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Winds of Change 6: Gale

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June 29th, 2017

The City of Bones

The holding cells for those awaiting trial were hardly any different from those that would be the permanent home of the convicts sentenced to life in the City of Bones. The one difference, for all intents and purposes, was that the Brothers weren't supposed to go all-out on the mind control here yet.

Imogen Herondale, having been the High Inquisitor of the Nephilim for two decades, was well aware that the difference was strictly academic. Besides, no one would complain if a bit of low-key torture had already opened up the accused to be more cooperative in questioning.

Even if the torture wasn't quite as low-key as it could have been.

They had separated the four the moment they had arrived, assigning each a cell out of earshot of the others. Imogen hadn't been asked her opinion, and hadn't ventured it unbidden either. Going through the law and all the old cases she could find in search for a way to spare them the fate intended for them had taken precedence over trying to get them more comfortable accommodation for a few days.

Jace was lying on the narrow plank-bed when she arrived, his back facing the side of the cell that was only separated from the corridor by a set of steel bars. Privacy was a luxury the prisoners here weren't afforded.

For a moment, she thought that he was asleep. That would have been strange. The prisoners always tried to sleep as little as possible, and when they did, it was never restful.

Just as she was about to call out his name to see if he would respond, he moved.

The motion in which he rolled and swung his legs off the hard board and onto the floor was just a bit too energetic. She felt a frown crease her forehead. She'd seen prisoners after three days in these cells. The despair and the sleep deprivation was usually blatantly obvious by then.

Not so in her grandson.                          

Taking her in, he crossed the small room with a few quick steps. He was wearing the same clothes he'd been arrested in: the leather combat gear that she had given him and his friends for New Year's, save for the jacket, which lay where his head had been, apparently used in lieu of a pillow before.

He wordlessly held out his hands in a gesture that seemed to say 'look what things have come to'.

Now that she was standing across from him, she found herself suddenly at a loss for words. Anything, down to the simplest of greetings, seemed inappropriate. She stood in silence for another moment, studying him some more.

He didn't have the appearance of a broken prisoner. At best, the unshaved look and unkempt hair made him look rakish. No one had tended to his wounds. The scrapes on his face were healing, bruises fading slowly. His left arm was encased to the elbow in a stiff, blue bandage of the kind mundanes used to stabilize broken bones.

"I'll talk to the Brothers about healing that at least," she finally noted.

To her surprise, he shook his head.

"You must be in pain, though?" She wasn't sure why she had made that a question.

Jace shrugged. "It's bearable. It's not like I'll be using that arm again anyway. We're all scheduled to be deruned and executed speedily, aren't we?"

He sounded controlled, far too calm for the words he had just spoken.

"We're trying to insist on a full trial," Imogen told him. "And looking into ways to get the sentence to be something… less permanent. The Herondale name still carries some weight. With a little luck, we might even be able to have you put under house arrest only."

His mouth twitched into a lopsided smile. He didn't for a moment believe that such a thing would be possible.

His words sounded less amused. "Don't bother. You'd only harm yourself, and Mom, and Max… We made our bed. We'll lie in it."

She knew her lips thinned as she listened to him. Her eyes returned to his broken arm. "They still ought to give you a healing at least."

She didn't understand. Jace could activate runes without needing a stele. Why hadn't he turned on his iratze and spared himself the discomfort? Was it out of loyalty to his friends, who had no such benefit?

"No." He was still speaking calmly, but with determination. "Nephilim do not kill Nephilim. They want to strip us of the right to call us such, make us mundane, and execute us then. There's no shame in being mundane, though, and if that's how they want to kill us, then that's how I'll live my last days. It is alright."

He reached through the bars, offering his hands.

Imogen took them in hers. The material of his bandage felt rough against her palm. A sensation almost like a caress against the back of her hand alerted her to a quick movement of the fingers of his other hand, tracing a small shape on her skin.

She would have put it down to imagination, but he pressed his palm against hers, and she could hear his voice even though his lips were not moving.

No trial. It will be alright. We will be alright. Keep your distance. Stay safe. And whatever you think is going on – trust that the truth is infinitely worse.

She blinked, but he had released her hands and his voice was gone from her mind.

*

Alec closed his insubstantial hand more tightly on his sister's physical one. You need to wake up, Iz. I have to go.

He felt her stir, felt the pressure of the spell on the cell on him lessen as she returned to full awareness. She nodded, the motion barely perceptible.

See you later.

Withdrawing his hand and breaking their contact, he went through that twist of his mind that snapped him back into his own body.

They might have been the first prisoners in these cells to ever get a proper night's sleep. Though they were being kept at a distance from each other, they weren't quite far apart enough. Jace might be the only one among them who could actually see them in their out-of-body forms, but touch did allow them to communicate, and it allowed them to shield each other's dreams against the spells placed on the cells to ensure nightmares. At the same time, their bodies could rest well enough while their minds were elsewhere, with nothing for those spells to affect. When they were presented to the public of Alicante, it wouldn't be in sleep-deprived desperation.

He straightened, blinking at the small figure standing outside his cell.

"How can you sleep in here?" Max asked without further preamble. "I had to say your name three times."

"I wasn't sleeping," Alec claimed. "I was meditating. Should you be here?"

His youngest brother gave a belligerent shrug. "I came with Imogen. She's talking to Jace. No one said I had to stay outside."

No one had probably meant for him to wander the cells either, but Max was apprenticed with the inquisition and he probably wasn't as out of place in the pre-trial area as he could have been.

Getting to his feet, Alec approached the bars but stopped an arm's length from them. He wasn't going to let anyone claim he had threatened his brother.

Max studied the tips of his boots for a moment. Then he raised his head to stare Alec in the face. "I hate you," he said, his voice loud and clear and probably audible at least another three cells away. "I hate you the same way Jace hated you after you shot him in the back. You ruin everything for no good reason. I wish you weren't my brother."

Alec blinked. The first sentence had stung, though he'd heard the same from Max before, said more than once in his anger and hurt when he wasn't recovering from his injury – the first he had sustained after his running ceremony – the way he had hoped. The second…

Jace hadn't hated him. Not for a moment had his brother and parabatai blamed him, even before he had known his bow had been tampered with. He'd certainly pretended to, though. It had been a necessity. They'd had reason to assume they wouldn't be allowed to stay in the same city if they were thought to still be a team.

"I understand," Alec said slowly, his own eyes lowered now. He'd always been a bad liar. The last months had made him better at not wearing his thoughts on his face, but sometimes it was safer not to risk it. He didn't know how long they would be alone. "Is mom alright?"

"She is—worried." There'd been a hitch in Max's voice, as if he'd meant to say something else at first. If there'd been any indication in his expression of what he had truly meant, it was gone by the time Alec had moved enough to look at him.

"Tell her we are alright. We're ready to face what is coming."

Max gave a terse nod. "We didn't need this. You should have stayed away. Why did you let yourself get caught?"

Ignoring the tone, and thinking of Jace, throwing a glass at him in anger, though really aimed to take out the camera recording them, Alec focused on the question Max had asked.

"We didn't plan to. I guess we trusted the wrong people. Won't make that mistake again."

"No." Max started to turn away. "Because in two days, you will be dead."

Alec felt a muscle in his jaw twitch. None of them had known the precise timeline for their planned execution so far. "Let them try. We're not that easy to kill."

 

Calgary

"I'm fine, Allie-Cat."

Magnus grinned as Allie did a double-take at hearing Charlie's regular nickname for her in the wrong voice. His expression didn't change as he added: "Really."

Her smile was a little rueful. "Am I hovering very much?"

He nodded.

She put the cup she had wielded down on the table and raised her hands in defeat. "And there I'm not even pregnant."

His grin turned into a full laugh. It was true. Though he had only been witness to it once, the tales shared among the Gale family and its associates were legion: Allie's need to keep the family safe and together grew that much worse when she was expecting.

Their group had been firmly folded into her concept of 'family' and four of them were imprisoned in enemy territory. That was nether safe nor together, and he couldn't fault her for worrying.

He reached for the cup, savoring the heat in spite of the warmth of late June and basking in the scent of hot chocolate laced generously with charms.

When they had returned days earlier, Allie had taken one look at him and ordered him in no uncertain terms to spend the next few nights in her guest room, to be fussed about and cared for. Charlie had escaped a similar fate mostly because she'd immediately pointed out that she was the only way they currently had to stay in contact with the group they had lost, and she had left almost as soon as she had dropped off her things to find their Songs and discover their precise whereabouts and condition.

Magnus, on the other hand, had found himself ushered into the bathroom, with the large tub and its seemingly infinite selection of scented additives. Everyone in the family knew what his remedies for magic exertion were, and he didn't even try to deny that he was suffering from just that.

Handling the strange magic of the plane they had visited, in copious amounts and for long stretches of time, without allowing himself to pay attention to his growing fatigue and ignoring the strain it was putting on his body – if whatever magic conduits he had were even part of that – had left him feeling sore all over. A pounding had set in at the base of his skull and was promising to grow to become a roaring headache, if not a full-out migraine, soon enough. Trying any sort of magical remedy would only make things worse. The only thing he could do would be to rest, and let himself recover. He'd hoped he'd be able to stave off the worst if he was good about that.

It'd been easier to relax when Charlie had returned after barely fifteen minutes, reporting that all four were reasonably well and as comfortable as one could be in a cell in the City of Bones, though quite hungry. Since none of them thought it wise to leave any magical objects with them that could be found and raise questions, she had taken paper plates of pie to them one by one and removed the remains again – just as she had for every meal since then. While the four were fed in their cells, their fare was inferior to what the Gales could provide in many respects.

Foregoing his usual remedy of steak, Magnus had settled for pie as well, knowing that that, at least, would not make a reappearance if his headache culminated in nausea.

He'd been happy enough to curl up between Gale quilts in a freshly made bed and close his eyes by the time his meal was done.

Waking up hadn't been what he'd expected. The strain of his magical sense still translated to a general soreness that made it hard to even find a good position to rest in. The pounding had, predictably, turned into a splitting headache, and he'd been surprised to no end to find he was running a fever. While not something he could remember having ever experienced before, he at least knew his own body well enough to identify it was what it was: Exhaustion, driven to extremes; annoying, but not dangerous.

Any other time, he might have chosen to take a painkilling potion and gone about his business, preferring action, even though he wouldn't have been able to use spells in that state, to distract himself.

This time, getting back the full range of his magic quickly was of the essence.

He smiled to himself as he thought of how Alec had asked Charlie for writing utensils, putting together a fire message to Magnus to explain why they had opted against taking Charlie's way out of their prison. Simply disappearing would only return them to where they'd been before they had visited the home world of the creatures they called angels and demons.

Things had changed with the details they had learned there, though. They needed the other Nephilim to understand what they did, but for that they needed to get anyone to listen first.

And for that, they had to leave more spectacular a message then a silent disappearance from locked cells.

He would have trusted a message Charlie had relayed, but having it sent by Alec to him directly felt special.

Whatever the final plan would look like, and whatever would come after that – he wanted to be ready to give Alec and his friends his best then. So he'd stayed where he was, resting and accepting the tea, and the soup, and the hot chocolate Allie brought him, sleeping away most of the day, and the next night.

He'd woken feeling much better. His magic still felt wobbly, the ache lingering after he touched the power, but that would be gone soon enough. He'd spent the morning in the living room, lounging on one of the sofas and reading to some of the children.

Charlie had dropped by briefly a few times to leave messages and collect pie. He didn’t know what she was doing when she wasn't visiting the prisoners, but she had no interest in spending more time in the apartment above the store than she had to. Allie sighed every time she walked out again.

The bard's power came with a price, and her magic had taken to feeding on her own body. The last, immense spell she had cast before they had escaped from that other world had once again left her even thinner than usual, her cheekbones unhealthily pronounced and her clothes too loose on her.

Her cousin put food in front of her the moment she came into the apartment, and never ceased to keep her plate filled until she left again, but that was all the care Charlie allowed her to provide.

Presently, she came walking out of the room she and Jack shared in the apartment, her guitar on her back and her hair a belligerent, bright yellow and black. Magnus hid his face with his cup. If she could turn a warning to Allie to keep her hands off into a joke like that, she couldn't be too annoyed.

The door to the bedroom of Allie's middle twins opened, revealing Maia and Simon.

"Any chance you could drop us off in New York briefly?" the young woman asked. "I should probably report back to Luke in person, and we need to get some of our things…"

Charlie nodded at them. "The bushes by the parking lot, in ten minutes," she declared. "Prepare to receive your first travelling lesson, young padawan."

Simon responded with a grin, showing the points of his vampire teeth, and gave her a two-fingered salute. As far as Magnus knew, they hadn't talked the details of his apprenticeship with her through yet, but at least Charlie had moved to accepting, if not embracing, the role of master.

As all three filed out of the apartment, Allie shook her head silently.

"What is it?" Magnus asked, studying her through cat-eyes. He barely ever used a glamor in the Gale's home.

She turned to look at him. "Moments like this," she said, her voice low, "I wish I had the freedom to join them. Go and do things where they need doing."

As the Gales' anchor, she was bound to the city she controlled, physically and magically unable to move past the boundaries she herself had set when she had rooted her branch of the family here.

"You are where things need doing," he pointed out. "And in the best position to do them."

 

The City of Bones

Charlie could never quite suppress a shudder when she emerged in the underground cells. Even knowing what she was getting into, the feeling of despair in the Songs all around her threatened to swamp her. It'd been easier that first time, when she had come out in the middle of a battle, and the very present, real horrors of the situation drowning out the background noise.

She'd probed all four Songs from the Wood, and determined that Alec and Jace would have to wait until there were no strangers in their corridors.

Stepping into Izzy's cell instead, she found her friend sitting on the uncomfortable plank-bed, apparently lost in thought.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

Izzy didn't startle at the words, which showed clearly that she had been more aware of her surroundings than it had seemed.

"I was just thinking of all the people out there who don’t have the benefits we do, and wondering how many of them are here for no better reason," came the response. "News?"

"Nothing groundbreaking," Charlie returned, handing her a pocket pie with meat stuffing. "Magnus is almost back to normal. Everyone else is waiting. Chris is … worried enough for at least three of us, so most of us make a point of staying calm. He's very much regretting he can't just order you to come the hell home with me."

The younger woman chuckled. Even in the dimly lit cell, Charlie could see bruises and cuts in her face. They hadn't been received gently, and though they insisted they hadn't put up any resistance, they'd been treated as if they had. Not wanting to give away their access to charms, they ignored the aches and limited themselves to looking forward to the time when they were free and could sketch on a few charms.

"Sweet of him," Izzy said eventually. "Tell him we're fine. And remind him to keep his hands off my bracelet."

Maybe telling her their friend had deliberately burned himself on the electrum to get a chance to track her hadn't been the smartest thing to do.

Oblivious to the Bard's thought, Izzy continued: "Alec wants us to make a grand exit when they parade us for everyone. It might be tricky. They'll probably handcuff us, so charm access will be limited."

"I take it he isn't thinking I should pop out of the Wood and pull you in." Charlie remained standing, leaning against the wall and watching the empty corridor while keeping her bardic sense open to feel if anyone was approaching them.

Izzy pulled one hand through hair matted and dull as Charlie had never seen it before. With the hair tricks they had taught her at her disposal, it had to be a struggle not to just fix that when touching it. "He's thinking epic and impressive," she informed her. "If we can, we fly. Let them find a way to explain away that."

"What do we do to help?"

"We can't leave Mom and Max behind this time. Unless there's some very fast shift of attitude, they'd be dead in no time. Imogen too, probably. Someone needs to get them. and also keep everyone else from shooting us down right away. Can you do that?"

Charlie nodded. She wasn't quite sure how, but she was sure that they would make it happen. She'd put it to the group in Calgary. Aline and Helen knew Alicante well. They'd be able to help them work out a plan.

"You should try the thing Fenrir said. Getting your wings to manifest for real," she suggested. "That'd leave a special kind of impression for sure."

Looking up at her, Izzy shook her head. "Not happening. I don't know that we know how to fill up with that much power in the first place, but it's sort of hard to get a hold on the energy here. I don't know if it's the City of Bones or Alicante or if we're just used to it being everywhere from the last couple of weeks, but it's really hard to get a good grip. We should be able to manifest enough to fly, but that'll be it."

Charlie didn't need to ask her why they had tried. Opening themselves to the power that allowed them to show and use their wings sharpened their senses and let them feel anything alive around them as if with an additional sense that normally lay dormant. It would have been the fastest way for them to get an idea of where in the prison they were, and what – and who – was going on around them.

"You're creatures of air, trapped underground," Charlie said. "Air and Earth are not as vicious enemies as some fantasy books try to make you believe, but you'll probably do better once out in your element."

 

New York

"It shouldn't feel so weird, coming back," Simon observed as he let them into the boathouse. "We weren't gone that long."

"I was surprised every time I saw the newspaper lying around at Allie's place," Maia admitted. "It wasn’t even two weeks, and it feels like forever."

The Daylighter's home was just as they had left it, and yet quite different. The charms their friends had so generously distributed at their requests had been visible as vague suggestions to Maia before. Though born as an unsighted mundane, her werewolf infection gave her the Sight to perceive the magic.

Two weeks of constant exposure and practice, and probably also the lessons they had received at using the symbols with effect even without the innate talent for magic seemed to have increased her sensitivity to them. They stood out starkly now, sparkling lines swirling on the surfaces and marking the walls and the windows.

"I'll just take some instruments and clothes," Simon declared. "And my laptop. Everything else can stay. Once I get the hang of using the Wood, I can just live here and hop over for lessons."

"And won't the time difference be so much fun?" Maia asked him, grinning.

He gestured vaguely. "Maybe Charlie can teach me the time travelling thing! Do you think that's a Bard thing or a Charlie thing?"

"A Charlie thing." She didn't know what made her certain, but something inside her told her that there was and probably had ever been exactly one time-travelling Bard in the world, and that was Charlotte Marie Gale. "Seriously though – you don't think Calgary would be more convenient?"

"I don't want to move to Calgary," her boyfriend declared, absolute certainty in his voice. "That is unless – do you want to move to Calgary? Because I thought you'd want to come back to your life here, and the pack, and—" He broke off, watching her.

She found herself lowering her head to scratch a sudden itch on her eyebrow. The question was harder to answer than she had expected. "I'm not sure it matters," she decided eventually. "I have a feeling that a lot of things will go down soon, and who knows where we are after that."

Nodding slowly, Simon started opening cupboards and drawers. "I'll hurry with the packing. Do you want me to come along to say hello to Luke?"

While appreciating the offer, she shook her head. Simon still was a vampire, and a lot of Luke's werewolves disapproved of him being there in the first place. She knew he didn't particularly enjoy walking into the Jade Wolf and seeing the hostility and anger directed at him, and as much as she loved him for offering, she wasn’t going to make him.

"I'll just hop over quickly while you pack," she decided. "His car's there, so he's got to be around somewhere."

She didn't give him the opportunity to object, but quickly turned and strode out of the building, and across to the Asian restaurant that housed their pack headquarters.

It wasn't just her perception of magic that had sharpened during their stay in the other dimension. Her sense of smell, though always more acute than a mundane's, now brought her information she would only have expected to receive in wolf form.

It had been less obvious in Calgary, where they had stayed at the apartment above the magic shop with Allie and her family, and everything felt, and smelled, like family and safety. Here, she could pick apart precisely who of the wolves had gone where last, and in some cases even the moods they'd been in at the time. Among the familiar bouquet there were two wolf scents that surprised her. They didn't quite fit in with the others. They certainly didn't belong to the New York pack.

Yet, they felt familiar.

Walking through the front door, a general greeting already on her lips, she froze with her hand still on the handle.

"What the heck?" That wasn't how she had expected to say upon her return from a two-week absence.

Then again, she hadn't expected to walk into a room filled with part of her pack and find everyone cease what they were doing to stare at her.

No, she corrected herself. They weren't staring at her. They were, in fact, carefully avoiding looking at her.

It wasn't that they were trying to shun her. There was nothing embarrassed about those not-quite glances either. They were, if anything, subservient.

She spotted Bat close to the rear wall. The most recent addition to their pack, he looked as confused as she felt, though something had driven him to his feet and backing slowly away until his back hit resistance. Had he been in wolf form, his tail would have been between his legs, his ears close to his head in submission.

Her eyes found Taito, always ready to fight, never willing to give way easily.

As her surprise grew, he slid out of his chair under her scrutiny, going to one knee in the gesture of submission they used in their human shapes. Some of the others followed him wordlessly. The scent that filled the room may have still been imperceptible for non-wolf noses, but it was almost sickening to her.

Barely resisting the urge to back away herself and make a run for the boathouse, where the world still worked the way she knew it, she glanced at the alpha's table.

Luke sat with two others, strangers in New York and as out of place in here as their scents were out there, but well enough known to Maia on sight: A red-haired man and his sister, with hair so light a blonde it looked white in the right sort of lighting.

She had her gaze fixed to the tabletop.

"Puppy has grown up," Rose observed, her voice clearly audible in the silence even though she had spoken only a soft mutter.

Peter had his head lowered even further, face half-concealed behind his hand.

Luke retained an upright posture, but she could see he was trying to figure out where to put his eyes.

Deciding that flight was not an option, Maia released the door. "Can someone tell me what is going on here?"

There'd been more of a demand to her voice than she had intended, and she could see Luke start to move, realized what he was about to do, and hurried to shake her head at him. "Stop!" It came out almost as a snap. "Don't you dare submit to me, Luke. You're my Alpha! You don’t do that!"

He stopped his motion, visibly catching himself and taking control of his wolf instincts. "I don't know," he said, his voice still a little shaky. "I have no idea what's going on."

"I think," Rose's voice was louder now, and she rose to her feet in a fluid motion, gesturing for her brother to join her, "that this place is too small and too crowded to find out. How about we go for a walk?"

Luke cast a thankful glance at her as he nodded.

Maia found herself frowning once more. More than just relief or gratitude had passed between them. Could it be--?

Yes, she realized before any of the three had moved towards her. It very well could. Well then. It appeared that they were not the only ones who had had some adventures in the last two weeks. She reached behind her once again for the handle. "Sounds like a very good idea, actually," she admitted. "I'll be waiting outside."

Chapter Text

Luke walked slowly to the door, Rose and Peter just behind him. The air of power that had permeated the Jade Wolf moments before had dissipated the moment Maia had closed the door behind her.

He had no idea what had happened there, and for all that he could tell, neither did she.

The one thing he knew was that having her in the room had been like being stared down by a wolf so far higher in rank that doing anything other than ask for orders and then run to carry them out had seemed impossible for a few moments. He'd had to keep a death grip on his human part to prevent the wolf in him from taking over and doing exactly what Taito had done: submit and throw his life at her feet.

Now that was something they'd doubtlessly have to deal with. The other man would resent his reaction soon enough, and try to make up for it by being particularly obnoxious in the pack.

As he left the Jade Wolf, Luke steeled himself for weathering the same effect again once there were no walls between them.

It was a little easier outdoors, though now his wolf instincts told him to run and put as much distance between him and the presence he could feel waiting by the corner of the building.

Maia stood with her arms crossed in front of her chest, looking every bit as uncomfortable as he felt.

He focused on that, focused on seeing the girl in her whom he had once found desperate and afraid, and brought into the pack. She'd long grown past that, of course, and into the most capable second in command he could imagine.

Whatever had happened to make her feel to him as if she should have been an alpha at the command of a pack multiple times the size of theirs: it wasn't something she'd done deliberately. She'd seemed positively terrified of the reaction she'd caused in there.

Rose had a hand on his arm, whether to reassure him or herself he didn't know. She kept her posture straight, but had her head half-inclined, looking at Maia in a sideways fashion that avoided a challenge.

Behind them, Peter was surely focusing more on the heels of their feet than anything else. Used to holding one of the bottom places in a pack, he had, as far as Luke could tell, simply accepted this new order of things.

"What happened there?" Maia asked as soon as they reached her, every word clipped and precise.

Luke shook his head. "I don't know." He made himself look at her, aware that his eyes must be shining werewolf-green. "There's something – you're changed. It's as if you brought some sort of power back from that other plane. I've never …"

"Luke." Maia spread her arms. "This is me. Maia. I'm the same I've always been."

Rose gave a small laugh at that. "Trust me on this one, Puppy." The nickname sounded a little forced, but she seemed determined not to give in to the pressure of power emanating from the younger wolf. Their pack might not work the same way as the one she came from did, and she accepted that, but she still felt that her relationship with Luke, undetermined as its precise nature still was, made her something like the leader of the female wolves in their group – few as there were. "You are not the same as always. We'd never have been able to force you into a change if you'd been like this."

"But I didn't do anything!" Maia insisted. "I really—"

The door to the boathouse opened, and she shifted to look at Simon, who was frowning at their group but not approaching without invitation. A gesture from her brought him to them in an instant.

"What's wrong?" he asked, concern evident in his features as he studied first Luke, then the other two. "New wolves?"

"Rose and Peter Heerkens," Maia told him. "You know, from when I stayed with Dr. Malan. I have no idea what they're doing here, but that is not the issue." She looked at her boyfriend. "Do you have any sudden need to kneel before me and do weird things?"

Simon's expression turned confused. "Not in any manner that would be appropriate in front of Luke," he admitted. "Or the other two."

Rose gave the smallest of chuckles, and Luke focused on that, feeling a grin tug at his lips.

Any other time, Maia might have given him a scowl and a return comment to match. Today, she merely looked at her alpha, careful not to catch his eyes and make things worse again. "See? I've not suddenly turned into some scary-powerful superwolf who—"

"Beg to differ," Peter muttered behind the other two. "I'd love to see Uncle Stuart meet you now."

Maia ignored him. "Look, whatever this is, it can't actually be me. We travelled with several wolves the last days and they had absolutely no issue with me."

"Maia." Simon stepped forward, standing half between her and Luke. "I still don't know what's going on, but the wolves we travelled with were actually actual real deities. I'd say that's some scary-powerful superwolves if there's ever been some."

"They weren't actual deities," Maia objected. "They were more like warlocks but not."

"They used to live in this world and be worshiped as gods," her boyfriend insisted. "That's a bit more than warlocks. And you sort of did conclude that Fenrir was who made the werewolves happen. The—the first werewolves." He looked at the twins. "Those… werewolves, I guess."

"Fenrir," Peter repeated. He had raised his head enough to look at Simon. Meeting his eyes wasn't an issue for him. "Like in Fenrir, Son of Loki, the Giant Wolf, father of wolves, first of his kind?"

"Yes," Maia returned in his place. "Exactly like that. And yes, he is scarily powerful, but it's not like that's contagious."

"He did adopt you," Simon reminded her helpfully.

"That was symbolic," she shot back.

Luke exchanged a look with Rose. "I don't think so," they both said as one. "I really don't think so."

 

City of Bones

Entering Jace's cell, Clary fitted her insubstantial body to his very material one, wishing that she could hold him for real.

She preferred coming to him to guard his sleep to having it be the other way around. For one thing, he could actually see her in this form, while all she ever got was a bodiless voice in her head.

For another, being out of her body meant she wasn't hurting.

They'd all gone through a thorough beating when they had first arrived, but while the others looked mostly bruised, they thought that she had probably come out of the experience with a broken cheekbone. That side of her face was swollen and discolored, and too painful to the touch to actually probe the extent of the injury. It made eating a trial and sleeping difficult even with protection for her dreams. She couldn't wait for the moment when she could simply sketch on a healing charm.

Now, however, it was only a very distant echo, in the way she remained aware of her body while not in it, but it didn't feel like it concerned her a great deal.

Jace smiled at her touch, though there was no way that he could feel it.

"Soon," he whispered. "Not long now before this is over."

I heard they have scheduled our execution, she thought at him.

He shifted carefully, and she found herself suddenly reminded that he, too, had broken bones, though he insisted the pain was negligible after Izzy had immobilized his arm. She didn't quite believe him.

"I'm surprised it took them this long. I guess they needed a bit of time to make sure everyone who wants to watch can come and attend." He watched her as her transparent fingers traced the outlines of the runes he wore glamored on his skin. Was he imagining the actual touch? If so, she hoped he liked it.

"It's not a bad thing actually," he pointed out. "Every day Charlie and Magnus get to rest before they need to do anything big is going to help."

They'd only heard of Magnus' part in the escape of the main body of their group from the angels' city, and its effects, but Charlie had visited all of them and it took only one glance at her to tell that she'd need more time to fully recover from the work she'd done getting everyone back than they could give her.

Clary ran her hand through that stubborn lock of hair that kept falling into Jace's face, wishing she could stroke it back where it belonged. Speaking of rest, she told him. Sleep now. I'll watch out for you.

He turned his face away from the corridor to hide his expression as he settled into her embrace and made his body relax.

 

June 30th, 2017

Calgary

Lydia forced herself to keep an even pace as she neared her destination. She'd rarely been in a situation in which she anticipated something with such an equal mix of excitement and apprehension.

Where her friends had shed their runes with the help of magic and no ill effects, her own had been violently removed with every intention of doing as much harm to her body as was possible. She still felt the echo of the procedure, though two weeks of rest and potions, as well as a generous application of charms, had finally put her in a place where she could see herself as recovering. At this point, she was reasonably certain that she was not, as she had initially feared, always going to live with a feeling of being torn up inside, the lingering pain entirely metaphysical but nevertheless always there.

Without the means to pay for an apartment of her own, and in the absence of an actual institute in the city where she could request lodgings, she had accepted Aline and Helen's offer of taking possession of their basement until she either secured an income or chose to join the colorful band that shared one of the Gales' houses in their street.

Almost all of the buildings there were owned either by the family, or by Magnus and Alec. While most of them housed one family each, two had become the equivalent of the general quarters at an institute: One housing a mix of young Gales, a random warlock and a handful of Seelie, the other kept by Aline and Helen, Christopher and Sebastian.

She'd sought out Meliorn once he and the others had returned from their trip to the other dimension, to offer her apologies for the time she had arrested him. It had seemed the right thing to do at the time, given the relationship with Downworlders her people were trying to establish here. She couldn't say that she fully understood it all yet, but she was perfectly aware that to become part of this Nephilim community, she was going to have to adjust.

He had shrugged it off, insisting that the past had no bearing on the present. Things had changed too much for that.

That had made her think, and eventually come to another conclusion: there was one more thing that needed to be put firmly in the past if she intended to stay and be part of this strange Calgary Institute.

She didn’t think any institute had ever been spread out over multiple buildings several streets apart before. Then again, no institute had ever been even remotely comparable to what they were building here, where Downworlders were freely entering their homes as if they belonged there, and no one objected to it in the least. The Gale way of living was rubbing off on them more than she could ever have imagined.

By then, her path had taken her to her destination. Without giving herself the time to hesitate, she put her finger on the doorbell.

It was Katie Gale who opened. If she was surprised to see her there, she didn't betray it.

"Lydia." She stepped aside, gesturing for her to come in. "What can I do for you?"

Now she did hesitate. "I was hoping to talk to Hodge," she admitted. "But if it's a bad time—"

Katie shook her head, laughing. "Not at all. Just go right over. He's getting the place ready for opening. He probably wouldn't mind a hand from someone who knows her way around weapons either."

While most of them had to be somewhat creative in order to find ways to earn some mundane money for their lives away from the Clave, Hodge Starkweather, who had dropped his last name in favor of his wife's the day they had pledged their lives to each other, and now called himself Gale, had had no such an issue. He was going to continue as a martial arts instructor, though expanding from the institute's training room to a dojo that was open to mundanes and Shadowhunters alike. It would be strange, sharing their main training site with people who were not like them at all, Lydia thought as she walked around the building to the other entrance. Then again, they were sharing all parts of their lives with the Downworld of Calgary now. Mundanes would hardly make a difference anymore.

Shadow World, she silently corrected herself. How long had it taken the others to stop saying 'Downworld' in favor of a more neutral term?

Hodge looked up as she entered, the motion in which he wiped the palms of his hands on his sweatpants looking suddenly nervous. Both hands, she noticed, in spite of the fact that one of them, glamored though it was, was a contraption of plastic and electronics, replacing the one he had lost to Jace's sword, and entirely unable to sweat.

They hadn't talked much since Lydia had arrived in Calgary. The last time they had met before that, Hodge had been a traitor to their people, and he had knocked her unconscious to steal the Mortal Cup.

"Katie says you might appreciate a hand," she said without preamble. "From someone who knows weapons."

He gave her a half-nod without meeting her eyes. "I wouldn't mind," he admitted. "She didn't call you, did she?"

"No." She took in the collection he was in the process of putting away. It wasn’t going to come close to an Institute weapons' room, but after collecting every single weapon-like object from Allie's antiques and magic shop and raiding the Nephilim stashes left in Calgary from days when there had been an official Shadowhunter presence in town had at least left them with some spares. Less angelic weapons had come from eBay and several online shops, as she could tell by the labels on the boxes they were still stashed in. "I came over to talk to you. To tell you that I know you're not … not the traitor I took you for."

The rueful smile he suddenly sported made him look even younger than the changes to his hair and beard that Charlie and Katie had wrought. "I am precisely the traitor you took me for," he informed her. "Just not of these Nephilim. But I did what I did, and I would not go back to live among the majority of our people even if I could make it undone."

He was certainly honest. She could appreciate that. "I'm not one of these Nephilim yet," she admitted. "I'm going to work on becoming one. It's not like I have much of a choice either way, but I think they do have a point, too. What we did – our people, and we, personally – so much of that was wrong. But I'm not entirely where they are yet. Or where you are. Will you let me train here anyway?"

That wasn’t exactly what she'd planned to say, but she suddenly felt that she owed him the same honesty he had offered her.

There wasn't even a moment of hesitation. "Any time," he promised. "Once we've turned this place from a storage shed into a training area."

 

Alicante

"Aren't you at least going to try to see them once?"

Maryse looked at her youngest son across the lunch table and contemplated her response.

"Do they want me to see them?" she asked him eventually.

"Alec asked me how you were doing."

Terrified, Maryse thought. I'm terrified of what's to come. It wasn't just for her sake, and that of her imprisoned children and Max. She forced her hands to stay near her plate. "What did you tell him?"

"That you're worrying. Will you go see them?"

Maryse shook her head. "There is no way they will allow me to do that." She might have overcome her reluctance to cross paths with a Silent Brother if she'd thought there was a point in trying, or that she would be a welcome sight to begin with. But the messages relayed to her by Charlie had been clear: Stay away. Do not endanger yourself. We will be alright.

Alright.

They had been sentenced to death, and Maryse wished that she had had their confidence in their friends and associates to set them free before it happened.

She'd been trying to convince herself that it was more than bravado, that things would be alright eventually, ever since Charlie Gale had appeared out of nowhere in her back garden, looking half-dead from exhaustion and starvation, to inform her of what had happened that last day of their visit to the other dimension. That had been almost a day after news had gone around Alicante that the Lightwood and Fairchild traitors had been seized and were safely in custody.

In the time between, she'd been warned by fire message and in person against trying to intervene. Imogen had promised that she was on it. Jia had told her that things had to be as they were, that she should not, could not fight it. That sacrifices were needed to preserve order among the Nephilim and that some crimes simply could not be forgiven.

No one had actually specified those crimes, and Maryse hadn't asked. She knew what they were, though no one could know just how precise her knowledge was.

She'd taken to carrying her Gale phone, previously hidden away during the day, just in case.

"I don't want to be there when they do it."

The sudden change of subject pulled Maryse from her thoughts. For once, Max had actually sounded like the boy he was.

"Neither do I," she told him. "But we will both be there. You with Imogen, and I … wherever they place me."

He looked at her with suspicion. "What do you mean?"

"I received a fire message this morning, to be ready to be collected by an escort and taken to the site. They say it is for my own protection, so I can show my support for the Clave and prove that I stand on the side of justice without risking my life or health." Because some of the audience might decide that she, like her children, deserved punishment or death simply by family association, or so they had implied. Maryse had no doubt that the true reason was to make sure that she was there, well visible in the audience to her children, and that she had no chance to look away when they carried out whatever details the sentence implied. That she would watch them scream in agony as the runes were burned from their bodies and then witness the ends of their lives.

She had no illusions that those guards would be the first to apply some punishment of their own if she didn't play live up to expectations.

"How can you be like this?" Max asked, frustration and anger warring in his voice. "Imogen says Jace told her to stop trying to look for legal ways to change this, and she put me on a different thing as soon as we got back. How can you just accept this?"

