that – or of the fact that this young Shadowhunter was so casual about telling them. With the Silent Brother's entry, she wouldn't have been surprised to learn that the study records were gone, or sealed, or destroyed, but to have someone who couldn't be too high in terms of security clearance yet talk about them as if it was general knowledge didn't seem to match that.

Then she thought again. Jace had been named Head of Institute by Imogen at nineteen. Alec was a year older and had succeeded him. Both of them and Izzy were considered highly competent soldiers. Age had a different meaning for the Nephilim.

The young man shrugged. "They? Don't know about that. Part of the institute went up in flames during one of the mundane wars in the last century, and a lot of the more detailed records in the archives were lost."

"How inconvenient," Alec noted. "And the diaries?"

"There are caverns under the institute," the local Shadowhunter told them. "Lots of them. They've been used to dump whatever things were left behind by the people posted here and never claimed over the centuries."

Izzy slid her phone back into her pocket. "How do you know this?"

He chuckled. "I grew up in this institute. It was my playground. Children like to dig for treasure there, pretend they're stalking demons, taking spoils… Anything that was dumped down there was declared worthless first, and once in a while we get historians or treasure hunters from other institutes who come and go through a few rooms to find things, so it's generally assumed that anything of value has long been removed. No one listens if a boy tells them he found something interesting down there."

"What's your name?" Alec asked.

"Michel Lionheart," came the answer. "Why? Do you want to check and make sure I'm telling you the truth?"

Alec's lips twitched into a half-smile. "Actually, I mostly wanted to know what to call you. I'm Alec Lightwood. These are Izzy and Jace. Also Lightwood. And Clary Fairchild."

Michel nodded at them. "Look, I'm still on punishment duty in the archives for a few hours, but I can take you down into the basement later. Say, after dinner?"

"What are they punishing you for?" Jace asked immediately.

"Questioning my commander," he returned. "We had a philosophical difference about the amount of force that was necessary to use."

"After dinner," Alec said. "That sounds great. We wanted to be out in the city this afternoon. When and where do we meet?"

Michel gestured to Clary for her pen and a piece of paper. "If we don't meet at the meal anyway, text me when you're done," he suggested, putting down his number. "Need any advice for the city?"

Alec held up his bandaged hand. "I wanted to see a warlock about this, to speed up the healing. Then we were going to take Clary to the Louvre. She's an artist – she should see the great pieces of art where we travel."

The young man nodded. "Add a walk through Montmartre," he recommended, looking at Clary and handing her back her writing implement. "As an artist, you'll love it. Even in January."

*

Magnus held Alec's hand in his, the fingers of his other one moving restlessly just above the raw flesh of his boyfriend's palm.

Alec could sense the magic as a tingling that sunk into the exposed tissue, tugging at the edges and spurring new growth. He watched new layers of skin form, coming in from the edges of his wound until they merged at the center in a perfect, scar-less healing.

"Thank you," he said as Magnus released him, leaning over to kiss the warlock's cheek. "You're the best."

He brought up his freshly mended hand to cup the side of Magnus' face and almost winced at the touch. The new skin was so sensitive that he felt as if every single hair of Magnus' beard had turned into a small spike trying to pierce him.

Magnus gave him a knowing look. "You'll want to wrap that hand again," he said. "It'll be tender for a little while longer. Maybe a day or two."

Reversing his movement, Alec stroked the back of his hand down the side of Magnus' throat as he leaned in for a brief kiss. "What would I ever do without you?"

"Suffer." Magnus smiled as their lips met, though he broke the contact after a short time. "Come. We'll never hear the end of it if we let the others wait for too long."

*

"I bet you're the first person in a very long time to carry a guitar through the Louvre." Magnus was laughing as he looked at Charlie. They had just emerged from the museum after a thorough tour through its rooms, with Clary admiring the art exhibited there, while Magnus treated them to background information on several of the artists.

Some of that information brought a blush to Alec's cheeks that only intensified as they progressed, until they started to fear that it might have burned itself in permanently.

Charlie merely shrugged at the comment. "A Bard never abandons her instrument," she declared.

A tune quickly hummed whenever anyone started to approach her to tell her that she couldn't keep her guitar with her had taken care of that.

"If you ever want to start a second career as an art thief, I can get you in contact with the right people," Magnus told her.

She laughed, deciding to take that as a joke.

A short walk brought them from the busy streets of Paris, teeming with tourists even in winter, to a park.

Jace only listened with half an ear as Magnus treated them all to the story of how he and Camille had once hosted a memorable party in that specific location.

His attention had been caught by a tall man standing a little off to the side. He'd been following them almost since the moment they had entered the park.

He was dressed in a blue coat that barely looked out of place, over knee breeches, stockings and shoes that definitely did. A top hat sat on wavy red hair, further supporting the impression that the man's choice of attire did not belong into the present century.

It wasn't his outdated fashion sense that had drawn Jace's notice, however, but that strangely flat, photography-like appearance coupled with the lack of a shadow. For some reason, they had acquired a ghostly companion.

Charlie dropped back to walk by his side.

"You see him?" she asked.

Jace nodded. "You, too." It was a statement, not a question.

"He's not malicious," Charlie observed. "He's watching, but he's not actually doing anything, and I don't get the impression he's usually preying on the tourists either. Surely if that was the case there would have been news of some kind."

"Do you meet a lot of malicious ghosts?" Jace was frowning now. "All I've met so far have been essentially harmless."

Charlie made a vague gesture. "Before I could go through sound, cemeteries always were a convenient place to get into and out of the Wood," she explained. "Hang around on enough of those, and you meet all kinds of ghosts, good and bad."

"What do you usually do when you meet a bad one?" he asked curiously.

Charlie tapped her instrument. "Banish them so they'll stop whatever it is they're doing. Usually, they prey on mortals, seeping off their life force, or feeding on good thoughts. People walk past and suddenly they feel a bit sadder, a bit more hopeless… It can leave someone who is taking the same route routinely in a really bad way. Those that don't bother anyone I usually leave in peace unless they want help to move on."

"Do you think that's what he wants?"

Charlie studied the ghost for a moment. "I don’t think so. They tend to be quicker to approach me."

By unspoken agreement, they moved away from the group, ambling slowly towards the ghostly watcher. Jack followed them.

The ghost stayed where he was as they approached.

Charlie raised a hand in greeting when they were only a few steps away. "Bonjour, Monsieur."

"Bonjour, Madame," he answered, accompanying his words with a polite, albeit non-contemporary bow. "Messieurs." His voice was deep and not unpleasant.

"Is there anything we can do for you?" the Bard inquired. "You've been watching us."

"I was just taking a walk," the ghost informed them. "You caught my eye. I don't see soldiers that often these days. I don't usually see people who can see me back either." He gave them a slightly apologetic smile.

Charlie stroked a hand over her guitar. "I can send you on if you wish."

The ghost shook his head. "I do not wish," he informed her. "I like Paris. Even after all this time."

"Isn't it terribly lonely, though?" Jace wanted to know.

The ghost laughed. "Do you think I'm the only one who stayed behind in Paris? There is plenty of company, and some of it much better than the kind I kept while alive."

Looking around, Jace couldn't confirm his words. The red-haired man was the only ghost in sight.

"Not here," he told them, noticing his sweeping gaze. "Not today, in any case. I was just coming over to think." He looked Jace up and down slowly. "You were wounded recently. I can see it in the way you move."

Jace inclined his head. "Almost healed," he claimed.

"In battle?"

He nodded.

"If you'll take my advice," the ghost said, "take your time to recover and don't overtax yourself too early. It'll only draw out your full recovery, and your wounds will come back to plague you even after years. Believe me – I know what I am talking about. Even in this form I have the scars to prove it."

"I shall keep it in mind," Jace promised, much to Jack's amusement.

The small plume of smoke that rose from the half-dragon's nostrils caused the ghost to raise his eyebrows. "You're special, too."

Jack grinned at him. "Aren't we all?"

"Jace?" Clary had come after them. "What are you doing? Who are you talking to?"

"Ghost," Jace noted. Shaking back his sleeve, he sketched the bridging rune on his wrist and held it out for Clary to touch.

They had told him that Alec had been able to share his magic vision with them that way. Maybe he could let her see the ghost in the same manner.

Her fingers closed on his skin, and a moment later he felt a small jerk as she blinked and the empty space before them was suddenly filled with the tall, powerful figure.

"Bonjour, Mademoiselle," the ghost addressed her. "Or is it Madame?" He looked back and forth between her and Jace, his head slightly cocked to one side.

"We're not married yet," Jace said. "Not officially." The arm he put around Clary made clear that it made little difference, however.

The ghost turned towards her. "So you are a warrior, too?" There was interest in his voice. At the time when he had been alive, mundane woman probably had not done any fighting.

Had he even been a mundane? His clothing was long-sleeved and high-collared, exposing no skin that usually showed Marks, except for the backs of his hands. Those were blank.

Jace couldn't imagine that Nephilim had gone dressed like that even back then. It would have made it immensely difficult to get at their runes to activate them.

Clary took her time answering. "I am," she finally said. "But I fear my French is not very good."

The charm must have been wearing off. Jace was about to suggest they renew it, when the ghost smiled. "Would another language be more convenient for you? German? English?"

"English would be great," Clary admitted, relief almost palpable in her voice.

"This is not how you learn languages," Jace chided, but he was grinning as he did so. "A multilingual ghost. You see me impressed, Sir."

The ghost gave him a half-smile. "It's nice to know that I have not forgotten the things I knew when alive."

"If the question is not too forward," Clary said, "why are you still here?"

"I was curious about your group," he said. "And it would have been very impolite to just up and disappear when your friends here approached me." He raised a hand when she opened her mouth to elaborate. "I had family. I wanted to see how they were doing. Keep an eye on them. See that they were doing alright."

"They must be dead by now, too," Charlie pointed out. She stroked her guitar again. "You're sure you don't want to join them on the other side?"

He nodded at her. "They were doing alright after a while. My wife remarried. She was happy. My sons had a good step-father. They were happy. But she was … always a bit too concerned that she might have hurt me by continuing her life. I do not know what there is on the other side, but if she and her second husband are joined there, I will not interfere."

"That is interesting," Charlie observed. "Most who linger do so for unfinished business or because they're afraid of what waits for them."

"Afraid they might go to hell," the ghost said, his voice scornful.

Charlie gave him a half-nod. "That."

"I don't believe in hell," the ghost informed her. "Didn't believe in god in life either. Still, they sent me a priest before they executed me. He tried to talk me into some elaborate scheme to save my life and hide and disappear. Can you believe it? The dishonor!"

"Isn't it very lonesome as a ghost, roaming Paris with no one to talk to?" Clary wanted to know. She was talking to the ghost with surprising ease now that she could see him.

He laughed. "Do you all think that I am the only ghost in Paris? There are many of us, and we have many long, good conversations. We pass the time well. I just come here on my own to think sometimes. It's a comfortable place for me to be – it is not exhausting to remain here at all."

"Why is that?"

"Because this is where I died," he said before turning to Jace. "You should teach her more about ghosts, ghost-seer."

Jace gave him a wry look. "We meet ghosts only rarely, so the subject hasn't come up yet," he admitted. "We usually concern ourselves more with the more … corporeal entities in this world. Demons and such things."

"Demons." The ghost dragged out the word. "There is a confluence of demons near the place where I am buried at this moment. They do not bother us, but if a group of demon-hunters and a group of demons appear in the same city at the same time, it may not be coincidence."

Jace frowned. "There are always demon hunters in Paris," he pointed out. "There's an entire institute of us here. I do not think they are connected to us. Nevertheless, if there is anything more you can tell us about them, it will be appreciated."

"I did not pay much attention to them," the dead man admitted. "But I am not very busy right now. I can go and see if I can find out anything of interest."

"If you're sure you don't mind," Jace said.

The ghost gave him a nod. "I'll let you know if I hear anything of interest." With that, he touched the brim of his hat and blinked out of sight.

"Wow," Clary said. "Now how will we find him again?"

Jace shrugged. "He'll find us if he wants to."

"Do you have any idea who he is?"

"If I was to guess," Charlie said, "I'd say he once was Michel Ney, Marshal of France." She pointed at a plaque set in the wall behind where the ghost had stood. "Who apparently was shot in this location in December 1815."

Chapter Text

"How long do we expect it'll be before we hear from our new ghost acquaintance?" Clary asked when Alec received Michel's return text, telling them where to find him.

Jace made a vague motion with his hand. "I wouldn't count on hearing from him at all. Ghosts are not very reliable."

"Is that why you don't use them for information or anything more often?"

Jace shrugged. "It's not like they're usually around everywhere, and where they are, they tend to be boring and prefer to be left in peace. Most of them are completely caught up in their own issues and won't talk about anything else, and even if they do they can't usually be bothered to actually show any interest in what's happening in the current time. They're just not usually worth the effort."

They continued to talk as they followed Alec through the corridors of the Paris Institute. Glancing out the windows now and then, Jace thought that the glamor chosen for it – that of an empty lot prepared for construction that never happened – was rather bold.

"How old were you when you were first able to see ghosts?"

He didn't even know how to answer that. "I think I've always been able to do that," he told her truthfully. "At least I can't remember a time when I couldn't."

"It's a Herondale trait," Izzy reminded her.

Clary glanced at her, then back at Jace. "Didn't they ever frighten you?"

"Frighten me?" It was his turn to be surprised now. "Why would they frighten me? They're just ghosts. It's not like they can harm me or anything."

It probably was just as well that his younger self hadn't ever thought that being afraid of ghosts was an option. Valentine certainly wouldn't have had any patience for dealing with something so silly as being frightened of ghosts.

Unbidden, another thought wormed its way into Jace's mind. Why was he so certain that ghosts couldn't harm them? The one in the London Institute had picked up things in his room. What would have kept her from picking up a weapon and turning it against him?

He didn't have the time to pursue that thought any further, since they rounded a corner to find Michel leaning casually against a wall. He had the style of his bandana changed to cover most of his hair now, and was wearing old, faded jeans and a worn sweatshirt.

"Should I have warned you that it's going to get dusty?" he asked, looking them over. None of them had changed out of the things they had been in the city with.

"We're washable," Alec assured him. "So are our things."

That got him a grin from the younger man. "Great. Then let's get going."

He stepped forward, reaching down to grasp the handle of a trapdoor inserted in the floor by their feet and pulling it open.

It moved with a pained creak that made them wince.

Michel merely shrugged. "Yeah, some day someone will oil this," he said. "But that day is not today, unless you want to be the ones to run and get some grease from somewhere."

"I'm sure there's a rune for that," Izzy laughed.

"Our head librarian will not be happy if you come and ask to borrow the Grey Book to check it for any lubricating runes," Michel warned her. "Do you have witchlights?"

They nodded. Witchlight stones were part of their regular equipment.

Michel bent down, grasped the edge of the opening and jumped in, not bothering with the ladder that led down.

Alec and Izzy copied him, landing lightly on the floor below.

The other two took the ladder.

As they raised their witchlight stones to look around, they could see that they had ended up in a dim cul-de-sac of an underground corridor. There was no lighting installed on the ceiling or the walls, which was not an unusual thing when everyone routinely carried their own light with them.

Considering that they were on their way to storage space, and it could be assumed that people would come down here carrying objects, both the lack of lighting and the inconvenient access by ladder seemed out of place.

"How do people ever get anything down here?" Alec asked.

"Stairs," Michel replied practically. "At the other end of the institute. We're going for the older things, so there was no point in walking all the way to the stairs, go down and then walk all the way back here when we have a perfectly good ladder at our disposal. Also, there's a bit of archive space in between, and I didn't want to run into Winterstorm."

"Does that mean you still haven't finished your punishment?" Izzy asked, her voice hanging somewhere between curiosity and amusement.

"I have another six hours to go." Michel didn't sound particularly concerned by that. "Doesn't have to be today. Come along."

The smell in the old underground corridors reminded them a little of the basements in Brussels, sans the demons. The walls here were packed earth, in some places supported by old brick. Some doors were old, heavy wooden affairs, while a few had been replaced later with metal ones. The ceiling was low enough that Alec had to stoop a bit to keep most of the spiderwebs out of his hair.

Still, there were some places where he caused a little rain of dust and sand when he did straighten too far and disturbed the equilibrium that had formed up there.

It was clear now why Michel had covered his hair.

He noticed the knowing look the young man shot back at him and returned a lopsided grin. "I'm still washable."

Jace soon found that he had a different problem.

In some areas, the floor was made of the same packed dirt as the walls. In others, it was covered in something like flagstones. Everywhere, time had left its traces, making the ground uneven to the point of being treacherous. He soon found himself walking with a hand on the wall. Luckily he, too, was washable.

"I hope you haven't brought us down here to secretly rob us and leave our dead bodies to rot," Alec said after a couple more turns in the corridor.

"Of course I have," Michel returned, matching his tone. "We just need to meet up with my cronies first because you're a few too many for me alone."

In spite of the fact that it was clear that neither of them was serious about it, Jace felt himself tense.

Eventually, Michel stopped by a heavy wooden door with metal straps and an ornate lock.

The latter appeared to be decoration only. The door swung inwards on loudly complaining hinges, clearing the way into a small vault filled with crates and trunks stacked haphazardly.

Some of them had been broken or torn open, their contents scattered on top of others. Yes, it looked exactly as if children had been playing here.

Michel knelt by a trunk that stood against the rear wall and folded open the lid with a flourish. "Voila", he declared.

Alec joined him, watching as their young companion quickly pulled out several books, opened them to check something inside, and then handed one to Alec. "This is the one that covers the time you were looking at," he informed him. "If you want to look around some more, go ahead. Now, or later, here or anywhere else. You won't need me. Nothing down here locks."

"Thank you." Alec and Izzy were giving the books a quick examination while the other two held up their witchlights to give them light to see by.

"Will anyone mind if we take some of these upstairs with us?" Izzy wanted to know.

"They won't even mind if you take them home with you," Michel told her. "But you'll probably be disappointed anyway."

"Why's that?" Alec had flipped open one of the books and was browsing the pages.

"Because he never got anywhere," the younger man informed him. "I read some of it. He captured demons and he managed to talk to them, but all they would tell him was very clearly lies. Then he got the order to discontinue his project and that was that."

"Do you know who gave that order?" Clary asked, leaning in to see if she could read over Izzy's shoulder, and finding herself thwarted by the old French immediately.

Michel laughed. "David the Silent himself, if you can believe it."

"You clearly don't," Jace observed.

The young Shadowhunter shrugged. "Sounds a bit unlikely to me in any case. A lot of Silent Brothers look the same, so I figure he just chose to believe whatever made him resent giving up his experiment the least."

"So do you have any—" Alec broke off, shuddering suddenly. "What was that?"

Jace gave his parabatai an apologetic look. "Nothing terrible. A ghost just walked through you."

Alec twisted to direct a glare to a free bit of space. "That's not very polite of him."

Jace pointed to a place a good way to the left of where Alec was looking. "He's standing there," he corrected. "And he says he's very sorry, but he didn't see you before he came out of the wall, and then he was already basically on top of you."

"Apology accepted," Alec said.

"What are you doing down here anyway?" the ghost asked Jace.

"Looking for some books," he replied. "Do you have any news for us?"

Ney's ghost inclined his head. He had discarded his hat. His red curls shot with grey stood out in the dim room, once again driving home the fact that this was not a living person.

"The demons are unhappy," he said. "They were gathered against their will, but they cannot leave. A force they do not understand is keeping them in place. They are getting angry because of this. If the force that commands them tells them to attack, they will be very difficult to beat back."

"Do you know what they will be sent to attack?" Alec asked once Jace had relayed the words.

Ney shrugged. "They are being gathered within sight of this building. It doesn't take a clairvoyant to draw conclusions."

"Unfortunately not," Jace agreed.

Ney's next words surprised him. "We can drive them off. We are many, and we have some effect against the likes of them. Say the word, and I'll be happy to lead a charge. It's been a long time."

"He says the ghosts can drive off the demons, and he volunteers to organize them," Jace told the others.

"What do you think?" Alec wanted to know.

Jace considered. "I think that that would be convenient but whoever or whatever controls them will simply send more, and we won't be any wiser about who or what it is. It might be better to warn the institute and wait for the right moment."

"Are they locked in wards?" Izzy hazarded a guess. She raised an open book roughly in the ghost's direction. "Like these?"

"No," Jace said as Ney shook his head.

"What else would force demons to do anything?" their young companion asked. "Even when summoning a demon, people use wards and bindings."

"Other demons," Izzy replied quickly, though a look passed between the four friends, clearly telling each of them that the others had immediately thought of one specific object that could compel demons.

"Who do we talk to about the demons?" Alec asked Michel.

"Whoever's on duty in the ops center," he replied. "Do you want to do that now?"

The four of them nodded. Books went into their magically enlarged bags. They'd sort those later.

"If you need my help after all," the ghost informed Jace as they turned to leave, "I'll be right on the other side of the street. It's been refreshing, talking to people again who still live in their bodies."

*

"We've been watching them," the officer in charge informed them when they reported their new knowledge. "They're biding their time, waiting. If we strike now, we lose a chance to get at whatever is behind them."

Alec nodded. That was roughly what they had expected. It was what he would have done if he had been in charge. There was no point in getting rid of some offshoots while leaving the root in place.

The Shadowhunter in charge, a woman who looked roughly their mother's age and had her dark blonde hair tied back tightly, turned towards Jace. "Herondale, eh?"

"Lightwood," Jace said. "But yes, Herondale heritage."

"If you can get the ghosts to work for you, I may have to ask to have you transferred here," the woman told him. "There's plenty of ghost activity on that graveyard, and nothing we can do with it."

Jace shrugged. "I see them. Usually that is all I do. I can't command them. Most of them won't even talk to me. When they talk, it tends to be about the same things. How they died, who they left behind, what things they regret… I've never met an actually helpful ghost before today either."

"Too bad." She turned back towards Alec. "Stay alert. If they start anything, we'll expect you to help."

"Of course," Alec assured her. "Our blades are yours to command while we're here."

*

They had cleaned up and changed before they settled down in the room shared by Clary and Jace to have a closer look at the books they had brought upstairs.

Suspecting that the collection of demons and their presence were not entirely coincidental, and expecting the escalation to follow soon as a consequence, they had put on partial combat gear, all of them silently thanking Imogen for the new sets they had received that were actually comfortable enough to wear for extended periods.

Jace had renewed his charms, and all of them had applied some enhancements where they were well concealed.

Not expecting the writing in the journals to be any more comprehensible to her than that in the logs, Clary had her notebook out again to act as the secretary.

The alarm sounded almost as soon as they opened their books.

"Not a good day for reading," Izzy noted, dropping the book she had picked into her bag and sliding on her jacket.

Jace's hands went over his knives one last time. Alec was already shrugging into his quiver, while Clary sheathed the blade she had placed next to her. She hadn’t quite mastered the art of sitting comfortably with a seraph blade strapped to her side yet.

They rushed into the ops center along with more Nephilim than they had previously seen in the institute. Apparently, most people here preferred their own private dinners.

The three-dimensional models and screens showed them what was going on outside. A variety of demons was rushing at the institute – but the greater onslaught was targeted at the buildings around it.

"They're going for the mundanes nearby," someone noted.

"Which part is the distraction and which the actual attack?"

The question remained unanswered.

"Oh, look!" someone said behind the four friends. "That must have been what they were waiting for!"

The screens showed them a gigantic figure covered in shaggy fur lumbering down the street. It looked about large enough to take a piece out of a building. Luckily for the buildings, it didn't seem to realize that.

"It's large, but its core is small," someone said. One of the screens switched, showing details about the demon in question. "Almost impossible to get to."

"Needs an archer to get that."

Alec gravitated closer to the screen at the word 'archer'.

"Its hide is not permeable with regular arrows," one of the Nephilim looking at the display pointed out.

Several of the higher-ranking Nephilim officers were assembling their teams. The first were already leaving to face the hordes of lesser demons trying in vain to breach the wards around the institute.

"You'd need arrows with exploding tips to get at that core anyway," one of those discussing the larger demon declared. "Do you know anyone who has used those before and who can make that kind of shot? That's an awfully small target on an awfully big demon."

"Jean could have done that."

"Could have," someone replied scornfully. "Before he fed two of his fingers to that hellhound."

"Marie might be able to—" someone else started to suggest.

A woman shook her head. "No way. Do you know what happens if I miss that and we have exploded adamas fragments all over the place?"

"Very angry demons," the first Shadowhunter said, looking at the screen. "A great number of very angry demons."

Alec stepped forward. "I can make that shot," he declared, silencing the discussion.

All eyes in the group around them were on him now. "You sure?"

He nodded. "Get me the arrows and give me a way to get out there without having to open the wards. Getting around to the other side of their lines would be good because there's no way I'll have a clear shot from this side. My team comes with me to watch my back."

The other three moved to stand a little closer to him.

"I don't know," Marie said, looking Alec up and down. "We don't know you. We've never seen you shoot. A horde of very angry demons."

Alec was glad that he was wearing gloves instead of showing off the fresh bandage he had wrapped around his palm. He was sure it wouldn't impair his shot, but he didn't need to give her more reason to doubt him.

The woman who ran the institute pushed through the Nephilim gathered by them. "Get the man some of Jean's arrows," she ordered. "Lionheart! Take them out the back door. You'll be on your own out there, Lightwood – you and your team."

*

This time, Michel took them down into the caverns by the stairs.

Alec had his phone out as they hurried through corridors that had concrete floors and walls.

"Are you doing that mundane thing and posting selfies of everything you do to Facebook or so?" Michel asked him with a grin. "You won't get any reception down here."

"Just texting some friends who are in Paris to come over for backup," Alec told him, tapping the button to send the text he had just hurriedly typed out to Magnus and Charlie. "My reception is fine, actually." He tilted his phone to show the full bars and LTE sign.

"Huh. You've got cool phones in New York," Michel determined. "Can you send me one when you're back? I can never get anything down here."

"I'll see what I can do," Alec said vaguely as he slid his phone back into its pocket and snapped the button closed over it.

"I never realized there was a maze under the Paris Institute," Izzy noted. It was clear why Michel had been sent along with them to show them the way. The number of turns and branches they had passed already exceeded anything that could have been described quickly.

He laughed. "Rat warren, you mean. Didn't you know that the Paris underground is riddled with tunnels? They used to cut stone down here to build the city. If you know your way around it, you can get very nearly anywhere in the city down here. It's all connected."

They turned a corner and almost walked into their guide when he came to a sudden halt.

"This is where the area claimed by the institute ends," he told them, pointing at a line marked with runes and warlock glyphs that ran across the floor, up the walls and across the ceiling. He swiped his stele over a rune in the wall and waved them on before activating the ward again from the other side.

A little farther down the tunnel, there was a heavy steel door that also opened on application of a rune. "To keep mundanes out of our tunnels if they happen to venture in here," he explained.

"Roughly where are we?" Izzy asked.

"Across the street and below the graveyard," he replied. "We can take the next ladder up."

"Wait," Alec said, stopping again. "We? Aren't you supposed to go back when you've taken us to the right exit?"

Michel gave a shrug and patted his blade with one hand. "There are enough people there to form teams, and I really don't fancy going out under my regular commander. And he won't fancy going out with me on the team, so you're doing everyone a favor if you need me on your team."

"Everyone but ourselves," Alec pointed out.

At Michel's affronted look, he sighed. "I don't know you, Michel. I have never seen you fight. I don't know where to put you or not to put you in combat. These three? Izzy and I have been having each other's back since she was old enough to hold a blade. Jace and I are parabatai. We fight as one anyway. We've done intense training with Clary and been on missions together. We know each other's weaknesses as well as our own. We know how to look out for each other. You're an unknown."

Some of that at least seemed to make it through. The younger man nodded.

Then his grin returned. "I can still guard the entrance to the tunnels!"

Alec rolled his eyes at Izzy, who was next to him.

"I can't keep you from doing that," he said. He was beginning to understand why exactly the young Shadowhunter had been on punishment duty.

*

They emerged from a small, square stone structure that was easy to mistake for another tomb from the outside. Its elaborate carvings were weathered and worn, the shapes smoothed by centuries of wind and rain.

It wasn't difficult to get their bearings. The demons were not exactly going about their business silently – at least not for those able to see and hear them.

Alec had his energy vision on. He was going to answer a question that had sprung to his mind a while ago: Would the same trick that allowed him to see magic and other energies on and inside people and things also let him see the core of a demon?

He was a superb archer, and he knew that he had told the truth when he had said that he could make the shot they needed, but having a visible target to aim at would make things easier nevertheless. For a moment, he was confused when he spotted several blurs of energy around them, unsteady masses of an insubstantial glow that didn't seem to be anchored on anything.

"Maréchal," Jace called out as they hurried down their path. His eyes were fixed on one of the blurs. "If you still want to join the battle, this would be a good time."

Alec sketched a salute in the direction of the vague collection of power. "What Jace said!" he confirmed.

"That was aimed incredibly well," Jace told his parabatai.

"Turns out ghosts are made of energy," Alec returned.

"What else would they be made of?" The greenery by the side of the path had spit out three figures that merged smoothly into their formation.

Magnus already had magical fire sparkling around his fingertips, ready to throw it at need.

Charlie had her special guitar out. It had been fed with her blood and was only used for work that required a particular edge. The instrument almost felt like a living thing. If it had been alive, it would have been a predator, ready to pounce on its prey.

Jack simply was Jack, jogging along as if he was out for a pleasure run. His glamor was down, however, and his fingernails replaced with sharp, black claws.

"You have a shadow, by the way," Magnus added, glancing over his shoulder.

Looking back as well, Alec groaned. "He was supposed to stay and guard the entrance to the tunnels."

They didn't have any time to deal with Michel. As they reached the edge of the graveyard, they had their first view of what was going on. Several dozen demons were either throwing themselves at the wards of the institute or wreaking havoc on the surrounding mundane properties. The large, furry demon had stopped its advance to chew on a young birch tree it had broken off. It seemed to enjoy the taste.

Looking at the destruction already caused, they could imagine the next day's headlines. They would probably claim that some unexpected storm had swept through.

"Do you want me to change and roast a few?" Jack asked.

Alec shook his head. "I'd love you to, but we wouldn't be able to explain that one, and most of our people would take you for a demon, too, and attack you. We don't want that."

"Do you have a song up your sleeve that can boost the ghosts a bit?" Jace asked Charlie. "They may not be entirely useless against demons as they are, but I think most of them will be more like minor annoyances than actual threats."

"I was about to ask you if you knew any good demon fighting songs," Charlie returned with a smile that looked as predatory as her instrument felt. "I can do ghosts."

The first demon spotted their group and changed its course, loping towards them instead.

Raising his hand, Magnus released a ball of magic, hitting it square between the eyes and disintegrating it into black ashes.

Jack pointed at another one and shot a bolt of blue energy from one clawed finger. His target was thrown back, shook itself twice and roared.

With a disapproving look at his finger, Jack held his hand in an imitation of a gun and halted the demon's new rush at him with another bolt.

This one was strong enough to do the trick.

Alec shot two regular arrows in quick succession. Both hit their marks perfectly.

He advanced, his friends falling into step around him. Clary and Jace had their seraph blades out. Izzy hefted her whip in one hand, ready to swing it.

Charlie was playing a song about ghosts damned to ride though the skies forever, trying to catch an equally ghostly herd of cattle. While not particularly military in nature, the fact that the song was about ghosts seemed to be enough to let the music seep into their unseen allies. In any case, Alec could see the glow of energy intensify and take on vaguely human shapes.

The large demon had reduced its tree to splinters and looked around for a new target. It looked like it briefly considered checking out the church on the property adjacent to the institute.

Alec put one of the special arrows to his string and took aim. He was just within range. The demon was moving as if it had to work its way through thick molasses, but if it suddenly started to proceed more quickly, he would have to run to get close enough again.

He could see the core of demonic energy shining at the base of its neck, a tiny sun blazing under fur so dark a brown that it almost appeared black.

A sweeping move of the demon's three-fingered front paw reached across several of its smaller brethren to close around the middle of one of the Shadowhunters who had come out of the institute to defend the neighborhood. Since the wards around the institute were still in place and no demons seemed to have gotten in, the exit they had used probably wasn't the only place in the area where the tunnels offered additional ways out of the building.

The immense creature lifted a man who only took a moment to gather his wits and start to slash at the long fingers encircling him with his blade.

Dark ichor was seeping from the cuts into the demon's pelt, but it barely seemed to notice the injury.

"Dammit," Alec hissed as the demon raised its prey to study it through one eye, then the other. "I'll kill him along with the demon when that arrow explodes."

He should shoot nevertheless. All his training said that he should. The man was dead anyway. Better for him to die by adamas fragments than to be ripped apart by a demon.

"Shoot." Magnus fluidly wove through between Clary and Izzy, evading the whip just about to end the life of another demon. "I'll shield him from the blast."

That was all Alec needed. He took a fraction of a second to adjust his aim and released the arrow.

Magnus' hand shot up at the same moment, fingers splayed in a stop-like gesture.

The arrow struck, burying itself in the demon's body but stopping short of its core, just as they had expected. The detonation followed almost as soon as the tip had stopped moving, driving small pieces of adamas into, through and back out of the furry body.

The caught man raised his arms, shielding his face. The attempt would have been entirely in vain, had it not been for the warlock shield that sprung into being around him, protecting him and holding him when the hand around his middle fell to ashes.

With a quick movement of his fingers, Magnus lowered the man back down, where he stood for a moment before sinking to his knees, arms across his torso. The demon's grip must have caused some injury already, though hopefully it would not prove fatal now.

As if on cue, a group of demons turned towards them. Where the attacks on them so far had seemed primarily random sweeps by those that had happened to spot them, this one was more targeted.

Alec's arrows, Jace's knives and Jack and Magnus' magic took down several at a distance. Izzy and Clary were busy dispatching of those that made it closer, their blades a blur. Jace joined them, a blade in either hand.

Still, it felt as if the more demons they dispatched of, the more new ones appeared.

A quick look around showed Alec the cause of that: The ghosts had taken it upon themselves to shield the mundane properties, forming a barrier that repelled the attack. Those demons previously busy there had returned to focus on dealing with the Nephilim.

Though many, they were surrounded on all sides. There was no doubt as to who was winning, though none of them wanted to think of the casualties they would have on their own side right then.

Jack had retreated to shield his wife after one venom-spitting demon had almost made it through.

Magnus moved between them, seamlessly blending into their dance of attack and defense. One of his magical missiles burst against a group of demons, disintegrating two and wounding several others.

In the bright light of that explosion, the friends spotted a solitary figure standing off to the side, half-concealed behind another grave.

Alec's first thought was that it was Michel, but he immediately corrected himself. The young Shadowhunter was grappling with a demon of his own, beating at it with his blade and trying to find an opening for a stab.

The figure behind the grave had been taller, more broadly built – and had the brief burst of light reflected off of blond hair?

He turned towards Magnus. "Get me some—"

Before he finished speaking, his boyfriend sent up a flare that exploded into a flash of bright light above that part of the graveyard. Clearly he, too, had seen what the others had.

The magical glare illuminated a figure standing in the shadow of a tall headstone, his face a mask of fury, lips moving without pause. His right hand was up, raising an ornate chalice they all would have been happy to never see again.

Without thinking, Alec swung his bow around and shot. Jace reacted just the same, the knife in his off hand flying in a throw boosted by a quickly activated strength rune.

Both missiles flew true, set to pierce the figure of Valentine Morgenstern in the body that had once belonged to a man called Nicholas Nightshade, sure to end his life once and for all.

Faster than any human would have been able to move, two shapes detached themselves from the shadows surrounding him, intercepting arrow and knife and bursting into ashes and dust.

Valentine had been prepared, keeping demonic bodyguards around him.

His attention shifted. There was pure hatred in his look as he focused on their group. Alec had another arrow on his string already. He had chosen one with an exploding tip. Even if he hit another demon, it would at least wound the man behind it.

Jace found himself under a concerted attack by several demons rerouted to take out him specifically. He stabbed one, slashed at another and stumbled back as he had to evade a couple more.

Izzy's whip took care of one of them.

Magnus turned from attack to shield, shoving back the enemy to give them a moment's respite.

Dropping and rolling, Jace came up with his blade raised, piercing another demon before he was back on his feet.

Alec's arrow flew just as Valentine spun and took a step back into the deeper shadows, disappearing from sight.

The brief flash that followed could only have been a portal opening to swallow him up.

As he turned to focus on what threat remained, resolved to not berate himself over the lost shot and the lost special arrow – and, not least, the fact that Valentine had once again gotten away – Alec saw that Michel had managed to kill his demon and was standing and staring now. He wasn't sure how much the young man had seen, but it had clearly been enough that they would have to explain themselves later.

Later.

For now, they had a small horde of demons to take care of. With the force that had commanded them gone, their attacks grew less coordinated, but also more unforeseeably random. They needed all their focus to deal with that.

Chapter Text

January 30th, 2017

They were packed and about ready to leave when Michel sought them out the next morning.

"You didn't mention the man with the thing in the debriefing," he said without preamble.

Alec closed the door behind the young man. "I noticed that neither did you."

"Right." Michel gave a half-laugh. "And what would I have said? There was a man and he looked like he was controlling the demons with a thing that looked like a cup? As in Mortal Cup? Do you think anyone would believe there's a second one of those out there if they haven't seen it? I don't even know if it looked anything like ours."

"It looked exactly like ours," Alec said. Because it was ours, he added in his thoughts.

"See?" Michel asked. "They were mad enough that I went out with you, and not exactly thrilled about your warlock backup. I wasn't going to give them something else to hold against me."

They may not have been thrilled, but neither had they been particularly hostile about it – at least not once Alec had pointed out that he had said he was going to go out with his team, and their warlock friends were part of his team. They didn't bother to explain that Charlie and Jack weren't exactly warlocks. It had also helped that everyone was very well aware that their casualties would have been far higher without the magical help.

"I understand." Alec told him calmly. He didn't want to volunteer any more information about the cup. If the young man ended up trying to track down Valentine, chances were that he wouldn't survive the encounter. "Michel?"

"Hm?"

"The man who had the cup. Did you see his face? Would you recognize him again?" They all watched the younger man's expression carefully.

He nodded. "I think so."

"Alright." Alec fixed him with an intense look. "He may have seen you, too. If he has, he'll probably not like the fact that you're out there, knowing what he did. Whether you decide to tell your people about the cup after all or not, here's some advice: If you ever see that man again, run. Don't try to confront him, don't try to fight him, but get out of there as fast and as far as you can."

 

Cluj, Romania

They emerged just outside of Cluj, in a protected spot concealed from mundane eyes.

Izzy pointed, drawing Clary's attention upwards, where she could spot a fortress-like building high up on the rock of a nearby rise.

"That’s the institute?" she asked.

"That's the institute," Izzy confirmed.

"It's a little way to walk," Jace noted, adjusting his bag on his shoulder. "Try to enjoy the scenery on the way."

"You've been here before?"

The four chuckled as they set out. "Oh yes. Everyone's been here before. It's kind of famous, for the vampire connection and for other things. I don't think there's anyone who never comes here at least for a few days to look around. They have the largest collection of information on vampires, a museum on vampires, and, of course, the Vampire Arch. That one might be most interesting to you."

"Anything connected to vampires would be interesting to me," Clary declared, thinking of Simon. "But what's the Vampire Arch?"

"You'll see," Izzy told her cryptically. "It's stunning, but I bet you'll enjoy it from an artist's point of view in ways we never could."

It was a long, slow climb up the winding mountain trail. The institute clearly wasn't supposed to be accessible easily, and the path wasn't very well maintained in places. It was easy to imagine that quite a few mundanes venturing up there would decide to turn back rather than risk a sudden slide and rapid unplanned return to the bottom.

Even knowing the path couldn't be quite as bad as it felt, since the Nephilim must be using it regularly, all four of them were eyeing the ground with some distrust. Jace went as far as to unfold his sword stick for a while, before snapping it back onto his arm as they drew within sight of the institute.

The path swung around, snaking through a mountain grove that was made to look a lot more impassable than it actually was by glamors. The institute itself was a ruin to mundane eyes, which seemed to be a common theme for institute glamors.

To them, it was a towering fortress set behind tall stone walls, proudly looking out over the city below.

Those walls had no gates, but were pierced by a wide arch that rose twice as tall as Alec at its highest point.

It was carved and sculpted in the shapes of various figures, arranged in multiple scenes. The section overhead was Raziel the angel, his wings spread out on either side to touch the arch where it swept downwards. The sides showed Nephilim hunting, staking and otherwise killing vampires, the fangs always worked out clearly visible in their faces so as to leave no doubt about what the Downworlders depicted were supposed to be.

Those scenes continued on the inside of the arch, accompanying them on their way through the thick wall.

"I can see why it's called the Vampire Arch," Clary said. She was inspecting the sections that were roughly on her eye level.

"Seems logical," Jace told her, "but that's not really the reason. Do you know what kind of stone this is?"

"Something that doesn't erode easily," Clary said. "These look either immensely well-preserved or relatively freshly carved.

Reaching out to touch one of the figures, she jerked back her hand when the stone started to glow at the contact, the light spreading quickly until the entire arch was illuminated.

"Witchlight stone?" she asked.

"Yes," Jace confirmed. "When vampires were new, it was believed that vampires and mundanes with vampire infections could not bear the shine of witchlight. The idea of this thing was to have a vampire filter – to prevent anything tainted by the vampire disease from entering the institute. Of course it didn't work. Vampires barely react to witchlight, and mundanes not yet turned don't react to it at all. But it's still impressive as sculptures go."

*

In keeping with its fortress-like appearance, the Cluj Institute did not have lavish guest rooms like the other institutes they had visited so far. Guests here had to make do with simple dorm-style rooms fitted with four bunk-beds each.

While the four of them didn't mind sleeping in the same room, they were quite happy that there were not currently so many visitors in Cluj that they had to share it with complete strangers as well.

"I'll take a top one!" Izzy declared immediately, throwing her bag up on the one closest to the door.

"We can all take top ones," Jace pointed out.

Clary didn't look convinced of that idea. "That looks like an awfully long way down," she noted.

Jace favored her with a smirk. "I've never seen you fall out of bed so far, so why would you start now?"

Alec put one foot on the lower bunk on the side of the door across from Izzy's and swung himself up onto the top bed without using the ladder. "It's been ages since I've slept in one of these."

"It's not like it's a skill you need to keep up," his sister laughed.

Jace eyed one of the lower bunks. "We could see if we fit in that together," he offered Clary.

"Oh no, you won't!" Alec objected immediately. "I am not going to listen to you two snuggle all night! Take separate beds."

"Snuggling doesn't strictly speaking make any noise," his parabatai pointed out.

"It does in a bunk bed! The pained groans of bed springs not made for that much weight."

Clary put her hands on her hips in mock-outrage. "Did you just call us fat?"

"No!" Alec corrected. "I called you too many people for one narrow bed."

Before anyone could reply to that, Alec's phone noisily announced an incoming text message.

"That'll be Antoine's friend Andrei telling us where and when to meet him," he noted as he pulled out his phone.

His face darkened immediately upon reading the message.

"What is it?" concern was evident in Jace's voice.

"It's not Andrei," Alec said. "It's from Michel. He writes: 'You didn't tell me he was a Shadowhunter. He just showed up at the institute and took a room. He wants to know all about the demon attack'."

"Damn," Izzy groaned. "He sure is getting bold. What are you going to tell Michel?"

Her brother considered a few answers before settling on one. "To stay out of his way and try to never be in the same room with him alone – or at all if he can avoid it."

He typed and sent quickly before he slid back off of his bed to land lightly on the floor.

"Let's go and look at the museum while we wait for the werewolf to contact us," he suggested. "Brooding over what Valentine is doing in Paris won't help anyone right now."

Izzy couldn't help a small chuckle. "Are you cautioning us against overthinking, big brother? You?"

Alec shrugged. "I'm taking your advice!" he claimed.

"You know," Jace said as they filed out the door into the corridor, "I'm suddenly really glad that we didn't tell anyone there where we were going next."

 

January 31st, 2017

As their instructions had suggested, they had taken a table towards the back of the pub, where they could expect a reasonable degree of peace and quiet this early in the evening.

After spending the last day in the museum and the archives, and much of the morning in the institute's training room, comparing technique with some of the local Nephilim, they had been relieved to finally get Andrei's message just when they had sat down to have lunch.

Michel had not texted them again, and they could only hope that he was heeding their advice.

Jack, Charlie and Magnus had taken a table that gave them a clear line of sight of the four friends. They each had a tankard of beer in front of them, while the Shadowhunters had settled for non-alcoholic beverages. None of them were great drinkers.

Only minutes passed after they had received their glasses before a tall, dark-haired man entered the room, looking around and then coming directly towards them.

"Alec Lightwood?" he asked when he stopped by their table.

"That's me," Alec replied. "Andrei Ardelean, I presume?"

The man nodded. Dressed casually in jeans and a checkered shirt under a leather jacket, he didn’t look particularly wolfish.

Alec studied him for a moment. "Will you sit with us?"

Andrei nodded, taking the only free chair at the table. "I'm surprised you speak Romanian," he admitted as he gestured to the waitress.

"Jace speaks Romanian," Alec informed him. "We've only borrowed Jace's Romanian."

"Convenient."

It was clear that the werewolf came to this place often. Instead of stopping by to take his order, the waitress brought him a drink immediately.

"Could have guessed you belong to him," she commented when she put his glass down on the table. He, too, apparently preferred not to have any alcohol in his drinks.

He waited until she was out of earshot before he spoke. "Alcohol has made me sick ever since I turned. I'll order something to eat later to make up for the little money I spend here on drinks. I suggest you do the same."

They nodded, indicating that they understood the principle.

"I was surprised to receive a message asking me to meet with some of you," Andrei said, his voice low. "Even coming from Antoine. After we were caught, I was informed in no uncertain terms that I was not to have any further dealings with any of you. By both sides."

"I did not realize this," Alec said slowly. "Are we getting you into trouble here?"

Andrei gave him a ghost of a smirk. "Only if I am caught. My pack leader does not know who I am talking to, and it would be good if he did not learn."

Thinking quickly, Alec adjusted his glamor to conceal his visible runes. With all the practice they had gotten hiding their charms, it took barely any effort at all. The other three took his cue and did the same.

"Neat trick," the werewolf noted.

"Can't promise you no one noticed us before this, but at least no one else will see you talk to people with runes now." Alec wondered why the man had chosen this place, where he was clearly known, if his meeting with them had to remain secret.

Maybe it was a place where no one else from his pack came…

Andrei took a sip from his drink. "Antoine said you wanted to talk about Eva."

"If that was her name," Alec confirmed, frowning. Somewhere in his mind, that name and the concept of werewolves were already linked. The details escaped him for the moment.

"What do you need her for?"

At a nod from Alec, Clary took out her sketchpad, showing the page with her sketch to the werewolf. "We're actually trying to learn more about this," she said. "Antoine said it matched your description of her – Eva?"

He nodded as he studied the drawing. "I would say it matches her appearance as a wolf. She was larger than any of us, and beautiful. As a woman, she was small. Still beautiful, but not threatening. As a wolf, she could have taken on anyone, including our alpha. That was probably the only reason he let her stay and continue acting as she was for as long as he did. If she'd decided it was time to overthrow our pack, she could have taken over easily enough."

"But she didn't want to do that?" Jace leaned forward, watching the older man.

"She said where she came from, males and females didn't fight. She always talked like that. Males. Females. As if we were more wolves than people."

"Like she was from a feral pack?" Izzy wanted to know.

Andrei made a vague gesture. "Kind of, but not. With some things, yes, absolutely. Others, absolutely not."

"Like what?" Alec wondered if it was simply the man's nature to not be particularly forthcoming, if he was distrusting them on principle because they were Nephilim asking about a Downworlder or if he was actually having fun making them ask about every single thing.

"She had the most amazing control of her change that I have ever seen. In the time she was with us, I swear that I have never once seen her change by accident. No matter what happened. In spite of spending a lot more time as a wolf than any of us did. She was very particular. She always undressed first. I mean – seriously, always. She never tore any clothes in a change. How many wolves do you know who have the kind of control to do that when the change comes on?"

Having seen it in both Luke and Maia, they all nodded.

"How did she join your pack?" Clary asked, changing the subject.

"She just wandered in some day, introduced herself and asked if she could stay a while. She said she was a scholar, doing a study on wolf packs. Werewolf packs. We never quite knew what to make of that. She didn't seem to have the first idea of so many things. She'd never seen a Shadowhunter before. She claimed she didn't know of the Accords. She found it immensely funny when she heard we all were working to avoid the change as much as we could."

Izzy's eyebrows went up. "Did you believe that? That she'd never heard of the Accords, never saw a Shadowhunter?"

Andrei shrugged. "She came from the East. There are large, dense forests. Probably plenty of packs there that have very little contact with the outside world. We thought they might—" he broke off, suddenly seeming uncertain of whether continuing was a good idea.

"We're not going to hunt her down and hurt her," Alec said. "Neither will we harm her former pack. Or yours. We don't intend to share anything you tell us with anyone who might cause trouble. We're just really curious about that wolf in Clary's sketch."

"I can't even tell you anything of the kind because I don't know where exactly she was from, or where exactly she went," Andrei said with a sigh. "We thought maybe she came from a feral pack where the parents turn their children very young. She claimed she wasn't turned, ever – that she was born as she was."

Jace took a slow sip from his glass as he tried to remember something. "Well, we know it doesn't work like that. But I think I have heard of packs who tried to build some kind of werewolf culture, letting their children grow up as werewolves. Not recently, though. I can't remember the dates."

"It would be a nice theory," Andrei said. "But there's one catch to it."

They all looked at him.

"She had no scars." He hooked two fingers into his collar, pulling down his shirt to expose the tell-tale scratch scars werewolf injuries left behind. "I told you she always undressed before a change. I swear to you, she had no scars anywhere."

"Not a problem," Izzy told them when the others shared a surprised look. "There's no reason you'd need a full scratch to cause the change. It's what you usually see because most werewolf injuries are from uncontrolled attacks. But really, all you need is one claw piercing skin and infecting the victim. That could heal cleanly enough to not be visible. The thing with those scratches is that they are large, deep wounds, and they scar badly. A smaller prick? You'd barely see it. And just in case, you could place it where it's covered by hair or something."

"Sounds logical," Jace admitted before turning back to Andrei again. "You said you don't know where she came from, other than 'from the East'. Do you know where she went?"

The werewolf shook his head. "Our alpha put up with the risk she posed for a good long while, but eventually he told her to be on her way. The way she kept talking, and acting, as if being a wolf was as good as being human, as if there was no difference between the two other than one had fur and sharp teeth and could run faster and the other could talk and had hands to manipulate things – it could have put us all at risk for letting in the wolf too much. Why, some of the younger members of the pack were starting to question if maybe her way really was a better one. She certainly seemed happier."

They didn't ask him if he had been among those.

"So what did she do?"

"She packed her things and left. It was very unspectacular." Andrei drained his glass and gestured for the waitress to bring him another drink.

"I realize this is a long shot," Clary said, "but is there anyone in your pack at all who might know where she went?"

"Why are you so interested in her?" Andrei asked instead of answering. He refrained from adding: If you aren't out to hunt her down.

Clary sighed softly. "I'm interested in werewolves in general. The man who's the closest I ever had to a father is a werewolf, and I only learned about that a few months ago. I want to know absolutely everything about werewolves. And, well…" she indicated her drawing. "There's nothing in the books, nothing anyone seems to know about this. Even Luke says he never saw anything like this before."

"Luke is your close-to-a-father werewolf?"

She nodded.

Andrei looked at her through narrowed eyes. "How can you go for so long without realizing what he was?"

"I was raised as a mundane," Clary told him. Without mentioning Valentine or any of the connected issues, she quickly summarized how her mother had fled the Shadow World and posed as a mundane antiques dealer for nearly two decades, and how she herself had only recently been absorbed back into the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders.

He didn't seem quite certain of what he thought of that. Instead of pursuing that line any further, he chose to ask another question: "And which one of you has the special Downworlder friend?" He looked back and forth between Alec and Jace.

"That'd be Alec," Jace said, pointing. "I'm all hers."

Alec was wearing a happy grin. All it needed for that was not to make an effort to keep his face neutral at the thought of Magnus.

"Why didn't you bring him if he's that special to you?" Andrei wanted to know.

Casting a glance at the table where Magnus and their other friends were listening in on their conversation, Alec laughed at the sight of his boyfriend's expression.

"Oh, but I did!" He indicated Magnus with one finger.

As the werewolf turned to look, the warlock pushed back his chair and came over, bowing to him in a flourish.

"Magnus Bane at your service," he declared. "I would be Alexander's special Downworlder. Though I'd rather say that Alexander is my special Shadowhunter instead."

*

"I'm not even sure how to mark this part about the weird werewolf," Alec said, a pencil poised over the notebook he had opened in his lap.

They were back in their room at the institute. He was presently in the process of updating their notes.

"I mean, it's a dead end in that we don't know where that woman came from or where she went, but we know she exists. That means that we can also find her somehow."

"In theory at least," Jace agreed. He and Clary were sitting on the edge of the bed across from the one Alec had picked, placed against the wall opposite the door. They were leaning into each other, enjoying their proximity, while Clary had a sketchpad out and was moving her pencil rapidly over the page, shading a portrait of their new werewolf acquaintance.

Izzy had stretched out on her own bed, one of the books they had taken from Paris on her pillow so she could read comfortably.