After months of doing his best to seem as if he hated his siblings, resenting their achievements, their positions, even Jace's regained health, and weeks of demonstrative anger, the outburst made a relieved warmth spread inside Maryse. There was too much she couldn't share with her youngest son right now, but seeing his true feelings for his siblings shine through like this made her wonder if she should arrange for an opportunity to do so.

But he was working in the inquisitor's office, and too close to too many people who must not, under any circumstances, learn any of the things she knew. Besides, Max was just the sort of young man who would do his own investigations, and come to his own conclusions, if given what information she had. Before long, he would end up in the same situation as her older children, but without the same background support.

"Sometimes you need to trust in people," she said simply.

Max frowned "In Imogen?"

"In this case, in Jace." She'd have to leave it at that. From the corner of her eye, she could already see that Tatyana, who had kept herself well out of the conversation, was fidgeting nervously on her chair.

It didn't escape her son's notice either. He shifted to look at their guest. "Will you be there to watch and do nothing, too?"

The other woman shook her head. "I won't go. And no one's going to make me come."

 

July 1st, 2017

For all their guards knew, it was the first time since they had returned to Alicante that they saw each other.

Alec sent the smallest smile his sister's way when as she was led into the room. Like him, she was shackled hand and foot, dressed in the red of the condemned prisoner. As a rule, no Shadowhunters wore the red. Nephilim did not kill Nephilim. It was a uniform for Downworlders who had broken the Accords to the point of warranting a death sentence.

For them it was supposed to be the mark of utmost shame, reduced to nothing better than a rogue vampire or warlock.

They both stood tall, silent but proud. Alec assumed his sister, like he, had been instructed not to talk unless talked to, and to think well about her answer when she was. They'd informed him that the others would suffer if he broke that rule. He wasn't going to risk that.

He didn't need to.

Jace was brought in, and directed to stand on Isabelle's other side. Alec wondered if anyone had realized that to get at all the runes they thought he had, they'd have to rip the cast from his broken arm that no one other than Imogen had bothered to even suggest healing while they'd been in the cells.

Last came Clary. If they'd thought that her appearance, more battered than the others, with half her face still bruised and her eye half swollen shut, would startle any of them into speaking, they were in for a surprise. They'd all been in her cell, and knew the state that first beating had left her in.

She betrayed no pain as she took her place next to Jace, mimicking the other three as they stood as if it was their own choice to be there. As if they were the ones in control, and not the condemned about to be led to their slaughter.

A shadow of disappointment crossed the guard's features, but he covered it up quickly. Alec had no doubt that some resistance from them would have been welcome.

"You're scum," the guard said, a sneer to his voice and disgust plain on his face as he stared at Alec. "You know that?"

Alec knew what was coming before it happened. He didn't need to be able to read minds to see it in those eyes. He forced himself not to flinch as the man spit in his face. It washes off, he told himself. He had no doubt that the man would have rejoiced if he had given him an excuse for violence.

The guard didn't know that they had no intention to go through with their execution, but he couldn't risk anything that might injure him to the point where he would have trouble flying.

"Move!" the guard bellowed, disappointed at the lack of a response, but hesitant to do anything more in the presence of his colleagues in charge of the other three.

Alec walked carefully, forcing his long legs to take small steps without tripping himself on his shackles. They certainly had made sure that none of them would be able to run.

Luckily, that was not the way they intended to escape.

*

Imogen had insisted on a more private location for herself, the High Inquisitor who was kept out of the main proceedings due to family ties, and her personal assistant. Now she stood frozen on the balcony overlooking the platform set up for the execution as the crowd gathered around it.

She was quite familiar with the two contraptions placed there: Chairs with integrated shackles, ready to strap down a prisoner so that they were unable to move. They used them for questioning particularly recalcitrant criminals. She'd drawn the interrogation rune on quite a few of them in those chairs over the years.

She'd taken pride in their work then. Now she only felt ashamed for it.

Today, those chairs would be used to strip her grandchildren of their runes. She could already imagine them writhing there, trying not to betray their pain. She'd witnessed enough derunings to not harbor any illusions about it: they all screamed by the end of it.

Max stood with her, his face pale but set and determined.

She wanted to lean down and give him some sort of reassurance. She wanted to remind him not to look away, no matter what happened, to give no one the excuse to go after him next as a sympathizer, but she remained silent.

The first, she wouldn't do for his sake. Surely, he would perceive it as being treated like a child, and that was the last thing he wanted. The second, she couldn't do when she was sure there were cameras on them, recording their conduct. Her conduct, as much as his. Giving them reason to suspect her would be a risk for all their remaining family.

She almost laughed at the thought. So long she'd thought of herself as the last, utterly alone in the world where family ties were concerned. Then she'd discovered her grandson, alive, and he had come with a trio of siblings, a girlfriend and a mother, all of whom had eventually shifted just enough to make space for her in their community.

And now, three of her grandchildren, one by blood and two by choice, and the woman she was thinking of as her granddaughter in law already, would be taken from her.

Are you feeling sad for them or sorry for yourself? A small voice shot through her mind.

She couldn't think about that now. She had to—

The doors to the building at the back of the platform opened, and she saw Max clench his fists as the four prisoners were marched out. They were barefoot, dressed in red trousers and sleeveless tunics of the same color. They'd be stripped of those before long, to provide access to their runes.

There was no way to miss that none of the four looked like a broken prisoner. She was glad for that. Their composure would hardly hold up through the torture ahead of them, but this, this surely was how at least some of those in the audience would remember them.

A glance around showed her Maryse, flanked by two guards of her own, prominently positioned front and center.

She hadn't noticed when she'd been brought in. She stood composed, her face carefully neutral as she watched.

Down below, the magistrate stepped forward and started to read out the list of the crimes the four were accused of, and condemned for. Imogen barely listened. Lies, she knew. How many of those down there knew the same, or at least suspected, and said nothing?

There was the oddest shift to the air on the balcony. For a moment, she thought she'd imagined it.

Then she half-turned, and found herself staring in surprise at the two people who seemed to have sprouted from the big flowerpot placed against the wall.

It was lucky that everyone's attention was on the four prisoners below. There was no way her reaction could have gone unnoticed otherwise. Neither could Max's, who had turned to check where she was looking, and gasped.

Imogen knew who had joined them, no matter how impossible it seemed.

The woman, a guitar held by a strap around her body, was plucking two notes before she had finished taking in the two newcomers. The little light on the surveillance camera in the roof above them blinked out, allowing them to step out of its dead angle without being on record.

She'd been there, that day when Jace and his friends had followed her invitation and visited her in her office. Her name was Charlie, and her companion at the time had been Jack.

Today, another man stood by her side.

"Is that a glamor?" Imogen asked, staring at him as if she could look through it.

Hodge Starkweather raised his left hand. "Only this."

That was impossible. Starkweather was dead. She knew that as surely as she knew anything at all. And yet, something in the way he regarded her told her that it was true. That inside that body was the man she had once questioned – tortured – and sentenced to the harshest punishment she could get away with at the time, given his age and his rather pubic plea for mercy.

Once more ashamed of her former self, she looked away.

Max did no such thing. "You're a traitor!" he hissed at the man, visibly fighting to stay where he was and not rush at the intruder. "You should be—"

"You should be looking as if you were watching the spectacle down there," Hodge said calmly. "Today I'm Charlie's bodyguard. If you want your brother and sisters, and Clary, and your mother, and yourself to live past this day, pretend there's nothing wrong up here." There was one heartbeat's hesitation before he added: "And the Inquisitor. Whether you call her your grandmother or not."

Imogen reached out to take hold of Max's arm, turning him back to the scene below them. He resisted only a little.

"What is your plan?" she asked, her lips barely moving.

They stood back, hopefully out of sight of those in the square, but just able to see the four in red themselves.

A long moment of silence passed before Charlie spoke. "To wait for the opportune moment."

Chapter Text

When asked whom she wanted to have by her side to serve as her protection from physical danger, Charlie hadn't hesitated a moment. It had to be one of the Nephilim, and out of them, the most accomplished fighter remaining in Calgary wasn't hard to determine.

He'd seemed surprised by her choice, but had agreed quickly.

They'd studied the Gard, the area around the place where they expected the public execution to take place, through memories Magnus had extracted from Aline's mind. There'd been some guesswork involved, in particular in where they could come out without being immediately spotted and raising an alarm, but Charlie was willing to trust in Gale luck for that.

Scanning the assembly from the Wood, she found that Imogen's Song was isolated, alone with a single person she was unfamiliar with. Nevertheless, that second Song was connected to some of those she had come to know as well as her own siblings and cousins. That could only be Max, the youngest Lightwood whom she had avoided so far. That determined, choosing her exit hadn't been hard.

She'd never much enjoyed the part of her Bardic Talent that allowed her to control people's reactions – and to a degree, actions – but at that moment, she was perfectly willing to cast a little bardic control on both of them if they weren't cooperative on their own. There were greater things at stake today than a little moral issue like that.

Luckily, they hadn't taken much convincing.

Even from behind, she could see Max was going through every way in which he could throw Hodge to the crowd below and ensure he died a traitor's death after all. He could hardly blame him. The boy's information on what had gone one was sketchy to non-existent. There'd have to be time for fixing that later.

Right now, she had a few other things to take care of.

A charm on her eyelids allowed her to focus at the distance, and showed her the runes inscribed on the shackles that held her friends. They were meant to dampen the effects of other runes, and they would work on charms just the same. Those would have to go before the group could safely make their escape.

There was another thing, and she was grateful that she'd come in earlier that day to test it, just in case. Like most Gales, her Shadowhunter friends had to draw the energy they used for charms, and to manifest their metaphysical body parts, from the world around them. Charlie, a Wild Power, carried the power in her music. Only a deliberate switch to the usual Gale way had let her experience the effect Izzy had described to her.

It wasn't that they'd been beings of air, caught underground.

There was something in Alicante that prevented full access to the energy they needed. It wasn't going to affect smaller charms, but there was no way that one of them, never mind all four, would be able to securely manifest and fly without help.

As she had probed the effect, she'd come to the conclusion that something was already using most of that energy, binding it and keeping too firm a grip on it to let anyone else wrest it away.

She thought she knew where it went. From where she stood, she could see the Demon Towers blaze, shining with an energy that left spots in her vision that took forever to blink away.

They'd need a different way to fuel up enough to go through with their plan.

If they couldn't find that…

She glanced at Hodge, who stood tense but ready by her side, a set of throwing weapons in his hands instead of his usual close-combat chakrams. He gave her the smallest of nods.

He was ready to do whatever it took to not end this day in mourning.

So was she.

And if the plan she had formed in her mind since her foray at sunrise didn't work, there was a dragon perched on the roof overhead, glamored into invisibility and ready to jump into action at need – and so was his warlock rider.

*

For once, Charlie had been wrong.

Alec felt it the moment they came up the stairs. There was no change to the way their access to the power in the land around them was limited. Being above-ground did nothing.

Well, they'd have to make do with what they had.

I'm more worried about the handcuffs, Jace sent through their mental bond. They're blocking the charms.

Alec didn't have to ask how he knew. His parabatai had drawn some tiny painless charms on his arm, where the splint still hid them even if someone managed to look through his glamor. He'd felt the echo of the renewed pain as soon as those shackles had snapped shut, completing the runes on them.

Have faith, Alec thought back at him.

In our ability to break through it?

He felt a muscle in his cheek twitch as his lips tried to shift into a small grin. No. In Charlie.

With that, he forced himself to focus on the platform ahead of them, and the devices put there.

He recognized the chairs. He'd been present when Imogen had tortured Valentine in one of them. Except it hadn't been Valentine. It had been Magnus, caught in Valentine's body. Looking at the things, the scene came to his mind unbidden. How could he have not understood that what their prisoner had said was true? How could he have missed that he was, truly, speaking to his own boyfriend?

For once, the disgust he felt at himself from that memory was welcome. It drowned out the fear of what would happen if they had misjudged their situation after all.

He stood, motionless and silent, as their crimes were read out. As he let his eyes roam the crowd as far as he could without shifting his stance or turning his head, he forced himself not to react to the number of faces staring back at them with unconcealed glee at their position. He found the group from the New York Institute. Raj and his friends, with wild satisfaction in their faces. Underhill and Youngwolf, standing apart as always in public, expressionless among their colleagues. Lindsay, who looked as if she was trying to conceal fear under a neutral expression, and failing. What was going on there?

Without giving himself the time to linger on that, he moved on, finding their mother and allowing himself the briefest twitch of his face into a reassuring smile, hoping that she'd spotted it. She was guarded well. They would not leave her behind, but getting her from where she stood might not work without some application of force to those around her.

He saw other familiar faces, some sporting shocked disbelief, some grim satisfaction. Their father was among the latter. The man by his side looked almost bored by comparison. Alec wondered how, even with the short exposure to him that he had had to the man, he could ever have missed that it was Valentine inside that body. But he'd never been that great at telling what body did or did not house Valentine, had he? His eyes went to the torture chairs once more, then back to the audience.

The older Redwoods were there, their thoughts impossible to tell. Their niece was missing. Or maybe, Alec thought, she was simply wearing a different glamor. She certainly was good at glamors.

It took a few moments before he spotted Imogen, and Max, alone on a balcony above.

And there, behind them, out of sight for his physical eyes, was a bright green blaze in his magic vision that he knew was Charlie Gale. He withstood the temptation to actually turn and scan the area for another blaze. Magnus was near. He felt it through the bond that connected them, not as substantial as the one he had with Jace, but certainly enough to know that his boyfriend was within reach.

Aware that they were under scrutiny by hundreds, he wasn't going to risk giving away his location to anyone. Knowing Magnus was nearby had to be enough for now.

The reading of their sins led directly up to the first step of carrying out their sentence. They weren't offered any last words now, and they probably wouldn't be offered them later either.

He almost missed the end of the announcement and reacted just in time as he was grabbed and jerked towards one of the deruning chairs. His first step was too long, the shackles limiting his stride and causing him to stumble. He caught an elbow in the side for that, and was thankful that he managed not to fall, in spite of being off-balance already.

His hands were freed and wrenched to the armrests of the chair. A feeling of panic started to rise up in him when the metal bands on it snapped in place, locking him down. No amount of manifesting wings would get him out of there now. What would they do if, realizing the rune removal wasn't going the way it was supposed to, they decided to speed things up?

He clamped down on the feeling, though not before Jace leaned into their mental connection a little.

We're right here behind you, he heard his brother's voice in his head. And Charlie is up there, and she has an unlocking charm, you know.

Right.

From the corner of his eye, he saw another guard rip the red vest and pants from his sister, making sure as many of her runes as possible were accessible. His own followed a moment later.

Alec closed his eyes as the device came closer, whirring as it was held just above the lines of the rune on his glamor. Red light pulsed and painted patterns on his skin.

He forced his muscles to relax. Nothing would happen.

He wasn't feeling any pain – of course not. All remnants of the rune they thought they were treating were long gone.

The mere fact that he wasn't writhing in pain clearly caused some concern. He felt a smirk tug at the corner of his mouth in spite of the situation, and the uncertainty still gnawing at him.

"Something wrong?"

Maybe it wasn't wise to talk back to the person who was just trying to publicly torture you and failing, but he couldn't help it. He'd reached a point where he was facing a choice between cocky and panic. He felt a sense of recognition at the edge of his mind.

Just how much of Jace's bravado  was exactly what he was doing now? Had always been what he was doing now?

His parabatai gave him the mental equivalent of an embarrassed smile.

The red light was dancing across his skin again, but the only thing he felt was a slight breeze running through his hair.

"Look." Jace's voice was dripping with scorn. "We might help you with that if you untie us." So he had decided that if their leader was done being silent, he might as well join in.

Alec couldn't see where Jace was standing, but he could hear the slap that followed.

"Or not." Apparently they were going to turn this into a proper spectacle after all. It really was getting time for Charlie to come up with a way to get them out of here now. This could only get worse.

As if on cue, a series of notes rang across the square.

Heads turned and muttering ensued, more confused than angry.

Something clattered behind him, followed by an inarticulate cry and scuffling. Unsure what had just happened, but trusting in the Bard's powers, Alec tensed his muscles. One powerful jerk of his arm tore the straps that held him from the chair, the metal parts crumbling.

Jace grunted.

Freeing his other arm and his legs from shackles rapidly falling to dust, Alec surged upright.

Izzy was already on her feet.

By the time he had turned, Jace, bleeding from a split lip and a cut eyebrow, was standing over a guard who was lying on the ground, groaning. Clary held a seraph blade in one hand, a bit of manacle still dangling from her wrist. She was swinging the blade in figure-eights, keeping the closest still-standing guard away from her.

The other Nephilim on the dais seemed to debate the wisdom of approaching the four of them, given what had just happened. It didn't seem like anyone had brought a bow to shoot them at a distance if the need arose.

Even unarmed and only dressed in underwear, Alec dropped into a fighting stance. His body was a weapon in its own right.

Tensed and ready to spring, Izzy advanced on the woman who had tried to remove her runes – with equal success as the man who had worked on Alec.

A chord sounded across the square, louder than a single guitar had any right to be. It was followed by another.

Listen to me, they said. Nothing else matters. Stop what you're doing. Focus. It was compelling. Even knowing what it was, Alec needed a second to shake it off.

Everyone but the four of them was standing transfixed, staring.

"Drop it!" Charlie's voice came on a gust of wind. He wasn't sure if anyone but them could her it at all, but he knew she didn't mean Clary's sword.

Four hands wiped at glamor charms.

The appearance of four Nephilim rippled and settled into versions of themselves that were just slightly different. Rune-less. Powerful. Dangerous.

The music changed, morphing into a tune. It still commanded everyone's attention.

Anyone who managed to free themselves from the first compulsion and look around to find the origin of the sound could spot a woman now, with hair reflecting the light of the sun overhead like a halo. Trust Charlie to use her hair for best special effects.

She was quickly working a pick over the strings of her guitar, standing on a balcony overlooking the scene. There was a tall, muscular figure beside her, with a much smaller one on front of him, and a fourth off to the side, looking on in wide-eyed surprise.

"They've got Max and Imogen," Izzy breathed, relief clear in her voice.

"What's she going to--?"

The question of what Charlie was planning to do answered itself when her voice joined the music, rising over it as powerfully as if she was singing with full stage equipment.

Clary's eyes grew wide at the first words, with a sudden understanding Alec envied her for. Her free hand pulled at her buttons.

"Jace! Shirt!" It was more a hiss than a shout. "If this works, you don't want to get tangled in shreds."

Alec felt pressure building under his shoulder blades and along his back. It was somewhat like what he felt just before manifesting by opening himself to the power around him, and yet different.

Unable to get his shirt open quite fast enough with one hand hampered by his injury, Jace tore the fabric, shrugging out of the remnants and dropping them to the floor.

Confusion went through the crowd as the first of the Nephilim were starting to process what they were seeing.

Charlie held the last note of her line. Her companion, standing closest to her and catching the full force of her song, had grown a pair of entirely real-looking wings, solid and honey-colored, his t-shirt no match for the force of two powerful extra limbs unfolding from his back.

Clary had shifted her stance. She still had her sword ready, but she was poised to compensate for a sudden shift in weight. Even metaphysical wings changed their balance, and if Hodge was anything to go by, this would be as physical as it could get. Her lips were moving, soundlessly but clearly mirroring Charlie's lines.

A mass of coppery red was already unfurling above Clary's shoulders.

By now, this was nothing like the metaphysical build-up he'd experienced after their true deruning, or the day after in ritual, or the times they had gone flying on purpose, when the wings came as white mist slowly solidifying. This was raw power flowing through his body, looking for an outlet, finding it and manifesting. For the first time, Alec truly understood the meaning of the word in all its depth.

Three snaps, so close to each other that it was impossible to tell who'd come first. Black wings tipped with silver, black wings tipped with gold and wings shining like polished gold all the way, fully grown and fully functional, spread out, sweeping away those still standing too close.

It should have commanded more attention than it did.

Alec glanced at the other Nephilim still on the dais with them, then at the audience. People were staring at what was happening. Their faces, locked in silence, showed him something else, too.

They felt it. There was no mistaking it. Every single Shadowhunter in the square could feel the pull. Remembering the discomfort in his runes during his first ritual, Alec almost winced as he imagined what it must be like to have the runes fight this amount of power.

There wasn't any time to lose now. That song was going to come to an end, and they could only hope these wings would hold up beyond it. They wouldn't be able to refuel. Even now they couldn't tap the energy around them as they would have to. There was no power to tap into. It was siphoned off somewhere, used for other things. Filled with the energy Charlie provided, he understood that in a way he could not have imagined mere minutes ago.

Alec flexed his wings, trying to gauge their strength.

Pointing to indicate a vague direction, he looked at the other three. "Go!" It was as much of a command as he had ever given them. "Get as close to the border as you can. I'll be right behind you."

Without waiting for a response, he ran a few steps and launched himself forwards off the platform, towards the spellbound audience.

Charlie had Imogen and Max, but his hands closed on Maryse's arms and he felt the drag of her extra weight as he worked his way up and away.

*

A dark shadow detached itself from the building, swooping as low across the yard as he could without damaging one of the facades before it swerved and followed the four angle-like beings who were quickly growing smaller in the sky.

A fully grown golden dragon, the sun reflected from his scales dazzling anyone who would look at it, was enough to send several of the onlookers diving for cover even through the spell on them.

Charlie held her last note until she ran out of breath, sending as much energy after the quartet as she could.

Then, spinning around, she fixed her eyes on Imogen.

"Let's go."

The old woman shook her head.

"You can't stay here and we don't have the time to argue."

"You're right," the Inquisitor said. "We don't. But I'm not—They may need a foothold in Alicante after all." Her eyes went to Hodge. "Knock me out and leave me. I'll get in touch if there's anything they need to know."

"No!" That was Max, his voice cutting through the silence still left from Charlie's first spell. It was slow in dissipating. "You can't—You—"

"I can, and I must," his grandmother by choice told him sternly. "You go with them, Max. Starkweather?" Turning away from the boy, Imogen shifted against all training she had ever had, to give him a better angle of attack. "Remember all the times I questioned you and do it."

Charlie's hand shot out, closing on Max's arm. She wasn't trained as a fighter, and too thin for her height, but there was a strength in her grip that didn't come from muscle power. She nodded at her bodyguard.

"The name is Gale," he said, his voice low. He knew just how to strike for best effect. The Inquisitor would be fine – eventually. She'd enjoy a few days of headaches, though. It was mostly to make the entire thing look real, Hodge told himself. If he'd wanted to pay her back for the questioning, or the punishment, he'd have had to leave her with a lot more lasting damage.

Max was struggling under Charlie's hands. They couldn't wait much longer. Hodge reached out, placing his hand on the woman's wrist.

The moment skin contact was established, Charlie twisted and turned, pulling them both into the Wood with herself between the sounds of people picking themselves up off the floor – both literally and figuratively.

She let go of them as soon as she saw greenery around her.

"Let's get moving," she said without preamble. "I want to be as far as possible from here if anyone follows us in from Idris. Preferably I'd like to be out of here by then."

"Yeah," Hodge agreed. "Lead the way. Any idea where they're going?"

Charlie shrugged. "They're trailing enough of my song that I can track them." She looked down at the boy, giving him a brief smile. "Sorry, kid," she told him. "I know this is confusing."

"You have to take me back!" Max declared, staring up at her. "You can't just kidnap me! We can't leave Imogen behind! I want to--!"

"She's plenty old enough to make that decision," Charlie told him. "If you have questions, ask them. We'll answer what we can as we walk. But start moving. This isn't a game."

She turned and started out the way she could feel her song going.

"I'm not taking this for a game!" Max sounded thoroughly indignant. "And I'm not going anywhere with you like this!"

"We need to move, Max," Hodge said, trying to sound reasonable. "We'll catch up with Alec and Izzy and Jace and Clary. Come on."

"We need to go back!" the boy insisted. "It's not just Imogen! There's Tatyana, too. She's—"

Looking back over her shoulder, Charlie cut him off. "Tatyana Redwood is safer where she is. Hodge, bring him. We don't have the time."

When Max still didn't move, Hodge stood for a second, contemplating his options. "Sorry, kiddo," he told him eventually as he lifted the boy off of his feet. He caught up with Charlie with a few long strides, then matched his speed to hers, doing his best to ignore his squirming burden while keeping him as controlled as he could. Charlie was right. They couldn't waste time debating with Max now.

He saw the woman grin out of the corner of his eye.

Max truly did his best to make him let go, working on his arm with every trick he had ever taught him, and then some. Clearly, his training had not stopped with the loss of the weapons' master. The glamor held – of course it did – but he was praying that the boy didn't accidentally find the release mechanism in his efforts.

"If you pull off my hand, Max," he said, his voice as perfectly calm and even as he could make it while hurrying through the Wood after a Bard while carrying a belligerent inquisition intern, "you better hold on to it real tight and don't drop it. I don't know what kind of allowance Maryse pays you, but you won't see any of it until you're at least fifty if you have to pay that off. And I'll want compensation for the hours that went into programming it, and the glamor, too."

Max clearly had no idea what he was talking about, and neither did he care. He simply renewed his efforts, painfully twisting plastic he didn't know he was holding against the arm inside.

With a wince, Hodge sighed and shifted his hold on him so he wouldn't drop him even without the hand, just in case.

*

The power coursing through her body made Clary feel downright tipsy. It covered up everything else, including the pain in her face. She couldn't help a giggle as she touched down next to Izzy, both women folding their wings. They were feeling less substantial now. The spell wasn't going to hold for long anymore.

Luckily, they were nearly at the border.

"Wow," Jace said behind her. "I've never flown this far before."

"Not even with Ithuriel in Pandemonium?" Alec asked. The two men's grins and shining eyes suggested that they were feeling the same effects.

Jace chuckled. "I don't think so. What do you think, Clary?"

She shrugged, not actually certain at all how the two compared. Flying like this had been different. She considered sketching a charm over her cheek and decided against it. If there really was a broken bone, she'd want it seen to by someone who knew what they were doing to make sure it would be set right.

A moment later, she adjusted her glamor, however. She didn't need to be half-naked before her friends' mother. Izzy had already thrown on the appearance of wearing a tank top and shorts

Jace reached out with his good arm, and she fitted herself against its curve, easily finding the position in which the greatest share of their bodies touched.

"I wish I could see their faces now. What do you figure they'll say to explain this?" Jace asked.

"They'll pull a mundane and just explain it away somehow," Clary suggested. "Alec, what are you doing? Are you molting or something?"

Alec had reached back and pulled several feathers from his wings. He barely winced as he did so.

"Nope," he told her. "I'm wondering how these would work as fledging on an arrow. I'm going to find out."

"The aunties are going to kill you if you let bits of yourself run off stuck in an enemy, Alec," Izzy cautioned. She turned to their mother, who was standing where Alec had put her down when landing, watching in silence. "Mom—"

Maryse shook her head. "You can explain when and how you grew that later. Right now, we need to get out of Idris. Your friend's bringing Max and Imogen?"

"That's the plan," Alec told her, not the least surprised she had drawn the right conclusions. Trust Maryse Lightwood to notice relevant details. "And you're right. We should—"

A sound like wet sheets in the wind was in the air, quickly drawing closer, cut him off.

Jack, who had kept a considerable distance from them on the way, was speeding towards the group now. The dragon and his rider quickly gained in size, though the effect was lessened a bit as Jack was literally shrinking in bulk the closer he came.

Magnus slid off his back just before he  made contact with the grass, and flames engulfed the golden shape as soon as the warlock was clear.

By the time Magnus had pulled Alec firmly into his arms, a naked man in his thirties was standing there, perfectly at ease and in no hurry to put on any clothes.

"Jack insisted we couldn't get closer because the wind from his wings would sweep you off track," Magnus explained.

"I didn't want to get any smaller just in case I had to actually be the rearguard," the dragon elaborated. "I'm sorry for the uncomfortable ride, Mrs. Lightwood."

Maryse gave a dismissive gesture. "It was quite alright, although I'm sure riding an actual dragon would have been an experience to remember a long time." She kept her eyes carefully on his face as she spoke.

"I'm sure the opportunity will arise," Jack informed her, grinning. "Also, Charlie's coming. I'll probably be flying again in a moment."

Clary wondered if Maryse knew what to do with that last statement. Everyone else was perfectly aware that Jack wasn't going to bother with clothes if he was just going to burn them off again right away.

The air rippled a few steps away from them. Watching Charlie emerge from the Wood remained a disconcerting thing for her. With a portal, at least you could see the vortex open. With Charlie, there was nothing one moment, and then there was a person the next. Or, in this case, there were three.

"Imogen?" Jace asked, frowning.

"Stayed behind," the Bard informed him. "She wants to be your bridgehead in Alicante. We should probably get her a phone."

"You didn't make her come?"

The look Charlie gave him said 'I would make your regret that phrasing with every fiber of your being if we weren't currently running from your execution' as clearly as if she'd said it aloud.

"She's old enough to make her own decisions. She understood what she was doing."

"They made me come!" Max complained.

Struggling a little to accomplish the feat without simply dropping him, Hodge set his burden down. The boy ran to his family as soon as his feet touched the ground, almost tearing a piece out of his shirt because Hodge's fingers didn't open quite fast enough.

The man rolled his eyes as he watched Max go. He shook out his wings, still solid and golden, as if they had also been strained by the effort.

Alec and Izzy looked over at him and, clearly noticing the discomfort on his face, made a step towards him almost synchronously.

"Are you alright?" It came in perfect unison.

Their coordination made him chuckle. "Yeah," he said. "Your brother is a handful." He rubbed a sore spot on his leg where Max had kicked him, then unlatched his hand and pulled his arm out of it.

Max, who had turned away from Maryse again to see what was going on, stared wide-eyed. "Your hand really does come off!"

"Yeah," Hodge confirmed, needlessly since he held the proof in his right hand now. He shook out his arm. "And what you did with it hurts. How about you fix this? Can you do an iratze?"

"I don't have my stele," Max said. "It fell out somewhere along the way."

"Kiddo, you don't need a stele," Alec told him, reaching out to put a quick charm on the other man's skin.

Hodge nodded a thanks and slammed his arm back into his hand, latching it and opening and closing his fingers twice.

"Cool!" Max breathed.

Hodge made a face. "If I'd known that's all it takes to impress you, you could have had that all the way back in the Wood," he declared.

"Which way's the border?" Charlie threw in. "We should get outside the wards and take a Gate home. I don't want to take us back through the Wood from here. I don't think most of your people know of it, but I don't want the risk of someone having an associate Fey helping them out. Better to change our mode of transport."

Maryse pointed.

"Why do you still have your wings and they don't?" Max asked in Hodge's direction. His tone sounded accusatory.

"'cause I was standing right next to Charlie when she started singing and I haven't had much of a chance to burn off the energy yet," he returned. "You may be a handful, but even you are not that exhausting."

"Is she going to sing them wings again?" Max didn't seem quite certain if he wanted that or not. The memory of how the song had pulled on his runes was too recent. "And why did they get wings and all I got was pain?"

"Nah," Jace said. "It's walkable from here." He rubbed his shoulder with one hand. "We'll be sore enough as it is. You're not the only one who got some pain out of this."

"I keep telling you, you need to exercise more," Hodge told him, grinning.

"Yeah," Jace returned. "I'll remember that. Got any good exercises for flight muscles while not in wings?"

Chapter Text

"Why were you able to go through on your own?" Max asked his mother when they came out of the portal on the Gales' roof terrace.

"Because I've been here before," she stated the obvious.

Max gave her the oddest look. "Was that when you—" he started, but broke off and shook his head. "Never mind. Are we going to stand here all day?"

Charlie laughed. "We will not," she promised, moving to the door already. "I'm pretty sure Allie has food ready for everyone. I don't know about you two, but those four didn't exactly have a proper breakfast."

"Food sounds great," Izzy declared as she followed the Bard down the stairs. "Though I think Clary will want some medical attention before she has to chew anything."

"And Jace," her brother announced behind her. "Jace would like some of that, too. I'm sure you did great work given our limited resources, but it is a bit inconvenient as it is."

"Actually that was more guesswork and emergency intervention, so you probably want someone on that who really knows what they're doing," she admitted. "Wouldn't want you to end up with your bones healed wrong and hearing forever that 'Izzy did that'. The story where you had to go to a mundane hospital to have your arm re-broken and properly set isn't one we need in our repertoire either."

Jace laughed. "Especially the part about the mundane hospital. I spent a night at one of them once and it's not an experience I care to repeat."

"Alright." Magnus heaved a sigh. "I shall reluctantly let go of my partner to fix Clary's cheek, and we'll call Catarina for the arm. That should work without mundane involvement."

"Sounds good," Alec declared. "And you have to let go anyway, because I intend to put some clothes on before I sit down to eat. I may look ridiculous in Jack's things, but it's got to be better than trying to have lunch with the entire family nearly naked. Clary and Izzy might want some, too."

"Oh, Clary and Izzy need clothes, but I can just stay shirtless?" Jace asked.

"You can borrow something from Brian," Alec returned. "His stuff actually fits you."

The only one of the Gales and their associates living in the building who was tall enough to match Alec was Michael, and he was easily twice as wide, and all muscle.

"My things may be a bit short for you," Jack informed him pointedly, "but at least it's not like trying to wear anything of Graham's. Now think of how ridiculous that would look."

They had reached the door to the apartment by now and were filing inside.

Allie's husband, catching the last comment, looked up from where he was busy going through a picture book with two of his sons. "Did you just call me short?" he asked in mock offense.

Clearing the entrance so the others could follow, Alec leaned into Magnus a little more and gave himself a moment to simply enjoy the feeling of being home and safe. He didn't need to look at the table to know that Allie had put out just enough plates for everyone, without a spare one for Imogen.

"You can just glamor something on, you know," Izzy said, shooting him an amused look.

Alec allowed himself a grin, and was surprised at how easily it came. Even with their mutual protection, he'd not felt entirely like himself while in the City of Bones. He hadn't realized how much the spells there had weighed on him until the effect was gone. "I could, but I'd still know I'm really naked."

"Alright." Magnus laughed. "Biscuit, let me fix your cheek, and I'll hop over and get you all some of your things, and then we can have a properly festive reunion meal."

"Just some jeans and a t-shirt would be fine," Izzy declared. "I assume we'll eat, then debrief and then go right back to work. We're—" She broke off as Bea and Gwen, the two Aunties currently in attendance, came from the kitchen area to look them over.

They spent a long moment looking Maryse up and down.

"You need to eat more," Bea said in lieu of a greeting. "Though you're in fine enough a shape otherwise, in spite of your…" she gestured, imitating a stele swiped over a rune. "How far along are you?"

Maryse almost winced at the words. Izzy at her mother. Was she actually blushing?

"How far – what?" Alec sounded thoroughly confused.

"Nearly five months," Maryse replied, not looking at any of her children, just as Max moved in position to glare at his oldest brother.

"Mom went away on a mission for a few days and now she's pregnant," he declared for everyone to hear, the satisfaction of having been aware of something his older siblings didn't know clear in his voice.

Alec stared, first at him, then at their mother. His mouth opened and closed soundlessly.

Auntie Bea either didn't notice, or didn't care. "I realize you're not inexperienced in this matter, but never hesitate to call someone from the family if you need a hand with anything. You're not as young as you could be, thanks to those abominable things. Your girls are quite alright, though."

"Thank you," Maryse said, ignoring the comment about her age. A moment later, most of the color drained from her face as she processed the rest of the old woman's words. "Did you just say girls?"

*

"… and then Auntie Bea was kind enough to inform everyone that we're going to have not one, but two more siblings in a few months' time," Alec finished his account of their flight.

They were sitting in the large attic room in their friends' house. It was the strangest sort of debriefing location, with sofas and cushions spread generously around the space and not the least hint at a military purpose.

They had a more formal meeting room downstairs, but had opted to make this a gathering among friends bringing each other up to speed, rather than a post-mission meeting. Alec and Chris would put together a proper mission report on their stay in the other dimension later. For the moment, they were enjoying their time back together, while Allie and one of the Aunties were taking Maryse and Max shopping for clothes and necessities. Gale Luck would make sure that they would return with full bags but a minimum of money spent.

"Sounds like someone will have to buy more property," Helen said. "The Calgary Institute is quickly running out of rooms."

"It'll surely be a while until our sisters need rooms of their own," Alec pointed out practically. "But you aren't wrong. If, say, the Redwoods were to join us – or even if Imogen reconsiders – we'll end up pretty crowded."