She had found the place where the demon-binding experiments had been forcefully discontinued and entertained them already by reading out a rough translation of what Merryweather had written. The terms he had used and invented to describe the Silent Brother who had ordered him –in no uncertain terms, it appeared – to cease his work and pursue more useful projects in future had been most educational.

"Leave a question mark," Jace suggested. "Unless you have an idea of how we'll track her down with no idea of where she went from here. She hasn't come to anyone's attention, or we would have found something more on those strange wolves."

Muttering an agreement, Alec marked his page before checking his phone. "I kind of wish Michel would text and let us know that Valentine left again."

"He probably hasn't left again," Jace said practically. "I'd still like a status update. Maybe you should request one."

"I will if I haven't heard from him by noon tomorrow," Alec promised. "Let's not give him the impression that we want to use him as our secret information source."

Clary lowered her work and looked at him. "Do you think he'd mind?"

"No." Alec laughed. "I think he'd love that. But he'd only put himself into more danger than is necessary. He doesn’t have the best sense of self-preservation."

"But we do?" Jace didn't sound sure.

His parabatai raised an eyebrow at him. "We do what we have to do."

"We're also not sixteen anymore," Izzy said without looking up from her book.

No one pointed out that Clary and Izzy shared the ripe old age of eighteen, and the other two were within two years of them.

"What's he writing about?" Jace asked her instead.

"They bound the demons and started to try and talk to them," Izzy informed him. "But they didn't really get anywhere. The first few refused to talk, other than to threaten and insult them. Then he got a nicely talkative one, but it didn't really do him much good."

"How so?" Alec inquired.

His sister shifted a little, turning back a few pages before she started to read, giving them a rough translation of the text.

"Specimen 8 appears to understand the principle of pity and tries to use it against us. It does not seem to understand that we understand the principle of lying. When I asked it why it had come to our world, it claimed that it was on the run from a powerful enemy that hunted it and its brethren. The enemy, it said, had destroyed their home and made it near-uninhabitable. They would not simply return home because there was no home to return to. The very earth had become hostile to them and was harming them." She looked up from the page. "He concludes that these are lies to make him feel pity for the demon and to decide against banishing it. He does allow for the possibility that a greater demon drove this one from its home, however, so not all of it needs to be untrue."

"What did he do then?" Jace sounded thoughtful, as if he had found more in the words than was readily apparent.

Izzy summarized without turning back to the book. "He told the demon he wouldn't allow it or any other to stay on our plane, and that they needed to leave, but that if there was any way to make them leave peacefully, the Shadowhunters would refrain from using violence and hurting them in the process."

"I take it that didn't work out?"

She shook her head. "The demon informed him that unless he could provide them with a plane that was inaccessible to those who hunted them, they would put up as much of a fight as they could to remain and to return here, and to other planes that were capable of sustaining them."

Alec took off his boots and dropped them on the floor so he could fold his legs under himself on the mattress and get more comfortable. "I suspect he declined that."

"You bet he did," Izzy said. "He continues to point out that it is clear that the demons are the hunters and mundanes the prey, and while he doesn't completely reject the notion that larger demons may also be preying on weaker ones, he didn't exactly consider that his problem."

"Well, it wasn't," Jace pointed out.

His parabatai made a vague motion with one hand. "It would be if they were counted like any other Downworlder group. But there's an entirely different issue there…"

He didn't have to speak his thoughts aloud – and he knew better than to do that inside an institute anyway. But all of them knew what he was thinking: They had learned that there were at least some of the beings they called angels who had made a sport or an art form out of torturing demons.

"Anything else of interest in there?" Alec asked instead.

"It's mostly variations on the same theme," his sister told him. "Except maybe this one statement that he recorded from his Specimen 11. He wrote it down because it seemed 'strangely genuine'." She put a finger on the line but only glanced at it before she continued: "We were at war. We lost. They won. But there is no peace. There can never be peace."

 

February 1st, 2017

It was mid-morning on the next day when the four returned to Cluj-Napoca to meet up with their friends and continue their travels.

To their surprise, the others were not alone when they arrived at their agreed meeting point.

Andrei stood by them, accompanied by a severe-looking woman who seemed about their mother's age. A set of prominent scars up the side of her neck and across her jaw marked her as another werewolf.

"Good morning," Alec said as they approached, looking back and forth between the waiting men and women. "Any problems?"

"Not necessarily," Andrei told him. "This is Stefanie Ardelean."

Another member of the main Transylvanian werewolf pack, then. That wouldn't have been surprising, had Andrei not previously given them the impression that he hadn't wanted his pack to know he was talking to the Nephilim.

They nodded at her as Alec gave her their names.

At a sign from Alec, Jace stepped forward. The others' Speak in Tongues charms were wearing off, and they had not bothered to renew them in the morning, anticipating their departure.

"Is there anything we can help you with?" he asked her.

Stefanie nodded. "I hope so. I caught Andrei last night when he tried to sneak back in. I made him tell me what he'd been up go."

Jace winced visibly. "Don't get him in trouble, please. He was only doing a friend a favor."

She laughed at that. "His former lover, you mean. I won't – I've always found it a bit harsh to ground him as our pack leader did, just for having feelings."

"Stefanie," Andrei cautioned.

"What?" She raised her eyebrows at him. "Don't you?"

"Find it harsh or have feelings?" the man returned. "Either way, it's no one's business. You asked me to get you in contact, here they are. Now ask your question. The sooner we're back, the less likely anyone will notice."

"If anyone asks, we'll drop a hint or two and everyone will be quite happy," Stefanie said practically. "No one will mind that we went to have some privacy."

"Right," Andrei said. "Because anyone would believe that. Or I want it."

"No," the woman agreed. "What you want is to dig up your courage and ask Antoine if you can join him wherever they sent him."

"If you don't mind spending a lot of time helping him grind swamp demons, go for it," Jace suggested, grinning. "They seemed pretty easy on Shadowhunter/Downworlder relationships in Brussels." He pointed at Alec and Magnus.

"Grind?" Andrei asked, frowning. "And I can't just leave the pack. A lone werewolf quickly becomes a dead werewolf most of the time."

"I'm pretty sure there are werewolf packs in Belgium," Jace pointed out practically. Instead of explaining about computer games he didn't even really understand, he turned his attention back to Stefanie. "What was it you needed us for?"

She gave the other werewolf one last long look before directing her attention at the Nephilim. "Andrei said you were looking for Eva."

They all nodded.

"If you find her, can you tell her to contact me and let me know she's alright?" She held out a folded piece of paper to Jace.

Assuming that it contained her phone number or email, he took it without looking at it. "We can do that if we run into her, but that is not very likely. We don't even know where she went from here. The world is large, and the chances that we'll just happen to cross her path are not very good."

Stefanie gave him a small smile. "I can help you with that. We were in contact for a while after she left. She'd send cards, messages. I still have family I'm in contact with, so that went past our pack leader."

Andrei's expression suggested that he really didn't want to hear that.

The woman either didn't notice or didn't care.

"She made it all the way to Italy. She met a man somewhere and settled with him near Rome."

"Another werewolf?" Jace asked.

Stefanie shrugged. "She never said, but I don’t think so. It didn't sound like it. I need to go through my old things, but I can text you the last address I had for her this afternoon. Andrei has your number."

Clearly, Andrei had preferred to use the number Magnus had given him the night before to contacting Alec directly that morning. While he understood the man's reluctance to send a message right into the Cluj Institute, Jace fished his phone from his pocket and unfolded the piece of paper she had given him. He typed his name and sent the message to the number on it. "There. Now you have my number and don't need to go through an intermediary," he said. "How did your contact end – and when?"

"About six, maybe seven years ago," Stefanie said. "The messages just stopped. The last phone number I had for her was disconnected."

"Maybe she went back to that pack she came from," Andrei suggested, but his tone said that even he didn't believe that.

"Wherever that was." Jace looked at Stefanie. "You don't happen to know?"

She shook her head. "She never gave any details about that and I didn't prod. I thought she probably didn't leave them on the best of terms, but towards the end I was wondering..." She trailed off, apparently not sure if she wanted to share any more with them.

"Wondering…?" Jace prompted.

The woman sighed. "Don't hold this one against me. It's only speculation. Some of the things she said made me wonder if she was spying for them or something. No – that's not quite the right word. I'd almost say investigating. I have no idea what the target might have been, though. Just – Oh, I don't know. A few weeks before she disappeared, she said that she'd finally found something promising. Another time, when I asked her how she could bear having to keep half her life secret from her lover, she replied that it was worth it for the things he could get her access to."

She paused, trying to gage their reactions. "I was talking about her being a werewolf. I was sure her partner wasn't, and I couldn't imagine that she could just change shape before him the way she did in our pack."

"But you're not sure that that's how she understood it?" Jace asked.

"Now I'm not," she confirmed. "I've gone over it all again and again, and I think she was actually looking for something – maybe she started with our pack because we were the closest to hers, and…" now she looked at Andrei, "call me crazy, but in retrospect I think she used our pack to learn our ways, what to do, what not to do, how we reacted to her behavior, how far she could go before it wouldn't be tolerated. Never in her letters did she write that any packs sent her on her way because she didn't obey the rules. It was always 'I'm done here, moving on, letting you know when I have a new address'. Now, of course that could have all been lies."

Jace repeated her words quickly in English. The others had increasing difficulty following the Romanian.

"But if they weren't, she used what she learned at your pack to move without standing out," Alec said, letting his parabatai translate the other way. "And she had some agenda all along."

Stefanie nodded. "And at this point, I'd love to know what it was, but I'd be happy to just hear she's fine and merely lost interest writing."

Chapter Text

Rome, Italy

Following a brief coordination, they changed their travel plans. The Dublin Institute had been next on their revised list that would take them though the European institutes first to reduce the issues caused by instantaneous travelling through different zone.

Instead, their next jump took them to Rome.

"The Eternal City," Magnus sighed when they stepped out of the portal. "Haven't been here in a few centuries."

"I'll gladly help you get re-acquainted if we can find the time," Alec told him, grinning. "I did an internship here once. It wasn't quite a century ago."

Magnus laughed. "I can't wait for the day you tell me about a place you last visited a century ago."

"Are you saying you would prefer it if I was older?" Alec mock-glared at his boyfriend. He knew perfectly well what Magnus meant.

The thought that maybe he would be able to spend eternity with that man by his side was overwhelming in all the best ways every time he thought of it.

He surreptitiously touched his forehead, where he could feel the charm Magnus had placed on him – the counterpart to the one Magnus wore openly where Alec had to conceal his under a glamor because Nephilim didn't use charms. Anyone who could read them would know that they had marked each other as belonging together.

They split up, Magnus and Charlie to find accommodation, the four Nephilim to present themselves at the institute with their request, and Jack to find a corner where he could change and take flight. The dragon was hungry. While the city would hardly give him anything that would satisfy his larger shape's needs, he hoped that a quick flight would take him far enough into the countryside to allow him to grab some game or lost livestock.

The institute's doors opened willingly to them, letting them into a large entrance hall decorated with murals of the angel Raziel.

They had only crossed the room half-way to the double doors at the opposite end, when a side door opened and a man just a little older than they were looked them over.

"Welcome to Rome," he said. "What brings you?"

Alec turned slowly. "Research. We came across an old case that interests us and – Emilio, is that you?"

Confusion on the other man's face gave way to a delighted smile after a second. "Alec? Alec Lightwood?" He glanced at the others. "And Jace!"

Laughing, the three closed the distance between them, clapping each other's shoulders.

"You've grown up," Emilio declared.

"So have you," Jace determined.

Alec waved the two women closer. "Emilio, this is our sister Isabelle. And Clary Fairchild, our friend and Jace's …" he hesitated a moment. "Fiancée."

"That sounds like you're not quite sure," Emilio said, greeting the two. "These two told me all about you when they were staying with us. Izzy, is it? Do you still use a whip?"

Izzy shook back her sleeve to expose her electrum bracelet. "Oh yes. And yes, Izzy will do fine."

"You'll have to tell me all you did these last five years," Emilio determined. "Are you staying the night? You're staying the night, right?" He looked pointedly at the bags they carried.

"We'd love to," Alec said. "If you have space."

"Space? For you – always. Come. Let's find you some place. Then we can talk about what research you're doing, and I'll introduce you to Anabella. She's my Clary."

Alec's grin widened a little more. "Congratulations!"

Emilio directed a similar look at Clary. "So, you and Jace, eh? I always thought maybe those two…" he gestured between the two men. "I could have sworn there was something…"

"Watch it," Alec warned, but he was still laughing. "We're parabatai."

"Besides, I don't lean that way," Jace pointed out.

"Parabatai! I knew you had something!" Emilio was leading them through a narrow hallway and up a set of winding stairs. "Wait – you don't lean that way? So I was right about Alec?"

"Yeah. I wish I hadn't been the last one to find out about that," Alec grumbled. Even though his relationship with Magnus was anything but secret, he still found it something of a relief whenever people didn't react negatively to the information.

"So, why didn't you being the prince of your heart along as well?" Emilio asked him. "You do have one, don't you? Because if you don't, I might be able to introduce you--"

"I have and I did," Alec hurried to assure the other man. "But he's not a Shadowhunter, so he's taking a room in the city."

"Trust in Alec to make things complicated," Emilio said, clicking his tongue and shaking his head. "When has anything good ever come out of a relationship between one of us and a mundane?"

Alec gave him a lopsided grin. "He's not a mundane."

"Downworlder?" Emilio asked. "Oh Alec. You really do go for the worst possible choices…"

Though he said nothing more on the matter, Alec revised his earlier reaction slightly. Jace's expression had darkened considerably while Izzy was rolling her eyes behind Emilio's back.

Emilio turned into another corridor and stopped, gesturing at the row of doors with a flourish. "They're all free. Pick whichever rooms you like. Meet me in the archives when you're done getting settled. I'll secure a research station. You said it was an old case?"

"Involving a Downworlder who was living here at least about six or seven years ago," Alec confirmed.

"If you tell me the particulars, I may be able to give you a headstart," Emilio offered.

The four exchanged a glance before Alec shrugged. "Eva Ivanovna. Werewolf. Came to Rome around 2008 or 2009. There may be another last name."

Jack had pointed out that 'Ivanovna' was a patronymic. It was very well possible that she'd been using it, instead of her last name, in countries where that name structure was not common, in order to avoid leaving her full name anywhere.

"I'll see what I can find. Take your time moving in," Emilio told them.

With that, he left.

"Emilio…" Izzy said when he had turned the corner. "Do I remember him from your stories?"

"Silverfire," Jace completed his name. "You probably do. He was our assigned mentor when we were here. He'd just turned sixteen and he seemed so old and experienced then. Funny how perspectives change."

"Why weren't you here with them?" Clary asked Izzy as they opened the first doors to look inside, claiming the rooms without further ado.

"That was when I went to Alicante for forensic training," her friend informed her. "While those two were studying Old World Demons."

*

They changed to adjust to the milder Italian weather after the chill of the Carpathian mountains and reconvened to follow Alec and Jace to the archives.

These were a series of rooms on the basement level, nicely equipped with angelic-power-run workstations. To give the users some privacy – or possibly simply to use the existing layout of the room in the most economic fashion – the workstations were set in small niches along the walls, with narrow benches in front of the screens.

"I'd forgotten how little space there is," Alec groaned as he tried to fit his long legs into the small niche.

"I think you may have put on a few more inches since the last time you were here," Emilio suggested without looking at him. "I think I've found your wolf."

He tapped the screen to show them a file. The portrait picture was clearly a cutout from a larger photograph. Even the limited quality of that image left no doubt of her striking beauty. There was some hope that people would still remember that face.

"Can you print that?" Izzy asked as she studied the profile, which was noticeably incomplete.

"Yeah," Emilio told her, tapping his stele to a button as he did so. "But it won't do you much good. She's dead."

He scrolled down a little to show her the entry. "Demon attack on her home. Classified as possibly a retaliation strike. It doesn’t say for what. Jace, can you get the print?"

Jace, who had taken the outer-most edge of the bench, got to his feet and crossed the room to the central printer, which was spitting out pages.

He leafed through them on the way back, browsing the text. "What happened to her things? For that matter, what about the place where the attack took place?" Pulling out the page that had the information, he showed Emilio the address. "Can you check?"

As Alec held out his hand for the other pages, their old friend spotted the shiny new skin on his palm.

"Milan?" he asked.

Alec blinked as he took a moment to realize what Emilio was talking about.

Then a rueful look came over his face. "Yeah," he admitted.

Emilio shook his head. "You shouldn't have let anyone magic that away. You've got to let that scar over."

Holding out his own hand, he showed them a scar across his palm that matched the one Alec would have soon sported without Magnus' help.

"You, too?" Alec asked. "How'd that happen?"

"How does it ever happen?" Emilio was laughing. "Went to Milan with a group of friends and grabbed the door. Held it for six full seconds. What's your count?"

"Count?" Clary blurted out. "Are you saying you're using the wards on the old Milan Institute as – what? A kind of dare?"

Emilio looked at her as if he was doubting her sanity. "Of course we do. What else does anyone ever use them for? What did you use them for?"

"We were just looking at them!"

"With your hand?" Emilio raised an eyebrow at Alec.

"Look, I didn't know it was going to do that, okay?" Alec told him. "So it's just as well that this will heal without a trace. I don't know my count anyway. I can go back another time and do it right."

"That won't count," the local Shadowhunter informed him. "Now you know what it feels like and can prepare for it."

"Then I guess I'll have to do without," Alec said. "Can we get back on topic? That address…"

Emilio sighed. "You need to learn how to have fun, Alec."

"I like my fun with less pain, thank you very much," Alec returned. "Also: We're working."

Entering the address brought them to a short overview page. "Seems to have fallen to the institute when she was killed," Emilio determined.

"No," Izzy corrected, a finger on the screen. "It belonged to the institute before that already. That explains the retaliation angle."

"You mean she was working with the institute and someone got back at her for it?" Jace frowned at the single page he still held. "You'd think they'd mention that kind of thing here."

"Let's go there anyway," Alec suggested. "I want to look at the place, get a feel for it." Besides, he still had the nagging feeling at the back of his mind that he should know something about this situation that kept eluding him. If he had seen pictures of the incident somewhere, maybe actually visiting the location would help toggle the memory.

*

"You weren't serious about going back to Milan to participate in that stupid dare, were you, Alec?" Jace asked as they walked down the street to the address on their printout.

None of them were particularly sad that Emilio had told them that he couldn't join them. He had assignment reports to complete and duty to report to. He'd ended up a lot more exhausting than either of them remembered him.

"Of course not," Alec told him, his tone suggesting that it should have been obvious. "I have better things to do than to mutilate myself on purpose."

"Good," Jace said, grinning. "Let me know if you ever reconsider because I'll want to get rid of the parabatai rune before that. I don't need the echo of that."

"I'm sure Magnus would be most annoyed if you destroyed his pretty work again, too," Izzy pointed out.

They wove around a group of mundanes. Oblivious to their presence, they nevertheless evaded them just far enough to keep from bumping into them.

"Is that our address?" Izzy pointed at a small villa set in a garden.

Glancing at his phone's GPS, Jace nodded.

The building was neatly kept and appeared inhabited, though there was no name on the door. It was, the database had told them, used to house Nephilim families who were assigned to the city but preferred not to live at the institute. It wasn't surprising that there were no traces of the battle that had once taken place here visible anymore after all these years.

Alec blinked on his magic vision, inspecting the building.

The wards were nothing out of the ordinary, and no more or less than he would have expected on any personal home of a Shadowhunter.

"We could deglamor and ask the neighbors if they remember anything," Clary suggested.

"We could," Alec agreed. "But they are mundanes. At least their houses aren't warded. What would we ask them? Good day, Sir, do you remember a demon attack on this house seven years ago?"

Clary laughed. "Good day, Sir, I'm looking for a friend. I haven't seen her in ages and this was the last address I had for her. Do you happen to know if she's still living here?" she suggested instead.

Alec gave her a slightly surprised look. "You know, anywhere else, I'd say go for it," he decided. "But we don't know how much they are on speaking terms with the people who live there now, and it's probably very impolite of us to ask the neighbors before tracking down further details by asking the people who were around in the institute at the time."

"Why haven't we done that?" Clary wanted to know.

"We'll do that tonight," he told her. "When everyone isn't out and about and we'll actually have a chance to catch hold of someone."

"What about your friend Emilio?" she asked. "Why doesn't he remember anything?"

Jace chose to answer that one. "Given his age, he probably was out interning in other institutes at the time. Demon attacks are hardly so rare an occurrence that people would have written to him about it. Actually, it'd have to have been quite a spectacular attack for anyone to remember details if it was any other kind of location."

*

Alec's memory remained tantalizingly close but just out of reach. Visiting the building had done nothing to help.

As they turned back the way they had come, Izzy put a new address into her phone.

"How about we check out the place Stefanie sent her letters to?" she suggested.

"Sounds good," her brother agreed. "How far is it? Do we need to find a taxi?"

Jace adjusted his own phone's target as well. "If we're not in a hurry, I'd say let's make it exercise. And if I make it there without putting on more charms, I'll want a proper combat training session in the morning. No holds barred."

"You'll get it," Alec promised, falling into a faster gait. It wasn't exactly around the corner, but they had done longer runs during their morning exercise in Alicante.

"Huh. I kind of missed this," Clary said when they finally came to a halt at their destination.

"I don't have the words to tell you how much I missed this," Jace told her, laughing.

The house was small, nestled between two other ones looking identical to it except for the colors they were painted in.

Unsurprisingly, the name on the door told them absolutely nothing.

Alec indicated a window to the right of their destination. "There's an old man home," he noted, drawing their attention to the figure behind the glass, looking out into the street. "If we're lucky, he's been living here for a while and will remember our Eva. Clary, do you want to do your mundane contact thing?"

With an amused look, Clary stepped into a corner that wasn't visible from the window and dropped her invisibility glamor. After a second's thought, she adjusted the glamor she wore permanently to hide her charms, becoming a copy of the werewolf Stefanie.

"I think we look a bit too young to be old friends of hers," she explained before she walked up to the door and rang the bell.

The man disappeared from the window and made his way to the door, which he opened after a delay probably owed to a peek through the spyhole.

Clary smiled at him as he looked her over.

"Are you lost, ma'am?" he asked her, his face friendly but guarded. "I don't think I'm expecting a visitor today."

"Not so much lost," Clary admitted. "I'm looking for an old friend. She used to live nearby. We lost sight of each other years ago. Now that I'm in the city, I thought I'd see if she's still here, but it doesn't seem so. I was wondering if you might remember her."

She pulled out one of the portrait printouts they had made. They had given a few of them to Charlie and Magnus, who were currently visiting the local Downworlder haunts to see if anyone remembered the odd werewolf.

"Her name was Eva." Even as she said it, she realized her mistake. Knowing that the woman was dead, she had spoken in the past tense. Well, there was nothing to do now than to continue and hope she could gloss over it.

From the sharp look he gave her as he reached out to take the picture, she could guess that it had not escaped his notice.

"Eva Ivanovna," she added quickly. Now hopefully she could claim that she didn't know if she still had the same last name if he asked.

He didn't. Instead, he studied the picture and nodded thoughtfully. "She lived there." He pointed at the building next door. "Nice young woman. She'd come over to chat sometimes. She loved my lemon cake."

"Lemon cakes are the best," Clary confirmed. "It's really kind of sad. I was so hoping to meet her here. I know it's silly after all this time, but - she may have mentioned me at some point. Stefanie Ardelean?"

His face lit up a little. "Oh, but of course!" he said. "I've seen pictures of you. You were younger then, of course."

"Weren't we all?" Clary asked. "She stopped writing all of a sudden. You don't happen to remember if anything unusual happened to her… it would have been the spring of 2010."

He shook his head. "Why don't you come inside for a bit? We can talk more comfortably there. I might even have some lemon cake." His gave her a boyish grin before looking past her to where the others were standing, safe under their invisibility glamors. "And bring your friends, too."

They exchanged a brief, shocked glance before the three approached.

"You have the Sight," Alec noted.

Clary could feel giggles rise up in her. Those had been the first words Jace had ever said to her.

"Damned right I do," the old man said. "Must have some fey ancestor somewhere. Why do you think Eva picked me out of all the neighbors to spend time with? Certainly not for my skills at flirtation. My Maria was still alive then, and she had a beau of her own, too. But you know about that, surely."

"Actually, I don't," Clary said. Avoiding anything that might lead him to expect she had specific information that she didn't know seemed wise. "She never wrote about her love life."

*

Minutes later, they were all seated in the man's living room, on sofas that were well used but in good repair, each with a plate of lemon cake before them.

Alec squinted at his piece for a moment, half-expecting to find charms in it, and relieved when he did not.

"How do you connect to Eva?" the old man asked Alec, Jace and Izzy.

"We don't," Alec told him. "We're just travelling with Stefanie."

The man nodded. "Is it very impolite to ask you what you are?"

Smiling, Alec nodded, hoping that that would spare them having to explain about Nephilim in any manner.

At least for the moment, it seemed to work. The man walked over to a sideboard, where he collected a photo album. It went on the table in front of Clary, her glamor firmly in place.

"Here's your friend," he said, needlessly pointing out Eva in some of the pictures. He was in several of them as well, while others showed a woman with grey hair and an open smile. Looking over Clary's shoulder, Alec suspected that that was the late Maria.

"Do you know where she went when she moved out?" Clary asked, carefully turning a page and smoothing the silk paper that protected the glossy sides of the photographs.

The man sighed. "I'm afraid she is no longer alive."

"How did she die?"

His hand moved in a vague gesture. "It's just a feeling. One day, she didn't come home. Then after a few weeks, Victor came with some friends and they cleared out all her things. He told me that they were moving far away, but I didn't believe him. I rarely believed him. He wasn't an honest man."

"Victor?" Alec asked. Victor. Eva. Something clicked, but it wasn't enough yet to give him a full memory.

"He was Eva's beau. Handsome, I guess. Maria said she thought he made up in looks for what he lacked in character. We never understood what she saw in him. He was wrong. He wore those, too." He gestured at their visible runes.

"Wrong about what?" Clary asked, turning another page to expose a picture of Eva in front of her door. She was smiling broadly, directing an adoring look at a man with dark skin and black hair, dressed casually and showing off a rune on the side of his neck over the open collar of his shirt. They looked like a perfectly happy couple.

Alec felt a stab of icy cold shoot through him.

They'd been on the roof. Valentine was attacking and they'd had to shut down the power core. Aldertree had said he knew how. He had tried – or said he'd tried – and failed. And while he had been supposed to work on the core, he had instead given Alec the heart-wrenching story about how he had once loved a werewolf, who had, driven mad by the grief over a demon attack that had killed all of her household, attacked him and forced him to kill her.

He wasn't surprised he hadn't remembered that right away. There'd been Izzy to take care off afterwards, who had saved them in spite of battling through yin fen withdrawal at the same time. There had been the aftermath of the activated Soul-Sword to clean up. Then things had happened so fast and he had never really thought about that tale, other than to wonder if it had been meant to stall so the core wouldn't shut down in time.

He tapped the man in the picture. "Victor Aldertree."

"That's him, yes," the old man said. "You know him?"

Alec inclined his head. "He tried to kill my sister."

The other man held his eyes. "I have no proof of this," he said. "But I am convinced that he killed Eva."

*

Back in the institute, they had returned to the archives to put their new knowledge to use. Going through Aldertree's name, they confirmed that he had been living in the first building they had visited at the time of the demon attack and that he had been injured in the aftermath.

There were no details they didn't know already.

Aldertree himself had left Rome not long after his recovery from the werewolf attack.

"That one's bad luck," a woman's voice sounded behind them.

Turning, Alec spotted Emilio. The woman by his side looked a little older than he. As she raised her hand in greeting, he could see a scar like the one Emilio had. Was that dare a general sport in the Rome Institute? He was pretty sure it hadn't been at the time he and Jace had interned here. Had the habit spread to other European institutes, too?

He wondered if that had anything to do with the utter disinterest of the Paris medic in his injury. On the other hand, Michel surely would have mentioned something.

Thinking of Michel, he quickly glanced at his phone.

Still nothing.

"This is Anabella Dovecry," Emilio told them in the meantime. "My fiancée. We thought we could go out tonight – the two of us and all of you?"

"Sure," Alec said, not certain if there was any way he could politely decline. "We were planning to go to some shadow-world bars and ask around about our werewolf anyway." He turned towards Anabella. "What do you mean by bad luck?"

The corner of her mouth twitched upwards. "He was assigned to this institute for a while several years ago. Around the time I started to go on full field duty, he had a reputation of, well –being jinxed. He was a field medic, so he was sent out on missions, and there'd be a death. Not always, but often enough to be noticed. It wasn't even connected to him not doing his work properly. He was just bad luck, and everyone hoped they wouldn't have him on their teams. He left for Idris to pursue a career change, and the deaths stopped."

Alec and Jace exchanged a look. They didn't exactly believe in jinxes, but they were also beyond believing in coincidence at this point.

After Emilio and his fiancée left them to their research again, they spent another two hours in the archive, tracking down the deaths Anabella had mentioned. They found five. At first glance, they had absolutely nothing in common.

They printed their files and Aldertree's, and left the archives to sit in a nearby park. Officially, they were enjoying the mild weather. In fact, they wanted to be able to talk without being overheard by cameras.

They read in silence for a while, swapping files now and then.

"I think this one's an outlier," Izzy said eventually, putting down the file she held.

"What do you mean?" Jace asked her.

"A random death," she clarified. "He doesn't belong with the others."

Clary frowned as she looked at the file her friend held. "Does he have anything the others don't?"

"No. He's missing something the others have. Look – everyone else was assigned to Sydney at one point or another before they came to Rome."

"So you're saying…?" Clary still wasn't entirely sure.

"I'm saying that if we assume that there is a connecting link between these and Aldertree, I've found one that connects four of these and Aldertree. Sydney."

"Did they serve there together?" Alec checked the file he held and the one that was lying on the bench next to him.

His sister shook her head. "Not all their times overlap, but since it's the only connection I can see, let's be creative. Let's say they met here in Rome and bonded while talking about their times in Australia. Then they got up to something and eventually most of them had to disappear."

"Should we go back and check if there are any others that might have belonged to that group, and what became of them?" Clary asked, drawing an unhappy sound from Jace. He was enjoying their arrangement on the bench, with Clary leaning comfortably into him.

"Someone should," Alec decided. He shifted to get up when the phone in his pocket vibrated. "Oh. That'll be Magnus."

Magnus and Charlie hadn't had much luck in asking around about Eva yet, and they were hoping that they would be able find someone later in the day, when the bars filled up. Alec had informed his boyfriend about Emilio and Anabella's intention to take them out.

Expecting Magnus' input on whether he and Charlie – and Jack, assuming that he was back and not curled up somewhere digesting his kill – would join them, Alec opened his phone.

"Not from Magnus," he noted when he saw the preview. "It's from Michel."

"What's he writing?" Jace asked. "Did Valentine move on?"

"He texted a picture," Alec said, tapping the file to open it.

His face froze as the image appeared on his screen.

"Alec? Everything alright?" Izzy asked him, though it was clear from his expression that everything was not, in fact, alright.

"Michel is dead," Alec said tonelessly.

Jace reached for his phone, and he let him have it. The others leaned in to have a look. It was a cell phone picture, according to the time stamp taken just a few hours ago. The young man who had helped them in Paris was very clearly dead – arranged in what was just as clearly supposed to be a nod to the Nightshade murders of the past.

"Ave atque vale," Izzy said in a low voice. "And message received. If it helps any, those cuts were made after death. They're not bleeding right. His heart wasn't beating anymore."

Her brother gave her a slightly shaky smile. While it made Michel no less dead, knowing that he hadn't been slowly carved into pieces while alive to feel the pain was a small amount of relief.

"He also doesn't know how the cuts should be placed, or that they should be in the shape of runes," Jace said. "He didn't take the visions with the body."

That was a larger relief, though of an entirely different kind.

Alec took back his phone, closed the message and looked at the others. "Does anyone want to stop what we're doing now?"

They shook their heads, not even hesitating.

"Then let's get back to work."

*

None of them felt particularly like going out and having fun that night, but they felt even less like explaining to Emilio why they wanted to change their plans.

Besides, there still was some hope that they would find someone who had known Eva and could shed some more light on her relationship with Aldertree. Something about the story didn't sit quite right with them yet, and it wasn't just that they were certain that Eva's former neighbor had been thinking of something quite different from what had actually happened when he had said he thought that Aldertree had killed the woman.

The archives had not produced a lot of useful information beyond what they already had. The only thing that stood out was that there had been one other man who had once been assigned to Sidney. His name was Giulio Whitelake, and he was listed as missing. Towards the end of his time at the institute, he had been wounded in a raid. His injuries had been severe but not life-threatening, but his recovery had not gone as planned. He had started to show signs of instability, become increasingly short-tempered and eventually disappeared from the institute before he could be sent to Idris. He was presumed dead.

They tended to agree with that assumption.

To their surprise, Emilio and Anabella were not alone when they met them outside of the institute. With them was a man almost as tall as Alec, with dark blond curls, doe-brown eyes and a shy smile.

"Alec, meet Donato Goldmoon," Emilio said, indicating the other man with a flourish. "He's a friend of ours who wanted to make your acquaintance."

Alec raised an eyebrow at Emilio. "Did he?" He turned to Donato. "Did you? Well, here I am."

He didn’t quite understand why anyone would do that, but if Emilio's friend had, for some reason, run their names in the database, he would have been treated to a summary of some of their more interesting recent exploits. Maybe he wanted advice on archery? Under his sparkling jacket of dark-blue denim shot with gold thread, it has hard to judge if he had an archer's muscles. He wasn't wearing a quiver, but neither was Alec.

Donato didn't seem quite sure about that himself, but there was an appreciating light in his eyes when he looked Alec up and down. "Emilio suggested that we might find each other… of interest," he admitted.

"Of…?" Alec scowled, unsure of what to make of that.

"There's another friend who's still out but will meet up with us in a little bit," Emilio said brightly, looking at Izzy. "Then no one will be on their own."

She laughed. "I haven't come to Rome to date," she told him. "Tell your friend not to bother if he has anything better to do."

The look she favored Alec with said: He's not my friend. I can tell him where to put his interferences.

Parsing her statement and catching on the word "dating", Alec almost took a step backwards. "I'm sure Emilio means well," he said. "But I'm not looking. I am, in fact, very much taken."

"By a Downworlder," Emilio pointed out. "Alec, nothing good has ever come out of a relationship between a Shadowhunter and a Downworlder."

Alec turned to Donato. "I'm sorry he's wasted your time. Please, don't feel obligated to come with us."

"That's okay," Donato claimed. "I can just come along for the wine and the music. Nothing else."

When Alec looked at his parabatai, there seemed to be equal shares of amusement and pity in Jace's expression. Alec barely managed to avoid rolling his eyes. This evening was promising to become very exhausting.

*

Emilio took them to a place that had been off-limits for him and Jace when they had been in Rome before. Alec made a point of texting Magnus their whereabouts when they arrived, announcing to his companions that he would join them soon.

The local shadowhunters steered them towards a round table set in a corner, where they could watch what was going on while keeping a wall at their backs.

Emilio placed orders for all of them, so fast that they didn't even manage to object.

Alec took one sip from his glass and resolved that he would be drinking very little very slowly that night. He wasn't particularly fond of alcohol, and he didn't think he liked the other components of that drink's flavor any better.

Izzy, Jace and Clary seemed to have a similar idea.

The bar was well occupied and continued to fill up while they sat and waited, answering questions about New York.

"Is it true that you're the one who killed Valentine?" Emilio asked Clary after a while.

She nodded.

"How did you do it?"

"Well," she took a deep breath. "I took his pocket knife and stabbed him with it. Then he died."

His body had, at least. His mind lived on in a new vessel, but they couldn't share that knowledge without endangering both themselves and anyone they talked to. Michel's death had proven impressively that their enemy would not keep from harming people around them if he thought it would get him anywhere. They still weren't sure if that had been supposed to be a warning to them, or if the main reason why he had killed the young man had been because he'd seen Valentine wield the Cup.

"Details!" Anabella urged. "What did he say? How did he look?"

"He didn't say anything, and I didn't pay attention," Clary told her. "I was a bit distracted by the angel over the lake, you know."

"Did he actually appear?" Anabella wanted to know, leaning forward as if getting closer to Clary while she told of the angel was going to somehow rub off some of the contact on her.

Clary nodded. "Yeah."

"What was he like?"

She cast a glance at Alec, silently pleading for his help.

He, in turn, was silently pleading for Magnus, wherever he was, to show up soon, because Donato was quickly nearing the tipsy stage, and apparently alcohol made the man both more interested and less inclined to accept the statement that Alec wasn't.

"Big," Clary eventually answered. "With wings. Large wings."

"What did he say?"

Hiding a scowl under a strained expression as if trying to remember the precise words, Clary said: "Something along the lines of: Why can't you morals leave me in peace?"

That wasn't what he had said, and she had no trouble recalling what he actually had said, but she wasn't going to repeat that here right now.

"Oh look!" Emilio interrupted them. "There's Dario. He runs the largest werewolf pack in Rome! You'll want to ask him about your wolf probably. Hey! Dario!" He raised a hand and waved. "Come here!"

"I could have gone over to him," Alec pointed out.

"He's just a werewolf," Emilio said, not even bothering to keep his voice down. "We don't go groveling to them. When we need them we call and they answer. Or they better answer, because otherwise they'll be in trouble."

There was steel in Alec's eyes when he met the other man's gaze. "Downworlders are people, no more or less than we are. Until and unless they break the accords, I will show them the same respect I would show my fellow Nephilim – until and unless they break the law."

Emilio snorted. "I thought you had experience by now," he scoffed. "Should have known better, given your affair with one."

"Magnus isn't an affair," Alec said coolly. "And entirely irrelevant for this."

He turned towards the approaching werewolf. Dario looked to be in his sixties. Maybe it was his age and experience that allowed him to walk proudly in spite of the unceremonious summons.

"I'm sorry, Sir," Alec said. "You didn't have to interrupt your—"

Emilio talked over him before he could finish his sentence "Nonsense! My friends here are looking for a wolf who passed through Rome a few years ago. They want to know if you remember her."

"How long ago?" Dario asked.

Emilio pointed at Alec.

"Again, I'm sorry." Alec's voice had an edge now, warning Emilio not to interfere again. "My colleague here is a little over-enthusiastic, I fear."

The expression on Dario's face was unreadable. He didn't seem certain if Alec was being serious or making a joke.

"We were looking for a werewolf, though. Eva Ivanovna. I have a picture of her."

Pulling out his phone, he showed him a photograph he had taken from her neighbor's collection earlier that day. It was a much better portrait than the one they had used before.

Dario glanced at it. "Never seen her before," he claimed.

The twitch in his face when he saw the woman in the picture said something different. Unwilling to see where Emilio would take this if he pressed the issue, Alec nodded at him anyway. "Thank you. That's all."

Nodding curtly, the werewolf turned and strode back to the table he had come from.

"Lying bastard," Emilio declared. "He knew her. Didn't you see it in his face?"

"I saw it," Alec said calmly.

Anabella decided to join the discussion as well. "You should have made him tell you! Now he'll think he can get away with it again next time."

"No," Alec said. "We're not going to cause a fuss here. If it turns out that we need him, we will go and see him then. I trust you know where his pack lives."

"Waste of time," Emilio grumbled.

Donato laughed. "He's got a gentle heart," he declared, looking at Alec. "Leave him be."

"Please," Alec said darkly. "Don't try to defend me. It's—"

From the corner of his eye, he saw the door open to let in three familiar figures. He stood and raised one hand, drawing their attention.

As soon as Magnus was within reach, Alec pulled him close, his hands firmly on the lapels of his coat. The moment their lips met, one of his hands reached around and moved higher until it cupped the back of Magnus' head.

Then he stood in the circle of Magnus' arms, the warlock returning his kiss with equal enthusiasm. It was a little reminiscent of the scene they had created at Alec and Lydia's interrupted wedding.

Magnus's eyes were sparkling when they moved apart. The tip of his tongue darted across his lips before he spoke. "I missed you, too, Alexander! If I had realized you were pining for me that much, I would have made sure to come earlier!" More softly, intended just for the two of them, he added: "Are you alright?"

Alec nodded in response to that question, before turning to the table with a bright smile. "Emilio, Anabella, Donato – this is Magnus.

"The warlock," Emilio noted with a displeased tone, while Donato's expression grew challenging.

Magnus' eyes went back and forth between Donato and Alec. "I see," he muttered.

"Hi!" Charlie had walked up to the table. "I'm Charlie. This is Jack. We're friends."

It did nothing to improve Emilio's mood. "More Downworlders."

They didn't bother to correct him, but settled between Clary and Izzy. Charlie gestured at Izzy's glass with a questioning look. At the younger woman's nod, she took a sip. "Lubrication," she declared. "In case I need to sing later."

"You really need to rethink the company you keep." Emilio looked back and forth between Alec and Jace. "You were so promising when you were staying here, and now look at yourselves! Consorting with Downworlders and treating them as equals."

"You might try it some day," Jace recommended. "You'll see it works out quite nicely."

"At least it's just Downworlders," Anabella pointed out, laughing and nodding towards a table at the other end of the tap room, occupied by a small group. "It could be worse."

They followed her indication, though they had no wish to pursue the matter any further.

The group at that table was made up of two men and three women. All of them wore ill-fitting, often-patched clothes. They looked worn, exhausted and too thin. They shared a tremble to their hands and a haunted look in their eyes. Every time the door opened, they all jerked to see who was coming in.

"Addicts," Donato said, scorn dripping from his voice. "Waiting for a vampire to come in so they can beg for a bite. Pay for a bite even. The worst scum there is."

Everyone in their group tensed.

The reaction did not remain unnoticed as Emilio sighed. "Don't tell me you also have some yin fen addicts in your circle? What are you? The local welfare agency?"

Chapter Text

"Go ahead," Alec told Emilio and his friends when they left the pub what felt like several years later. "We'll catch some more fresh air before we return to the institute."

"We can come along," Emilio offered. "Don't want you to get lost in Rome."

"We have GPS," Jace pointed out. "Besides, Donato here is barely able to stand upright anymore. I think you better get him home and into bed before he does anything stupid – like lying down in the street to sleep…"

Donato looked as if he might be about to do just that.

Judging by the way he had gone through his drinks after a while, one could have assumed that he thought he had to single-handedly make up for the fact that the four New Yorkers were settling for water and soda once they got to place their own orders.

The evening had not grown any more pleasant as it had continued.

It was frightening to realize just how close to Emilio's attitude some of their own opinions had been just a few short months ago.

"He's right, Em," Anabella determined, taking one of Donato's arms and giggling. "Let's get him home before we need to carry him."

Neither she nor Emilio were entirely sober, but at least neither of them was weaving on their feet.

The friends looked after them, shaking their heads.

"Too bad that our things are all at the institute," Jace sighed as the other three rounded a corner and stumbled out of sight. "Otherwise, I'd be tempted to suggest that we go and see if your hotel will still let us have rooms this late at night."

Alec gave him a look of mock-exasperation. "Why are you objecting to the institute? You weren't the one who was hit on all evening. Wait – is that it? Are you feeling neglected?"

They all laughed at that.

"Of course I am," Jace confirmed, one arm as firmly around Clary as Alec's was around Magnus and Charlie's around Jack. "Didn't you know that at least fifty percent of the flirting going on around our table must be directed at me at all times?"

"Flirting?" Jack snorted a plume of smoke. "If that was flirting, I'm a crocodile."

While their banter continued, Izzy watched the door to the pub open again. The man who came out, unsteady on his feet and decidedly ill-looking by now, was one of the group Emilio had identified as yin fen addicts waiting for a chance to get a dose. His shaking had intensified and he was visibly sweating now.

From experience, Izzy knew that he probably had a splitting headache and that the pain was about to slowly spread through his body until it outlined every muscle fiber. She didn't envy him the experience. No high was worth the withdrawal that followed.

"Iz?" Alec asked, noticing where she was looking.

"I want to talk to him," Izzy said.

"About what?" Alec asked, though he was already moving along in the direction she was taking, Magnus by his side. "You won't be able to talk him out of the drug. Did you see his face? I bet he's been on it for years."

That was doubtlessly true. His features had borne the signs of malnutrition and neglect, and there had been a hunger in his eyes that no food or drink could satisfy.

"I want to tell him about mundane groups at least," his sister explained. "We don't have that kind of thing. Even if he wanted to quit, he'd have trouble finding someone who could help him in our world. But he should know there are other options."

She would have liked to do that when they had all sat at the table together, but she understood all too well that she wouldn't have had a chance of getting through then. Talking to one of them one-on-one… well, maybe.

They turned down the street the man had gone into, stopping and looking around for him. He was nowhere to be seen.

"Can't be far," Alec noted, walking up to the first alley branching off of the street they were on and looking into it.

They were just about to move on to the next one when they heard a dull thump, followed by a muffled cry.

By unspoken agreement, they spun and followed the sound, racing into another alley. The Nephilim had their hands on their sword hilts.

The sight of two larger shapes standing over a third, fallen one, brought their blades into their hands. One of the upright figures was male, dressed in clothes that seemed a little too light for the season. His female companion appeared to wear a dark cloak.

One of the attackers looked up, spotting their group. He had the cruelly beautiful looks of a Seelie. The woman by his side raised a hand, magic sparkling around her fingers.

It only took a single well-calculated movement on Magnus' side to wrest the magic from her, drawing it to his own hands and seizing it.

Realizing that they were outnumbered and outmagicked even before Jack took any action at all, the two fled. As it turned out, the woman's cloak was a set of leathery wings folded against her body, apparently fully functional and fully capable of carrying her into the air.

Her Seelie companion may not have been flighted, but one big leap took him to the roofs, where he disappeared into the darkness.

Alec, Jace and Clary kept their blades out, guarding in case one of them decided to return and finish their job, or to bring reinforcements.

Izzy sheathed hers to kneel by the fallen man.

His skin felt clammy under her hand, the trembling nearly out of control. The adrenalin spike from being attacked must have sped up his symptoms.

"They took my money," he whispered, his voice nearly inaudible. "I needed it to buy… something. They took it."

"You needed it to buy yin fen," Izzy said.

He didn't deny it. "You don’t know what it's like."

"I know what it's like," she told him. "I know exactly what it's like."

She reached out to examine what looked like a quickly darkening bruise on his arm in the scant light from the single streetlamp. As she pushed back his sleeve, her eyes widened. There, above the discoloration from an injury that had to be older than the recent attack and fall, were black lines seared into his skin.

"You're a Shadowhunter."

"Was a Shadowhunter."

"You don't stop being a Shadowhunter," Izzy pointed out. "Are you hurt?"

"No idea." He coughed. It was a rasping, unhealthy sound.

She reached for his arm. "You need help. You're ill and you can't—"

He shook her off, though the only reason he was able to dislodge her hand was that she let go when he moved.

"No one can help me. Can't go to a mundane doctor. Can't go to the institute. Warlocks wouldn't see me without money. Besides, I'll be fine if I find some…" Another cough interrupted him.

"Vampire or yin fen," Izzy completed his sentence. "No, you won't. You'll stop feeling like you're burning up inside for a small while, but it won't help with anything else, and it won't heal you. It'll only weaken you further."

He shrugged. "Don't care."

"Let me?" Charlie had crouched down on his other side. She was looking at Izzy, who nodded at her.

Gently taking the man's hand, Charlie sketched a design on its back.

His eyes widened as he stared at her. "What did you do?"

"Covered up the worst of your withdrawal so we can actually talk," Charlie told him.

He sat up, the quick movement triggering another cough. His hand went to his chest. "Great. Now I can feel the pain from that," he moaned.

"You do need help," Izzy repeated. "We can take you somewhere…"

The man shook his head. "I can't go to the institute. They wouldn't want me. Besides, if I do that, I'll be—" He broke off, looking as if he wanted nothing more than to take back those last words.

"No one wants a Shadowhunter who fell for vampire venom," he ended instead of what he had been going to say originally.

"Don't you have friends and family who are worried about you?" Izzy asked. She studied his face. Something about him looked familiar.

He gave a mirthless laugh. "Surely not if they find out what happened to me. Who'd stick with someone like me?"

"My family and friends stuck with me," Izzy informed him with a pointed look at the other three. "They helped me through it all and back out on the other end."

"You?" He looked incredulous for a moment. Then he nodded slowly. "It's different. A mistake in youthful experimentation is something that might be forgiven. I should have known better."

She raised her eyebrows at him. "Care to tell us why?"

"What does it matter to you?" he returned.

"Just humor us?" Izzy suggested. When he didn't react, she sighed. "Would you like me to guess?"

Pushing away from her, he climbed to his feet. Even with the withdrawal symptoms suppressed, he was shaky and moving stiffly, as if still in pain. He probably was, though of a different quality.

The two women rose much more gracefully.

Finding himself surrounded by their group, none of them particularly threatening, but all of them making clear that they intended for him to stay where he was, he held up his hands, palms up. "Fine. Try."

It was a long shot. His face was haggard and worn, making it harder to reconcile it with the portrait shot she had only seen once. His hair was matted and unkempt, with grey streaks that hadn't been in that other picture. But reading the account in the profile had reminded her of her own situation, her own behavior, and the Aldertree connection was there…

"You were injured on a mission. Your wounds were severe, but they would heal. You had a friend, who was a medic. You'd both served in Sydney and you were hanging out with the same group here. One of your wounds got infected. He recommended a secret cure to you. He was your friend, and he was a field medic, so you trusted his words. Turns out that his secret cure wasn't a cure at all."

He stared at her, speechless. Alec, Clary and Jace had caught on within the first few sentences, nodding silently to themselves.

"Close enough," he admitted after a long pause. "How did you…?"

"You're Giulio Whitelake. Missing in Action and presumed dead," Izzy said. "I read your profile earlier today. You reminded me of me."

He frowned at her. Clearly, he could not imagine how he could have anything in common with the young woman.

"I was wounded by a demon," Izzy told him, pushing back the jacket she wore and turning. Clary reached out to pull the collar of her t-shirt aside far enough to expose part of the tell-tale scar left by the venom infection. "I wanted to go on a mission. We had a diplomat in the institute who was a former field medic. He offered me a secret cure for the infection and he gave me yin fen. Then he tried to make me spy on my friends, and he sent me where I was likely to be killed because of the drug in my body. It didn't work out. I'm still here. I'm clean. And I am most definitely going to stop whatever game Aldertree is playing."

Whitelake's laugh quickly turned into another bout of coughing, leaving him breathless.

Jace reached out to steady him when he started to sway on his feet.

"Victor Aldertree is a few sizes too large for you, young lady," he declared when he had caught his breath.

"You underestimate us," Alec informed him calmly. "What I would like to know is why he tried to kill you, and why he killed everyone else from your group. What kind of group was that anyway?"

"You know a lot," Whitelake said, a hint of approval in his voice. "But not enough."

"Fill us in," the younger man suggested.

Whitelake shook his head. "I think not. Do you know what is going to happen to me if Victor finds out I am still alive, and that I told you about this?"

"We can take you where he can't reach you," Alec said.

He was thinking of Calgary, wondering if that was why Allie had another free house.

Jack had a different idea, however. "I have an uncle who lives in the Russian taiga," he said. "Nice and remote, no contact with anyone you don't want to be in contact with. A good place to get back on your feet. Recover your health and your strength. I'll take you there if you wish."

They all gave him a surprised look. None of them had known that any Gales lived that far east.

"Russia," Whitelake said. "That'd surely take him a while to find me."

"I'll fly you over when we're done here," Jack offered. "With a detour to see a healer about that cough and whatever else you're carrying around with you."

The older man looked at him uncertainly. "Fly?"

Taking one step back to put a little distance between him and the others, Jack called up the change. A cloud of flame shrouded the actual transformation. When it dissipated, the golden dragon was standing in the alley. Jack had chosen to keep his full size this time. His flanks almost touched the houses on either side of the alley. His tail reached out into the street they had come from.

"Demon!" Whitelake gasped.

"Dragon," Charlie corrected. "Dragon Prince, even. Trust me, he's harmless." She reached out to caress the huge nose that had dipped down to get roughly to her level.

"Don't touch that," the man cautioned.

Jace was the first to laugh. The others joined in.

"She gets to touch him whenever she likes," Alec explained. "She's married to him."

Jack's voice sounded amused as he spoke in their heads. "I will carry you over safely, drop you off and make sure that my uncle will not eat you."

Whitelake stared. "Your uncle is a dragon demon, too?"

"Dragon lord," Jack informed him. "Somewhat smaller than I. Not a demon either, though he will probably be flattered if you call him that."

In another flash of flame, Jack turned back into his human form, adding clothes fashioned from two loose paving stones.

"I know I'm more impressive the other way, but squeezing my wings to my body was getting really awkward," Jack announced.

"It's not fair," Magnus muttered behind him. "Is there any color that doesn't look good on you?"

Jack glanced down at his now-grey outfit and laughed. "Nope. That's part of my special Dragon Prince skills. Deal with it."

Giulio Whitelake had no sense for their banter right then. "What will you do if I refuse?"

"Cry?" Jack suggested sarcastically. "I can't eat you, if that's what you mean. I'm not allowed to eat things I can have a conversation with. Requirements on how much sense the conversation has to make were never stipulated."

"Giulio," Izzy said, trying for a sensible tone. "We're going to go after Aldertree anyway. He's part of a group that's tried to kill all of us more than once now. It has to stop. We know it's much larger than Victor Aldertree, but he's the angle we're working right now. Help us out here a little, and we'll help you in return."

Whitelake sighed. When he started to speak, it wasn't clear if he was doing so because he wanted to help them, or because he was afraid that Jack's declaration that he wasn't going to eat him didn't extend to not trying to roast him without consuming the crispy result.

"We weren't just assigned to Sydney at some point before. We all had the same mentor. He pulled some strings to get us together here. We were supposed to do some extra assignments. I can't go into those. I have a rune that protects them."

They nodded. They knew that kind of cursed rune.

"Now the problem here was that Victor had some of his own ideas and set up some of his own missions. We helped him. Of course we did." He gave a harsh laugh. "I guess eventually he decided we knew too much. He was gaining power, and we turned into threats to be removed. Especially after the thing with the werewolf."

"Eva," Alec said. "You mean the demon attack and how he killed her?"

His face twitched into a scornful expression. "The demon attack and how he killed her, right," he said. "I take it he's still getting away with that story?"

Alec nodded curtly. "We've suspected there's more to it, but we have reached only dead ends so far."

Giulio took a deep breath. "Give me what you have."

"If I may?" Charlie asked, stepping forward. "Why don't we find a place where we can put some food into you before we continue to talk? Standing out here in the cold isn't going to help your cough any either."

*

A quick consultation of their phones led them to a nearby place that was still open and serving customers this late at night. Charlie whistled a cleaning charm at Whitelake, improving both his appearance and his smell to the point where he could enter a reputable establishment.

Nevertheless, they followed up with a glamor: The cleaning charm had not changed the fact that his clothes were torn and patched, or that he had the look of someone who had spent years living in the streets.

"I could have made you some clothes," Jack said, his voice low.

Whitelake shook his head. He had paled a little at the thought. Apparently, magic-made clothes were not something he wanted on his body.

They were sitting at a corner table in a restaurant that had only few other customers. Each of them had a plate of hot food before them, with several platters of salad placed in the middle of the table for them to share.

"So," Alec said once Giulio had cleared about half of his plate. "This is what we know: Aldertree returned from a trip to Idris, to find the house he lived in with Eva had been attacked by a shax demon. It had killed everyone in the house except for her. He found her hiding in the basement, but she'd been driven mad by grief and fear and she attacked him. He killed her. We know that he ransacked her other apartment with some friends when he was sufficiently recovered."

The older man gave a sound that was half laugh and half cough.

Magnus scowled at him. "Let me see if I can do something about that," he offered, holding up a hand and wiggling his fingers.

Whitelake's lips thinned. It was clear that he didn't like the idea of the warlock's magic in him, but he gave a terse nod.

Concealing what he was doing from the eyes of the mundanes in the restaurant, Magnus called sparkling magic to his hand, letting it sink into the man, first to probe for the source of his ailment and then to burn it out.

"It won't last," he stated when he was done. "I can't catch all of it this quickly. But it'll give you a little respite until you see a healer with some time on their hands to fix this."

Taking a careful breath, Whitelake visibly relaxed. A little of the strain was smoothed from his features at the absence or reduction of another source of pain.

Whitelake nodded at Magnus.

"There was a demon attack," he said. "But Eva was already dead by then." He took a moment in which he seemed to listen inside himself, as if trying to see if this was also covered by his secrecy rune.

"Victor returned from Alicante, and found that Eva had stolen something from him. Something important. No, I don't know the particulars. He called us together. We tracked her down. She was in some cottage a little way out in the countryside. With her were three others of her kind."

"Her kind?" Jace asked, just as Alec said: "Where precisely was that?"

"I can give you a rough description, but not an actual address after all these years," Whitelake said. "But there's probably nothing left. We burned it down." Turning to Jace, he added: "Odd-werewolves. Diana's Chosen, they called themselves."

"Diana's chosen?" Izzy asked. "Not children?"

"They were all fully grown."

She shook her head. "We've come across the term 'Diana's children' before," she specified.

Whitelake shrugged. "An inaccuracy, possibly. They called themselves Chosen. When he went in, Eva accused Victor of all kinds of things – they didn't make much sense. There was a fight. We won. Victor was injured." He gestured at his chest, where Aldertree still had the deep scars from a werewolf scratch.

"Go on," Alec prompted.

"He was bleeding badly but he wouldn't even let us do anything about his wounds. He started taking apart the room immediately, looking for the things she had taken. We searched the entire cottage at his insistence, but we found nothing. He was absolutely frantic. When it was clear we weren't going to find anything, he realized he had to explain Eva's death somehow. Apparently he couldn't share the theft with anyone."

He stopped to take a sip of water and eat a few more bites of his food. A small shudder ran through him. "Can you re-do the thing that keeps the withdrawal down?" he asked, looking at Charlie.

Without hesitation, she reached out and renewed her charm.

"So, you massacred the werewolves," Alec said. He was managing to keep his tone under control, but some of the strain of it was seeping in. "But you didn't find whatever it was Aldertree was missing."

"Yes," Whitelake confirmed. "And call me crazy, but I am willing to swear that those were no werewolves. Shapeshifters, yes. But I have never seen a werewolf in wolf shape act like that. There was absolutely nothing uncontrolled behind their actions."

They didn't bother to point out that werewolves were perfectly capable of retaining reason when in wolf shape. If he hadn't understood that by now, a lesson on Downworlder self-control would probably be lost on him. It did nothing to endear him to them, however.

"Victor had us take Eva's body. He wasn't in any shape to carry anything heavy at the time. We set fire to the cottage. He let us bind his wounds just enough to keep him from bleeding out any farther. Insisted we get to his place immediately. He let us in through the back door. His blood was still all over his things, and he used some of it to summon the demon and set it on the rest of the household." His face lost all expression for a moment at the memory. "There was another couple living there. They had children. The demon was thorough. No one got away. We waited in the basement until it was over. Then we 'found' him over her dead body, almost mad himself with grief. You know the story he put out."

None of them spoke as they waited to see if he had any more to add to his tale.

He didn't let the silence continue for long. "Once he had recovered enough to go out, he took two of us to Eva's apartment to look for the stolen things there. We didn't find anything there either. There's an old neighbor. He thought about trying to question him, but by then some of us were wondering if what we were doing was the right thing, and wouldn't have stood for any kind of violence against a mundane, or even the threat of it."

It didn't escape Alec's notice that he did not say if he had been among those.

"How long after that did people start dying?" Jace inquired.

"Soon enough." Whitelake paused, apparently trying to come up with a better answer. "I think it was about three months after that that I was wounded."

Clary put her fork aside and leaned back in her chair. "Did you ever learn more about the thing she took from him?"

"We were looking for notebooks," Whitelake said. "He didn't say what was in them. Three of them. Bound in leather. Old."

"Nothing on what was in them?"

The speed at which the answers came suggested that he had spent some time thinking about those incidents in the last seven years.

"No. He said they were valuable. That he'd retrieved them from a collector and prepaid a lot of money for them. Suggested that Eva had wanted to sell them elsewhere and keep the money. It didn't add up entirely. I didn't think he was behaving like someone who had just… murdered out of greed."

Finishing up the rest of the food on his plate, he took some of the remaining salad and continued eating in between sentences.

"Call me crazy, but I think he was mortally afraid of what might happen if those notebooks fell into the wrong hands. To my knowledge, they never showed up again. They probably burned down with the cottage."

"Or Eva had them destroyed or removed already," Jace mused. "Since we don't know what was in them, she may not have had any interest in letting them fall into the wrong hands either."

"Tell us what you know about the location of that cottage," Alec said. "I realize it's a very long shot, but I want to see the place."

 

February 2nd, 2017

Jack had long decided that he did not particularly like Giulio Whitelake. He almost considered not warning his uncle not to eat him.

Suspecting that everyone else would greatly disapprove of this course of action, no matter how annoying the man's attitudes could be, he settled for imagining how life with his Uncle Viktor would go for him.

Some of the things his mind spun up made him want to cackle.

Flying from Italy to Russia would have been fully within Jack's capacity. He even could have conjured up a bubble of air to protect a passenger from the angry rush of wind that would have surely swept him off of the dragon's back at the speed he'd be using for long-distance flights like that. Since he didn't fancy being in that close proximity with the man for that long, however, he had settled for his other option and opened a Gate.

They stepped out in a clearing, surrounded by coniferous trees that looked as if they wanted nothing more than to pull their roots out of the thin layer of cold soil they were growing in and wander off to better lands.

"We have to walk a little way," Jack said when he saw Whitelake looking around without spotting their destination. "I once opened a Gate right in front of my uncle's place, and it interfered with a lot of his magic things. He was very cross with me that day."

"Magic things?" Whitelake asked, his face losing a little of the color it had gained since Magnus had cleared his lungs of the disease that had taken a hold of them after they had returned to their hotel the last night.

"My uncle's a magic dealer. Didn't I mention?" Jack was grinning. He was fully aware that he had not mentioned anything of the kind.

"I thought he was a Dragon Lord."

"Even Dragon Lords need a gainful occupation when they live in this world," Jack pointed out.

Whitelake frowned at him. "Oh? What about Dragon Princes?"

Jack let a little more smoke escape than was, strictly speaking, necessary as he laughed. "I'm a journalist. I work for the family's newspaper."

That statement was met with utter disbelief. "Dragons have their own newspaper?"

At least he had stopped calling him a dragon demon.

"The other half of the family," Jack clarified. "The part that makes me a half-dragon. Look – do you want to stay here some more and take root like one of these trees, or should we get going?"

They walked in silence for a while, following a path that was near-invisible to human eyes, but marked clearly for Jack's dragon nose. He could smell his uncle on it, as well as the scents of his customers. There was a surprising number of the latter.

No, he silently corrected himself. It wasn't so much the scents of the customers that he perceived, but the scents of their magics.

"Your uncle," Whitelake said into the silence left behind by the disappearance of forest sounds in reaction to the presence of a large predator. The man sounded worried. "Can he do the…" he brushed a finger over the back of his hand.

The charm Charlie had renewed before she had sent them off.

"No," Jack answered truthfully. "He may have other ways to stave off your symptoms."

Secretly, he hoped that he didn't. Out here in the taiga, Whitelake didn't stand a chance of finding any yin fen. Running away from the dragon lord's domicile wouldn't get him anywhere.

"And if he doesn't?" The Shadowhunter sounded at the edge of panic now.

"You'll have a few days of misery to look forward to," Jack said evenly. "It'll pass."

Whitelake looked as if he was going to reply something to that, but he ended up swallowing his words and hurrying after Jack, who hadn't slowed. It was probably abundantly clear to him that if he ran off now, he was not going to get out of this forest in time to do anything about his withdrawal – in a foreign country to boot, without speaking the local language and without a stele.

He had claimed he didn't remember where and when he had lost his, but none of them really had had any doubt that he had probably sold it at some point in the last seven years.

Saying that the building they reached moments later was set in a clearing would have been an exaggeration. The space it occupied was just large enough to hold it. It looked as if some of the trees around it were actually part of it.

It also looked very much out of place in the middle of the forest, a whitewashed brick structure that was three floors high set in a place that no construction machinery could have possibly reached.

The obvious solution to that was that it had been built by magic – which also accounted for how it had appeared apparently out of nowhere when they had come within a certain range of it.

The man who appeared in the door to meet them was tall and did share some features with Jack. His hair was auburn to Jack's blond, though, and his eyes burned a fiery red. He wore jeans and a leather jacket that didn't seem to fit him quite right.

There was something off about the way he moved. His upper body seemed somehow skewed sideways, one shoulder slanting at an angle that did not bode well for his health. He held the arm on that side close to his body, his hand curled against his chest, until he spotted Jack and lowered it, taking on a more natural-looking posture.

Clearly, the arm did obey his will, but moving it – and probably using it – did not appear comfortable.

"What brings you, Jack?" he asked, his voice neutral and his eyes guarded.

"Better ask me what I'm bringing," Jack told him, smiling a smile that showed teeth that weren't human. "Uncle Viktor, meet Giulio Whitelake. He'll be keeping you company for a while."

"And why is that?" Jack's uncle wanted to know.

"He needs a place where his enemies can't reach him and where he can't shoot up with the drug he's been using to get it out of his system," Jack informed him.

Viktor barked a laugh that sent up smoke, just as Jack's laughter did when he didn't pay attention. How wise was it for a dragon to live in a place that was basically defined by flammable material?

The older dragon favored his nephew with a bemused look. "Do I look like an UnderRealm rehabilitation center to you?"

"No," Jack admitted. "But you do look like someone who could use some company."

"So nice of you to be concerned about that." Sarcasm was thick in Viktor's voice. "After you tore off my wing and made it impossible for me to live at home without being eaten."

Jack shrugged. "The way I remember it, you attacked me first.

Whitelake clearly did not find that conversation reassuring at all.

"And what do you expect me to do with him?" Viktor asked, seizing the man up with a look.

"Feed him, clothe him, give him a place to sleep," Jack suggested. He vaguely gestured towards the building. "I'm sure you'll find some space for him in that thing of yours."

Viktor stared at them. "And I will do that why? Out of the kindness of my heart?"

"If you wish," Jack agreed. "Though you might also put him to work and give him a job.

The look Whitelake shot him said clearly that he hadn't expected working for a Downworlder to be part of the deal. Jack chose to ignore that. Uncle Viktor scoffed. "He'll probably be entirely useless. But fine. Maybe I can use him to try out that last artifact I bought. I was going to add it to the services I offer, but I should really test-drive it first."

Jack cocked one eyebrow at him. "What kind of artifact is that?"

Instead of answering, Viktor turned, raising one hand and waving to indicate that they should follow.

They did so, Whitelake a lot more hesitantly than Jack.

Inside, the ground floor of the building was a series of rooms dedicated to various purposes. One was an apothecary, holding various potions, concoctions and ingredients. One was dedicated to pieces of magical jewelry. One held books.

Viktor took them past these and more, and eventually down a set of stairs into a basement equally divided into workrooms. The one he brought them to contained a central piece that looked like it should have been set up in a much more glorious location. A temple in full splendor, maybe.

The device was an octagon of arches, accessible from all directions.

"It's a Traveller," Viktor explained. "It will allow you to travel into any realm or dimension if you have some piece from it to feed into it." He indicated a small tray. "There are not very many of these in the world. I fixed this one up, but I haven't found anyone brave enough to try it yet."

"Foolish enough, you mean," Whitelake grumbled. "I'm not going to try it."

Jack laughed. "At worst he'll send you to the UnderRealm – the Seelie Realm," he claimed. "There won't be any other place he has enough pieces of to risk losing one when the device absorbs them. And there are plenty of Gates back from there."

Viktor glared at Jack.

"There's another option," he explained, looking at his nephew. "If you feed it some of your blood, it will take you to whatever thing you need the most right then, no matter the realm it is in."

"In that case," Jack told him, "you better put a lock on the door, or he'll be trying to use it to travel to some vampires soon enough."

The older dragon gave both of them a deep frown. "I said need," he declared. "Not want."

Chapter Text

They found what remained of the cottage Whitelake had described after several wrong starts down side roads that only looked promising at first glance.

As they approached, concealed under glamors, Izzy pointed to where a car was parked by the side of the narrow road.

Alec nodded at her. "I've seen it. Whoever that is, they aren't even trying to hide, so they may actually just be parked here for some legitimate purpose."

No one had ever bothered to rebuild on the property. What remained of the cottage that had once stood there was a burned-out shell of brick walls, now crumbling and overgrown thickly with moss and other plants that managed to take root in the cracks between the stones. Nothing that was of wood remained. The windows were empty holes in the walls, the roof gone entirely, though bits of broken shingles could be spotted between the growth on the ground here and there.

"There's nothing for us to find here." Jace sounded disappointed.

"Maybe it's the wrong road again?" Clary suggested. She seemed a little subdued.

Jace reached out to put an arm around her. "Thinking of Fairchild Manor?"

"A little," she admitted.

They left the road, taking careful steps and keeping an eye on anything that might crumble if disturbed.

"Did he say if the cottage had a cellar?" Izzy asked. "If it did, we should take care that no one breaks through…"

Alec shook his head. Whitelake hadn't mentioned that one way or the other.

Glancing back at the car, the only thing they could tell was that it was still where it had been, placed perfectly in case someone wanted to watch the ruin, and terribly if someone wanted to stay out of sight.

Even though there was little promise of success, they spread out, walking through what remained of the cottage room by room.

Alec had his magic vision turned on. It wasn't a very useful endeavor. Any magic that may have once been in the building had long dissipated, been burned out or cut apart by greenery taking back the premises after the human occupants had left.

They were almost ready to admit defeat when they spotted movement that quickly resolved into a figure making its way through the thicket behind the ruins.

All four tensed, dropping immediately into defensive positions that barely relaxed when they realized who was coming towards them.

"Ah, you," Eva's old neighbor said upon noticing them. His eyes scanned Alec, Jace and Izzy before resting a little longer on Clary. Then he looked around, checking for someone else. "Where is Stefanie?"

"Pursuing a different angle," Izzy said quickly, sparing her brother the need to lie.

The old man didn't look entirely convinced, but he let it pass. "You're looking in the wrong place."

"Excuse me?" Alec asked. "What do you mean? What do you think we're looking for."

"Eva's notes," he replied matter-of-factly, as if it should have been obvious. "They're not here."

Alec didn't bother to deny it. "Then where are they?" he inquired instead. "And what brings you out here?"

His smile had a rueful note to it. "After our talk yesterday, I started to wonder. I came out to check if her things are still in place or if anything has been disturbed. If you knew where to look and someone had finally come to retrieve them. She was always afraid that something would happen to her and her work would be lost. If anyone who was like her came and asked for them at any point, I was supposed to show them where to look. She never admitted it outright, but I think she knew she was courting the devil with that man."

They couldn't object to that statement.

"Can you show us where they are?"

He slowly moved his head from side to side. "I probably shouldn't", he said. "She did specify it had to be someone like her. But… you can see that I'm growing old. I don't know how long I'll be around anymore. And your friend was Eva's friend. So I think I will."

The way he spoke sounded as if he was actually trying to talk himself into it, rather than explaining to them why he had chosen to do it.

"Let's go then," Alec said. "And I promise you – Aldertree will pay for her death if we have any say in it."

"You don't think I'm crazy for thinking he did it?" the old man asked. He was walking back the way he had come from, with the four Nephilim in tow.

Alec weighed his possible answers carefully before settling for one. "No. He almost certainly did it. The hard evidence is a bit lacking so far, though."

At some point in the past, probably before the onset of refrigerators or before power lines had been laid out here, someone had dug a storage room in the ground some way behind the cottage. The entrance was concealed, not only by the plants that grew abundantly around it, but also by a glamor that was still preserved.

The old man produced a key from his pocket and handed it to Alec.

A short set of narrow stairs led down to a heavy wooden door with metal bands. The key turned a little stiffly in the lock, but it seemed that Eva's neighbor had already taken care of the worst rust or other annoyances.

The door swung open as soon as he applied some pressure to it.

They entered a room that had once been used to keep food. A faint smell of smoked meat still hung in the air. It had probably soaked into the thick beams that ran across the ceiling, and rarely got any chance to escape from the enclosure.

The walls were covered in some sort of plaster, exposing patches of packed earth where it crumbled.

Eva's neighbor crossed the room to the single piece of equipment in it: A metal box half-concealed in a heap of earth and stone that had come loose from the ceiling over the years. Considering the strategic placement, it probably hadn't done so on its own. Whatever Eva had hidden, she had done whatever was within her means to keep it from being found by the wrong people – or from being readily apparent to someone who just happened to get into the old storage room for whatever unlikely reason.

Alec went to join him, crouching and brushing away the dirt.

Without thinking about it, he sketched a strong opening charm on the lock and listened to the satisfying click as the mechanism disengaged.

"I was going to tell you I have a key," the old man said as the Shadowhunter teased open the lid, "and that you'll have to clear all the dirt from the lock before it will open, but it seems you have a better way."

Alec gave him a quick smile.

The box contained notebooks, filled in a cramped handwriting using Cyrillic letters.

"Who speaks Russian?" Alec asked the others.

"Charlie and Jack," Izzy replied. She took the notebooks her brother handed her and browsed through them. "And I wouldn't even bet that this is plain Russian. She may have kept her records in code."

"No way to tell that now." Jace looked over her shoulder, as if just staring at the words would make them release their meaning.

His parabatai reached back into the box, bringing out several more objects. "I'm pretty sure we'll be able to read these," he declared, holding up three small volumes bound in dark-brown leather. The covers were stained, showing traces of bad handling and wear. One had had one corner singed away.

"What is that?" the old man asked curiously as Alec ran his hands over the binding and opened the first cover slowly, feeling and listening to see if the old leather would crack under the movement.

As it turned out, it was still soft and supple in spite of the condition otherwise, suggesting that there were some preservation spells on the book. His magic vision confirmed a slight glow emanating from it.

That wasn't in keeping with the condition the books were in. Had someone deliberately gone to the lengths to make them look worn and damaged, bypassing the protections?

Alec looked up at the man from his kneeling position. "This," he said, "is what he killed her for."

*

Unwilling to take their find anywhere close to the institute, they met Magnus and Charlie in a café, where they ordered coffee for everyone before they secured their table against listeners with the strongest charms Charlie could think of.

The Bard opened one of Eva's own notebooks and browsed the first paragraphs. "This doesn't seem to be written in code," she determined. "My Russian's not that great, but it seems she was taking notes on something."

"Can you give us details?" Alec asked.

"I'd need a dictionary for some of this," Charlie admitted. "How about I just start reading and let you know what sense I can make of it after a few pages?"

The Shadowhunter nodded as he placed the three older volumes on the table. "Then let us have a look at what these conceal while you do that."

Clary reached for a pen. They had determined that the entries in those books had come from Idris, written in that mixture of German and French that was spoken there, but old enough that the language was not intelligible for her.

Jace, who had only recently had the opportunity to practice reading the old style, carefully opened the first of the books.

"These are notes on an experiment," he determined after a few moments. "Apparently, it was thought that the Nephilim were at too much of a disadvantage against Downworlders and demons because our abilities were not that different from those of mundanes, and without our runes, all we had was our training."

"Reminds me of Valentine," Clary noted.

"Yes," Jace confirmed, frowning at the page before him. "A warlock who worked with the Nephilim in Alicante suggested experimenting with the use of magic, and to study how runes and warlock sigils could be used interchangeably."

"Charming," Alec noted. "I bet that one went over well."

"Better than you'd think," Jace noted. "But it was determined that Nephilim were not to use magic, since that was a thing associated with half-demon Downworlders. Sorry, Magnus."

He scanned the rest of the page in silence and turned to the next one. "They settled on trying to transfer some Seelie enhancements to Shadowhunters. The warlock worked out spells and potions that might do the trick. Magnus, can you have a look at this?"

The book changed hands, and Magnus studied the pages that followed. They were filled with symbols that looked nothing like letters, as well as writing in a number of languages.

"Spells," he said, though they had suspected as much. "Lots of them."

He took several minutes to study them. "I can't make sense of all of these. I probably could if I had a few weeks to study them. I can tell you they're insanely complicated magic. Extremely powerful. There would only have been a few warlocks ever who would have been powerful enough to attempt this kind of thing."

"That would narrow down the unnamed warlock in here," Alec noted. "Any idea how many of those who had the power to do this kind of thing are still alive?"

"I can only think of one I'm sure of," Magnus said slowly. "And as I just said, I am not familiar with these spells. I wouldn't be able to perform them without a lot of preparation."

"So we know that it wasn't you," Alec said drily. "Which I would have assumed anyway."

"I'll make a list of those I can come up with," Magnus offered, gesturing for Clary to hand him a piece of paper and a pen. "Then we can check who was alive then, who's still alive and who may have been in Idris at the time."

"Do you have a general idea of what those spells do?" Jace asked. "Or is it as much gibberish to you as it is to us?"

Magnus sighed. "Adding in what you just said and applying a lot of guesswork? I would say they were meant to extract the essence from a Seelie – or other Downworlder, I assume – and bind it in … something. Possibly a potion."

"What do you mean by 'essence'? And how would you extract that?" Clary asked.

Izzy had reached for the other two volumes and started browsing through them.

"Whatever makes them – us – not human, I assume," Magnus answered. "As I said, I am also guessing a lot here. Are you looking for something specific?" The last was directed at Isabelle.

"I thought I saw something when I looked into these earlier," she said. "What about the other thing? Can you guess from the spells how they went about the extraction?"

He spent another minute studying parts of the spell notes. "Do you know how they make perfume from flower petals?" he asked then. "I think it works about like that, distilling it down and down to the concentrated essence. The steps here are layered, so each one would result in a smaller amount of substance with a higher concentration."

Looking up from her book, Izzy blinked at him. "You need a huge lot of petals to get a tiny bit of perfume."

"They needed a lot of Downworlder to get a tiny bit of essence," Magnus confirmed.

"How much?" Alec asked. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.

"All of him," his boyfriend answered calmly. "This starts out with a full body, and it doesn’t really leave anything over."

Alec stared. "They killed the Downworlder in the process?"

"I hope they killed the Downworlder before they started – but yes."

"Found it." Izzy held up the second book. "Potion recipes. This looks like it was supposed to become their carrier substance."

The book went from hand to hand, with everyone studying the section she had opened for a while.

"I don't understand the first thing of this," Alec admitted. "This goes a long way beyond anything I know of alchemy or potion brewing."

"Same here," Jace agreed.

Clary didn't even bother to confirm the same. It was only too obvious.

"I understand a little of it," Izzy said. "I couldn't recreate them, but I have an idea of how it was supposed to work."

While Magnus continued to study the spells, taking notes on warlocks he considered potential candidates now and then, Jace took the third book.

"This describes the specifics," he told them without looking away from the text he was reading. "Apparently, the first few people they gave their spelled potion to died in great pain."

Each experiment started on a new page, stating the type of downworlder used and the volunteer who had been treated, as well as the changes made to the spells and the potion. Looking only at the opening and closing paragraphs of each entry, Jace made quick progress.

"They switched from Nephilim volunteers to mundanes."

"They kidnapped mundanes?" Clary sounded as appalled as the others felt. "And who would volunteer for such a thing?"

"Someone who wanted extra powers badly enough," Jace suggested. "Valentine injected himself with Downworlder blood as well, remember?"

"They used to have mundane servants," Alec answered the other question. "Even in Alicante. I suspect that's where they took their mundanes from."

Jace continued leafing through the book. "They got to where their specimen no longer died of the potion," he announced when he was about half-way through. "But this next set they ended up killing themselves. Some turned out uncontrollable. They did acquire new abilities but couldn't or wouldn't control them. This one marks the deaths of two Nephilim guards who were involved."

He turned another page. "This one starved because she could no longer stomach any food that was offered to her."

It didn't take him long to get to the last page that was filled.

"A previously unknown type of Downworlder; a couple captured in the forests of Bohemia. They change shape between human and large wolves at will. They have no sense of shame or decorum in human shape and show scorn for the clothes they were given in their cell." Jace looked up. "Want to guess what they called themselves?"

"Diana's Chosen?" Izzy asked.

He nodded. "Though with the staining on this page, I might read 'children' if hadn't heard the term before. This one ended differently. The specimen survived. At this point, they were giving out the potion greatly diluted. Apparently, the essence they gained from one of their captives was distributed among five mundanes. They did not appear altered at first, and were put under surveillance. After about a week, all five of them turned into vicious beasts, killed their guards and escaped into the forests. Several others who tried to stand in their way were wounded or maimed."

Clary, dutifully taking notes, had lost some color. Izzy and Alec had taken on an even more concerned look than they had worn before. Charlie had stopped reading the Russian journal and was listening.

"Their wounds healed. The escaped set was never recaptured, but spotted at two occasions making their way towards the German border. They appear to have regained their human shapes temporarily, but morphed into wolves as soon as they caught sight of anyone following them. One was killed by an arrow. The other four made it out. Their tracks were lost somewhere in the Black Forest. The experiments were put on halt in the meantime. Then a month had passed." Jace closed his mouth, his lips thinning into a white line as he looked back and forth between the others.

"They turned into wolves," Alec said tonelessly. "Those that were bitten or scratched in the escape. Or some of them did, at least."

His parabatai nodded. "Most of them were killed, but two more made it out of Alicante. This time, the injured survivors were kept secured. Those that turned after a month were killed immediately. The others were released after three months had passed and they remained as they were. The experiment was ended due to having turned excessively dangerous and because of the high death count."

He stopped, taking a sip from his coffee, which had turned quite cold in the meantime. The taste brought a grimace to his face.

"They killed the remaining captive and… you can guess what else."

"Stuffed and mounted him as an exhibit," Clary answered. "Jace, did you just tell us that werewolves – our werewolves, the werewolves like Luke and Maia – were basically created in a lab? By … us?"

"Yes to the first," he agreed. "Not by us. By some Valentine of the past, I'd say. What I don't understand is why Aldertree had these, and why losing them was bad enough that he would murder like that. I don't buy Whitelake's story."

Izzy steeled herself before downing the rest of her cup. They had to open their wards to re-order, and she didn't want to do that now, but she felt she needed the caffeine – even if it came from tepid coffee. "He used to be a medic. Who knows what his plans were? Maybe he wanted to use these as a basis for some work of his own. Or maybe he had retrieved them for someone who wanted to do that. Besides… can you imagine what would happen if this information got out? If it reaches the werewolves?"

They all paled a little at that thought.

"Magnus? Any ideas on the warlock?" Alec asked, only slightly changing the subject.

"I don't know," Magus replied, holding up his list. It wasn't very long, with most names that had been on it crossed out already. Alec read the first two.

"Elphas the Unsteady and Baba Agnieszka. Well, we don't know what happened to the first, and we know the second won't talk to us until we show up with wings."

"Maybe she'll talk to me," Magnus suggested. "I can go and try."

"You'd portal into Idris without permission?"

Magnus shrugged. "I've been in Idris without permission a lot recently, remember? I'll portal in right by her hut, and back out again as soon as I am done. No detours. Promised."

Alec collected his thoughts. He hated knowing his boyfriend was risking anything at all, but he understood it was their best shot. And Magnus did know how to take care of himself. He gave him a nod. "When can you leave?"

"If Charlie can get you to Dublin, then as soon as we're done here," came the immediate reply.

Charlie put down the journal she had been reading. "Sure. Dublin is fun. I'll have you there in no time at all."

*

Donato Goldmoon was waiting for them when they returned to the institute to collect their things.

Alec shot a slightly desperate look at the other three. The last thing he had any patience for right now as a repeat performance of the last night.

"He doesn't even look hung over," Jace said darkly. "I kind of hoped that he would be."

"Maybe there's a rune for that?" Clary suggested.

"I don't drink that much, so I wouldn't know," he returned.

"I don't usually drink at all, so I would know even less," Alec added. "But if there is, I hereby declare it greatly unfair."

Hoping against hope that the other man was just standing there without actually looking for their group in particular, they tried to enter the institute so deeply in conversation about their next destination that they could conceivably claim not to have noticed Donato at all.

"…and there's another national gallery that you will absolutely love, so it won't all be Seelie studies," Alec was just telling Clary in between describing the Dublin institute's collection on Seelies of all kinds. Though their original purpose of trying to see if the term "Diana's children" showed up anywhere in their registers no longer applied, there was another, second reason for them to visit the Irish capital: It was the current assignment of a fellow Shadowhunter who had authored several works on the nature of angels, including some that were considered quite controversial in Alicante.

Their attempt at seeming distracted didn't work out.

"Alec? A word?" Donato had stepped away from his spot by the door and into their path.

With a sigh, Alec turned. "Keep it short," he advised. "We've booked a transit to Dublin and we shouldn't let our provider wait."

Donato studied the tips of his boots briefly. "I just wanted to apologize – for last night. My behavior was … unfortunate."

Alec bit his lip in an attempt to keep a straight face. Completely and utterly impossible would have been a better description.

"I shouldn't have tried to drink up my courage," the other man continued. "I fear I'm not quite myself when drunk."

Well, who was?

"If you knew that, why did you do it?" Alec asked. Trying to not sound as if he was scolding Donato made his voice slide into a slightly amused tone.

The other man gave him a sheepish look.

"I wanted to keep Emilio happy," he said, looking down again. "He can be quite convincing."

Alec made a face. "Do yourself a favor and don't let him convince you of anything else. Look – we really do need to get going, or we'll be even later than we already are."

Donato nodded, still looking subdued. "Where did you go so early in the morning anyway? Emilio wasn't sure you were in at all tonight."

"We were," Alec confirmed. "And we're used to going through a round of exercise outdoors, so we went for a nice, long run. Then we had coffee. Which ran longer than we intended it to, so now we're in a bit of a hurry." He put some extra emphasis on the last word, which finally made the other man step aside.

"You know, if you ever come back to Rome…" he started as Alec was walking past him.

"I'll bring my partner and I'll sleep in the hotel with him," Alec finished the sentence in a way that was surely quite different from what Donato had had in mind.

*

Charlie turned to Clary as soon as they had entered the Wood. "Let's take a short moment and try something," she suggested.

Clary looked at her expectantly. The others waited, none of them betraying any sign of impatience. Honing Clary's skills with the Wood could be vital for all of them some day, and it wasn't as if they were on a schedule for this trip.

And if they were, then Charlie would be fully capable of taking them back in time to whenever it was they needed to go.

"I want you to try and sense Magnus," the Bard said.

Clary stared at her. "I can't feel people's songs the way you do," she objected.

"I know that. That's why I want you to find your own way of spotting people. I don't know how Auntie Catherine does it, but she can do it, and she doesn't do music either. Right now, Magnus is not too far from your Alicante exits, so you have a place to start. And he's a proper beacon of energy when I look at him – he should stand out to you as well."

She considered that. She couldn't deny that having that skill would be useful.

Focusing, Clary closed her eyes while Charlie started to play two notes alternatingly in time with her heartbeat. It was her way of keeping track of the time that passed while stationary in the Wood.

It took a little effort to push the sounds from her mind.

Finding the painting she had left in the Lightwoods' house in Alicante was easy enough. She had used it so often that she only needed a small twist of her mind to snap on to it.

That was as far as she got, however. It wouldn't have taken her more than a few minutes to get within reach of the picture and walk right out of it and into Alicante. It felt like a door that she only needed to give a slight push to open it. Unfortunately, though, that door was made of opaque material and did not permit her to pick up anything that was going on outside of it.

"Sorry." She shook her head. "I still can't get past that picture without actually stepping through. I don’t get anything from outside of it, and definitely nothing that I could describe as Magnus."

"Too bad." Charlie sighed. "Unfortunately, our Wild Powers seem to have been really bad at keeping records. Mostly, we learn by trial and error. There must have been others who used images before, but we don't know anything about them."

"It was worth a try," Clary determined. "Shall we get going then, or do you want me to try something different?"

Thinking for a moment, Charlie adjusted her guitar. "Let's go to Dublin. I'll give the matter some more thought."

She changed her grip on the strings, turning from notes to chords. If they had expected that a folk song would be taking them to Ireland, they had been mistaken. The song she struck was definitely a more recent one, but it accompanied them well on a brief walk before they stepped out into a busy street, right across from a famous Dublin bar.

*

Magnus' portal came out precisely at the edge of the clearing that held Baba Agnieszka's cottage. He spotted the birds among the trees almost immediately, though they sat high in the branches, strategically placed to be concealed from sight. They did not move, and the wind stirred none of their feathers.

Alec and the others had said that the old warlock had sent an illusion of a flock of birds after them, driving them back into the forest.

He would have to tell them they had been mistaken. While certainly not being crows, they were no illusions either. They were small sparks of magic, given shape. They could be guardians, or servants. There was a lot of power bound in them.

It made him think. Who had shaped the magic? Who renewed the spells?

It would have taken a powerful warlock – someone who wielded a kind of power that Agnieszka had surely once had at her disposal. Now, from all that he had heard, she was barely able to string together two coherent sentences. It was not in keeping with the kind of focus the working he was looking at would have needed.

With the information in mind that somewhere, there was another warlock in the equation – someone with power to spare and superb control – Magnus made his way to the front door of the cottage.

It opened before he had reached it. The woman who emerged had a young face and a head full of bright red curls. She was dressed in a fur-lined robe. One claw-tipped hand held on to a staff filled with power.

Spotting him, she set its butt down hard on the ground.

Bolts of energy sprung from the crystal that topped it, shooting towards Magnus.

A defensive spell sprang to his mind, and his hands came up as the word left his mouth, completing the working. The bolts slammed into his hands and merged with his magic, absorbed by it.

"Well done," the old warlock noted. "For a youngster."

"It's rare that I'm called that these days," Magnus said. "But I thank you. May I come in? We need to talk."

Without a word, she retreated into her home.

The door stayed open. He took that as an invitation, following her inside.

There were two more of the magical birds there, seated on the back of an overstuffed armchair covered in blankets. The room they had entered looked chaotic at first glance, but Magnus was quick to understand that this was a controlled chaos. The place was clean and everything was in good repair, though some older pieces showed the wear of long use. What spells he could see were strong, neither fraying at the edges nor dissipating.

He had to talk to Alec about using his magic vision skill more consistently. If he had had it on when he had walked in here, surely he would have realized that there was something going on that went beyond what they could see.

None of this was the work of a senile woman.

"No manners," Agnieszka observed. "There he is, spying on an old woman's personal quarters, and not even ashamed of it."

Turning towards her, Magnus gave her a slight bow. "Apologies. I was admiring the setup."

She snorted. "I hear you caught yourself a bird."

Now Magnus blinked. "I –what?"

"Sit," Agnieszka said, not following up on his question. "My own kind visit me so rarely. The little birds drop by now and then, bringing me things I need and more things I don't need. They are not very smart birds, you see."

Somehow, Magnus had a feeling that she wasn't talking about the black embodiments of magic that swarmed her clearing.

He took one of the chairs around a low, round table and slowly sat on it, carefully probing to make sure it was as sturdy as it looked.

The other warlock laughed. "Are you afraid I might trick you into breaking your neck?"

"A little," Magnus admitted freely. He looked up, watching her as she settled regally in her armchair, and suddenly feeling like a school boy facing a master. They were certainly placed to match those roles.

When he glanced back at the table, two cups of steaming tea had appeared there, along with a platter of cookies. He hadn't even seen her make any summoning motions.

Something about it tugged at a memory. Hadn't he seen that cup before? Or one very much like it?

He lifted it, turning it in his hands and holding it up for a close inspection. Oh yes. He remembered where he had last seen this.

"Nice porcelain," he concluded after a few seconds. "Ariana."

The woman in the armchair seemed to ripple, her features rearranging themselves, red hair giving way to black mixed with raven feathers. The eyes that were fixed on Magnus were clear and sharp.

"I knew you were smart," she said. "I had a few bets on with myself about how long it would take you to understand – or if you would at all. I didn't actually bet on it that you would never catch on, though."

"How flattering," Magnus noted. "I take it Baba Agnieszka is dead?"

She laughed. "Not so smart after all, then. Baba Agnieszka sits before you."

Going through a few possible solutions in his mind, Magnus eventually settled on which one he intended to pursue. "You mean to say that it is Agnieszka posing as Ariana Wing, not the other way around?" he took a thoughtful sip from the cup. "Well, I assume playing the doddering old woman in the forests of Idris grows boring after a while."

"Very," she admitted.

"So why not just leave? What's the masquerade for anyway?"

She made a sound that could, with some imagination, have been a chuckle. "In spite of my advanced age, I actually value my life, Magnus. And that life is forfeit if the wrong people realize that the knowledge resting inside this head is still safe and sound. You and your young friends would do well to keep yours better concealed, too. Your friends are asking dangerous questions."

Magnus put down the cup and leaned forward, watching her. "They will not stop asking. We will not stop asking. Why don't you make it easier for us and tell us what you know?"

"I might as well incinerate you were you sit," Agnieszka said. "You'd be just as dead."

As Magnus thought about how to proceed, he briefly wondered which one of the faces she had shown him was the real one, which the glamor. While he didn't come to a certain conclusion, he was leaning towards Ariana being real, and the senile Agnieszka the glamor. That was the persona she would have to let die if she wanted to leave her chosen exile in the forests of Idris after all.

Coming to a decision, he asked: "What about Aveline Montclair?"

A sad look came across her face. "She came asking questions. She begged me for the answers. I relented. I thought it would be some relief for her to know. But she couldn't bear the burden. She had to share it all over the place, didn't she? It drew attention within days. I tell myself I didn't know what would happen. That I didn't know she would tell. Some days I can almost make myself believe it, too. Mass-murder by information. Have you ever heard of that before?"

Not thinking that that question required an answer, he waited, but it seemed she had nothing else to say on the matter.

"You told Alec and the others you would talk to them if they returned with wings," he said eventually.

"I know what I said."

Magnus hazarded a guess. "You meant with the angels' blessing?"

She put down her own cup so hard that the tea spilled. "No!" she said sharply. "Who would do any such thing? If they believe that, they know less than I thought, and it is only good to keep them from learning more." Her eyes were sparkling with a dangerous light.

"I actually came to ask a different question," Magnus said. He was shaping a spell in his mind, ready to throw up defensive magic if he had to.

"And what would that be?" Distrust was clear in her eyes and her face, her entire expression warning him against trying to trick her into giving something away that she did not wish to share.

Magnus had his hands apparently relaxed in is lap. He forced himself not to tense his muscles in anticipation. The woman before him was not senile, but was she really as sane as Ariana had appeared during their brief meetings?

"Who was the warlock who worked on the experiments that ended with werewolves?"

Surprise flickered in her eyes for a moment. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

Her posture relaxed noticeably.

"My brother Elphas," she said matter-of-factly. "A fool for working with them, but he believed they were doing the right thing, throwing all they could find against the demons. He had… a little vendetta of his own, I fear. When it turned out the way it did, he was devastated, though."

"Because of the creatures he had helped create, or because they got away?" Magnus probed carefully. She didn't seem to mind talking about it, but he had an impression that her mood could change again any moment if he asked the wrong questions.

"Because they were treated like wild things that needed to be hunted down," Agnieszka explained. "He wanted to do right by them. He wanted to retrieve them, find a place for them in the community. Find a purpose for them. That idea didn't go over well."

"The Nephilim involved in the experiments objected to the idea, I take it."

Her smile turned sad. "You could say that. Eventually, he went to find them. He had helped create them. He felt responsible for them. He wanted to give them some protection at least, when they wouldn't relent on the hunt. I never saw him again after that. I think they killed him at some point."

Magnus didn't ask if by "they", she meant the werewolves or the Shadowhunters.

He rose from his chair. "I thank you for telling me that," he said, bowing slightly in her direction. "And shall take my leave. I have imposed on you long enough."

"Really?" An edge had crept back into her voice. "And what will you do with the knowledge I just gave you?"

"I don't know yet," Magnus said, truthfully. "I don't think it will be of immediate relevance." He gave her another deep nod. "But you have made it clear that you will not share the knowledge that would be at this point. I shall not press the issue." He smiled. "At this point."

A bolt of dark red energy flew from her hand, caught on the spell Magnus had held ready.

It had been a near thing. He could only hope that she didn't realize just how near.

"Do not think you could compel me to do anything." Agnieszka's voice was cool. "I still have a millennium or two on you, Magnus."

"True," Magnus returned. He took a step backwards towards the door. "But remember that it was I who brought you the wards. Which, I suspect, you have been studying for a few centuries and been unable to figure out. You do not know what else I may have found."

Goading her surely wasn't the wisest thing to do, but neither was letting her think he was some powerless boy at her mercy.

"Speaking of wards."

Another bolt shot at him. As he ducked this one, he couldn't help but admire her speed. He hadn't even seen her hands move before she had released it.

"Someone broke the ones on the old Wayland Manor not too long ago. Rumor has it that once the wards were gone, it collapsed before the Inquisitor's people could come and secure the place. You wouldn't know anything about how that happened?" Her tone did not fit the random shots she sent flying across the room at intervals.

Magnus found himself in an unpleasant dance of evading and deflecting. He didn't want to unleash any power in here. He didn't know how his spells would interact with Agnieszka's, and he didn't want to destroy her home by accident.

"No," he said, deflecting again and trying not to let the effort show in his voice. It was impossible to tell which direction the next bolt would come from before it was released. "I was moving houses while that happened. I can swear on anything that I was not involved in it."

Chapter Text

Dublin, Ireland

Something wasn't quite right.

It was evident the moment they turned down the street that took them to the Dublin Institute and the number of mundanes around them dropped immensely. A look around made the solution obvious: Repelling Marks were placed at intervals, keeping away anyone who didn't have pressing business here.

Alec silently hoped that there were no shops down this street. They would be losing a lot of business right now.

"Why would they do that?" he asked, vaguely gesturing to indicate the shapes. "Glamors are one thing, but that is going to draw attention."

Jace shook his head. "No idea. The only thing I can think of is that there's something going on that would draw even more attention if noticed."

"We're going to find out the fastest if we just walk in and ask," Izzy told her brothers practically. "But maybe let's be on our guard a bit here."

"When are we ever not on our guard?" Alec asked.

His sister spun, her hand shooting out with its heel aimed for Alec's nose.

He jerked aside, turning what would have been a square hit into only a slight brush, and grabbed for her wrist. "What was that for?" he demanded.

"Just checking how on your guard you are," Izzy informed him. "And the verdict is: not quite enough."

"But – Izzy, you're my sister. I'm not supposed to be on guard around you!"

"I could have been a shapechanging demon, or possessed, or whatever," Izzy pointed out. "I'm honored by your trust, but seriously: the only place where you should let your guard down is when we're home in Calgary, under wards and protections, big brother."

Alec had the good sense to look a little chagrined. "You're right," he admitted. "Let's go and see what's up with the institute here."

They fell into step side by side again, quickly closing the distance to the Dublin Institute.

Nothing looked out of the ordinary under the glamor. The door opened under their hands just as it should have.

The moment it did, it became blatantly obvious that nothing was as it should be inside.

"What's this stench?" Clary asked as a wave of air hit her nose.

Alec sniffed carefully. It was certainly an unpleasant, burnt odor, a mix of cold smoke and overheated materials.

It wasn't just the smell. The walls of the entrance hall showed dark marks. The ceiling was blackened almost entirely. Plaster had cracked and burst, exposing masonry beneath. What furniture there was looked mismatched and singed, as if someone had salvaged what they could after a fire and put it all in one place.

Two men came through one of the doors leading deeper into the institute. Spotting the four friends, they stopped in their tracks.

"Did they send you to help us clean up?" one of them asked.

"No," Alec replied, still taking in the scene and trying to fathom what exactly it was that he was seeing. "We're travelling for studies and came to check out the archives and talk to Kaleigh Greenmeadows. But we'll help if help is needed, of course! What, by the Angel, happened here?"

"Mishap with an artifact," one of the two local Shadowhunters said. "Seems the preservation spells were getting stale, it deteriorated and unleashed dragonfire all over the place."

"Dragonfire?" Izzy asked. The others' faces mirrored her doubtful tone. "Surely the institute would no longer be standing then."

The man who had spoken before laughed. "I guess the dragonfire had deteriorated, too. It took all we had to put it out, though. It spread insanely fast, and there's not a room in the building that went undamaged. The adamas in the outer walls contained it, thankfully. I don't even want to imagine what would have happened if it had spread into the mundane buildings around us."

"Is that why you marked the street?" Alec wanted to know. "It seemed counter-intuitive to do anything that would change people's behavior to the point where it might get noticed."

"We have to try to air the building now and then," the older man informed him. "Or we'd all suffocate from the smell. But you can't put a glamor on a stench. Also, we're not sure the glamor is holding up that well. It's been flickering. Something must have been damaged."

Alec frowned. "Surely it can be renewed?"

"Yeah," came the answer, "as soon as we can actually access the places where it's anchored. Right now, there's a lot of debris in the way – which is one reason we asked Alicante for some help with the clean-up here."

"And they haven't sent anyone yet?" Alec walked towards the two men to offer his hand. "We'll do anything we can to help. I'm Alec Lightwood. These are Jace and Izzy, my siblings – and Clary Fairchild. Just tell us where to start."

"Brian Goldencross and Finn Hightower," the speaker of the two introduced them, indicating first himself and then his companion. "And I fear you won't get anywhere with your studies while you're here. The archives are probably destroyed, though we haven't dug our way in there yet – and Kaleigh is awaiting transfer to Alicante. She inhaled a lot of smoke. I don't think she'll be cleared to talk to anyone about her studies."

The others had followed Alec. Jace was studying the visible destruction. "Is she waiting for the transfer because of her condition or that of the portal?" he asked.

"The portal," Goldencross informed him. "We can't even get to the room yet."

"Can't you have a local warlock make one? Surely this qualifies as an unusual enough situation to make an exception?" Clary wanted to know.

For the first time, Hightower spoke now. His voice sounded rough, as if he, too, had inhaled a bit too much smoke. "Not while we're not sure if one of them caused that artifact to implode."

"Clary has a rune for a portal," Jace spoke up. "If you can get permission from Alicante, she can open one to take those who need care home."

Goldencross stared. He didn't seem too sure if Jace was serious or making a very inappropriate joke.

His colleague elbowed him in the ribs. "It's the angel girl!" he said. "Call Alicante and ask!"

Alec wasn't sure if calling Alicante and telling them Clary was ready to help out with a portal would be a very promising course of action. They had good reason to be wary of the highest-ranking Nephilim there, and they were not the most popular group with them right now either for all that they knew.

"I'll do that," the older Shadowhunter said. "Show them where they can start if they are serious about helping us out in the meantime, Finn."

"Of course we are," Alec declared. "But maybe show us where we can put our bags first. We wouldn't want our luggage to get mixed in with everything."

Goldencross and Hightower exchanged a look. They seemed to be at a bit of a loss there.

"Look," the latter said after a few seconds, "there's a little problem here. You can't actually stay at the institute. It's…" he gestured around him, "not inhabitable. We've spread out everyone among the other places we own, but it's … well, 'crowded' doesn't begin to cover it, and we'll have to put up whoever Alicante sends us for help when they do, too. There's just no space."

"I get it," Alec told him. "We'll call a friend, ask her to recommend a hotel, drop off our things and then come back here. Maybe you'll have a response about the portal by then, too."

*

"Is this the right place?" Alec gave his parabatai a slightly doubtful look.

"It says so." Jace had once again taken over the role of their GPS, guiding them to the address Charlie had given them. It had taken them to a street lined with large red brick buildings. Until now, the hotels the two Gales and Magnus had chosen had all been on the ostentatious end. Where they were standing now, they couldn't see any hotels at all, ostentatious or not.

"Maybe there's a glamor on it," Izzy mused. "Did they say that it was a mundane hotel?"

Alec blinked. His sister certainly had a point.

With a twist of his mind, he activated his magic vision, turning slowly to look for the tell-tale glow of power.

There was none, as far as he could see.

He was just about to tell them so when Clary laughed. "You could say there's a glamor on it!" she said, pointing at one of the buildings. "A mundane one. It's just keeping its advertisements very, very restrained."

"How does anyone find it like that?" Jace asked, scowling at where a very simple, unassuming sign marked one of the doors.

"Maybe it's only meant to be found by those who already know it's here," Izzy said brightly. "Come on, let's go in and see why they chose this one, other than for the fun of it being hard to find."

She walked briskly to the door and pushed it open. The sight behind it made her stop in her tracks. "Oh wow."

The outside of the house may have been simple and designed to avoid drawing attention. The inside was not. Entering, they found themselves in a large parlor tiled in white marble, the walls adorned with paintings. An unused fireplace gleamed on one side of the room. The low table and chairs set by the foot of a stair with an ornate forged handrail looked like they may have been genuine antiques.

A man and a woman, both dressed in dark grey suits, were waiting behind a counter, smiling at them.

"Are you sure we can afford this place?" Alec whispered to Izzy.

She shrugged. "If Charlie and Magnus say we can, we should be able to," her grin widened even more as she continued to look around. "Just look at this place!"

"I am looking!" Alec informed her. "Trust me, I am looking."

He was still looking while he crossed to the counter. "We're here on the recommendation of a friend," he said after a polite exchange of greetings. "Charlotte Gale. She is staying in this hotel right now. We were hoping there were some more rooms available?" He gestured to include the other three.

The man he was talking to nodded. "Mrs. Gale informed us of your arrival half an hour ago." He placed three key cards on the counter, pointing at them in turn. "This one's for Mr. Alexander Lightwood and Mr. Magnus Bane; Mr. Jonathan Lightwood and Ms. Clarissa Fairchild; Ms Isabelle Lightwood." He looked back and forth between them. Clearly, they were missing one person.

"Mr. Bane will join us later," Alec declared. He picked up the cards. "Do you need my credit card?"

"Mrs. Gale took care of that," the man assured him. "Enjoy your stay with us. I will have someone show you to your rooms immediately."

They exchanged a glance. Either Charlie had suddenly acquired a lot of money, or she was handling Magnus' credit card, or one of the Aunties had decided they needed a higher budget for their travels.

*

Alec found that the suite assigned to him and Magnus was as magnificent as the hotel's entrance area. He resolved not to ask what a night here cost, and simply be happy that he wasn't the one paying for it.

Apparently, Charlie had had someone drop Magnus' things in the suite already. Alec put his bag next to his boyfriend's in the bedroom, grabbed a change of clothes and stuffed it into a smaller bag. He'd find a place to change into something he wouldn't mind getting soot and dirt on when they got back to the institute. While they could probably clean up with charms when they were done, he wasn’t going to rely on it. Magical fire might produce magical soot.

Just as he returned to the large sitting room of the suite, furnished with a sofa and armchairs as well as a round dining table, the door opened to reveal Magnus.

"Hey!" Alec crossed the distance between them, happy to be met with a long, intense kiss.

When they broke apart again, Alec was frowning down on Magnus. There was a decidedly singed smell about his boyfriend.