"We're already crowded," Aline informed him. "Maia and Simon will be okay in Katie's condo, I'm sure, but if Maia's joining us as an agent, it might be more convenient if she was closer."

"It's not like Shadowhunters were ever required to live at their institute," Jace pointed out. He was sharing a nest of pillows on the floor with Clary, both relieved to finally have their injuries healed. "But I agree – having some space where people can at least spend a night after a mission if they're exhausted, or sleep if they're on standby duty, would be useful."

Izzy turned to look at Maia, a confused look on her face. "What did we miss? I thought the plan was for you and Simon to return to New York – and now you're joining us? It's not that we're not happy to have you, but it's a bit sudden!"

The werewolf and vampire were sharing the largest sofa with Chris and Sebastian. It was Chris who answered when Maia hesitated.

"It seems that our contact with Fenrir and family turned Maia into some sort of werewolf goddess. It's a bit difficult for her to be with the pack right now."

"I'm not a goddess," Maia hurried to correct. "But it seems he did leave something of a mark on me somehow. I was going to ask Magnus if he could help me contact them once everyone has settled here again. Those three definitely had a trick to tune down their dominance, and if this doesn’t wear off of its own I need to learn that. I do not want to walk into a gathering of wolves and have everyone try to fall to their knees or roll onto their backs and show me their throats ever again."

"Did Luke…?" Clary asked, wide-eyed.

Maia shook her head. "He didn't, but it was a near thing.

"If you need more rooms, talk to Katie," Charlie suggested, returning the subject to the previous issue. Sitting on the sill of the open window in the gable side of the room, one leg up in front of her and the other dangling, she kept glancing at the park across the street every once in a while. It wasn't hard to guess that David, the Gale's second anchor in the city, was somewhere near, as happy to have them all back as Allie was, but far less pushy about it. 

Alec chuckled. "I don’t think Katie would appreciate us encroaching on their home. From what I gather, she and Hodge plan to fill it up all on their own soon enough."

Now Charlie looked at him, amusement lighting up her face. "I wasn't thinking of asking her for her rooms. She is a real estate agent, you know. Selling houses is what she does."

"We don't have the money for more houses," Aline pointed out. "We're making just enough mundane money to pay for utilities and necessities. We don't—"

"I have money," Magnus interrupted her. "And my money is Alec's money and I assume Alec's money in the money of the Calgary Nephilim. We can buy an extra house or two, and install a couple of portals so you don't have to keep walking out of one and into the next."

They considered that. Building their Calgary Institute on Magnus' money might not have felt like the best solution to some of them, but it was the only one feasible if they actually wanted to set up more spacious headquarters.

"Can someone go downstairs and let David in?" Charlie asked into the ensuing discussion of how urgently they needed the space in the first place.

"The door's keyed to him," Sebastian reminded her. "He can just walk in."

"It's still polite," Helen returned, already getting to her feet.

David Gale was Allie's older brother. While holding mundane jobs in addition to their Shadow World occupation was new to their group, the Gales found it a matter of course. Even David, linked to the park and spending a considerable time of his day roaming it in the shape of a stag, held a consulting position with the mundane police of their city. It wasn't just his degree in criminology and a good helping of Gale Luck that ensured his success. Like his sister, he was tied to the city in ways that allowed him to feel when things were not as they should be.

He looked entirely human as he entered the room behind Helen a moment later: Tall, broad-shouldered, with dark blond hair soon in need of a trim, he was dressed in jeans and a checkered shirt he hadn't bothered to tuck in. His feet were bare. He never wore shoes if he wasn't moving farther from the park than this – unless his destination was the house owned and lived-in by three of the four Gale Aunties. They had a very specific way of disapproving if he was too lax on being properly human in this shape.

He accepted a glass of lemonade from Aline and raised it roughly in the direction of the four successful escapees. "To your safe return," he said. "Not a moment too early, I fear."

Alec had automatically raised his own glass back at David in response. He froze in mid-motion. "What do you mean?" he asked warily.

David walked over, lowering himself to the floor to sit cross-legged between them. "For the last half day or so, I've felt a strange thing," he explained. "A sort of connection. Not quite like when someone tries to Gate into the city – but also not entirely different. It's… maybe a bit like someone knocking on the dimensional door. Or rather, tapping the dimensional wall to find the best place to break through."

"Don't tell me we're about to face a demon invasion," Izzy groaned. "We've just spent two weeks figuring out that's not how demons work in the first place."

Sometimes, David seemed less than human even when he was walking on two legs and wearing a suit. Right now, though, his laugh sounded entirely normal. "It doesn't feel hostile. More like – maybe looking for a safe landing place. But something's trying to make contact, and I expect there'll be some sort of visitor or another soon enough. Thought you'd want to know."

"Indeed," Alec confirmed, quickly running through some potential suspects in his mind. "My bet's on either Lilith or Asmodeus thinking it's time they pay a return visit already. I'm just surprised they'd be so careful about it."

"The city's marked as Gale territory," David reminded him. "You know how Allie has kept people from portaling in after you. They probably feel our markers and aren't quite sure what to do with them."

Alec nodded, and saw the motion repeated among his friends.

"Can you keep them out, whoever they are?" Jace asked.

"We can," David confirmed. "Do you want me to?"

"Yes," Aline confirmed, just as Alec said: "No. I want to know who it is, and why. Though maybe – if you could provide them with some sort of landing point that's inviting to use, and have shields on that to keep them from getting away, that'd be ideal." He hesitated. "If you have the time for it. I know you're not one of my Shadowhunters. I'm not trying to order you around."

The light of amusement shone in David's eyes. "I'm your associate as much as I'm the police department's. If they asked me to help them set a trap for someone, I'd do it. I'll do the same for you."

 

July 2nd, 2017

Asked if she had been comfortable in Alicante, Maryse would have said that, possibly apart from those last weeks and months of being virtually a prisoner in her own home, she had always been. It wasn't until she had woken early that morning, not long after sunrise, and taken some time to simply bask in the feel of the place her children now called their home that she realized she had never before known what it felt like to be wrapped in safety and peace.

Like everything the Gales touched, this building radiated comfort, and family. The spells that enlarged the interior may have been Magnus', the charms all over the place her children's and Clary's, but the message woven through it all bore the unique signature of that strange family.

Knowing herself well enough to understand that she was unlikely to go back to sleep, Maryse eventually rose, slipping into comfortable clothes. Remembering that shopping trip from the day before brought another smile to her face. Never before had she found the perfect things for herself so quickly, and at such good prices. Max hadn't been quite as appreciative, but he'd been happy enough it hadn't taken any longer at least.

While Alec had insisted that the money they were making from selling some of the contents of their townhouse in Alicante in Allie's shop was hers at least as much as it was theirs, she was glad she hadn't needed to spend a fortune on a new wardrobe. Everyone had been in agreement that hopping back into Alicante to get her own things was too much of a risk to take, even with Charlie's skills.

As she folded the quilt she had found on the bed in the guest room given to her, she found herself tracing the outlines of the charms on it. She was going to have to learn to use those. In fact, she was afraid that she had quite a lot to learn.

First on her schedule for today, after a breakfast hopefully shared with her family, would be a deruning. They'd talked about it the night before. There hadn't been the least question for her that she would be joining her children in the way they had become. She'd started taking the potion the Aunties had devised to fix what damage the runes had done to her over the years the day before. They had assured her that it wouldn't make a difference if she lost her runes before or after that process was complete. Lydia and Hodge were proof of that.

They had also assured her that the potion would not harm her unborn children.

Children.

Now that had been a revelation she hadn't been expecting. She gave herself a moment to try and imagine how her daughters would grow up: Surrounded by family, with aunts and uncles aplenty, by blood and choice alike.

As she made her way silently down the hallway towards the stairs, she resisted the urge to quickly open the door to Max's room and check on her youngest son. If he woke, or if he was already awake anyway, he likely would not appreciate his mother hovering.

He'd not been too happy when Allie had tried to talk him into buying some sort of teenage entertainment along with some clothes the day before. He wanted to be a soldier foremost.

She had reached the small sitting area where they had sat together the night before, talking and making some tentative plans. It seemed that her children had stayed up for quite some time after she herself had retired. The table was now covered with floor plans, marked with the flourish of Magnus' distinctive handwriting. Left in the communal area of the apartment, they probably weren't any sort of secret.

They depicted several buildings, she realized as she gave them a closer scrutiny, with everything a proper institute needed spread out among them.

A sound from downstairs drew her attention before she could contemplate the matter in any more detail. Someone was already awake. She could come back to look at the plans later.

Knowing her children's habits, she had expected to find Jace in the kitchen, or maybe Alec.

To her surprise, it was neither.

In fact, the young man moving between the fridge and the stove, just in the process of scrambling eggs while at the same time toasting some bread and keeping an eye on the coffee machine, was entirely unknown to her.

"Excuse me?" she asked.

He turned, smiling, and she revised her initial impression.

He wasn't young. Neither was he, strictly speaking, a man, though he certainly looked male. He wasn't wearing a full glamor, allowing some of his Seelie heritage to show in the angles of his face and the color of his eyes. The way he dressed was perfectly mundane, though, in track pants and a t-shirt that sported the logo of a sports team.

"Good morning," he said. "We figured you all would enjoy some breakfast service this morning. Yesterday was quite a day."

Maryse blinked, speechless for the moment. He was acting as if there was nothing at all odd about walking into other people's home to make breakfast.

"We?" she asked, feeling the need to say something.

"My partner's out getting some things," he told her. "We didn't know your preferences, or Max's… if you want anything special, just say so now."

She shook her head. "We're fine with whatever there is." She gave the kitchen another look. Everything looked very much under control, and as if he knew precisely where everything was, too. Maybe this was some sort of regular arrangement? He had to have come in somehow in any case. "What do Alec and Magnus and the others think of you sneaking in her so early to make breakfast?" she asked anyway.

An elaborate shrug preceded his response. "I wouldn't be here if they'd mind. The front door is spelled and charmed." She must have looked unconvinced, since he added: "If you want to go and ask them, can you also ask Magnus where he's hiding the orange juice?"

*

Maybe it was ridiculous, and she should have just relied on it that there truly were charms and spells on the door and the unexpected breakfast cook's presence was perfectly alright.

Still, Maryse wasn't used to having people randomly walk into her home – even a temporary one where she was inhabiting the guest room. She wanted to hear it from a source she knew to be reliable.

Aware that Alec was unlikely to sleep for much longer anyway, if he wasn't already awake and in the process of getting ready for the day, she carefully knocked on the door to her oldest son's bedroom.

"What is it?" came the response so quickly that she knew immediately she hadn't been mistaken.

She almost opened the door before realizing that he hadn't called her in, and that that might very well mean that he and Magnus were not in a position in which he wanted to be seen by his mother.

"There's a Seelie in the kitchen, making breakfast," she informed him through the closed door. "I was wondering if that's alright." All of a sudden, the entire situation suddenly felt absolutely ridiculous.

"Elessar," Alec returned. "He goes by Elessar."

There was some muttering behind the door, followed again by Alec's words, more clearly comprehensible: "Meliorn doesn’t randomly make breakfast and Mom would call him by name."

"Does he do this often?" Maryse asked, filing the name.

She pictured her son shrugging in the silence that followed. "Everyone here's in and out of everyone else's houses all the time," he elaborated after a moment. "That's why we have private rooms upstairs. Think of it more like an institute and less like a townhouse."

She blinked. Looking at it from that angle, it did make sense. The institute door would open for everyone it recognized as belonging there, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with walking into one of them at any time of the day or night.

"He's asking where Magnus is hiding the orange juice."

There was some more unintelligible muttering before Magnus heaved a sigh that was audible even through the door. "Let us get dressed and we'll be downstairs. Tell him to call Melissa and ask her to bring some chocolate croissants if she's run to the bakery. I'd summon some, but I'm told we generally pay for our food here."

*

Alec found Max sitting on a boulder in the park, well out of sight of the street, looking contemplative.

The boy looked up as he approached, a dark look clouding his face.

"Are you following me?" he demanded.

"Actually, I was just walking," Alec said. It was true. He had let himself drift, allowing his legs to take him where they would. If they had taken him to Max, chances were that he'd do well to talk to him.

Well, actually he'd known that since they'd arrived the day before, and more so since he'd watched the look Max had given everyone while Auntie Bea had erased the runes from their mother's skin. He had subsequently refused the offer to be given the same treatment.

"I needed some fresh air after that cell," Alec offered. "I feel like it'll be a long time before I've fully fueled up on freedom again."

"It was just a few days," Max said glumly.

Alec's lips twitched into a half-smile. "Time matters little down there. Are you worried about Imogen?"

Max blinked at the sudden change of topic. "Everyone tells me she's old enough to make her own decisions and she knew what she's getting into." He treated Alec to a piercing stare. "Did she?"

Looking away for a moment, Alec sighed. "No. She knows that things are going on, but not what they are in detail. There was never a point where we could have safely told her. And also…" he hesitated, but decided that he had to offer the truth. Max was only a boy, even by the standards of the Gales, who used fifteen as their age of majority, but he saw himself as a full soldier, as he was by Shadowhunter custom. "We never had the opportunity to verify where she's standing. We believe she's on our side – but for some things belief isn't enough."

"And you don't believe I'm on your side either," Max added. "I'm your brother, but you put more faith in a traitor and criminal."

There was no doubt who he was talking about. "Hodge paid for his time in the Circle many times over. He's regretted what he did with Valentine. We understand why he did it. He's loyal to us now."

"It's bad to bring people back from the dead."

Alec smiled at the challenge in Max's tone. He wasn't going to contest his assessment of the man's alignment, so he was raising an entirely different point. It would have been a valid one, too.

"We didn't," he explained. "Charlie does some time-travelling. She got him out before he died. All we did was nurse him back to health. Or well, Allie and Katie did that, mostly."

Max squinted up at him and gestured for Alec to sit on the rock by his side. As the older brother complied, he said: "Then why don't you go back and fix everything? Valentine, Sebastian, everything?"

"That is not how it works." Alec hoped that they could leave it at that. He wasn't entirely sure he fully understood the details of Charlie's limitations. "You cannot change a thing that already happened. Besides, it'd do no good. Things go deeper than that. Farther back than that."

"But you're not going to tell me what they are." Max said it as if it was a fact. He was staring down at his hands, the one still affected by his brain injury covered by the other. "Either because I'm too young, or because I'm too broken, or because you just don't want to."

"Max, we couldn't tell you anything while you were basically in the hands of the Inquisition every day. Do you have any idea what would have happened if they'd gotten any idea that you knew things? You would have been questioned, and you would have told them. They have ways to make sure of that."

"Do you have any idea what would have happened if they'd gotten it into their heads that I knew things when I didn't?" Max shot back. "They still would have questioned me."

True. Alec forced the mask of the leader onto his face as he answered. "I know. But you would have been unable to betray us."

"You could have taken us here earlier."

"Would you have come?"

There was a long pause as Max thought about that.

"We only learned about the worst bits in the last two weeks," Alec added. "Before that, we had parts, but not the whole picture. I think if we'd shared those with you, you would have gone and done your own research." Like when you went to track Jonathan. He didn't say it, but he didn't need to. He could see in his brother's eyes that he knew. "You wouldn't have survived that."

"They can't get to me now, though," Max said after another few heartbeats had elapsed.

The older brother nodded. "True."

 "So what will you tell me now?"

Looking out into the park, Alec came to a decision. "Where do you want me to start?"

*

The movement of the sun marked the passage of time as Alec talked, and Max listened, interrupting here and there to ask some clarifying questions.

When he had nothing more to add, he waited, expecting some sort of challenge of their findings about the beings that had created them, and the background of that creation. He was caught by surprise when his brother's question was an entirely different one.

"Do you really think it's going to work? Us, being part of the Shadow World? Why would anyone listen to us?"

"They don't have to," Alec told him. "And yes, it will work if we manage to stop thinking we're better than everyone else. We've had a couple of good cooperations with the Calgary Shadow World already."

"And how—" Max began another question, but broke off and gestured in the direction of the path. "Are they looking for us?"

Following where he pointed, Alec spotted David swiftly walking towards them, trailing a group of four. As he studied them, one of David's companions raised his hand and waved happily at him.

Alec felt his forehead crease into a frown. He was sure he had never seen the young man before. He would have remembered him for sure. He was dressed like any mundane in his late teens or early twenties might be, in jeans and a glaringly colored t-shirt. His hair was most memorable, though. Its original color was impossible to determine. He  wore it dyed in streaks of various shades Alec had only ever seen on Charlie Gale, with ribbons and beads generously braided into it. The young woman by his side was dressed and decorated almost identically. Her features were a slightly more feminine version of his own, marking them clearly as siblings.

With them walked another young woman, her skin a darker shade than theirs and her hair a mass of wild, thick curls. She seemed about the same age, and if he'd been asked to assign them roles, he would have immediately called her the voice of reason in the trio.

No, Alec was certain that he had never laid eyes on any of them before.

Then he looked at the man closest to David, and did a double-take. Him, he did know. The last time he had seen him, he'd been dressed in the demons' standard attire, his hair held out of his face by two thin braids.

His hair was longer now, tied back simply in a ponytail, and he wore black jeans and a dark blue shirt. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes from view.

As he got to his feet, Alec realized with a jolt that he was looking at glamors, at least in the case of the three younger visitors. He was reasonably sure that he knew what was underneath them, or at least what his perception made of that.

"Look what my little invitation turned up," David greeted him as he came closer. "Are we interrupting something important?"

"We were about done," Max answered in Alec's place.

Alec took a deep breath. He wasn't sure how he liked what he saw.

"What Max said," he confirmed before looking at the oldest of the four visitors. "Lord Samael. May I introduce my youngest brother Maxwell?"

Max stared for a moment, visibly thinking through possible reactions on his part and discarding them. Alec had just told him about this man – this creature. He couldn't very well try to greet a demon lord by holding out his hand to shake!

"Nice to meet you, Maxwell," Samael said, his face turning in the boy's direction. While blind in the conventional sense, he could perceive the presence of magic and life force.

"Just Max, Sir," Max replied automatically. "Everyone calls me Max." That was probably not how you greeted a demon lord either, but one thing had become very clear during the last hours: a sword to the heart would not be considered an appropriate reaction, and he had to do or say something.

"And I assume," Alec continued, his tone now that of an adult faced with the results of some children's less than useful idea and the task of cleaning up after them, "that these are Arr, Ro and Sal?"

The three gave him happy grins, looking downright proud at his ability to deduce who was concealed under the glamors.

"Actually," one of the women said, "we'll be using names better suited to this place. He'll be Arram, I'm Sally, and she's Romy." Clearly, she had found a way to polish up her English very quickly, and entirely without them being around for a Speak in Tongues charm.

"You—" Alec heard his voice rise and broke off, forcing a calmer tone. "What exactly are you doing here?"

"We've come to help you!" Sal – Sally – informed him, as if it should have been obvious.

"You've—" Repeating what she had just said would not do him any good at all. "This is too dangerous. You know nothing of this world. Others of your kind have died here!"

"You knew nothing of ours when you came," Arram reminded him. "And others of your kind have died in ours. It seems fair enough."

Samael gave a low chuckle. "Do not even try, young Lightwood," he said. "You will not succeed where everyone else has failed so far."

Even knowing it was lost on the demon, Alec treated him to a brief glare. "And what are you doing here with them?"

A sudden smirk made the demon look barely older than his companions for a moment. "I've been cooped up at home for too long. I was feeling adventurous."

Chapter Text

"So does anyone know where this mystery rainfall came from?" Charlie asked.

Sitting together in the large living room area in the house Alec and his friends shared, they had just exchanged the stories of the flight from Alicante and a brief rundown of how Pandemonium had fared since their departure. Charlie, still avoiding Allie to prevent any risk of being force-fed by sheer willpower, had joined them, along with Jack and two of their younger Gale neighbors. Those would be tasked with finding at least temporary space for the three young demons. Samael, they had decided, was just a little too high-ranking to leave him in the comfortable chaos that had once been the shared apartment for Gales from Darsden East who had come over for a temporary stay.

"I have an idea now," Samael  returned, smiling. "I can gear you smirking, Charlotte Gale. Be assured that you will forever have a place in Pandemonium, even if it turns out to be a one-time temporary relief."

Charlie took a moment to answer, studying the wall behind him as she thought. "To be quite honest, I have no idea if it is. I know the tree I sung up in that fey court when we got out Simon just took my suggestion and made it its own. Maybe there now is a permanent flow of air from the Gardens to Pandemonium and you'll get regular rain. I don't know."

"Even if it doesn't," he told her, "between the counteragent your friends gave us and the recipe they  stole, things are looking up. It'll be a while until we can have enough of a production up to supply everyone, but for the first time in centuries people believe in recovery. We're analyzing the water we've collected. Maybe we'll figure out how they cleanse that, too. It does make a difference."

"And when you are recovered," Alec asked, a dark tone to his voice, "will the war start over again?"

There was a long moment of silence. "I don't know," Samael eventually admitted. "That is for people to discuss, and decide, when the time comes. If it happens, you should welcome it. It would distract them from your world."

"As far as I remember, you all carried your war right over into our world the last time," Jace spoke up.

"Yes," the demon lord replied. "And right now, I believe you have started your own war with them.  What do you think they will do, knowing that you are loose in the world once again?"

Izzy put down her cup and wiped a drop of coffee from the corner of her mouth. "They will try to destroy us. As they have in the past. We will prevent it. As we have in the past."

Samael shifted to face her. He was still wearing his sunglasses, concealing eyes that, in his glamor, were white without irises or pupils. It gave them a rather disconcerting look. "It's not just you now. Everyone in Alicante saw you with wings. They may not know the details yet, but they know more than they should. Their next attack will be against your entire species."

"Like the demon plague?" Izzy asked. "Are you telling us to expect that people in Alicante and in the institutes are falling ill and dying right now?"

"Maybe." His tone said nothing about the likelihood he saw for that. "But I believe if that was the case, you would have heard of it."

Alec closed his eyes briefly. Once more, he wore his feelings openly on his face, and he knew that he was likely to regret the decision he had just made many times over. Still, he thought that he would likely regret any other even more. "Whichever way it goes," he said. "We cannot continue in hiding as we are."

"What are you planning?" Clary asked, perking up.

"Tomorrow," Alec said, "I will start contacting our friends and see who will join us. Then we'll take it from there. I'll start in New York. It's where our father and Aldertree are, but it's also where people know us best."

Jace made a face. "We," he corrected his parabatai. "We will go to New York."

 

 

July 3rd, 2017

New York

Alec hadn't argued.

In the end, it was a group of seven that travelled to the city that had been their home for so long, with Charlie and Jack joining them for safety, and Magnus insisting to thwart his ban from New York. He wasn't going to engage in warlock business there, but he was going to add him magic to the team, just in case.

Travelling with them for convenience, Charlie stepped out of the portal and into the park by the Institute in the light of dawn.

The four Shadowhunters had decided against wearing their gear. Accommodating the possibility of having to replicate their feat of manifesting wings, they had opted for jeans and t-shirts instead, the latter much more easily discarded than two layers of leather.

They were armed visibly, with swords buckled to their belts and Alec's bow on his back.

Their leader looked them over, nodding at what he saw. Izzy had a two-handed sword strapped to her back. That had been a last-minute addition, handed to them by Christopher just as they were about to leave. The Mortal Sword from his dimension was truly a Truth Sword now, shut down to where the only function it preserved was the one of compelling answers. They were planning to leave it sheathed if they could.

As they fell into step, Alec in the lead, with Izzy and Magnus flanking him on either side, Jace and Clary just behind them and the two Gales following, the fiddler in Charlie's head struck up an Adele tune.

Boring, she told him. You've done that one before.

The fiddler didn't care.

She couldn't deny that it fit the mood, with the four returning home after a period of absence, changed and grown far beyond the positions they had  once held here. She could feel the pain in them as they realized with every step that took them closer to the old church that, no matter what happened, this place where they had grown up would never again be home for them.

There was a minute hitch in Alec's movement before he put his foot on the first step of the stairs leading up to the entrance. Then, moving before he could reconsider, he reached out to push open the door, and walked the short corridor that opened into the ops center.

Light sparkled around them. Jack and Magnus were keeping up a shield, just in case someone would try to shoot them on sight.

They had timed their appearance well. The morning briefing was just underway.

Heads turned when the inner door opened. Mouths fell open and eyes grew wide at the sight as they entered, fanning out to stand side by side, Charlie marking one end of their line and Jack the other.

"Seize them!" Aldertree, who had just been talking, shouted, confusion and glee warring in his voice and in his face.

"Stand back!" Alec countered.

The light around the group condensed.

"Go on!" the blond man standing to Aldertree's right barked. Robert Dearborn on the Head of Institute's other side was staring at them with unconcealed hatred.

To her satisfaction, Charlie realized that barely anyone among the men and women present had moved from where they stood.

"We've seen most of you in Alicante," Alec said, his voice impossibly calm. "We know you know that things have changed. We have changed. But most of you have known Izzy and Jace and me forever. You know we're not the traitors they call us."

He continued talking, ignoring a repeated call to arrest them.

Letting her eyes roam the hall, Charlie saw from the corner of her eye that Lindsay, standing on the dais with Aldertree and his two companions, had placed a hand on the hilt of her sword. She had looked as if she was going to be sick any moment when they had arrived. Now there was a calm resolve in her face.

"There's a war at our doorstep," Alec continued. "That goes far beyond any war the Nephilim have waged against demons, or Downworlders, in this world. And yes – that is in part because of what we learned. But what we have learned is too important to keep it concealed. We are a people based on lies and half-truths. Give us a little time to put what we know before you, and then make your decision on where you wish to stand."

"Lies!" Valentine yelled. "Why are you all standing there staring and letting him talk? He's a convicted criminal. The order is to shoot him on sight!"

"You're not doing so well in the shooting department yourself," Jace noted scornfully. "But you prefer to stab people with a butter knife, don't you?"

The man's face froze. Aldertree shot him a confused look, before turning back to their group.

Lindsay had taken a step back, though not to withdraw, but to get into a better fighting position.

"Raj! Suzan! Get them!" A blade seemed to sprout in Valentine's hand, released from a forearm sheath. He took two steps to the edge of the platform, as if he was planning to help carry out his order.

Before Alec could speak again, another voice rose, a little shaky, but clear and determined. "Don't listen to him!" Lindsay stood up straight, her own sword in her hand now as well. "You do not know who you've been taking orders from. This man is Valentine Morgenstern!"

Judging by the way Valentine froze to stare at her, and by how the reaction was copied almost precisely by Robert and Aldertree, the three had had no idea that Lindsay had figured out that particular detail.

Magnus was flexing his hands, ready to throw up a shield for her if needed.

"Ridiculous!" Valentine declared. "How do you—"

"Is it?" That was Izzy's voice cutting loudly and clearly through the sudden debates that had sprung up all over the room. She reached behind her to draw the large weapon. "Why don't we find out about that? We have a Truth Sword at hand."

"You are insane!" Valentine shouted. His attention shifted back and forth between the women. "The Soul Sword is kept securely under lock by the Silent Brothers. There is no way you can—"

"Then there is no reason for you not to take that sword and give us your name and origins." Underhill stepped forward, approaching the barrier around their group with slow, measured steps and holding out a hand to Izzy.

On a brief nod from Alec, she passed the sword through the shield. Letting it out of their hands had not been part of the plan, but none of them assumed that Valentine was actually going to put his hands on it.

"While we're at it," Jace added, "You might also explain to us how you ended up in the body of a convicted criminal who killed and mutilated Shadowhunters and Downworlders for years before he was caught." There'd been a small hesitation before the word 'Downworlders'. He had chosen to use the terminology common in the institute, but he clearly no longer felt comfortable with it.

"And then I might have another few questions for you, father."

Underhill executed a precise pivot and made his way to the dais. His expression had changed the moment he had closed his hands around the sword. He'd felt the effect. He knew the thing he held was real.

"He is right!" Robert shouted into the crowd. "This is insane! Delusions, born of drugs and who knows what else. They break into our institute, attack us at the heart of our own base, and you would—"

"Excuse me, Sir?" That was Francesco Youngwolf, raising his hand as he interrupted. "Where is this attack you speak of? I see four Nephilim and their friends, who walked into an institute as is their right. The only magic they have used is defensive. Aye, there is a kill order out for them, but I have never heard any actual reasons given for it. They're traitors, they say. What did they betray? How?" He took a step forward, his entire posture a challenge. "Tell us. Take that sword and tell us why we should turn against four of our own."

There was more muttering among the crowd, but where favor had been ambiguous at first, it was shifting to their side now.

"You saw what they did!" Aldertree spat back at him. "You saw their blasphemy!"

"I do not know about blasphemy," Underhill replied in his partner's place. "I have never seen a section, in the Accords or in the Law, that says 'thou shalt not grow wings'. I'd like to know how they did it. But I know what I saw, and I know what I felt. I know that something is very, very wrong in this world we live in, and I feel like those four have the answer to it."

"Besides," someone from the back rows called, "some of us helped raise those kids. They've always been honorable. The best of Shadowhunters. Let us at least listen to what they say."

As murmurs of assent rose, Charlie kept her eyes on the three men. They understood that they were losing their hold on the Institute. They knew that they were unlikely to regain it once the four had shared their knowledge. Slowly, they were edging towards the door at the back of the stage.

"We will have no part of their treason!" Aldertree declared. "From this moment onwards, I will consider everyone who stands by and listens to another word they say a mutineer, to be dealt with accordingly! Go and seize them! Their warlocks cannot stand against all of us!"

There were a few places where the crowd shifted after that. Raj made as if to move towards them, hand on blade. Another hand on his arm stopped him, just as the other few who had been ready to comply were kept from following through. Charlie probed the energy in the room. As a Bard, understanding the emotions of her audience was vital for a good performance. She sensed curiosity, and not a small amount of fear. The core of aggression and willingness to do violence centered where the trio of men older was. But there was fear there, too, growing quickly as they understood that they had truly lost control of the institute.

Robert had reached the door. He was groping behind him for the handle.

"Enjoy your little rebellion while it lasts," he hissed. "We will make our report, and we will return with loyal soldiers to put an end to this!"

"Well, go already," Alec said. He moved forward, stepping out of the shield while giving a small gesture in Magnus' direction, telling him not to adjust its shape. He was going make a show of trusting the rest of the Institute. He turned to address the greater group. "Anyone who wishes to join them should be allowed to leave unharmed. What we have to tell is dangerous. A few centuries ago, some of the same knowledge caused a vendetta that left our people at the brink of extinction. We will not force it on anyone."

There were a few who moved then, jumping to join their leaders on the way to the portal room. Several more started to move that way and, realizing that their friends were still rooted in place, froze again.

"Magnus," Alec said calmly once the last of those going had disappeared through the door. "Can you please go and turn off that portal? A surprise return would be inconvenient in mid-tale. I promise we will start it up again for anyone who wants to leave after they've heard us out." As his boyfriend nodded and moved to do what he had been asked, Clary and Jace following him for protection, Alec turned to Underhill.

"Ian, can you confirm that that is a Truth Sword you're holding?"

He nodded, the motion made jerky when the compulsion to respond did not have the patience to wait for him to decide on the precise words he wanted to say. "Yes." His voice sounded strained. It was clear that he wanted nothing more than to drop the sword before it made him say something he was not ready to share with the world.

"Give it to me, please." Alec held out his hands, palm up, ready to balance the blade on them. "Let me hold it while I talk."

 

Calgary

Alec was under no illusion that it was his talk that had the main part in convincing their old Institute to change sides.

It wasn't their demonstration of charms. It wasn't their repeated show of wings either, and though he felt that now, after having experienced the full flow of power once, he could have opened the energy conduits he had and bring out physical wings at his liking, they had stuck with the immaterial kind that didn't tear clothing.

It wasn't the truth sword, and it wasn't Valentine's behavior either.

For him, the moment when he had known he could not return to the life he had lived before starting to learn the truth of their heritage had been that first day in Ritual with the Gales, when he had felt the effect of his runes weighing him down, felt that promise of so much more hovering just out of reach, and perceived for the first time in his life that there was a wrongness to the marks he had taken so much pride in before.

When Charlie had supplied power to them in Alicante, everyone present had felt just that. For a few minutes there, they had been forced to see the chains that held them back for what they were.

Charms were strange to them, but they couldn't deny that they worked. The feeling of having been betrayed about their own powers surely wasn't pleasant, but it helped their cause.

They'd removed so many enkeli runes that day that Alec thought his fingers would be tracing the lines of the charm the Aunties had developed for the erasure of a single rune in his sleep all night.

Magnus had reconnected the portal, though not with Alicante, but with Calgary. For the moment, it was coming out in a closet of their briefing room. They'd need that extra building to set up a proper institute quickly. For the moment, they'd be portaling back and forth, having two of them in New York at all times.

So far, Alicante had not launched any sort of campaign.

Alec sighed as the contemplated that. Were they rallying their forces? Surely not, to try and strike down a single institute. Were they going to declare New York lost and ignore it?

Or did they actually have trouble finding supporters? The New York Shadowhunters weren't the only ones who had felt the pull of freedom.

Twice since they had come back to Calgary had he taken paper and a pen and started to write out a message to Imogen, then refrained from actually finishing it.

Instead, he put his mind to composing missives to other institutes. They'd had the benefit of surprise once. There was no way they could walk into another institute unannounced and pull off the same stunt. If anyone agreed to a meeting, they could probe the location from the Wood, making sure they weren't walking into a trap. That – and a dragon in their pocket – would have to be enough.

It took another effort of will to resist the urge to check up on New York through Jace, who had taken the current shift there with Clary.

They had dropped their idea that the Shadowhunters working were to embrace the Shadow World and be part of it, rather than seeing themselves above it, into the general giddiness in the hall. At the time, it had been accepted as one more weirdness, paling before the revelations they had just presented. It wouldn't stay that way. He could only hope that by the time people had settled enough into their new world to start questioning those parts of it, enough of them would be seeing the benefits to counter any discontent that came up.

For now, he had strongly suggested that the institute request a proper alliance from at least two of the Shadow World factions  in the city. Even he hadn't been sure if there'd be a point in approaching the warlocks. He'd left the final decision on the matter to Underhill who, as one of the longest-serving Nephilim at hand, had at least temporarily ended up in command by general consent.

He had just put his pen back down to continue to refine his message when the spark of a fire message caught his attention.

His hand had shot up and grabbed the paper from the air before it was fully assembled.

My office at ten, Imogen had written. We must talk.

Underneath was her signature, unmistakable even though he had only seen it a couple of times.

A tap on his phone screen gave him the Calgary and Alicante times, sparing him the need to convert time zones. New York was part of that list, too, from when they had briefly rejoined their institute earlier that year.

There wasn't much time if he intended to make her deadline.

Leaving his letters for later, he swiped to a different view on his phone. He'd need Charlie and Jack, and at least one of the other Nephilim.

 

New York

Underhill wiped sweaty palms on his jeans as he approached the Jade Wolf.

Clary had offered to come with him, or to go in his place and talk to Luke on her own first.

No matter how much he had wanted to take her offer, he couldn't. This was one mission he had to do in person, and without resorting to anything that might be construed as blackmail.

The last time, he had shown up unannounced. Today, he had fire-messaged ahead, and waited for Luke's response.

He reached out for the handle and almost winced at the sight of his unmarked skin. While all of them had removed their enkeli runes, as a precaution against being targeted through them, only a small handful had taken Magnus Bane's offer of a spell to clear away all of their runes at once.

He, Francesco and Lindsay had been the first.

It had probably been easiest for him. He had some small experience with the charms, as the young Lightwoods called their version of the runes, already. Isabelle had saved his arm with them after a field injury. He hadn't known what she'd done back then, but the pieces had clicked into place while Alec had given his explanation.

To their surprise, Raj, of all people, had come next, declaring that he wanted to see proof of how things worked firsthand – and announcing that he wasn't going to hand over his stele and was perfectly ready to re-apply his runes if he wasn't happy with his new state of being.

There had been no need for the latter declaration. No one had ever suggested collecting steles.

After experiencing the sensation of power from the institute's angelic core flowing through him, bringing with it an incredible sensory awareness and the outlines of hazy, white wings trailing after his body until he shut down the flow again with an effort of will, Underhill doubted that anyone who dropped their runes entirely would voluntarily touch one of the silvery rods to their skin ever again. The feeling of connecting, unencumbered, to the world around him was too exhilarating. It felt too right to give it up.