"Hello Alexander!" Magnus said brightly. "This is an unexpected welcome, but certainly one I greatly enjoy!"

"Unexpected?" Alec asked. "Didn't you get our text message?"

The other man looked at him a little sheepishly. "I fear I was a bit busy."

Alec's expression darkened. "Did anything happen? Did she talk to you?" He noticed a slight hitch in Magnus' step as they walked across the room to the sitting area. "Are you hurt?"

"It's nothing," Magnus said. "Is everyone else here, too? Call them together, and I'll tell you what I've learned – though it isn't much."

"I will in a moment," Alec promised. "But first I want to see that nothing."

"Alexander," Magnus said, striving for a reasonable tone. "All that needs is a little magic, which I will apply as soon as I have a moment. Really."

"Magnus," Alec returned, imitating his boyfriend's tone. "You can either let me have a look at what's wrong with you, or I can get Jace to sit on you while I undress you to find out why you have to make an effort not to limp. Really."

Seeing the calculating look in Magnus' eyes, he added: "And remember that I can see you're glamored, so don't think I'll limit my examination to just looking at you."

With a small sigh, the warlock slid out of his coat and dropped his glamor.

Beneath it, his hair was in some disarray, his make-up smeared. His clothes sported several singed spots, though as far as Alec could see, only two had gone through to the skin: A small one at the side of his right upper arm, exposing skin that looked a little reddened as if from sunburn, and a larger one on the opposite hip. That one looked painful, the skin blistering.

"Undress properly and go lie on the bed in there," Alec ordered. "I'll get the first aid kit from Izzy and find something to put on that."

Magnus smiled, but did not move to obey. "Magic will fix that quickly enough," he insisted.

"I know," Alec admitted. "But let me at least pretend that it's not always you taking care of me."

Magnus' eyes were serious when he met Alec's look. "You know that's not true either way," he said, his tone serious and his voice low. "You are taking care of me. A lot."

"Magnus…" Alec began, uncertain of what he wanted to say.

His boyfriend stopped him with a raised hand. "Get your supplies from Izzy. I'll be in the bedroom."

*

"You could just draw an iratze charm on it, too," Magnus observed a few minutes later.

They were in the suite's luxurious bedroom, Magnus lounging on the huge bed and Alec sitting on its edge while applying some of the burn salve from Izzy's kit to Magnus' injury. He could see the warlock's skin take on a healthier color where it absorbed the substance.

"I will," he said. "But I've heard somewhere that a healing works better if you don't draw all the energy for it from the body of the person it's applied to."

Magnus chuckled. "This isn't a severe injury, Alexander," he pointed out. "I've given myself worse when brewing potions."

"I'm practicing," Alec declared. "Our lives are dangerous enough to expect we'll have to treat more serious things sooner or later."

He drew the shape of an iratze on Magnus' glistening skin, watching in fascination how the design sparkled with the glow of energy before sinking into his body, speeding up the healing. Just a few months ago, the thought of putting a rune on Magnus would have appalled and shocked him.

"What did she do that for anyway? Did she really attack you?"

Magnus sat up as Alec walked around the bed to the other side, salve jar in hand. The hit he had taken on his arm wouldn't even need a charm to heal. In fact, it was so superficial that Magnus had been going to ignore it altogether.

"In part, to keep up the appearance that she's a bit crazy and unpredictable," Magnus answered. "And I think she wanted to see what I would do – both to get an idea of my power beyond what I let her see and to see if would attack her back. And as a warning that she was not to be toyed with. I wouldn't call it an attack, really. It was more like a cat playing with a mouse."

"A rat," Jace said from the door.

Alec bristled slightly. "Did you just call Magnus a rat?"

His parabatai laughed. "Mice die when a cat plays with them. But they play with rats to tire them out until they can get the killing stroke in, because a rat would be a danger to the cat in a direct confrontation. Magnus certainly isn't a mouse."

Magnus fished for the bathrobe that had come with the room when Alec screwed the lid back on his jar. "I don't think she was really trying to hurt me, but yes – she was trying to see if she could."

He cast a mournful look at the clothes he had dropped on a chair. "Too bad. I liked those things."

"Ask Jack to make you duplicates," Jace suggested practically. "But first, come out here and tell us what news you bring from Idris."

*

"Pay up," Finn Hightower told his friend when they walked back into the institute.

Grinning, the other man dug in his pockets and handed over several coins.

"I said I didn't expect to see you again until all the work is done," he told the four, his smile barely apologetic. "He bet that you would be back today."

"Back and ready to get some work done," Alec confirmed. "Did you hear back from Alicante about the portal?"

Goldencross' face darkened. "We're not to send anyone injured through a portal made with runes. There's not enough experience with those, and they may do more harm than good – their words, not mine." He pointed at a door. "Walk down that corridor and turn left at the very end. Report to Aeryn Youngfire. She'll tell you what to do."

"Lucky thing they caught the fire Max set in the Mumbai Institute before it could spread like this," Izzy noted as they walked deeper into the institute. The damage was evident everywhere, from soot-blackened walls to the remains of broken glass panes that had been set in some of the doors for decoration and shattered in the heat.

"I suspect rune fires are a lot easier to contain than an imploding artifact," Jace mused. "Oh my. This is sad."

The path described to them had taken them to the library – or what remained of it. Some few charred shelves were still standing. Others had fallen over, distributing their books on the floor. Some of the scattered objects had been put in heaps and haphazard stacks. Others were still lying as they had fallen.

The smell of burned paper and burned dust hung heavy in the air.

A short woman with fiery red hair was busily ordering around two Nephilim who couldn't have had their runing ceremonies more than a few months ago. She didn't even glance their way.

Alec cleared his throat. "Aeryn Youngfire? We're here to help out with whatever needs to be done."

Now the woman turned, giving them a look that was as surprised as it was thankful. "I don’t know you," she noted.

"We were planning to visit one of your colleagues," Alec informed her. "And have learned she was injured in the recent mishap. We figured we'd make ourselves useful instead. I'm Alec." He followed up by introducing the other three.

The librarian – or at least Alec assumed that that was who she was, nodded at him. "Call me Aeryn. We need to sort apart those books that are irredeemably damaged from those we can rescue and those that just need to be dusted off. The most valuable pieces should have enough protections on them to be only dirty, not damaged. Can you do that?"

"Yeah," Alec confirmed. "That shouldn't be an issue."

"Then get to it, while I try to explain to these two once again how to not get dirt all over the things we just cleaned."

The four retreated to the opposite corner to start their work.

"I'll find the books with the spells on them," Alec told the others in a low voice. "I can see them shine through the soot. Can you start sorting through the rest?"

Izzy frowned at the heaps around them. "I say we start by tossing anything that has too much burned off to be readable anymore in one place. That should leave us with a more manageable number to actually inspect."

"I second that idea," Jace declared.

"Good," Alec said. "Then let's get started."

*

As it turned out, the Dublin librarian had a slightly different idea of which books were salvageable than they did. When she went over their heaps, she picked out a number that she determined lost, while carrying off the remaining ones to be crated to await the time at which they could be restored.

"Clary, notebook," Izzy said, pushing the freshly discarded heap at her friend. "I'm sure the clean-up charms can save these, and I bet Uncle Tomas will be more than happy to have them."

"We're stealing books now?" Clary asked, though she was already sticking the first volumes into a sketchpad, wincing at the traces of soot they left behind on the pages.

"Garbage," Izzy said. "We're cleaning up garbage. Nothing else."

Their work of sorting continued for several hours. By the time Aeryn Youngfire told them to call it a day, the sun had gone down. The room was lit with a sunlight rune Clary had drawn on the wall – with a stele, to avoid questions.

All four of them stretched as they got up from where they had last been sorting books.

Glancing at Jace, Izzy laughed. "Soot," she said by way of explanation, gesturing at her face.

Her brother returned a grin. "You, too," he declared. "We should probably all wash up before we get back to the hotel. I don't think they'll let us in like this."

Alec was about to agree when he heard his stomach growl its displeasure.

Jace gave him a smirk. "I wasn't sure if that was you or me being hungry, parabatai," he claimed. "Now I am."

"You're both hungry," Izzy decided. "And everyone else is, too. I sure hope that hotel has some proper food."

"Did you look at the place?" Clary asked. "It probably has tiny portions of weird things for exaggerated prices. But right now, I'll eat pretty much anything."

*

By the time they reached their hotel again, they had googled its menu and had given it their unrestricted approval. They were all looking forward to a proper shower before their meal.

Their focus already on the more pleasant part of the day ahead of them, they barely paid attention to the group of people sitting in the entrance area, each studying a newspaper.

As Alec turned towards the stair, a flash of light intruded at the edge of his vision. Any other day he might have discarded it, given the location they were in. Today, Izzy's warning was still fresh enough in his mind.

"Glamor," he hissed to his friends. "Th—Down!" He had been about to point out where he had seen the tell-tale gleam of power when the glamored group moved, almost inhumanly fast.

Alec dove for cover, taking his sister down with him as a thin, pointed blade whistled through the space they had just vacated. Izzy moved with him, absorbing his momentum into her own roll and twisting to come up facing the attacker.

Jace was on his knees off to the side, blade and dagger in his hands already.

Clary took a moment more to get back up, but she joined them before the group of attackers approached.

There were six of them, moving slowly, methodically and single-mindedly towards them. They were led by a woman with reddish-blonde hair. She had a knife in either hand and a vacant stare in her eyes.

"Possessed or under mind-control," Jace said, his voice low enough for only his friends to hear.

Without thinking about it, they had moved into formation, ready to cover each other.

Alec looked around. The mundanes in the room had dived for cover. Luckily, the only ones there apart from them were the hotel staff. He didn't know if that was owed to the time of the day or to a spell placed to keep potential interferences for the posse in front of them low. It didn't matter much either.

Although the large entrance area offered plenty of space to shoot his bow, Alec left it on his back, triggering the release on his bracelet instead. It was harder to incapacitate but not kill with a bow than it was with a staff, and if the front-most woman's expression was any indication, these people were not attacking them out of their own free will or conviction.

Another knife flew, thrown by one of the men behind her.

Jace's blade came up, deflecting it harmlessly. Izzy's hand flexed visibly on her whip. She was ready. The expression on Clary's face was grimly determined.

"Kill if you can't avoid it," Alec told them.

He felt their agreement more than he could see their nods. Then, before another one of their opponents could decide that they could do with one knife less, he released his friends from their waiting positions with a single word: "Now."

Before the syllable had dissipated, Alec lunged forward, swinging his staff down and around to sweep the woman's legs out from under her the moment she raised her knife to attack. She went down hard, only to have her weapon kicked from her hand by a booted foot. The movement made her sleeve slide back, exposing the tell-tale black lines of a rune.

"Nephilim," Alec hissed.

Izzy's whip snapped forward, tearing another knife from the hand that held it. The man she had disarmed gave a feral scream and pushed forward to tackle her bare-handedly.

She met his onrush stoically, using his momentum to throw him over her hip.

Winded, he stayed down just long enough to be knocked out with the staff Izzy's whip solidified into.

Jace and Clary had engaged three of the remaining attackers between them. Jace's blades were a blur in the air, never stilling as he blocked and slashed in quick succession. Clary fought by his side. They hadn't yet reached the stage where they moved as one in combat, anticipating each other's moves as if they were their own, but it was evident that they were well on the way there.

With Izzy just taking care of the third of their half of the enemy group, her staff connecting with a sound that suggested that someone would have at least a cracked bone to heal after the fight, Alec shifted easily into the melee around his parabatai and Clary.

He fit himself into Jace's rhythm, both a decade of training and their bond evident in the way the two men moved as if they could read each other's thoughts.

The butt of Alec's staff connected with one attackers head, dropping him where he stood.

Almost at the same moment, Clary sunk the tip of her blade into the muscle in her main opponent's upper arm, drawing a yelp from her as she let go of her own weapon.

Tossing up his dagger slightly, Jace caught the hilt reversed and finished his movement by bringing the pommel down hard against the base of the woman's skull.

With only one man standing, he spun, turning his momentum into a jump and kick. There was no time like the present to see if he could do it again. If he messed up the move, Clary and Alec were at hand to save him.

He felt the impact of his boot, throwing back the man and sending him crashing into the low table. Alec was on top of him immediately, swiftly disarming him.

Jace staggered a little as he landed. It barely dampened the feeling of joy at the hard proof that he was almost back in shape again.

"Well," a dry voice said from the top of the stairs. "We were just coming to see if you needed some help, but as I see you have it all under control already."

Looking up, they saw Magnus, Charlie and Jack leaning on the handrail. The half-dragon had apparently made it back from Russia sometime while they were helping out in the institute.

The hotel employees were just re-emerging, staring at the scene before them.

"I called the police," one of them announced. "They should be here any moment."

"What are those things?" the other one demanded. His voice had acquired a little squeak. "Why are you armed like that? What is all this about? Are you—" He froze, silver sparkles condensing around him.

"I think we need to adjust a few memories," Magnus declared. He was making his way down the rest of the way, one hand outstretched to hold the two uniformed men.

Charlie was just behind him. "I'll do that," she announced, her fingers busy on the strings of her guitar already. "Let's keep it simple. You came in, those six jumped you, there was a melee and you knocked them out. You have no idea why they attacked you."

"Like anyone's going to believe that," Clary said, but she stooped to help the other three collect the scattered weapons.

"They will when I'm in the room," the Bard told her, a dangerous grin on her face.

The receptionists' expressions grew slack as her music took a hold of them, adjusting the way they remembered the last minutes while everyone else was busy removing any evidence that that was not what had happened.

Jack gestured for the weapons.

They handed over everything but the most ordinary-looking knives. They needed to keep something back as the weapons they had been attacked with – and to explain the hole Clary had left in one attacker's arm.

Uniformed men entering the room drew their attention. When Alec glanced back at Jack, the small heap he had had before him was gone.

Seeing themselves faced with drawn firearms, the four froze, their hands held open and visible. The last thing they needed now was to be mistaken for the attackers.

Charlie was still keeping up her spell. She retreated to a wall with her guitar, shrouded in music. She played to the minds of everyone in the room who wasn't shielded against being influenced, opening them up to suggestion so they would take whatever was presented to them and convert it into irrevocable truth in their heads. It was the working the aunties called changing someone's mind. Most of the time, Charlie didn't approve of it, but she had used it as a last resort to avoid irredeemable situations before.

"We were defending ourselves," Alec said calmly. "These six jumped us with knives when we came in. We don't even know them."

"I was standing up there." Magnus pointed. "I saw it all. They were magnificent!"

Izzy allowed herself a lop-sided grin. "Glad to see all the martial arts training is good for some practical application after all."

*

"Yes," Alec said into his phone. "No." He sighed. "Look, I don't care if she's one of yours or not. I care that there are now six Nephilim who are probably under a mind control spell in mundane custody. You need to get a hold of them before something else happens. That includes both the mundanes running a blood test for drugs on them, or whatever is controlling them kicking in and causing a massacre."

He was silent as he listened to the person at the other end of the line.

"Yes. Yes, I'll do that. Just get them into our custody before anything else happens." He was about to hang up when he remembered something else. "Wait! Dammit…"

Dialing again, he waited, tapping his foot on the ground.

"I just remembered something else. You'll want to keep them knocked out if you can until you've had them examined by a warlock. The last two times we caught someone trying to attack us, they had spells placed inside them to kill them if they were captured and questioned. Inquisitor Herondale has all the details."

This time, he didn't wait for a response before snapping his phone shut and sliding it into his pocket.

"Can you believe that?" he asked, rolling his eyes. "The main thing she's worrying about is that the woman who led the attack was not affiliated with the Dublin Institute."

Izzy matched his expression. "I hope you convinced her."

"Same," her brother said. "I think we should send a Fire Message to Grandma Imogen just in case anyway. Her name is Mailys Gayfeather, by the way, and she's from Belfast. Not Dublin. As the head of the Dublin Institute just told me about a dozen times."

Jace chuckled. "You may have mentioned that."

They had managed to snap a picture of the leading attacker before the police had carted all six of them off. Thanks to Charlie's music, they had made it through their statements without mishap.

After they had managed to excuse themselves, they had retreated to Alec and Magnus' suite, where Alec had made his phone call to the head of the Dublin Institute, requesting help with dealing with the fall-out from the incident.

"Alec!" Clary called from the other room. "Can you all come out here? Manager's trying to talk to us."

The three exchanged a look. "I guess we're going to be sleeping somewhere else," Jace said. "My bet's on he's going to tell us to get lost after bringing trouble to his pretty hotel."

"Pity," Izzy noted. "I did want to try out that bed."

They followed Alec into the front room, where the others were spread out on every cushioned surface.

A man dressed in a pristine white shirt and black suit stood before them, a serious expression on his face.

"Sir?" Alec asked, stopping just a step away from him. "I'm Alec Lightwood. I speak for our group."

The other man extended his hand, previously held behind his back.

His handshake was firm without being threatening. Alec couldn't have said why, but somehow he doubted that they had guessed the man's intentions quite right.

Taking his favorite parade rest position, he waited.

"You and your friends did us a great service today," the manager said without preamble. "That situation could have escalated easily. You prevented harm from coming to our employees, and you did it so quickly that no other guests were disturbed."

It was evident from his expression that the man had no idea just how they had done that.

A muscle in Alec's face twitched. He couldn't very well tell him that that had been no achievement of theirs, but rather an effect of the repellent spell one of the attackers must have set off. They suspected it had been on an artifact one of them was carrying. In any case, not a single mundane who did not have any pressing business in the room had entered that foyer until after the six had been carted off.

"We were in the right place at the right time it appears," Alec said instead. "Anyone else would have done the same."

The manager chuckled. "You know that isn't true. Most people wouldn't have been able to do what you did."

Alec allowed himself a smile. "Well… maybe not," he allowed. "But we could, and we did what was needed. You're welcome."

"I understand if you would rather not extend your stay with us after this experience," the manager told him.

Jace shifted a little at Alec's shoulder. Clearly, he expected a strong suggestion that they pack up and move next.

He was about to be disappointed. "I assure you, it is not our usual approach to have our guests attacked in the lobby. I understand that this cannot make up for the inconvenience caused to you, but – if you would consider completing your stay here, you will do so as our guests. The spa facilities and our other amenities will be at your disposal."

"That—thank you," Alec said. The surprise in his voice was genuine, even though he hadn't expected to be thrown out. "We'll talk about it."

"Nonsense!" Izzy jumped in as soon as he had finished the last sentence. "Of course we accept! Don't be an idiot, big brother!"

He gave her a broad grin. "You just want to enjoy the spa," he accused her playfully before turning back to the manager. "My sister has spoken. We accept your generous offer."

"Very good," the man said. "We are hoping to keep the entire incident discreet."

"Oh, we're all for keeping things discreet," Alec assured him.

"Meaning: If the hotel doesn't mention us, we won't mention the hotel," Jack threw in from his place on the sofa. "That should be in everyone's best interest."

Chapter Text

February 3rd, 2017

"Are you sure this is a good idea?"

Alec's voice clearly reflected that fact that he was not sure at all.

Izzy and Magnus gave him matching, decisive nods.

"I still feel wobbly without boots," Jace complained.

"Lean on Clary if you need to," Isabelle told him practically. "You can't show up at the spa in combat boots."

"I'm not sure how a spa works anyway," he returned. He did put an arm around Clary, but it wasn't hard to see that he wasn't doing so out of necessity, but merely out of a wish to have her close.

"Don't worry," Izzy told him brightly. "Magnus and I picked nice treatments for everyone and booked them. All you have to do is go along with what you're told to do and enjoy."

"Great." There was a gloomy tone to Jace's voice.

Clary laughed. "You keep saying you're a soldier, Jace. Soldiers can follow orders."

"I can follow orders!" he protested. "I'm just not sure these will be orders I want to follow."

"I'm sure you'll love it once you get started," Charlie insisted. "I certainly intend to."

After the head of the Dublin Institute had declined any further help from them – if because of the tone Alec had had to resort to the night before, or because she didn't want whatever else might be chasing them in her already-damaged Institute was something they were still on the fence about – Jack had the only one of them who had opted out of an extended spa visit.

Keeping his temperature down to where he wasn't going to heat up the water in the pool and give anyone trying to give him a massage a heart attack at the degree of fever with which he seemed to be walking around would require so much focus that he'd not get much enjoyment out of the experience, he had told them.

Weapons were another thing one didn't take into a spa, and Alec definitely felt somewhat exposed for the lack of his. Luckily, as he reminded himself, all their bodies qualified as weapons – and no one could take those away from them.

"Wow," Clary breathed as they entered, staring in awe at the gigantic blue-tiled swimming pool that formed the central feature.

"Alright," Alec declared. "I agree to like the spa if I can do a few laps in that before we have to do anything else."

His sister glanced at the time, and nodded. "Go ahead. We're early enough."

"I'll guard our things," Magnus offered. "You go ahead and do your laps. I'll watch and admire you and not ruin my hair."

Leaving their hotel-issued bathrobes on some of the deck chairs set up off to the side, they slid into the cool water.

Not long ago, they had found being allowed to use the Penhallows' pool in Alicante a particularly enjoyable treat. It paled in comparison to this one.

They weren't the only people using the pool this early in the morning, however. Several other guests had apparently come down for their morning workout or a leisurely swim to start their day. Soon, they found that they drew attention.

It probably wasn't every day that these mundanes saw a group of seemingly heavily tattooed young people – especially not with three out of four also sporting an assortment of combat scars.

Izzy thought she could feel a number of eyes boring into the back of her shoulder, where the venom infection had caused her stab wound to heal into a thick, red line that would take years to bleach out and become unnoticeable.

Ignoring them, she challenged her brothers to a race down the length of the pool.

Clary stuck at a more sedate pace. Though her technique and speed had improved in the course of the last weeks, she still wasn't a match for any of them.

Charlie kept her company. The Bard drew looks all of her own, now that no layer of loose clothes softened the sharp angles of the bones under her skin. She was either used to it or very good at ignoring it.

"I prefer the heated pool at home," she admitted as they finished their first lap. "It feels a lot less competitive."

The red-haired woman laughed. "But this one has a lot fewer aunties around it."

"True," Charlie admitted.

Clary shot a glance at where Magnus had settled comfortably, watching with appreciation and waving at Alec when he passed closest to the area with the deck chairs. "Do you know what those two picked for us for later?"

"I may have overhead the booking," the older woman said. "It sounded awesome."

*

Alec wasn't quite sure what he thought of the package his sister and his boyfriend had booked for him. At least it was some consolation to know that, as Izzy had assured him, they had chosen the same one for most of them. Only Magnus had opted for a different offer, which he had declared was probably not something those of them who had never been to a spa before would enjoy.

Presently, he was lying face-down on a table, most of his body covered by a towel while the attendant rubbed some sort of substance into the skin of whichever part of him was exposed before adjusting the towel and moving on to the next part. It felt like there was some sort of salt in the mixture, small grains rubbing against his skin. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, but certainly one that took some getting used to.

Thinking of the amusement it would surely afford Izzy and Magnus, should any word get around to them that he was twitching and fidgeting impatiently, he forced his body to relax.

*

Izzy couldn't help a small smirk as she enjoyed the feeling of skilled hands on her body, professionally going over every inch of skin with the salt and oil mixture. She could just about imagine her brothers' reaction to being treated to a five-hour spa package. Hopefully, they would enjoy the experience more than they expected.

The spa attendant was professional enough to not comment on her apparent tattoos or any of the scars life as a demon hunter had left on her body. She had merely stopped once, at the relatively fresh one down the back of her shoulder, to ask if her skin was sensitive around it.

Izzy had answered in the negative – a little prematurely as it turned out. She didn’t mind, though. It wasn't painful as such, and who knew – maybe a mundane body scrub could remove some lingering demon essence from her tissue along with particles of dead skin.

*

It really was a good thing they didn't have to pay for this experience, Clary thought as she inhaled the aromatic scent of the oil the attendant used on her. It even smelled expensive. The one thing she regretted slightly was that she couldn't see Jace's face when he learned about the details of the package Izzy and Magnus had booked. That surely would have been something worth sketching.

Luxurious as the offer here was, just like everything else in the hotel, the attendant did not require her to get up and shower to wash off the body scrub when she was done, instead switching to a hot towel and mitt to clean it away.

She could only hope that the attendant was not going to be suddenly possessed or mind-controlled. In spite of Izzy's warning of the previous day, there was no way she could keep her guard up in this kind of situation.

*

It was the oddest experience. Jace wasn't sure what the potion that was presently being rubbed into his skin was meant to do, but apparently Izzy had thought it was a good thing. Still, he found it hard to stay relaxed at the constant knowledge of a stranger's hands on his unprotected body.

"Is anything wrong?" the attendant asked him eventually.

"No," Jace assured her quickly. "Not really. I've just never done this before. My sister booked it for us. I'm not used to … this kind of treatment."

"Try to relax," she recommended. Her tone turned a little conspiratorial "And if you find the experience unpleasant, we can swap to a different treatment. We don't need to tell your sister."

Jace chuckled at that. "It's fine. I'll live."

He could almost feel the shake of her head. "This is supposed to be something you enjoy, not something you suffer through," she pointed out. Her hands had stilled, waiting for his decision.

He sighed. "It's okay. Keep going. It'd probably help if I knew what you're doing, though."

"So your sister was being mysterious about what she booked?"

Was there a hint of amusement in her voice? He nodded.

"This is called a body polish. It cleanses your skin and leaves it soft and smooth."

The information drew a snort from Jace. "I wonder what Clary will say to that."

"She will probably love it," the attendant told him, drawing the logical conclusion that Clary had to be his wife or girlfriend. "When we're done with this, we'll enhance the effect with some balm for moisturizing. Then you get to rest a little, and after that it'll be a thorough massage."

"Massage sounds good," Jace determined. At least he knew what that was good for.

*

Magnus had his eyes closed and enjoyed the feeling of a professional scalp massage to top off a treatment with mud and aroma oils. Some day, he resolved, he was going to introduce Alec to the full splendor of the range offered by a top-level spa like this one. Today was not the day, as he and Izzy had been in agreement on.

He could feel any tension flow out of him, erasing the last traces of his encounter with Baba Agnieszka as his magic pooled inside him. It almost felt as if it was being cleansed along with his skin, stripping away traces clinging from old spells and invigorating his magic as well as his body.

The only spell he kept up was the glamor that concealed his warlock mark.

While he could have let go of that one, too, and keep his eyes closed, he didn't find it worth the risk. His glamor was second nature to him, something he didn't even have to think about to keep up most of the time.

One thing was certain: There could be no better preparation to get him into prime shape for whatever the next days were going to throw at them than the precise thing he was doing right now.

*

"How do you like the experience?" Izzy asked her friends.

They were sitting together over the lunch that went with their packages, all of them once again wrapped in hotel bath robes. The long, thorough massage had left them all completely relaxed. Izzy thought that she probably wouldn't have had any trouble going to sleep right then.

"It's certainly interesting," Alec admitted. "But I want to know what the thing you picked for yourself was, Magnus. It must be amazing!"

There was no denying that while everyone looked considerably more rested and at ease than they usually did, the warlock was positively radiant. The appearance was only enhanced by the smile Alec's comment brought to his face.

"I'll gladly introduce you to it another day, Alexander. I find that, even though these people are mundanes, their treatments do wonders for my magic as well as my body."

"What do you think, Jace?" Clary asked.

The blond man was studying the plate before him. "I don't know. It's strange. Not in a bad way, but strange. I have no idea why I would want softer skin or anything like that, but I'm told you'll like it."

She looked away briefly to get her features under control and not betray all of her amusement. "I'm sure I will," she promised. "Silky-soft Jace will be an entirely new experience that I'm looking forward to."

He scowled at her in mock outrage. "You're only saying that because we're not currently in a combat situation."

"I hope you'll enjoy the second half of the package, too," Charlie said. She had cleared her plate already, and accepted an offer of a second helping. "I do actually like to eat," she told the attendant serving her. "My body just fails at holding on to the food."

That comment brought her what looked like at least a double portion.

"What is the second half going to be?" Jace asked. His expression and tone were cautious. "I mean- they went over all our bodies twice now. What else can they do?"

"Manicures and pedicures," Izzy declared.

Alec choked on the bite he had just put into his mouth. Jace stared at her.

"They're going to do my nails?" he asked, incredulously, turning his eyes from Izzy to his much-abused fingernails. "Good luck with that."

Izzy didn't even try to suppress a laugh at their reactions. "They'll also go over your skin again and give you a good arm and leg massage," she promised.

Noticing Magnus' look, Alec squinted at his boyfriend. "What are you getting after lunch?"

"The same and an extra eye treatment," Magnus informed him happily. "Strips a decade from your looks if done right."

"If they strip a decade from your looks, I'll be arrested if we show up in public together," Alec grumbled, though his eyes were sparkling at the same time. "I swear, this is the silliest thing we've ever done together."

Already half-way through her second portion, Charlie snorted. "Alec, if this is the silliest thing you've ever done together, you clearly need to do more silly things to balance out all the serious ones in your lives. I mean it."

"Right." He sounded as if he was actually considering it. "After we find out everything about what's really going on with the angels, what the heck Valentine is playing at and who's helping him, and which other parts of our history have been kept from us. When we're done with all that and whatever else results from it, and when we've at least started setting something in motion to fix the way we're treating Downworlders, then we will have time for silly things in our lives."

Magnus reached out, putting his hand on Alec's. "That's all very laudable," he said, his tone serene. "But none of us will be able to do any of that if we fall over from exhaustion. I can't even begin to describe to you what this break we're taking right now is doing to replenish my magic. I think I've gone on a low level for so long it's started to feel normal. You may not have magic to measure it by, but you need to fuel up, too. Not just today, but regularly."

Even though he really wanted to, Alec couldn't deny the wisdom in that. "It's hard," he admitted instead. "Knowing you have things to do that are important and still taking time off."

"I know," Magnus told him. "But you can practice."

*

They continued to practice after the spa attendants were done with them. Dressed casually again, though not without carrying weapons, they left the hotel to get some fresh air on a stroll through a nearby park, guided by Jack.

The Dragon Prince had taken the time they had spent with their spa packages to familiarize himself with the local Seelie population.

"It's Ireland," he told them as they passed the gates and turned down the path he indicated. "There are plenty of resident Seelie here who've barely ever been to the Underrealm at all. It's a good place for them."

Jack's position with the Seelie tended to be a strange one. The smaller types, like the Brownies, came flocking around him, basking in his attention. Those that wielded more power of their own showed him less affection, often encountering him with some degree of hostility. Then there were those in-between types like the Leprechauns, where individual disposition and attitude made all the difference.

"Cool statue," Clary noted, pointing, once they had gone a little way into the park.

The target of her attention was a sculpture of a man lounging on a rock, the different parts of his clothes fashioned of different types of colored stone, making the result look painted at first glance.

"It's marvelous, isn't it?" Jack agreed. "The combination of the stones is also quite powerful. It draws all kinds of things, so if you need a place to contact anyone from the Underrealm, try here. But be careful what you get. There's no guarantee the thing that'll be drawn to you will be pleasant."

"Oscar Wilde," Jace noted as he inspected the statue. "I've read some of his work."

"Like what?" Clary was walking hand in hand with him. The scent of the aromatherapy and massage oils was still clinging to them, giving each of them a different, unique feel close-up. The spa attendants had made the perfect choices for each of their group. After the afternoon round of treatments, Jace's hands had a quality to them that Clary had never experienced before and didn't want to let go of. He didn't seem to mind.

"The picture of Dorian Gray," Jace offered. "You know that one, right?"

She looked at him, thinking. "Does it count if I watched the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with Simon?"

"Maybe a little," Jace told her. "The Canterville Ghost?"

"I know I watched that one," Clary declared. "What about his ghost? Is he around?"

"You need to read more and watch less TV," Jace said fondly, looking around. "And no. No ghosts. At all."

"But I can paint while the TV is running. I can't read while I paint," Clary protested.

"I met him once," Magnus threw in. "During his exile in Paris. He wasn't well at the time. Not physically and not mentally. I offered him some relief, but he declined… He might have lived longer, had he accepted."

"Did you bring us here to discuss a dead poet?" Alec asked Jack, a little amused. "I understand that he's fascinating, but we should have at least brought some of his work in his honor or something…" His tone left no doubt that he was convinced that Jack's purpose had been a different one.

He wasn't disappointed.

"Actually, there's someone who wants to talk to you. About yesterday." Jack stepped off the path and onto the bare earth surrounding the boulder with the statue. Magic shone around his hands as he gestured.

The man who stepped out of the greenery looked human only at first glance. He was tall and thin, his hair black with streaks of color at the temples falling over pointed ears. The angles of his facial bones were too sharp, his eyes a radiant green.

"Greetings, Nephilim," he said as he approached them. He bowed respectfully in Charlie's direction. "Bard. The Dragon did not make vain promises."

Charlie smiled, returning the bow. "Thank you… majesty."

The title was clearly a guess, but it went over well enough.

"The Seelie King who controls the Dublin Gates," Jack introduced the newcomer, who walked past them and settled on the simple wood bench on the other side of the path as if it was a throne. "He has news to share with you."

"We will listen," Alec declared, watching the Seelie King. "But if it's about Shadowhunter business, you must know that we hold little sway. We're just travelers, passing through."

He shrugged gracefully. "The Dragon tells me that you will be able to use what I have to tell you."

"We're thankful for anything we can use," Alec said. It appeared that their break from work was officially over.

"Yesterday morning, several travelers passed through my realm who had no business being there. One of these was the Queen of another Seelie court. Another was one of your kind. They had with them a group of knights and Shadowhunters."

Alec gestured to Clary. "Do you have your sketchpad with you?"

She nodded, handing over the requested item. Alec browsed through it until he found a portrait of the Seelie Queen who held the gates in New York. "This queen, by any chance?"

The local king nodded serenely.

Flipping to the page with the portrait of Valentine's current body wasn't difficult. They had used it so often that it stood out by now. "And this Shadowhunter?"

Another nod.

"I mean no offence," Izzy said, watching the Seelie closely. "But why did you let them pass?"

"It seemed the more prudent thing to do," he informed her. "They were carrying an artifact that can enslave the minds of others. Our kind, as well as yours. I had no wish to lose knights to them, so we merely observed."

"Good thinking," Alec said, and he meant it. "It certainly fits with the attack on us last night."

"It would be advisable to do something about these two and whatever plans they have," the Seelie pointed out.

Magnus stepped closer to Alec, in a clear warning that the advice would do well to stay on precisely that level, and not turn into a demand.

His boyfriend nodded. "We understand. But right now, what we personally can do is limited. No one will be served if we get ourselves killed without making a difference. We were attacked by a group under mind control last night. It's good to know where they came from, but we can't rush into anything. I hope that you understand that."

*

Later, they had secured a corner in one of the hotel's several bars, pushing two tables together to make space for all of them.

Magnus and Charlie each had a glass of whiskey before them, while Jack was nursing a cocktail. Everyone else had opted for the alcohol-free selection.

"I've made some headway with the journals," Charlie told them. "Or well, Jack helped me with it."

"So what can you tell us?" Alec asked. They had their notes out already, completing them with the latest bits of information they had gleaned.

"Not too much, I fear," the Bard told him. "She seems to have been adventurous for her people, drifting from pack to pack and collecting local history and legends. It seems her people's packs are small and live in remote places, keeping contact with the world around them to a minimum. They're experts at staying off the radar. Then she came across word of a strange werewolf pack pretending to be the werewolves from mundane legends and that everyone avoided like anything to not be associated with it. So naturally she went to check them out."

"The Ardelean pack?" Jace asked.

Charlie nodded. "The same. She was very amused by their customs, it seems. She concluded they must have been isolated from the other packs for a very long time. Then she witnessed the fall-out from an actual werewolf attack and saw for herself that the change happened. That was when she started getting into more and more trouble with their pack leader and eventually decided to move on."

Clary raised an eyebrow at her. "I thought the pack leader told her to get lost."

"Not according to her record."

"How'd she end up in Rome, and when did she fall in with Aldertree?" Alec was frowning as he tried to come up with some kind of mental timeline.

This time, it was Jack who answered. "She made her way across the continent. She's complaining a lot that travelling on two legs is inconvenient, but she couldn't carry her notes and everything too well when in fur. She spent some time with a pack in the Black Forest, which called itself the First Pack and had legends about how their ancestors were the first werewolves created by demonic magic that transferred some wolfish essence to a group of innocents. She says there were a lot of legends like that among her own people, too, about how the werewolves started out, but those went a lot farther back."

"The Black Forest is precisely where the werewolves escaping from Idris supposedly settled," Jace reminded them. "They got it almost right."

The Gales nodded. "She travelled into Idris with one of the pack, but they were caught by a couple of young Shadowhunter men on the hunt. Her companion was captured, killed and skinned. She tracked the men to a hut, but before she could take revenge, she overheard them talking about werewolves. One of them told the other that he wanted to revive the enhancement experiments, but do better this time around by not using a magical virus as carrier. He asked the other man to track down some documents for him. Apparently, he was on leave from his assignment, and the first guy thought they were somewhere near there. She decided to let them live and try to get her hands on whatever it was. They'd been talking about werewolves. It wasn't rocket science to make the connection."

Clary, once again in her self-appointed task as their scribe, was writing furiously.

"Is it safe to assume the men she spared that day were Valentine and Aldertree?" Alec asked.

"Aldertree definitely, and I think Valentine is a pretty good guess," Charlie agreed.

"I wish she'd just jumped them and ripped out their throats that day." Jace's voice was as quiet as it was dangerous. "I'd never have known why my father didn't come home, but it would have been all for the best. I want to say it would have been best if Valentine's own damned experiments had killed him right at the beginning, but I can't. If Valentine had died then, we wouldn't have Clary now."

Clary made a face. She didn't want to think any more than absolutely necessary about whether her life was worth more than those of everyone who had been killed because of her father.

"Don't." Alec's voice had an edge to it.

"Don't what?" she asked him.

He must have guessed at her thoughts. "Don't go there. We know Valentine wasn't a lone wolf working on his own personal rebellion. If he'd died that day, someone else would have taken his place and everything else would have happened just the same."

She couldn't deny that. "Thank you," she told him, before turning back to Charlie. She still didn't want to linger on that subject any more than she had to. "So she followed Aldertree to Rome?"

The Bard nodded. "She goes on for several pages about how she can tell Nephilim from mundanes by scent, and how they smell 'almost right'. So she approached him in a bar in Rome one night, and I think you know the rest."

"Does she say what she means by 'almost right'?" Magnus wanted to know.

"I can only guess, but it seems that her people don't like to get intimate with mundanes because the smell doesn't match what they're looking for. She didn't seem to have any issues with Aldertree, other than the fact that she was basically sleeping with the enemy. She knew it might kill her, and she notes a few times that she sent some information off to the nearest pack of her own people."

"Some of which were killed by Aldertree and his cronies when they found her out," Alec said. "It's all very interesting, but it sounds like it's mostly a dead end."

"Not necessarily, big brother." A vicious gleam had come into Izzy's eyes. "Because the day may come when we need some leverage against Aldertree, and I bet he's willing to go to some lengths to not let anyone learn about his involvement in all that – or about how his girlfriend actually died."

 

February 4th, 2017

They had opted to have breakfast for all of them served in the large suite, where they could enjoy a few last hours of peace and quiet before they were going to set out again to visit their next destination. There was nothing left for them to do in Dublin: The institute still didn't want them to return to help out, the woman they had come to talk to was under the care of the local medics, who did not approve of strangers visiting at this point, and nothing at all had come out of the six who had attacked them so far.

The group had survived being retrieved from mundane custody, but claimed to the last man that they had no recollection of the happenings. They had been returned to their home institute, to be dealt with their as their own head of institute saw fit.

"We should hop over to Belfast and see if we can get some information out of those six," Jace suggested. "We may be able to ask questions no one else thought of yet."

"We might also still end up triggering that spell if they have it," Alec cautioned.

Magnus, enjoying a cup of flavored coffee, leaned towards them. "I may be able to detect that spell if you can get me access to them."

"Can't promise that," his boyfriend told him. "We can try if you think it's worth it. I didn't see the spell on Hawkfeather…"

"Probably because it was dormant," Charlie suggested. "It was only activated when his knowledge was in danger of being revealed."

"Well, we can—" Alec broke off as a scrap of smoldering paper floated down through the air in front of him, quickly reassembling itself into a page. He caught it before it touched his plate and frowned as he read it. "We're not going to Belfast."

He handed the page to Izzy, who was sitting on his other side. Her expression tightened as she read it before she passed it on to the others.

Written in Helen Blackthorn's hand, though looking as if she had been in a great hurry when she had done so and using some kind of support that was not meant to be used as a desk, were three sentences and an address.

I don't know who else to turn to. We need help. Something happened to Aline.

"Barcelona?" Jace was frowning at the address. "What are they doing in Barcelona?"

"One way to find out," his parabatai declared.

"Wait." Clary caught Alec's eyes. "What if this is a trap? What is the place she's asking us to come to?"

"If it's a trap, you're walking into it with a dragon, a Bard and a warlock," Charlie pointed out practically. "As for the rest – Google is our friend." She had her phone out and was checking GoogleMaps.

 

Barcelona, Spain

In spite of the apparent urgency, they packed their things and checked out of the hotel, aiming to leave behind as little evidence that something was wrong as they could.

The address Helen had sent them was an abandoned building marked for demolition, reminiscent of the way quite a few institutes were glamored. This one, however, was not a glamor.

Since Charlie was not familiar with Helen or Aline's songs, they arrived in a nearby bit of greenery, walking the rest of the way. All of them were protected from mundane sight. All of them had their weapons out. In Charlie's case, that meant her guitar.

Jack and Magnus had drawn on their magic, holding spells ready.

They hadn't written back to confirm that they were coming. If there was a trap involved, they didn't want to alert whoever had set it of the time of their arrival.

Alec had his magic vision turned up as far as it would go, though he had to avoid looking directly at Magnus or Jack, since both of them were shining brightly enough to bring dark spots into his field of vision.

Arriving at their destination, they found themselves facing a locked door.

A quickly sketched opening charm sizzled and dissipated.

"Locking rune," Izzy suggested. "Try something stronger."

"We could take a window," Jack suggested, eying one of the ones on ground level.

Their leader wasn't convinced. "And make ourselves targets the moment we climb in?"

Charlie whistled a charm at the lock, striking sparks. "I can tell you one thing," she declared. "There's some real desperation behind what's keeping this shut."

Jack waved one hand at them. "Step aside," he told them. "I'll take care of this."

"You're not going to incinerate the door when we don't know what's inside, are you?" Izzy asked, a warning tone to her voice.

The half-dragon smiled at her, showing teeth that weren't human. "No," he confirmed. A flash of fire announced his transformation. This time, he kept his dragon shape small, rising just a hand's breadth above the crown of Alec's head. Lowering his head, he put the broad bone of his skull against the door and pushed.

The lock didn't give. The door frame did. Mundane buildings were no match for a Dragon Prince putting a bit of pressure against them.

There was a yelp from inside.

"Helen?" Alec called. Surely the only thing anyone in there could see right then was the head of a large, fire-breathing reptile swiveling as Jack looked around. "Jack, clear the entrance."

He felt the heat of the non-burning fire as Jack changed back, his clothes replaced almost instantly from the pieces of debris he had just caused.

They rushed in after him, spreading out immediately to cover all directions, with Charlie forming a solitary second line behind them.

Their friend stood with her back pressed against the wall next to a set of dilapidated stairs leading upwards on the other side of the entrance area.

Helen stared at them, her eyes wide with surprise and not a little fear. "Alec! Izzy! What is that?"

"That’s a he, and his name is Jack," Izzy told her practically. "He's a friend." Without letting her whip go back onto her wrist, she crossed the room, pulling Helen into a close hug. It may have been a risk with the other woman holding a blade in her hand, but every instinct told her that Helen was no threat to them. "You called and we came. What happened?"

Chapter Text

Safe in Izzy's embrace, Helen had almost fallen apart for a moment as the tension left her and gave way to uncontrolled shaking and a sob of relief at the arrival of their group. She clung to her friend tightly for several moments, her grip bordering on painful.

"Building secured," Magnus announced after a few moments. He and Jack had spread their magic, setting up a double set of wards to keep them safe.

Alec blinked a few times, dimming his magic vision as he, Jace and Clary went to join Izzy and Helen. Charlie stayed with the two magic-wielders, giving the friends a moment to themselves.

"What are you doing in Barcelona?" Alec asked her as soon as she had collected herself a little. "And what happened with Aline?"

"We were assigned here three days ago," Helen told him. "Both of us. We thought it was strange, but we were happy that we could go together."

He nodded. "Did Aline finally tell her parents?"

Helen shook her head. "I wouldn't pressure her into it. I thought she'd do so when she was ready. But now—" She swallowed, closing her eyes briefly as if fighting tears. "We were sent on our first mission, and Aline went missing."

"She's missing?" Jace sounded alarmed.

"No. Not anymore. She reappeared but—" Helen looked back and forth between them. "She's not really there. She came wandering onto the institute premises, but it's like her mind has gone from her body. She doesn't speak. She doesn't recognize me. She doesn't do anything on her own."

Izzy briefly tightened the arm she still had around Helen. "Do they have any idea what caused this?"

The glance exchanged between the four clearly told each of them that they were thinking of the same thing. Putting someone under a mind control spell without giving them a command could lead to that effect.

Helen shook her head without speaking for a moment. "But last night I overheard some people… I was sneaking into the infirmary to see her. They didn't know I was there and … They said she wouldn't get out of it that easily and if she thought she could protect her knowledge by shutting herself in, they'd find a way to break her out of wherever she's hiding and question her again. And that they'd take a different approach to me. It—Alec, I know it sounds crazy, but that is what I heard!"

Reaching out, Alec put a calming hand on her arm. "It sounds a lot less crazy than you think. It was a good idea to get out of there. We need to get Aline away from them, too."

That brought him an uncomprehending look for a moment. Then she understood. "Oh no. They don't have Aline. I… I stayed where I was until they left and almost everyone else had gone, too. Then I went and got her. I had to knock out one of the medics." She blushed. "I didn't think I had another choice!"

"You didn't," Izzy told her. "You managed to get her out with you?"

Helen nodded, a quick, fluttering motion. "She does what you tell her to do. She walks where told, stops when you say it. I activated our anti-tracking runes as soon as we were out and told her to run. I almost couldn't keep up. But I didn't really know where to go or what to do beyond that. I didn't bring anything but my stele. I dropped my phone so they couldn't use it to track us. Aline doesn't even have proper clothes. So I took us into the first place I found that looked abandoned and sealed the door. Then I saw that someone who's been using this place had left some paper and a pencil stub behind, and you were the only ones I could think of to contact who might listen long enough to not drag me back in chains."

Alec moved in to pull their friend into a quick hug, as far as that was possible without making his sister let go of her. "It was the right decision," he determined.

"I don't understand it." Helen looked up at him helplessly. "What does Aline know that they would go to such lengths for? What do I know? And why—" She broke off, uncertain of what exactly she wanted to ask.

"I don't think Aline knows what they asked her. I don't think you do either," Alec informed her, forcing a lot more calm into his voice than he felt. He could sense Magnus approach behind him, the warlock's soothing presence rock-steady at his back.

Helen tensed as she drew a conclusion. "But you know it?"

"Possibly."

"Why Barcelona?" Clary asked into the silence that followed.

"Our parents were stationed here for a while. It must have been during their time in the Circle," Izzy told her friend. "I can only guess that there are still some people around who know our father and possibly owe him a favor or two."

Disentangling herself from Izzy, Helen gave Alec a sharp look. "Are you going to tell me what this is all about?"

Alec looked first at Jace, then at Izzy and Clary. He could see his own thoughts reflected in each of their eyes.

He met Helen's next. "If we tell you, you'll be in worse danger than you are now. So, the answer is: Yes, we will if you want to know, but you need to be very sure that you do want to know."

She gave a harsh, mirthless laugh. "I can't go back there, Alec. Not after what they did. I need to find a place where we are safe, and then a way to get Aline back. I want to know what I'm doing this for."

"We have a save place we can offer you." Charlie and Jack had approached them as well, listening in silence to their exchange. "And maybe I can help with your friend. If I can't, the aunties probably can."

"Who are you?" Helen asked, squinting at the Bard and the Dragon Prince. "And what are you? You're not Nephilim and you're not warlocks. And who are your 'aunties'?"

"They're Gales," Alec said. "Charlie's a Bard, Jack's half dragon. They are friends and have helped us immensely in the past. I agree – let Charlie have a look at Aline."

"She drew me out with a song once," Izzy added. "And you'll be safe in Calgary while you decide what to do next."

Helen blinked. "Calgary?"

"Our home," Charlie informed her. "And we just so happen to have vacant housing, too."

*

They followed Helen upstairs, where she had left Aline when she had come to check out the noise they had made when trying to enter the building. Dressed in a nightshirt, with a jacket that belonged to Helen's wardrobe draped over her shoulders, the woman was sitting on the ground, staring vacantly ahead. She didn't seem to notice their approach.

"If they really want to, they'll be able to track us by our runes or using the things we left in the institute sooner or later," Helen was just pointing out.

"Not if you do come to Calgary with us," Charlie told her. "The city is shielded. Even if they could track you, which they won't be able to do, they wouldn't be able to reach you."

Stopping a few steps away, she watched as her Nephilim friends crowded around Aline, seeing if they could get any kind of reaction from her.

The Bard cocked her head to one side and listened, trying to pick up Aline's Song.

It took her some effort to find it. It was directed entirely inwards, with barely a thread escaping outside. It was similar to the way they had found Izzy, back a few months ago during her family's first encounter with the Nephilim, and yet entirely different from it.

Izzy's song had been muted, covered under layers of magic suppressing her mind.

Aline's song, though hard to find, was screaming at Charlie once she had latched on to it. It told of fear and desperation, loss of the person she loved most, complete and utter loneliness.

"You were more literally right than you can know," Charlie told Helen. "She doesn't know you're here. Something convinced her that you're gone from the world."

Helen blinked. "How can you know that?"

"I can hear it in her Song." Charlie's fingers moved on the strings of her guitar, playing a series of notes that evoked a sadness so deep it drove tears into her listeners' eyes.

She silenced the instrument with a hand on the strings. "I think I'll be able to reach her."

"You need to do so fast or we need to get out of here and you need to do that later," Magnus announced. He was looking out of one of the grimy windows. "We're getting company, and they're not going to be happy when they run into our wards."

"Impossible!" Helen said. "The anti-tracking runes can't have worn off that quickly!" She jumped to join the warlock by the window.

"Did you check if they put any kind of tracker on Aline in case she wanders off?" Jace asked.

Helen shook her head. "I didn't even think of that!"

Izzy had started rummaging in her bag. "Let's hope they didn’t inject her with a tracker and it's just somewhere in her nightshirt. She can have some of my clothes and then we should be off. Magnus, can we have a portal?"

"Certainly," Magnus agreed. "I'm ready whenever you are."

Getting Aline to change required breaking up the process into separate instructions.

Helen looked heartbroken as she watched and helped. "She's acting like a—"

"Robot," Clary supplied, offering an alternative to the word the other woman had been going to say and sparing her the need to refer to her lover as similar to a Forsaken. "If Charlie says she'll be able to help, she'll be able to help. She's done amazing things with her music before!"

Alec turned to his boyfriend. "Can we send her through a portal like that? How do we know she won't somehow change destination because she's focusing on the wrong thing?"

"I'll take her through the Wood," Charlie said practically. "You all take the portal to Nose Hill Park and I'll meet you there."

"Through where?" Helen stepped closer to Aline. "I'm not letting her go alone with someone I don't know. Even if everyone else here says we can trust you!"

Charlie took no offence. "I can take you both through the Wood. It's my way of shortening a travel. A kind of interim dimension that I can enter and leave at will. As can Clary, by the way."

"Only if I have paintings to use as entrance and exit points," Clary pointed out. "And since we don't have any paintings here, I'll take Magnus' portal."

*

Calgary, Canada

They came out near the center of the Gale family's power under a moon that was a quarter full.

Magnus' portal had just winked out of existence when Charlie stepped out of thin air, one hand each on Aline's and Helen's shoulder.

"Are we really in Canada now?" Helen asked, looking around and trying to spot any kind of landmark.

"Definitely Canada," Alec told her. "We actually have a house down there." He pointed. "Where we will go in a moment so we can talk where it's warmer."

"And safe, I hope," his friend added.

Izzy gave her a reassuring smile. "There is no place safer than this," she insisted. "As long as you mean no harm to the family or their friends, you'll be as protected as you can be within this park."

Helen didn't look convinced. "It looks more like the perfect place to waylay someone and attack them."

As if on cue, a deep, male chuckle sounded from the darkness, preceding the arrival of a tall, handsome man bearing a certain family resemblance to both Charlie and Jack. He was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, his feet bare and apparently not feeling the cold of early February at all.

"Only if you cause trouble for us," he said. "In which case I would recommend against setting foot in the park at all. You could have texted ahead. Your arrival woke up Allie. She's wondering if she should come over to help."

"Are you always in the park at night dressed like that?" Helen blurted out. She had no idea who Allie was or why they had woken her up, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know right now.

"Actually, I got dressed for your sake," the man informed her. "It's usually considered rude to show up naked in front of a stranger. I live here."

"In Calgary?"

"In the park."

Charlie was biting her lips to keep from laughing. Considering the condition Aline was still in, that surely wasn’t the best way to go.