Luke was sitting at one of the tables, a white-haired woman by his side whom Underhill was sure he hadn't seen before. Neither did he know the man who sat facing them.

The wolves gathered around them, however, were quite familiar.

Wordlessly, and without taking is eyes off the alpha wolf, Underhill walked the length of the room, acutely aware of the eyes on his unmarked arms. Wearing the shortest sleeves he had found in his closet had been a deliberate choice.

No one moved to stop him. He decided to take that as a good sign.

"Lucian," he said in greeting as he came to a halt before the table. "Thank you for receiving me."

Luke nodded at him, not giving any indication of what he thought of being addressed by his Shadowhunter name. "I see you've found some of the answers you were looking for when you last came to see me," he said slowly. His face was as neutral as his tone.

"I have," he confirmed. "And now I'm afraid I've come to ask a favor."

There was a low growl from one of the werewolves standing at attention, ready to jump if he made a wrong move. His carefully prepared speech evaporated at the sound. How could he ask what he had come to say, after everything his people had done to these in the past?

It may have been what they had thought was right. It may still have felt right to him. Decades of conditioning were impossible to erase in the course of a few hours.

But, he told himself, he was capable of reason, and reason told him that his beliefs were at least partially wrong. He didn't have the time to question every single one of them and reassess right now. That would have to come later, over time. For now, he had to simply accept this new status quo, and handle it somehow.

Somehow that was not the way he had planned, since the werewolf – Taito, if he remembered correctly – had taken a step forward, and his own hand had automatically gone to the hilt of his blade.

"Is that how you come asking favors?" Taito asked darkly. "Armed and ready to draw?"

Underhill swallowed. He forced his hand to keep moving.

"No." His voice sounded hoarse. His tongue darted forward to wet suddenly dry lips as his fingers found the buckle of his belt and undid it. He felt strangely detached from the action, as if abandoning his main means of defense had nothing at all to do with him.

He caught the scabbard before it could drop, folded the leather straps over it and carefully placed the bundle on the table in front of Luke.

"The New York Institute has broken ties with Alicante," he announced, foregoing everything he had planned to say to lead up to that. "Victor Aldertree and his circle have left the city. We're no longer part of the Clave. I expect it won't be long before they send someone after us."

"Then you'll perish." There was a grim satisfaction in the standing werewolf's voice. Luke shot him a sharp look, suggesting without words that he'd spoken out of line.

Underhill nodded at him anyway. "Unless we can make allies and turn into a nut too hard to crack."

"Are you offering us another Shadowunter-Downworlder council to debate things and then do what you decide after all, while you expect us to die for you in return?" Luke asked warily.

His lips thinned for a moment. That was too close to what he had planned originally.

He shook his head once, decisively. "An alliance of the New York Downworld. All factions meeting as equals, setting out their new rules together. Did you ever draw up that proposal you suggested to Aldertree? We might use that as a basis."

"And when we have those new rules, and we have all signed this pact you propose, your people will be the ones to uphold it?"

Luke sounded cautious. He couldn't blame him. Shadowhunters all over the world had abused their position of upholding peace and order in Downworld too often, for too long. The alpha werewolf had been part of that once. He knew what he was talking about from both sides.

"We'll have the position the faction leaders give us." He silently prayed that his own people weren't going to react to that announcement by deposing him from the office they had just given him a few hours ago. "And since we'll have equal say in that, that means the position you will give us. Four against one should be certain odds."

There was a moment's silence. Then the woman by Luke's side spoke. "I hear you imply that you're expecting us to fight to protect you if your former allies attack. Is there anything you have to offer in return, other than no longer placing yourself above everyone else? That doesn't seem to be a matter in which you retain any choice."

He studied her for a moment. Up close, her hair was a light blonde, rather than white. She seemed about Luke's age and appeared far too at ease in the present company to be a newly turned werewolf. Someone travelling through, then? Luke didn't seem to mind her participating in the conversation in any case. "We have a big-ass building," Underhill told her. "With adamas-reinforced walls and the best warlock wards in the country. A library. Rooms full of artifacts. And a few dozen highly trained fighters."

"You would offer us free access to the institute?" Now Luke sounded surprised.

"I can walk into the Jade Wolf, or the Dumort, or the High Warlock's office simply by opening the door. It's only fair. Magnus Bane re-keyed the wards this morning. The Institute opens to everyone in Downworld. I could not reverse it if I wanted to." He kept his eyes firmly on Luke. "And I don't want to. I am told that there's a city in Canada where Nephilim live simply as part of Downworld – the Shadow World, they call it. They're doing well enough with that. I want that for us, too." It was exaggerating a little. From what Alec and the others had told them, they were still in the process of building the same in Calgary. Luke had to know that.

A small twitch in the other man's face told him that he did, indeed, know. "I'm familiar with the Calgary situation," he said instead of contradicting him. "And I'm ready to give that a try. You will return the artifacts unrightfully held in the institute?"

"If you can identify them, yes," Underhill promised. He felt a twinge of embarrassment at his next words. "I'm afraid our records on that sort of thing are a little… sketchy."

"Rose is a lawyer," Luke informed him, indicating the woman. "She'll be part of drawing up the pact."

Underhill nodded. "Agreed."

"And there will be four factions, not five. The Seelie were going to support Aldertree in his little ploy against us. The King who holds the Seelie Realm entries in Calgary may be sufficiently trustworthy, but our local Seelie Queen is not."

"Agreed."

The last request actually was something of a relief for him. He hadn't fancied including the Queen in whatever form their new cooperation would take either. Coming from him, the same suggestion would surely have found much less of a positive reception, though.

Luke came to his feet, followed closely by Rose, and then the man on the other side of the table. "Then I'll go with you to talk to the others. Raphael first, I suggest."

Chapter Text

Alicante

Imogen truly was alone in their office when they emerged – somewhat spectacularly by portal from the Wood since she had no plants in the room large enough for Charlie to step into and she seemed to be making every effort not to make any sounds. Trying it had been Charlie's idea, and as it turned out, the anti-portal wards around Alicante did not extend to interdimensional travel, no matter the means of transport. That was something to remember.

Maybe sending a group of five to talk to her was a bit excessive.

On the other hand, Alec wouldn't have gone without Charlie and Jack, just in case that they were walking into a trap after all. Taking a second person from his own family wasn't really debatable either. The only one whose presence had been of questionable necessity until the moment they realized they had no way into that office without him was Magnus, who had helpfully refused to let them go without him.

Imogen was sitting behind her desk, reading a file.

Looking up at their arrival, she quickly masked her disappointment at seeing him and Izzy alone with their companions, while a sharp note from Charlie made sure that the cameras in the room remained off.

"Jace is finishing up his shift," Alec informed her before she could say a word. He could guess that she had hoped to see her actual grandson. "How are you doing?"

Almost unconsciously, Imogen's hand went up the side of her face. "Fine," she claimed. "Starkweather is good at what he does. It was sufficiently convincing, but nothing an iratze couldn't handle." The corner of her mouth twitched. "I checked the files first thing when I came back into the office to see what happened with his body back when he was killed. Turns out we never had a body."

Alec shrugged. "Sometimes miracles happen," he said vaguely. "Did you call us to talk about Hodge's death?"

Imogen gave the slightest of chuckles. "Earlier today, Victor Aldertree, Robert Dearborn and Nicholas Nightshade's very much alive body came stumbling out of the main portal along with a handful of New York soldiers. They were screaming mutiny."

"I bet they did," Alec agreed.

"To be honest, we've been a little surprised no one showed up yet trying to reclaim the institute," Izzy added.

"They were debating that," their grandmother by choice informed them. "But there are some, and our friend Nightshade first among them, who believe there are more pressing matters."

Izzy crossed her arms in front of her body as she listened. "He's not Nightshade."

The old woman looked up at her with an expression as if she was about to tell an intern not to state the obvious. "I know that. I would assume he's Valentine." She rolled her eyes at their surprised expressions. "I was there when the first body mix-up happened, and I know the day Nightshade was pronounced dead. They removed the trial files and anything referencing him, but the date the occupation of his cell changed was still in the system. In. Any. Case." She enunciated each of those three words as if it was a sentence of its own. "He believes that there is something more pressing than to take back New York. There was a most heated discussion on the matter. The decision was eventually adjourned. I'm not sure if they expect that there will be less screaming at each other in the morning or if they think a night's negotiations in private will make a difference, but they at least decided one more night of inaction wouldn't bring all hell down on us."

"They let you participate in this debate?" Magnus asked, voicing the doubt all of them felt. With Imogen's connection to their family and the way she had been left out the loop about both Valentine and Lydia, they would have to expect that any information given to her freely was at least half a trap, just in case she decided to do precisely what she was doing now.

She shot him a scathing look. "Of course not. I can just about imagine the reaction if I'd tried to get into that room. But they broadcast it for the Adamant Citadel. A video feed can be tapped. I have… reactivated a former associate of mine. She's quite good at getting into data that's not hers."

"How trustworthy is your associate?" Alec asked cautiously. A glance around told him that Charlie and Jack were giving their best impressions of mute bodyguards, not intending to step in unless asked to, and also not about to interrupt the conversation. Magnus looked as undecided as he felt. Izzy's eyes were narrowed. As if she was processing more than just what they had just heard.

"To the utmost," Imogen informed him.

As he was taking a moment to decide whether to demand a name, his sister shifted slightly forward. "That's all very nice," she said, "but we still don't know what they were discussing. Or who was doing the discussion in the first place."

"The highest representatives," their grandmother by choice explained. "From the Consul's office, the Silent City, the Citadel. Also Nightshade – Valentine – and Robert, and Darren Hightower. He's one of the contenders for my job once I retire. Nice to know who's their preferred choice."

Alec almost asked her if Jia had been there. On some level, they all still wanted to believe that the Consul had not been caught up in that particular web, that she had not been, in some capacity, involved in the deduction and torture of her own daughter.

In the end, he was glad that she continued before he could say something. "As for the rest, I don't actually know. But maybe you can make sense of it. Nightshade – Valentine – insisted that the threat of someone taking your place would continue for as long as the seed was still alive. That the same issues would resurface again, as they have before, unless the source was destroyed. He went on about a book that ought to be burned and almost had a fit when it couldn't be procured."

Suddenly finding it hard not to smirk, Alec bit his lips. Izzy found great interest in the pattern of the stucco border around the ceiling in Imogen's office. Magnus's face turned blank.

Imogen stared at them.

"Are you telling me you stole a book from the Silent City?" she asked incredulously. "How did you even—"

"We're not telling you anything," Alec interrupted her. "And it wasn't in the Silent City. It was in the library. Libraries are there for taking books."

"I think you're generally expected to check them out and to return them!" Imogen shot back. "Do I want to know what's written in it?"

"Yes," Alec said. "But maybe not now. What else happened? They didn't adjourn over a lost journal, I assume?"

For a moment, it looked as if Imogen was going to demand the information anyway. Then she inclined her head slightly in acquiescence. "He demanded the death of your friend Agnieszka. Then he said: 'And the others. Dormant is not enough. They must be gone.' That was when the yelling started. Did you know Silent Brothers can mind-shout into a video feed?"

They hadn't – or Alec in any case had not – but it was possibly not the most relevant piece of information that had changed owners this night.

"I don't assume you have a recording of this feed?" Izzy asked. "Just in case we can pick out any details you didn't know to look for."

Imogen shook her head. "I didn't want it found on my computer. I know how Lydia's office was searched. It went only through… what do you call it?"

"RAM," Jack supplied helpfully. "That's where you put data you don't need or want in actual storage."

Finding himself suddenly the target of the confused stares of three Shadowhunters and a warlock, he offered them a grin "What? I have a cousin who's an IT wizard. Cameron shares things. Sometimes I listen."

"Does what I told you mean anything to you at all?" Imogen asked, returning the topic to their original purpose. "Do you have an idea what he means?"

"More than an idea," Alec said, surprising himself with how calm his voice sounded. "What time did they adjourn to?"

"Seven thirty." Something else seemed to weigh on Imogen's mind. She was visibly struggling with herself on whether to say something else, or keep it to herself.

This time it was Alec who spoke before she could come to a final decision "No one disagreed about removing Agnieszka, I assume?"

"Agnieszka is hardly defenseless," Magnus offered as Imogen confirmed. "I think we can rely on it that they will find out they've bit off a bit more than they can chew if they go and attack her."

"You just say that because she scorched you," Izzy claimed, though her tone suggested she was in agreement.

Alec was nodding to himself. "Charlie," he said slowly, "I think it's time to give our grandmother a present. Imogen, we need a hair from you."

While the Bard extracted the spare phone they had brought from her pocket and prepared to apply the binding charm to key the device to its new owner, Imogen watched with less surprise than they had expected.

"It has our numbers stored," Alec said when they placed the gadget on her desk. "Now, unless there's something else, we'll take our leave. We have some work to do this night."

Charlie was adjusting her guitar for a jump back into the Wood, the others' hands extending to touch her and let her carry them along.

Imogen's voice stopped them one more time.

"They're going to kill our first, aren't they?" she asked, her voice flat. "David in the City of Bones and Abigail in the Adamant Citadel. They're going to reconvene and they'll agree to murder them as they sleep in hibernation."

Alec gave her a long, determined look. "No," he said decisively. "They won't. Because we still have nine hours to make sure there's nothing for them to find."

 

Calgary

"David might actually thank them for putting a dagger through his heart," Jace pointed out. "Going by that journal, he was mostly staying alive by blackmail."

Aline and Sebastian had started their shift in New York. The other Nephilim and a handful of their associates were crowded into the Lightwoods' living room to hear Alec's news.

Deciding that drinks were in order, but alcohol was not an option right then, Magnus had handed out colorful juice mixtures in cocktail glasses, giving their assembly the air of a strangely serene beach party moved inside.

"You know, if he rouses, looks at me and tells me he'd like that I'll hand him a dagger myself," Alec returned. "Until he does, I'll assume that if he wanted to be dead he wouldn't have gone into hibernation. It's not like there aren't plenty of ways for our kind to be killed without being faulted for it."

"Point taken," Jace said, while Izzy shook her head at her oldest brother. "You realize that as a Silent Brother he can't technically look at you."

"He might disagree with that," Samael, sitting on the sofa between Jack and Maryse, suggested. "But carry on."

Alec let his eyes sweep the assembly. His family and their friends were making use of every surface in the room. The only one standing, he turned to the whiteboard they had brought in.

"Two teams," he declared. "We have to get into the Citadel and the Silent City at the same time. Both are protected against portaling, so there's no choice than to go in through … I want to say the back door, but from what I understand the Adamant Citadel doesn’t have any back doors."

Izzy nodded. "They have high walls and gates of blades, though. They won't just let us walk in. And I'm afraid they won't let me in at all. I assume they would still consider me tainted by that drug."

Alec turned his attention to her. "We're not asking permission where we won't get it anyway. The Adamant Citadel is forbidden to men, but sticking with that rule is the only concession I'm willing to make. Unless you prefer not to, you lead that mission. You're the one who has done the most research on the Iron Sisters and the Citadel." He found her eyes and held them. "Remember you have wings. Walls and gates are nothing, and the plains around the Citadel don't exactly have a ceiling."

"But the Silent City does," Chris reminded him. "How do you propose we get in and out of there?"

"I'm thinking the entry that will bring us closest to the core of the City is—" Alec began, only to be interrupted by his youngest brother.

"In the library in Alicante." Max was perched on the sofa's backrest. His drink came precariously close to ending up in his mother's hair as he gestured. "There's a restricted section that has some inquisition rooms, record storage and things – and a stairwell down to the City of Bones."

Alec looked from Izzy to Clary and back. They knew that stairwell.

"I'll assume you want Clary on your team," he said to his sister. "I'll need her to drop us off in the record room first."

Isabelle nodded curtly. "I need a portal to get to the mountains outside the Citadel. I can guide people through."

"I'll get you a warlock for it," Magnus promised. While he didn't say so, his statement suggested clearly enough that he was intending to be with the other group and therefore couldn't open one of his own. "Do you need to take her along to have a way back?"

"No." The young woman turned to where the Bard and Dragon were sitting. "I'll need Charlie anyway."

Simon and Maia were looking back and forth between the siblings, suddenly smirking at Alec's expression. He'd been hoping to have her along, too.

"Reminds me of picking teams in middle school," Simon muttered to chuckles of agreement from the present Gales.

"Look," Izzy explained, "We're going in basically through – above – the front door, into a place with about twenty of the most highly trained fighters of our kind. Those will be twenty immensely pissed off women with a stash of the best sword and other weapons available. Even if we could conceivably kill them all, I really don't want to. I need Charlie's lullabies."

"Can Charlie put twenty Iron Sisters to sleep?" Hodge inquired, unconvinced.

"Charlie put several apartment blocks worth of people to sleep in one go once," his wife informed him. "She'll be fine."

"If you have Charlie," Alec determined, "then I need to keep Clary and some chalk. We need the Wood to get away."

Magnus studied his empty glass. "Actually, we don't," he said. "We know where we're going once inside. That part of the City of Bones isn't under the portaling shields of Alicante. The reason we can't portal in isn't that the City is shielded in the strict sense. It's that it's warped in space too much to connect to all those exits all over the world to give you a proper place to portal to. We'll be able to portal  out just fine."

 

Alicante

As agreed, Clary had dropped them off in the court records room through the large watercolor with Imogen's signature on it.

Standing between shelves upon shelves of file folders, Alec nodded at his team. It was night outside in Alicante, but the Silent Brothers did not sleep. They had to expect encounters, and they had to expect that it would take them a while to get where they had to be.

A distraction would have been nice, but that was difficult to come by right then.

Their primary weapon would be Magnus, whose magic would hopefully be able to knock out any Silent Brother who stood in their way. As a backup, they had blades, coated in poisons collected from the Gale Aunties. A small nick with those would drop the target into a long, deep slumber. They didn't want to bring the entire order down on them by killing one of theirs. They could have used some from the poison stack Jace had received for his last birthday, but they didn't want to use something that might be tracked back to Imogen.

Jace looked around with interest that seemed out of place to Alec. It took a second before he remembered that his parabatai had never been here before. The other times he, Izzy and Clary had rummaged around in this part of the library, eventually stealing  the old handwritten journal of David the Silent himself, Jace had been stuck in a hospital bed, supposedly injured beyond repair.

Hodge and Chris were giving the room a more perfunctory inspection, checking only to make sure they were alone. Magnus had already moved to the door to carefully probe through it with his magic to see if the corridor was clear.

The last of their team was Graham Gale, former bodyboard and assassin. He was their wildest card, shouldering a rifle. It was the only weapon they had brought that was meant strictly to kill. He had instructions not to use it unless there was no other choice, but there was no doubt that if the situation arose that they were pushed into a corner and had to choose between their lives or the Brothers', he would make good use of it. Even without the firearm, Graham would have been a force to be reckoned with. Like their own, his body was a weapon in its own right, his fighting skills right on par with most of their kind.

At Magnus' nod, Alec gestured, and the men filed out into the corridor, silently gliding down its length to the stairwell that led into the darkness.

They fell into a pattern easily, advancing and guarding in turns, moving from corner to corner, from junction of corridor to junction of corridor, their senses as alert as they could be.

Alec felt the moment they passed the borders of Alicante. He had gathered as much of the energy around him into himself as he could to sharpen his senses. Moving out of range of whatever was leeching away the power, the flow suddenly intensified and he had to tune it down to keep his wings from springing out.

He felt Jace's mental nod. His parabatai had noticed it, too.

Magic was sparkling around Magnus' fingertips now, ready to turn into a spell. Getting closer to the core of the City meant a greater risk of meeting one of its inhabitants.

The Nephilim didn't speak a word, but their hands flashed in silent communication every now and then, quickly coordinating where they were going.

They'd been there once before. It had been in a different universe, a different timeline, but they had every reason to assume that the location was the same in their own.

Down they went as they found another set of stairs, and down again. Christopher nodded at Alec's questioning look. This should be the level on which they needed to be.

It was a good thing that the City of Bones was large, and the Brothers few. They made it far without encountering another living soul.

When they did, it was a solitary Brother, moving so silently with his runes that even their enhanced senses had not spotted them until he was almost upon them, walking out of a corridor branching into the one they were in. It wasn't hard to guess what he was looking for. They weren't wearing quietude runes, and while the soles of their boots were soft, their footsteps were audible.

Hodge and Jace moved the fastest, almost in perfect unison.

The Brother brought up his staff, deflecting blade and chakram.

Without taking the time to think, Jace half-pivoted to get behind the robed man. His arm went up and around his throat, pinning him against his own body as Hodge engaged that staff again, this time aiming to wrench it away from its wielder.

Jace's left hand brought the tip of his dagger to his captive's throat.

"Not a word," he hissed. "If you call for help, I'll cut you."

He should have done so anyway, but he felt oddly reluctant. Part of it was life-long conditioning. Nephilim do not hurt Nephilim. Silent Brothers were a special kind of sacred.

But there was also something else.

The man in his grip wasn't struggling. From the moment he had slipped his arm around the Brother's neck, he'd stood perfectly still, merely holding on to his staff but making no attempt to strike back at Hodge.

Alec, following the line of thought, took a step forward, trying to study the face under the hood. Strange, he thought for a moment, that he would go hooded even within his own home.

I'm not your enemy, a mind-voice sounded. I could have called my brothers when I heard you. I did not. Whatever you are doing down here – you must be gone before anyone else notices.

"Take off his hood." That was Magnus, speaking in a whisper. He'd moved to Alec's left side as Christopher had stepped closer on his right, leaving only Graham standing at a small distance. He held his weapon seemingly at ease, though everyone who knew him also knew that he could bright it up and shoot in a fraction of a second. He wouldn't have to aim. Graham was a man of many talents, but missing a target was not one of them.

Jace moved his dagger, hooking it into the fabric of the hood and pulling it back.

Alec almost gasped at the sight. This was a Silent Brother unlike any he had seen before. His eyes and lips were closed, but not mutilated. The reason why he had kept his hood up was clear, too: that face, so strangely undamaged and normal for one of his kind, was topped by a head of silvery-white hair streaked with black. They would have spotted that at a distance if he hadn't walked right into them anyway.

"Brother Zachariah," Magnus said, his voice still low.

The Silent Brother nodded against Jace's arm.

You can let go of me, Herondale, he informed him. I will not run.

Jace looked at Alec for guidance, who in turn frowned in his boyfriend's direction. Magnus clearly knew this man.

There was a brief nod. The magic around Magnus' fingers had receded somewhat. He wasn't in battle-ready mode anymore. Whatever past the two had, he trusted Zachariah.

Slowly, reluctantly, Jace moved away, though he kept his dagger raised. "It's Lightwood," he hissed between his teeth.

You move as if you know where you're going, Zachariah told them, ignoring the correction. I may be able to get you there faster.

"Lead, then," Alec said. His voice was low, but stony. "And if you're leading us into a trap, I promise Graham will shoot you first."

"If he's leading us into a trap, he'll know what a warlock's disappointment feels like," Magnus said. "But I do not think that he will."

 

July 4th, 2017
The Adamant Citadel

Izzy moved forward the moment she emerged from the portal, Charlie in tow, to make space for Clary, Helen and Aline. She had been relieved when Lydia had offered to replace their friend in New York instead of joining them, citing that she was still weakened and might be a liability if a fight did happen after all. She hadn't looked forward to being the one to point that out if the older woman insisted.

She'd briefly considered taking some women from New York, or her mother, or even Charlie's sisters on their trip. All of them would have been fighters to be reckoned with.

In the end, however, she had decided against it. She didn't want her mother in danger, or this close to the large amount of adamas all over the Citadel, given her pregnancy. Maryse had only nodded when she'd read out her list, not questioning or otherwise commenting on it.

Everyone else she could have taken lacked the one thing that would get them into the premises: Wings.

Certainly, they could carry someone in flight. But it would slow them down and reduce their maneuverability. They didn't know if Charlie would be able to follow them inside through the Wood even, or if the Citadel was protected against that. It wasn't the time to find out, and carrying along one passenger would still leave them in a better position than carrying four. They were planning to avoid a fight anyway, which meant that a larger number of warriors would not be of much help.

The portal winked out of existence. With its light gone, they had only the stars and moon to show them the way. It was quite enough with the addition of a quick NightSight charm.

Izzy looked over her team one last time. Though the loss of their personalized things in the prison of Alicante meant that they had to resort to their former, more generic equipment, everyone wore gear, which would force them to  stick with the lesser form of their wings. Luckily, it only made a difference in terms of how impressive they looked, and not in how well they could use them.

"We land as close inside the inner wall as we can," Izzy said. "I don't want them to try and pluck us out of the sky with arrows, and I'd rather have Charlie in a playable position when we encounter them. Ready?"

She waited for their nods before she opened herself to the power around her—

--and clamped down on the flow again immediately.

"Wow," Clary breathed, her face suddenly tense.

"Something wrong?" Charlie had gone into her ready position, hands on the strings.

Izzy took in a breath and released it slowly, waiting for the pressure along her back to ease. "Not really. There's just a lot more energy here than we expected. Let's try this again. Carefully".

This time, she opened only a fraction of the conduct she usually used, letting the power trickle in.

Misty wings slowly unfolded, growing and spreading until they had reached their full span.

"We need to get clothes like the angels wore," Clary determined as she followed suit. "With space for wings."

"Put it on your shopping list or send a request to Santa for Christmas," Charlie suggested. "I'm sure we can find some Christmas elf somewhere who can get you some."

"Maybe by Christmas we can use Imogen's supplier," the redhead returned.

Aline and Helen both carefully flexed their wings, lifting themselves off the ground slightly before touching down again. They'd had less practice than Izzy and Clary, and from the looks on their faces, use of the extra limbs still felt a bit awkward to them.

"Given the climb, flying will be faster than walking. Charlie, you ride with Clary," Izzy determined.

That, too, was only logical. Out of the four of them, Clary was the only one not trained in ranged weapons. Even Izzy's whip had a larger reach than Clary's sword.

A moment later, they took off, four shapes quickly making their way up the slope, skimming close to the ground to avoid discovery.

Following Izzy, they swerved away from the path at the last turn, speeding towards the wall, rather than the gate.

Once there, powerful wingbeats let them rise as steeply as they could. They still weren't built for vertical flight, but all four of them mastered the change of direction smoothly, following the adamas obstacle.

The wall in itself was all the outer defense the Citadel had. Between its physical location being unknown to most – Izzy wondered briefly if Graham had ever managed to locate the place in the old drawing she'd found – the near-indestructibility of the material and the way the gate worked, along with the fact that the area inside housed some of the best fighters of their species, it probably didn't need anything else.

Still, seeing the wall from the top, and realizing that it simply ended there, without any sort of defensive structure or even a walk behind battlements, felt oddly disappointing.

Scanning the area, she found a place just inside the barriers of blades meant to stop any unbidden or undesired visitor, and pointed to where she wanted them to land.

She folded her wings, but didn't let them go when she was firmly back on the ground. The others followed her example.

The heightened awareness that came from channeling the power told her more about the premises than any books could. She could smell the adamas around her. There also was another, moister smell, with an acidic tinge to it. That must be the pond the Iron Sisters used to test those who would enter.

Today, they wouldn't care. If any trace of venom remaining in her body disrupted the work inside the Citadel, or the presence of Helen, who carried Seelie blood in her veins, did the same – well, that wasn't their problem today.

The wind sounded differently in here, hemmed in by the high walls as it was. She hadn't spared a thought for the Iron Sisters' gardening skills during her previous visit, but now, glancing down, she realized the grass wasn't like any she had ever seen in this world before.

Not unlike any she had ever seen, though. Surrounded by adamas, constantly exposed to it even though the magic that released the bulk of the radiation was missing, the growth covering the ground had changed to resemble the plants they had found in the untended parts of the angels' home dimension.

She could tell that Clary had noticed, too.

Straining her ears, she found that she could not determine the presence of anything their size that didn't belong to their group. If the Iron Sisters were all safely asleep, all Charlie would have to do was to keep them that way.

Would the entrance to the Citadel be locked?

Given that people weren't usually expecting visitors to come flying over the wall, disregarding their carefully crafted trick entrance, she had hopes that it was not.

Izzy gestured, mutely indicating to the other to follow, to Charlie to be on alert.

Silently, they crept forward, Jack-made boots disturbing the ground far less than store-bought or custom-produced footwear would have.

They filed up the steps, leaving their front as small as possible in case those large doors opened to spit out some angry women in robes.

One last look was exchanged between them. Then Izzy and Aline placed their flat hands on the door and pushed.

It swung open on well-oiled hinges, revealing a large hall with a mosaic-tiled floor and high white walls, and arches leading to corridors that would take them more deeply into the Citadel.

They could see all of that clearly because the lights were not out. Izzy blinked, reducing the power of the charms she wore to keep from being blinded.

Some of the Iron Sisters may have been asleep, but not all of them were. Three women, all with the ageless look of the order, wearing their white habits tied with a simple dark cord at the waist, swords serenely clasped in their hands, were waiting for them.

Charlie touched her fingertips to the strings of her guitar.

The middle one of the three women across from them, her hair white and her face wrinkled enough that she must have  joined after she had turned too old to fight, stepped forward.

Chapter Text

Charlie's hand was on the strings, but she didn't pluck them.

The Iron Sister had taken a single step and stopped, her sword still in her hands, the tip still pointing straight to the ground.

Sister Dolores, Clary remembered. The old Sister's name was Sister Dolores.

"There's no hostility." Charlie's voice was low, pitched to not carry beyond their group. "They're about as tense as the crowd before a concert when they know you had to replace your most important musician on last notice and the replacement might be great or might be terrible, but they're not threatening."

Izzy was standing ready, a twitch of her muscles all it would take to let her whip flow into her hand. The others had their hands on the hilts of their weapons, though none of them had drawn.

It was one of the younger Iron Sisters who spoke first. Younger-looking, Clary corrected herself. As with the Silent Brothers, taking the runes that made them part of their order turned them virtually immortal. They arrested their aging process the day they took the first rune of their new life.

Or maybe that wasn't how it went at all. Maybe instead, the runes of their order simply protected them from the continued effect of their steles.

In any case, the youngest-looking one of the three could easily be centuries older than Dolores.

"She needs to leave." The speaker was a woman with bronzed skin and dark hair braided in many thin strands. Her lips were the only thing that moved, but her eyes rested firmly on their leader. "We know she is tainted. Her presence will spoil the work underway—"

Dolores shot her a cool look. "I believe we have greater issues than having to restart a blade or two here." She turned to Izzy. "Have you come to commit a murder, or to prevent one?"

"The latter," Izzy replied. She hadn't shifted or relaxed. Her voice was cautious, and Clary could see by the way she held her head that she kept every sense wide open, taking in as much information as she could. "Where are the other Sisters?"

The old woman sighed. "At work. Preparing for the worst tomorrow. Which may not need to happen now. I will not ask you how you knew. But I'm glad you had the courage to come."

"Are you telling us that you will not keep us from taking what we came for? Who we came for?"

Sister Dolores glanced at the women by her side. "I'm telling you that Sister Bethany and Sister Salome will show you the way."

Aline and Helen had tensed more than Clary would have expected. Izzy wasn't moving either. There seemed to be something going on she went beyond her limited familiarity with the order.

One thing was clear, though: Both their companions were much better at respecting rank than the four of them were among themselves. If it had been them, with Alec in the lead, everyone would have jumped in and simply spoken what was on their minds long before this.

"You would let us into the Citadel, breaking your own laws?" Izzy's words came slowly and carefully, and stayed just this side of accusing them of laying a trap.

"The way I understand it, you would have gone in anyway," Sister Dolores informed her coolly. "And it may be breaking the law, but so is taking up arms against our own. If crime one prevents the other, I know which one I will choose to commit."

She wasn't talking about them and keeping them out of the fortress that was the citadel, Clary realized. These women had been prepared to stand and defend the life of their order's founder.

"Very well." Izzy could have sounded more convinced, but she took a step forward, then another, and gestured for her team to follow. "Lead the way."

Sister Bethany and Sister Salome retreated, placing their swords into a rack at the far wall.

"You're not taking those?" Clary asked in surprise, realizing only as she caught Aline's eyes that she had just done the very thing she had noted the other two avoiding.

"Do we need them?" Bethany asked.

"I certainly hope not," Izzy returned.

*

Then they were walking through corridors tiled in shining white stone slabs, through a keep much larger than what was needed to house less than two dozen women.

Had they thought that they would be using all this space one day when they had first designed the building? Or was it just that both of the special Shadowhunter orders liked to think big? The City of Bones, after all, was large enough that the Silent Brothers could probably all wander it for days without encountering another of their kind.

"Whatever happen now, things will change," Sister Salome said as they turned to descend a set of stairs, witchlight lamps seemingly made brighter by their reflection on the polished tile.

"What do you mean?" Izzy asked. Her tone was one of polite curiosity. The statement itself seemed obvious enough, but she did not want to provide the Iron Sisters with information they did not have to share.

"Have you ever wondered why the Iron Sisters live so remotely?" came the response. "Why we rarely ever talk to those outside of our order and that of the Silent Brothers, and never to men? Why visitors are so strictly regulated that they never see more than one or two of us?"

"I assumed it was part of your vows."

"It is," Sister Bethany observed. "And she's breaking it right now."

Salome shot her look that said "Whatever" more than any words could have. To Izzy, she responded: "It is indeed. But why did they put it there?" She turned to glance at all of them, mutely inviting everyone to participate.

"To avoid distraction and temptation," Aline said. "And to protect from interference of other – mostly male – Shadowhunters. It's not a secret."

Bethany shook her head without looking at any of them. Salome gave a sound that might have once intended to become a laugh, but died half-way.

"It isn't carnal temptation they mean. When a woman joins our order, she receives a rune that halts her deterioration and freezes her state as it is. She receives a new stele to mark her entrance into the order. She learns the truth bit by bit as she progresses in the craft and advances in the order. We do not convey a sudden burst of knowledge as our Brothers do, because we have no runes to lock the knowledge inside. It would not be much good. The adamas we work changes us. The runes, the purification rituals initiates go through, the strict regulation of our work – that's not to protect the adamas we work from impurity. It's to protect us from a radiation death."

"Salome," Bethany warned. "I do not think we are supposed to share that."

"I don't think I'm telling them much they didn't know already," Salome returned. "To remove their runes – to reverse the damage done to them to the point of full power – they must have known what they were doing."

"I'll admit we didn't learn all of what we were doing until after we did it," Izzy offered, "but it is true that we know what adamas is, and does. We know what demons are. We know that we were meant as nothing but tools. Dispensable tools."

Salome nodded to herself. Bethany's shoulders had tightened. She didn't look back.

"A Silent Brother is rendered unable to speak of what he knows to anyone outside of his order, even in his mind. We are bound only by vows," Sister Salome continued to elaborate. "Since the time of our founding, only three Sisters had the full knowledge of all that passed and knew the true nature of our creators."

"Stop that," Bethany hissed at her. "You might as well invite them to read the Charter if you continue."

The other Sister's voice was nonchalant. "I don't have to. They know what's in it. They're not being hunted the way they are for stealing a journal and learning about adamas."

"The three with full knowledge - that is you and Sister Dolores?" Clary asked, interrupting their exchange.

"That was us and Sister Dolores." That was Bethany, her voice bordering on dejected. "Until a few hours ago, when there was a meeting that called for the deaths of Abigail and David Shadowhunter. The Brothers were divided, everyone else was in agreement – we on one side, the others on the other. We do not have the least doubt what the decision will be come morning."

"And so," Salome said into the moment of silence that followed.

Bethany sighed, a quick gesture silencing her companion. "And so," she repeated, "Dolores walked into the mess hall, where everyone was gathered, and stood at the lectern and told them all of it. Even if nothing else happens tomorrow, it is now only a matter of time until that breach becomes know, and we will become an order of outlaws."

"It may not have been what you signed up for," the other Sister said, "but it is what you are getting. Deal with it – or go hibernate and hope the world is a better place by the time you wake, if you ever do."

There didn't seem to be a great lot of love lost between those two, which was strangely reassuring. It certainly seemed like the Iron Sisters retained a lot more of their humanity than the Silent Brothers did.

"We're here," Bethany announced as they entered a corridor that was darker than the others, the lamps placed at much longer intervals and the walls and floor less polished. It wasn't an unpleasant place, but rather suggested the dimmed lighting of an area meant for rest.

As she drew her stele, Izzy wondered what it would look like through Alec's magic vision. A second later, she realized that she didn't need her brother for that. He had caught the skill from Charlie back when she had been in contact with his life force to save Magnus.