"David is our anchor in Calgary," Jack helped out. "He's tied to the land. He's also the reason the park is the safest place you can be as long as you're affiliated with us. He's Allie's brother. Allie is our female anchor, but she's tied to the entire city, not just the park. She's who is responsible for being safe from tracking here, and the reason why no one can portal in unless her wards know them."

"And we're connected through the land, so we usually know what the other is doing," David added.

"So Allie somehow telepathically asked you to check if she needed to come help us out?" Helen still sounded confused.

David chuckled again. "Actually, she texted me." He fished a phone from the pocket of his jeans and held it up. "I'd like to claim I'm the only part-time stag with a phone, but that would be a lie. There's at least one other."

Helen decided to refrain from asking if the stag part of that was supposed to be figurative. "Can we take care of Aline first?" she said instead, hoping to both get the most pressing matter handled and to gain some time to process what she had just learned.

"Certainly." Charlie said, adjusting her guitar's tuning and launching into a complex tune. She spun her music around Aline, enveloping the younger woman in sound, finding places where she could penetrate the shell she had built around her core.

Then the Bard sang to the loss and despair that permeated everything in there, soothing, calming, and bringing Helen back into her life. She veered off her melody just a little then, winding bits of Helen's song around the notes she played, using them to call Aline back from the dark place she was caught in.

They could see Aline's posture change as she followed the strings of song out of darkness, coming closer to them until, with a blink, awareness returned to her eyes.

She gasped, looking around in confusion and not a little fear until she recognized the people around her. Helen, who had stood back with the others when Charlie's music had started to take effect so as not to interfere with the spell, moved forward.

With a heart-wrenching sob, Aline threw herself into her lover's arms, holding on to her as if her life depended on it.

"I thought I lost you!"

Helen wrapped her arms around her, holding her close. "So did I for a while there! What happened, Aline?"

"May I suggest that we go inside before we figure that one out?" Alec gave Aline a pointed look. "You're not exactly dressed to be outside in what's basically still winter in Canada."

Strictly speaking, neither of them were. Even Dublin had been much milder when they had left that morning. It was not too long after midnight in Calgary, and the temperature was below freezing.

"Yes, let's do that," Izzy agreed. "David, do you want to come?"

"Do you have pie in the fridge?"

They laughed. "Only if someone anticipated our arrival and sent some," Magnus informed him. "We didn't leave any behind last time we left."

"I think it's safe to say that you have pie in the fridge," David determined, falling into step by Charlie's side. "I shall help you get rid of it."

*

Soon, they were sitting in their shared living room, steaming cups of coffee before them and plates of pie on the table.

"It's all a bit blurry," Aline told them. "I remember our mission. This one guy told me to come with him to get around and behind the nest. I didn't recognize him, but we'd only just arrived – I don't know most of the people in the institute yet."

They nodded, confirming that they understood. Helen was sitting close to her on the sofa. The two had yet to let go of each other for more than a moment.

"Let me guess," Izzy said darkly. "Tall, blond, enkeli runes all over?"

Aline's eyes widened slightly. "You know him?"

"Unfortunately," her friend returned. "Go on."

The other woman's hand went to the side of her neck. "He stabbed me with something. The next thing I remember is a kind of cellar room. Bare. Grey. He was there, and some others. No one I recognized. There was a … a thing on the table before me. I think it muddled my mind. I never questioned what they said. They told me that Helen was in danger and that I could only save her if I told them some things."

"They knew about Helen?" Alec asked, surprise in his voice.

Aline blinked, clearly thinking hard. "I'm not sure. I think … I think they were more abstract at first and then I said her name. That thing kept pulsing and I couldn't focus. They asked questions. Every time I didn't answer, they told me something terrible was happening to Helen. They said I was causing it because I was stubborn. I wasn't. I—"

She looked around at them helplessly, clearly afraid of their reactions if she continued to speak.

"They were asking about us," Jace said calmly. "They thought you were protecting us."

Aline gave a slight nod. "I… I would have told them. If I'd known what they asked me, I would have told them. I can't—I'm sorry. I…" She looked down, studying the hands she had folded in her lap now.

"Hey." Alec leaned across the small table to put a reassuring hand on her knee. "Aline. It's alright. Any of us would have done the same. I'm sorry they singled you out because you're our friend."

Hesitantly, she raised her head again, checking for signs of accusation in any of their faces. There was none. "They said you were doing… dangerous things. That you were preparing for another revolt. That you were a danger to everything we stand for. They said you're breaking the laws but they couldn't prove it just yet. They wanted to know who was behind it and who was helping you. They wanted to know where you went when you went off the tracking grid. And they wanted names. I didn't know any of those things!"

Alec drew in a deep breath and released it slowly. "I'm not going to deny most of that, though it's not quite the way they made it sound. There are a lot of things we've kept to ourselves to keep from endangering you – or anyone else. More things that we don't even understand ourselves yet. We'll tell you what we do know if you wish, but – you need to know that most of it is not going to be pleasant to hear, and once you know, you're in greater danger than you already were just by being associated with us."

"I can't go back to Barcelona anyway," Helen said flatly. "Or to Alicante. They have video footage of me stealing Aline from the infirmary and knocking out a medic. I wounded a fellow Shadowhunter and kidnapped another. And after what I heard, I don't want to be anywhere near those people again."

She filled Aline in on what she had told the others earlier.

Her girlfriend stared at her for a moment, before giving her another hug. "I'm not going back either. But what will we do after this?"

"Stay here for the moment," Charlie offered. "Once you've heard everything these five have to tell you. Our family will help you get settled. You can find a place here, or leave when you feel ready to do so."

"I second that offer," David said.

Helen and Aline exchanged a look. "Tell us," Aline decided after a second. "Tell us everything. We'll decide after that."

*

"I hate to say so, but we need to change our approach," Alec announced.

They had just finished lunch in the apartment above the store, introducing Aline and Helen to Allie and her family, and the assorted present Gales to them.

"What do you propose?" Magnus asked him. He accepted a tumbler of whiskey from Graham in lieu of dessert.

"I don't know yet," Alec said. "But it seems that right now, we're going to endanger anyone we associate with. If they can't get at us, they're going after our friends. Or, as we saw with Michel, anyone who supports us."

Izzy shook her head. "He went after Michel because he saw him with the Cup," she corrected. "But I agree that we need to do something to keep them from going after anyone else."

"Mom and Max, mostly," Jace pointed out. "I don’t think they're ready to go after anyone in Alicante yet. They wouldn't have had Helen and Aline reassigned first if they were. Tatyana isn't eligible for an assignment and getting Lydia into a situation where they could try a similar stunt would be difficult, too. I'm pretty sure they won't touch Imogen. Which leaves our direct family with the greatest risk of being reassigned."

"Or any of your fanclub," Clary added.

He rolled his eyes at the reminder.

"What do you propose we do?" Jace asked his parabatai. "The only solution I can think of would be declaring ourselves returned and seeing how we can handle whatever they throw at us, but – I don't want to recommend that."

"We'd have targets on our backs from the moment we come back," Izzy agreed. "We might be able to blackmail Aldertree into some semblance of cooperation with what we know about Eva and with Whitelake if he agrees to help us, but we have no guarantee they'll send us back to New York."

"In the worst case, they'll split you up and go after each of you separately," Magnus added. "How many research destinations do you have left?"

"Many," Alec told him. "And at this point I have no idea which one would be the most relevant one – or the one most likely to give us information we need."

Jack released a small, thoughtful plume of smoke. "If you are willing to run a bit of a risk, I might know a way to find out."

They turned their attention towards him.

"We're already running more than a bit of a risk," Alec declared. "So let's hear it."

"When I dropped off Whitelake, Uncle Viktor showed me his latest acquisition. It's a travelling artifact that allows you to travel to any destination, time, dimension, whatever, provided that you have an item that's keyed to it. But according to him, if you feed it some of your blood, it will instead take you to whatever you require most urgently at the time. He's been looking for volunteers."

"You think we should let an artifact choose for us? One that hasn't even been tested recently to boot?" Alec asked him. He sounded somewhat incredulous at the suggestion.

"I think it's a better shot than tossing a coin or rolling dice," Jack pointed out.

"I'll come along if you go," Charlie offered. "In the worst case, it'll be useless and I'll bring you back to the time and location we set out from. You know I can get into the Wood from anywhere."

*

Alicante, Idris

Maryse heard the dull thuds of several pairs of boots hitting the floor in the hallway outside her living room, warning her of the arrival of visitors travelling by unconventional means.

"I'm here!" she called out without moving from her place on one of the sofas. She'd been busy reading, the cup on the table before her gone almost entirely cold already.

Alec was the first of them to appear in the doorway, followed closely by Magnus, Isabelle, Jace and Clary.

"I wish I could assume you just got homesick," Maryse said, looking at them. "But I do assume you heard about Aline and Helen?"

A guarded look appeared on her son's face. "What about Aline and Helen?" he asked.

"They went missing. You didn't know?" In spite of the news she had just imparted, she smiled as she watched Jace walk over to the other sofa. "You look great! Travelling certainly does you good."

He gave her a grin. "Exercising pretty much every waking moment does me good," he corrected. "How are things here in Alicante? How's Max?"

"Happier now that Imogen took him on for a regular internship," Maryse said. "Coming home exhausted every night, but he's learning, and he's improving. In all areas. Also coming up with all kinds of theories about what happened with Wayland Manor."

"What did happen with Wayland Manor?" Jace asked innocently.

Their mother shot him an exasperated look. "The wards on it broke down the day before you left Idris," she said coolly. "The Inquisitor's office was tipped off about it by an anonymous fire message. They put together a group to investigate the place, since Valentine had been living there in secret for so long, but they must have tripped some other protection when they started searching the building. They were lucky to get out without anyone suffering severe injuries. At this point, the building is a heap of rubble and any evidence that may have been inside destroyed."

"Great," Alec said sarcastically. "That did a lot of good."

"It did, actually," his sister told him. "No one's going to use it as a hideout anymore."

There was no arguing with that.

"You don't happen to know how exactly the wards were broken?" Maryse demanded.

Jace met her eyes. "Either they reached their expiration date, or someone went in and turned them off. Given the message you mentioned, my bet would be on the latter."

"Would it now?" She shook her head. "Look, it's not that I'm not happy to see you all, but I assume if you turn up through Clary's back door, you're doing so for a reason. I thought it was about Aline and Helen, but –"

"Aline and Helen are fine," Isabelle informed her. "And safe. Still trying to figure out a way to let their families know without risking anything."

"The thing is, after what happened with Aline, we're not sure how safe you and Max are," Alec took over.

Maryse raised her eyebrows at him. "I think I can defend Max and myself," she declared. "What is it that did happen to Aline?"

They took turns summarizing. When they had finished, Isabelle produced a small item from her pocket. "Mom, we don't doubt that you can handle anything that may show up, but we'd feel that much better if we knew you can call in backup at need. And if we had a way to talk without using fire messages, too."

"You want to give up your special phone? Is that even going to work?" Maryse had borrowed one of them once before, briefly. They had explained to her then that the phones had a habit of following their owners, magicked as they were to rejoin them at the earliest convenience.

"It wouldn't," Isabelle confirmed. "Which is why we brought you a new one. It just needs to be keyed to you, which I can do if you let me have a hair."

The charm required for that was a complex one. Allie and Bea had spent an hour drilling her in getting it just right. Now, the others watched her confidently lay the long black hair in loops against the back of the case until it merged with the plastic, disappearing without a trace.

Alec blinked spots from his sight. He had been watching the procedure with his magic vision on. The flash that completed the charm had been painfully bright.

"It has all our numbers saved, as well as Charlie's and Allie's," Isabelle told her mother as she handed over the device. "Some others will probably appear sooner or later."

Maryse pocketed the phone. "Thank you," she said. "I'll find a way to inform Jia if you want me to. How is your mission going?"

"We found out some things," Alec replied. "We can get you up to date, but it'll take a while."

His mother took a sip from her coffee, ignoring the fact that the liquid had arrived at room temperature. "I'm listening."

February 5th, 2017

Russia

Jack's uncle Viktor was not, as far as Alec was concerned, the first person he would have turned to for help. The older dragon felt dangerous, setting every sense on edge.

They had been taken to a small sitting room, furnished with ridiculously upholstered armchairs around an ornate table. The Dragon Lord served them strong tea from glasses with elaborately shaped metal handles and enough sugar to last them for months.

"Where's Whitelake?" he asked, his voice guarded.

Viktor chuckled, blowing more smoke as he did so than Jack usually allowed himself. "Are you asking if I ate him? I won't even consider that until he has some more meat on him. Also, he's still fighting that infection, and I can assure you that the potion he's taking for his withdrawal is going to ruin his taste for the foreseeable future anyway."

"Uncle." There was a warning in Jack's tone.

Viktor rolled his eyes at him. "He's playing with the latest delivery. He's not a bad craftsman when his hands aren't shaking. Which they are most of the time, especially when I'm looking over his shoulder." He apparently decided it was time for a change of subject before anyone could ask him why that was the case. "You want to use my Traveller? There's a fee for that, you know."

"Actually, there isn't," Jack said, his tone reasonable. "Not for my friends."

Viktor eyed him darkly. "Selling use of my artifacts is what I make a living with. You can't just give my services away for free."

Jack shrugged. "One ride in it won't make much of a difference. Remember who set this place up for you to begin with."

"I remember who bit off my wing and made it necessary for me to hide in the MidRealms to begin with," Viktor grumbled.

"I was defending myself," Jack declared, not sounding sorry at all. "You were threatening Charlie."

"I didn't know that was Charlie you were carrying," the older dragon shot back.

"Would it have made a difference?"

The entire discussion sounded like one they had had many times before.

Golden eyes stared into red ones for several heartbeats. It was Viktor who looked away first. "Fine. Use it. Though it'll take forever to recharge if I send something as large as you are through it."

Jack gave him a smile that showed only a little of his teeth. "Then it's a good thing that I won't be going through. I'll be standing behind you while you operate it, and I'll be staying right here until they're back. Just to make sure you don't accidentally forget to bring them back or anything."

Talking the device's function through, they had decided to use the Traveller's retrieval mechanism at least as a backup in case they were separated. Activated, it supposedly was capable to call back the same people it had previously sent out, provided that there were no other outbound travels in between. Charlie may have been able to come home from any time and any place, but they were not going to rely on it that she would have the time to collect everyone first.

They also wanted to spare her the effort of bringing them home if they could, in spite of her insistence that coming back to her own time was never as hard on her as travelling away from it. None of them would have been surprised if the device spit them back a thousand years to witness the first encounter between Jonathan Shadowhunter and the angel Raziel.

Viktor sighed. "I really don't have a choice, do I?" he asked.

His nephew shook his head.

"When do you want to leave?"

Alec drained the rest of his tea. "No time like the present," he decided. "We're all ready to go."

Chapter Text

PART II

London, England

Travelling with the artifact was worse than portaling. Alec clamped his mouth shut and took careful, deliberate breaths to suppress the feeling of nausea that had taken a firm hold of him. He stumbled as his feet hit solid ground. His knees tried to buckle under him, and he had already almost reached out to take hold of Magnus' arm before he realized that his boyfriend was faring no better than he was.

Somewhere behind him, he could hear Charlie curse creatively.

Viktor had taken a drop of blood from each of the four Nephilim, mixing them before feeding the red liquid into his device. Each of them, as well as Magnus and Charlie, had received a small item made of two crystals that could be twisted against each other, with instructions on how to use it to activate their return. The artifact transported twelve at most, which meant that there were several more of the return devices left behind, and it was probably a good thing that Jack had stayed back to make sure no one else used the artifact after them.

The roar in Alec's ears and the spots in his vision receded only slowly.

This was never going to become his preferred mode of travelling.

As he swallowed convulsively once again, he took in his surroundings.

Maybe the return devices weren't as important after all. They clearly had not been sent back a thousand years. As far as he could tell, they hadn't been sent back at all.

They were standing just outside the London Institute.

Something about it didn't seem right, however, and it took him another moment in which he let his mind clear further to understand. The street they stood in was abandoned.

It wasn't just that there were no mundanes around, which was just as well because their appearance would certainly not have remained unnoticed. The buildings, all inhabited when they had last been in London, were vacant and showed all the signs of deterioration due to neglect. The condition of the street suggested that there had not been any vehicles driving on it for quite a while. A turned-over garbage bin was lying across the sidewalk, sheltering some kind of wildlife.

The institute itself sported several broken windows on ground level. The glamor that had once protected it was gone.

"What happened here?" Izzy breathed by his side.

"I have no idea," Alec returned. Without thinking about it, he grasped his bow and put an arrow to the string. "But whatever it was, it's not good."

"It's worse," Clary said behind him.

He was just about to turn to see what she meant, when he spotted the figure coming around the side of the institute. It was a tall man, slim and blond and terribly familiar. He raised the crossbow he was carrying, pointing it at their group, at the same time as Alec brought up his bow.

Everyone around him tensed, hands tightening on weapons.

"You know him?" Charlie asked.

"Jonathan," Jace hissed. "The other Jonathan Christopher. Valentine's son with demon blood. He uses that glamor."

"My brother," Clary added. "He's evil."

"Not another step closer!" the man called out, the familiar British accent hitting them like a punch. "I'm going to take at least one of you down if you shoot me. Probably more. I have an explosive tip on this bolt. Run and tell your father he needs to do better than this."

Alec could feel Magnus gather his magic by his shoulder. Charlie had her fingers on two strings, ready to pluck them at need. He didn't lower his bow.

"If you think you can get away with this, Jonathan, think again," he said loudly. "I don't know how you survived Jace's sword, but this time we'll make sure—" he broke off at the man's frown. Jonathan had been a good actor, but something told him that this confusion was not an act.

"Who's Jace? And why are you calling me Jonathan?"

"That was your name when last I checked," Jace declared. "Jonathan Christopher Morgenstern."

"When last I checked, that was your name," the man replied. "What kind of game are you playing? And what the heck did you do with your hair? You look like proper people." The hands on the crossbow tightened as the tip of the bolt moved, angling at Jace specifically rather than generally in their direction.

Now it was Jace's turn to look confused. "What's wrong with my hair?"

"I don't know who he is," another voice sounded from the other side of the building. "But he's not Jonathan."

As they turned, they spotted another man, similarly armed and also pointing the tip of his bolt at them. His hair was a silvery blond that looked almost white. He, too, wore runes.

"As a matter of fact, they're not even Nephilim."

"Actually, we are," Alec objected. "Most of us are, anyway. Who are you?"

"I'm Chris Morgenstern," the newcomer told him. "Jonathan Christopher, if you insist, but the first of those names is firmly in the hands of the man he stole his glamor from." His crossbow indicated Jace.

"I'm not a glamor!" Jace insisted. "What do you mean by we're not Nephilim? And you can't—Clary, don't."

Clary had started to move away from him, stepping towards the man who had just introduced himself as Jonathan Christopher.

"Clary!?" both of their opponents blurted out as one.

"Maybe everyone could just put down their weapons for the moment so we can figure out what's actually going on here?" Magnus, acting as the voice of reason, suggested. "I have a theory I'd like to present while not held at gunpoint – or crossbow-point as the case may be."

When none of them made a move to obey, he sighed. "Fine. Be that way."

At a quick motion of his hand, both crossbows jerked, pointing upwards into the sky as a more elaborate gesture of his other hand sent a snake-like vine of magic up from the ground by the feet of either man, wrapping itself around their legs and torsos to hold them in place.

Both shots went wide.

Magnus' voice was perfectly pleasant when he spoke again. "Can we talk now?"

Jonathan Christopher stood still as his companion continued to struggle for another few moments.

"They have a warlock," the latter observed. His voice reflected a mixture of equal shares surprise and shock. "Where did they find a warlock?"

"They brought him from home," Magnus declared coolly before turning to his companions. "Remember how Jack said that artifact could take us anywhere? Any place, any time, any dimension?"

"Provided that we had a piece from it," Alec added. "Otherwise, it'd take us to—" he broke off. "He didn't say if the thing we required most had to be in our own dimension."

"We're in an alternate timeline?" Clary and Jace asked almost in unison. "But—the other time we did that, we took over the bodies of our counterparts in it."

"Well, this seems like my body, so it appears we brought them along this time," Izzy determined. She walked briskly towards the first of the two captives. "You're Sebastian Verlac?"

He nodded. "And you're Isabelle. Though you don't really look like yourself."

Folding her whip, Izzy placed it against Sebastian's exposed wrist between two windings of Magnus' magic.

"What are you doing?" Sebastian wanted to know.

"Testing something," Izzy returned.

"In our dimension, Jonathan posed as Sebastian Verlac to get access to our institute," Jace explained. "We eventually identified him by his reaction to electrum."

Sebastian shot him a scathing look as Izzy started to walk over to the other caught man.

"Yeah, no," he said, trying to raise his hands defensively. "Don't do that. Just believe me that I am going to burn if you touch me with it. I already have a scar from that whip. I don't need another one."

"Well, clearly you don't enjoy pain," Izzy noted.

The man before her made a face. "Who does?"

"Your counterpart in our dimension," Jace informed him.

Alec looked back and forth between the two locals. He had lowered his bow, but not returned it to his back. "Magnus, let them go."

The magical ties dulled and faded, though the warlock did not let go of the power he held. He was ready to spring back into action if he perceived any threat to his friends.

"Shall we try this again?" Alec asked. "Just to make sure - I'm Alec Lightwood. Izzy, Jace, Clary Fairchild. Magnus Bane and Charlie Gale. I suspect we do come from a different timeline. Where we'll return if you insist, though I'd rather figure out what we're doing here. And, no offence, but this looks like you could maybe use a hand, too. Or, well, twelve of them."

Jonathan Christopher flipped his crossbow over, mirroring the direction of Alec's weapon though he no longer had a bolt cocked in it. "Chris Morgenstern and Sebastian Verlac," he said. "The sorry remainder of the London Institute. You'll have to forgive the rough welcome, but you lot are part of the reason for this. Our 'you lot', that is. I guess you may as well come in."

*

The inside of the London Institute didn't look too different from the one they had visited just a few weeks earlier. It did show traces of neglect, however, which was not surprising - at least not if the two they had met were, indeed, the only remaining residents. There was absolutely no way two men alone could have kept the huge building neat and clean. They also clearly had more pressing things to worry about.

"I hope you're not staying for long," Sebastian said as the two led them into what had once been the residence of the Institute Head. The room closest to the corridor was a sitting room, furnished in a somber but not entirely uncomfortable style. "We're running out of edible things in the pantry."

"How long has London been abandoned?" Izzy asked. "Shouldn't there be enough in the mundane stores for you to take?"

"London hasn't exactly been abandoned," Sebastian informed her. "It's been overrun by Seelie and anything they let in, so whatever you find is likely to be spoiled or converted into Seelie food. They liked to have fun with the mundanes – as long as there still were any mundanes."

"They left?" Jace was frowning. "Just like that? I mean, I don't know a lot about mundanes but I never thought they would let anyone chase them off that easily."

"You could say that they left." Christopher indicated the round table at the center of the room, suggesting that they sit down there. "But not the way you think. They wouldn't have had any place to go either. As far as we know, every part of this world is like this: a lot of Seelie, some demons, the odd werewolf pack or vampire clan, forsaken, and a very few Nephilim left."

"The only mundanes you'll find are the ones either stored as food by the vampires or kept as toys by the Seelie." Sebastian made a disgusted face at the thought.

"I'm pretty sure Valentine keeps a stash somewhere, too. He had to get his forsaken from somewhere after all."

Charlie dug in her pocket and placed a small, round object on the table. "Don't worry about the food," she said. "We can feed ourselves – and you if we have to." She followed up by fishing her phone from her jacket and flipping it open.

Sebastian and Christopher watched her through narrowed eyes. "What are you doing?"

The Bard looked up from the small screen. "Texting my cousin Allie for some pie."

Both men tensed, their hands going to the hilts of their swords. Magnus reacted immediately, drawing power to throw up a shield at need.

"Peace," Alec said. "Calm down, everyone. What's the matter anyway?"

Sebastian gave him a cool look. "You said you suspect you're from a different timeline, and now you're trying to text home?"

"I can home phone, too, if you prefer," Charlie said, realizing only after a few moments had passed that no one was able to place the quote. "Seriously, you guys have to watch more TV. They're interdimensional phones. They don't care where we are."

"We don't even have a mobile phone network left," Sebastian pointed out. He had only marginally relaxed.

"They don't care about dimensions. Do you seriously expect they'll care about a minor inconvenience like that?" Alec asked, putting his own phone on the table and pushing it over for the other man's inspection. "We used them in Idris for months and there is definitely no reception there."

Sebastian gave Alec's phone a brief inspection before handing it to his friend, who repeated the process.

"So your cousin will – what? Text you some pie?" Christopher asked in Charlie's direction.

"No," Charlie said. "That would be silly. We use pennies for that." She pushed hers towards the center of the table, just as her companions started to dig out theirs. No one fancied a sudden outbreak of pie in their clothes.

"Obviously," Christopher observed sarcastically. "Because any reasonable person would use a penny to send pie."

"You're a quick learner," Charlie agreed.

"So while we're waiting for lunch, how did all of this happen?" Alec asked, gesturing vaguely to encompass the world as a whole.

"Nearly two decades ago, Valentine and his Circle of conspirators planned a revolt against the Clave," Christopher informed him, ignoring Sebastian's dark look. "Someone betrayed him, and someone else tipped him off about that, so the revolt never happened. Instead, he took his inner circle into hiding. They continued working on his cause separately from Alicante. They raised their children in the headquarters they set up - I don't know where that was. We children weren't ever allowed outside until we were ready to go into the field, and he got rid of me before that."

"I thought you were his golden boy," Jace said into the break when Christopher had to take a breath. "Whereas I was too soft for his purposes. Don't get me wrong – being sent to live with the Lightwoods was the best thing that could happen to me."

"Being sent to London was the best thing that could happen to me," Christopher told him. "I don't do runes well. They hurt me, so I don't use them a lot. My father tried to make me use the powers he gave me through his experiments, but my mother was always so afraid of them, and so was I. So I wasn't very good at using one kind of enhancement and did what I could to avoid the other. One day he decided I was a liability and had to go. He dropped me off at the doorstep of this institute with a note that said I was the son of Céline Herondale. Which I wasn't. It took them exactly two days to find out. I was an institute ward after that."

"Best thing that could happen to me, too," Sebastian added.

At the speculating look the others gave them, he quickly explained: "I wouldn't have my parabatai otherwise."

Alec and Jace's eyes lit up. "Same," they said almost in perfect unison.

"You are parabatai?" Sebastian almost choked on the words. "Who'd ever choose to bind himself to him?" He indicated Jace.

"Hey, watch it!" Jace said, though he was grinning. "I'm not that insufferable! Besides, I'm not your Jace."

"We don't have a Jace," Christopher returned. "It's Jonathan. What kind of name is Jace anyway?"

"One based on my initials," came the reply. "So. Valentine and his Circle in hiding. You in London. What then?"

Christopher sighed. "Then he decided his second generation is all grown up and they'll stage their uprising now. They struck a deal with some Seelie to get free, secret passage into Idris – or that's what the Seelie say in any case. They helped him seize control of Alicante. Many died. It's said he raised the Angel and made him aid his plans and that the Angel refused. I don't know if that is true or not. I do know there was a blast of some kind that spread and killed any downworlders in its path. I probably only survived because I was within institute walls at the time."

Jace had gone a few shades paler. "He activated the Soul Sword. It can do that, if fuelled by Angelic Power and activated by an Angel, or by Clary or me."

"How do you know?" Both of them were treating him to an intense stare now.

Jace lowered his eyes. "He tricked me into doing it for him," he admitted. "He set it off within our institute, which he had previously raided. It killed a lot of Downworlders who had come to help us against him, but the blast was contained inside the building at least."

Alec reached out to put a comforting hand on Jace's back. Clary leaned into him, stroking his arm. It would always be a hard memory for him, even though he hadn't known what was going to happen at the time.

"He thought he was going to destroy the sword, not activate it," Clary said. "He was going to sacrifice his own life for everyone else."

The confusion on Christopher's face deepened. "Why would he think that?"

"Because he thought he was you," Clary replied. "Our you. Valentine's son with demon blood."

It didn't help to clear up the confusion. "How could he think that?"

"Valentine said so."

Christopher folded his hands on the table, the very image of a teacher about to speak to a student who was creative but not particularly bright. "And you took his word for it? Don't you have blood tests in your timeline?"

"In our defense," Izzy said, "we were a bit busy at the time. Now how about you finish your story and then we'll tell you ours. Then you can tell us what you would have done better."

Raising his hands defensively, he relented. "Apologies. You're right - that was out of line. There's a reason we don't usually deal with Seelie here. They are very good at finding loopholes and turning any trade against you. In this case, they offered asylum to the most ferocious werewolf packs and vampire clans, sheltering them in their realm until the blast was gone and most of the more moderate downworlders had been purged from the world. The ones who would have cooperated with the Nephilim, you know?"

They nodded, understanding beginning to dawn.

"They let them return when it was safe to do so. They immediately started to make short work of the mundanes. The Seelie helped them. They were so… so organized. And the demons – you know demons aren't killed, just banished?"

Another round of nods confirmed that this was the same in their own dimension.

"They had gathered hundreds, thousands of them and they let them all back into our world at once. We didn't stand a chance. Valentine decided to fight fire with fire again and built himself an army of forsaken to send into battle. He's holed up in Idris with his lot as far as we know. We're holding our own here for as long as we can. Which isn't going to last much longer. And that, I fear, is all there is to it." He exchanged a glance with Sebastian, mutely asking if he had anything to add.

"Excuse me if this is a stupid question," Izzy spoke up. "But why doesn't he send another blast?"

"Damned if we know," Sebastian told her. "Maybe it only works once. Maybe he did raise the Angel and he took his toy away. But I think that if I was whoever was in charge of that operation on the Seelie end, I would have removed that sword before letting in my army, so my personal best guess is that he no longer has a sword at hand to activate."

Christopher gave him a wry smile. "That's what I tell myself every time I leave the building. Now, your turn. How is your timeline different and what brings you here?"

They took turns telling their history, starting with the uprising that took place and was beaten down, summarizing the years thereafter and going into detail at Valentine's re-appearance less than half a year before.

No one looked at Christopher when they recounted their encounter with and subsequent death of Jonathan Morgenstern.

The afternoon had progressed into evening and the interdimensional pie on the table was nearly gone by the time they were finished. Sebastian and Christopher hadn't taken much convincing to try it, and once they had sampled the first pieces, they had been quite enthusiastic about the unexpected treat.

It made the friends wonder for how long they had been rationing their safe food.

"I'm not sure that Traveller actually worked, though," Alec concluded their tale and the summary of their findings of the last months. "With the way this world is – what would we be likely to find here that we need?"

Sebastian let out a long breath. "Are you feeling adventurous?"

They looked at each other. "If we need to," Alec declared. "Why?"

"Your Valentine is carrying around the Mortal Cup to control demons and has used it to attack you," Sebastian said. "We have a spare Mortal Cup, except it's in Alicante and guarded by Valentine. There's no way he can use it for anything sensible anymore, and I don’t see any way this world will recover from what happened, so you may as well take it home with you as far as I'm concerned."

Alec blinked. "You think we should go and steal one of your Mortal Instruments?"

Sebastian shrugged. "Why not?"

"We don't even know if there can be two of them in the same dimension… or if yours would have any effect there."

The other man straightened, his face brightening a little at the prospect of talking about a subject he found intriguing. "You have to understand this: I made a bit of a study of the Mortal Instruments in the past. I don't think they're really a cup and a sword and a mirror."

"It's a lake," Clary said.

"What?"

"The mirror. The mirror is Lake Lyn."

Sebastian and Christopher exchanged a glance. "You didn't think that was something worth mentioning just then?" the man who looked so much like the Jonathan they had known asked.

"Sorry," Jace said. "We did say he raised the Angel by Lake Lyn. I guess we've gotten too used to thinking of the mirror as Lake Lyn…"

Taking a deep breath, Sebastian returned to what he had been about to explain. "Not really a cup and a sword and a lake, then. You know how when you intersect two equal dimensions, the intersection belongs to the dimension below that?"

Magnus and Charlie nodded. The four Nephilim only looked confused.

Producing a piece of paper and a pencil from a cabinet, Sebastian started to sketch. "So a dot is theoretically zero-dimensional. A line is one-dimensional. If you intersect two lines, the point where they meet is a dot, yes?"

They nodded.

"An area is two-dimensional. Length and width but no depth. If you intersect two of these, the place where they meet is a line. One-dimensional."

Another nod.

"Now you take two cubes. They're three-dimensional and the place where they meet is an area. Two-dimensional. It also works if you intersect a three-dimensional and a two-dimensional object. The best you can get is two dimensions."

Izzy's eyes lit up with comprehension. "You're proposing the Cup is a more-than-three-dimensional object that intersects with this dimension, so we can only see that lower-dimensional bit of it. But that would mean—"

"It would mean that there only is one Cup," Sebastian said. "I started thinking about it because we do have stories about other timelines that also have Mortal Instruments, and it just leads to this huge rat's tail of issues if you assume that each of those split off its own angel and demon dimensions and so on, and it makes the thought that demons can pass freely through all dimensions really difficult, too. I propose that we have a stable dimension that the Angel comes from, in which he created the Mortal Instruments, and he's pushed them part-ways into our dimensions. We see the intersection as the Cup and the Sword and the Mirror – lake, if you wish."

While he was talking, his hands were deftly folding the sheet he had used into a box.

He pointed at one side of it. "Let's say this is our Cup." He pointed to another. "And this is yours."

Opening up his cube, he folded the paper back so the two former side surfaces met. "If you take ours with you, you may be bending the entire thing a little out of shape, but you should still have a Cup to use."

They looked at each other. Sneaking into Idris, stealing the Mortal Cup from a Valentine who had had so much more opportunity to strengthen his position? It seemed crazy. The thought of being able to prevent a repetition of the attack on the Paris Institute, however, of having something that could counter Valentine's influence with the Instrument…

"Worth a shot," Alec determined. "I say we try it if no one objects."

His friends nodded, some more quickly than others.

He turned towards the two local Shadowhunters.

"We'll need someone who is familiar with this dimension. Will you come with us and help?"

*

They had moved into a room close to where the library had once been. The gigantic depository of books had not survived what fighting had taken place inside the institute. Several of its windows were broken and the room was now exposed to the elements.

While Christopher and Sebastian had refused to give an immediate promise that they would join them on their quest, they had volunteered to find the most recent maps they had in the institute to allow the others to plan their route without having to rely on everything matching their memories from their own dimension.

Presently, Christopher was staring at Jace across a low table. "What's wrong with that corner? You keep twitching and looking there."

"Ghost," Jace informed him.

"Frilly, lacy, princess-style ghost?" the other man asked. "That's Jessamine. She's a pain but mostly harmless."

"She's pulling faces at you," Jace told him helpfully. "She must be older then the split. We have her in our dimension, too."

"She died in 1877. There's a book on the institute's history somewhere around here in case you want to read up on her."

Jace gave him a small grin. "Finally someone who isn't surprised to hear I read." His face darkened again as he looked back at the ghost. "She tried to interfere with my things when we last stayed at the London Institute."

Christopher laughed. "Did she try to steal your clothes?"

"Teddy, actually." There was some degree of defiance in Jace's voice and eyes.

The other man blinked. "Your what?"

Sebastian apparently found that sufficient reason to turn his undivided attention towards Jace as well. "Why are you carrying a teddy?"

"Because Clary gave it to me." Jace sounded as if he was stating a fact that should have been self-evident.

The other two weren't convinced. "I'll believe it when I see it," Christopher decided.

"Fine." Jace reached for his enlarged messenger bag and rummaged around in it blindly until his fingers hit something plushy. "Is this evidence enough?"

Christopher stared. "Well, you're definitely nothing like our Jonathan. He wouldn't be caught dead with such a thing," he determined eventually.

Clary, Alec and Izzy had moved closer, their postures warning the two resident Shadowhunters against escalating the situation.

"Jace gave me one, too," Clary informed them.

The look on Sebastian's face was nothing if not perplexed. "Why would you give each other soft toys?"

"They're cute," she shot back. "You're allowed to give your fiancé cute things."

"Kind of required to, even," Magnus added from where he was sitting off to the side, watching the scene play out.

Sebastian and Christopher looked back and forth between Jace and Clary. "Wait—you two--?"

Clary slid onto Jace's lap, fitting herself perfectly against him. His arms came around her in a motion made comfortable by frequent practice. "Oh yes. Are you telling us that over here we aren't?"

"Erm, no." Both men still seemed utterly astonished at the open display of affection, a reaction that only intensified when Jace rested his head against Clary's shoulder. He still hadn't put down the bear and was holding it in his arm along with her.

"Who're we with then?" Clary asked.

"Admittedly, I don't think you got much of a say in that matter," Christopher said slowly. "From what I gathered, Valentine chose who the younger generation was supposed to breed with to produce the strongest offspring. Don’t look at me like that. It's the word I've heard his people use, not what I would usually call it."

"Not sure if knowing who he chose for my counterpart or wondering will be worse," Jace said. "So you may as well tell me if you know it."

"Isabelle," the other man replied.

Izzy and Jace exchanged a shocked look. "But we're basically brother and sister! We'd never--!"

"Not here. And then there's Seraphina and Alexander…"

"Who?" Alec asked, confused.

Christopher pointed at Clary.

Alec choked on his own spit at the words, launching into a fit of coughing.

"Easy there, big brother," Izzy said, patting his back. Her grin looked as if she was trying very hard to keep from bursting into loud laughter.

"How by the Angel is that supposed to work?" Alec blurted out as soon as he had regained the air to speak.

Jace had buried his face against Clary's back now, his shoulders heaving. Clary had her eyes squeezed shut, fighting a fit of giggles.

Charlie was studying the ceiling. Magnus had the tips of his index fingers pressed against his lips, focusing hard on keeping a straight face.

Christopher and Sebastian exchanged a look. "Apparently we're missing something here," the former noted. "I take it this is not about not stealing your parabatai's woman?"

They both shook their heads decisively.

"I'm not—" Alec started, looking at Clary, then at Magnus, then swallowing before trying again. "I would never—I don't even know if I could—could—do that." He was fighting embarrassment, outrage and amusement at the faces of the two local Shadowhunters at the same time.

"She's totally not your type?" Sebastian asked. "Incompatible?"

Alec nodded. "Totally incompatible. Completely, utterly incompatible."

Sebastian frowned. "She's not that bad, you know. You make her sound like some kind of harpy and she clearly isn't."

"Thanks, I guess," Clary said. "But if Alec found me attractive in that way, I'd be really, really worried."

"Okaaaay." Sebastian drew out the word. "Now I'm getting really curious. What do his tastes run towards?"

Alec turned, looking at Magnus. He didn't even try to keep down the happy expression that crept onto his face every time he laid eyes on his boyfriend, or to dampen the light in his eyes when he saw his appreciation returned. It felt like a little wonder every single time he experienced it, even if the last time had only been minutes before.

"Magnus," he said, spreading his hands slightly to invite the warlock to join him.

A single fluid motion brought Magnus to his feet and into Alec's arms. No one watching them could have mistaken them for anything but the happy couple they were. To leave absolutely no remaining doubt, Alec dipped his head down a little to meet Magnus in a long, slow kiss.

"You like men?" Sebastian sounded horrified at the thought. "You mean Alexander also—" Trying to wrap his mind around that concept took a while.

"The poor man is probably miserable," Izzy pointed out. "Considering what Valentine forced him into."

Christopher shook his head. "Don't feel too sorry for him," he advised. "Alexander is a cold-blooded, ruthless killer. He also probably thinks that furthering Valentine's cause is more important than his own personal happiness."

"He's an idiot," Alec declared. "I'm not sure if I should hope that we'll meet him or not."

The other man moved his head from side to side, considering. "Unless you're sure you're as good as he is, and willing to kill the man who wears your own face, hope that you won't. He won't hesitate to kill you."

*

"If your warlock opens a portal, we should be able to take you to this area." Sebastian circled a spot on the map they had open. "But it'll be a hike through the mountains from there. Portaling into Idris isn't safe."

They had determined that they were going to need the two locals to get to their destination. Charlie was certain that she would be able to get into the Wood, but unsure if she would be able to get back out of it in this dimension. She was confident that she would be able to take them home, but until and unless she learned more about this world's Songs, she had declared herself useless for travelling within the dimension.

None of the others was willing to try controlling a portal. You had to be familiar with the place you went to. They weren't sure that their memories of any location would be close enough to this world's counterpart to travel safely.

So, unless they wanted to sail across the Channel or brave the mundane-dug tunnel to the continent and then travel all the way through France, they had to let themselves be guided by their two new allies.

Luckily, they had only nodded and agreed.

"We should consider portaling over here and going that way." Christopher was pointing at a spot on the other side of Idris. "It's a longer hike but the passes are lower and more passable. It is only February. Taking the short way means we'll risk being caught in the snow in the mountains."

"Our warlock has a name," Alec pointed out. "It's Magnus. And I agree with the longer route. I was caught in a snow storm up there once." He shuddered at the thought.

"That must be a really chilly memory," Jace observed, grinning. They had lit a fire in the open fireplace a while ago, and it had heated up the room quite nicely. Jace had already downgraded to short sleeves.

Christopher was about to follow his example, taking off the knit sweater he'd been wearing since they had first met him outside.

Izzy couldn't help but stare as he exposed his right arm. An uninterrupted, knotted line spiraled up his forearm, like a track dug into muscle and skin. It ended just above the elbow on one end and tapered out between thumb and index finger on the other.

"Is that—?" she asked, indicating his arm with a gesture.

"Electrum scar," Christopher confirmed. "From the whip, yes." He held out his arm for her inspection.

Izzy's eyes widened as she studied the mark. "I swear I didn't know it was that bad when I tried to touch you with it. Our Jonathan Christopher didn't seem to react that badly."

"He did say he enjoyed pain," Clary pointed out.

Christopher pulled his t-shirt to one side, exposing his shoulder and turning so she could see his back. It sported a number of similar scars, looking older but no less severe. The burns had gone deep through the muscle, the lost tissue never filling in entirely. "From Valentine's experiments when I was a child. The whip scar happened last year. Went through all the way to the bone in some places. I was lucky to keep the arm."

That wasn't hard to believe. In fact, it seemed quite impressive that he had managed to heal from the wound. "Is it—fully healed? Does it still give you any trouble?" Izzy asked. There was a small tremor in her voice. She didn't think she had it in her to deliberately hurt a fellow Shadowhunter like that. What had her counterpart been thinking?

"It can be a bit tender and I feel the weather changing in it," he admitted. "Lost strength and dexterity in the hand, too. The muscles don't contract quite as they used to."

They wouldn't with that band of scar tissue running through them.

"But it's my off hand and I've always been more of a crossbow man than a longbow one, so it's not hampering me a lot."

The scar had cut through two runes on his arm , rendering them ineffective.

"I can renew those for you if you want," Izzy offered. "And I have some salve Charlie's cousin made me for the scar on my back that keeps feeling irritated. You can try that, too."

Alec frowned at his sister. "I didn't know that wound still bothered you."

She shrugged. "Not a lot. And I never know if it really does or if that's just an attempt at convincing me that I want some more yin fen. Peggi's salve makes it shut up nicely in any case."

"I tried to draw the runes back over it," Christopher informed her. "But it doesn't take on the scar."

"And the pain is terrible," Sebastian added. "It's worse enough when he marks himself normally, but that was an entirely different level of bad."

"Charms work on Magnus," Izzy pointed out. "And he's a warlock, so he has demon blood. They should work on you."

Christopher considered. "Show me that salve you have," he finally decided.

Izzy fetched the jar from her first aid kit, unscrewing it and holding it out for his inspection.

He took it and gave it a careful sniff. "You keep talking about those charms," he said. "But I don't see any on you."

"Oh." Alec wiped his hand over his glamor charm, erasing it from his skin. As it dropped, several of his runes disappeared, replaced by the insubstantial, shiny lines of the Gale charms drawn on top of what looked like text marker lines. Most of his remaining runes were covered up with charms tracing them as well. "Hiding them was kind of vital back home."

At his nod, his friends followed suit, showing their own charms.

"Did you draw on yourself with pens?" Sebastian asked incredulously.

Alec shrugged. "It helps remember where the glamor runes need to go."

Sebastian continued to look doubtful. "How can you be so sure that the steles harm you?"

"I've seen how they leech off energy… life force… whatever you want to call it," Alec pointed out. "And I think we've mostly managed to reverse the effect. We were able to watch what happened when Jace couldn't get around having a few more runes applied, though. And there was that experiment one of the Aunties did on herself. Which I still don't approve of." The last was said in Charlie's direction.

She only shrugged. "Try telling her that," she suggested. "I know better than to give any opinion on what they do with themselves. At least to their faces."

"It does go a way towards explaining why you're almost as bright as the wa—as Magnus," Christopher said. Seeing the looks they gave him at that statement, he elaborated: "I can see how close someone is to death. So far I assumed the reason most of us were slipping that way so quickly was because of the risky lives we led – because every mission could be our last, you know? Seeing you, I'm not sure any longer."

Chapter Text

February 6th, 2017

"Do you really believe them?"

Sebastian had come to stand behind his parabatai, who had opened the institute's computer system and was shutting down the remaining functions one by one.

"I don't know," the other man admitted. "But I know we can't stay here indefinitely. It's only a matter of time until some attack gets one or both of us. We'll have a much better chance of surviving on the continent than on the Seelies' reclaimed Albion, and they're our best shot at getting there."

They had discussed possible ways to get off the island in the past. With no access to a working portal, however, any of them required travelling through land firmly in the hand of Seelie. Attempting it would have equaled suicide for them.

Christopher tapped one last button and stood back, rubbing his arm as he watched the control panel shut down.

"Are you wondering if you should have accepted her offer after all?" Sebastian asked.

"Maybe a very little bit," the other man admitted. "Not enough to go and tell her I reconsidered."

He had played down the lingering effects of his injury the day before – both because he hadn't wanted to admit to his weak spot towards their group and because he hadn't been sure they wouldn't decide to find a different way to get to Idris if they had reason to suspect he could turn into a liability. Besides, he had learned to live with the pain. Most of the time, it was a kind of background noise that he could shut out of his awareness well enough to not be distracted by it.

No matter how soothing Isabelle had promised her salve was: Knowing of how substances like yin fen were applied, he wasn't going to allow a stranger to put anything on his body that he didn't know the ingredients of. That went doubly for a stranger wearing the face of a woman he was sure would kill him on sight, given the slightest chance.

A moment later, he almost cringed at the thought. He hadn't thought twice about trying the food they had magicked up, in spite of knowing it had come from an unknown source. He wasn't sure what he'd been thinking at the time. Knowing that Sebastian had been just as careless there didn't make him feel much better either.

*

"I'm not sure I'll ever get used to seeing you wear your hair that long," Christopher noted as he watched Izzy toss back her hair when she straightened after stowing her things away in her bag.

"Oh?" she asked, turning towards him. "How am I wearing my hair here? Or… how is she wearing my hair here? Her hair? Whatever. You know."

He couldn't help a smile. "Short. Very short. Everyone around Valentine does. Any hair long enough to be grabbed in a fight is a liability according to him."

Izzy made a face. "I bet that went over really well with little Izzy and little Clary."

"Isabelle and Seraphina," Christopher corrected. "He also says names are there to be worn proudly."

"I can proudly be Izzy," she declared. "I find it hard to imagine myself with hair that short, though…"

"Give me a second," the man told her.

From his own bag, placed on a chair in front of him, he produced a sketchpad that was about half the size that Clary usually used. It had a pencil attached with a string.

Flipping it open, he spent a short time sketching.

"You draw?" Izzy asked him.

He raised his eyebrows at her over the edge of his paper. "My mother is Jocelyn 'I'm the greatest artist who ever lived and can stick objects into paper' Morgenstern. My little sister has her talent. I just dabble."

He flipped over the sketchpad, showing her the result.

It was a quick sketch, but it was clearly Izzy – if Izzy had worn her hair cropped in a short military style and a hostile expression on her face.

"I'll keep my hair," she determined.

Looking at something behind her, Christopher suddenly turned the sketchpad back towards himself. He wasn't quite quick enough.

"Hey – that's cool," Clary said as she came over. "I draw, too!"

"I know," Christopher muttered, sounding less than happy about it. "Or I could guess in any case."

"That's local Izzy," Izzy informed her friend. "Or, I guess local Isabelle."

"Can you do local Clary?" Clary asked.

Christopher looked at the woman, then at his sketchpad, then towards the door, as if hoping that someone else would show up. "Seraphina. Don't we need to leave soon?"

"Magnus is still cleaning up," she informed him. "He says there's so much random magic and broken spells flying around that he needs to get the room he wants to start his portal in cleaned of magic properly before he can start adding his own if we want to be sure it's safe. I'll show you my sketches if you show me yours."

With a small sigh, Christopher turned a page and started to put his pencil to it. "I'm sure yours are exceptional if you come after mother. Seraphina's are in any case."

Clary shrugged. "They're okay. There's still space for improvement. If you don't like to draw, why are you doing it? People don't usually carry sketchpads if they don't plan to use them."

"I don't not-like to draw," he informed her. "I'm just not as serious about it as Seraphina is. Or as good at it. And I don't do the thing where you put something inside a page. Much to mother's disappointment, I might add."

Clary gave a wry chuckle at that. "I only figured that one out a few months ago. My our-mother went to quite great lengths to keep the Shadow World from me and me out of the Shadow World. She would have had a litter of kittens if I'd figured out I had that skill while I was living with her." She paused, thinking. "Actually, I don't know if I figured it out. She had a bit of a habit of having my memory erased when I saw something she didn't want me to know about."

"Delightful," Christopher noted. After another moment's hesitation, he presented his second sketch to her. The woman in his drawing looked aloof and distant, with as much of a malicious gleam in her eyes as the quick pencil sketch could convey. Her hair, too, was shorn off almost entirely.

"Well, I'm not going to take her example," Clary declared. "I like my hair as it is."

"Do you go into combat like that?" the man who was the closest she was likely to come to actually meeting her brother asked.

They both nodded.

"We do tie it back or braid it when we have the time," Clary added.

"Valentine wouldn't stand for long hair in any variation," Christopher told her. "But some people here in the institute liked to wear long hair. They used to braid spike straps into it, though. That way if someone grabs your hair in a combat situation, they're going to let go again very quickly."

"Spike straps?" Izzy asked. She was looking intrigued by the idea. "Tell me more."

Christopher glanced at Clary. "You said Magnus is going to be a while?" At her nod, he pointed to the door. "Let's go to the armory, and I'll show you."

They followed him to where the institute stored its weapons.

"I need to shut this down anyway before we leave," he noted as he let them in with a swipe of his stele on the lock. "We can't leave a stash of weapons lying around for just anyone to take. So if you see anything that speaks to you, help yourself to it."

"Maybe Alec should have a look at the fancy arrows," Izzy suggested. She followed Christopher to a tall cabinet against the rear wall of the room.

Another lock needed to be undone before he could open it, exposing tidily sorted pieces of armor and accessories. He pointed at a set of spiked wrist guards. "I use a set like these when we're out," he explained before stretching to pull something from a higher shelf. "Sorry. We put away anything we were sure we weren't ever going to need."

Izzy took the object he handed her. It was a thin strip of metal chain, each link enhanced with sharp spikes.

"Cool," she said. "I wonder why no one has ever thought of that in our institute. Can you help me with this?" She held the spike strap back out to him. As soon as he took it, she turned away from him, giving him access to her hair.

He hesitated a little. Was she making a point of demonstrating that she trusted him enough to not only turn her back to him but to also let him touch her? That was a surprising concept.

On second thoughts, she probably didn't see an issue because there was none. Seraphina – Clary – was in the room with them, and all Isabelle had to do to get him away from her would be to swing around her arm with the electrum bracelet on it and find bare skin somewhere.

"I've never done this before," he admitted.

"Helped anyone arm up?" Izzy asked.

"Done anyone's hair," Christopher returned.

Izzy produced an elastic tie from some pocket. She shifted again, turning so she wouldn't get her whip close to him as she tied her hair at the back of her head. "There," she said when she took her former position once more. "Now all you need to do is braid it in."

 

Switzerland

They came out of the portal at the edge of a mountain forest, just in view of the outskirts of a small town.

Alec stepped away from the portal, clearing the way for the next people coming through. Christopher and Sebastian had guided two of them each. The latter was going to go back through the portal to collect Charlie and Magnus, though Charlie had pointed out that once they were at their destination, she could probably follow their Songs.

As they waited, he looked around. It wasn't hard to see that this place was as abandoned as London had been. There was no smoke coming from any of the chimneys in sight. The sounds of a mundane settlement were missing entirely. The street that ran past their place of arrival didn't show a lot of signs of damage yet, but the branches and leaves blown onto it suggested that it wasn't used for its original purpose anymore.

His friends moved closer around him, with Christopher keeping more of a distance.

They were all armed well. Alec had gone through the armory for arrowheads and shafts, packing what he thought would be good to use later into his magical messenger bag. Jace, too, had found some more additions to his collection of throwing knives, adding various materials that would give him an edge against specific Downworlders.

"There we go," Magnus' voice came from the portal. He turned to the two local men. "Can I close it?"

They nodded, though it was clear that they were not entirely comfortable knowing that their only way home was about to disappear.

With a quick gesture, Magnus let the portal fold in on itself.

"Let's get going then," Alec suggested, adjusting his bag on his shoulder. "We have a long way ahead of us."