She turned to the Bard, who had been following in silence, though attentively taking in everything around them. "Is that better than ours?"

Charlie didn't need any elaboration. She nodded. "Much."

So the Iron Sisters were not ageless because they took runes to make them so. They were ageless because they stopped damaging themselves every day.

Ignoring their exchange, Bethany swiped her stele over the place in a heavy door that should have housed the lock. It was smooth and gave no indication of being different from the wood around it in any manner, but there must have been some magic to it. The door sprang open a crack.

"Have you ever woken someone after they went dormant?" Charlie asked before they could push the door open farther.

Izzy found herself frowning. There was something in her friend's voice that sounded off. Was she expecting an attack now?

"Never," Salome said. "Were you going to wake her up?"

"We weren't going to abduct someone in their sleep." Izzy informed her. It wasn't quite true. In their original plan, they would have done precisely that, and then woken the first Iron Sister to coordinate with her as soon as they had reached safety. With the situation already safe, a small change of the sequence seemed to be in order.

Bethany  favored them with a dubious look. "You'll have to reconsider that."

"I've woken people after they were knocked out, drugged, spelled, drunk into a stupor and even my cousin in plenty of time to get him to school," Charlie informed her. "We can handle this." She made no move to get closer to the door.

"If you wake her, and if she could be convinced to stay and once again join us in what is ahead, would you let her?" Salome's voice sounded hopeful.

There was a shrug from Izzy. "I'm not in the habit of telling people who are not under my command what to do. We'll have to get her into a state in which we can talk to her first, though."

Putting her had against the door, Bethany gave the wood a firm push.

It swung inwards, clearing their view of a small cell, holding only a cot that didn't even look too uncomfortable. Runes of preservation and protection lined every surface. The fabric on the mattress was shiny and so finely woven it had to be either the best silk available or Seelie-made.

Bethany had frozen where she stood. Salome had clapped one hand to her mouth as her other went up to find the door frame as if her knees had suddenly gone weak.

"Is there any chance this is the wrong room?" Izzy asked, scanning the small square as if there was any place in it that could conceal a body-sized object.

Bethany shook her head mutely.

"Then I guess we're too late," Charlie said. She hadn't even moved to join them in staring at an empty cell. In fact, out of all of them, the Bard seemed to be the least surprised by the turn of events. "Looks like she's already awake."

 

The City of Bones

Brother Zachariah led them down a set of side corridors. Twice he stopped them, a finger on his lips suggesting absolute silence. They froze, waiting tense and ready but obedient, until he moved forward again. They never saw what caused his warnings, but for the moment, Alec was going to assume that it was a matter of avoiding some of the other men who lived down here.

Brothers, he silently corrected himself. According to all that he knew, they no longer truly qualified as men in their own eyes.

They reached the corridor they had aimed for faster than they had expected.

Where the rest of the Silent City that they had seen so far was a dim and bare place, this part of it seemed even less well maintained. The walls were bare stone, the doors set in them at intervals rough wood.

I cannot tell you which cell it is, Zachariah informed them silently. I don't have that knowledge, and I cannot retrieve it without giving you away.

"Never mind." Alec was already moving to one of the doors, seemingly randomly placed along the corridor. "We know."

They had come here by accident, back when they had visited Christopher and Sebastian's home dimension. That version of the Silent City had been destroyed, its inhabitants killed. The Brothers lying dormant had been murdered where they slept as well, but one of those deaths had been different from the others.

All of them had come to a violent end, but only one had looked as if he'd been torn to pieces. As if someone, or something, had released all their hatred against the Nephilim on that one sleeper.

There was no reason to doubt who that had been. Unless the sleeping Brothers were randomly shuffled at intervals, there also was no reason to assume they wouldn't find him in that same cell.

Alec sketched an unlocking charm onto the door and pushed it open, then followed up with a light one on the inside of the wall.

The cell brightened up obediently, the sudden glare showing them bare, dark walls of a room just large enough to house a single cot and a little space for a man to stand in front of it.

"I guess one of these runes makes it unnecessary for a novice to go through here and activate everyone's iratzes every few days," Jace mused as he studied the black lines etched into the visible parts of the cot. "I could have done with a few of those last year."

"You did fine last year," Alec shot back. He took in the sleeping figure.

There were many drawings of Jonathan Shadowhunter, fewer of Abigail and David. Jonathan's depictions differed so much from artist to artist that they must have sprung from imagination only. David and Abigail were a little more consistent, in keeping with the fact that they had lived for centuries after their friend and brother was gone. They would have been seen by more people – or David, in any case. Had the Iron Sisters always been as isolated as they were now? Alec made a mental note to ask Izzy when they returned.

Actually, he would probably be able to ask Abigail.

He shook his head at himself a second later. He could ask David, even.

Like Zachariah, David did not fit the usual pattern of a Silent Brother entirely. Still, he was much closer to the standard appearance than their strange guide. His lips and eyes were closed with sutures of runes. The thing that stood out the most was that he was the only Silent Brother Alec had ever seen who was bearded.

That brought another thought on its heels. It seemed that hair and beard did not grow any longer once a person went dormant. Or maybe it had something to do with the arrested aging of the Silent Brothers? Was this the state David had been in the day he took the runes?

He was dressed in the robes of his order, his hands folded over his chest. His face looked serene in spite of the black marks.

"A shame we have to wake him up," Christopher said, echoing Alec's thoughts. "He looks quite content."

If you wake him, Zachariah's voice sounded sharply, cautioning them, all my Brothers will be upon you in an instant. We are connected in our minds. They will feel his rousing.

"If that is true, why are they not here already?" Jace asked suspiciously. "They must know what you are doing."

My bond to them is not as close as it should be, came the answer. There was a strange tone to  it, half thankful, half wistful and more than a little defiant. And I have plenty of practice in locking them out. I assure you, I am the worst-behaved Silent Brother that has ever existed. I've had no wish to be punished every time I broke the rules.

Given the way Magnus was smirking now, he knew exactly what Zachariah was talking about. Alec bookmarked that question for later.

"Will they notice if he stops being a Silent Brother?"

There was a long silence as Zachariah's face grew thoughtful. Though his eyes were always closed, his posture and expression suggested that he was probing inside him. Was he feeling down whatever line connected the Brothers to see how much he could get from David?

I do not think so, he said eventually. If it happens before he becomes aware.

"Magnus."

Alec stepped aside to let his boyfriend into the cell. There was barely space for three of them to stand between the wall with the door and the cot.

Gathering his magic, Magnus once again shaped the spell that would erase the runes from a person's skin, breaking the hold they had on them.

Zachariah watched, as far as any Silent Brother could be said to watch anything, with an expression of fascination. However the Silent Brothers saw through their closed or removed eyes, he certainly was able to follow what was going on.

The runes gone, David remained as asleep as he had been.

"Time to wake up," Alec muttered.

"Do you want the honors?" Magnus offered, stepping back as far as the cramped space permitted him.

Alec wouldn't have minded if he had simply finished what he had started, but he wasn't going to argue. Opening himself farther, he allowed enough power to flow through him to give any charm he drew a boost that would hopefully suffice to break through whatever magic remained on his target. He could feel his wings unfold, though he made sure to keep them insubstantial.

He bent forward, fingers gently tracing a wake-up charm on the back of the sleeping man's hand.

For a moment, nothing happened.

Then David's chest, previously almost motionless with the shallowest of breaths, heaved in a massive intake of air.

His eyes flew open, confused for a moment, then incredulous as he scrambled into a sitting position, then widening even further in a shock that bordered on panic.

His lips moved soundlessly, and his hands flew to his face as the facts of sight and his ability to open his mouth registered. 

"My name is Alexander Lightwood," Alec said, speaking slowly and calmly in the language of Idris. "I apologize for scaring you. I'm sorry we're barging in here like this, but it was a matter of life or death. Please." He extended a hand slightly. "Let us go where we can properly explain."

It took another moment for David to find his voice. When he did, it sounded rough, though not from disuse, but with terror barely kept in check.

"What have you done?" he asked. His eyes were firmly glued on the white mass rising over Alec's shoulders. "Every sacrifice ever made – in vain. You have destroyed us all."

"Not necessarily." Alec was thinking fast. They couldn't stay here and explain everything. They couldn't waste the time it would surely take to get David to understand that they had options that he had never had. "But we will be in great trouble if we linger. Please. Come with us. There's already talk of killing you to make sure the knowledge you have inside you dies."

For a moment, the look on David's face suggested that he would simply lean back and close his eyes again, waiting for the inevitable to come.

Then he shook himself. Moving slowly, as if still not quite awake, he slid his legs off the cot and onto the packed dirt floor. Magnus, Alec and Zachariah moved to make space for him. He frowned at the strange Brother, but said nothing as he followed them into the corridor.

"How do we get where we are going?" he asked. There was no true interest in his voice. He was already resigned to whatever fate they had planned for him. It made Alec wonder why he didn't just insist they leave him.

Did he have reason to believe that his death, no matter the method or context, would still have consequences for others?

"We'll portal," Alec explained. "It's a means of travel devised after you went to sleep. It is perfectly safe. You simply hold on to me and I will guide you through."

David nodded mutely. He gave the others, waiting outside his cubicle, only the most cursory of glances. Graham's rifle brought a small frown. "How much time has passed?"

"It's the year 2017," Jace answered, faster than his parabatai, who was trying to do the math.

Strangely, that seemed to give David some reassurance. Maybe he thought that a thousand years were enough time for the Nephilim to exist.

As Magnus raised his hand for the portal, Zachariah stepped forward.

Please, his voice sounded in their heads. Take me as well. Do with me what you did with him, and allow me to use the portal, even if you will not let me come with you.

"You're welcome to come along," Alec heard himself say before he had made a conscious decision. Only then did he realize that Magnus was shaking his head.

"I can't remove your runes," he said. There was a deep sadness in his voice. "It'd be your death."

I am dead either way, Zachariah declared. When they get here, and realize what happened, they will know I had a part in this. There will only be one way for them to deal with me after that.

He stepped between Alec and Jace, focusing on Magnus. Please, Magnus. Let me die on my own terms. As a free man.

Magnus' eyes closed for a long moment as he fought to keep his emotions under control.

"Oh, Jem." His voice choked on the second syllable. Then, with a single step forward, he closed the distance between him and the robed man, pulling him into a firm embrace. His fingers moved, magic flowing from them.

This time, Alec could see the moment the spell took effect as Brother Zachariah – Jem? – sagged against Magnus. The black was fading from his hair, leaving behind only a silvery white as he watched.

One arm around his old friend, keeping him upright against himself, Magnus freed his other for the portal spell.

 

 Another Dimension

For the last centuries, life had been simple: a string of days, spent in the safety of a fixed routine, the most notable interruptions the irregular visits from their creator. They would bask in his attention when he graced them with his presence. He loved them, for what they represented, for the services they had done for him, and for more…

They were safe. They were comfortable. Had she been asked, she would have said that they were happy.

Life had not always been that way. She knew that much, even when she did not remember the details. Sometimes, a memory would be jogged by a random comment, a combination or words, an image… it never stayed for long. She sent those flashes on their way speedily. They made her head hurt when she allowed them to linger.

They made her feel …

She would have said: sad. Today, she thought that 'disgusted' came closer to the truth, though the mere possibility that she would feel that had seemed too far removed from reality as much as a week ago.

Then the strangers had shown up, and that had marked the beginning of the end to all serenity she'd had. Not the first group – that had been easy enough to deal with. But the second, looking for the first? That had been a different matter altogether.

She thought she still felt the lingering traces of the headache from when they had interrogated her.

She'd asked their bard for a song, and a song she had gotten. And on the heels of the song had come memories. Not immediately, not in a rush, but in a trickle, spread out over days, working their way in here and there. And they had come to stay. There was no discarding them this time.

There was no way to get past what they made her feel this time either: not sadness, but disgust at what she had become.

She looked around herself once again. It took an effort to believe what she remembered to be true. Not the old-yet-new memories. Those felt solid enough. It was the time between that seemed unreal.

Her room, in her creator's home, was far more comfortably furnished than most servants' accommodations. She had a desk, and shelves of books, though she read only rarely. In fact, in spite of working at a library, she couldn't remember that she had read a single book since her arrival here.

That couldn’t be right. Surely you couldn’t go working in a place dedicated to books for hundreds of years and never pick up a single one of them?

Yet the memories she had of those years suggested differently. Had she gone for so long alternating only between sleep and work, with the time between spent on necessities such as food and quick baths?

Oh, she'd been outside a few times when sent on errands. She'd trained some servants in other homes even. But all of that was work. Why was there a chess set in her room, which she dutifully cleaned along with everything else that she had, if she never played?

Just now, as she had opened her wardrobe and reached inside to take out the things she wore to work, she had realized that those were the only things she ever took out and put on. Her wardrobe was full of dresses and robes, trousers and shirts, and she had no memory of ever even touching any of them other than the loose trousers and tunic that were her uniform.

Somehow, that realization had been the last tap needed to make the walls crumble.

That in turn had led to her being late for breakfast – for the first time in centuries – because she was now sitting on her bed fully dressed, albeit not in her proper things, but in black leggings and a loose white dress that could have been belted at the waist to form it into a different kind of tunic, had she had a matching belt for it. The one that went with her usual things looked and felt too wrong on this.

"She was right," a male voice sounded from the direction of her door, speaking a language she had not heard for as long as she had lived in this house. "This is not a very nice place."

Looking up, she took in her brother. He wore black, which connected to more memories – memories that made the absence of a blade on his belt painful to look at.

She shifted wordlessly, making space for him to sit next to her. Had he ever been in her room before? She couldn't for the life of her picture what his looked like, which made her reasonably sure that she'd never been in his.

He closed the door behind him before he came over.

"What have we done?" The words felt strange in her mouth, after speaking their creator's tongue for so long.

He needed no further explanation. They had always been close, had always understood each other almost telepathically even long before they had acquired powers their peers would have called unnatural. No such skill was needed now. He'd been there. He'd been part of it. "We didn't know any better."

She held his eyes, seeing in their depths that he was thinking the same thing as she. "But we did."

Silence stretched between them.

Eventually, he spoke again. "Do you think there's a chance that they … lived?"

She wanted to lie to him. He was her little brother, even now. It made no difference if they were ten, lost in the forests around their home, or seventeen, running from the site of an accidental death too easily pronounced murder by witchcraft, or thirty, and fighting demons side by side, or centuries, and just rousing from a pleasant dream that in retrospect turned out to be a nightmare.

She couldn't. She shook her head slowly.

"Why do they do this?" he asked. "In all your years… did you ever guess they could be like this?"

More memories rushed in, filling the holes still remaining, each of them striking home hard. She swallowed. "I knew. I knew most of it since the day I left you to lead our people on your own."

"Did David—?"

"Hans," she started. Even now, some things were not hers to share.

His hand on her arm stopped her. "That is not my name." He spoke calmly, merely presenting facts. "It stopped being my name when we were seventeen years old and swore allegiance to the Angels by the banks of Lake Lyn. Did David know?"

Her sigh sounded painful even in her own ears. She closed her eyes as she nodded, not ready to see the betrayal in his. "He knew. He knew long before me. He knew them for what they were: vicious creatures, no better than the demons we hunted in their name. I had suspected for a long time. He sent his journal to me before he went to sleep. That was when I knew for certain."

"He never told me." The last time she had heard him sound so lost had been the day his best friend had first abandoned him, severing the bond between them and retreating from the world. "You never told me."

"By the time I knew enough to have to make that decision, you were gone," she reminded him. "And he was protecting us. Do you remember the time before—before he took his new runes? Do you remember his pain?"

A slow nod preceded the answer. "Every time he went out, I was afraid he'd return only as a dead body. Or worse, not return at all, that he would simply disappear, never to be found. I never knew what happened. I felt his shock that day, but you know he refused to speak of it. And—after the first time, I did not have it in me to demand an answer from him. The horror I felt from him when I asked… Once was enough."

She took a moment to sort her thoughts, trying to decide what to share, and what to keep to herself.

"Do you take me for a coward now?" he asked into the silence.

"Never."

He chuckled. "You really never did. And yet you always were the braver one between us, on the day we met that warlock in the woods, and when we were left with the task of building an army of a sort unknown to mankind before, in a country that never existed, with just the three of us and more warlocks, and again when you gathered your friends and left us, so you could make sure that we would never be without the means to defend ourselves when supplies from our creator dwindled out and we were expected to become self-sufficient. You should have led our people, not I."

"Now don't be ridiculous." She rose, crossing the room to her wardrobe once more. She vaguely remembered the contents of a drawer…

Her brother watched her from where he was sitting, his arms crossed over his chest. "We're dead, aren't we?"

"If by 'dead' you mean that we didn’t leave our home world by ship or on horseback, you're certainly right." That was true at least as far as he was concerned. Regarding herself, she wasn't so sure. She remembered lying down to sleep in a cell under the Adamant Citadel, built specifically for those tired of life and ready to retire.

She finally snatched a length of black leather out of the drawer and started cinching it around her waist, adjusting the fit until she had recreated the attire of her order, the manner of dress that she had worn for the greatest part of her life back home, as closely as she could.

He hadn't meant that, and she could tell it from the look he gave her as she turned to face him once again.

"Yeah," she confirmed. "That, too."

He looked as if he was about to say something else. He didn't get the opportunity.

Without a warning knock, the door was pulled open. In light of the fact that four red-robed figures with short swords suspended from their belts were standing outside, it seemed downright ridiculous that the first thing that came to her mind was stark disbelief at how long she had lived here without realizing that the door to her room didn't lock.

"You are required downstairs," the first of the group said.

They didn't ask for what. Reminding servants that they had missed breakfast didn't require an involvement of the army. Neither did sending them on an errand.

"Change into proper clothing before you come. What will the Lord Raziel say if he sees you like this?"

"It was good enough for Raziel for centuries," she shot back, the language that of their creators – their captors – but the words finally her own and the tone one of pure defiance. "It will be good enough for him today."

The red-robed angel's eyes narrowed. His voice was a hiss. "Who do you think you are? You should be on your knees begging his forgiveness and hope he reconsiders your destruction."

Catching and holding his eyes was a feat that required some effort. There was power in them, and he felt every bit like a predator ready to pounce on them.

Her brother had  risen as well, standing as if ready to launch himself into a brawl.

"I am Jonathan Shadowhunter," he declared. "I have died before. It holds no fear for me."

A few steps brought her to her brother's side, while her gaze never left the angel's face.

"I am Abigail Shadowhunter, wife of David, first of the Iron Sisters," she added. "I am sworn to protect those unable to protect themselves against the forces that would invade their homes. If any of that is now a crime, then we are guilty as charged. We will not beg."

Chapter Text

Magnus hadn't bothered with aiming for the roof terrace. For once, he was going to make use of the open invitation to simply appear in Allie's living room at need.

He knew he didn't have the means, magical or alchemistic, to keep the man he held alive, or even comfortable. The Gales were his best bet, with their charms and their quilts and Allie's deep connection to everything alive.

There hadn't been a spell in his life that he wanted to perform less than the one that had just stripped Jem Carstairs  of the runes that kept him alive and stable. He'd had to make the decision on the spot, with no time to actually debate the matter inside his own brain and come to a conclusion that he could live with. That would have to come later. For now, all he could do was to try and minimize the man's suffering.

Jem was shaking in his arms, his thin body wracked with painful coughing. His agony was echoed in the shaking breaths he drew in between, in those scant moments he got to fill his damaged lungs with as much air as they would take.

Magnus held on to him as if he could somehow keep  him together, stop the internal bleeding he knew was happening by sheer will. He felt Jem's body heat up more with every second that passed, his fever rising steeply to where it had been before the first runes of the Brotherhood were cut into his skin, as magic streamed from the warlock's fingertips and into his friend to give him as much of a boost as he could.

"By the angel," Jem's voice – his actual voice, unheard in more than a century, rather than the mind-voice of a Silent Brother, sounded close to Magnus' ear. "I'd forgotten how much it hurts."

He adjusted his magic with an effort of will. He couldn't both block the pain and bolster Jem's strength at the same time – at least not the way he was doing it now, with a steady infusion of energy. He couldn't even remove the pain, he realized as he set his mind to trying. All he could do was coat it in his magic, smooth out the peaks and take the very edge off of it.

"Sofa," he heard Allie's voice. Her tone was as commanding as it ever got. "Get him off his feet."

Moving automatically, Magnus shifted his grip, lifting up the man he had brought and carrying him the few steps to the indicated location. Jem didn't have it in him to object. That was just another reminder to Magnus that the man was truly dying.

Allie asked no questions. She simply slid in, kneeling before the sofa and placing her hand on Jem's chest, fingers spread out, as if by mere touch she could determine what was wrong inside him.

Maybe she could, as she started sketching charms on him a moment later, filling rows and rows of imaginary lines with small shapes of insubstantial glitter.

"I'm Alysha Gale," she said as she worked. "Allie."

Jem's eyes opened, revealing pupils like black holes in silvery-grey irises. His hair had lost all color again, leaving behind only a white so bright it seemed to glow in the light of the Gales' living room.

"Jame—James Carstairs." Something that Allie was doing seemed to be working. The coughing had subsided for the moment. "Jem."

"Report," another voice said from behind Magnus. "What happened there?"

He hadn't paid much attention to the people present as they'd come in. Now, Magnus looked around, finding Katie and Melissa sitting on the other sofa. Michael and Brian were crowded into a single armchair, a feat made remarkable by the fact that the former filled it out quite impressively on his own.

Of course – no Gale would stay alone while her husband was off on a mission – and even less so if, as in Allie's case, her husband and one of her closest friends were both off on separate missions,  neither of which was harmless.

No, scratch that – no Gale would stay alone, ever, if there was no good reason for it.

The board game on the table between them was forgotten as they had all turned their attention to Allie and the sick man who had suddenly been dropped off in their midst. None of them interfered – the two men because they were mundanes and could only get in the way, the women because Allie held the greatest amount of power in the room, and would let them know if she needed a hand.

"We got David," Magnus told Katie. "Everyone else portaled back to the institute. I assume Graham will be here shortly and Hodge should be on his way home any moment, too."

He looked back at Allie, who had procured a handkerchief from somewhere and was gently wiping away the blood trickling over Jem's chin. Glancing down at himself, Magnus saw the stains on his own jacket.

Even dying as he was, Jem was attentive. "I'm sorry for ruining your clothes." He kept his voice low, using as little air to speak as he could.

"Never mind that." It was almost a snap. How could Jem Carstairs think that he was concerned about a bit of blood on his things when he was about to finish what he had started back when the Silent Brothers had given him the first of their runes?

But of course he wasn't thinking that, Magnus realized a moment later. He was trying to distract from the fact that his life was slipping away. "It'll come out easily," he added, his voice a little softer. "There are spells for that."

As Allie went back to sketching, Jem's hand came up to rest on hers, stilling her fingers.

She gave him a questioning look.

His lips parted, then closed again. "Magnus," he breathed a moment later. "Explain. I don't… have the air."

There was a rustling behind him as Melissa got up and left the room. Knowing Gales, Magnus could guess that she was either getting an Auntie or two or something Allie was going to need in a moment – or both.

He turned to Allie. "When Jem was quite young, his parents pissed off a demon. One of the truly bad sort. He took his revenge by invading their home and torturing their son in front of them. By the time rescuers came, his parents were dead, and he was irrevocably addicted to a demon drug. He couldn't stop taking it without dying, but taking it also destroyed his body over time. When he ran out of it, the Silent Brothers saved his life by making him one of theirs."

He stopped there. Saying anything else would just sound as if he was trying to defend his actions of removing Jem's runes.

Jem was looking at him expectantly, though, and when it was clear that Magnus had nothing to add, took a few careful, slightly deeper breaths. "I wanted this," he declared, his voice as steady as he could make it. "Never wanted to be a Brother. Wasn't my choice. This… this is my choice."

Magnus caught Allie's look. He knew what she was thinking. She had caught on to what he'd been doing.

"What can you tell us about this drug?" Allie asked. "Maybe Gwen can whip something up…"

"It was called yin fen," Magnus said. "It was distilled from demon ichor. It—"

"Isn't that what Izzy once took?" Katie demanded from behind him. "And Giulio?"

"No." Magnus sighed. He didn't have the time to explain linguistics. "Sometimes people aren't as careful with words as they could be. Over time, yin fen went from describing a specific drug made from demonic essence to any drug made of the bodily fluids of downworlders. Then, as the original thing grew harder and harder to find because the sources dwindled out, the meaning started to shift again, and eventually we got to where we are now, and it's used for a vampire drug. The two are … not comparable, beyond both describing a drug."

"I have a lab, Gwen has a lab," Melissa, who had re-entered the room just in time to hear the relevant bits, declared. She hadn't gone for an Auntie, but was carrying a quilt that she gently spread over their guest a moment later. "And we have a couple of demons at hand. Do you know what we'll need?"

The effect of the quilt settling on Jem was evident in a slight relaxation of his features. His head moved slowly from side to side in a negative. "Don't try. I'm done with the drug. I won't take it." He looked at Magnus, silver eyes staring into golden ones. "Go join the others, Magnus. They'll need you."

Magnus didn't move from where he stood. "Jem, you—" he began.

Jem's hand went up, stopping him. "I'm free. That's all I need. Go."

There was an urgency behind that last word.

It wasn't just an invitation to go and be with his boyfriend. It was more than an endorsement to rejoin his own allies after he had taken Jem to where he could rest safely. It said I do not want you here.

Magnus knew what he meant.

I do not want you to watch me die.

He could have refused. There was nothing Jem could have done to prevent it.

And that, more than anything, was what made him take a step backwards to give himself space for another portal. At this point, Jem had no way to enforce his wishes. He had to trust in people respecting them. He didn't know every detail of how the man had become a Silent Brother, but he knew he had adamantly refused that path right up until the moment they had suddenly been informed that he had changed his mind and gone to the City of Bones with the Brothers who had come to treat him one last time.

When he had returned, he'd been changed. It hadn't just been the outwards changes of the Brotherhood, incomplete as they had always remained. Something had changed inside him as well. There had, for lack of a better word, always been a little less of Jem there than before.

He could see that missing bit of him back in his eyes now, hear it in his breathless voice.

He couldn't deny him another request.

"You're a brave man, Jem," he said, because he had to say something more, and it was nothing but the truth anyway. "Thank you for everything." For not betraying us. For helping us. For giving your life so we would be safer. He couldn't say the words, but he could see in Jem's look that he understood them anyway.

Jem drew another careful breath. "If you see Tessa," he said, "tell her I loved her to the last moment. Now go."

*

Though David had never travelled by portal before, he had stepped into it easily enough with Alec. He hadn't resisted his guidance either, rendering any concerns that he might instinctively try to take control of their destination unnecessary.

He moved away from the portal with Alec to make space for the others.

If their very modern living room struck him as strange, or if anything about the crowd already gathered there stood out to him, he betrayed nothing of it. In fact, he seemed very much as if it all didn't quite concern him.

Had the runes of the Silent Brothers somehow damaged him? Had the deruning? Was part of him still sleeping? Alec found himself wondering about it as he took in the people waiting for them. His mother was there, of course, and Max and Samael. They had held their base for them while they'd been gone. Izzy's group was back already.

Alec's brow creased in a frown as he swept the room with his gaze. Had they encountered insurmountable problems along the way? Had they lost Abigail? Had they been unable to wake her? As his mind conjured up scenario after scenario, he realized that there was only one way to get to the bottom of this.

He had just opened his mouth to ask, when the portal closed behind him and Izzy stood, suddenly concerned.

"Where's Magnus?" she asked.

"Joining us in a bit," Alec reassured her quickly. "There was a Silent Brother who helped us and needed to get away afterwards. He's not very well, and Magnus didn't want to stash him here. How did yours go? Where's Abigail?"

At his last word, David suddenly tensed and twitched as if he'd turned and punched him without warning. He didn't know how much English David understood, though he suspected that he had learned many languages during his time as a Silent Brother. He had definitely paid attention and recognized the name, though.

Izzy shook her head, her expression hovering strangely between excitement and dejection.

"She wasn't there," she said. "We checked every single cell in addition to her own, and she wasn't there. The door wasn't disturbed, the Sisters all swear they have no idea of what happened there – but she's gone without a trace."

"Wait—" Alec filed the information about Abigail, but there was something else in what his sister had said that needed to be addressed more urgently. "The Sisters swear? Did you question them?"

"Yeah." She was laughing now, sounding as if she could hardly believe her own words. "Alec, the Iron Sisters may not be strictly on our side, but they're not on their side either. When we arrived, they were in the process of preparing to make a stand against the Clave and the Brothers before they'd allow anyone to murder one of theirs. They weren't going to stop us. Sister Dolores – that’s their superior – informed the entire order of the truth of our history, and the nature of angels and demons, and some other things over dinner. For nothing, apparently, since the person they were going to protect is gone."

He needed a moment to process that. "You mean the Iron Sisters are… going to stand with us, not them, if the worst comes to pass?"

"They're less than allies, but more than neutral," Charlie elaborated in Izzy's place.

"We've told them they need to remove at least their enkeli runes to stay safe if anyone learns they now all share the knowledge," Clary added. "No idea if they'll do it. They didn't seem happy about the suggestion."

"The question remains," Helen noted , her focus on David, "where did Abigail get to, and why was she taken away and he wasn't?"

"Because letting the three of us be together wouldn't be as much fun." That answered the question of whether David spoke their language. His accent sounded strange, but his words were perfectly comprehensible. He looked sick. "Whatever you are planning, I cannot help you."

Alec studied him for a moment. Part of him wanted to reach out, take the man by his arm, lead him to a chair and make him sit down. Another part wanted to shake him violently. The greatest part of him found it entirely inconceivable to touch a living legend.

"Let us understand why," he said eventually. "You know what they are. What they do. We know you do. How can you just … do nothing?"

David looked up at him, despair in his eyes. Even though he had previously guided the other man through the portal, Alec hadn't fully realized until that moment how much shorter David was than he.

When David spoke again, his voice was barely more than a whisper. "How can I do anything? Jonathan lived out his life as a Shadowhunter. Eventually he came to his last hunt. He died. We sent off his body in all honors, as we'd been taught. That night, I had a vision. A dream, they called it, borne of my grief over the loss of my friend, who'd been like a brother to me. I knew better."

He paused, only continuing when it was clear that no one would comment.

"In it, I saw Jonathan. He was alive and young again. His wounds were gone. He was in a strange place, a different world. But he was changed. He was very innocent in my vision. His memory of this world, of the Nephilim, of me, was gone. By his side, I saw our creator. I prayed then that it would be the last time I laid eyes on him. Jonathan…" He took a long, shaky breath before he went on. "Jonathan gazed at him in wonder, and adoration. More so even than that first day when we all thought he was the greatest thing we were ever going to behold. He had no sense of the danger he was in."

Movement off to the side drew Alec's attention for a moment. A glance should him that Charlie had walked around the sofa to whisper in Clary's ear. The redhead nodded in confirmation.

"And through my vision," David told them, "the angel looked at me, and I knew what he was saying. Don't think that death breaks my hold on you. Even now, I am holding your brother hostage. Do not think that his death releases you from our deal."

"He enjoys your torment," Christopher observed. "You're giving him exactly what he wants."

Clary had silently slid from of her seat and snuck out of the room. Alec frowned at Charlie, who signaled just a moment to him. It seemed she had picked up some of their signs at least along the way.

David shrugged at the comment. "Then let him have it. I had another vision while I was sleeping. Jonathan was as I had last seen him, and his sister was there with him. No longer an Iron Sister. Young again. And her mind as blank as his. She either died, or took the same route that I did, and was taken anyway. The Angel – her likes to play with me."

"It's time someone took his toys away," Charlie noted.

David gave her a brief look, clearly wondering who – and what – that strange woman with the guitar on her back was. He made a point of not asking.

"Do you know how to get to them?" Alec asked the Bard.

Charlie's lips twitched into a one-sided smile. "I might have a theory. Clary's getting her sketchpad. If I'm right, we can fix this quickly enough. We'll need Magnus, though."

"I'll text him if he doesn't show up on his own speedily," Alec promised. He was frowning as he processed her words. He was afraid that he knew exactly what she was thinking. Going by the tense look on his sister's face, she was sharing his idea.

As if on cue, the gleam of a portal unfolded in the corner of the room just in front of the cabinet that held their glasses and a selection of drinks, causing Jace to jump back from where he'd just been about to help himself to some refreshment.

Magnus took in the assembly, noting the absences.

"Jem's taken care of," he said, sadness in his voice. "Where are Clary and Miss Shadowhunter?"

"Abigail's AWOL," Alec informed him. "In talking-puppet state as far as we can determine. Clary's getting her sketches."

"And Clary's sketches will help us how?" Magnus asked. He fished two glasses out of the cabinet, handed on to Jace and kept the other for himself, then snatched up two bottles of soda to distribute them the same way, as if he had just appeared specifically in order to take care of the drinks.

"Ask Charlie," his boyfriend suggested. "It was her idea. And for the record, I want her to be wrong."

"Everyone wants her to be wrong," Clary reentered the room, flipping through her sketchpad as she walked until she found the page she was looking for. Standing in front of their reluctant guest, she held up an unfinished drawing. "Do you know these people, David?"

He didn't have to answer. The way his face drained of his remaining color was all the response they needed.

Alec's face darkened. "Much as I would like to say that they can stay exactly where they are, and are welcome to anything Raziel plans to do with them, we're probably in agreement that they're not in control of their actions?" he asked into the room.

"They should be by now," Charlie told him. "I left a bit of a memory spell on them before we went after you."

"Did you by any chance take a bit of them with you for a summoning?" Alec wanted to know. "I don't fancy going back there to collect someone."

She fished a small plastic bag from a side pocket of her guitar case. "Actually, I did. Magnus? How do you feel about trying that spell your dad showed you?"

Magnus walked over to pick the transparent pouch out of her hand and study the two thin strands of hair in it. "I'd feel better about it if I didn't have to get it right on the first attempt," he admitted. "But I'm afraid this will only leave us with one."

Alec was about to assure him that he had full trust in his abilities when the sound of someone clearing his throat stopped him. He turned, looking expectantly at Samael, who had listened to their exchange in silence so far.

"Then maybe," the demon lord said, getting to his feet and smoothing his shirt in a motion that seemed habitual and would have done a lot more good if he'd been wearing one of his usual tunics, "you should let someone cast the spell who's done it before."

*

Rather than crowding into Magnus' summoning room in force, the greater part of their group remained downstairs.

David, clearly not trusting in anyone's ability to summon two people from a different dimension – or in doing so without killing them in the process – continued in his glum mood. He hadn't acted on their offer to borrow some clothes from them and change out of the robes he had slept in. He hadn't offered his opinion on their plans. For the moment, Maryse had taken him in hand and was planning to ply him with some Gale pie in hopes of lifting his spirits.

The summoning room was a perfect square, with a circle drawn permanently on the floor. The walls, ceiling and floor were made of what looked like polished stone. Alec knew that it was some sort of magic al coating on a regular room.

That was the only magic permanently attached here.

Magnus had gone over the house room by room when they had first moved in, magically enlarging the inside to give them all the space they needed. This was probably the only room he hadn't changed, other than by thickening two of the walls a little for a more accurate shape. Summoning could be sensitive work. Summoning into a room with dimensions changed by magic could be tricky. There were reasons why neither Charlie nor any portal-user ever tried to aim for the yard behind Allie's store.

Alec, Jace, Clary and Izzy were watching Magnus retrieve a case from a cabinet outside the summoning room. Made of dark, polished wood, it reached from floor to ceiling and didn't open for anything other than a touch of Magnus' hand.

"Chalk," he said as he approached Samael. "How are you going to draw your focus?"

"Slowly," Samael returned without taking offence at the question. He made no move to accept the case. "With a lot of stepping back and dripping in some magic to tell if the shape is just right. It will be much faster if you do the drawing."

"Right."

Most people would have called the way in which Magnus turned away from the demon lord to walk to the center of the room nonchalant. Alec knew him well enough to tell that he was far from it. Magnus Bane, the high warlock of Calgary, one of the founding members of the new Nephilim-Shadow-World alliance and known for casually throwing around more magic before breakfast than some warlocks would wield in a lifetime, was nervous.

"Can I help?" Clary asked.

Well, maybe it was more obvious than Alec had thought after all.