Between needing a place that Sebastian and Christopher were sufficiently familiar with, that was far enough outside of the bounds of Idris that it was likely they wouldn't set off any alarms Valentine might have installed, and remote enough that the risk that they were going to appear in the middle of some Seelie assembly or around some leftover mundanes who had gotten used to shooting first and asking questions later, they had had to settle on a destination that made their route a little farther than they had originally intended it to be.

"That way," Christopher said, pointing down the abandoned street.

*

They hadn't gone far when Charlie's phone gave an insistent beep.

She laughed at the message that had come in. "Jack says Viktor is asking what's taking us so long."

Alec rolled his eyes at the far-away dragon. "Tell him this is a little complicated and we'll be back at our earliest convenience."

"I'm glad the person giving Viktor the news is about twice his size," the Bard noted as she typed her answer.

The response came almost instantly.

"Jack says Viktor has some other people who want to use the Traveller, but to take our time because he is guarding the device with his life. By which he probably means he is curling up around it and sleeping away the day. And if Viktor wanted us to come home earlier, he shouldn't have made Jack text me. Now that I know we're not there now, we can't return to any time before now. Which makes me wonder if Jack sent that text just to spite Viktor."

Izzy let herself drop back to walk next to Charlie, who brought up their rear. "Do you wonder what happened to your family here?"

"No." Charlie shook her head decisively. "And I really hope I won't run into myself. You should, too. Playing the What-If-Game is only fun in movies."

"Says the woman who casually goes back and forth through time," Jace noted. He was walking right before them, listening in on their conversation. "Doesn't what-if kind of come with the territory?"

"Only kind of," she said. "You know, I don't like this place."

"It is rather on the eerie side," Izzy agreed. "And with the people gone and Seelie and demons in charge…"

"It's more than that," the older woman told her. "I'm used to there being lots and lots of Songs around me that I just need to strain a little bit to hear. People, nature, events – everything has its own music."

She paused, trying to find the right words to describe what she wanted to say.

"I understand the Songs of people being gone," Izzy filled the silence. "But nature? Events? Shouldn't those things continue?"

Charlie confirmed with a nod. "It's not that it's all gone, but it's… kind of broken. Fragmented. Sung with hoarse voices, instruments warped by moisture or with broken strings. With a tuning that never sticks through the entire verse. I don't know how it happened, but I think there's more broken in this world than just the consequences from a Seelie invasion."

*

The days were short in early February, and while heat charms and exercise were keeping them from freezing, the sun, already low in the sky, started to disappear behind the mountain tops quite early.

"We should find shelter," Sebastian said, looking back at them.

"Surely we can manage another couple of hours at least?" Alec asked him. They hadn't made bad time, but they would soon have to veer off the main road and onto smaller paths to get to their destination, which would be slower going any way. They hadn't quite reached the point they had marked as their destination for the day.

Christopher came to his parabatai's aid. "No, he's right. We shouldn't sleep out in the open. We can't rely on finding something suitable immediately, and we shouldn’t be out once it gets too dark. Any light we make might draw creatures we're not ready to face. And even if your wa—" He sent an apologetic glance at Alec. "Even if Magnus and Charlie have ways to see in the dark, the risk of running into a pack of werewolves increases the closer we get to dusk. Once the sun's down, there'll be vampires, too. Some of those packs and clans are pretty big."

Alec gave him a nod. "You know this world. We'll bow to your wisdom. How far is it to the next village?"

He opened one of the pictures he had taken of the maps they were using. While their phones were working just as reliably as they ever did, this world no longer had an active internet they could use.

"It's going to mean a bit of a detour," Sebastian said, "but I'd like to find a solitary farm or even just a shepherd's hut to sleep in. If Switzerland is anything like England, the villages will all be in the hands of some group or another, so we'd be sheltering very close to some of them. They'd smell us for sure. We might as well keep going then."

"Alright." Alec still didn't like the thought, but he could see the wisdom in Sebastian's words, provided that the other man wasn't exaggerating the situation. He didn't think they could afford to find out if he was.

*

They found what had once been an isolated farm after about half an hour. The main building had been destroyed, the roof caved in in a way that looked as if something incredibly large had stepped on it.

There was a shed, though, tucked against a small group of trees at the back of a pasture on the other side of the road leading past the farm. A small brook was running along the other side of the fence.

"We can secure that with a few wards," Magnus decided. "It's quite enough to spend the night out of the open."

Some sheep had stuck around. They had long broken through the fence and scattered across the premises, but they seemed to find enough fodder to keep them in the vicinity.

"One of those will make a nice dinner," Sebastian determined. "All we'll need is a camp fire."

Clary looked a little affronted. Izzy was frowning at two of the animals making their way across the grass and into the trees. "I think I'll stick with the pie," she declared.

Her friend shot her a grateful look.

Christopher, in contrast, showed surprise at her statement. "I didn't think you'd object to killing animals for food. Do you not hunt in your Idris?"

"We hunt," Izzy said. "And I've killed and eaten the kill. I'll admit I don't know a whole lot about sheep, but I know what healthy animals look like, and this isn't it. Watch them move. They look fine at first glance, but there's something really, really wrong with them."

"They're not well," Christopher confirmed. "I would have thought it's because they don't have enough to eat and no one left to care for them."

"Your magic life force sense doesn't tell you?" Alec asked, his eyebrows raised.

The corner of Christopher's mouth twitched. "I can tell you how close they are to death, but not the cause. You'll find that I'm mostly useless for most things. Shadowhunter and demon is about the worst combination you can produce."

"Surely it's not so bad as that," Magnus said. "I'm with Izzy, though. There's something off about these sheep and I'm not going to eat them while we have a way to order pie."

They crossed the meadow, the grass crunching under their boots.

"Is it supposed to sound like that?" Clary asked after a few steps.

The others shrugged. "Probably frozen or something. It is pretty cold," Jace offered.

They were grateful for the low temperatures when they reached the barn. Cold air carried smells less strongly than warm air did. Nevertheless, the odor that hit them when they wrenched open the door was nausea-inducing.

"Something died in here," Alec noted, needlessly.

"Several somethings," his sister added. She pointed. "I wish I had a lab at hand to examine these."

The floor of the shed was covered in straw that seemed to have become the home of a large number of small animals. Apparently, they had not survived the experience. The addition of some larger cadavers suggested that those that had come to feed on the fresh meat had fared no better than the original victims.

"Don't you have a lab in that bottomless bag of yours?" Christopher asked her, pointing at her messenger bag.

She shook her head. "Can't keep things from falling around in there, so it's not much good for fragile objects. I don't think we should be sleeping here."

"There's something in the straw," Alec informed them. He had blinked on his magic vision and was looking around carefully while taking shallow breaths through his mouth. "I think this was done on purpose."

Magnus raised his hand, a sparkle of white fire playing around his fingers.

With a throwing motion, he cast it into the shed, where it spread and clung, more intensely in the straw itself and to a lesser degree on the dead animals.

"There's none of it in the wood it seems," he declared. "I can use my magic to clear that out and air it properly so we won't be smelling dead meat all night. That is, unless you think we will have better luck elsewhere?" he was looking at Sebastian and Christopher at the last words.

Sebastian heaved a sigh. "I don't think we have a chance to find anything else before nightfall, unless there's another building that belongs to this farm – and I assume that'd be no different from this one. If you can clean it up, I opt for staying."

His parabatai nodded his agreement.

"Let me know if you need help with anything," Alec said.

Magnus gave him a smile. "You could watch and make sure I don't miss anything," he suggested.

"I'll do that." Alec had no doubt that Magnus didn't need his help, but making it a joint effort felt good anyway.

Standing squarely in the open door of the shed, Magnus raised his hands, shaping a different kind of magic. Intricate motions sent it into the building, where it spread, forming a thin layer of glossy white light on the walls and floor. As soon as every bit of the structure itself was covered, he conjured up a fire that was more magic than flame.

It tore into the straw and the dead animals, consuming everything it touched in mere instants, and leaving behind only a fine, dark grey ash. It ate its way up the walls where small rodents scrambling up the timbers had left their tracks, and flashed along the beams that carried the roof, destroying bird droppings clinging there.

The brightness was blinding, causing the others to avert their faces.

Magnus' first spell on the wood structure itself held, preventing the shed from being damaged by the searing heat.

The warlock let his magic rage for a couple of minutes until, with all fuel that it could find gone, it died down, flames sputtering out. The white magic of Magnus' first spell was still visible, muted under the dark grey particles.

"Almost done," Magnus said.

At a small gesture of his hand, the white film started to peel off of the wood it had shielded, contracting and shrinking. Ash was pouring down, collecting on the floor and sliding inwards as the edges of the protective magic lifted.

Another few seconds later, a small ball of solid white magic was sitting in the middle of the shed, tightly closed around a few handfuls of black matter that, to Alec's magic vision, still held an unhealthy glow.

Magnus beckoned, and the ball flew up, hovering before him. "I'll dispose of this down some deep hole," he announced. "We don't need this where anything can get to it."

No one objected.

"Is it safe to go in?" Izzy asked, looking at her brother.

He nodded. "There's no magic left. Not Magnus' and not whatever caused all this."

Charlie was the first to go in. She ran a hand over the walls and looked at her fingers. "I need that spell," she said. "It must be great for dusting."

Clary didn't look convinced. "You can't set your bedroom on fire just to avoid dusting."

"I think the spell that peels off everything and makes its own garbage can would do nicely on its own," the Bard declared. She reached into her bag to pull out her quilt, which she spread on the now-clean floor. "I'll text Allie for some dinner."

By the time Magnus returned, they had arranged several pies in the middle of the floor and settled down around them.

"We have apple, rhubarb and chicken," Charlie announced. "Sad to say the chicken is actual chicken."

Christopher and Sebastian seemed to consider it wise to not inquire about what else the chicken might be.

"And Judith sent some Shepherd's pie and a message that we're to eat the meat pies before we eat the dessert pies. Also, Allie says she's trying a recipe for key lime pie and we are officially among her test audience."

"Yummy," Clary said, accepting a piece of shepherd's pie on a paper plate.

Magnus reached for the apple pie. "I'm feeling rebellious," he declared.

He had just taken the first bite when his phone vibrated.

A look at the screen made his eyebrows rise towards his hairline. Wordlessly, he turned his phone around for the others to see.

Magnus Bane, you're old enough to know better than that, Auntie Bea had written.

Another message came in while they were still smirking at the first. It added: Eat properly! You need energy to fuel your magic.

"Auntie Bea is a wise woman," Alec determined, handing Magnus a piece of the chicken pie.

"Uncanny," Sebastian declared. He, too, had a piece of pie, but was eating with a lot more restraint than the day before. Still, both he and Christopher were eating. They had taken some supplies from the institute, but they were under no illusions that they wouldn't last for long if they didn't supplement them, and they had just been shown impressively that hunting was not necessarily going to be an option.

"That's true," Jace agreed.

Izzy nodded, swallowing before she spoke. "The aunties all are. But they're the best kind of uncanny at least."

Christopher lifted one eyebrow. "What kind is that?"

"The kind that's on our side."

*

Charlie sang preservation charms on the remaining pieces of pie and wrapped them carefully. They could serve as their trail rations the next day, since she was reasonably certain Allie's key lime pie would arrive by morning and make for a decent breakfast.

"I suggest we turn in early," Alec just said. He was clearly suppressing a yawn. "We have a long way to go, and the going won't get easier the higher we climb."

Christopher nodded his agreement. "Who'll take first watch?"

Magnus straightened slightly from where he had been leaning into Alec. "I thought I'd just put some wards around the barn and we can all sleep."

"That's a good idea." Jace fished his quilt out of his bag and eyed the ground. "Any preferences about who sleeps where?"

"What if something breaks through your wards?" Sebastian wanted to know.

Magnus gave him a look that suggested that that didn't happen. "If something tries to break through my wards," he said, the calm tone of his words belying the ice in his eyes, "They'll wake us up faster than any guard could. And they'll be on all sides of the building, when a guard could only be on one. Use the night to sleep. You'll be grateful for the rest soon enough."

Sebastian was about to respond, but closed his mouth again at Christopher's slight touch on his arm.

"It's probably going to get colder than it already is before it gets warmer again," Charlie noted. She, too, had taken out her quilt. "If we put heat charms all over the place to stay warm, we can probably bet on something trying to break through the wards to get to where it's nice and cozy."

"We have bed rolls," Christopher informed her. "With integrated heat runes."

"We can share body heat," Jace said.

The two men who belonged in this dimension looked shocked. Jace's companions did not.

"Right. Between that and the quilts, we should be fine," Izzy agreed.

"It was meant as a joke," her brother clarified. "But if everyone thinks it'll work, I'm all for it."

Charlie fished a piece of chalk from her pocket and started outlining a generous section of the ground with it. Noticing the others' questioning looks, she elaborated: "I am sure we can all sleep on the hard floor, but I don’t see any reason we should. Mattress charms are your best friends when camping rough."

"Mattress charms?" Alec was sure the others were watching their Gale friend just as closely as he was as she drew the charm in bold lines inside the chalk rectangle.

Nothing seemed to happen, though to his magic sense, the outlines filled with a glow so soft he might have missed it if he hadn't been looking for it.

Reaching out to touch the marked area, he found that the ground deflected slightly under his hand, behaving like a mattress of good quality.

Christopher and Sebastian were, in the meantime, unrolling their bedrolls in the farthest corner of the shed. Apparently, they had no intention of sharing their mattress or their warmth.

"Do you at least want the charm beneath you?" Charlie asked, which brought her immediate shakes of both heads.

"We have slept rough before," Sebastian assured her.

"So have we, but it doesn't mean we have to like it," Alec returned. "But suit yourselves."

Knowing that Magnus' quilt would cover both of them nicely, he folded up his own and put it where they could use it as a shared pillow.

Clary settled in the middle of the charmed area and started to undo her braid. There was no way she was going to sleep with a spike strap in her hair. She hadn't gotten far when Jace's hands covered hers.

"Would you like me to do that?"

Smiling, she nodded. Handling those sharp spikes without pricking herself while braiding and unbraiding her hair would take practice. Practice could start tomorrow. Tonight, she enjoyed the feel of her fiancé's hands on her neck and in her hair, savoring his touch. Much as she would have liked to take things further, she realized they would probably not have much opportunity to be alone before they returned to their own dimension.

Alec moved to give his sister a hand.

"I wonder if Mom ever used these on duty," he mused.

"Probably not," Izzy decided. "If she had she would have told me about them."

Jace handed Clary the spike strap and started finger-combing her hair. She leaned into his touch, humming her pleasure.

Safe within Magnus' wards, they slid out of jackets and boots, though they deposited weapons within easy reach as they settled down to sleep.

Charlie reached out to pat her guitar, not quite an arm's length away, before she rolled a little closer to Izzy and pulled her end of the quilt around her, allowing the safety and comfort of the Gale charms it was made up of to envelop her and smooth her way into sleep.

Chapter Text

February 7th, 2017

Alec woke, feeling warm, and safe, and utterly content in the way that only the Gale quilts in combination with Magnus could manage. The warlock was snuggled against Alec's right side, their bodies fitting perfectly against each other. On his other side, Jace had shifted to use his shoulder as a pillow. It took him another moment to realize that that was at least partially because Jace's arm had somehow found its way under his own head. On his other side, his parabatai was holding Clary, whose head was cushioned on Jace's chest.

That was as far as he could see without sitting up, but he assumed that tangle continued all the way over to Charlie.

Though he did his best to move carefully to get a hold of his phone and check the time, Magnus stirred as soon as he felt Alec's body shift.

"Morning," he whispered, a warm smile on his face and that adoring look in his eyes that never failed to make Alec's heart turn somersaults in his chest.

"Let's hope it's a good one," Alec returned, his voice equally low.

By the time he had determined that it was, indeed, time to get up and get ready to continue, the others had woken one by one, and were slowly working on disentangling themselves. Charlie was already folding up her quilt and stowing it away by the time Alec had climbed to his feet.

Christopher and Sebastian met him with darkly disapproving looks.

"What?" he asked, laughing. "You can stop scowling like that – It was nice and warm and safe, everyone was fully dressed and it's not like we suddenly all started to hold Ritual right here and now."

Since they hadn't exactly explained about the nature of Ritual – the Gale way of bonding with the land they occupied and strengthening their power – to the two, that only shifted their expressions somewhat into the realm of confused.

"Allie sent breakfast," Izzy noted with a look at where they had put their charmed pennies. "Now if we could magically come up with some coffee…"

"I don't know about magically," Charlie told her, "but if you're happy with instant, I have some. We can use one of the thermos cups to heat some water…"

"Speaking of water," Sebastian said, holding up a bottle and shaking it slightly. "We're running quite low. Do you think the water from the brook out there will be okay if boiled?"

"We can do better than that." Jace was digging in his bag. He stopped briefly to look at Alec. "Remember that thing Anestis gave me for my birthday? It's for cleansing water. We can run water from the brook through that and top up our supplies."

Sebastian stared at him. "Not Anestis Redwood?" he asked.

"Never heard of anyone else with that name," Jace returned. His attention was back on the contents of his bag already. A moment later, he pulled out the device. "You know him?"

"Know him?" Sebastian blurted out. "No, I don't know him. I've read his books, though."

"Are they any good?" Clary wanted to know. She was collecting the bottles they had brought and pouring them together to empty out as many of them as she could.

Not rolling his eyes at her seemed to cost Sebastian some effort. "Elizabeth and Anestis Redwood were among the most celebrated members of Special Forces. They've written extensively about exotic demons and encounters with those entities some cultures called gods. How can you know him and not know their books? You really should read their work!"

"We had different things on our minds at the time we met," Alec said in their defense. "Also, we're really friends with their niece, Tatyana. They helped us out in a pinch once, though."

Before they could pursue that line of discussion any further, Clary waved one of the empty bottles at Jace. "How about we go and take care of the water while Charlie makes coffee?"

A smile lit up his face as he looked at her. "Yeah, let's do that." Almost as an afterthought, he looked at their leader. "Alec?"

Laughing, Alec nodded. "You go do that – but be careful."

"Careful is my middle name," Jace claimed.

"Technically, your middle name is Christopher," Christopher informed him.

Jace sketched a salute at him as he moved towards the door. "We'll be back soon."

*

They walked around the shed, where the brook ran through the copse of trees, and stepped into the shelter of the canopy.

There, on a patch of moss that felt almost normal, Jace filled the purifier with water and activated it.

The device ran for several minutes before the lid sprang open, declaring the contents clean and ready to be consumed.

Clary watched as Jace carefully poured it into the first of their bottles and refilled the cylinder.

"It's strange, looking at him and thinking that that's my brother," she said, reaching for the bottle to cap it until they could fill it up the rest of the way. "And to remember that he's basically Jonathan and Sebastian isn't, and—"

Jace raised a hand to stop her, then continued the motion to reach out for a reassuring touch. "He's not Jonathan," he said, his tone serious. "I mean, he is, but he's not the Jonathan we met. No more than I am the Jonathan he is thinking of and no more than you're that Seraphina he knows. We can't forget that."

She moved in to lean against him, though they were interrupted quickly when the second portion of water was ready.

"I don't think he uses his demon powers a lot," Jace pointed out while he continued their task. "Or at all. You saw that scar – our Jonathan reacted to electrum, but it wasn't that bad. I think he probably acquired some degree of protection at some point. Focus on the differences. That should make it easier."

They continued filling their bottles, with Clary carrying the first few back into the shed when they were done. She came back with two thermos cup caps full of coffee.

Jace sipped the hot beverage gratefully. "Did Alec say when we're leaving?"

"Christopher went out to do a bit of scouting and check if there's anything that looks like trouble right ahead," Clary told him. "So not before he's back."

"Then maybe we have a little time." Jace put his cup aside and reached out to touch the back of his hand against Clary's cheek.

She closed her eyes, leaning into his touch. "Is that a good idea?"

"We're still within Magnus' wards," he pointed out. "So no risk of being surprised by Seelie or demons. We just shouldn't take so long they'll send someone to check on us."

"That should be doable." Her hands were already undoing the buttons of his jacket before sliding the garment off his shoulders.

*

Alec used the time they spent waiting for Clary, Jace and Christopher to return with studying the maps that outlined their path for the day and mentally marking every place where they might run into an ambush or trap.

He was just about to move on to the next section when a loud noise from outside tore through the shed, interrupting the conversation Izzy had struck up with Sebastian as well as Charlie's soft music.

It wasn't the sound that made Alec wince and surge to his feet, however, but the searing pain that blossomed along his right upper arm and side.

"Jace!" he managed by way of explanation as he ran for the door, Magnus close on his heels.

The others were just behind.

"What about the wards?" Sebastian asked as they ran around the corner of the shed, following where Alec's connection to his parabatai led.

"Not breached," Magnus returned. "Whoever fired that shot did it from outside."

"Since when do Seelie use firearms?" Izzy had her whip out and ready. She kept looking from side to side, trying to find where the attacker was hiding.

She spotted him, just emerging from the shelter of some bushes a little way off, almost at the same instant at which her brother found where Jace and Clary were crouched low on the ground by the side of the brook. Some of the filled bottles around them had fallen over, one of them rolling forward slowly in the little stream before catching on something.

He was a man of indeterminate age, bearded and wearing clothes that looked as if he had been living rough for a while. He swiveled his shotgun, previously trained at where their friends were, to point it at them.

A jerky motion of Magnus' hand shot a round of golden magic towards the man, hitting him square in the chest before he could pull the trigger again.

The impact lifted him off his feet and carried him several steps backwards. He remained where he had dropped, momentarily dazed.

A beckoning gesture brought the shotgun flying into the warlock's hand.

"That's a mundane," Alec announced with a glance in the man's direction but without slowing down. He cleared the brook with one jump, skidding to a halt where Jace and Clary were just starting to pick themselves up again. Their jackets and shirts had been discarded before the attack and were lying by the edge of the water.

Izzy snatched them up before turning to check on the mundane. He had gone back into cover.

Magnus pointed, sending a bolt of magic his way as a warning against coming back out.

"I don't think he has another weapon stashed away there," he determined. "At least I can't catch any more large metal pieces with my magic."

"I'll go and make sure," Sebastian offered. He had a seraph blade out and held ready.

"Leave him be for now as long as he stays out of our way," Alec told him, only slightly distracted by the cursory examination he gave his parabatai. Jace was bleeding from a number of holes in his arm and side, though thanks to the distance the buckshot pellets hadn't buried themselves very deeply in his muscle.

Charlie was treating Clary to the same quick check-up. "Back to the shed," she said. "This is more annoying than serious."

Jace winced as he used his injured arm to grab his clothes and reached for his girlfriend with his other hand.

"By the Angel, I'm so sorry, Clary!" he blurted out when he saw the thin rivulets of blood trickling down her skin.

A corner of her mouth twitched upwards in spite of the pain from her wounds. "For what? You didn't tell him to take a shot at us."

She bent to pick up the bottle from the brook as she let Izzy and Charlie herd her back towards the shed. "Should I be feeling worse?" she asked, frowning at her friends. "We were just shot at and I'm barely—"

"It'll come," Izzy promised her. "Adrenalin covers up a lot."

"If I see that guy again, I'll give him a charm he won't forget so easily," Charlie declared on her other side. "What kind of person shoots at a canoodling couple?"

"Why was there a canoodling couple out there anyway?" Sebastian demanded, his voice cool. "What were you thinking?"

Jace glared at him. "Leave her alone. It was my idea, and I was thinking that we were safe inside Magnus' wards. Mad farmers with shotguns are not on the list of dangers I am used to expecting."

*

Chris had scouted ahead just as he had announced, though his self-imposed mission served another purpose as well.

The only one of the others who knew about that other reason why he had wanted to get out before they left was Sebastian, and as far as he was concerned, that was how things could remain indefinitely.

Sebastian had known about his little problem and the solution he had found for it since they had been boys. Specifically, since that day when he had followed Chris away from the institute to a small spot of burnt earth where nothing would ever grow again. He had kept his secret that day, which had marked the beginning of their friendship.

Valentine had wanted him to harness his demonic magic, use it for his cause and wield it like another weapon.

Jocelyn had been so afraid of it, unwilling to come near him or even be in the same room with him alone.

He understood where she was coming from. It frightened him, too.

He had wanted nothing more than to never use it again.

The power didn't agree, however. It built up in him, and if he didn't find an outlet for it, it would break free at some point, hurting those around him or destroying things. It was worse when he didn't keep his emotions under a tight control, but if he let the power build up for too long, it would happen even while he was perfectly calm, simply because he was focusing on something or someone.

He had been so relieved when he had learned that he could discharge that power, channeling it from his body into the ground. Unwilling to share the issues of his heritage with anyone in the institute, he had snuck away every once in a while, finding a place as concealed as he could in London, where he hoped that the spoiled ground he left behind wouldn't do any harm.

Initially, he had been able to make do with doing that every couple of months. As he had grown up, the demonic power had intensified, requiring more frequent trips. Eventually he had needed to discharge that energy about once a week.

It hadn't been an issue in London. He had known where to go and how to get away from the others to do that.

Then, yesterday, he had been surprised at the speed at which his power replenished. It made him suspect that the adamas in the institute walls had protected him from absorbing too much power from the world around him. It had been a long time since he had spent as much time outside of institute walls as he had that last day.

He felt better for letting go of that energy. It always made him feel tainted, just as Jocelyn had said.

He was on his way back when he heard the shot, coming roughly from the direction he was going into.

First, he stopped dead in his tracks, surprised at the sound and momentarily unable to place it.

Then he started to run. None of them were using firearms, and the warlock's wards were targeted to keep out magic and Seelie and demons. He had keyed them to let Chris and himself pass at need, but things like slugs or bullets would not need any such measures to get through.

As he was racing back to the others, secretly glad to know through their bond that Sebastian was safe and feeling slightly ashamed for not caring as much if any of the others were hurt or not, he kept telling himself that the most likely reason for that shot had been someone on the hunt. Who knew what Seelie were doing with the weapons they found in mundane households? There might even be some few mundanes left, up here in the mountains where settlements were farther apart and lone farms and cottages sprinkled the landscape.

At the same time, something that wasn't quite premonition told him that that was not the case.

He barely noticed it when he dashed through the wards, the momentary tingle of magic on his skin drowned out by the thoughts racing through his head.

The others were nowhere to be seen. Once inside the wards, he forced himself to slow down instead of barging headlong into the barn. If nothing had happened to any of them, he wasn't going to make a fool of himself that way.

Forcing his breathing to slow and realizing that there was no way he could hide the flush of his face, he pushed open the door to find his fears confirmed.

Clary and Jace were sitting on the floor, both bloodied. Isabelle – Izzy – was unpacking her first aid kit, handing her brother a pair of tweezers and taking one for herself along with a jar of salve to tend to Clary.

They looked up at his arrival.

"What happened?" he asked, sounding only slightly out of breath.

Sebastian rolled his eyes at him. "These two were a bit too busy to notice a mundane with a shotgun was sneaking up on them," he said.

"To be fair," Jace corrected, "the mundane was something like fifty feet away and hiding in the shrubbery, and as I said before: mundanes with shotguns are not on the lists of dangers I usually think of."

Chris' eyes narrowed. "How does filling water bottles keep you too busy to notice that anyway?"

Stepping inside the room, he closed the door behind him again and started gathering his things and fitting the freshly filled bottles into his backpack. Jace and Clary didn't seem hurt to the point where they would need to stick around for a full day. Surely they would be leaving as soon as their wounds were taken care of.

"They were done with the filling and were using the time away from us for some more private activities," Sebastian informed his parabatai, blushing slightly at his words.

It took Chris another moment to understand. When he did, he directed an incredulous look at Jace and Clary. "What by the Angel made you think this was the right time for that?"

"In their defense," Alec declared, his voice firm. "I knew perfectly well what they were going to use the time away from us for, and I didn't think it would be a problem either, as long as they stayed within the wards. None of us expected a mundane with a firearm taking a shot at any of us."

Chris stared at him for another moment. Then he threw up his hands and turned around to continue packing. Jace and Alec were parabatai. If they hadn't defended each other, there would have been something seriously wrong with their bond.

It was, he thought, one of the things that drove home most clearly that these people were not at all like their counterparts that he knew. Jonathan and Alexander would never have accepted any parabatai, considering a bond that close a weakness and liability. Valentine vocally disapproved of the concept, and had talked often about outlawing it once their group came to power. It had been one of the reasons he had accepted when Sebastian had proposed to him that they should apply for the ceremony, in spite of the fears he had had about it because of his demonic blood.

*

Izzy had spread salve from her jar generously around the small wounds in Clary's arm and side.

"It'll numb your skin a bit," she had told her friend as she had started. "It'll still be unpleasant, but at least it won't be more unpleasant than it has to be."

She handed the jar on to Alec, who started applying the salve to Jace in the same manner.

For a moment, she thought their brother was about to protest, but he reconsidered just in time. It seemed that his wish to appear impermeable to pain before Sebastian and Christopher was outdone by his desire not to make Clary seem weaker than he was.

"This would be easier if you could just lie down on a table for me," Izzy told her friend as she moved her arm into position to start extracting the small pellets from her flesh. "But if you stretch out on the ground, I won't be able to get a good angle…"

Charlie moved in without prompting, reaching out to support the other woman's injured limb. She shifted until Clary could lean against her, further reducing the risk of her twitching away from the tweezers.

"Let's get it over with," Jace said, angling his own arm towards Alec while casting a glance at Magnus.

Guessing at what he wanted him to do, the warlock knelt in a position that mirrored Charlie's, while Jace closed his eyes, steeling himself for the pain to come.

Alec sketched a tiny cleansing charm on the tweezers he held and approached the first of the small holes near Jace's shoulder with it, probing for the pellet.

The numbing salve made it a little easier, but he could feel an echo of the twinge Jace felt in his own arm. Gritting his teeth slightly, he extracted the first pellet and moved on to the next.

At the third, he felt the muscles in his arm twitch in response to the pain that leaked through their bond. Runes applied by parabatai on each other were stronger. If he hadn't known better, he might have wondered if pain caused by parabatai to each other was amplified as well.

"Alexander," Magnus said as he watched. "Don't you think it might be a good idea if we switched places? I'm sure this can be done more quickly by someone who isn't stabbing himself in the arm every time he tries to grab a pellet."

Alec tried to glare at his boyfriend, but didn't quite manage to find the right expression. "I'm not stabbing myself in the arm," he muttered.

"Not literally maybe," Magnus allowed.

It was hard to object to that when Alec felt the sting of Jace's wounds more and more acutely. He looked at his parabatai. "Is that okay with you?"

"Of course!" Jace was quick to reassure him. "I'm sure Magnus has acquired ample skill in this kind of thing over the centuries."

Magnus directed a curious look at Jace. "Are you sure you didn't hit your head when you dove for cover?"

"Very," Jace confirmed. "But you know – your exploits are legendary. Literally so. Why, it wouldn't surprise me if you'd been in my position before."

"Keep going that way, and I'll forget how a full healing works and make you keep the scars when we're done here," Magnus cautioned.

Jace didn't seem perturbed by the thought. "Go ahead and do that. I'll come up with some grand and heroic story of how I got them. Then try to set that straight. Who's going to believe you if you tell them what actually happened?"

That drew a laugh from Magnus. "I'm sure Alexander could corroborate my version."

"He wouldn't!" Jace insisted.

"Leave me out of that one," Alec declared firmly. "You know I fail at lying, Jace."

*

They were off with some delay but mostly in good spirits, once Magnus had treated both Jace and Clary to a helping of his healing magic, closing up the holes torn by the buckshot and regenerating the layers of skin without leaving behind the least blemish.

Sebastian, taking the lead again with the maps, set a brisk pace as if determined to make up for the time they had already lost.

No one complained as they matched his speed. The fresh, clean mountain air felt good, even though it was rather cool this time of the year.

There was no doubt that the land they were passing through was broken in many ways. Some were as subtle as patches of grass that looked just a little off. Others were more glaring, like the cracks in the rocky surface that ran along the side of the path they followed for a while, which were emitting a foul odor that wasn't reminiscent of anything they had ever smelled before.

They wrapped scarves over their noses and mouths and continued even more quickly, none of them feeling any wish to spend more time in the vicinity of whatever was causing that smell than was unavoidable.

Around noon, they came across the carcass of a deer, lying half on and half off the path. It hadn't died easily, and whatever had brought it down must have had long, sharp claws and not much of an appetite, since it had left most of its kill uneaten.

Jace checked the release on the forearm sheath he wore, while Alec took his bow from his back, his gaze sweeping from side to side as they continued on their way. Christopher mirrored him with his crossbow.

The path swerved, leading into a mountain forest covering the increasingly steep slope on either side of their way. The wind ceased now, the air still and heavy with the usual forest scents. It would have been reassuring, had it not been far too cool for that degree of smell.

"Does this remind you of the Seelie Realm?" Clary asked when they had been inside the forest for a few minutes. "I could swear it smelled the same when we visited the Seelie Queen with Simon."

Jace nodded. "You have a point," he said.

"They brought plenty of animals from their realm," Christopher reminded them. "I wouldn't be surprised if they also brought plants. I have no idea how fast Seelie flora grows, though."

They had slowed down considerably now. The narrow, winding path through the trees never permitted them to look far ahead, and they didn't want to run headlong into danger they hadn't been able to spot in time.

Still, they seemed to be quite alone in the forest. They barely even heard or saw any sign of larger animals, though insects were buzzing around them, apparently not caring that it wasn't the right season for them, until they applied some insect repelling charms.

Navigating another of the narrow bends, this one leading around a large boulder that concealed any view of what lay on the other side of it, Sebastian stopped dead in his tracks.

The others came to a halt as well, taking in the situation before them.

Something had uprooted several trees a little up the slope, causing them to crash down, tearing through everything that grew below them. They had fallen right across their path, well and truly blocking it with trunks too thick to easily climb over.

Alec squinted upwards. "Lucky thing we're adaptable," he said, adjusting his bag before reaching for a root in the thin soil to use as a handhold to pull himself up a little way. "We'll just have to go around these."

They scrambled up the steep mountainside, using mostly the same techniques they would have when navigating on the roofs of Alicante.

Tension increased as they progressed – not only because the earth beneath their boots kept crumbling away, trickling downhill in smaller and larger rivulets and making it harder for those below them to follow, but also because they had to use their hands to steady themselves on anything that was anchored firmly enough in the ground to bear their weight. It meant that they had to let go of the weapons they had held ready before, returning them to their usual locations on their bodies.

Alec reached the upper end of the fallen trunks first.

"Now look at that," he breathed as he jammed one foot against a large stone to keep from sliding and inspected the sight before him.

Magnus moved into place next to him, closely followed by Izzy and Charlie. Their other two friends were a little behind, with Jace helping Clary find the best spots to climb. Sebastian and Christopher brought up the rear, securing their ascent.

The roots hadn't let go of the soil they were anchored in, tearing a large slab of earth out of the ground as they had been pulled up by the tipping trunks. Where the trees had once stood, there now was a ragged hole in the mountainside. A moment's inspection also showed just why the trees had been wobbly enough to fall in the first place: Something or someone had hollowed out the ground beneath their roots already, using the resulting burrow to stash away a selection of objects that sparkled and blinked more than they should have in light filtering though the canopy overhead.

"Seelie gems," Magnus said. "Spelled to dazzle and to attract. I would recommend against taking any of it."

"No kidding," Izzy told him. "Do you think we can walk past there without danger?"

"There's no magic around that hole," Charlie and Alec said at the same time. The Bard continued: "As long as we don't step into it, we should be fine."

They moved forward, staying close together and as close to the roots now pointing almost vertically into the air as they could.

Alec felt the change as soon as he came within three feet of the stash. It took him a moment to place the feeling of wrongness. He had become so used to the constant low-level enhancement of the charms he wore on top of his runes that their disappearance felt as if his senses had dulled just a little.

"Careful!" He called out to those behind him. "Something just ate my charms."

"Magic-less hole," Magnus said. He didn’t seem surprised. "Protected against spells probably."

Alec half-turned to look at his boyfriend. "Is it going to interfere with your magic?"

"Only if I use it," the warlock said. He sounded very certain about it. "It only affects active magic."

"How can you be so sure?"

Magnus gave him a broad grin. "Because you still have my charm in the middle of your forehead. We'll just have to reapply the others when we are back on the path – unless you want everyone else to take a detour around that thing?"

For the briefest moment, Alec considered it. The slope only got harder to traverse the higher it went, though, and sliding down from above and into that hole couldn't be a good thing.

"Let's just get past this as soon as possible," he determined, moving on quickly with his body almost pressed against the earthy wall formed by the tree roots.

He was almost ready to start the descent when he heard Jace curse behind him.

Turning, he saw his parabatai was down on his knees, apparently having missed a step and slipped a little.

"Not the kind of terrain to climb through without charms yet," Jace responded to the looks everyone from their group targeted at him. "Go ahead. I'll take some time on this, I fear."

"No way." Izzy had retraced her steps, offering him a hand. Clary was too busy to find good places to put her own hands and feet to be of much help. "We're all staying nicely together."

Jace glanced up at her, ready to object, but ended up making a sound half-way between a sigh and a laugh before reaching out to let her haul him back to his feet.

They made it back to the path on the other side of the fallen trees, sliding more than they were climbing.

Alec had started replacing his charms as far as he could reach the places where they had been as soon as he was back on firm ground, and the others followed his example.

Christopher and Sebastian were glaring at Jace. "What was that all about up there?" the latter finally demanded.

"I'm something like 90 percent recovered from my last combat wound," Jace told him, meeting his eyes levelly. "Before the shotgun one, that is."

"That wasn't a combat wound," Sebastian pointed out icily.

The other man shrugged the comment off. "Whatever. Anyway, I'm fine most of the time, but that terrain up there was a bit too rough to handle easily without charms to compensate for the last issues. Don't worry. Next time I'll be prepared."

Sebastian's frown deepened. "What kind of injury was that?"

"Arrow in the back," Jace informed him. "I wasn't able to walk at all for a couple of months." In fact, that had been the most obvious of the issues that wound had come with, but there had been steep competition for being the most unpleasant consequence of a spinal injury. He forced a smile as he looked up from where he had been drawing fresh charms on himself. "I'm better now. Really."

It wasn't enough to make Sebastian drop the matter. "How can they let you on a mission when you're only half-healed?"

Clary moved to stand by Jace's shoulder, offering backup in case he needed or wanted it.

"I'm a lot more than half-healed," Jace insisted. He met Sebastian's eyes stare for stare. "And if you want proof, I'm available to you for a practice bout with blades or knives, or hand-to-hand any time."

"Not now," Alec interrupted them before Sebastian could even consider accepting. "If you want to duel, do it when we're safely in shelter for the night. For now, let's move on."

"Right," their sister agreed. "I want to get away from here. Call me crazy, but there were a few moments up there where I thought I saw someone moving down on the path behind us."

Chapter Text

Later that afternoon, they broke into a building by the side of what had once been a mundane mountain hiking path. It had been left behind in an orderly condition, probably closed either at the end of the season before the worst of the mayhem had broken out or as soon as it had happened.

Abandoned as it was, it apparently hadn't held any kind of appeal for the Seelie or anyone else.

Charlie had whistled a charm at the front door to make the lock spring open, which left the door workable. They didn't bother to open the shutters, opting for light charms inside instead. Anything that didn't give away their presence would be welcome.

Exploring the building, they quickly came across the pantry. There was no stink of rotting food, which suggested that the freezers had been empty and turned off already when the proprietors had left. They found leftover boxes with bags of chips, the expiration dates well in the future, as well as bottled water, soda and beer waiting for the next season to start – a season that would never come.

After a thorough examination by Magnus had declared the food safe, they helped themselves to it. Though the building hadn't shown any signs of anyone entering before them, they hadn't been going to risk using any of the food left in it without double-checking.

"Alright," Jace said after their improvised dinner was finished. "Shall we then, Sebastian? That room by the door?"

The entrance room to the building was large, and doubtlessly used to be filled with tables and benches during season. At the moment, the furniture was folded up and stacked against the walls, making it easier to clean the floor properly. There was more evidence that the emptiness of this place was entirely planned.

Sebastian didn't bother to pretend that he didn't know what Jace meant. He stood and stretched, discarding his sweater. "Hand-to-hand," he said.

Jace nodded. "Wouldn't have it any other way." He slid out of the jacket that went with his gear, which none of them had taken off yet, and tossed it at Alec. Then he unbuckled the thigh holster with his neglected stele as well as the belt that held his knife and seraph blade. His electrum bracelet followed. Last, he produced a number of throwing knives from a variety of hidden sheaths all over his clothing.

The other man handed his blades to Christopher. If he found the size of the arsenal Jace had on his body impressive, he didn't show it.

As Jace and Sebastian faced off in the clear space at the center of the room, Charlie quickly pressed Clary into service to set up two benches so they could sit and watch them.

"Rules?" Jace asked. He looked entirely relaxed and at ease.

Sebastian's posture was more tense, though his face spoke of anticipation, rather than betraying any nervousness.

"Do you do that thing that Jonathan does where he activates his runes without using a stele?" Sebastian asked.

"I can, but I won't," Jace offered. "That'd be unfair."

"Then just a regular practice fight will do," Sebastian determined. "Nothing that leaves permanent marks, and whoever yields or is pinned loses."

"Fine with me." Jace shifted his weight, sliding easily into a ready position.

Sebastian gave him no warning. He lunged forward, the heel of his hand aiming for Jace's face just before his foot shot out the moment he was balanced well enough to sweep Jace's legs out from under him.

Predictable, Jace thought as he ducked the first, evaded the second and spun to apply his elbow to Sebastian's side. Continuing his movement, he took hold of his opponent's arm, twisting it back.

The other man went with the motion until he could use Jace's grip on him to send him to the floor in a well-practiced throw.

His technique was good, albeit unimaginative. Jace released his hold on Sebastian's arm in time to turn the throw into a controlled roll the moment he hit the ground. Tensing his body like a spring, he came back to his feet, ready to receive the next attack.

This time, he didn't try to avoid it. Instead, he caught Sebastian's arm, dropping again and letting the other man's momentum carry him over his head.

Following the movement, Jace ended up sitting on top of his sparring partner's chest, his forearm laid across Sebastian's throat and exerting the slightest of pressures.

"Yield," Sebastian gasped.

Jace sat back, taking the pressure off the other man's throat. "You're lucky," he said. "The last time I fought someone wearing your face, I killed him."

Shifting his weight to one side, he rose and pivoted on one foot, clearing Sebastian's body.

Before he could offer him a hand up, his defeated opponent had followed him into an upright position.

"Do you want to go again, or are you convinced?" Jace asked when they were facing each other once more.

Sebastian shook his head curtly. "'s okay. Let's just hope we're not meeting any opponents on bad ground."

Jace decided to let that comment go. He turned to Christopher instead. "Would you like to go a round?"

He got a surprised look in return. Christopher was clearly considering the potential issues of that offer before he eventually nodded. "Blades," he said. "We've seen you hand-to-hand, let's see you with blades now."

"Fine with me," Jace confirmed, walking over to Alec to retrieve his seraph blade.

He took a relaxed guard position and waited for Christopher to get ready.

Christopher took his time going through an unarmed warm-up routine before taking his sword and moving to face Jace.

So he wasn't going to give Jace the advantage of being warmed up from his fight with Sebastian already, but neither was he going to let him have a look at his fencing style beforehand. It was a smart move.

"First blood?" Jace asked. Thanks to the use of the iratze runes – or charms in their case – most of their practice fights were done with edged weapons and full contact. Belatedly, he remembered that he didn't know the same practice was common in this world, and he could only hope that Christopher wouldn't hold the offer against him.

As it turned out, he didn't. He did shake his head, however.

"First blood may be luck or coincidence," he said. "Are you okay with three hits?"

Jace saw Alec shoot Sebastian a surprised look. His parabatai clearly hadn't expected this kind of arrangement. Christopher's had. He shrugged in response, his posture and expression telling that he saw absolutely nothing out of the ordinary in the suggestion.

"Fine with me," Jace said. "Ready when you are."

Christopher took a step back and hefted his sword left-handed. It was clear from the first moment that this wasn't an accommodation for his electrum-burned right arm. The grip on his sword looked natural and his entire posture fit easily and seamlessly: Like Jace, Christopher was left-handed and had learned to fence that way.

"Ready," he said.

They circled slowly, watching each other. Both were carefully guarding themselves, trying to guess at the opponent's style and plans. Jace had never watched Christopher fight before, and he was reasonably sure that his experience with the Jonathan from their own world was not going to do him much good here.

In return, Christopher had only seen Jace's brief exhibition of hand-to-hand skills, which may have given him an idea of his reaction speed and maybe hinted at his reflexes, but also hadn't provided any information on his habits with a blade.

When Christopher attacked, it happened quite suddenly, without the telltale shift of weight, tensioning of muscle or sudden focus of his eyes preceding the lunge. Jace could have named everyone in the New York Institute who was able to pull off that particular trick, and he didn't even have to think about it. The list comprised five names, and one of them belonged to a dead man.

He didn't have the time to actually pursue that thought, however: there was a seraph blade speeding towards him, and only his own lightning-fast reflexes, kicking in before he had consciously processed the move, saved him from taking the first hit already.

As the blades met, Jace used them as a pivoting point to turn, moving out of Christopher's way and disengaging quickly before the other man had lost his momentum entirely.

Once his blade was free, he swung immediately, aiming for his opponent's side.

Christopher spun, a risky move since it required him to turn his back to Jace for a split second, but giving him a new direction and allowing him to meet Jace's sword with his own with some force when any other move would have had him either at an awkward angle or within the blades' reach and thus unable to get in a proper swing.

They traded blows for a few heartbeats, neither of them seriously trying to hit the other and instead testing each other's defenses and ability to adjust to changes of attack.

Jace almost wished they had agreed to put on their agility runes before they started. This was promising to be fun, with Christopher a far more imaginative fighter than Sebastian had seemed to be.

Jace felt the tip of Christopher's sword graze his bicep just below the sleeve of his t-shirt.

"One," he counted loudly, acknowledging the hit and wondering if Christopher regretted that he hadn't agreed to fight to first blood only.

Since the cut wasn't deep or bleeding profusely and didn't need immediate attention, Jace didn't bother to call a break or even put some distance between them.

Instead, he lunged forward in an attack of his own, trying to get around Christopher's guard.

The other man didn't evade but met him, his foot placed deliberately to trip Jace on his way past.

He avoided that trap easily, his sword slashing at Christopher's shoulder.

As soon as his blade was deflected, Jace shifted direction, retreating and turning once more.

When he started the move, his sword was firmly held in his left hand. By the time he ended it, he had transferred the weapon to his right, striking out with a suddenly longer reach on that side that Christopher did not expect. He scored a hit, drawing a shallow cut across the other man's ribs.

"One." Christopher announced.

"I owe you a shirt," Jace said, blocking the counter-attack. Clearly, Christopher had no intention of interrupting the duel to take care of his cut first either.

Christopher laughed. "I can just grab one from somewhere."

They fell silent again, the only sounds in the room that of seraph blades meeting as they continued to move in circles across their makeshift arena.

Spotting an opening, Jace lunged, stabbing instead of slashing. He had to retreat quickly, only a drop and roll taking him out of range of Christopher's return attack, though not before the tip of his blade had found his opponent's thigh, biting deep enough to draw blood.

Christopher's defending strike came close enough that Jace could feel the movement of air as the sword missed him by the smallest of margins.

"Two." Christopher counted up. He tested his leg, satisfied that the wound wasn't going to impair his ability to stand or pivot, and moved in, raining blows down on Jace and driving him backwards through the room.

For the moment, all he could do was to defend while he looked for an opening – not to attack but to get a little more distance between them again and give him some space to maneuver properly. Had he fought against Alec, he would have activated his agility rune and taken care of the situation with a somersault over his parabatai's head, but he didn't think that particular stunt would sit too well with Christopher. He wanted to avoid any accusations that he had cheated.

His back hit a stack of benches against the wall, blocking his retreat.

Certainty shone in Christopher's eyes as he swung again, apparently expecting that he was going to hold Jace at sword point in a moment, ending the fight.

Jace's sword shot up just in time, catching and binding Christopher's at a point where he had plenty of strength to put into the defense while the momentum of the attack had already bypassed its zenith.

With the advantage of an obstacle at his back that prevented any risk of toppling backwards under the pressure from the swords caught hilt to hilt, Jace used a kick to push Christopher away from him far enough to disengage from the trap he had maneuvered himself into and back onto the clear ground.

He met Christopher's attacks in kind this time, blocking and attacking alternatingly.

Knowing he only needed one more hit to win, and knowing equally that if they continued as they were, this match was quickly going to turn into a contest of stamina only, and won by the one who could keep his focus the longest, he ran through the options he had in his mind. Any kind of fancy move also brought a certain danger with it; he could afford to take one hit in order to get in one of his own, but if he took one and then failed to deliver in turn, they were going to be fighting for that last, decisive contact of blade and skin.

The decision was taken out of his hands when Christopher missed a step, stumbling slightly.

Almost out of reflex, Jace moved in, using his opponent's moment of imbalance.

Instead of trying to block, the other man dropped and rolled, evading Jace's attack and slashing in the movement.

Sharp pain blossomed in Jace's calf just before he felt a warm trickle on his leg.

"Two," he announced, spinning to meet Christopher as soon as the other man surged to his feet.

His head start was gone, and the next time anyone drew blood would decide the match. Jace could feel the increased force behind Christopher's attacks now, and he reacted in kind. Sequences of clashing swords alternated with seconds of circling, watching each other and waiting for the smallest mistake, wandering attention, a slip of the guard…

Jace dropped the tip of his blade a little – just barely enough to be perceptible to the attentive watcher.

When Christopher moved, he didn't even try to block his blade. Instead, his sword arm shot forward, the tip of his weapon aimed for his opponent's arm. At the last possible moment, Jace evaded the strike that was coming, feeling as he did so the resistance that told him that his sword had found its target.

The sharp edge sliced open the other man's forearm, the wound a little deeper than any they had inflicted so far. It wasn't a big deal. A quick iratze would take care of it.

"Three, and out," Christopher announced, standing almost immediately with his sword lowered, the tip pointing to the ground. "Well fought … Jace." He hesitated on the name, as if still having to remind himself not to call him Jonathan.

"And you," Jace said, meaning his words. Sebastian's strength clearly wasn't in single combat, but Christopher was a skilled swordsman.

Jace quickly sketched charms onto his cuts, before carefully wiping away all drops he could find that had made it onto the floor. Blood was powerful. They had found the Gale approach of not leaving anything that had once been connected to their bodies lying around for others to find and use – and blood least of all – quite sensible.

He caught Alec's eye when he looked up from his task.

"I'm up for another round," Jace announced. "How about it, Alec? Sword and dagger with agility charms?"

Instead of answering, Alec picked up the dagger Jace had left with him and tossed it at his parabatai before slipping out of his jacket, taking his own weapons and sketching the requested charm on his arm.

Jace met him with an unannounced strike and Alec parried as easily as if they had been working according to a set choreography.

With Christopher, Jace had been fighting an unknown, which had required the same kind of focus as in an actual battle situation. With Alec, he had the leisure to be fancy and add flourishes that would leave no doubt about his physical condition - though he knew perfectly well that he wouldn't have been able to perform nearly as well if he hadn't still been wearing charms to enhance his muscle control and strength.

He knew he was grinning as he let himself be caught up entirely in the flow of their fight, both of them moving as if they could read each other's thoughts. They went through maneuvers that would have been far too dangerous in a normal freestyle practice fight, made safe by their parabatai bond and long experience with each other.

"Stop!"

Magnus' sudden interruption was jarring, freezing both of them in mid-motion.

They turned, concern not leaving any space for annoyance in either of them. Surely, Magnus wouldn't have stopped them if the matter hadn't been pressing.

Magnus' eyes were firmly on Alec when he spoke again. "Someone just walked into my wards."

*

They followed Magnus outside, with Alec and Jace quickly shrugging on their jackets over their t-shirts. Not knowing what Magnus had caught in his wards, they weren't going to go out there without protection.

Like Alec and Jace, Clary had drawn her blade. The two locals both took their crossbows. Charlie carried her guitar as usual, while Izzy had her whip in her hand.

Magnus had felt one attempt at breaching his wards, but that didn't mean they necessarily had only a single opponent to face out there.

They fell into formation outside, with Alec and Christopher in the lead.

This time, Magnus had opted for wards that would catch anything walking into them that exceeded a certain size, holding anyone attempting to enter captive until he came to retrieve them.

Alec had to suppress a groan when they rounded the corner of the building and he saw just exactly who his lover's trap had caught.

"Seriously?" he asked, staring at the man who was struggling in vain to detach himself from the insubstantial wall of the wards, pulsing red where it touched him. His shotgun, a model almost identical to the one they had taken from him, had fallen by his feet, impossible for him to retrieve since the wards held him in position.

"I told you I thought someone was following us," Izzy declared, rolling her eyes at the man and picking up his weapon. "Do you think Graham would like this?"

"No," her brother told her. "Graham has much better weapons than that."

While none of them had had any experience with firearms before meeting the Gales, Graham had taught Alec the basics of shooting on his improvised range. Some of the weapons the former assassin used were quite high-tech.

"I kept thinking that if any Seelie were following us, they surely wouldn't let you spot them," Jace told Izzy. "I never thought our mundane friend might be behind this."

"Not your friend," the man snarled at them, his English heavily accented even in those few words.

Jace walked forward until he stood right across from him. "Yeah, well," he said, "we figured as much when you took that shot at Clary and me. Too bad you missed."

The mundane made a derisive sound. "I never miss."

"Everyone misses sometimes," Alec said evenly.

"Not I, not with buckshot at that distance," their captive insisted.