Magnus nodded, gesturing for her to join him. It wasn't the first time she participated in drawing a summoning circle. Watching, Alec realized that either she remembered a lot more from the other times than he did, or she somehow managed to connect to the design through her abilities with painting and drawing, feeling or knowing how to continue. In any case, after the first few lines drawn to his instructions, she was completing her side of the circle smoothly, hesitating only here and here as if trying the feel of their work.

They stepped out of it soon enough, closing the last lines from outside of the line firmly embedded in the ground.

Samael walked the perimeter once, his head cocked slightly to one side as he studied the way magic moved along the chalk lines.

"Fine work," he determined once he had finished his round and bent down to place the contents of the evidence bag in the proper location. "Clary's side might be just a bit more accurate than yours, Magnus."

There was a smile in his voice.

Alec couldn't help but think that the last time all of them had been in the same room with a summoning circle and a demon, the demon had been furious and all their efforts on keeping him contained. Today, a demon of considerably higher rank was openly teasing one of them, and all they were doing was to try not to grin to themselves too openly about it.

They stayed in the corners of the room, away from the circle so as not to disturb the magic. A ring of containment wouldn't be needed today. They were summoning to release, after all.

Alec and his sister each had a bathrobe folded over one arm. They remembered that day when Lilith had summoned Alec away from them. He had appeared stark naked in her sanctuary, and they had every reason to suspect that neither of the two they were about to call to them would appreciate a lengthy discussion while undressed.

He could see the magic flowing, and noticed that it looked quite different from the times he had seen demons channel power back in their own dimension. Was it because their local magic flew differently, or was it connected to the remedy to the adamas poisoning that Samael had been taking?

Before he could follow up on that thought, the magic shooting along the lines of the circle condensed, flaring up so brightly that it left spots on his magic vision so bright that they blurred out his physical sight for a second.

More magic flared, shooting from Magnus' hands as he erased the runes on their skin to prevent anyone from tracking them through them.

When the blaze subsided, the circle was no longer empty.

"Well," Alec said as he took in the man and woman staring at them, jerking into motion a moment later to cover themselves as best they could when they realized that they had been relocated, but anything they had had on their bodies had not come along.

Alec tossed his bathrobe at the man without another word. Izzy followed suit with his companion. There would have been more polite ways of doing that, but neither of them was going to step into the circle until either Samael or Magnus said that it was okay to do so. Besides, those two had betrayed them back in the angel city.

That realization seemed to have filtered through to them as well.

"You're alive," the woman noted as she wrapped herself in the fabric, her language the one they had spoken with her back then. She stopped studying her unmarked arm and twisted around to take in all four of them. "You made it out!"

"With a few broken bones and a lot of inconvenience," Jace confirmed.

Their new guests winced visibly at his words.

"Will you accept our apologies?" the women asked.

"We weren't exactly ourselves," her brother added, scanning the room and finally letting his eyes rest on Magnus. "What happened to the others? You were with the larger group. The woman with the music—did everyone…?" He padded to the edge of the circle on bare feet, careful not to disturb the lines, and stopped just inside the outer-most line. He was familiar with summoning circles, it appeared, and unwilling to try his luck and find out the hard way if there was any shielding around it.

Magnus gave him a nod. "Everyone who went in came out again," he confirmed. "And you can come out, too."

"Thank you," Jonathan said. "I'm glad to see warlocks and Nephilim are once again working hand in hand. Things were… getting difficult by the time I was old."

"Things had gotten much worse by the time I went to sleep," Abigail informed him as she joined him outside of the circle.

"Things didn't get better after that," Alec supplied. "I'm afraid a lot of our people would disagree about having warlock friends. But there's one thing you must understand." He walked over to join Magnus, reaching out to intertwine their fingers. "Magnus isn't just our friend. He's my partner."

They stared at that, needing more than a moment to process what they had heard.

"The world has changed," Jonathan said eventually. "But it's your world. Your rules. There have always been… brothers among the soldiers who were closer than blood siblings would have been. But they wouldn't have been … public about it." He was picking his words carefully, hesitating here and there. Then his gaze found Samael, who was listening to the exchange, smiling to himself, and his eyes narrowed as he understood what he was looking at. "Are you aware what that is?"

"He," Alec corrected. His voice had acquired an edge. "The word you were looking for is he, not that. And he is a valued ally and friend. Are you aware he's actually the same species as Raziel, and the distinction you were getting at is strictly political?"

Jonathan looked back and forth between them. "I know our creators are not the benign, benevolent  beings they wanted to be seen as," he declared, "but I've seen the likes of him commit atrocities…"

"If he was with us," Abigail told her brother, "David could tell you a little about the atrocities our creators, as you just called them, like to commit."

"David's downstairs," Clary informed them helpfully. "Hopefully eating breakfast. Maybe let him finish his meal before you make him revisit their eating habits."

"You might consider being a bit more friendly towards Samael," Izzy suggested. She had left her corner and come to join the group. "He's the one who cast the spell that brought you here."

Abigail froze. After a moment, she nodded once, briefly, then she turned to Samael. "That means you saved our lives. We were just about to be executed before the spell caught us. Thank you for that. And…" saying the next words clearly was an effort. "We owe you a life debt."

"Not one I intend to collect," Samael said. "Imagining Raziel's displeasure at this will afford me some amusement."

"My sister is right, though," Jonathan said. He wasn't looking at anyone. "We won't forget it."

Making sure that no one was actually standing on the chalk lines, Magnus gestured with his free hand to wipe the summoning focus from the floor. "We should go downstairs," he suggested.

"We should indeed," Alec agreed. "And hopefully having his parabatai back will cheer up David a little. I've only met him less than two hours ago, and I'm worried about him."

"Our bond broke when he runed his lips and eyes closed," Jonathan pointed out. "And you're right to be worried about him. I'd worry about anyone who'd do that to himself."

"Wait till you hear the details of why," his sister muttered.

As Magnus returned the chalk to its proper place, the rest of them started to move towards the stairs, their two new companions in their midst.

"One question, " Izzy asked as they walked, curiously taking in the house around them.

Abigail looked at her expectantly.

"Your names. Hans – Johann – That's close enough to Jonathan I assume. But Abigail?"

She gave a low chuckle in response. "When we were given new lives, with new powers, we took new names," she explained. "We picked them from the Bible. It seemed fitting. They are the only names we should go by now. That was the custom of making mundanes into Nephilim with the Cup for as long as I can remember."

"It still is," Izzy confirmed. "Though it's last names now. People usually keep their first."

The other woman acknowledged the information with a slow nod. "We all went by Shadowhunter at first. We didn't need last names to distinguish families until we were a lot more people. And by then, both my husband and I had left the bulk of Nephilim society."

"Your husband?" Clary asked.

Abigail smiled. The light shining in her eyes suddenly made her look no older than any of them. "I hear he's downstairs eating breakfast." She gestured at a spot on her arm where a prominent enkeli rune had been before. "I hope that means you cleaned him up the same way you did us."

Chapter Text

Jem tracked the pain through his body as he inhaled. It trickled down with the air, starting behind his sternum and expanding in his chest, burning its way into his lungs.

Another quality of pain came with exhaling that breath again, as if the structures of his ribcage protested the act of pushing what air he had from his body. There was a faint taste of blood lingering at the back of his throat. At least the coughing had stopped for now, though he imagined that he could feel more blood collecting in his lungs already.

There was pain elsewhere, too, cutting and burning through his abdomen as if he had swallowed burning coals that were lying heavily in his stomach, trying to sear their way out. His hands and feet were on fire as either the toxins produced by the withdrawal or his body's own desperate attempts at replacing the drug that had become its lifeline attacked the small nerves there.

Something had started pounding against the inside of his skull.

The pain that came with breathing was the only kind that he had any control over. Focusing on that made it easier to ignore the rest – or so he was telling himself.

On a strange level of awareness, he knew he should have felt cold, though he had stopped shivering the moment the quilted blanket had been tucked around him. There was magic on it, no doubt. He welcomed it, even as habit grown in more than a century made him wonder if he should.

He could hear people move somewhere nearby, though outside of his field of vision. Life around him continued.

Who were these strange people, who went about their daily tasks while there was a man dying in their living room?

Allie returned to where he was lying, carrying a glass and a dark brown bottle. The liquid she poured from the latter into the former was a bright amber in color.

He shook his head as she approached him with it, the movement making him dizzy.

"It's just pain relief," she said as she knelt to be closer to his level.

He was about to tell her that he could bear it, but she added quickly: "I can feel the echo of what's happening inside you."

His hand shook as he reached out. Closing his fingers around the glass was an effort. His fine motor control was going. The cool material felt distant against his skin. Nerve damage. The realization of its implication came with a profound sadness at what it would entail. He'd always said that one reason he would never consider the Brotherhood was that the Silent Brothers had no music. It was one aspect so central to his life that he could not have imagined living without it.

He had touched his violin only once since the day he'd been given the first runes of the Brotherhood. Now there would be no playing for him with these hands. The day of his parabatai's death would forever be the last time he had used the instrument.

The thought almost made him laugh. It wouldn't matter. His remaining life span was measured in hours. There would be no music for him in it either way.

He swallowed the liquid carefully, the act and the feeling of something running down his throat strange after so many years. Though soothing, the taste threatened to overwhelm him. At least it covered up the metallic tang of blood that seemed everywhere.

"Please," Allie said as she took the glass from him again. "If there's anything you can tell us about this drug…"

"No." He cut her off, his eyes finding hers and holding them. His voice was low, his words carefully timed between breaths. "I will not take more of it. Please – just… just allow me to die." He had meant to make a statement, but it sounded as if he was begging her.

Allie put the bottle and glass down on the table to pull one of the smaller seats scattered around the table towards her. She perched on it, leaning forward and taking his hand. Rather than going for his wrist and his pulse, as he had come to expect, she stroked soothing patterns on the back of his hand with her thumb.

"Jem," she said earnestly. "I assume Magnus didn't have the time to tell you who we are – what we are?"

"He didn't," he confirmed. "It was going a bit… fast."

"The Gales," Allie explained, "our family – we're creatures of Earth." The capital letter was clear in her tone, leaving no space for misinterpretation. "We take most of our power from the creation of life, and the cycle of life and death. We celebrate and welcome each stage in it. We commit to that cycle because it is part of what we are. Death is part of it. We don't try to avoid it. We don't fear it. If you feel that you've reached the end of your line, I will not hold you back. None of us will."

He blinked. Was that why Magnus had brought him here? Had he known that this was a place where his choice would be respected without question?

Allie continued, interrupting his thoughts: "But I don't believe in needless suffering. You shouldn't have to be in pain every second until the end. If we understand what the drug did to your body, what the withdrawal is doing, our brewers may be able to tailor something to your needs."

Another thought wormed its way into his mind. He wasn't sure which answer he was hoping for when he voiced it, but she was certainly right: He was in agony, and the potion she had just given him may have taken the edge off of it for a short moment, but it had barely been minutes and he could already feel it wear off. It was going to get worse before it was over. For all that he knew, it was going to get much worse. He expected to be crying and begging for the drug by the end, and that alone was reason enough for him not to disclose any details now. No matter how much she meant the part about accepting his decision that his life was over, he wasn't going to rely on her not changing her mind once he slipped that far.

"If I asked you for a dagger now, would you let me have it?"

There was no hesitation in her response. "Is your mind still clear and are you in control of your decisions?"

He nodded. "Yes. Yes to both."

"Then if you ask me for a dagger, you will have it. If you ask me for a potion, you will have it. And if you ask me for a charm to send you into a sleep so deep your heart will stop, you'll have that, too. The decision on when your life is over, and how, is yours – and yours alone."

She'd spoken calmly, but loudly enough for the others in the room to hear her. No one objected. Judging by the way the sounds behind him continued uninterrupted, no one even found her statement worth any special notice.

He closed his eyes, contemplating for a moment. He'd never considered this option before. He'd had a parabatai. He couldn't have shortened his own pain at Will's expense. But Will was long dead. Tessa wouldn't learn of his death until it was over. He would hurt no one if he chose to skip that last, horrible stage of his life.

Another thought came to him, and he allowed himself the most careful of chuckles, lest he trigger another coughing fit. "Funny how, no matter what happens, the thing that I would want the most is just the thing I can't have."

"What do you mean?"

He shifted, pushing himself up by the smallest amount on his elbows. He spoke slowly, breathing carefully. He didn't know if he'd be able to start again if he started coughing in between. "Back then… I was ready to die. I'd made my peace with it. I was waiting for the end. I would have welcomed it." He found her eyes and held them. "I was seventeen. A few months short of majority. I don't know if they would have accepted my decision then, but – as it was, they didn't. I'd always said Silent Brotherhood was not a path I'd consider. They cut the first runes into my face when I was too weak to resist."

His free hand went to his cheek, probing for leftovers, some telltale scars that had remained after Magnus's spell. His skin felt smooth and unbroken.

"Those runes," he continued. "They change you. They dampen your feelings. Emotions grow distant. You disconnect from your memories. And they guide your thoughts. They control what you will think. What you can think. They're a prison, but you never realize it while they're on you." He shuddered as he remembered how it hadn’t even felt bad to him then.

"And the other Brothers. You have them in your mind. They're there all the time at first, while the runes haven't taken full hold on you yet. They prod at your thoughts and keep them from straying."

That memory chilled him to the bone in spite of the quilt that kept him warm. He barely registered the pain through the rush of revulsion as he revisited those first days.

"The yin fen that remained in my system made sure that the process always remained incomplete. It wasn't much, but I had that tiny bit more control over my thoughts, a small margin of true emotion left at my disposal, a little defiance to break the rules now and then. I said I'd reconsidered because I wanted to be alive for Will and Tessa – my parabatai and my fiancée – even if I couldn't be with them. I had to have some reason to make my life feel less of a … violation."

She was listening, her expression not betraying her thoughts, though there was pain in her eyes. Pain for him, his younger self, forced into an existence against his will and his nature?

"It was easier to pretend once Will was gone. But I had promised Tessa one meeting a year, for one hour. Without that, I might have given up and just become like the others, as far as I could, given my situation. With it – I had to preserve that bit of myself that made me different. I had to protect it."

He watched her acknowledge his words with a silent nod, felt the small tightening of her hand on his.

"But the runes also give you knowledge, of terrible things. You may be aware of them. I think Magnus' friends are. That's why they're hunted. That's why they removed their runes and became… as they are now."

"I am," Allie confirmed. "And they are."

"With the runes, you don't much care about it," Jem continued, glancing at the pale, unmarked skin under the sleeves of his robes. "But without them? If I had every choice in the world available to me, I'd choose to get up and do what I did in the City of Bones today. I'd stand with Alexander Lightwood and his group, and fight with them to the end. But that is one choice I don't have, do I?"

There was a moment's silence as she sorted her thoughts.

"Jem," she said then, her eyes never leaving his. "When I just said that the decision on when your life is over was yours alone, I meant that. I will not force you to live against your will – but neither will I force you to die." She raised her free hand as his lips parted, stopping his answer before he could speak. "What you just said – that was what? A hundred years ago? A hundred and fifty?"

He nodded mutely.

"Things have changed since. You had some shadowhunter medicine then, and maybe a warlock or two. Shadowhunter medicine has progressed. We're in contact with one of the best warlock doctors I am aware of, if not the best. We have brewers. We have charms. We have associates from all over the shadow realms, many of which have knowledge of their own. And we have access to mundane technology. Don’t shake your head."

He had been about to do just that and stopped himself, a little chagrined.  

"Mundanes have grown good at keeping bodies alive even as they try to shut down on their owners. We have options today that you couldn't have dreamt of back then. Jem, if you want to live – if you want to fight – then the Gale family, and all its associates, will be right there fighting by your side. You'll have a small army at your disposal that will do its damndest to get you through this and out on the other side. I cannot promise you success, but we will certainly try if that is your wish. You do have a choice."

It took more than a moment for all of that to sink in, and to register where he needed the information. Realizing his mouth was still hanging open, he closed it. His breathing had sped up, and he forced it back to a safe rhythm before he replied.

"What would be the rules?"

"Your life," Allie said. "Your rules."

"No yin fen." His voice was a whisper, so low he was surprised she seemed to have no trouble hearing him. "No drugs of any sort. I will not go into another addiction."

"Understood."  A fierce light was shining in her eyes.

He pulled up every ounce of energy he could find in his body to match it as best he could.

"Then I will fight."

*

They took a small detour before going downstairs, getting their new guests clothes a little less prone to being embarrassingly revealing than the bathrobes they were wearing.

Sweatpants and t-shirts might not have been the most dignified attire for the founders of their entire people, but they were self-explanatory and didn't require a great deal of juggling to find something that was a reasonably good fit.

Graham had left in the meantime, but everyone else was lingering. Hodge had retreated into a corner, talking on the phone. The smile on his face suggested that the person on the other end of that line was Katie.

Helen and Charlie had stayed in the living room as well, along with Sebastian and Christopher. The four looked up from their conversation, pointing towards the kitchen before one of them could say a word.

David was parked at the kitchen table, a plate of pie before him. He was eating without much enthusiasm.

Sitting across from him, Max watched with a serious expression, though without commenting. Maryse was on her feet, talking to Aline in a low voice as they entered.

"David."

Jonathan's voice made him drop his fork onto his plate and turn.

A moment later, he was on his feet, his entire posture painfully tense, his face hovering between relief and shocked disbelief. It wasn't his former parabatai he was staring at, though, but Abigail.

Her lips thinned briefly as she closed the distance between them. Then, before he could say or do anything, she brought up her hand and slapped him across the cheek once.

Maryse winced in sympathy at the resounding clap. Izzy wasn't even trying to hide a grin.

Abigail certainly knew how to deliver an effective message. The side of David's face was reddening above his beard.

"That was for not talking to me for centuries," she declared.

Then she reached for him again, with a far more gentle gesture to invite him closer.

When he followed, she leaned in to kiss him on the other cheek. She was moving slowly, not quite certain if either his status as a Silent Brother or hers as an Iron Sister still carried over to where such contact was forbidden, or even impossible, for them.

It wasn't, and David made no move to pull away.

"That's for going to such lengths to keep us safe, even though it was stupid."

If the onlookers were expecting things between the two to progress from there, they were disappointed. Abigail stepped back again, looking around David at the table.

Alec and Magnus followed her line of sight, both moving at the same time to collect additional plates and cups from the cupboards with a perfect coordination borne in Gale kitchens.

Moments later they were all sitting at the table, watching the ancient Shadowhunters sample the pie.

"Didn't they feed you in the other place?" Max inquired when Jonathan reached out to help himself to a second portion by cutting an oversized piece from the previously undivided remainder of a berry pie.

The man gave him a slightly sheepish look. "They did feed us," he admitted. "But it wasn't proper food. It was just nutrients." He said the word as if it was a foreign body in his mouth, a term he had learned along the way that didn't come naturally to him.

"I don't even remember what it tasted like," his sister added. "In fact, I don't remember that it had any taste at all. It was just… fuel to keep us alive and active and healthy."

"There's no reason something that'll keep you alive and active and healthy can't also taste good," Charlie commented. The bard had just walked into the kitchen and rounded the table, pulling out the last free chair and turning it around to sit on it, hands on the backrest, the way her husband usually did.

There was some chuckling around the table.

"So where are we going from here?" Abigail asked after another bite. "I assume you have plans. You weren't there by accident, and I assume he isn't here just to visit friends either."

"Actually, I mostly am," Samael, inferring correctly who "he" was, informed her. "Though I help where I can."

"The main plan is not to get killed," Alec told them. "Us, or anyone else. The secondary one…" he gave a small sigh. "I'm afraid that's become spreading the knowledge of what our kind truly is about, and preparing to make a stand. I expect we'll be facing an invasion sooner or later."

"Later, with a little luck," Jonathan informed them. "A lot of things happened that day when you came to Raziel's home. Something shut down the entire energy network in the Gardens. Things blew up randomly everywhere around the place. And then there was the storm."

Charlie was grinning to herself. If he noticed, he didn't show it.

"No one could remember having ever seen one like it. It drew all the water from the channels. It washed away a lot of soil. It left the suburbs in shambles. Some important structures were hit by lightning. They are going to go after your people – our people – in force sooner or later, but right now? They lack the wherewithal because the focal elements they use for interdimensional action are damaged or destroyed. Alicante would be gone by now if they weren't." Jonathan stopped, contemplating his empty plate and looking as if he wondered if he should go for another piece of pie.

Izzy pushed the apple pie closer to him for some variety. "How do you know all of this?" she asked.

He shrugged, though whether at the pie or at her question wasn't entirely clear. "People talked around us. We may not have had most of our minds together, but we remember what we heard. People were talking a great deal – yelling a great deal – around us these last few days. Raziel made our kind. Some are holding him responsible. A lot of them are angry at him. I can probably rattle off the list of damage for you by now if you wish."

"Please don't," his sister told him. "I'm heartily sick of hearing it. But he's right. You do have some time. We have some time." She looked at Izzy, then at Alec. "Is there a we? Are we in?" She indicated the three of them at her last words.

"You're in if you wish," Alec agreed. "You'll find the world has changed, though. You'll want to get the hang of how things work now before you go out and do things. Technology and—"

Jonathan laughed. "As far as I remember, there was technology all over the angel place. We've seen things. We'll get it quickly enough."

"As far as I remember, all their cars must have been locked away in some secret underground garage," Clary threw in. "Or maybe they didn't have any. You don't want to just run outside without knowing what you're doing."

"What are cars?" Jonathan was frowning at her.

"Horseless carriages that are loud, go very fast and will kill you on impact," Alec shot back. "I recommend you're not leaving the house unaccompanied until you know what you're doing."

"They also stink," Samael added helpfully. "The cars. And as someone who knows both world, I agree. You want to learn about this place, as it is now, before you venture into it."

Jonathan sighed. Abigail nodded. David was leaning his chin on his folded hands and not betraying what he thought of any of it.

"Who will teach us?" The first Shadowhunter asked.

Alec looked around the table, contemplating for a moment. Then his eyes found his youngest brother. "Max."

The boy's head jerked up "Me? Why me?" It sounded surprised rather than petulant, though there was a wariness to his tone.

"Because I hear Imogen had you on training duty back in Alicante, so you have practice," Alec informed him instantly. "Your job is getting these three ready to be out and about with us. Starting after they finish eating."

"What I would really like to know," Izzy said , her attention alternating between her brother and their guests, "is what that first meeting with Raziel was like from your point of view. We're going to try to convince people of this side of things, so any information may be helpful."

"What I'd like to know," David muttered, "is how you caught on in the first place."

"People kept trying to kill us," Jace informed him pointedly. "There had to be a reason."

"There was a journal," Alec added. "A very old one, bound in leather, spelled all over. I believe you know which one I'm talking about."

David paled a fraction. "You were able to read that?"

"It was a bit of a task," Jace said. "The man who raised me would have sent me to bed with broken fingers instead of healing me before dinner if I'd ever handed in a scrawl like that.  But yeah. It was decipherable."

All three were staring, not certain if that had been supposed to be a joke.

"That's not what I meant," David said. "There's a spell on the book. The only way you can read it is if you share my blood or that of Abigail – or Jonathan by extension. If you could read those pages, there's a direct bloodline between us."

Somehow, Alec thought, the revelation of being directly descended from at least one of the three original Nephilim should have left more of an impact. Maybe it would have – a year ago. Today, it didn't feel like it mattered a great deal.

"Well, I don't know where Jace gets his from, but I'm pretty sure we have it from Mom," Izzy noted.

"My family was called Trueblood," Maryse elaborated when she found herself the target of various confused looks. "That seems pretty in-your-face if you think about it."

"Mom, since when do you say 'in your face' like that?" Alec demanded, the words leaving his mouth before he could think about it.

Maryse laughed. "Since I spent a couple of afternoons around your Gale friends. I believe we were talking about the creation of our kind, not my eloquence, though."

"I think it may be better if we show you," Abigail suggested. "There's a rune to share memories – if you have a stele for me…"

"We know the rune," Alec informed her. "But we don't use steles anymore. You know why. You can just—" He gestured, miming dipping his finger into his water glass to apply a charm.

"That," David growled, "is exactly what brought us here. You discarding all the rules we've been given, breaking every law—"

"Hardly," Alec began. He didn't get any farther, since Abigail was talking over him.

"What brought us here is the fact that they hate nothing more than not being in control," she informed David coldly. "And that their hold on our kind is slipping because these young people refused to continue their lives as toys or tools. Do you know what they called us, back in their own world?" She waited for the minute shake of his head before she continued. "Talking puppets. And that's not just the restored, mindless variety they use to serve and entertain them. That's all of us. That is what we are to them, and what we've always been to them. And like any puppeteer, they fear the moment when their puppets rise up and cut their strings. We are done being puppets."

She turned towards Alec once more. "Where do you want us to start?"

He considered for a moment. Then, remembering what the unpleasant historian they had met in Iceland had told them, he made his decision. "Start by telling us how you got to Lake Lyn, and why. We have reason to believe that the legend we have on that is just that – a legend."

 

1148

Black Forest, Germany

"I still can't believe he actually did this."

Through Abigail's eyes, Izzy watched a much younger Jonathan – or the man who would once become Jonathan Shadowhunter – throw up his hands. The 'much younger' part mostly came from the way he stood and moved, with none of the casual battle-readiness she had seen in him even when he'd only been wearing Alec's bathrobe. Going strictly by his appearance, there seemed to be only a few years between the man sitting at their table and the man in the memory.

Seventeen, the knowledge came to her from somewhere. They were seventeen in the memory – both of them, because they were barely an hour apart in age.

He was dressed in the simple garb of a villager of their time, in clothes that had seen some hard wear and boots that were sturdy enough to not have the soles come off by luck, more than anything else.

"I'm surprised it took this long," Abigail replied.

She wasn’t really. The memory conveyed not just the images, but also, to a degree, her thoughts. She knew marrying her off hadn't been easy. She knew that she was considered tainted by many in the village. She'd been in contact with a witch's magic, as had her brother. They had escaped with their lives, but were their souls intact?

Their religious instructions had been all the more rigorous afterwards, especially once they had started exhibiting an uncanny talent for finding things in the forest around the village. Traces of witchcraft lingered on them, some claimed.

Little did they know how close they came to the truth.

They kept the details to themselves, but while the choice was between giving up what they had taken when they'd run from the witch's hut or letting their family go hungry, they were going to risk their heavenly salvation many times over. Heaven was far away. Starvation was a much more immediate problem.

It hadn't all been bad. There'd been some small hope that, once they realized that no better offers were forthcoming, their parents would agree to accept her brother's best friend as their son in law. It had been a long shot from the beginning, and once the better offer had occurred, there was nothing for it but to accept the inevitable.

"I can't believe you're just going along with it!"

"What else would I do?"

Jonathan was raking his hands through his hair. "We could run away. The three of us. Start over somewhere else."

She couldn't quite suppress a small laugh.

"With what?" She demanded. "Neither of you has a trade. We have no money. We'd need more than a bit of food now and then, and you know it has never been good for anything else."

It? Izzy wondered, but the memory charm didn't work that way. She couldn't send a question at Abigail to ask her for details.

Wondering about it made her miss Jonathan's answer.

"He's an herbalist," his sister all but snapped at him. "Not even – he's trying to become one. He'd have to be remarkably better at his job than the village midwife, wherever we go, and he's not that. Not yet in any case. And if he was, it'd come with an entirely different set of problems."

"I would still try it," he insisted. "And so should you! We swore an oath—"

"That was eight years ago," she shot back. "We were nine years old. We knew nothing of the world."

She turned away from him, unwilling to let him see her expression.

As much as she knew that what her brother was proposing had no chance of success, and would at best end with them caught and returned to their family, as worst with all of them dead – or should that have been the other way around? – he did have the right of it. Back on that fateful day in the forest, they had sword a solemn oath to each other, promising that, should they manage to escape, they would consider themselves beholden only to each other – not to their family and certainly not to the village that had abandoned them quickly enough at the first whiff of witchcraft.

They'd been stupid words, spoken by children pretending to be older than they were to keep up their courage in light of what was about to happen to them.

Still, they had been spoken, and no matter what she told herself to justify her actions, she was about to break that oath.

*

The memory shifted, taking them into a different room, a different cottage. In the first, the walls had been rough-hewn wood. This one was whitewashed, though still furnished simply.

The girl Abigail had once been wore a plain, practical dress and the bonnet of a wife. She didn't mind the former, but the latter was something she was still getting used to. Her husband was well enough, she assumed. He had made it clear that she owed him some gratitude for taking her in spite of her flaw, but he hadn’t been too verbal about it.

In fact, he barely talked to her at all, beyond making sure that he knew what was expected of her.

Those expectations, however, were not always in keeping with reality. She could tell that her new husband had never gone to the market himself before to buy what was needed for the meals he desired. It was either that, or he managed to get far better bargains than she, since the coins he left her for it never quite sufficed to get all she would have needed.

It didn't matter much. She still had a way to top up her supplies.

That was why she was getting ready to sneak away now – or rather, walk out of the village, a basket on her arm as if she was just going to look for berries, or mushrooms, or anything else that was growing in the forest.

She followed the path until she was well out of sight of the village, before she hiked up her skirts and tucked the hem into her waistband until she was still only a little girl playing out here. It was the only way the fabric wouldn't catch on the undergrowth.

After all these years, she didn't even have to think about where she was going. She knew the route she was on as surely as if it had been a street cut and marked, kept clear by the village folk, even though there was nothing there that the unsuspecting eye would even recognize as a path.

Her destination was a tree like many in the forest, old, with gnarled branches barely swaying since the wind didn't reach through the canopy on most days. There, between the broad, twisting roots, they had dug their very own secret hole, just large enough to conceal the one thing they had taken from the witch's hut, and wisely left in the forest before making the rest of their way home.

She knelt, digging in earth loose from being moved back and forth often, until her hands hit the smooth surface of the orb.

It was a perfectly shaped ball, shining with a strange inner light. They had watched the witch use it to call up the most delicious treats. They'd been smart enough not to use it for that, to only bring to them what they could claim they had discovered among the trees and clearings nearby. More recently, it had filled her basket with what she couldn't acquire otherwise.

The sound of shoes on dry moss, and wood breaking underfoot, startled her.

"It's just us!"

Relief came at the sound of her brother's voice, followed by anger. 'Us' meant that he wasn't alone.

She turned, watching him approach. By his side was another man, dark-haired to his blond, his beard trimmed more carefully, his build slighter, his hands softer. Unlike as they were, where one of them was, the other wasn't far. Still, her brother had never brought his best friend out here before – at least not to her knowledge.

She watched him come closer, forcing an indifferent mask onto her face.

This was the man she loved. This was the man she had hoped to marry, in spite of knowing that her parents were unlikely to ever agree to it. She'd only make it worse for both of them if she allowed him to hold on to any sort of hope now.

"He shouldn’t be here," she told her brother, forcing herself not to look at the other man to keep from losing her resolve. "Go back."

"Not yet." He sounded calm, but determined not to budge this time. "Look. We've been thinking. We have a plan. We can—"

She'd risen to her feet, her hand still clutching the orb. It lay heavy in her palm, the familiarity of it more reassuring than any object of witchcraft should have been.

"I don't want to hear it."

"You don't know what I'm going to say!"

His voice had risen, and she raised hers in turn. "I said I don't want to hear it!"

His friend had reached out to put a hand on his arm as he inhaled to try once again. It was always like that. Her brother got himself worked up, ready to jump into a brawl or shouting match; his friend stopped him before he could do anything truly stupid.

He should have stopped him far earlier this time, though, she thought. She wondered if he knew what they were hiding out here. He certainly hadn't blinked an eye at the shining rock I her hand. Had he been here before? Had he even held it, handled it, used it? She was going to demand some answers from her brother, but not now. Not here.

They were staring at each other, each weighing their next words.

Before either of them could speak, another voice thundered across the forest.

"What do you think you are doing here? Meeting with—with--!"

All the undergrowth in the world didn't help you notice someone approaching if you were too busy figuring out how to best berate your own sibling.

She stared at the man emerging between the trees. Her husband was livid with fury.

Had he followed her, or them?

It didn't matter. He shoved at Johann's friend, sending him stumbling back a step. He'd never been good at fighting.

"Leave him be," she snapped. It was the sharpest tone she had ever used towards her husband so far. "He didn't do anything. It's a chance meeting, nothing else!"

That wouldn't work if he'd heard even part of their conversation, and maybe not even if he hadn't, but it was worth a try.

He stared at her, his eyes blazing. "What did you say?" he took a step towards her.

"If you lay hand on her—" Johann warned from behind him.

Whether he'd planned that or not, he reconsidered the moment he spotted the thing she held. His eyes went wide, his face first pale, then a bright red with fury.

"So it is true." He sounded as if he could barely believe what he was seeing. "All the rumors, all the tales – what is the devil you're in league with?" Moving faster than she had expected, he rushed forward, snatching the ball from her hand.

There was no way to mistake it for anything man-made. No one could have worked the surface the way it was, and there certainly would not have been any natural way to instill the orb with that eerie inner light.

"Witchcraft!" The word was almost a scream. Before any of them could move, he had turned and hurled the thing in his hand to the ground.

She watched in frozen horror as it made impact, striking a rock embedded in the forest soil. She would never know if it was coincidence, or if her husband had aimed there, hoping the shatter the piece of magic he had just taken from her.

Either way, the result was the same.

The object that had secured their continued survival for nearly a decade hit with a sickening crunch, followed a moment later by a flash of light so bright it blinded her momentarily, a deafening crack of thunder and a blast that pushed her off her feet and into the moss behind her.

In spite of her tangle of skirts, she picked herself up just as quickly as the other two men did.

Her husband didn't rise.

A feeling of dread spread inside her as she looked down at him, even before her brother and his friend knelt to turn him over.

"Great," she said drily. She felt strangely detached from the entire scene. There had to be something wrong with her. Surely you were supposed to feel something if you were looking down at your dead husband, his face unnaturally blackened and wrinkled, looking charred and aged all at once as if the orb had taken its revenge on him, specifically, for breaking it. Or maybe it was the shard embedded in his flesh just below the shoulder that had carried something into his body. In either case, the result was the same.

He was dead.

No amount of talking would rule this death anything but witchcraft.

She looked at her brother. "I hope your plan's a good one, because we better make sure to be far away from here when he's found."

Chapter Text

They'd walked back into their village openly at first, returning to their homes and collecting what necessities they could easily carry in small packs, relying on it that it would be a while before her husband was missed, and longer before he was discovered. From there, they had travelled South, moving in the guise of three young men, rather than two men and a woman, sharing what weapons her brother had between them.

She'd changed into some of her brother's things once they'd veered off the street to cross the forest, before they reached another settlement. It meant that each of the siblings only had one change of clothes to their name, but it was safer for all of them.

After the first hours of embarrassment and strangeness had worn off, she even appreciated the new freedom of movement it gave her, and the way those breeches protected her legs from brambles in ways that a skirt hitched up to be out of the way simply did not.

They first heard the story of the twins who had murdered the sister's husband with witchery and then made off with a boy said to aspire to be an alchemist one day, hiding in the hay above the stalls of an inn's barn on their fifth night and listening to the talk of the draftsmen below as they unharnessed their horses.

Before they went on their way again that day, she took the dagger she had claimed as hers and hacked off her hair, hopefully reducing the risk that someone would see a woman in the beardless face of the young man she tried to be.

Once they felt safe enough following the roads again, hitching rides on carts here and there wasn't much of a problem.

They'd been aiming for the mountains, but found themselves facing a number of issues they hadn't bargained for once they got there. As the countryside changed, what skills they had in foraging off the land were running out. The little coin they had brought ran out soon thereafter.

There had been creatures not of this world in the forest for as long as they, or anyone in their village, could remember. They made it dangerous to go out at night, made it dangerous to go out alone at any time unless you knew how to avoid them.

They'd had the way of doing just that drilled into them ever since they had first set foot outside their parents' cottages.

The mountains had creatures, too, but the tell-tale signs for knowing they were nearby were different.

That was a thing they found out the hard way, as they walked into one of them just after sunset, while still looking for a place to camp.

Watching the memory, Izzy understood that the only reason the three had survived at all was that the demon they'd encountered had been starved and weakened, barely able to draw on any magic and swinging its own weapons as if its multi-joined arms were aching with every movement.

David – the man who would soon become David – bandaged up their scrapes, shaking his head over a deep gash in his friend's arm that was bleeding freely.

They proceeded with caution the next day, starting and jumping at shadows and sounds that turned out to be nothing.