"Alright," Jace said. "So you hit us and we're miraculously healed. Why did you follow us?"

"Wanted to know where you were going. I don't like strangers on my land."

Izzy snorted. "I can't blame you for that, but it's not like you put up a sign saying it was yours. We're just passing through."

"Your kind never just passes through."

She raised her eyebrows at him. "Our kind?"

"With the… the marks," he said, indicating the rune visible on her neck with a jerk of his head since his hands were still caught. "The wizards neither. I saw her burn up the ground you bled on." His stare was turned back at Jace at the last words.

She clearly was Charlie. "Not a wizard, but you're right: I did remove any essence those two left behind on that patch. They forgot to put up protections before they started leaking energy all over the place."

Jace and Clary had the good graces to look a little chagrined at that. They hadn't even considered that their pleasure might have leaked into the world around them – which had been a stupid thing to do, considering that they knew how the Gales' Ritual worked. Then again, Charlie would have had to burn that patch of ground anyway. They had bled on it after all. Magnus had cleaned up the shed again when they'd been done, producing a new ball of magic that enclosed all their essences that had clung to the place and incinerating it to remove all traces of their presence that could have been used to track them.

Apparently, they had still been trackable with entirely mundane means anyway.

On second thoughts, that would have been more surprising if they hadn't stuck to the paths.

Alec straightened, taking on his favorite parade rest position. "Where did you see people with our marks?"

"They came," the man said, "and took our people. They said that they—" he broke off, groping for words.

Guessing at the problem by the thickness of his accent, Alec decided to give him a small reprieve. "German or French is fine."

If the captive man was surprised, he didn't show it. When he spoke again, it was in German, no less accented, but fluent. "They came to our villages, the farms, the cottages, asking for people to join their cause. They told us they had to fight this invasion of creatures from fairy tales and legends and that they needed our strongest people to help them. Some went. Most of us didn't believe them. We laughed at them. Then the creatures came. More went to find them. No one who left returned or was ever heard from again."

Clary was frowning. She had thought her German had grown pretty good in the meantime, but she barely understood a word the man said.

Apparently realizing her predicament, Jace leaned over to tell her in a low voice: "It's Swiss. It takes some getting used to if you've never heard it before."

That seemed like an understatement, but she nodded.

Magnus still hadn't made any move to release the man from his wards, and Alec didn't seem to be in any hurry to ask him to.

"So where are the others?" he asked the man instead. He, too, had switched to German, but his pronunciation was what Clary was used to hearing. "They can't all have left."

"Tot," came the answer. "They're all dead. I'm the last left alive. I shoot the fastest."

"We don't belong to that group," Alec told him. "Even though we are marked like they are. We're just passing through on an errand. We'll be off your country soon enough."

The captive man snorted. "I won't care about that anymore if you leave me stuck to your magical walls for the night. Something will come out of the darkness and eat me for sure."

"Where had you planned to shelter before you walked into my wards?" Magnus asked, curiously.

He gestured at the cottage. "That looks safe enough."

"We were in there," Izzy pointed out.

There was a long, meaningful look at the shotgun.

"You couldn't have killed us all," Alec pointed out reasonably.

"I could have tried."

"You would have died." Christopher's voice was calm, stating facts without emotion. "What do we do with him? We should really just leave him where he is, and let him take his chances with whatever he attracts."

"That'll just leave us with more unbidden visitors stuck to the wards by morning and needing to be dealt with," Izzy pointed out. "I say we take his weapons, let him spend the night inside and send him on his way in the morning."

"So he can follow us again?" Sebastian asked.

"We can lock him in the cottage under wards for a day or so," Magnus suggested. "There's enough food and drink inside, and our trail will be long cold by the time he gets out."

Alec nodded at him. "I like that idea. Let's do that." He reached out with one hand, pulling the man's belt knife from its sheath and sticking it in his own belt. "I'll return this to you when we leave. You don't need to be armed while you're our guest. What's your name, by the way?"

Their guest-to-be, well aware that his status was going to be closer to that of a prisoner, glared at Alec. "Anton Gruber," he said grudgingly. "I don’t need your protection."

"You do while we have your weapons," Alec returned practically. "Magnus? The wards?"

Magnus snapped his fingers, and their unbidden visitor stumbled forward, kept from falling by Jace's hand on his arm.

"Let's go inside," Alec said. "We can discuss the details there."

*

They had decided to sleep in the large room, which had enough space for all of them.

Alec was watching Charlie charm another section of the floor into a mattress when Christopher appeared by his side.

"Alec? A word?"

He turned towards the other man. "Sure."

Christopher jerked his head sideways, indicating the door that led into the next room.

He wanted to talk in private then?

With a mental shrug, Alec led the way.

"Is it wise to let the mundane sleep in here with us?" Christopher asked as soon as they were out of earshot of the others.

Now his request for privacy made sense. Questioning a leader's decision before his soldiers wasn't a wise move, even if he wasn't your own commander.

"He wouldn't have survived the night outside," Alec reminded him.

"He won't survive for long anyway," the other man pointed out. "And he has already shown his willingness to harm us. He shot at your parabatai and Sera—Clary before even checking who they were. He said he knows Shadowhunters – and I can believe that – but he's a mundane. He doesn't have runes. How did he even see they were wearing Marks at that distance?"

"Binoculars," Alec suggested. "And we have his weapons. He won't get them back before we leave."

"He's going to follow us around again and wait for a moment at which he can attack."

It was at least a likely outcome if they let him leave at the same time they did. Alec couldn't help but admit that. "He might. Magnus or Charlie can make sure he won't be leaving for a few hours after we're gone. Charlie has obscured our trail before, too. I'm not killing a mundane while he's helpless."

"You've lived quite the sheltered lives in your world," Christopher said, lowering his voice even more. "Here, now? That kind of scruples will get you killed."

"I wouldn't call our lives sheltered," Alec returned, matching the other man's volume. "Not to begin with and even less so in the last few months. But I for one am still sworn to protect mundanes. I won't kill one of them in cold blood, and I won't stand for anyone else doing so either. We keep an eye on him. He stays behind when we leave, and he can continue to do whatever he's been doing when we're gone."

A muscle twitched in Christopher's face. "Yeah. What has he been doing? Unless this area is a lot different from London, which it really doesn't seem to be, I don't see how a single mundane would have survived this long."

"They're not all as fragile as we tend to think they are." Alec almost had to grin as he heard the words emerge from his mouth. Not too long ago, he would have laughed at any such statement. "He might have been a soldier or a hunter and be really good with his weapons. We know he's good at hiding, or else we would have seen more of him during the day."

"He might be possessed," the other man offered in return.

Alec shook his head. "I've seen possessed. I've been possessed. I'm reasonably sure this is not the issue here." He wasn't entirely certain that admitting to that incident towards Christopher was the wisest move he could make, but if he brought up that theory in the larger group, there was a risk that that incident with Valentine's engineered demon would come up. Better to not make it seem as if he had kept anything that relevant back. He wasn't going to inform him about Izzy and her subsequent attack on him, though. That wasn't his tale to tell.

Christopher stared at him for a moment, apparently uncertain of how to continue. Then he visibly jerked himself out of his thoughts.

"Fine. Let's hope your mercy doesn't kill us all. Will you at least agree to have guards for this night?"

"Sure. We can do that." Alec didn't think they needed more than a set of wards around the mundane to keep him from straying from the place he was given to sleep, but if keeping watch through the night put their new allies a little more at ease, it was a small price to pay. They were enough to share the duty so no one would lose too much sleep after all. "Let's go back to the others and see who wants to take which shift."

Without waiting for the other man's confirmation, he strode back into their main room, noting with some amusement that both Jace and Sebastian were standing by the door, apparently having decided that they needed to make sure their respective parabatai didn't come to blows.

Christopher scowled darkly at Jace. "I suggest he shares his shift with someone other than Clary. We already know what they get up to if left unsupervised."

Chapter Text

February 8th, 2017

"It feels strange out here," Jace noted. He and Alec were standing just outside the front door to their shelter, looking out into the night. "Call me crazy, but it reminds me of that night of Ritual."

Alec nodded. "It's the power. There's energy in the air that shouldn't be there. I bet there is some Seelie working going on somewhere in the area right now."

"Maybe keeping watch isn't that bad an idea after all," his parabatai mused. "Think we should check on our mundane?"

Alec shook his head. "Let the man sleep. It'll be the last safe night he'll have in a while."

They had locked their unbidden visitor in the storage room after moving its remaining contents into the kitchen, in a compromise between Alec's decision to grant him shelter and the local pair's wish to keep the man away from their group. With both a mundane lock and a ward on the door and further wards on the room's only window, he wasn’t going to go anywhere without permission.

The two men stepped out into the cold winter air and started walking around the cottage at a leisurely pace, their hands on their weapons.

"He has a point, you know," Jace said slowly. "Don't you think it's strange that he's still alive in the first place, and that he was coming after us like that? He basically admitted he would have tried to kill us if it hadn't been for the wards."

"There's definitely something off about him," Alec agreed. "But I couldn't see any power signature on him. Neither could Charlie or Magnus. He's not possessed, he's not under some spell and he's not glamored. Being wilderness-savvy enough to survive on his own for a few months isn't enough reason to kill a mundane."

"I wasn't going to suggest that we kill him," Jace returned. "But maybe we should ask him a few more questions in the morning."

"Feel free to do that," Alec told him. "They'll probably complain we're taking too long to get going, but it's not like it'll make much of a difference. We're not moving at the pace we were planning to anyway."

"What do you think of them?"

Alec considered. "It's weird. I look at Sebastian and I see Jonathan. And Christopher – I don't know. I think he's not being entirely honest, but I don't think he's malicious."

"He ate the pie," Jace pointed out practically. "And he liked it. He's not a danger to us in any case. And I think that practice fight cured me of seeing Jonathan behind Sebastian." He chuckled. "I mean, seriously? I hope he's not going to get into a situation where he actually has to defend himself."

"He can't be that bad," his parabatai pointed out. "He has survived this long. He underestimated you – badly. But he's hopefully learned his lesson there. Christopher seemed pretty good with the blade, though."

Jace snorted. "That's a bit of an understatement. I'd say he's right on a level with us and Iz. He'll be fine to have in a fight. I wonder what his demon blood can do, though. It must have some uses."

"Do you want to ask him about it?" Alec looked into the distance, focusing on flecks of light in the darkness. He sketched a charm on his eyelids to give his sight a longer reach, relying on Jace to keep an eye on the closer proximity.

"Not at this point," the other man said. "Do you see anything?"

"Fires," Alec returned. "Someone lit a group of fires over on that other hill. Doesn't seem to be spreading and doesn't seem to be any particular pattern, but I'm still kind of glad that's not the direction we're taking."

*

"We should bring the mundane some food," Izzy noted. They had made their breakfast out of the remains of their pie and some of the snacks from the cottage. Their next meal would probably be freshly ordered from Calgary again.

"He can eat when we're gone," Christopher pointed out. "We can't take everything in here anyway."

Alec shook his head. "Izzy's right. We shouldn't make this more uncomfortable for him than we have to."

Sebastian gave him a dark look, but he got up and took a bag of chips. "I'll do it."

If he let any of their odd visitors take care of that task, they were just as likely to leave the door open and let the man roam free afterwards. If he took care of it, at least he could ensure that the door was properly locked again once he left.

A swipe of his stele opened the wards and the lock.

Pushing the door open, he found their prisoner curled up on the floor.

The man looked up at him. "Have you finally decided when you'll execute me?" he asked.

"Unfortunately," Sebastian returned, tossing the bag at him, "we seem to have turned into a democracy and the majority vote says we let you live."

Gruber caught the bag and put it aside, placing it by the plastic bottles they had left him with the night before. There was still plenty of water in them. Good – so he wouldn’t have to go back and get more for him.

"What does the majority say about letting me use the bathroom?"

Sebastian barely suppressed a sigh. He was reasonably certain he knew what Alec and his lot would say if the question was put to them. "Come on then," he said curtly. "And don't think you can try anything. I'll be right outside the door. When you're done, you go back into this room until we are ready to leave."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Gruber claimed, unfolding himself slowly to stand and walking over, his hands held so that Sebastian could see he wasn't carrying anything in them.

True to his word, Sebastian stood guard, trying hard not to listen too closely to the sounds coming from inside the bathroom.

As he waited, he briefly let his thoughts return to the previous day. The way Jace had bested him didn't sit well with him. He wasn't that bad a fighter. After his issues on the slope, he hadn't expected that level of skill. Now they all probably thought he was useless in battle.

If he was entirely honest with himself, he wasn't quite sure how much better he would have fared if he had expected Jace to be in that good a shape. The man had been incredibly fast, every movement calculated for best effect.

Sebastian didn't consider himself a bad fighter, but he was very well aware that his greatest skill was in technique and precise form. Jace had turned combat into an art, somewhat like their late head of institute Imogen – who would have been his grandmother, had they come from the same world.

Had Jace been trained by her counterpart in their world?

Probably not, he decided. The style surely should have felt more familiar then.

His thoughts were interrupted as the mundane emerged, walking past him without a word.

Just as Sebastian fell into step behind him, the man spun.

His hand, previously empty, now held a short but wickedly sharp blade that Sebastian hadn't seen before. Stupid, he scolded himself mentally. They should have searched the man for concealed weapons. Not even he or Chris had thought of that – he was a mundane, by the Angel. How likely were they to have hidden knives on their bodies?

With the moment of surprise on his side, and moving with the speed of someone who relied on his fighting skills to survive, the man pressed the edge of his blade against Sebastian's throat before the Shadowhunter had the time to react.

"One wrong movement and you're dead," the man hissed. "And don't try any of your tricks. I've taken out better men than you before."

Sebastian didn't bother to point out that he couldn't exactly know that. He stood still but kept his body tensed, ready to jump into action the moment the blade moved a little to where it wouldn't slit his aorta that easily.

"Where are the others?"

"In the kitchen when I last saw them," Sebastian answered truthfully.

Gruber grabbed his arm with his free hand. "Start walking. We'll pay them a visit."

Moving slowly, Sebastian did as he was told. One thing was clearly evident: Anton Gruber knew what he was doing. This couldn't have been the first time he had held someone at the point of his knife. In fact, the way he was pushing him forward without letting the blade slip or accidentally killing his captive suggested that he had ample practice.

"Sorry," Sebastian said when they reached the door and the others looked up, spotting the predicament he was in. He wanted to point out that he had been right in that they should have gotten rid of the mundane right away, but he realized that he wasn't in the best position to do so – both if he wanted to actually survive this experience and because he was the one who had let the man surprise him.

Before anyone else could speak, Alec rose to his feet. "What do you want?"

Sebastian groaned inwardly. Was he really going to let the man blackmail them into meeting whatever demands he had? If he had been in Alec's place, he would have ordered his warlocks to get a spell or two out and take care of the matter.

As he glanced at Magnus and Charlie, he realized that the former was flexing his fingers, apparently readying himself to cast a spell at need. The latter was fiddling with the tuning on her guitar. He glared at her. This wasn't the time for music.

"You're going to tie up your friends one by one," Gruber told Alec. "Nice and safely. If I see anyone reach for a weapon, this one dies. When you're done, you will sit down and let him tie you up as well." He indicated Sebastian at the last sentence. "Then I'll take my pick of your things, and I'll be on my way."

"You're planning to rob us?" Alec asked, not moving to obey, but not moving to help Sebastian either.

Gruber made a vague sideways motion with his head. "Let's say I'll improve my chances for survival, which means reducing yours. Your friends were right – you should have killed me when you had the opportunity. These days, hospitality gets you killed."

Sebastian found himself wondering how many people who had offered his captor hospitality before had been killed by him already. What would have happened if they hadn't locked the man into the storage room? Would he have actually had the guts to try and kill them in the night, knowing they were trained fighters?

"Start working," Gruber hissed at Alec. The pressure of the blade against Sebastian's throat increased. He could feel the first wet trickle run down his skin.

Alec turned. "Who'll go first?" he asked, his tone sounding far from concerned.

Chris directed an angry look at him, but Charlie stepped forward, the smile on her face looking quite out of place. "How about me?"

She still had her hand on the strings of her guitar. When Alec approached her, she released them, playing the notes as she did so.

With the sound of the first of them, the other warlock's hand moved, releasing the magic he had gathered.

Gruber's hand jerked. He had held and tensed his arm so any twitch would send the blade deeply into Sebastian's flesh. He could only hope he would live for long enough that someone could iratze him to keep him from bleeding out.

The pain that should have accompanied a slash to the throat didn't come.

Even as his mind was still processing the fact that someone must have thrown a shield over him, protecting him from the blade and keeping him alive, his body moved.

His hands grabbed Gruber's arm and hand, pulling it down and twisting, taking hold of the knife's hilt before he threw the older man to the ground where he landed on his back with a dull thud.

Without the slightest hesitation, Sebastian followed him down, the knife describing an arc in the air before he plunged it into Gruber's throat and pulled it sideways, severing the vital structures there.

Sebastian leaned back, avoiding the spray of warm blood as far as he could. The body beneath him jerked one last time and lay still.

The Shadowhunter threw the knife on the floor, where a sticky red puddle was quickly forming, lapping at the metal and merging with the blood already clinging to it.

He stood and took a step sideways to keep his boots clean. Blood still was a good way to track a man, and he wanted as little of the dead mundane's on him as he could manage.

"Don't tell me I shouldn't have done that," he said with a challenging look at Alec.

"I wasn't going to," the other man returned evenly. "Heal that cut before you bleed on anything. Then let's pack up and get going – the smell of his blood is going to attract things we don't want to deal with now."

*

They made good time that morning and took only a brief lunch break by the side of the path.

This time, they were alone, though they all kept glancing back and extending their senses with rune and charm enhancements to make sure nothing had picked up their trail from the cottage. They had briefly discussed having Charlie set the place on fire to destroy any evidence of their presence there, but decided against it eventually. A blaze like the one she had lit back that day in the Seelie Realm would have been sure to draw attention, which would have defeated the purpose entirely.

They hadn't gone far yet after their meal when they heard the music.

Charlie was the first to cock her head and listen, frown and listen some more after sketching a charm over her ear.

The others stopped, following her lead.

"Someone's playing music," Clary noted after a few moments. "That's good, right?"

"No." The Bard shook her head. "It doesn't feel like good music to me."

Her friends gave her curious looks. "Like badly played?" Jace asked.

Charlie hummed a short tune. It sounded probing, questioning – almost as if she was trying to communicate with that barely-heard tune in the distance.

She froze, paling a little before she jerked herself out of whatever connection she had just established. "Not badly played," she said. "It's strong, and it's gathering power. But it's fuelled by pain and desperation and fear. You don't want to be caught in that."

"Let's hope we'll not get any closer then," Alec said, though he wasn't entirely sure how music could do any such thing. Then again, he had seen Charlie do all kinds of things with her music. Thinking of that, ideas of what a Bard might do if bent on evil came only too willingly to his mind.

"Don't get your hopes up," Charlie told him, her voice low as if afraid the faraway music might hear her words and snatch them up if she spoke more loudly. "It's right ahead, and we're getting closer."

*

It wasn't long before they could hear the music with their unenhanced senses. It was a lively tune that tried to put a spring in their steps and invited them to dance.

"Seelie music," Jace cautioned. "Don't get caught up in it."

Clary squinted at the path ahead of them. "Do you think we have to go right past it?"

"Unless you want to climb up or down…" Christopher pointed at the rock to their right and the steep slope to their left. They weren't really in any position where they could leave the path to take a detour around the musicians.

They walked with their hands on their weapons now, expecting an encounter and hoping that whichever Seelie group they were going to find would prefer to not engage a company of heavily armed strangers.

Another sharp bend in the path cleared the view of a small cluster of buildings placed in a spot where the land flattened on one side of the path. It looked as if something had taken a bite out of the mountain there, and people had taken the opportunity to settle in that location.

"Mundanes will build houses just anywhere," Sebastian muttered, which drew a small chuckle from the others that died as soon as they spotted what else they were walking towards.

Every bit of available space had been used by what had once surely been a very picturesque mountain farm. Now, it was a place of terror.

A group of Seelie had used the yard between the buildings to set up camp. The wind turned, carrying the smell of roasting meat towards them. It was impossible to tell what the piece turning on a spit over a fireplace had been when alive.

None of them really wanted to know. They also didn't have a great many thoughts to spare for the Seelies' nutritional habits: The group who had taken possession of the farm was engaging in a form of entertainment that had made it all the way into mundane legends wherever there was any kind of regular contact between Seelie and mundanes.

The music, compelling to the point where the Nephilim had to make a conscious effort to not let it draw them into its spell, had seized a group of mundane men, women and children. They were dancing for their captors in the middle of the yard, their movement seeming happy and care-free until one drew close enough to make out details.

Their faces were masks of fear and pain, exhaustion and agony reflected in their eyes. Tears were streaming down some of those faces, while others had clearly given up all hope, waiting only to drop dead from exhaustion or dehydration. Their bodies were emaciated, clothes hanging loosely on limbs that shouldn't have been able to throw themselves into ecstatic dancing the way they were. The ground by their feet was discolored already, with many of their steps leaving behind new, bloody foot prints on the flagstones.

The group was too large to have been the original inhabitants of the farm. The Seelie must have brought at least some of them along from wherever they had been before. If they were going to let them dance until they did, indeed, drop dead where they stood, they wouldn't have their entertainment for long. None of the dancers looked as if they could take much more.

Clary followed Izzy's look from the dancing group to the spit and clamped down on the thought that came to her mind almost instantly.

"We're not walking past that," Alec said, his voice low. "This ends now."

Christopher and Sebastian seemed on the brink of arguing, but they kept their peace.

Their group fanned out, approaching the festivities ready for combat.

Though they were certain that they had been under observation since the moment they had drawn into sight, the Seelie pretended not to notice their approach until they had reached the edge of the yard. Only when Alec cleared his throat did one of them deign to turn their way.

As was often the case, the Seelie was beautiful, in a cold and cruel way that made the onlooker wish for a good, sturdy barrier between them so as to study that beauty in relative safety. The angles of his face were just a little wrong, enough to add a disconcerting note without being nauseating. His teeth, when he smiled, were numerous and sharply pointed.

"Oh," he said, false joviality in his voice. "Visitors. Join us. Share our food. Enjoy our dance."

They all stood rooted in place, though they could feel the pull of the Seelie's compulsion. He would need to exert far more effort to catch any of them in his spell.

"I don't think so," Alec replied evenly. "The dance is over. Release these people and let them go."

The creature he was talking to laughed, and those around him joined in quickly.

"Who do you think you are, to come to us with your demands, youngling?" the Seelie asked. "And have you looked at them? If we break the spell, they will not go anywhere. Why, we might be doing them a favor by keeping them alive a little longer."

Alec didn't have to look back at the dancers to know that the first part of that statement was accurate. At this point, these mundanes would die as surely once released as they would if they kept on dancing – but that was hardly a reason to draw out their suffering.

"Someone who abhors needless pain," Alec answered the first question. "You can take your spell off of them or we will do it."

"I'd like to see you try." They had the attention of the gathered crowd now. Though some of the Seelie were armed, none of them had reached for their weapons yet. Their expressions ranged from curious to amused.

"Cover me," Charlie said, taking a step back and letting the others move in to separate her from the Seelie.

Her fingers moved across her guitar, hesitating at first. She had heard a lot of music in her life, and she had thought that there were no more surprises left for her in that area. This, however, was entirely new to her. She had never before encountered any piece of music that felt as vile and disgusting to her as the magical tune the assembled creatures somehow produced without any physical instruments.

It took all the self-control she had to start playing, her music threading through the sounds, joining with them and matching them bit by bit until she was playing that same tune along on her guitar.

She felt the connection snap into place. She felt the power the victims' suffering was giving the song, and those able to draw energy from it. She knew she could have used it if she had chosen to. There was an exhilarating feeling to it that she clamped down on immediately.

Once she was fully tuned to the music, she started to change it, sweeping the Seelies' magic along with it.

Charlie added her voice to the music, pulling the dancers into the song she had chosen. She felt the energy even more strongly then. Keeping herself separate from it was growing harder and harder, until she had to rely entirely on it that the others would keep her safe from any attack from the Seelie. She had no attention to spare for the world around her.

The steps of the dancers changed with the music, every jolt of pain caused by the skips and jumps the new tune demanded shooting a bolt of power through the notes that she still refused contact with.

Once she knew she had full control of the music and everyone caught in it, Charlie went into a second reiteration of her song, this time slowing it bit by bit. The dance slowed along with it until, eventually, she let the tune run out.

The square was silent, save for the dull sounds of human bodies dropping where they had stood when the spell was released, followed by painful moans and ragged sobbing that set in a moment later.

The strings of her guitar vibrated as the Seelie in charge of the magical music tried to revive the song. Charlie kept her hand closed tightly over them, preventing the music from happening.

Finally, she took in her surroundings again. The Seelie had risen to their feet, several of them exposing weapons. They did not look happy in the least.

Christopher and Sebastian had raised their crossbows. Alec held his longbow ready. Red light was playing around Magnus' fingers. Clary had her blade out while Izzy hefted her whip. Jace had a knife in either hand.

At an unspoken command, three Seelie archers standing at the rear of the group let their arrows fly in the same instant. Charlie reflexively played a deflection charm, making the two that had been aimed at her go wide. The third, off the mark to begin with, found a target in Izzy's arm near the shoulder. The impact jerked her back on that side, but she remained standing and ready.

Their own archers shot only a fraction of a second after the Seelie had. Two of the enemy archers went down without a sound, missiles protruding from their throats. The third stumbled, wounded but not yet dead.

Jace's knives sprouted in the shoulder and chest of the Seelie who seemed to be the group's leader, though it appeared that he hadn't hit anything vital: his target let out a furious roar and was about to launch himself forward, a sword in his hand on his uninjured side.

Magnus' hands went up, energy shooting towards the Seelie and spreading, pushing them back like a storm too strong to resist. New arrows and bolts were fitted to ranged weapons while Jace's next blade flew true, killing a Seelie who had almost reached them.

With three of them down and two others wounded, the Seelie apparently came to the decision that this group of near-dead mundanes was not worth their lives. At a sharp gesture from their leader, they turned, quickly outrunning Magnus' magic and disappearing from sight among the rocks behind the buildings.

"They're going through paths cut into the mountain," Magnus announced, his hands moving rapidly through the air. "I'm putting a seal on the entrances so they can't come back that way, but I can't promise they won't come at us on another route."

"Let them come," Izzy told him. "We'll be ready for them." She reached up and took hold of the arrow, yanking it out of her flesh. The Seelie hadn't used barbed missiles.

Alec turned towards his sister. "Where's our first-aid kit?" he wanted to know, pointing at her bag.

She made a defensive gesture. "It's no big deal," she informed him. "Just a small hole. Nothing a healing charm can't handle." She was already sketching it on her skin. "Let's take care of those poor people."

The mundanes were still where they had fallen. As far as they could tell, they hadn't even made an attempt at getting up or moving away.

Following Izzy's suggestion, Alec and Jace knelt by the first of them.

As Charlie watched, they took out some of their water bottles and then looked around for something they could use as cups.

A wave from Magnus caused several of the drinking vessels the Seelie had previously used and left behind to fly over towards him. He dumped the contents on the ground and handed them to the two men. It wouldn't matter if they were still contaminated by Seelie beverages. They were under no illusions where the mundanes were concerned. They had ended their torture, but there was no way they could save their lives.

"Slowly," Alec cautioned as he tipped the cup against parched lips. "You'll make yourself sick if you drink too fast now."

The eyes looking up from the gaunt face before him regarded him with an empty stare that did not change when he switched languages, first to German, then to French.

Jace, in contrast, almost had the cup torn from his grip by hands frantically seizing the source of liquid. After trying to keep a hold of it without causing injury to the woman he had tried to feed the water to, he drew back.

Charlie approached, her eyes briefly closed against the sight. She could still feel the victims' pain, as if her connection to them through the music had never been fully interrupted.

"None of them will live until nightfall," Christopher said by her shoulder.

She turned to look at him.

"The magic could have kept them going another while. Maybe days. You've shortened their suffering considerably."

"It's not enough yet," she returned.

"I know." He had a hand on his dagger, lifting it slightly.

He didn't have to tell her what he meant to use it for. Gesturing at his blade, Charlie shook her head. "Don't."

Christopher met her eyes with a sad, yet resolved expression. "Even with the direct approach blocked for the Seelie, we shouldn't stick around here for however long it takes, and we can't leave them back unprotected. If they do return, they'll just grab any remaining survivors and turn them back into puppets."

"I know," Charlie said, her voice low. "But not with the knife. I'll do it. Gently."

Raising his eyebrows slightly, Christopher folded his arms, the dagger still in his hand. Out of the corner of her eye, Charlie saw that Izzy sheathed her own blade. She'd been ready to help.

With a deep breath, Charlie steeled herself for what was to come. Then she walked over to the first of the fallen mundanes. Sebastian and Clary were helping Alec and Jace arrange them in more comfortable positions – most of them had barely moved from how they had fallen.

She crouched, finding a position that would allow her to handle her guitar while being close to her target.

"I'm Charlie," she said, touching the woman's arm briefly. "I'm going to help you sleep now."

There was no audible answer, but she could see understanding and acceptance in the woman's eyes.

As she started to play, she kept her eyes fixed on the dying woman's face. The least she could do was to show them the respect of not looking away.

Her hands moved on the strings in the familiar notes of a lullaby. She watched the woman's eyes drift close, her face gradually relaxing as she played her into a sleep so deep that pain and exhaustion could not reach her anymore.

Once there, she changed her tune, picking up her target's Song. She was going to remember their Songs – each and every one of them. She owed them that much.

She let the song trail out, switching to playing only two notes on her base strings. The sounds came in time with the pulse beating visibly at the sleeping woman's throat.

Charlie's finger's slowed their movement, spacing out the intervals at which she plucked the strings. She could see the heartbeat slow along with it. One last note, then her guitar was silent.

The vein at the woman's neck was still. Her chest was no longer rising and falling in labored breaths.

With a small sigh, Charlie reached out to cross the dead woman's thin hands over her chest before moving on to the next of their charges. There was a lot of work left to do.

*

After Charlie's guitar stopped the last heart, she remained in her half-kneeling position for another few moments before straightening slowly.

Jace and Clary were there, reaching out to offer support after her self-appointed task. She had refused to let the others share the burden, determined to collect every last Song to keep the memory of these tormented souls who likely had no one left to even remember them in their own world.

She'd been too late for two of them, dead already by the time she had reached them.

Most of those she had just sped along the path they would have taken on their own within the next few hours had gone easily, glad to leave behind the pain and fear that was all that remained to them in this world.

A few had been confused, needing to be shown the way to pass on.

One, a young man barely more than a boy, had risen from his still body and, before Charlie could change her grip on the strings to play him directions, given a yelp of joy at his newfound freedom, rattled off a string of expletive targeted at his Seelie captors, and raced off the way they had disappeared.

Charlie had wished him luck if he was planning to harass those creatures as a ghost, but harbored no illusions: most likely, they would simply banish him as soon as he showed up.

Looking around now, she saw that the others were busy preparing a funeral pyre, while Magnus was still walking the perimeter of the small plane, warding and guarding and making sure that nothing interfered with their work.

"Are you okay?" Izzy asked Charlie as she joined her friends.

The Bard nodded. "I will be in a short while," she claimed. She would be. She just needed a few minutes to gather herself and remind herself the work she had just done had been necessary. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the Shadowhunter. "Are you, though? You don't look so well."

Izzy was sweating in spite of the cold wind around them. Her face looked unusually pale. The hand she used to brush a strand of hair from her face shook slightly.

"A bit tired," she claimed.

"You look more than a bit tired." Charlie pointed out.

Izzy pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead. "I am developing a bit of a headache. It's probably the thin air up here. I'll just take a short break and I'll be fine…"

Following up on her words, she turned and started walking towards the benches where the Seelie had held their meal. She had barely gone two steps when she swayed on her feet, suddenly dizzy.

Jace caught her by the arm, holding her upright.

"This is not thin air," he declared. "Please don't get sick now, Iz."

With one arm around her, he led her over to where she could sit down. She leaned into her adopted brother, allowing him to take charge.

Alec, just returning from the pyre, was by their side an instant after he realized that Izzy was having trouble.

"I'll be fine in a moment, big brother," she tried to reassure him, forcing a smile that wavered only a little.

He frowned at her and reached out to touch her forehead. Her skin felt cool and clammy under his hand. "Magnus!" Alec almost yelled.

"I'm here," came Magnus's voice from just behind him, his tone deliberately calming.

Alec shot him a thankful look before turning back to his sister.

"Iz, did you eat or drink anything that we didn't? Touch anything and then eat? Did you--"

She glared up at him. "Definitely not," she informed him. "I'm not stu—" Understanding lit up her eyes as she interrupted herself. "The arrow."

Chapter Text

Magnus found the arrow Izzy had thrown away earlier. Lifting it to his face, he carefully sniffed the tip. Magic played around the fingers of his free hand as he drew sigils in the air over the wood.

"Anything?" Alec asked. Though he was making an effort not to sound impatient, concern for his sister was clear in his tone.

Izzy still sat where Jace had deposited her. She was trying hard to stay focused. Since the moment she had realized that she probably had some sort of poison coursing through her body, she had been torn between getting back up and moving around in hopes of working it off, and staying still in order to slow its spreading.

"Not much," Magnus said. "There's definitely something on the arrow. The residue isn’t enough to get a clear signature, but as far as I can tell it's not much different from the hunting poisons our Seelie use."

"You can do something against it, right?"

Magnus met his boyfriend's eyes. He didn't allow himself to react to the demanding tone in Alec's voice. He knew that was only his worry for his sister speaking, and nothing else.

"I could if I had a lab," he said. "Most poison cannot be countered easily with magic. I could brew an antidote that counteracts the common Seelie poisons from our dimension and hope that it works in this case as well if I had the equipment and the ingredients." He didn't point out that he had neither.

Alec looked back over at Izzy. She was leaning back against the table, refusing to close her eyes even though the way she kept squinting into the light suggested that her headache had intensified.

"Can we improvise something?" he asked. "What do you need? Maybe we can find something to stand in for a—"

Magnus shook his head. "We won't find most of the things I'd need in a mundane kitchen, and I wouldn't want to use anything that has grown here anyway. We don't know how it's been corrupted. Remember the sheep?" He turned slightly to look at Izzy as well. "With a little luck, this is as bad as it'll get and she'll be fine after a night's sleep."

"And what if she isn't?" Hearing the sharpness in his voice, Alec visibly pulled himself together. "I'm sorry, Magnus. I know this isn't your fault. It's just—"

Magnus reached out, putting a comforting hand on Alec's shoulder. "I know. I understand. I am sure I can boost her a bit with spells, even though I can't do anything against the poison as such."

Alec nodded, a little shakily. "If only she hadn't iratzed that wound right away," he said. The antidote charm the Gales had shown them turned out to be a lot more effective if it could follow the poison into the body by the same path it had taken.

"The iratze probably weakened the poison already," Magnus pointed out. "It took quite a long time to show any effect at all." He wanted to add reassurances that Isabelle would be fine, but kept himself from doing so. It wasn't the kind of thing he wanted to promise when he wasn't one hundred percent certain.

"Is this going to help?" Jace had come over, a box in his hand.

Alec's eyes lit up at the sight. In contrast to Magnus, he had clearly seen that box before and knew what it contained.

"You're a genius, Jace!" he said. "I didn't even think of that!"

Jace gave his parabatai a lopsided smile. "You didn't have to." He opened the box, explaining to Magnus: "My grandmother thought I could do with a selection of poisons and antidotes. Most of these seem to have pretty wide uses, so maybe one will work?"

Magnus bent over the bottles and vials in their holders, taking out a few to look at the labels and putting them back again before settling on one. "This is what I'd give her back home," he declared. "A cap of this in a cup of water."

Alec was already pouring water into the cap of a thermos to use as a cup. Snatching the bottle from Magnus' hand, he quickly added the specified amount of the antidote before carrying it all over to Izzy.

Magnus and Jace followed.

"What are our chances that this will work?" Jace asked, his voice low enough for only Magnus to hear.

"Not bad," the warlock told him. "Unless these Seelie have gotten creative with their poisons and there's something in it that I can't identify."

Jace didn't ask him how likely that was. He didn't want to think about probabilities either.

*

Izzy knew that Alec was keeping a close eye on her when they set out again. She didn't blame him. Had the situation been reversed, she would have done the same.

Her symptoms had stopped growing worse after she had taken Jace's antidote. By the time the pyre had been ready to be lit, her headache had started to recede. While still feeling somewhat shaky, she had declared herself ready to move on.

The last thing she wanted to do was to sit around this close to a fire that was consuming human bodies. That was a smell she certainly didn't need while already feeling queasy.

Moving helped to further clear her mind. She stayed at the center of their group along with Charlie, who insisted that her use of her power hadn't left her any weaker or less able to defend against any attack they might have to face, but didn't argue beyond that when Alec rearranged their group.

The first drops of rain came slowly, leaving dark marks on the ground around them.

"Just great," she heard Christopher's voice behind her. "We're so far behind schedule that we hardly stand a chance of reaching any of the shelters we have on our map before sunset, and now it's starting to rain."

Looking up, Izzy frowned at the clouds. "Are they supposed to move in this fast?"

"Not really," Magnus replied. "There's some magic in them, I fear."

"Some?" Alec shook himself after one upwards glance. "You have an interesting definition of some."

A thick drop of water hit the back of Izzy's hand, leaving behind a sharp sting where it had fallen. An unpleasant burn followed the path it took as it ran across her skin.

Was that another side effect of the poison?

Jace let out a surprised yelp to her left, suggesting that she wasn't the only one who was reacting to the drops.

She turned towards him, to see him staring at his own hand.

The drops were falling faster now, hitting her skin with the feeling of needles being plunged into her flesh. By her side, Charlie pulled her jacket up to cover her head. With the exception of Christopher and Magnus, the others were reflexively shielding their faces.

"There's something wrong with the rain!" Charlie and Alec shouted almost as one. "We need cover!"

Magnus' hands shot up in a throwing motion, spreading a layer of magic above and around them. "We have cover," he declared. "What is going on?"

Looking at her brothers and Clary, Izzy saw angry red spots on their faces, with smaller lines trailing down from them where the water had run across their skin. On closer inspection, the discolored areas looked like burns. Sebastian had fared no better. Charlie, the fastest to cover herself, had escaped almost unmarked. Christopher and Magnus were looking at each other, then at the others. They both only seemed a little damp.

The wards had gone up just in time before a deluge broke loose above them. Rain was plummeting down, pelting the sphere of magic around them and running off along the sides.

"How long can you hold those wards?" Alec asked.

He raised a hand towards his face, only to have it caught in a firm grip by Magnus.

"Don't rub any of it into your eyes," the warlock cautioned. "Whatever this was, you don't want to spread it. My wards will hold as long as they need to."

Izzy glanced down at her own hands. She showed marks, but they were not nearly as bad as those of the others. "I think the antidote I took earlier is helping with this, too," she announced as the turned towards her brother to take a closer look at his injuries.

"They don’t seem to be growing any worse," she determined. "It looks like the rain was acid, but it's not eating itself in any deeper at least."

Clary had fished a towel from her bag and dabbed her face and hands dry, wincing when she rubbed at the small wounds. She approached Jace to repeat the process.

"If the antidote is protecting Izzy, should we take some of it, too?" he asked as he let her proceed.

"The damage is done already," Magnus pointed out. "You won't have any more contact with the rain because I'm not dropping those wards, and we only have a limited amount of the antidote. I say we save it just in case. A charm might be a good idea, though." He sketched the antidote charm on Alec before switching his focus to a healing spell and starting to regenerate his boyfriend's skin.

Charlie had whistled a drying charm on herself instead of using a towel. She treated her friends to the same, removing any remaining moisture from their clothing before it could seep through to their skin. Then she looked at Sebastian.

"I can dry you, too," she told him. "If you want to."

He didn't look too certain about it, but he nodded curtly. He used his stele to add an antidote rune to the skin of his left forearm before activating his iratze. Clearly, he still didn't consider the charms worth trying.

With a small shrug, Charlie turned away from him to continue to make herself useful while she waited for Magnus to finish his work on the others and fix the few burns she had ended up with. Her next charm was targeted at the ground. Magnus' dry bubble wasn't very large, and she was able to cover the area with only a little effort. Unless he could move the wards along with them, they would have to sit out the rain where they were, which made it a good idea to make the ground safe to sit or lie on.

"For once, your demon blood is actually of advantage," Sebastian pointed out, looking at Christopher. He was rubbing the back of one hand, as if he could still feel the sting of the acid rain drops even after the iratze had healed the burns.

"You think that's why I didn't get hurt?" the other man asked.

"Seems logical," Izzy agreed. "Magnus wasn't affected either, and it's the one feature you definitely share."

"Charlie was burned, though," Christopher pointed out. Then he considered. "But Charlie isn't a warlock, is she?"

"She is indeed not," Charlie agreed. "Just a regular old Bard. Are we going to make camp here?"

*

Faced with the choice of moving on under the shelter of Magnus' umbrella ward or sitting out the rain where they were, they settled for the latter option. The downpour had only intensified, the rain running down the invisible walls around them obscuring their sight. When they could catch a glimpse of what was outside of their protected sphere, however, they could see the water pooling on the ground, running down the slope and soaking the path. They didn't want to walk in that.

It was going to be an uncomfortable night. Putting up tents wasn't an option since the ground was made of hard, solid rock, impossible to drive any tent pegs into.

They moved to the cliff rising to their right, using it as a shelter from the worst of the wind. While Magnus' wards kept out water, they did nothing to block air.

"We're a lot of people in a small, enclosed space," Magnus said when Clary had asked him if he could change that. "We'll probably want to light a fire, too. Trust me, biscuit – you don't want those wards to be impermeable to air."

"Light a fire?" Sebastian sounded more than a little doubtful as he looked around at the bare patch of dry area around them. "What do you expect us to burn?"

"Wood," Magnus told him, his tone suggesting that it was obvious.

A few generous summoning motions brought a small heap of firewood clattering down at the center of their circle.

"Are those the logs that were stacked by the Seelies' fire pit?" the Shadowhunter asked.

Magnus merely nodded once.

"Either we've covered less distance than I thought we did, or your reach is amazing."

"My reach is amazing," Magnus claimed, grinning. "Especially if I mark something because I think we might have need of it later."

They spread two of the quilts on the ground, marking the corners with charms to weigh the material down so the ever-increasing wind couldn't lift the edges and blow them against those sitting on them.

Magnus, apparently determined to show their two new companions just exactly how much magic he had, waved his hand, causing a few of the wooden logs to arrange themselves just far enough away from the quilts to avoid singeing the fabric, and lit them with a pointing finger. The wind rushing through the flames caused them to dance wildly and cast eerie shadows. The magic in the fire kept the wood burning.

No one complained about the occasional spark being thrown their way. The quilts, it turned out, were not flammable, and the heat charms they had used before were a lot less effective when they were buffeted by cold wind than when they were used in the enclosed space of a building.

Charlie handed out slices of fresh pie to serve as their dinner. They ate slowly, drinking little. The water they carried was limited, and not even Magnus and Christopher felt too keen on trying out if Jace's purifier could handle the rainwater.

By the time they had finished their meal, the storm had intensified even more. The first bolt of lightning tore through the sky as Charlie settled with her back against the rock and adjusted her guitar to start picking a tune.

Thunder followed quickly, momentarily drowning out the sound of rain prattling against Magnus' wards.

"If we didn't have those wards, we'd be dead now," Alec observed. "This isn't how all rain is in this dimension, is it?" The look he directed at Christopher and Sebastian held a challenge.

They shook their heads. "First time I've seen this," Sebastian told him. "And I'd be just as dead in it as you, so you can be certain we didn't keep this from you on purpose."

"Sorry." Alec's expression mellowed. "I just feel like we went into this very badly prepared, and I hate the feeling. We seem to be losing more time every day, too." In fact, it almost felt as if something was trying to keep them from reaching the border, though if he went about it logically, he could see that that wasn't likely.

"We're far slower than we should be," Christopher agreed. "Maybe we should have risked portaling closer to Idris after all."

"We portaled to where we were reasonably sure we could land safely," Izzy pointed out practically. "And to be honest, I'd rather spend another few nights out than do a blind hop by portal to get closer. We can guard the camp, but we'd have no way to tell what the situation is where we'd come out. If we jump and end up in the middle of another Seelie gathering…" She let the thought trail out.

Alec nodded at her. "Izzy's right. We keep going as we were. This storm can't last forever."

"How long can the wards stay up?" Sebastian sounded concerned. "There's a lot of rain coming down."

"They stay up until I take them down," Magnus informed him. "We'll all stay nice and dry. You might want to reconsider your sleeping arrangements for tonight, though. It'll be a bit cool even with the fire going."

The two men looked at each other. "We'll be fine," Christopher decided. "Really."

"At least use the cushion charm on the ground." Alec sketched the outlines into the air. "Else you'll be stiff and sore from sleeping on rock come morning. You don't want that just in case we run into anything problematic."

Sebastian looked about ready to disagree, but Christopher gave a sharp nod. "That's acceptable."

Charlie's tune was getting more insistent, worming its way into their conversation.

"Are you or your guitar trying to tell us something there?" Alec wanted to know as he turned towards her.

She favored him with a grin. "Just that it's time to relax a little. We can't go anywhere, there's no problem at hand that we can solve right away, so why not use the time to refuel a bit? And while I'm convinced that Magnus' wards are more than adequate, we could give them a little boost, too." Her hands on the strings didn't stop moving as she spoke.

"Boost them how?" Jace asked. He was sitting near her, with his back to the rock and leaning sideways into Clary with his eyes half closed. She was combing her fingers through his hair, leaving him looking even more disheveled than the stormy wind already had.

"With music." Charlie's tone said that it should have been obvious. "Bard, remember?"

"Fine." Alec let himself drop back onto the quilt, patting the space next to him with a look at Magnus.

The warlock took the hint immediately and joined his boyfriend. "I'd love to see your musical wards," he informed their friend.

Charlie's tune changed at his words. "So let's sing something amusing to counter the storm out there. The night may be dark and full of terrors, but nothing can resist a sufficiently silly song. I'll take care of the verses, but you could help me with the chorus… "

*

Alec stood with his back to the fire, looking out into the storm. He had just put new wood on and was waiting for his vision to adjust to the darkness outside of their little sphere of safety once more. That wasn't made any easier by the fact that the storm hadn't relented in the least, and lightning was still flashing overhead at short intervals, briefly brightening up the night and casting the jagged rocks of the mountain into stark outlines.

He wondered how anyone could sleep with the thunder roaring around them, though his own experience from earlier that night told him that it was most certainly possible. He had slept quickly and soundly, safely snuggled against Magnus while Jace, Clary and Charlie had taken the first watch.

They were on the second shift for the night now, with Christopher and Sebastian walking the perimeter of their sphere along with him.

Blinking his magic vision on, he studied the clouds overhead. He thought the magic up there was lessening a little by now, though he was very well aware that it may not have been anything but wishful thinking. The fact that he was looking out through two sets of wards didn't help either. Though he could pick apart the signature look of Magnus' wards quite easily, the magic Charlie had fed into her own, laid right against the warlock ones that had saved them the night before, kept distracting him.

He found himself smirking silently at the memory of the songs Charlie had led them through in order to collect some energy to build those. They had been a bit on the silly side. For tonight we'll merry merry be, that first chorus had said. Surprisingly, it had been the theme for their evening. They had barely had a thought to spare for their situation.

Realizing that he had started to hum to himself, Alec made an effort to fall silent again. He didn't want to wake anyone.

Then he almost laughed at the thought. If the others were sleeping through the noise of the storm, they weren’t going to wake up from a little tune.

Lightning flashed again, and Alec blinked against the sudden glare.

His hands with his weapon came up before he fully processed what he had seen.

He could see his reaction mirrored in Sebastian, standing at a little distance from him.

"What?" Christopher glanced back and forth between them.

Alec frowned as he tried to put into words what had just prompted his reaction. "I think I saw something," he said slowly.

"A shape, moving," Sebastian added.

"Seelie?"

"Don't think so." Alec was mentally debating the wisdom of applying a night vision charm. It would have allowed him to see in the darkness, but the next larger bolt of lightning would probably blind him for long enough to be risky if they were attacked.

As if on cue, a line of bright light split the sky once again. The view through their wards was somewhat obscured by the streams of water still running off of their protective sphere. Paying specific attention, however, still let them spot the shapes of darkness gliding through the rain.

"Demons," Christopher determined, raising his crossbow and pointing it at where the closest one of the shapes had been. "Wake the others."

Magnus had designed the wards so they wouldn't let anything liquid pass. Before they had settled down to sleep, he had changed them slightly to keep solids out as well, leaving open only a small hole for those at the very top so that particles from the smoke their fire produced could escape.

He had keyed them to their group, making sure that each of them would be able to leave the magical sphere at will. Of course, it was in the best interest of most of them to not make use of that option right now.

Knowing that he was the only one of their group, other than Magnus, who would be able to stand stepping out of their shelter, Christopher took position near the magical wall. If necessary, he would make that last step forward, bringing at least part of him and the crossbow outside so that he could shoot.

The sleepers were up and awake in an instant, weapons held ready as they moved to spread along the edge of their dry circle. A sphere of light rose from Magnus' hands, passing through the wards and hanging in the air far above them to illuminate the night with an eerie glow.

There were five demons, as far as they could make them out. They were moving around them, prowling the perimeter of their sphere as if looking for a way in.

"How long do you figure it'll take them to realize they can't get at us and move on?" Izzy asked, looking at Magnus as she spoke.

"Depends," the warlock said. He had gathered fresh magic, holding it, though his stance was relaxed. "I've never seen this precise type of demon before, and without books to look them up, I don't know how persistent they are."

"Maybe some sunlight will get the idea across?" Clary asked. She was already drawing on her palm, aiming the resulting beam of bright light at the closest of the dark forms that seemed to be shifting shape constantly, running through the outlines of various creatures both real and legendary.

She hit her target, causing the dark mass to recoil briefly.

The effect didn't last. It seemed to be more a matter of surprise than actual pain or injury from the concentrated light.

Clary stared at her hand. "I don't understand. I thought demons that are out in the dark generally can't stand sunlight."

"The rain," Magnus told her. "Water refracts light. It may be enough to change its quality."

Alec planted his feet, shifting his stance to one that he could hold for a long time without tiring. "Then let's see who gets bored of staring at each other first. We don’t need to risk anything while they can't get at us."

"We should get rid of them so they can't attack any unsuspecting mundanes," Sebastian pointed out.

Christopher put a hand on his arm, stopping him from stepping closer to the barrier and shoving his crossbow through so he could shoot while hopefully keeping his skin dry. "I don't expect there are any unsuspecting mundanes left out there. They wouldn't survive this rain any more than you. Alec's right. Let's sit this one out."

One of the demons, its shape still no steadier than it had been, made a dash for the barrier. The sound it produced might have been a snarl, though it was hard to tell through the noise of the storm.

It almost bounced upon collision, thrown back several feet and losing its shape before realigning itself. The others moved in, standing almost in formation.

"We should go back to sleep," Magnus informed them practically. "They can't come in any more than the rain. There's no point in tiring ourselves out."

"Caffeine charm," Jace returned. "I don't think I'll be able to sleep knowing that is right on the other side of our window."

The others were about to agree when one of the unsteady shapes moved again. It lost even more of its form as it surged forward, until it seemed no more than a swatch of dark mist or smoke on the wind.

Its companions were right behind it.

"They're not solid anymore!" Charlie called out a warning just as Magnus raised his hands to adjust his wards.

He was a breath too late. Three of the five shapes hit the dome above their heads, breaking through with a gust of wind and completing their arc to drop to the ground behind their group. One was caught in the suddenly changing barrier, cut apart in the middle. Instead of dying, its two parts started battering the wards immediately from either side, trying to rejoin.

Magnus pointed a finger at the section that had made it inside, engulfing it in blue fire that left nothing behind.

The three that had made it had taken on form again, sporting several arms tipped with sets of long blades. One jumped at Clary while still in the process of solidifying. She wondered briefly if it was the same one she had hit before. In any case, she didn't have the time to draw another sunlight charm. She had to bring up her blades to block the first vicious strike.

"Don't shoot inside the wards!" Magnus cautioned as he saw Sebastian raise his crossbow. "We don't want ricochets in here!"

Izzy's whip lashed out, cutting through one of the demons with a sound reminiscent of the hiss of frying fat.

While it cut the shape clean through, it didn't kill the demon. Just like the one that had been divided by the wards – the remaining part of which was still throwing itself against the invisible walls, trying to come inside and failing – it lost definition, briefly turning into two irregular clouds of darkness that wafted towards each other and merged once again as soon as they touched.

A moment later, it stood in its former humanoid shape once more, every inch of it a bottomless black that betrayed no hint of features.

Jace had come to Clary's aid, each of them keeping two arms of the demon that had attacked her busy.

Seeing their adamas blades cut through the darkness without leaving permanent damage, Alec activated his own electrum bracelet, giving his feather staff another opportunity to do battle in his hands.

Dark as the demons were, his magic vision showed the power core they contained brightly shining at their centers. Alec's staff shot forward as he dove through between several of the demon's blades, aiming the sharply pointed tip of his staff at the shining light.

There was no noticeable impact, though he did feel one of the demonic blades graze his arm. The cloud of ashes that took the demon's place before raining to the ground was clear evidence that his attack had done the trick, however. Glancing down, he saw blood discoloring his shirt around a cut in the fabric. Since the bleeding was slow enough to not be dangerous any time soon, he didn't bother to do anything about it yet, instead looking around to determine what to do next.