When they made camp eventually, it was the beginning of a cold and miserable night. A fire seemed out of the question, since there was no telling what it might have drawn.

Another day, another night, and by the third they'd found a spot that seemed safe enough to have at least a small fire for a little warmth.

Jonathan – Izzy had trouble thinking of him as anything else, though the Abigail from the memory always thought of him by his birth name – was rubbing his arm and shifting it in its makeshift sling.

"Getting worse?" his friend asked. He had settled across from Abigail, always careful to keep a distance between them so they wouldn't give away their disguise if they were surprised by other travelers. They were in agreement that they would morph into a married couple as soon as they reached the other side of the mountain range. Fallen on hard times, they would be looking for a place to settle and start over, along with her cousin. The two looked far too much alike to deny a relationship between them.

Jonathan shook his head, though the look David gave him said that he didn't believe him. "Let me see your wound," he insisted. "You don't want that to go bad."

"Bad?" His mouth twitched into a tired smile. "How much worse can it get? This entire world is festering with demons and their kind – what difference is one more wound going to make?"

"The difference between cutting your meat with ease and juggling with a single hand," David returned, moving already to check on the other man's injury.

Jonathan hissed at the touch, but he didn't pull away. "Wish you could turn your ministrations to the world as a whole," he noted. "It's in sore need of it. Things lurking on the road, ready to kill those travelling it. Things lurking in the forest, ready to kill those with the ill fortune to fall into their hands…"

"The thing in the forest," David asked, his tone one of mild interest, "what was it like?"

"You know the story."

"Tell me again."

Abigail understood what he was doing, giving her brother something other to think about than the pain while he meticulously cleaned the cut. Blood flowed again as it reopened, but he didn't seem concerned by that.

"It was the ugliest, ancient hag you could imagine," Jonathan told him. "From the moment she had us in her hands, she left no doubt that she was going to bake us into a roast and eat us. She just wanted us better fed for it first. We were lucky she was so old she could barely see what she was doing – or we."

As he talked, Abigail provided the memory of those days they had spent as captives in the forest.

Seeing the mental image of the creature that had caught them confirmed what Izzy had suspected already.

Not a witch. Not a warlock.

Doubtlessly a survivor of the first adamas blast, aged beyond recognition of what species she had once been, unsteady on her feet, her eyes clouded over with a white sheen like cataracts. She had no doubt that without their own quick thinking and decisive action, the children would have died there. She'd probably been lapping up the energy their emotions produced every moment of the day, their fear, their relief at having food, their wonder at its taste in spite of the horror of their situation. It must have been a veritable bouquet of emotion for her. And, since that had been in the early years when they hadn't known there was no cure for the state they were in, she had no doubt that, had things progressed much farther, she would have 'eaten' the children surely enough – consuming their life force to boost her own.

Jonathan had swerved back into the present, talking about how what they needed to cleanse the world wasn't priests and monks with their books and their crosses and their prayers, but men with sword and arrows.

"Just men?" Abigail asked into his tirade.

He looked at her, smirking. "Women only if they are like you, sister."

*

He hadn't let go of his idea in the two days that followed, spinning out plans of how someone aiming to raise an order of warriors dedicated to eradicating creatures that were less than human would have to go about the project.

The other two listened, and mostly kept their own counsel.

On the evening of the second day of this, they crossed a ridge and found a valley before them, with a lake at its center. There wasn't a soul in sight anywhere.

"We've found our camping ground," David noted. He sped up his steps as he led them down the slope, the prospect of a lake probably rich with fish, along with plenty of water to wash off the grime of travelling and maybe even get their clothes into a somewhat clean state beckoning in a way that even his wild plans couldn't complete with.

The other two exchanged a look, and a grin, following.

Their leader had almost reached the water's edge when the glistening surface started to move.

"Hans!" She called a warning, realizing that there was no wind to match the sudden waves.

He'd seen it, too, and slid to a halt, his good hand on his blade already.

The first creature broke the surface just as he freed his injured arm from its sling to get both hands free for a defense – or attack.

They were running to catch up with him now, their own weapons drawn. Not for the first time on their journey, Abigail wished that she had more than the scant training the two had imparted on her at their nightly campsites.

The lake was roiling, spitting out body upon body of inhuman creature, with teeth like fangs and claws that rendered the use of swords unnecessary for them.

Her brother didn't leave them the time to attack first. The first creature emerging from the water was cut down where it stood. Another followed. Then they were on him, slashing and tearing at his clothes, gouging tracks into the flesh beneath.

All thought of training, or the lack thereof, was forgotten.

She rushed the drove of creatures ringing her brother, stabbing and hacking as she could. She lost count of how often she made impact, mindful only that she never hit either of her companions instead. In some corner of her mind she knew she was bleeding, but it seemed entirely irrelevant.

For the first time that day, she felt that her brother had the right of it after all, that his idea wasn't some flight of fancy borne of a wish to be heroes. It was, quite simple, a necessity.

Then there were hands on her, too many to resist, claws digging down, holding her, pulling her forward.

She stumbled, barely caught her footing, and felt water soak into her boot as she put her foot down.

The men were groaning and yelling nearby, struggling to resist the horde.

There were too many of them. She was forced onward, dragged down, and felt her resolve crumble under the weight of panic

*

The memory faded out as darkness claimed her.

Izzy barely had the time to blink before another palm was placed on top of their joined hands on the table.

Jonathan, previously following the unfolding memory along with them with his other hand in the heap already, took over control of the charm.

The images returned, followed quickly by the sounds of battle.

Before, she had watched him fight. Now she was him, and she hoped fervently that his fencing skills had improved during his years as a Shadowhunter. The way he was laying about with his sword right then, she would have had him disarmed and pinned in the scope of a few heartbeats even if he hadn't been hampered by an injured arm.

There was no way he would have survived that melee, or even stayed on his feet for another minute, if it hadn't been for a most unlikely pair of rescuers.

Even though she knew exactly what was happening, what had to be happening, Izzy shared Jonathan's panicked surprise at the light suddenly blooming around him, the brightness burning in his eyes and forcing him to squeeze shut his eyelids.

When he carefully blinked them open again, spots of color and light still clouding his vision, he stood alone at the shallow edge of the lake. Dust – or ashes – was still raining down on him, settling lightly on the water's surface.

Before he could fully comprehend what had happened, he spotted a piece of fabric bobbing to the surface, and scrambled for it, new fear swamping his mind and drowning out any organized thought. He grabbed a handful of linen, pulling back and ignoring the pain that lanced through his arm as he dragged his sister from the water, leaving her with her legs still in the lake but her head safely outside of it and barely registering that she gasped for air before going back to repeat the procedure.

The second body was larger, heavier, and almost too much for him to handle in his state.

Then his friend was safe as well – at least from the immediate danger of drowning – and he looked up, sweat mixed with lake water dripping into his eyes in spite of the cool season.

A man and a woman had joined them. They were dressed well, in wools and leathers. She had raven feathers braided into her hair.

Heathen, he heard their village priest's voice hiss in his head. Probably worshipping some sort of devil or another.

Witch, came another thought on its heels. That light hadn't been natural in origin.

Yet, she looked nothing like the witch from the forest, and whatever that light had been, it had helped them. In fact, the three of them were the only survivors of that blaze, as far as he could tell.

He wiped a damp hand over his face, realizing as he glanced at his palm that he must have been smearing soot and ashes all over his skin.

By comparison with her wild looks, the man by her side looked simple and harmless. Dressed in leather trousers and a simple tunic under a coat of fur and leather, like she, he wore an unassuming and calm expression, piercing blue eyes the only thing remarkable about his face.

Their features marked them as related to each other.

The woman stood, her hands held loosely at her sides, golden light still sparkling around them.

The man had sat down on a boulder. A tall staff, topped with a polished round stone not unlike the one they had taken from the witch's hut back then, was leaning against his knee.

"Who are you?" He had wanted to sound demanding. To his chagrin, he realized that his tone was plaintive at best.

The two exchanged a glance, the woman giving a half-shrug, half-nod to her companion.

"My name is Elphas," he said. He spoke the mountain dialect, making his words sound strange to Jonathan's Swabian ears. "My sister is Agnieszka. We live nearby, and you were lucky we'd just come over to close that rift."

"Rift?" he asked, turning the word over on his tongue and tasting its sound.

"The opening through which those creatures came," Agnieszka elaborated. "They weren't supposed to be here. They aren't made for this world." She sounded strangely sad. "Usually, we would have sent them back where they came from and closed the doorway they used. I don't much like killing. But they would have killed you instead, and you belong in this world."

Jonathan glanced at his companions, needing reassurance that both were still breathing, though neither of them had made an effort to even crawl further from the waves still lapping at the rocks more violently than they should have.  Something was still going on inside that lake.

"You would have spared those devils?" he asked incredulously.

Agnieszka's face hardened. "They have a right to live just as we do. Just as you do. They aren't coming here to kill and destroy."

He raised his arm, showing the wound that had once again re-opened. Red was dripping into the lake by his feet from a soaked bandage. "Kill and destroy is what they do."

"They're fugitives," Elphas said, clearly making an effort to keep his accent down. "Running from a war that destroyed their home, their families, their health… you're right – most of them shouldn't come here. This place isn't made for them, and even if it was they wouldn't be welcome in it. But they're not the devils you take them for."

"And what are you?" he asked, staring at the staff, the orb on it, and the woman's strange ornaments in turn.

"We're half like you," she said, "and half not. Our mother was a normal village girl, living a couple days' hike from here. Our father came from the same world they did, though he isn't like them. He looks no different from you or us. He understands this world. He lives in it. He's honored by the village, though how long that'll keep up with the priests gaining power…" she trailed off.

Jonathan let the words sink in. From inside his memory, Izzy could feel him probe at them, turning them over in his mind. He didn't want to think of one of the devilish creatures living among innocent villagers. Not even if it didn't look anything out of the ordinary and could blend right in. Even less so in that case, actually.

But these two had just saved their lives. They couldn't be evil – could they? Besides, they owed them. "If you are the offspring of their sort," he began, slowly, "then our priest would say that you must die as well. But you just stood by us against this … this horde…"

"So you would graciously let us live?" Agnieszka asked, her voice dripping scorn. "You wouldn't get a chance to lift your sword against us, youngling."

"Peace," her brother said. He turned to look at his companion. "Agneta, they need to hear it from one they will believe in more than us. You know how they are once their priests get to them. We can stand here and talk forever, and they wouldn't budge. There's a unit nearby. There must be, or they wouldn't have panicked as they did. I assume it's just a contuberium, not a full centuria, or they would have been here already. Get their decanus."

Jonathan frowned, both at the unfamiliar words and the fact alone that a man who clearly wasn't a priest was throwing around Latin as if it was nothing.

Agnieszka laughed. "You want me to what? Summon one of theirs? I've always known you were daft, Elphas, but I never took you for insane."

"He won't be very powerful," Elphas said, moving his staff to plant its butt in the soil by his feet as if getting ready to lever himself up by it. It reminded Jonathan of the way old men rose at times, though he looked at best a few years older than any of them. "They wouldn't send one of their better soldiers for cleanup duty here. You can hold him even, and banish him when he's confirmed our information."

Confusion wasn't a feeling that sat particularly well with Jonathan. "What are you talking about?" he demanded harshly. "Summon what?"

Agnieszka favored him with a cold stare. "An angel," she said. "My brother would have me summon one of your beloved angels for you so you can hear what your useless priests are about, what your churches are made for, and why  I just had to kill an entire family to save your lives."

"An angel." It was the only word she had said that truly registered with him. "Can you do that? Can you really do that?"

She groaned. "He'd probably strike us all dead for it. What would you want with an angel anyway, other than gawk at him in fear?"

He took a step forward, the mud sucking at his boots making him realize he'd still been standing in the water all this time. "I want to help," he stated, the awe he felt at the idea of coming face to face with a messenger of God reflected in his voice. "I want to help cleanse this world from evil. With an angel's blessing, I could—"

"Insane," Agnieszka muttered. "You're all insane."

"Do it," Elphas told her once more. "He's not going to believe a word we say, but he won't deny the truth if it comes from one of them. If you won't do it, I will." His hand closed around his staff, he straightened slowly.

"Stay where you are." She was shaking her head to herself, as if she could barely believe she was actually going to go through with this. The light around her hands intensified as she brought them up in front of her. "Knowing you, there's no telling what we'll get if you attempt a summoning."

It sounded like an insult, but Elphas merely smiled contentedly and sat down again, watching.

Jonathan couldn't follow the complex motions of the woman's hands. He wanted to clamp his hands over his ears to keep the strange words she uttered from reaching his mind. What if she was cursing him with her magic right now?

Before he could do more than think about it, a golden oval formed in the air above the lake, swirling and growing, until a dark core appeared at its center. It, too, expanded. Then, with a flash of light as bright as the one that had killed the devils but not near as painful to his eyes, a large shape shot from the depths of that hole in the air.

And there he was – tall and beautiful and terrible, shining with heavenly light and held aloft by enormous wings of the purest snowy white.

Jonathan didn't even remember when he had dropped to his knees later, but there he was at the edge of the water, raising his hands in supplication.

"Please." His voice was barely more than a whisper. "Please, we need your help."

 

July 4th, 2017

Calgary

"In my defense," Jonathan said, "it's really hard to stay objective when one of them shows up and throws on a full glamor of magnificence and glory and starts dealing out magic."

His sister snorted. "You were ready to fall to your knees and grovel for a bit of heavenly favor to fight demons long before he showed up." She moved to punch him in the shoulder, but there was a playful quality to it. Izzy couldn't help a smile. She could see herself and Alec in their places very well.

"I wonder what happened to Agnieszka and Elphas after I was gone," Jonathan mused. "They… weren't happy with how things had gone, but they stuck around. From where I stand now, I think they felt responsible for what they'd started. I want to think our friendship, as it became, was real, though…"

"Agnieszka is still around," Alec informed him. "Living in a cottage in Brocelind Forest, pretending to have the crumbling mind of an ancient woman so she can keep an eye on the Nephilim without risking assassination for knowing her history firsthand."

Magnus raised his cup to his lips for a sip of coffee and winced as the bitter liquid turned out to be quite cold. The memory had taken longer than he'd thought. A sparkle of magic descended on all their cups, and the pot on the table, at a snap of his fingers.

"She also takes care of the warlock part of the wards around Idris in the guise of another warlock," he explained before drinking from his reheated cup. "I assume now that they've called for her death, she'll give up the cottage and stick with being Ariana, at least for a while."

"We believe Elphas is dead," Izzy added. "He helped the Nephilim to the end, but then an experiment went wrong and he went after the victims. Our best guess at this point is that he didn't survive the experience."

There was a brief silence as Jonathan bowed his head to acknowledge the information. It wasn’t news for the other two. They had still been around at the time.

"Can we check to make sure Agneta is safe?"  he asked eventually.

"I can portal you to her cottage," Magnus offered. "But I recommend against going after her uninvited if she isn't there. A fire message would be safer."

"Speaking of fire messages." Izzy rose from the table to get the notepad they normally used to make shopping lists. "I should get news to Sister Dolores that the quest was successful after all."

She flipped the notepad to the end and carefully removed two pages there. Neither Agnieszka nor Sister Dolores needed to receive a message written over the impression of "chocolate, dark", "bananas", "the stuff you put in the dishwasher that's not soap" and "whoever used my best whiskey for cooking can buy a new bottle" written in four different handwritings.

Jonathan accepted one of the pages and a pencil from her.

"David," he said as he wrote, glancing up at his old friend. "I have a feeling that at this table I'm the only one who doesn't know why you up and left your wife and babies, your blood brother and everyone else to go live in a hole in the ground. Don't you think—" he drew the memory sharing rune in the air with the tip of his writing implement.

"No." David was watching him, a strange mixture of fear and resolve in his eyes. "I don't think. You don't want that memory. Have them give you my diary if you want to know, since they seem to have it."

Keeping her own message to three words, Izzy drew a charm into the corner of her page and sent it off into the air to its destination. "You know those energy banks they keep where they torture people to use their suffering and the leak from their life force?"

"They're not—" Jonathan started, but stopped himself just in time before he could add "people". He visibly forced his thoughts into a more useful direction. "I know what you mean."

"Well, think that," she told him. "Improvised, in a cave, maybe as a snack for the road." She flipped through the photo gallery in her phone. "I have some pictures of those pages here if you want to read."

He paled as his imagination readily supplied some images.

"I don't think I need to."

Signing his letter, he hesitated. It would be a while until charms would come as naturally to him as they did to most of them by now. The one he used to send was less confident than Izzy's, but it did the job well enough.

"So, once we prove to your satisfaction that we can handle this world as it has become, what are your plans for us?" Jonathan asked, his eyes on Alec. "Do we go and spread the word of what really happened to everyone who would listen?"

"First," their leader replied, "that'll depend on how deeply you want in. I'm not—"

"All the way," the other man interrupted him. "I want in all the way. This is the one opportunity we have to fix the mess we started back then."

Alec looked at the other two. Abigail met his eyes, a bright light shining in hers. "Every skill I have is yours," she declared. "Given a choice, I might start with my sisters. Who knows – there might be one or two among them who still know me. It'd make it easier to establish who I am."

They turned to David. Having seen him in Abigail's memory, they knew his quiet manner wasn't new, or even entirely caused by the things he had witnessed. He had never been a man of many words, thinking more than he spoke. He didn't show the other two's enthusiasm as he nodded slowly. "I've never been much of a fighter," he told them. "And if I can choose then I will stay behind the lines and take care of those in need. But I'll serve in whatever capacity you need me."

"That's alright," Alec reassured him quickly. "We will not send anyone into battle who doesn't want to be there. We'll have plenty of work to be done from right here."

"The brother who left with us—" David began, looking at Magnus. He broke off, uncertain of what he wanted to ask, precisely.

"Brother Zachariah," Magnus told him sadly. "James Carstairs. I'm afraid that he is probably dead by now. The runes of the brotherhood were all that kept him alive."

David lowered his gaze to the table. "I don't want anyone else to die for me," he declared. "Or because of me. There's been too much death and destruction already just because of what we did."

Abigail's hand moved across the table, resting on his. "It started long before us," she reminded him. "You know that as well as I do. We weren't the beginning, but we may help put an end to it. We can—"

The spark of fire in the air interrupted her.

In the same automatic motion that all of them exhibited at the arrival of a fire message, Jonathan reached up to pluck the piece from the air. A smile lit up his face as he read. "I believe it is safe to assume that Agneta is fine," he informed them, turning the page around and smoothing out on the table for everyone to read.

You've grown lazy, Jonathan Shadowhunter, it read. Review your tenses. We taught you better Latin than that. And what's that scrawl? Elphas would be ashamed of your penmanship.

"They taught you Latin?" Max asked.

Jonathan laughed. Something about that message had lifted his mood more than a scolding about his letter-writing skills had any right to do. "Raziel helpfully left us a big tome of instructions and runes to use in our fight against demons, but never once considered that three youngsters from a Swabian village didn't have any Latin between them and were barely able to print their names. And who were we to inform an angel of that. I don't know what we would have done if those two hadn't taken us in hand. I can assure you, those first weeks were quite… educational."

"That's one way to put it," David threw in, for once seeming actually amused as well. "And you hating every moment you had to spend with a pen instead of a sword."

Max suddenly developed a great interest in the half-eaten pie in front of him.

"I wonder what Agnieszka would say if she knew her scolding led to this much delight," Clary commented.

Jonathan turned to look at her. "She'd note, with great surprise, that we're not as stupid as we look." He pushed the letter closer to her.

She frowned down at the lines, her own limited Latin sufficient to read the words but not giving her anything beyond that.

"She's complaining about his use of Latin tense," Maryse helped her out. "Then she writes of Elphas in the present tense herself."

"Yes." The grin was audible in Jonathan's voice. "Whatever happened to make him disappear from sight, she at least has reason to believe that her brother is still alive."

Chapter Text

July 5th, 2017

Mundane medicine was oddly fond of plastic tubes, Jem thought as he contemplated his situation.

He couldn't deny that they went a long way towards keeping him almost comfortable.

Though he'd told himself it was more than unlikely, he had secretly hoped that the warlock Allie was talking about would be Catarina Loss. When she appeared in person less than half an hour after he had declared his intention to fight death to the last, she'd taken one look at him and shook her head.

"Carstairs, why are you always about to die when we meet?" she asked, shaking her head but not wasting any time before probing him with her magic to determine the extent of damage she was dealing with.

By then, Allie had carefully but expertly helped him wash – which had mostly consisted of Allie doing the washing while he focused on breathing – and change into pajamas that felt softer on his skin than anything he had ever worn in his life and surely belonged to someone in the house that wasn't him.

She'd installed him in the same bed he was still resting in, with one of the spelled quilts spread on the mattress and another carefully tucked around him.

"It's only the second time," he'd protested.

"It's only the second time we've met in person."

He'd had nothing to say to that, and focused on not wincing under her magical probing – not because it would have disturbed her spell, which he was reasonably sure didn't mind any movement on his part, but because he was afraid that one wrong twitch could set off another coughing spell.

Her examination over, Catarina had given him a long, serious look.

"I'm not going to lie to you," she'd said, which in Jem's experience always was a bad sign when coming from a doctor. "You know you're not well."

"Some might call that an understatement," Jem had replied mildly. "Is there anything at all that you can do?"

The look in her eyes had told him she didn't think it would be enough. "I can help you manage the pain. With the things going on inside you – magic only goes so far."

"What about without magic? Allie was mentioning mundane medicine."

That had taken her by surprise. Had she not considered mixing the two, or was she so used to everyone around her considering everything mundane inferior?

"What do you want me to do?" she'd asked. "How far do you want me to go?"

"However far is needed." His resolve to not give up on himself while there was some way to stay alive and get back into a state in which he could be of some help had only strengthened with every minute that passed. "I won't take any drugs. No more addiction. Other than that – you have my leave to do anything you can think of."

And thought she had, and shaken her head, though whether at him, at herself or at the general situation he hadn't been able to tell.

"We should have some sort of Shadow Clinic," she'd said as she'd started taking notes. "A place where people of the Shadow World can go if they need more care than can be easily provided in a warlock's workroom."

"Hold that thought," Allie had suggested from the door. "And bring it up with Alec when you see him. Do you need me to text Peggi?"

Catarina's perplexed look had said clearly that she hadn't expected anyone to take that comment as an actual suggestion. "Maybe. I'll have to borrow most of what I want to use from the hospital, though." She'd turned back to Jem. "There's a mundane drug called morphine. It's a strong painkiller. It affects the way you're breathing and it suppresses coughing."

"It's derived from opium," Jem had said. "I know opium. It's … terrible. The mundane equivalent to the yin fen I was taking."

She'd acknowledged his words with a nod. "Morphine can cause addiction as well, but not at the amount I want to give you. You're tearing up the tissues inside your body where they're damaged already if you keep coughing, and you'll only manage to keep it under control by sheer willpower for so long."

"That sounds like it will end up with me suffocating."

As it turned out, mundanes knew ways to prevent that. And that was how he had ended up with a large needle stabbed carefully between his ribs, Catarina muttering to herself that this was not the sort of work one did in a random guest room, that she wanted a properly sterile operating room for it and that anyone catching her at this rather than sending him off to a proper mundane hospital would put her license to practice medicine at risk.

"Do you have one?" he'd asked with mild curiosity.

She'd given him another exasperated look. "This is why the patient is not supposed to be conscious during this sort of thing," she'd claimed.

He didn't think that having a tube stuck in your chest through which red liquid kept trickling out of your body should have reduced the pain one was feeling. Surprisingly, it actually did. The reduced pressure on his lungs made breathing easier as well. Under strict orders not to tear up the tissue inside his lungs, where the blood he would cough up came from, he'd watched her stick another tube in his arm – this one not to drain anything from his body, but to feed other things into it, supplying his body with fluids and fuel to use for the hard work of staying alive.

She'd added the morphine to that mix, too, and the relief it brought almost made him ashamed for the gratitude he felt for it.

She hadn't been done with him yet. A third mundane tube wasn't exactly stuck into his body, but enriched the air he was breathing with oxygen from a tank that looked as if it held something dangerous. Again, the degree by which it made breathing easier for him was nothing short of amazing. He didn't think he had realized for how long he'd been going with less oxygen than a body should be getting.

He could tell he was getting enough of it now, because Catarina had brought a small device and clasped it to his finger. Apparently, its only use was telling them the oxygen level in his blood.

He'd been surprised to wake up to sunlight in his face and find that he had actually fallen asleep and slept through the night.

Looking around, he confirmed that he wasn't alone in the room. They'd agreed on that the day before, since he might not have the voice to call if he needed help, or the coordination to push a button.

This wasn't Allie, though, nor any of the other people he had seen the day before.

The woman in the chair, watching him and giving him what time he needed to fully wake up, didn't look too well herself. Her features suggested that she was related to Allie. That was where similarities ended. Her hair was a bright orange, distracting from the fact that she was painfully thin.

"Good morning," he said, carefully trying the words to make sure he could speak without setting off a coughing fit. He wasn't feeling too bad, though he wasn't planning on declaring his status as "almost comfortable" again too soon. That had led to a degree of amusement from various of the people present the last day that he suspected it was part of some in-joke he wasn't privy to.

The pain was creeping in again with every minute he was awake. If that meant that the morphine that kept his breathing and coughing under control was wearing off, he needed to be careful.

"Morning," she responded. "I'm Charlie Gale." She wasn't moving from where she sat, which he appreciated. Memories of people crowding him, grabbing his hand to feel his pulse, touching his face to check for a fever were both aplenty and unpleasant in his mind.

"Jem Carstairs," he told her. "But you know that."

"I do know that," she confirmed. "Do you need anything? Do you want breakfast?"

The thought of eating brought on a wave of nausea. He shook his head. "I'm good. I think…" he gestured at the line feeding into his arm, "this is supposed to be my breakfast."

"Catarina was in earlier," Charlie said. "You didn't wake up, and she said that was fine because you needed to preserve your strength. She said we could call her at any time if you needed anything, or even if you just wanted to hear from her how things are progressing."

He appreciated that as well, and resolved not to make use of the option unless he had to. Catarina had a job. He'd been the reason for her abandoning her patients once. He wasn't going to do it again if he could help it.

In contrast to most people, she didn't seem to feel the need to fill every bit of silence in a room with words. There was a long pause before she spoke again.

"Jem, do you have a dragon?"

The randomness of the question took him back. What made her think of dragons?

Still, she actually sounded genuinely interested, in a way that made him want to answer.

"I used to have a sword-stick to use as a cane and weapon. It had a dragon-head handle. Does that count?"

There was a jolt of surprise in her face that made him think that she hadn't expected him to answer – or that she hadn't expected the answer to be positive. "Was it green?"

He couldn't help a small chuckle. "It was carved of jade, so yes, it was green."

Charlie was visibly biting her lip now. What could there be about a green dragon that was of relevance to her and that concerned him in any manner?

She didn't volunteer the information. Eventually, he decided to ask.

"Does a green dragon mean anything to you?"

"Just that whichever god created you had a penchant for plagiarism." Charlie laughed, clearly amused by something still out of Jem's grasp.

"How so?"

Charlie held up the book she'd been reading, tapping the cover, which showed a robed man with silvery white hair. "In short: when quite young, Raistlin Majere encounters an evil creature that destroys his health, leaves him randomly coughing up blood, dependent on a tea to keep the coughing at bay. His hair turns white, his skin and eyes are changed from their former color. Eventually, he is on the brink of death and becomes something not entirely human anymore, but his health is stable afterwards. He changes his manner of dressing and lives remote from all who were dear to him previously. Sound familiar?"

He couldn't deny certain parallels. He gestured for her to continue.

"He also happens to have a dragon. Green dragon. His name's Cyan Bloodbane."

Jem snorted at that. He refrained from pointing out that he was born in 1861 and therefore most likely older than her novel.

"Do you have a brother who's handsome and strong and physically fit and well-loved by the ladies, through maybe not that smart?" Charlie asked.

"I had a parabatai." He didn't want to think of Will now. The death of the man he had loved as his brother had hurt even through the numbness of the Silent Brother he had become, but the pain that threatened to hit him now went far beyond that. He forced the most cheerful tone he could muster. "Can I borrow that book?"

She placed it on the bedside table without hesitation. "Did he get the girl you loved?" Her tone was still joking, but the words cut him deeply.

He felt all the amusement at the fact that there was some book character in someone's story who apparently replicated his own life in his own fantasy world drain out of him.

"I'm tired," he said, seizing on the first reason he could find to end the conversation. "I think I need to rest before I read."

Closing his eyes, he waited for her response.

"I'm sorry, Jem." Charlie, too, had sobered. He could hear she didn't believe his excuse. "I didn't think that answer might be a 'yes'."

He couldn't leave it at that. He couldn't let her believe that Will had – what? Stolen his girlfriend from him while he was ill?

"It's alright." He made himself look at her again, willing her to believe him. "He didn't steal her. I wanted – I was hoping they would find love for each other." He couldn't read in her face whether she believed him or not. "We were engaged to be married," he explained. "Then I was made a Silent Brother. I couldn't have – brothers aren't allowed to marry, and also… they don't feel like other people. And they don't work like men. If you… If you know…" He knew he was blushing. He couldn't possibly be talking to a woman about that.

Scratch that, he couldn't possibly be talking to anyone about that.

"They're impotent?" Charlie asked, bluntly naming what he'd been avoiding.

The heat in his face wasn't from yin fen induced fever, and it was probably too much to hope that Charlie would mistake it for that.

"My transformation ended our engagement," Jem said, as firmly as he could manage. "I asked them to take care of each other. I was happy when they married. I followed their family… their children. I was there when Will died."

"Your fiancée… ex-fiancée – is her name Tessa?" Charlie inquired.

Someone must have told her what he'd said to Magnus in parting. Or maybe Magnus had mentioned her again afterwards, or Catarina had said something…

He nodded.

"And Tessa is still alive?"

Another nod. "She's a warlock, though not like Magnus. Her mother was a Shadowhunter. We still meet… once a year. For an hour. It wasn't allowed but it was one of the things that kept me from giving up my… my real self entirely."

A small moment of silence followed. He could see her thinking.

"Jem," she began eventually. "Do you want us to send for Tessa?"

*

"I had to explain toothpaste to them," Max informed Alec as he followed his older brother down the stairs. "And shower gel." He clearly wasn't sure if he wanted to find that hilarious or exasperating. "And they'd never seen a zipper in their lives before. What do people wear in that angel place?"

"Something that looks remarkably like pajamas," Alec obligingly described. "Or robes. And sometimes track pants and really tight sweaters. Did you manage to get them all dressed?"

"Yeah." Alec could hear the eye-roll in Max' voice. "Teaching three adults to use clothes is not part of the job description of a Shadowhunter."

"It is when you collect people from the past. What are they doing now?"

"Abigail and Jonathan are showing David how a computer works. Seems the angels had that. They're finding mundane laptops a bit backwards."

"I hear angel computers are quite similar to Institute computers. Simon would know more about that. He broke one. They're not trying to take apart my laptop, are they?"

Max laughed. "When I went to go check on breakfast, Jonathan had just discovered Amazon and was loading a shopping cart."

Alec stopped to look at his brother in alarm. "Does he understand that we don't have unlimited amounts of disposable income right now?"

The boy shrugged. "I have no idea. But he can't actually place an order anyway. I logged out of Magnus' account before I let him have the keyboard."

"That was very considerate of you." Coming out of the kitchen, Magnus had just heard the last words. "Maybe explain the refrigerator to them sometime soon. Someone left it open most of the night, and I'm reasonably sure Allie expects us to actually pay for our power bill when it comes." The look he cast at Alec was almost pleading. "We really need more space. Even as it is, this house isn't large enough for so many people."

Alec closed the distance between them for a good-morning kiss, as if they hadn't woken up in the same bed and put the time remaining until their alarm clock rang to good use less than two hours ago.

"Katie's on it, but I'm afraid buying property takes more than a couple of days even if you're a Gale broker."

"And doesn't that sound like someone who deals in mediating Gale services for non-Gale people?" Magnus asked with a grin. "Now if—" he broke off as a flash of fire blossomed in the air and Alec reached up to snatch the message before it could float down.

Reading the note with satisfaction and not a small amount of relief, Alec barely registered that Magnus' phone went off to signal an incoming text message scant seconds after he had started scanning the lines.

"Max, tell Mom she needs to take charge of breakfast. We have to collect Jace and Clary and take a quick trip to Europe. Seems that at least one of my messages has reached people who are listening. Magnus—"

Magnus was looking at his phone, a look of delighted wonder on his face that quickly gave way to a different expression. Alec didn't need the seepage of emotion through their bond to know that his boyfriend was torn.

"How urgent is it?" Magnus asked. "I just—" he held up his phone. "Alec, Jem is still with us, and he's asking for someone very special. I—I don't just want to send her a fire message to tell her to show up, but that means I have to go to the Spiral Labyrinth and—"

And there was no telling what state Jem was going to be in by the time they returned from London. Even without knowing the details about the man's condition beyond what little Magnus had imparted the day before, Alec understood.

He leaned forward, kissing his partner fondly on the cheek once more. "You go get Jem's friend. I'll call Jack and ask him to come along as our magic support. A Dragon Prince will be as much of a deterrent as Magnus Bane would be – more so if I remind them of the little Dragonfire incident in Dublin"

"I don’t think that actually was Dragonfire," Magnus pointed out, just as Max demanded: "What Dragonfire?"

"Remind me to tell you about the Dragonfire tonight," Alec informed his brother, already opening his phone and flipping to Jack's entry in his contact list. "Or the fire in any case. "For now, I think it's better I don’t keep Mrs. Evelyn Highsmith waiting for any longer than I can help."

 

New York

Arriving in New York through their permanent portal, Alec found himself impressed by the work underway there. He made no effort to hide it. Bit by bit, the runes used on the building were erased, replaced by charms drawn carefully and precisely, and sparkling brightly in his magic vision.

He glanced up as he walked to the ops center, followed by Izzy, Chris and Jack, where most of the cameras that had once lined the corridor were gone. Only two remained in place, strategically located to monitor the portal room itself.

He nodded to a group coming the other way, noting that he didn't know all their faces. Some of that group must have been either from among Luke's werewolves or Raphael's vampires. Werewolves, probably, considering the time of the day and the size of the windows.

A glance at those told him that that conclusion may have been a little rash, as there were small shielding charms drawn into each corner of the glass, effectively filtering the sunlight streaming in. It wouldn't take a daylighter to move freely in here now.

Not every face he saw reflected full approval or happiness to see him again, or maybe at the changes in general, but for the moment he was going to be entirely satisfied that there was no open hostility.

Underhill, Luke and Raphael were standing at the three-dimensional model of New York in the ops center, with a woman with a row of small horns across her forehead who was gesturing at something Alec couldn't make out.

Jace and Clary glanced his way briefly without interrupting their talk with a team in gear, ready to go out.

He nodded to them but turned his attention to the joint heads of institute. "Good morning, Ian," he said in greeting. "Luke, Rapahel. And—" he hesitated, waiting for someone to fill in the missing name.

"Celine Dark," the woman introduced herself, holding out her hand. "Representing the warlocks in this little experiment."

Alec took the offered hand in a grip that stayed firm without being threatening or trying to dominate. "Glad to make your acquaintance," he said. "How do you like the experiment so far?"

"It's not fallen apart yet," she returned. "Which means it's held up well beyond the time I would have given it. We'll see how things go when we start sorting through the treasure rooms later today."

"It will go fine," Underhill declared. "Unless you can't decide what belongs to whom, since I think the only thing we're certain about is who what was taken as spoils doesn't belong to."

His tone and expression didn't betray what he personally thought of the idea of giving back what the Shadowhunters of the past had seized from the people they had hunted, which was just as well. It had the potential to cause trouble either way.

"Ian, would you mind greatly if I took Clary and Jace and left you Izzy and Chris instead? I have a response from London and I am afraid it came with specifics I need those two for."

Underhill laughed. "If it serves the cause, take them. Though it's lucky your people are mostly here to help up get the hang of those charms and all, and not part of the actual Institute operation, considering how often you've already had to swap them around."

Alec joined in with a small chuckle. "It's for the best. I don't want anyone to think I run two institutes. I don't think it actually hurts to firmly establish our involvement here is strictly educational and you're the ones in charge. Carry on?"

"Yeah," Underhill said, still grinning. "Because that's absolutely what you tell the person in charge to do."