Sebastian had switched to blades, engaging the third demon on their side of the wards. He and Christopher moved in the well-practiced and perfectly harmonized dance of parabatai, fighting as if they were extensions of the same body.

Just as Magnus used an opening between Jace and Clary to sink a bolt of magic into their opponent, ending its existence on their current plane, Christopher's sword cut through his demon's core. The adamas may not have been able to harm them permanently otherwise, but cutting the core in half worked with adamas just as well as with electrum.

Magnus gestured, causing his wards to flare up where the remnant of the halved demon was still throwing itself against them, engulfing the darkness in bright flame that died down quickly until not the slightest trace of the creature remained.

That left one demon, which had retreated several paces, watching them cautiously.

"We need to get rid of that one, too," Magnus told them. "I really should open up the wards again to let some air in."

"Right." Christopher swapped his sword for his crossbow and approached the protective barrier. "Dry me off when I come back."

Without the slightest hesitation, he stepped through the wards, bracing himself against the sudden impact of the wind Magnus had temporarily locked out of their shelter.

Before the demon could react to his new, unprotected position, he brought up his weapon, sighted on the target and released the bolt.

It hit true, dust and ashes washed away immediately by the rainwater.

Christopher turned to make sure none of the others had followed him and were standing close enough that he was likely to get any of the corrupted rainwater onto them.

Satisfied that they were keeping a distance, he moved back into their sphere.

Just as before, they were permeable for him, feeling like a thin sheet of gelatinous mass that laid itself around him until it swallowed him up.

 

February 9th, 2017

They didn't find their way back into sleep that night. Even knowing that they had guards paying attention to their surroundings, they were all lying awake, straining to listen for any sounds that weren't made by the rain or by their companions turning restlessly between the quilts.

Eventually, they stopped pretending and declared the night over.

The rain let up towards morning. By the time the sun crept above the horizon, the last droplets had run off of their magical protective sphere. The rocks around them were still glistening wet, but there was no longer any water running down the slope in small and larger streams.

Magnus let his wards dissipate as they packed up their camp.

Minutes later, they had set off again, continuing on their path at a brisk speed with their caffeine and nourishment runes and charms activated.

"I hope we won't regret not using that rain to top up our water supply," Jace said as he traced the charm on his skin.

"Did you really want to try putting that in your purifier?" Alec asked. "I'm not sure you could have gotten any of us to try if it actually comes out safe to drink either. The Nourishment rehydrates enough to let us go on for a couple of days even if we find nothing at all. By then, we ought to be in Idris."

"We ought to have reached Idris yesterday," his parabatai pointed out. "So I wouldn't rely on any kind of timeline."

They stayed close together as they walked. A brief discussion of the benefits of having someone scout ahead had ended in a communal decision that the benefits weren't worth the risks. If one or two of them were caught by either Seelie or demons alone, there was a very real risk they wouldn't make it back in time to warn the larger group. Instead, they all kept their senses on high alert, using enhancements to the greatest degree they dared.

The acid rain of the night had burned every bit of green that had still clung to crevices in the rocks. They passed a few small skeletons, too, placed where something had tried to shelter from the rain unsuccessfully. They were stripped as clean as if they had been lying exposed for far longer than one night. Some showed signs of charring on the bones.

They had barely been on the road for a quarter of an hour when the area of destruction ended. The edge was almost as clear as if someone had drawn a line across the path: clumps of mountain weeds growing where they could on one side of it, cut off and seared away on the other.

They stopped, staring at the sight.

"Seriously?" Jace asked, looking at the others in turn. "All we would have had to do would have been to continue walking another few minutes and we would have been out of it?"

Magnus had bent down to examine the plants where the destruction ended.

"I wouldn't rely on it," he said as he straightened. "Storms don't usually behave like that – it came up behind us, moved until it was right on top of us and then it apparently stopped. That'd be a bit much of a coincidence – unless it stopped because we did."

"But storms don't do that either," Clary told him.

"They might if they're magic-made." Christopher was looking downhill as if he could spot something in the distance if he looked hard enough. "We made personal enemies yesterday. Seelie magic could call up a storm, and the demon share in them would protect them from the effects just as Magnus and I were protected."

Alec nodded at him. "Let's move on quickly then, and hope it takes them a while to realize we made it out of that."

Chapter Text

Following Alec's order, they set a brisk pace, shifting their formation once in a while so they could alternate between full alert and a more relaxed position at the center of the group.

"So, what was it like – growing up with your mother as a Shadowhunter?" Clary asked Christopher when they found themselves sharing that inner spot after a while, with Alec and Magnus in the lead while Izzy and Charlie guarded their backs.

He looked at her as if unsure if he even wanted to answer that question for a moment. Then he took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Not easy," he said. "She wanted me to be Valentine's heir and to please my father, but she was scared to death by what I might be able to do. She never let me forget what happened when my demon blood got away from me when I was little. She'd freak out when I accidentally used any of those powers." He paused, continuing just in time before Clary could say anything. "I get where she was coming from. It's scary. It scared me, too, when it happened. Now Valentine… he wanted me to harness that power and use it. For the good of everyone, he said."

"What I don't quite get," Jace said, "is why we're still both Jonathan Christopher. I mean, you and the other... Jonathan Christopher… who would be me if –" He broke off with a somewhat rueful grin. "This is confusing, but you know what I mean."

Christopher chuckled softly. "He wanted his heir and crown prince to be Jonathan. After Jonathan Shadowhunter, you know? He didn't know which one of us would turn out 'right' for his purpose at first, so … by his decree we were given the same names. One of us would end up Jonathan and the other Christopher. I settled on Christopher long before Valentine did."

"I thought he called me Jonathan because it was the name of the Wayland kid he killed to hide me." Noticing the other man's face fall at the mention, he broke off. "Anything wrong?"

Christopher shook his head. "I've heard the story that Michael Wayland had set his mind on Jonathan for his son, but Valentine wouldn't have any of that. He ended up Robert, after—" he gestured towards Alec. "Lightwood."

"Wayland's parabatai," Jace said.

"Yes." He shifted slightly, not looking at either of them as he continued. "Wayland and Valentine would get into fights every so often. They were big fights, and they grew worse. Then one day he announced he was going to pack up, take his boy and throw himself at the mercy of the Clave. Valentine declared him a traitor and sentenced him to death on the spot. He carried out his own judgment."

"What about his son?" Clary asked.

"He called us together in the training room." Christopher's voice had a detached quality, as if he was talking about something that had happened to someone else, someplace else. There was a strained quality to it, though. He didn't want to be affected by what he was about to tell, but he didn't quite manage.

"He had Robert with him. He called us forward – that is, Jonathan Herondale, Seraphina and me. We were the oldest of the special children. He told us about Wayland's treason and that he had punished him accordingly. That he had done it himself, as it should be. He said he didn't like doing it, but he'd done it because he had to. To protect everyone else. To protect the cause. He said that as a leader, one had to do things one didn't like."

Not paying any attention to where he was going, he missed his next step. He stumbled as his foot slid on loose rocks.

Sebastian's arm shot out, steadying him wordlessly.

Jace and Clary walked on as if nothing had happened. It was clear enough that Christopher wasn't going to recount some fond memory to them. They didn’t need to make him even more uncomfortable by drawing some extra attention to his misstep.

A bitter note crept into Christopher's voice when he spoke again. "He told us that since we were to be the leaders of the next generation, it was our job to do the hard things for those who would follow us some day; that Robert Wayland had a traitor's blood and that his thoughts had been corrupted by his father's treason already; that he was a liability that couldn't be allowed to remain among us. Then he told us to draw our blades."

"He made you kill another child?" Clary sounded shocked to the core. "How old were you?"

"I'd just turned ten," Christopher said. "Jonathan was nine, Seraphina eight. We drew as instructed, but then—" The sound he made was somewhere between a sob and a laugh. "That was the day he finally decided I was a complete failure and was to be sent away. I guess he didn't want to kill his own blood after all."

Now, finally, he turned back towards them, fixing them with eyes that had gone completely black. He didn't even seem aware of the change.

"My mother had always been so afraid I would be evil. Convinced, even, I think. The only thing I could think of that day was that if I raised my sword against our friend, I'd prove her right. And—I couldn't do it. My sister and Jonathan were efficient. They didn't have any such fears. They have angel blood – they couldn't be evil." He gave a dry, mirthless laugh. "They were righteous."

*

They reached a small cottage, once built as an emergency shelter for those caught out in the mountains too late to return to their home or base, about an hour before dusk.

No one argued when Alec called a halt and declared their hike for the day over.

Most of the inside of the building was taken up by a single room, with two doors branching off of it. One led into what had once been a store room, where supplies for those who had to spend their night here had been kept. It had long been plundered, with only some scraps of torn packaging remaining.

The other door took them into a simple lavatory without amenities and a pump to draw water by hand. To their relief, the pump, while rusty, still worked. They had filled their bottles from a mountain stream via Jace's purifier earlier, but they were more than happy not to have to ration what they were carrying.

Christopher and Sebastian went to check the perimeter of the cottage while the others quickly set up their camp in the main room, putting mattress charms on the floor and light charms on the walls.

"We should probably let mom know everything's fine here," Izzy noted when she saw Charlie take out her phone to text Allie for their dinner.

"Do we really want to explain to her what we're doing here?" Alec asked her. "She'll know we'd contact her if anything was going on that she needed to know about. Do you think those two will want mattress charms again tonight?"

Jace, just busy spreading some of their quilts on the section of floor they had marked for their bed, looked up at him with a grin. "Let's just prepare some for them. They can always bed down elsewhere if they don't like it."

"Right," Alec agreed, matching his parabatai's expression. "Magnus, can you—" He turned around as he realized that his boyfriend was no longer in the room with them. A slightly concerned note crept in as he raised his voice. "Magnus?"

"In here, Alexander!" Magnus called from the other room.

Alec felt a little heat rise into his cheeks. Being paranoid for their own safety was well and good, but getting nervous if Magnus didn't warn him before he went to the bathroom was probably a bit too much.

The next moment, he realized that the door was still open. If Magnus wasn't concerned about privacy, he was probably not using that facility for its intended purpose.

"What are you doing in there?" he asked as he walked over, now sounding curious.

Magnus was standing over a small basin of water, magic flowing from his fingers and pooling on the surface.

"Conducting a few tests," Magnus informed him. "I don't know what kind of source this pump taps into, but it's untainted – which means we don't have to run it through Jace's gadget bit by bit if we want to wash ourselves with it."

"Washing! What a luxury!" Izzy said behind Alec's shoulder. "Any chance you can magic up a bath tub?"

The warlock gave her an apologetic look. "I fear not. I'd have to summon it from somewhere. But I can heat the water for you at least."

*

They were sitting together in the main room, plates of half-eaten pie between them.

Though a generous distribution of heat charms had warmed up the cottage enough to keep them comfortable, they had taken Charlie up on her offer to dry their hair with a charm after their improvised baths. Sebastian and Christopher had used their ready supply of water to shave as well.

Seeing the first of them emerge from the bathroom, Alec had surreptitiously sketched another shaving charm on his cheek. He and Jace had used those every morning, but the way his face felt under his hand when he repeated the procedure suggested that he had had quite enough time to re-grow some stubble during the day.

"Who'll take first shift?" Jace asked, yawning.

"I can put a second set of wards farther out to alert us if anything approaches," Magnus offered. "We're high enough that there shouldn't be a lot of big animals that would trigger them."

"Mountain goats won't do that?" Izzy asked. "I know there are goats up here."

Alec and Jace were suddenly looking everywhere but at her or each other. Their faces had taken on an expression of strained control.

Seeing that, their sister giggled. "You can laugh if you want to," she offered. "It's been long enough. I'm totally over it."

"I will want to know that story," Magnus said. "I can make the wards so nothing will want to walk through them."

Alec nodded to himself. "Do it," he decided. "I'd rather we got some proper, uninterrupted sleep."

"I'll go guard you," Izzy said as Magnus rose to follow up his words with actions. "You'll be outside in plain sight while setting those wards, and distracted by your magic, and it's pretty dark already."

Magnus smiled at her. "I don't get distracted by my magic, but I appreciate your concern. Let's go –the sooner we start, the sooner we'll be back inside."

Christopher unfolded himself from where he was sitting as well. "I can do with some more fresh air, and two guards will be better than one. None of us have eyes in the backs of our heads."

Catching Magnus' look at her, Izzy nodded. "Come on then. You heard Magnus – the sooner we get going…"

Once they had left, the others started to clean up what remained of their dinner. Charlie had her guitar out again, playing a slow tune that had a slightly random feel to it.

A sound from the door made Alec look up after a short while.

"Back alrea—" He started to say, breaking off when he turned and spotted a strange person in the open doorway. His hand went to his blade immediately, the blank adamas shining in the light of their charms. "Who are you?"

"I saw your light," the visitor said. "I was caught in the dark. It's not good to be out alone at night in this area these days. You wouldn’t turn a fellow Shadowhunter away, would you?" She indicated his runes and his blade, then the sword she wore on her own belt.

Except for Charlie, who remained where she was and kept her hands on her strings, the others had moved into position behind Alec, ready to support their leader. Even Sebastian had merged into the formation as if on autopilot. He looked a little surprised at himself, but made no move to step aside and separate himself from the group again.

Alec studied the woman in the door. Her dark hair was cut shorter than his and the armor she wore was heavier than the light combat gear their group used. Her features were unmistakable, however, though the slash of an old scar marked her forehead on one side.

"You're Isabelle," he said. "Isabelle Lightwood."

She frowned at him darkly, her eyes narrowing as if she was taking in his appearance for the first time. After another moment, she spoke. "And you are not Alexander, for all that you're wearing his features."

"I'm Alec Lightwood," he informed her. "Not your brother, though. It's a long story." He hadn't lowered his blade. "What are you doing out here on your own?"

"I was separated from my team," Isabelle informed him. She sounded a little defensive. "You better not let Alexander catch you playing with his face. Your death would be slow and painful."

"How do you know Alexander would be the one to win that encounter?" Jace asked. He had drawn his weapon as well, though he kept his posture at ease. Anyone who knew Jace would have known better than to think he couldn't jump into action at the blink of an eye.

Isabelle squinted at him. Her hand had gone to her sheathed blade as well. She rested it on the hilt without drawing.

"Using my brother's likeness is certainly bold, but masquerading as Jonathan? Like that? You really must have a death wish. Or do you simply enjoy pain?"

"What if I object to him walking around with my face?" Jace returned. "By the way – my name is Jace. Jace Lightwood."

"We're from a parallel dimension," Clary helpfully supplied from her place by his shoulder. "We really are the people we look like – just not the same versions of them."

"Right." Isabelle laughed. "Look – personally, I don't care whose faces you steal. They abandoned me when they thought I'd been captured. I just want a place where I can spend the night without being eaten by something out there."

The tip of Alec's sword dropped a little as he indicated the side of the cottage farthest from their marked beds. "Alright. You can settle there for the moment. We still have three of our group outside. We'll talk about the details when they're back."

"Alec." Sebastian sounded unhappy at his decision. "Are you really going to let her stay in here? You saw what she did to Christopher!"

"I don't want her outside on her own," Alec told him.

From the look Isabelle cast at him, she assumed he didn't want to expose her to the danger of whatever might be lurking in the dark. He didn't mind, though his thoughts went in a different direction. As long as she was inside with them, they could keep an eye on what she was doing.

Isabelle settled in the appointed corner, sinking down with her legs crossed and her sword arranged so she could draw it at need. She still hadn't moved it as much as an inch from its sheath.

It was something that kept nagging at Alec's mind. If he'd been walking into a gathering of unknown people, he surely would have done so with his blade drawn. If he'd suddenly seen himself faced with a group that seemed to be an odd set of copies of the people he knew, he most certainly would have had his sword out. She hadn't even seriously gripped hers yet, merely resting her hand on the hilt. It seemed more for show than a serious intention to use the weapon.

Was she really that certain that she'd be faster than any of them?

Charlie was looking at her, her head cocked a little sideways.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Alec asked, crouching by the Bard's side.

The woman changed the tune she was picking, momentarily spinning a cocoon of music around them that would keep anyone outside of it from hearing what they said. "There's something not right with her, but I can't put my finger on it. Do you think she may be the one wearing a glamor?"

Alec shook his head. "We can both see glamors. You know she's not. I agree, though. Something is off." He fished his phone from his pocket and started typing.

"Are you googling her?" Charlie asked, one eyebrow raised.

He chuckled. "I don't think that'd do any good. I'm asking Izzy to come back inside ASAP. We need to figure out what we'll do with her."

*

The door was thrown open and Christopher strode into the room, flanked by Izzy and Magnus. Both Nephilim had their swords out. Magnus held power ready in his hands.

Christopher spun to face Isabelle as soon as he had cleared to doorway. "What are you doing here?" His voice was almost a snarl. "And how did you get through the wards?"

"What wards?" Isabelle had jumped to her feet. Her sword was out now, pointed at Christopher. "Are you going to claim you're from some other dimension as well?"

"The wards our warlock put around the cottage," Christopher shot back.

Magnus ignored his chosen way of referring to him. "If she really is the local Isabelle, that one's easy," he said. "As I tried to tell you on the way back here: she'd be identical to our Izzy, and I've keyed you all into the wards so you can pass in and out at will. They wouldn't be able to tell the difference."

Christopher glanced at him, looking for a moment as if he wanted to object, but said nothing in the end. "Alec, she needs to leave. She's dangerous."

Izzy had stopped about two steps from her counterpart, taking in the woman she could have been.

The stare Isabelle returned was not so much hostile as it was utterly disgusted.

Taking in the scene, Alec suddenly understood why Isabelle had not drawn before. Her adamas blade was broken. It didn't light up in her hand.

"Stand down, Iz," he told his sister. "I want her where we can watch her."

Izzy took a small step backwards, without lowering her guard. Looking at Isabelle was a strange experience. There was her own face, though the other woman's expression made it look entirely alien to her, and nothing at all like the face she had seen in the mirror so often. It wasn't just the difference in style and posture. There was an icy cold in those dark eyes that Izzy hoped no one would ever have to see in her own.

"How's your arm doing, Christopher?" Isabelle asked, her voice falsely concerned. "Is that mark still from my whip?" She indicated the end of the scar that was visible below his sleeve.

"Doing fine," the man claimed. His eyes went to her arm in turn. "What about your whip? Lost it somewhere along the way?"

"Jonathan has it," Isabelle told him. "And I promise you, he'll give you worse with it if he catches you."

Crossing her arms so the other woman could get a clear view of her electrum bracelet, Izzy shook her head in Christopher's direction. "Don't let her goad you into anything," she recommended. "She's probably scared to death and trying to cover it up."

Isabelle snorted. "Try again. Is that an actual electrum whip, or is it just part of you pretending to be me?"

Izzy flexed her arm, sending the electrum into her hand. She snapped the whip once, making sure to aim away from Christopher.

"Must be hard for you, travelling with people equipped to sear the flesh from your bones if you bump into them by accident." Clearly, Isabelle had spotted the bracelets Alec and Jace wore.

Snapping her snake back to her arm, Izzy studied her counterpart once again. In the light from their charms, Isabelle looked pale to the point where it suggested she wasn't quite well. Under her scrutiny, Izzy thought she detected a slight tremor in the other woman's hands that she forcefully clamped down on as soon as she herself spotted it.

"When did you last eat anything?" She asked as Christopher followed Alec's beckoning. Covered by Charlie's music, the conversation between the two men was inaudible even though it took place just a few steps away from them.

"Yesterday morning," Isabelle said with a shrug. "I wasn't exactly planning on having to take the long way home."

"How did you get separated from your friends?" Clary had come over and joined the conversation.

Isabelle glared at her. "Are you trying to interrogate me now?"

"I'm trying to make conversation," came the reply. "We have pie if you want some."

"I'm not going to eat anything you give me," Isabelle insisted.

That was just as well, Izzy thought. She couldn't imagine that the pie would sit well with Isabelle.

Jace and Sebastian gravitated into the protections of Charlie's music.

There was a hungry light shining in Isabelle's eyes as she watched them. If looks could have torn the clothes off a man, Izzy was certain Jace would be standing there quite naked now.

"So if you're us from a different dimension," Isabelle said, turning back to Izzy. Her expression had turned speculative. "Should we compare notes? How's your Jonathan performing?" Her tone left no doubt about what performance she meant.

"Jace is my brother," Izzy returned, her voice cool. "Maybe not by blood, but in every other way that counts. I don’t care about his performance." Her unease in the presence of her other self was growing. Had she been in her place, she would have had all kinds of questions. She would have challenged their claims. She would have demanded more explanations.

"You haven't told us how you were separated from your group," she said, changing the subject. "Is there anything out there that we should know about?"

Isabelle shrugged. "All kinds of things out there. You must have run into some. We were sent on a mission. There were more enemies waiting for us than we expected. It was a big fight, we were separated. We have strict orders not to endanger ourselves by going back for anyone."

There had to be more to it. Though Isabelle did her best to hide it, thinking of the situation clearly upset her somewhat. Her hands had picked up their tremor again. She was staring at the deflection rune visible on the side of Izzy's neck. Resisting a sudden urge to cover it with one hand, Izzy realized that the other woman wasn't wearing any runes on the skin exposed by her armor.

She glanced at where the others of their group were pooled, their mouths moving but no sounds carrying over to them even though the tune that enveloped them was low and unobtrusive.

Christopher only had a handful of runes anywhere on his body – hardly surprising if their application didn't interact well with his demon blood. Sebastian, however, was runed just as they were, black lines visible above his collar and on the backs of his hands.

Alec caught her eye, summoning her with a motion of his hand.

She glanced at Clary.

Her friend had her blade in a relaxed but ready grip and was watching Isabelle closely.

"Will you be okay guarding her alone for a moment?" Izzy asked her. "Alec wants to talk to me."

At Clary's nod, she turned to cross the room and step into the music's protective sphere. Jace, Sebastian and Magnus were just leaving.

"Magnus is going to adjust the wards," Alec told her. "It'll mean we can't get out until he takes them down, but it's safer than having more of them walk in on us because the wards can't tell the difference."

"What are we going to do with her?" Izzy asked her brother.

"I'm not sure yet." He glanced over to where Isabelle was now talking to Clary. "I agree with Christopher that I don't want her in here, but if she goes, we won't have any control whatsoever over what she does. Also, sending her out there with a broken seraph blade… feels a bit like murder."

She didn't have to ask why he thought that was her only weapon. If she'd had anything else on her body, surely she would have used that instead. She turned towards Christopher. "Is there any reason she doesn't expose any of her runes?"

The man frowned at her before casting a brief look at Izzy's counterpart. "I didn't realize she's doing that. You're right, though. Maybe she thought she's traveling more safely if she's not identifiable as a Shadowhunter on sight."

Izzy shook her head slowly. "I don't know. I don't like the way she's acting. There's something…" she made a vague gesture with her hand.

Alec sighed. "The best I can come up with right now is this: We keep her guarded through the night, and tomorrow Magnus locks her under wards that'll keep her here a few days while we get a head start. That way she can't run ahead and warn everyone else we're coming. The only other thing I can think of is dragging her along as a prisoner, and I don't really like that."

"Can he do that?"

"He said he can put up wards that'll dissipate after some time," Alec confirmed. "We'll still have to hope she doesn’t know a short cut that'll get her there before us, of course."

"Knowing her, she'd kill any of us if given half the chance." Christopher sounded as if he had repeated those words a few times already that evening. "She won't care a lot about who you are or where you come from. You're with us, and we belonged to a group that opposed them. That'll be enough for her. She knows I'm me and not some double." He raised his hand, indicating the electrum scar.

"She really has shown awfully little interest in where we're from or what we're doing here," Izzy added.

Alec's expression darkened. "She showed plenty of interest in Jace just then. She was basically eating him with her eyes."

"She and Jonathan are married," the other man reminded him.

"That wasn't a 'married' look." Alec turned towards Izzy. "She was looking at him as if he was a prime meal… Jace already said he's not going to take a guard shift for her if he doesn't have to."

"I absolutely get where he's com—" she broke off as something clicked into place in her mind. Her whip slid back into her hand before she could start to phrase an explanation.

"Izzy?" her brother sounded concerned, though he, too, had reflexively reached for his sword again in reaction.

She met his eyes firmly. "Her blade isn't broken. Her runes aren't covered up."

The woman wasn't pale because she was unwell; her hands had trembled from hunger and the effort to control her urges, not from fear or stress; she hadn't cared about their backstory because it no longer mattered to her. She hadn't stared at Izzy's deflection rune, but at her jugular.

"She wasn't out here because she's trying to get back to her team. She's a vampire."

They spun, all three armed and ready to determine the truth of Izzy's suspicion, only to freeze in mid-motion.

The corner where Isabelle had stood was empty. Both she and Clary were gone.

*

"Are you sure you don't want to have some of our food?" Clary asked Isabelle once Izzy had gone to join the others. "You look like you could use some."

"I'm not hungry," Isabelle insisted. "Could do with a drink, though."

"I can get you some water." Even as she said it, Clary realized she'd been a bit rash. There was no one else to take over watching Isabelle, and she couldn't very well turn her back on her. She'd sensed Izzy's unease, and she shared it. "As soon as they're done over there," she added quickly.

Isabelle made a face at her. "I wouldn’t want to drink anything you serve me anyway. Drink is as easy to poison as food is."

"Why'd we want to poison you?" Clary tried to sound reasonable. She wasn't sure how successful she was at it.

The other woman nodded towards Christopher. "You're travelling with him. I know he wants me dead. I beat him the last time we met. He didn't even see it through – jumped off a bridge and let the river carry him away. He's a coward. It's his demon blood. It makes him weak."

"It wasn't a fair fight," Clary noted. She felt herself shudder involuntarily as she thought of the wound Isabelle had given him.

She got a single raised eyebrow for that. "When has war ever been fair?"

"Since when are Shadowhunters at war with each other?"

"Since some of us picked the other side." There was another elaborate look towards Christopher.

Not wishing to pursue that line of thought any further right then, Clary tried to change the subject. "There's a water pump in the bathroom. It's still working. We used it to pump up water to wash and drink. Do you want some from that?"

Isabelle's eyes lit up at the suggestion, making Clary wonder just how thirsty she really was. She had to be seriously afraid of being harmed by them if she refused a drink in spite of that.

"Can I get it myself?"

Clary hesitated only a moment. She couldn't go and get some fresh water and just leave Isabelle unsupervised anyway. "I'll take you over – but you need to leave your blade here. I'm not going to leave the room with you alone while you're armed."

The corner of Isabelle's mouth lifted in a half-smirk. "Don't you trust me not to try to kill you?"

"No." Clary shifted her stance a little. "And it's either that or wait until one of the others has time to accompany us."

"You're smarter than you look," Isabelle said before slowly bending down to place her blade on the floor. "Here? See – all disarmed."

Motioning with her sword, Clary indicated the door to which she wanted Isabelle to walk. She followed half a step behind.

"So do you have angel blood like Seraphina?" Isabelle asked as she stepped through the doorway and into the bathroom, where she stood by the pump and put a hand on the lever.

"Yeah," Clary told her. "So does Jace."

"He looks better than Jonathan does," Isabelle noted. "The hair suits him."

Clary's expression darkened. "We're here to get water, not to discuss Jace," she informed the other woman. "Get to it."

With a shrug, Isabelle put her hands to the lever and strained, leaning into it. "I think it's broken," she groaned. "It doesn't budge."

That was strange. None of them had had any problems with it before. Clary took a step forward and reached out with one hand.

That moment was all Isabelle needed. When she moved, she did so with an inhuman speed, tearing the seraph blade from Clary's grip and shoving the red-haired woman against the back wall of the bathroom. She had one hand under her chin, bending her head back to expose her throat.

"I really am quite thirsty," she hissed. "But it's not water that I want!"

She opened her mouth, exposing lengthened, pointed fangs.

"You're a vampire!" Clary's voice sounded thin. Breathing around the pressure from Isabelle's hand was getting difficult. "You weren't looking to rejoin your people at all! You weren't lost or left behind…"

But she was about to bite her, and drinking some of her blood would do to Isabelle what Jace' blood had done to Simon: Make her a daylighter, and thus far more dangerous than even a regular vampire was. Clary struggled against her grip. She couldn't let that happen.

She tried to call out for the others, but all she managed was a croak as Isabelle's fingers tightened some more.

"Half-right," Isabelle told her. "I was wounded in the raid. They knew I was going to die. Dragging me back just to let me die on the way or at home was a waste of energy and resources. So Jonathan took my bracelet and my other weapons, and off they went… They had no idea we didn't kill all the vampires, or that I'd live for long enough for one of them to start replenishing their clan."

Clary tried to kick, but Isabelle stood firmly, her Shadowhunter training and the vampiric traits supplementing each other. Dark spots were starting to appear at the edges of Clary's sight as her field of vision narrowed.

"I took the sword from the first Shadowhunter I found afterwards. It won't light up for me anymore, but it feels good to have one. Your blood tastes so much better than that of mere mundanes. I can't wait to see what yours will be like with all the extra angelic essence in it."

"You'll never find out." That was Izzy's voice, cold and controlled, from behind Isabelle, less than a second before the end of her electrum staff burst through the vampire's chest, staking her through the heart and giving her barely enough time to look surprised before she fell to dust.

Coughing and gasping for air, Clary slid down along the wall until she was sitting on the floor. Izzy and Alec were by her side in an instant.

"Killing myself gets an entirely different meaning this way," Izzy commented with another look at what remained of their vampiric visitor.

Alec glared at her. "Not funny, Iz. And also: That wasn't you. Don't for a moment think it might have been!"

Chapter Text

February 10th, 2017

"We'll be in Idris tomorrow for sure," Christopher said, squinting against the light. "Not long now and we'll be walking downhill."

He turned, looking at the others, his eyes lingering the longest on Izzy.

She pretended she didn't notice. She'd caught him keeping an eye on her several times since the last night, as if he either expected her to suddenly turn into the Isabelle he knew, or to break down after the experience of killing her counterpart.

Neither of those was going to happen. As far as she was concerned, the only thing the vampire she had killed and she herself had in common were some features and a name. When they had first realized they were in a parallel dimension and that there were people there who were their local twins, she had wondered what it would be like to meet herself. She had half expected to feel some kind of connection, some kinship based on being identical people.

As it turned out, there had been none of that. They didn't even really look alike, with Isabelle's strictly military appearance while Izzy saw no reason why useful and dangerous things could not be beautiful at the same time.

Even as she had raised her staff to strike, she had wondered if she would feel the other woman's death. For a split second, the question had crossed her mind if she would be affected by her counterpart's death. Shoving that thought firmly from her mind had been easier because Isabelle had been about to sink her teeth into Clary's exposed neck.

In the end, it had been anti-climactic, Isabelle's death precisely like that of the uncounted other vampires Izzy had killed over the years.

Now, looking back, she was glad that she had been the one to strike that blow. She wouldn't have wanted any of the others to ever feel like they had killed her.

She looked at Christopher, catching him just as he turned away quickly to continue on his path.

Shaking her head silently, she sped up her steps. They needed to talk. Sometimes, those looks he cast her held admiration. Sometimes, there was worry in them. Whatever he was thinking, she was starting to fear it could prove a distraction.

She slid into the position by his right side when she caught up with him, her arm with the electrum bracelet facing away from him to keep from accidentally brushing against his skin with it. Having to consider that felt strange. Jonathan hadn't ever been afraid of it while he'd been with them.

Then of course, Jonathan had, by his own account, actually liked pain, and he'd worn a glamor that would have covered up any burn or scar.

"Is there anything you want to tell me?" She asked the man once they were walking side by side.

"About what?" He kept his eyes forward, scanning the distance.

"Like why you keep watching me like that."

"It's not the way you think." His words came fast, almost tangling up as he spoke, and his tone was defensive to the point where Izzy had to press her lips together for a moment in order not to laugh as she imagined what he believed she thought.

Her face firmly under control again, she raised an eyebrow at him. "It started after the incident with Isabelle, so I'd be surprised if she didn't have anything to do with it."

He gave a small sigh. "I don't think I could have done that."

"Kill Isabelle?" Izzy's surprise was reflected in her voice. "I guess it would have been harder since you grew up with her…" She didn't even want to imagine a situation in which she would have to turn on Alec or Jace, but she hadn't had the impression that there was any love lost between Christopher and Isabelle. He had almost lost his arm because of her, and she had noticed that he still favored it when he thought no one was looking. She certainly hadn't seemed to have anything but contempt for him.

His hand tightened on the crossbow he carried. "Kill a person who is basically me. Wearing my own face."

"I was looking at her back when I killed her," Izzy pointed out practically. "I wasn't looking at her face." The corner of her mouth twitched. "Also, she was about to bite Clary. That helped a lot. I don't know how you and your Clary get along, but our Clary is the closest I have to a sister. I wasn't going to stand by and watch her be drained."

"We don't," Christopher informed her. "Her name's Seraphina, and she'd probably kill me on sight as a traitor." His eyes narrowed in a frown. "What happened to the others?"

Izzy's head jerked around at the last question, only to realize that the rest of their group was precisely where they were supposed to be and Christopher clearly hadn't referred to them. "Which others?" she asked as Alec took a few long steps to close the distance between them, alarmed by her reaction.

"Your other siblings," Christopher clarified. "And sorry about that."

"We only have another brother," Izzy told him. "Max. He's twelve."

"Max," he repeated. "Named after Maryse' traitor brother? Your Maryse must be … quite different from ours."

"We're all quite different from yours," Alec told him, his voice cool.

"I am realizing this," Christopher returned. "My father – Valentine – very strongly encouraged those who'd gone into exile with him to procreate and increase our numbers."

"I'm amazed Maryse and Robert managed several more children. Our parents were on the brink of breaking up all the way until they finally did get divorced last year," Izzy pointed out.

One corner of Christopher's mouth twitched upwards in a lopsided smile. "No one claimed they're all Robert's children. I'll bet anything some of them are Valentine's – he's not shy about spreading his seed, and Maryse has always quite admired him."

The Lightwoods grimaced but didn't challenge the statement. Their own mother had told them how she'd looked up to Valentine until she had realized the full horror of what he was doing and planning.

*

They fell back into formation, continuing along a path that turned narrower and wound through rock formations that required them to move even more cautiously in order to avoid nasty surprises.

As it turned out, their caution was entirely in vain.

Following a reasonably straight section of the path, leading through between high rock walls on either side and narrow enough to require them to walk single-file, they sped up their steps a little.

A low rumble from above was all the warning they got before an avalanche of stone came down from the heights.

"Rockslide!" Sebastian called out a warning, jumping forward and out of the way of the deadly material.

A blast of power like a shockwave hit them from behind, forcefully pushing them into each other and out of harm's way.

Magnus, his hands still sparkling with magic, dove after them, rolling and fetching up against Clary, whom his spell had left sprawling in the path. Charlie's hands moved fast on her strings as she spun to face the others, playing up a shield that caused smaller pieces of rock to bounce in mid-air instead of hitting any of them. She had been in the lead, outside of the influence of Magnus' magic and was still on her feet.

For a few seconds, the sound of falling rock was deafening. Then silence followed, broken only by a small tune from the guitar. Dust rose from a heap of rubble that shifted slightly as it settled.

They picked themselves up from the ground, dusting off their clothes and giving each other a quick go-over to make sure no one was concealing any injuries that went beyond bruises and scratches.

"Lucky thing we wanted to go that way anyway," Alec said, pointing towards their destination. "Clearing all that rock away again would take forever."

"Does anyone find it strange that that came down just as we were passing?" Izzy asked. "It almost caught us."

Charlie glanced back at the still-settling rocks. "Not necessarily. We may have triggered that, actually – by making noise and causing vibrations."

"How likely is that?" Alec checked his bow to make sure the rough tumble hadn't damaged it, and took the lead, weapon in hand.

"I'm not a specialist in mountain behavior," the Bard reminded him a she fell into step beside him. "But if I remember correctly, it's less unlikely than it feels. We still ought to be careful just in case. We may just as well have tripped a trap someone rigged here."

She had barely finished speaking when the whirring sound of a flying arrow cut through the air, ending in a surprised and painful yelp as it buried itself in the back of Charlie's upper arm.

Reflexively, she reached for it, closing her fingers around the smooth wood as Alec was already pushing her sideways into the shelter of the rock face.

"Attack!" he called out. "Arrows!"

He had his bow up, trying to spot the archer in the heights.

"Magnus, do you—" As he looked around, he realized with sudden, cold horror that there had been two arrows shot. While he had only reacted to the woman by his side being hit, another one had found its way into the back of Magnus' shoulder, where it stuck at an angle, entirely ignored as Magnus swayed on his feet and reached out with one hand to steady himself against the rock.

"Poison," he choked out, the word slurring as if he was drunk. "Something para—"

Jace caught him before he could collapse, lowering him slowly while Clary and Sebastian guarded them.

Fighting down the urge to jump to his boyfriend's aid, Alec forced his focus onto Charlie, who had sunk to her knees, the arrow in her hand. It had another one of the unbarbed Seelie tips, glistening wetly with dark blood.

With one arm around the woman to keep her from falling over, Alec pushed the jacket off her shoulder and pulled at her sweater underneath until he could reach the small, round wound. The lines of the anti-venom charm came quickly, while he trusted in Jace to do the same service for Magnus. This time, they wouldn't heal the wounds before clearing whatever the Seelie had coated their arrows with out of the systems of their wounded.

He could feel Charlie grow heavier as her muscles went limp and she sunk against him.

"It's acting much faster than what they used the other time," Izzy observed. Her eyes were moving back and forth, trying to tell where the next attack would come from. She had her whip in her hand.

Christopher stood by her side, ignoring the risk the electrum posed to him and moving his crossbow along with his body as he swiveled, covering whatever part of the passage she was currently not observing.

"That probably was a hunting poison," Jace noted. "To weaken and slow the prey, but let it run off a while so you can have your fun with it. This is war." He had his hand against the vein at Magnus' throat. "Steady and strong. I don't think they wanted to kill him."

Sebastian moved to let Jace step between him and Clary. "They took out our two magic users," he observed.

Not bothering to point out that Charlie wasn't a magic user in the same sense as a warlock was, since it made no difference to their current situation, Alec nodded. The Bard's pulse, too, showed no sign of faltering, though the charm he had put on her skin didn't seem to do much at this time. Untangling her guitar strap, he placed the instrument on the ground before arranging her in a position that would keep her as far out of harm's way as was possible at the moment.

He picked up his bow as he rose again, an arrow nocked to the string to fire the moment he spotted movement.

The shadows cast by the craggy rocks shifted, bits of darkness flowing away and solidifying into humanoid shapes wielding blades as a number of Seelie warriors slid out of the glamored spots that had concealed them.

They waited until they were sure Magnus and Charlie were out of the game, Alec realized, his arrow flying at the first flurry of motion.

Another set of Seelie dropped down from the rocks above, landing lightly between them on bent knees and straightening immediately, blades raised and ready.

With quarters too close to sensibly use his bow, Alec switched to blades instead.

It wasn't hard to see they were outnumbered, but with the protection of the rock face at their backs, he was confident they would be able to hold their own for a while. All they had to do was to hold out until either the Seelie decided that they were too much trouble to be worth the effort, or the charms kicked in and Magnus and Charlie came back into play.

For a moment, he scolded himself for having become so reliant on magical help. He stomped down on the thought. Magic was a resource in battle, and that was always welcome.

Warm blood spurted over his hand as his blade buried itself in the body of one attacker, the wound gushing even more when he wrenched his sword free sideways to slash at the next knight while ducking through under the swing of a lance.

Jace had thrown two daggers and was now standing with a seraph blade in either hand, the deadly metal cutting quick patterns through the air, blocking and riposting until he found an opening to sink the tip into a Seelie heart. On either side of him, Clary and Sebastian were fighting as well, also wielding swords.

Izzy's bracelet had snapped into the staff shape, enabling her to take on multiple opponents. It was said that a well-trained quarterstaff fighter could easily take on two expert swordsmen at once, and win. Isabelle Lightwood was keeping three Seelie knights at bay and didn't even seem to be working up a sweat yet.

*

Christopher had moved just far enough sideways to give each of them enough space to swing without hitting each other, drawing two of the Seelie with him.

He lunged, sinking his sword to the hilt into the body of one and letting the dying knight slide off of it and to the ground as his knees buckled. His other hand, wielding a shorter blade, came up, blocking a strike against him by his other opponent.

The angle at which their weapons met wasn't quite right. Once, Christopher would have been able to stop the attack anyway – or at least delay it until he could get his other weapon in place to dispatch of his attacker.

That had been before his encounter with Isabelle's whip.

Now, with the muscles of his right arm damaged as they were by deep burns, a sharp pain shot up his arm as his elbow buckled and his wrist snapped back, his dagger clearing the way for the Seelie sword.

What would have been a deadly strike was deflected just enough to sink into the Shadowhunter's side, cutting through this light armor and biting deeply into his flesh.

Christopher slashed with his sword, trying to get some distance between him and the Seelie while blood ran down his side in a hot stream.

Another knight moved in, taking the place of the one he had just killed, his lance a blur in the air.

*

Alec caught a sword on crossed blades before freeing one of his weapons for a stab and following up with a kick to throw the Seelie – wounded and hopefully dying – into the ones waiting behind for an opening to join the fray.

At the edge of his field of vision, he saw Christopher stumble, a lance thrust between his legs and cutting a bloody trail across his calf as it levered him off his feet.

"Iz!" Alec called out to draw his sister's attention. Her staff had just snapped one attacker's neck and impaled another one, leaving her with only one facing her for the moment.

She shifted with barely a look his way, the butt-end of her staff colliding hard with a sword hand and drawing the attention of the knight who had just been about to attack Alec.

Her brother in turn skidded sideways just in time as Christopher, unable to regain his equilibrium, toppled backwards, the side of his head hitting a rock with an ugly thump.

Alec's sword cut through the shaft of the lance, a moment before his dagger sunk into flesh. He twisted before pulling free. Any wound that would anger an opponent without disabling him was a liability they couldn't afford.

He saw the other Seelie raise his blade into position to bring it down into the fallen man.

Christopher wasn't moving, his sword lying inches from his fingers. Alec didn't think but let his body move.

Redirected at the sudden attack, the blade that had been meant to end Christopher's life sunk into him instead.

He slashed viciously at the Seelie wielding it, hoping that the wound wasn't a bad one even though he knew there was little chance of that. Adrenalin coursing through his body from the battle high masked the pain for long enough to allow him to complete his own maneuver whole already tasting blood in his mouth.

*

Sebastian faltered only for a moment when Christopher was hit, the backlash through their bond a warning but not the all-pervasive, crippling pain he had felt back when Isabelle's whip had caught his parabatai. After that, they had come to an agreement to keep their bond dampened unless in the safety of their home institute. It still allowed them to fight together, but there was hope that a wound suffered by one would not endanger both lives.

Jace, in contrast, was hit by the full force of Alec's stab wound, only reflexes honed in a decade and a half of combat training keeping him from being impaled in turn.

His body moved on autopilot until his mind cleared. With relief, he noticed that Alec, while wounded, was still alive. He very nearly followed his first instinct, abandoning his current position and racing to his brother's aid.

The thought of what Alec would say if he abandoned his position guarding Magnus kept him in place, however.

A quick glance told him that Alec's boyfriend was still down, but had shifted where he lay. Hopefully, that was an indication that he was in the process of coming around.

*

Izzy saw Alec sway on his feet as he fought the effects of his wound, still trying to guard their fallen companion. It was a battle he was quickly losing.

The thought that she was the only one on their end of the battle still standing and uninjured safe for a few scratches gave her a new burst of energy borne by desperation. She threw herself forward, her staff a blur as it connected several times in quick succession, leaving more than one Seelie dazed or worse before she had made her way to the two men.

She knew her face was a grimace of fury as she threw everything she had into driving back the Seelie who had moved in to put an end to both Alec and Christopher.

How many of them were there?

Glancing around, she saw that they had decimated their enemy quite a bit, but there were still more Seelie standing than she was confident they could take on. She couldn't spare the attention to check on how Charlie and Magnus were doing.

Charlie!

Thinking of the Bard brought another idea to her mind. She looked down, hoping to find a spot nearby that wasn't bare rock.

She shouldn't have been surprised to see that the stone by her feet was covered in blood, the hue suggesting that most or all of it was of Seelie origin.

That would do well enough. Charms drawn in blood were particularly powerful. It was one of the first lessons the Gales had taught them.

Dealing out another few powerful blows with her staff and ignoring the stab of pain as a blade grazed her arm, Izzy bought herself a few precious moments in which she could scratch a design into the sticky liquid.

She chose the strongest repelling charm she could remember, targeted away from them.

Boosted by her need and the power of the blood it was drawn in, the force it threw against the Seelie group was explosive. Several of them were lifted off their feet as if by a shock wave, thrown haphazardly to the ground or into the closest rocks.

Izzy followed up with a number of other designs.

"Charms!" she called to her friends. "Use charms!"

Fires sprang up from the tips of her boots where she completed the designs she was quickly putting on the ground. The first of the Seelie she had caught in her blast were picking themselves up again, grabbing for weapons and turning towards her almost as one.

In a less desperate situation, Izzy would have called what she was about to do a very long shot. As it was, she was willing to try anything that stood even the slightest chance of working.

Behind the fires feeding on the green blood pooling on the ground, she drew another one of the repelling charms, letting a second shock wave travel away from where she stood, protecting Christopher and her brother, who had also dropped to his knees by now, his face a mask of pain and his hand pressed against the wound between this ribs.

She did her best to shut out the screams when the flames exploded outwards, engulfing the first of the knights who were returning to them.

Something moved off to her left. A quick turn of her head showed her that Magus was slowly getting to his feet, moving as if something was still trying to drag him back to the ground. It took several tries before his magic lit up around his fingers.

The bolts he threw when it finally did were not particularly well aimed, striking by chance more than anything else. It bought the trio around him the time to sketch their own set of charms on the ground, however.

Jace's throwing knives took care of the last two of the enemy who were still standing.

*

The moment it was clear none of the Seelie were getting up anymore, Jace and Magnus made a dash for Alec, the latter still stumbling more than he was running.

Sebastian dropped to his knees next to Christopher almost at the same instant, turning him and cushioning his head on the jacket he quickly slid out of.

"I'll be fine," Alec insisted, his voice breathless as he nodded towards Christopher. "Take care of him first."

Jace rolled his eyes at him, his fingers prying Alec's hand off of the wound. "Try that with someone who doesn't feel your pain," he advised. "Clary, get the antidote we used before and give everyone who was wounded a dose just in case their blades were poisoned, too."

He didn't turn to see if she was acting on his words. They had learned to rely on each other implicitly in the last few months.

The moment he laid eyes on Alec's wound, he covered the stab up with his own hand. "That went through to the lung," he announced. "Iz, I need something to close this—" he didn't have the time to finish his sentence when his sister thrust a pack of compresses into his free hand before sharing the contents of her first-aid kit with Sebastian, who had gone from examining Christopher's head wound from the fall to bandaging the cut in his side that was still bleeding profusely.

Jace traced the lines of an iratze charm around the wound in Alec's chest. It wasn’t going to be enough to heal it in one go. That would take some more elaborate charms, and he hoped that Izzy had more of them up her sleeve than he did. He wasn't sure he was equipped to handle that injury in a way that would have Alec ready to fight again by morning – or earlier if there were more Seelie around.

For the moment, however, he was going to be satisfied if he could be certain that Alec didn't continue to bleed into his lung.

"Damn. Looks like I missed all the fun," Charlie's voice came groggily from where Alec had left her earlier.

She had pushed herself almost into an upright position, clearly still fighting some residual dizziness.

"You had a pretty good excuse," Izzy told her without looking up. She had put her whip on the ground next to her while she helped Sebastian tie up Christopher's wound. The man had his stele out and moved it over his parabatai's healing rune. It slowed the flow of blood, but did not close the cut up entirely.

The moment he finished taping a bandage to the hole between Alec's ribs, Jace found a thermos cap thrust into his hands. He frowned at Clary. "Everyone who was injured," she said.

Following her pointed look, he was surprised to see the seeping cut along his upper arm. Adrenalin did a lot to cover up the pain from light wounds in battle. So did working through the greater pain of one's parabatai being stabbed, he assumed. Now that he had seen the wound, a dull throb settled in his arm, following the rhythm of his heartbeat.

Without any further complaint, he downed the potion Clary was still holding out to him, returning the cap to her immediately.

She refilled, holding the improvised cup to Alec's lips next.

He raised the hand on his uninjured side, supporting the vessel along with her as he gulped down the contents. "I thought it would taste worse," he admitted.

"Save your breath," Jace advised. "We still need to get to somewhere reasonably safe before we can fix you properly."

Sebastian turned around to look at them. His eyes shone with emotion that Jace needed a moment to place. When he did, he felt a sudden chill: It was the desperate fear of losing a parabatai.

"How bad is it?" he asked, trying for a calming tone. It was only partially successful. He didn't have a whole lot of experience with this kind of thing.

"I don't know," Sebastian admitted, looking back and forth between Jace and Izzy. "But we need to do something to help him. I can't get him to wake up!"

"Iz?" Jace turned to his sister, who was bent over the unconscious man.

She didn't look away from what she was doing. "He hit his head pretty hard when he fell. As far as I can tell, he's just knocked out, but we should get him away from here and someplace where he can recover in peace. We have no way to tell if those Seelie had friends somewhere and if so how long they'll take to reach us."

"Let's hope we're not too far from shelter," Alec said, groaning as he pushed himself to his feet.

Jace reached out to take his left arm and steady him. "Are you sure you can walk?"

Alec nodded. "Not fast, maybe," he admitted. "But I'll manage. Help Sebastian with Christopher."

"I don't need help." Sebastian sounded half-defensive and half-annoyed at the suggestion. Then his tone grew more subdued. "I don't remember any more shelters or cottages on the maps up here."

"I can put up wards once we've gotten some distance between this place and us," Magnus suggested. He had moved close to Alec, but refrained from offering physical support. He still felt the effect of the poison in his veins. Having anyone lean on him right now would have sent everyone involved tumbling back to the ground. "I just need a bit to walk off the rest of this…" he made a vague gesture with one hand.

"You can rest at my place."

Jace' head whipped around at the sound of an unfamiliar voice.

Alec turned with him, wincing and pressing his arm to his side as the movement tugged at his wound.

"Jace?" Clary sounded concerned as she squinted where he was looking.

It took him a moment before he could make out the figure leaning against a boulder at the other side of the path, just by the entrance to the gorge they had come out of when the attack had started. It was a young man, dressed as a mundane. He seemed entirely unconcerned by the scene laid out before him.

He also didn’t throw a shadow.

"Ghost," Charlie said. "The one that got away."

It took a second before Jace was able to place her statement.

"How far is it?" He asked as soon as he understood.

"Jace?" Alec could only hear their end of the conversation.

"One of the mundanes the Seelie had. His ghost just offered to take us to shelter."

"How many people are there?" Alec added to Jace's question, looking in the ghost's direction vaguely enough to tell Jace that he didn't have his magic vision on. "Any more Seelie?" He gestured at the bodies on the ground.

The ghost came over, moving in a semblance of walking without disturbing anything around him. "Not far," he said, his eyes fixed on Jace. "There's no one left. They came for us in the night. They took us all. You helped us – now I'll help you."

"I wish we could have done more to help you," Charlie said in a quiet voice.

He fixed her with a level gaze, a hint of a smile on his features. "You freed us from their spell. You just avenged us. I'll help you."

Alec didn't take more than a second to think about it when Jace relayed the words. "If it's not too far, we accept."

Without waiting for any further reaction, the ghost moved again, grinning as he walked through Alec, Izzy and Sebastian in turn, causing each of them to shudder.

"Wait!" Jace called after him. "We have some wounded here. We need to take it slowly."

He didn't point out that they also needed to get rid of the blood they had left on the battlefield. Charlie was already tuning her strings, ready to set everything that was left on fire once they were far enough from it to not be endangered by the flames.

*

He had to call back their guide several times, reminding him that they had to keep their pace to what Alec and Sebastian, the latter carrying the still-unconscious Christopher, were able to manage. At least Charlie and Magnus recovered quickly once they were walking, their steps growing steadier with every minute that passed.

The ghost, who had given his name as Peter, amused himself by walking into and out of the rock of the mountain every now and then. He didn't seem to be taking his new condition all too seriously.

Alec was starting to wonder if it had been wise to trust themselves to his lead.

He thought that the others shared his relief when the near-invisible path he had guided them to led to a mountain meadow, a solitary building tucked against a steep cliff at the far end.

By now, Alec was almost ready to admit that he needed a break. Even with the healing charm Izzy had put on him, the one Charlie had given him on the way and the ones he had sketched on himself, he was feeling short of breath. Adding to that, every step he took sent a spike of pain through his chest.

Keeping his eyes fixed on the building, he forced his steps to lengthen a little.

"Thank you," Jace told Peter, who had stopped and seemed a little undecided about what to do next. "If you want to leave now, Charlie can point you the way."

"Will you take care of my birds?" the ghost asked.

Jace gave him a confused look. "Birds?"

"They're there." One immaterial hand indicated the cottage.

"Sure." Jace didn't point out that any pet birds the young man would have had were probably either dead or had escaped by now. "We can do that."

"Then I would go where the others went if that's alright." He was looking at Charlie now.

The Bard nodded at him as she adjusted her guitar. "Godspeed," she wished him before she started to play.