Ducking his head a little, Alec made his way to his parabatai and Clary, who had finished their discussion in the meantime and were watching them.

"Early shift change," he announced indicating two . "I need you to come to London with me."

"London?" Clary asked.

"Head of Institute Hightower wants to parley," Jack informed her.

"Geordie told her about the painting, and she desires to see it for herself. And she's asking for Jace because – well, your guess is as good as mine," Alec added

Jace rolled his eyes. "My guess is Imogen. And so is yours. Is that why we're taking Jack? The painting?"

Though not for lack of trying, Clary still wasn't able to tell from inside the Wood what she was going to find outside a painting if she used that mode of travelling. While Hightower didn't know that, the risk of a trap was much higher than if they used Charlie, who was perfectly able to tell how many people were near her intended exit point before she went through.

"Yeah," Alec confirmed. "Magnus had to run off on a different errand and—what is she doing here?"

He was staring over Jace's shoulder at a familiar shape he hadn't expected to encounter in the New York Institute. It made him realize he still had no idea what to do with their three younger visitors.

Jace didn't need to see what he was looking at. "She tagged along when we came over this morning. She's not disturbing anyone and she's actually shown off some nice new charms that we didn't know yet either, so we figured she could stay."

"Right."

Alec squinted slightly as he watched their friend Romy lean over a desk, talking with one of their less-favorite former institute-colleagues. Going by the way Raj was smiling at her and gesturing in response, he certainly didn't mind.

"Did anyone tell him she's a demon?" he inquired.

"No one told him she's not," Jace returned matter-of-factly. "That has to be enough, right? If she wants him to know her pedigree I'm sure she'll tell him."

"We better keep a bit of an eye on that to make sure he doesn't stab her back to her home dimension when he finds out," Izzy mused. "Purely by reflex, of course. Now – anything we need to know before you leave? Evelyn Hightower is waiting."

 

The Spiral Labyrinth

Magnus emerged in the pocket universe powerful warlocks had once built as a refuge for their kind. Not many had the key to entering the inner-most core of it directly through a portal, and right now he was happier than ever to be one of the select few. Every minute he didn't have to waste was a minute more than Jem and Tessa would have together.

Charlie's message had been carefully optimistic where Jem's chances of survival were concerned, but he didn't quite dare get his own hopes up. Not finding a cure for Jem in time to prevent his rapid deterioration and near-death back then still made him feel inadequate.

Two warlocks he didn't know were standing near the entrance to the corridor he aimed for, talking. They glanced up and nodded to him. "On an errand," he said as he spotted the light of admiration in the eyes of one of them. Magnus Bane certainly wasn't unknown among his own kind, but he didn't have the time to bask in attention or dispense advice – not today. "I need to—"

"Magnus!"

The sharpness in the way she said his name made him wince. He turned, finding himself face to face with the very person he had come to see. Tessa must have either sensed his arrival somehow or otherwise been informed of it. Had she been waiting for him? She looked no happier than she sounded.

"Tessa."

She was dressed like a perfectly ordinary mundane. Nothing about her looks gave her away as being one of theirs. As the only living warlock without a Mark, she didn't have to bother with a glamour even outside of the Labyrinth. Was it an issue for her in here? He wondered. She had always been one of a kind, not quite warlock, not quite Shadowhunter. Certainly not the mundane she'd grown up as. "We need to talk."

"Damned right we do." A small jerk of her head indicated for him to come with her, and he followed obediently, his hands in his pockets suddenly sweaty.

Still, they walked in silence for a short while, traversing corridors that looked ancient, corridors that looked as if taken from a science fiction movie and corridors that wouldn't have looked amiss in any mundane's household. The Labyrinth knew no single style or age.

"Do you know what happened last night?" She demanded after a while.

They had just reached a crossing where the blue tiles they had just walked between merged into a blood-red that uncomfortably reminded Magnus of Jem. Red stains on pale skin…

"Nothing good, I suppose?" he offered, not sure what she could be referring to.

She gave a dry laugh. "It doesn’t happen often that one of us, from in here, is summoned – not like …" she snapped her fingers and gesticulated, suggesting a spell, "but by letter demanding that they present themselves for a consultation. And yet, last night I received just such a missive – from the City of Bones."

Magnus didn't suppress a wince. "Did you go?"

"Of course I went."

Right. She wouldn't have had any reason to assume that they wanted anything else than her expertise on some subject or another.

"Can you imagine what they asked me?" She was studying him, suddenly seeming uncertain of whether his visit was actually connected to that meeting – which clearly had not been on the pleasant side.

He took a slow breath. "My best guess is that they wanted to know if you knew where Brother Zachariah got to."

"I told them that I was hardly Brother Zachariah's keeper, and that he wasn't allowed to be in contact with me anyway. Silent Brothers and their former lives and all. I have no idea if they're aware how often he's broken that rule, but they definitely didn't believe me."

Magnus felt the blood drain from his face. Tessa was standing across from him, alive and sane and not looking any worse for wear, so they hadn't taken things to extremes. He didn't know what they could have done, but he'd seen what Valentine and his lot had at their disposal to get at information they wanted.

Idiot, he told himself in his mind. You should have come for Tessa the moment you dropped off Jem. How could he not have realized she was going to be a natural target?

"They have ways of digging through your mind," she informed him. "They rummage around and look at your thoughts and discard what they don't need, until the inside of your mind feels grimy and dirty and vile. And trying to block them makes the experience worse, so it's best to just suffer it. They found that I didn't have the information they wanted, though I'm afraid they may have learned about Blackfriar's Bridge. They were less happy with him when they sent me away than when they had me come in."

"I'm sorry, Tessa." It felt terribly inadequate, but he had to say something.

She shook her head. "Don't be sorry! Tell me what you know! Is he--?"

Magnus closed his eyes, collecting his thoughts for his response. "Jem is no longer Brother Zachariah," he told her. "They have no hold over him anymore. He saved a life when the Brothers were planning murder, and he joined the side they aren't on."

"Your friends."

He didn't know how much of the news of what the Lightwood siblings and their associates were doing, how much of what was going on in Calgary, and now New York, had reached the Labyrinth, where many weren't greatly concerned with the goings-on out in the world, but he nodded. "Tessa, he abandoned his runes."

Her hand went to her face, covering her mouth as the words registered. She knew what that meant.

"He's alive," Magnus hurried to say. Then, because for all the centuries of experience that he had, he had no idea how else to tell her, he added: "He's asking for you."

All the annoyance and anger from being left uninformed and therefore walking into the Silent Brothers' questioning unsuspecting went out of her.

"Let's go."

"Tessa…" As much as he wanted to take her by the hand, turn around and portal her right into the Gales' living room instantly, he couldn't. "You need to know what you're getting into. The Brothers – they might get it in their minds that someone could have contacted you in the meantime and try to question you again. If you… If you have the knowledge they are looking for when that happens…"

When, not if. He didn't realize he'd been going to say that until the word was out of his mouth.

There was a moment of silence.

"You're right," she agreed then, hard resolve in her eyes. "I won't endanger Jem. I guess that means I can't return here, or anywhere else they would expect to find me, while he is alive."

"Or until he's strong enough to defend himself." He hardly dared say it, afraid that he was raising hopes where there was no place for them, but she'd hear it from the Gales soon enough. "He's committed to clinging to his life. The people who are taking care of him think he has a fighting chance. Catarina is…cautious but not excluding anything."

"Catarina is taking care of him?"

"Among other people," he confirmed.

Relief was evident on her face at that piece of information. She trusted Catarina and her skills. "I'll need a moment to pack a few things and get my projects frozen or hand them to someone else. Is there some place where I can stay near where Jem is?"

"I'm sure the people he's staying with will gladly make space for you."

"Wait for me out here," she told him. "I'll be faster if people aren’t trying to get in a word with Magnus Bane while I try to get my things in order."

"Sure." He gestured, summoning a chair against the wall to sit on. "I'll be right here when you're ready."

"Won't be long," she promised.

As she turned to leave, another thought pushed through to the front of his mind.

"Tessa?"

She stopped, looking back at him.

"When Jem was himself again – when the runes of the Brotherhood were gone and his thoughts were properly free again? You were about the first thing on his mind. He loves you still. He asked me to tell you that … I think he meant after he died, but with a little luck it may not come that far, and he did say 'when you see Tessa'."

She was looking at the floor by her feet now, her expression concealed from his view.

"What a lucky coincidence," she noted eventually. "Because I believe that I will love him until the day I die. We make quite the pair, don't we?" She didn't wait for his response. "I'll hurry."

 

 

Chapter Text

London

No matter how much he compressed himself into a human shape, Jack's metaphysical presence was big and bulky.

Clary dreaded to think of what it would have been like to pull him into or out of the Wood before, as Charlie called it, the god had returned to it.

Actually, considering that Charlie hadn't been able to take him into it then, while Jack had been much younger and smaller, both in physical and magical proportion, she probably wouldn't have stood a chance.

As it was, she glanced back at the painting as soon as she was standing securely on the tiled floor of the London Institute, half-convinced that the canvas must have torn under the stress.

It looked as solid as ever, the battle scene entirely unaffected by their passage.

She felt the aged Head of Institute scrutinize her even before she turned back to face her.

"What would I have to do if I wanted to keep you out of my Institute?" she asked in lieu of a greeting.

"Remove all paintings and anything that could possibly be considered pieces of art from the building," Clary told her truthfully. "Or you could simply ask me not to show up."

The look Hightower gave her suggested that she hadn't for a moment considered that to be a viable option. She didn't linger on the thought, though.

"My office," she said. "Before someone sees us standing here and shoots you on sight. I'd hate to have to explain that to Imogen."

"We brought protection," Alec declared, nodding at Jack. The Dragon Prince wore a white pirate-style shirt , the cord that laced it up the front loose enough at the neck to let the fabric gape open and reveal a patch of golden scale he neither suppressed nor glamored over. Anyone not familiar with his species would take him for a warlock that way, leaving them with a surprise they could still pull out of their sleeves at need.

Still, they followed the woman, glancing up to see that the cameras along the way seemed to have been disabled. It was either that, or someone had gone to the lengths of covering up the little light that told that they were recording.

Then the old woman was sitting regally in her chair at her desk, Geordie standing at attention behind her. The young man hadn't said a word so far, nor had he betrayed in any manner what he thought of the entire thing.

"The Clave says that we should deliver your dead bodies to them for reward money" Hightower began when they had all taken position across from her, Alec standing between Jack and Clary, with Jace on Clary's other side. "And Imogen Herondale strongly implies, without actually saying the words, that I should listen to you instead. So." She gave the clock on the wall a pointed look. "You have ten minutes to convince me before I call security. Which, I assume, will be merely a minor inconvenience for you, since the latest news is that you broke into the City of Bones and abducted a Silent Brother, and they still can't find you."

"'Abducted' is a harsh word," Jack mused.

"I wonder which one they meant," Alec said drily. "The one they were going to murder at sunrise or the one who helped us make sure that didn't happen and then left with us. Either way, here's the short of it. I'll answer any questions, but it'll probably take longer than ten minutes."

He didn't bother to summarize what he had written in his message to her already. He didn't seize power for a show of wings either. They weren't here to intimidate.

He'd used barely three of his allotted ten minutes when he felt a wave of barely suppressed annoyance from Jace.

The briefest glance his parabatai's way showed him that he has trying to gesture at something without being too obvious about it. His lips moved in what had to be an all but soundless snarl.

Remembering their stay at the institute, he shifted his vision to see the flows of energy without interrupting what he was saying.

Sure enough, there was a condensation of green glow hovering between Jace and the desk.

Whether it was his shift of attention or whether she had noticed Jace's fidgeting as well he couldn't tell, but Hightower suddenly turned her own focus vaguely to the other man's proximity.

"By the Angel, Jessamine, not now!" she hissed the moment Alec paused his narrative briefly to draw a breath.

The temperature in the room dropped as the green intensified just before the ghost faded into view.

Jessamine Lovelace was pretty, in an impractical, complicated sort of way. She wore a white dress stained red over the chest. Why did ghosts, who were supposedly in control of their appearance, have such a tendency to display their death wounds?

Because it's sort of important to them, Jace supplied. The most relevant part of their existence, you might say, so it's on their minds and becomes part of their appearance.

Well, that made some amount of sense at least.

"I knew Jem Carstairs when I was alive," the ghost declared, sounding less petulant than the look she gave Hightower could have warranted. "He was always kind – even when he visited as Brother Zachariah. I just want to know how he's doing!"

"Alive the last I heard," Alec told her. "Magnus just went to get Tessa." If Jessamine had known those people when she'd been alive, further explanation probably wasn't needed. "Now, can we continue before your boss here is calling the guards on us?"

"She's not my boss," the ghost informed him. "Besides which, she's not going to call the guards. She talked to Inquisitor Herondale for three hours earlier. Then she closed down the portal to Alicante and had George remove his and her enkelis before she got back to you."

Looking immensely pleased with herself at imparting that she relented, floating more than she walked towards the back of the room, where she hovered, just this side of being visible, to watch the rest of their conversation.

 

The Spiral Labyrinth

There was a row of tiles maybe two inches below the ceiling where an attentive watcher could spot a pattern in a minute shift of the color.

Magnus amused himself following it with his eyes up and down the corridor as far as he could see, then moved his attention lower, trying to see if he could find similar features in the rest of the wall.

Whoever had designed this section must have either had some strange twist to their vision that allowed them to perceive the hidden patterns more easily, or greatly enjoyed the thought of baffling later generations.

Footsteps coming nearer ended his scrutiny.

Looking up, he watched an old warlock approach him.

He wasn't old in looks, of course. Going by his physical appearance, he should have been not much older than Magnus, if any, but there was a quality to his movements that Magnus had come to associate with the very old of any species over the years.

The man was aiming for him, and Magnus rose to his feet in one fluid motion. Let no one say that Magnus Bane had forgotten to pay respect to his elders.

"Magnus Bane," the man observed. "A pleasure to meet you." He was speaking French.

With a smile, Magnus responded in the same language. "I need to be on my way as soon as Tessa is ready. Is there anything I can do for you in the meantime…?" He let the sentence trail off, giving the other man space to fill in his name.

"Call me Pierre," came the obliging response. "Not so much. But maybe there is something I can do for you." A small movement of his hand caused the wall next to Magnus to shift, bulging and distorting until a bench had grown from the tiles, wide enough for both of them to sit comfortably. Pierre indicated the newly-made seat with one hand.

Magnus sat, with mental note that he had to find the details of that spell. Though he was hoping that their current space issues were very temporary, retractable furniture could come in handy anytime.

"Is it true?" Pierre, settling next to him, asked before he could say anything else. "The Nephilim, rising up against their angels? Shadowhunter turning against Shadowhunter for a change, instead of harassing our kind?"

"The former appears inevitable at this point," Magnus confirmed. "The latter we still hope to avoid. No one needs a civil war in Downworld." He paused. "But Downworld may have to make a decision of standing with them when the time comes."

"Hmm." Pierre drew out the sound, as if not sure that he agreed. "When you grow to be my age, few things still hold your attention or get you excited. Life turns into a tedious string of tedious days. I've considered retiring recently. Maybe I should put that off a little longer. It seems that some real excitement may still be in store for me."

"You might consider that indeed," Magnus agreed.

"I knew an old warlock once," Pierre told him, speaking as if lecturing to a group, rather than directly to his companion. "He went to sleep a long time ago. Before he did that, he left a message with me."

"And I assume this message is going to help me?"

"You, your associates, who knows?" Pierre asked. "Maybe it's just the ramblings of an old man who wanted to leave some riddle behind to remember him by."

Magnus glanced down the corridor. Tessa was nowhere in sight yet. Still, he was feeling impatient. "Let's hear it."

Pierre's voice and tone changed as he recited the message. The change went beyond what the switch from French to Latin should have done. He was probably imitating his old acquaintance's manner. "If ever any of the Nephilim see the truth and choose to act on it, to cast off their chains and refuse to continue as tools of injustice, they may find a treasure where the same was once attempted, and failed. But they must prove their commitment, and their understanding, or they'll be denied entrance."

He gave a very French shrug. "I've never thought much about it. I've had my dealings with them in the past, and I can't say I liked it a great deal. I know there's something wrong about the way they hunt, but I never cared to dive more deeply into the details. I don't know what else he's referring to, but maybe your friends will." He gave Magnus a careful scrutiny. "Maybe you will."

"Maybe I do," Magnus confirmed. A thought was starting to take shape in his mind. "And if my first association is correct, I hope that we get more than one attempt, because in that case we've been denied entrance once already."

 

New York

"Well, I guess they have enough rooms to not use the ones infested with our bad attitude," Izzy noted as she looked around the place that had been her home for the better part of eighteen years.

Aside from a small sprinkling of dust, it looked very close to the way she had left it behind. She knew that, like all their rooms, it had been searched when they had disappeared from the Institute earlier that year, but by that time there hadn't been much there to find. Like her friends, she'd removed all of her personal things, except for a few changes of clothing and a couple of books, to Calgary long before their escape.

A glance at the ceiling told her that the cameras in here hadn't been removed yet, but the recording indicator was off. Even though, it made her shudder. She'd lived in this room for so long, and never given a second thought to the fact that she could easily be observed by whoever manned the OPS center at any time.

Chris followed her gaze and gave an understanding nod.

"I never thought much about it either," he told her. "After I got to London – it was far less supervision than we had at Valentine's compound, so it actually felt like immense freedom."

"I took my freedom outside of the institute."

The bed was stripped but otherwise looked untouched. If Izzy had been the one conducting the search, she would have pulled it apart, opened up the mattress and the cushions, and checked for anything hidden inside.

It wasn't that they had done that and replaced the items. She knew her mattress.

Chris followed her gaze to a spot that was discolored and looked somewhat brittle, down by the foot end.

"Yes," Izzy told him. "I set my mattress on fire once. I brought some demonic essences up from the lab to experiment with them, and something turned out to be volatile."

"You were how old?" He didn't even try to hide the grin in his voice.

"Twelve, I think. Thirteen maybe."

"I have a feeling that bed has many a tale to tell."

She knew how she would have meant it, had she said those same words. She certainly knew how Charlie, or any Gale, would have meant it. She suspected that Christopher rather meant them the same way Alec would have meant them instead, which was entirely innocent.

"I hope it enjoyed them," she returned. "Because that's all it saw. I never brought a boy in here."

He blushed, the darkening of his cheeks stark on his pale skin and against the near-white of his hair.

"I always went elsewhere for that," Izzy continued, ignoring it. "Not even for the cameras, but because I didn't – well, most of the boys I was into weren't the sort you bring into your parents' house. And the others were the sort who wouldn't have risked being seen coming out of my room."

"Sebastian would have been someone you could introduce to your parents," Chris dutifully pointed out.

"Mother," she corrected. "Not going to introduce anyone to Mister Dearborne. Sebastian and I don't work together as anything other than friends. Did he—" She broke off, uncertain if quizzing him about his parabatai was something he'd consider acceptable. As far as she was aware, they had agreed that there was no point in trying for a closer relationship after they had tried dating briefly.

Shaking his head, he confirmed her impression. "Sebastian said pretty much the same thing."

It sounded like there was more, things that Sebastian had said that Chris didn't share with her.

Her hand went into her pocket, closing on metal. There was something she'd been wanting to do since she'd heard about how Chris had tried to track her back in the demon dimension, unaware that they had already been sent back to Idris. She'd spotted a piece suitable for it in Allie's store when she'd worked a short shift there the day before, earning a little money to help keep them afloat while she didn't dare commit to David's offer of getting her a permanent position in forensics while she didn't know when she'd have to run off on another mission.

Those things had a way of showing up just at the right moment. She hadn't been able to decide yet it if was the store, or Allie, or the Gale Luck they kept ingesting in their pies.

This wasn't the sort of moment she would have chosen, but thinking of running off on missions made her decide against waiting for a more opportune moment.

"I got you something."

His expression was impossible to place. There was surprise there, certainly, but also something else. She couldn't even tell if he thought the principle of getting a present from her registered as positive or negative with him. She could only hope she'd not been reading things into his earlier acts just because she wanted them there.

"I was going to give it to you this morning, but then Alec showed up and chased us over here, so I didn't."

Bringing out her hand, she presented a small silver locked on her palm. The design was simple, the symbols etched in it abstract. It was attached to a chain of the same material, the links fine but sturdy enough not to tear at the first hint of tension.

"I don't want to ever hear again that you deliberately burned yourself on my bracelet because I got lost and you needed to track me."

His blush returned, and he studied his palm for a moment, scarred in spite of magic and healing charms. Electrum was hard on his body.

"You could just ty not to get lost again. I cannot track you by an item you give to me," he said. "For the sake of tracking, it will be mine."

She indicated the tiny release that would open the catch, and the locket, to reveal its contents. "The locket will, but the hair inside will not." Her free hand lifted the one she was wearing out of her shirt. "We started wearing these after New Year's, to make sure we could always track each other. I could—" she hesitated, feeling heat in her own face. "I could put some of yours in mine as well."

He ran his hand through his own close-cut hair before gingerly taking the silver piece from her. "You might have to wait until I grow it out. I don't think there's much to harvest here. But if you can find a strand long enough, go ahead and take it."

"I might want scissors for that rather than a boot knife," she said. That was what they had used to cut their own back then – the daggers Maryse had presented them with as gifts that same day. "Maybe you'd like to come over later today, when we're done with duty?"

He slipped the chain over his head, letting the locket disappear into the neck of his shirt.

"I don't think I'm the sort of boy you want to introduce to your mother either."

She wanted to laugh at that, but something about the way he had said it stopped her. "I don't need to," she said instead. "She already knows you. And you're not a boy anyway. Men are different."

"I shall let Meliorn know he's a boy and I'm a man." His cheerful tone felt a little forced. "For now, though – should we get back to work? People will wonder where we are."

And what we're doing, Izzy thought. Needlessly, since we're not doing anything.

"Right," was what she said, however. "Though they're probably just as glad we're not trying to help them sort spoils. Speaking of spoils—" A memory coming out of nowhere sped up her steps towards the door. "Let's go to the kitchen and see if Hodge's mug is still around. I don't know the story that goes with it, but he always was very attached to it, and I bet he's not going to ask about it – or for it."

 

Calgary

When Charlie had told him that she had plenty of things to do with her phone if he wanted to read, and wouldn't be offended if he preferred that to keeping up a conversation, Jem had fully planned to do just that. Not talking meant less of a risk of coughing.

Seeing with his eyes again instead of the strange way that the Silent Brothers did was an odd sensation. In a way, he felt as if he was exercising a muscle long unused.

He had never imagined that the process of seeing could feel exhausting, his brain struggling to handle the input, the light and the colors.

The colors.

He'd forgotten how bright they could be. The quilt that covered him alone was a treasure of them, each piece of fabric placed for maximum effect, yet always keeping in mind that the result would be pleasing to the eye. He felt like he could have studied it for days and not run out of details to discover.

The unpleasant effect would fade, he told himself. More than a century without sight would have to leave his brain confused at its sudden return. Surely this wasn't another side effect of the withdrawal that might stay with him forever.

And what will it matter if it does? He asked himself harshly. His lungs had been scarred on the inside even when he was seventeen and dying. He'd long lost a Shadowhunter's stamina, and it wasn't the yin fen – or at least not primarily. There were patches of scar tissue in his organs that impaired their function. He would never be breathing at full capacity.

Beyond that, the small nerves in his hands and feet were dying, and that was precisely why he had discarded the book again after only a few pages. Not letting it slide from almost numb fingers was hard. Turning pages was a challenge of coordination and patience he couldn't keep up for long.

He wouldn't be fighting like his fellow Shadowhunters. He'd be lucky if he came out of this able to walk without help. He'd drop a sword as likely as he'd manage to stick it somewhere.

There would be jobs he could do to help, he told himself. He still had all the knowledge his Brotherhood had given him, and it wasn't fading the way he had feared it might.

Charlie, of course, had noticed that he had put the book aside.

"No good?" she'd asked.

"Everything's exhausting right now," he had returned quietly. "Even reading."

She'd watched the way he had brushed his hair from his face using the heel of his hand rather than his fingers, and put two and two together. He could see it in the minute change of her expression.

"I could read to you," she offered.

"But you have other things to do—" he began

"Nothing that can't wait."

She'd moved the chair to the side of his bed and picked up the book from the nightstand.

Straddling the chair and using its backrest to support the book, she didn't even wait for his further confirmation.

Some people might have thought that Bards were all about music. Mostly, that was true. On some level, however, any sort of storytelling was what they were made for.

There was a compelling quality to the way she read. Her voice made the characters alive, drew scenes he could follow in his mind until he felt as if all he had to do was to reach out and he would touch the gigantic trees in which the town of Solace was built. He thought that he could smell the wood, and the soil, and even the unmistakable aroma of men and women working in the heat all day.

It certainly took his mind off his worries, off the pain and even stopped him from glancing at the reading of the oxygen meter every few minutes to make sure he was actually still breathing sufficiently.

A knock on the door came almost as a disappointment.

Charlie stopped reading, marking the place where she'd been by simply folding a corner of the page down. Jem's lips thinned at that. He could just about imagine either Tessa or Will commenting on that treatment of books.

"I'd call them in," he said without raising his voice. "But—"

Nodding her understanding, Charlie did just that.

He watched the door open to reveal a stranger. He was a tall man, dressed in faded blue jeans and a denim shirt of the same color, dark blond hair tied back and his face partially obscured by wraparound sunglasses. That seemed odd. Who would wear sunglasses indoors?

"I was wondering if I could talk to Mr. Carstairs briefly," he announced, not making a move to actually enter the room just yet. "I might have an idea or two."

Jem nodded at him, and Charlie put the book down where Jem could reach it easily if he wanted to try to continue on his own later.

"Come on in," she said as she got to her feet. "I'll go and check out what Allie's cooking in the meantime." A look in Jem's direction told him that he could ask her to stay. He did no such thing.

"There's a chair by the bed," Charlie told the newcomer. "It's about—"

"I know," he interrupted her mildly. "I heard you get up just now."

"Of course you did, Sammie." Charlie was grinning. "Of course you did."

The two traded places, the Bard slipping out of the room while his new visitor crossed the distance from the door to the bed. He slowed before reaching his target, one hand held out in anticipation just a moment too early.

Blind, Jem realized. The man was as blind as any Silent Brother, except without the magic that allowed them to navigate and perceive their environment. The sunglasses weren't there to protect his eyes from the sun, but to keep whatever was underneath them from being seen.

His fingers made contact, and he ran his hand down the backrest quickly. Either he was well familiar specifically with Charlie's way of using chairs, or generally had acquired enough caution to not simply assume the furniture was placed the right way around.

"Jem," Jem said with a small smile that was lost on his companion. "Mr. Carstairs was my father."

"Very well," the other man said. "Jem it is. My name is Samael."

Jem almost choked at that, remembering just in time to focus on keeping his breathing under control in order to avoid a coughing fit. Had he just offered first names to—

"Did Charlie just call a Prince of Hell 'Sammie'?" he asked, not even trying to keep the incredulity from his voice.

The way Samael half-lowered his head in a useless attempt to hide a grin made him look almost boyish. "Charlotte Gale is a force of nature," he declared. "She does as she will and I would not presume to tell her what to call anyone. Besides which, she has earned every privilege she would want many times over."

The way he focused on Jem made him think that he had some way of seeing after all, though it gave no hint at the mechanism.

"I wouldn't call myself a Prince of Hell, though," he continued. "Even if I do spend some time with the queen. Our home has been considerably less hellish recently."

"A Greater Demon then," Jem allowed. "What—what can I do for you?"

To think that he would ever ask that question of one of them! But the knowledge of Greater Demons and their nature, beyond what every Shadowhunter was taught, was there in his mind, relentlessly reminding him that this wasn't necessarily a vicious creature out to cause pain and destruction – or, in any case, no more so than any of the angels would have been. It wasn't that which he found the most convincing in the end, though, but the fact that Charlie Gale had seemed quite so familiar with him.

"I was rather wondering if there was anything I could do for you," Samael said.

"If you're proposing to donate some of your blood to synthesize more of the drug, the answer is no."

Samael favored him with a small smile. "I wasn't. I was informed of your rules. But even beyond that – with the amount of remedy that I have in my system by now, it wouldn't do you a lot of good to try anyway. You might as well take a bite out of one of your angels and see how that helps."

"They're not my angels," Jem insisted. "Not anymore. What do you propose?"

"Since the thing that is threatening to destroy you still is connected to my kind, maybe I can help come up with something to keep the effects at bay. Would you allow me to examine you?"

Every instinct in him screamed no. He was certain that somewhere in the Shadowhunter Codex there was a section that said: Never allow a Greater Demon to touch you, with their hands or their magic, no matter on what terms they are with Charlie Gale.

On the other hand, he was right. The yin fen in his body was of demonic origin, originally given to him by one of their kind. There was no knowing what knowledge he had. "Go ahead," he said. "Though I would feel more comfortable if I could see your face properly." There was something disconcerting about eyes concealed, even if he knew they didn't see anything through that blackened glass.

Samael didn't betray what he thought of that. He simply raised one hand to take off the sunglasses, folding them and sticking them into the breast pocket of his shirt.

His eyes underneath were a milky white rim to rim, without as much as a suggestion of iris or pupil.

"Why don't you glamor them?" Jem heard himself ask curiously before he could stop himself. "It seems safer in Mundane company."

There was a low chuckle. "I cannot glamor." He didn't need to see Jem's surprised look to know that more of an explanation was in order. "Oh, I could make you feel a thing as it is not, or smell it, or even add some sounds, but I don't have the faintest idea of what it would look like, or even how looking like anything works. Without that knowledge, I cannot give anything any sort of appearance at all."

The logic in that was sound. Jem watched cautiously as Samael reached out with one hand, stopping short of actually touching him. His fingers moved in a pattern Jem recognized from warlocks who had given him a scan before. He forced himself to relax even as he imagined that he could feel the demon's power seep through his skin.

"Can you tell me which one of us did this to you?" he asked eventually. "I would have a little talk with him."

"What for?" Jem's voice was as sharp as he dared make it. "Are you going to tell him not to torture any more children?"

"Jem." Samael folded his hands on the backrest of the chair, his spell apparently done. "The drug you were given – it shouldn't have been that hard for a reasonably healthy young man to get off of it again. Unpleasant, painful, yes. But not impossible. And your kind is known for being pretty fit on average."

The words hit him like a punch in the stomach.

"I know." He didn't even try to keep the bitterness from his voice. "I've been reminded often enough that it was my personal failing and that if I'd been stronger – if I'd had a bit more willpower—"

"No." Samael cut him off. "You don't know. That isn't what I meant."

"You don't think I should have been able to shed the addiction, as a reasonably strong and fit young man?" Jem almost winced at his own tone. He didn't snarl at people like that. That had always been Will's job.

"Oh yes," Samael confirmed. "I believe that you should have been able to shed a simple yin fen addiction. Which rather leads me to believe that what you were given at the time was not yin fen even as the term was used by your people then. Or more specifically, not only that. Now, if the drug you were given was adulterated… extended with some other substance… and the yin fen you were taken merely served to keep its effects non-lethal … then there's no telling what we're actually dealing with here unless we know what it was. And I'd like that information right from the source."

For the moment, Jem was speechless. Through all the years, that was one thing no one had ever considered as an option.

"His name was Yanluo," he offered. "He was banished from this world when I was fourteen. I haven't heard of him since."

"Yanluo." Samael turned the word over in his mouth. "Well, the let's hope that he hasn't in the meantime managed to annoy Asmodeus enough for him to make good on his threat and feed him to Michael for breakfast. He's certainly announced the intention often enough, and even if he'd survive the experience he'd hardly be in a state to answer questions thereafter."

Chapter Text

Tessa wasn't sure what she had expected of the place Magnus took her to. Whatever it had been, it had very little to do with the sight that greeted her when they emerged from the portal.

It appeared that they had stepped right into someone's living room.

Children were chasing each other across a set of sofas and armchairs, watched only marginally by an older woman immersed in a book and glancing up at intervals just enough to check on their antics.

"If any of you breaks their neck, they won't get any ice cream after lunch," the old woman was just announcing by way of a caution.

One of the boys stopped what he was doing, scrutinizing her as if he wasn't sure if she was serious about it or not. "Auntie Gwen!" he declared eventually, "if any of us break their neck they'll be in pain. You shouldn't punish people on top of that."

"Actually," a girl, just poised to throw a pillow at another boy who, apart from his clothing, looked identical to the first speaker to Tessa, pointed out, "If anyone breaks their neck they're dead and won't care."

"Oh. Okay then," the boy returned.

"Being dead isn't so bad," another child added. "Uncle Simon is dead, and he's just fine."

"Simon's a vampire." Tessa was almost startled to discover that there were more adults in the room. The mock battle around the sofa table had been somewhat distracting from the rest of her surroundings. Now a woman in her thirties came over from the kitchen end of the room, aiming for them rather than the children she was talking to. "Being dead as a vampire is different from being dead with a broken neck. The second kind is very boring."

Magnus wasn't even trying to hide a smirk.

"I brought Tessa," he told the woman. "Tessa, this is Allie Gale. She owns this place. Allie, Tessa's going to have to stay. Returning home wouldn't be safe for her or for Jem now."

"You're welcome to, if you don't mind that it's getting a bit crowded here," Allie said, looking right at Tessa as she spoke. "If you want more space or quiet, I'm sure that one of our other families will gladly put you up. Jem's talking to Samael right now, so if you'd like to have a cup of coffee first, or—"

"Jem finished talking to Samael."

A tall man clad in denim had appeared in a narrow arch leading into a corridor. Tessa couldn't help but stare at him. His eyes were a milky white, distracting from the rest of his perfectly ordinary face. He had turned his attention to their group, but he wasn't actually, strictly speaking, looking at them. Instead, he had inclined his head a little, angling one ear more specifically in their direction.

"He's all yours." The man – demon – Greater Demon – Prince of Hell, going by his name – gestured behind him. "Second on the right."

"Thank you," Tessa told him, unsure of what else to say.

"Do you want someone to go with you?" Magnus asked.

She forced a smile, resisting the urge to say yes. She was more nervous about this than she liked to admit to herself, but she also knew Magnus. He'd learned something in the Labyrinth while she'd been gone. He hadn't mentioned it, but they had shared each other's lives for long enough that she could tell. There were some news he wanted to carry back to his friends. "You go ahead – I'll be fine."

"Everyone's fine once Allie takes them in hand," her friend informed her. "Have someone call me if you need anything?"

"I will," she promised.

"You can leave your bag here if you want to," Allie suggested. "I'll make sure none of the children get into it. We'll talk when you've had a chance to see Jem."

Tessa nodded her agreement, placing her things close to the wall and moving towards the corridor the demon had come from. Behind her, another door to the room she'd just left was opened, and a young boy came barreling in.

"Allie!" he called out. "I need your help! Katie said—"

*

Tessa never found out what Katie said because she pushed down the handle and carefully opened the door a crack before she could lose her nerve.

She shouldn't have been so nervous, she told herself. This was Jem she was about to see. Her Jem.

He wasn't a stranger. He wasn't just anyone. It wasn't as if they hadn't met hundreds of times since his transformation, both officially and in secret.

But he'd been different then, with the runes of the Brotherhood controlling an ever-increasing part of him. In a way, this would be their first real meeting since her abduction at the hands of Mortmain. This would be—

"Jem?" she asked into the room. "Can I come in?"

"Tessa." There was so much wonder in that breathless voice. She could hear surprise in the single word, and relief. Had he thought she wouldn't come if he called? Even if nothing else had been between them, the simple fact that he'd been at her beck and call for decades upon decades, rushing to her aid whenever she asked, even after Will's death, would have been enough to bring her in an instant.

But it wasn't that, and there was so much more…

She took in the room, which was a neat, if impersonal, guest room, large enough to be comfortable accommodation even for a long-term guest. One glance would have told everyone that right now, the guest who used it wasn't well. A selection of boxes and bottles was lined up on a low cabinet against the rear wall, with a notepad on front of them half on and half off the surface.

An IV stand and a portable oxygen tank were placed by the bed, arranged to be the least noticeable and telling her that someone had gone to great lengths to make Jem feel as much as a guest and as little as a patient as they could. A colorful quilt was draped over the man in the bed, every inch of it covered in spells.

Jem himself, she couldn't help but notice, looked awful. His hair was as white again as it had been when they had first met. His irises were the lightest of grey, making his pupils stand out starkly. Dark shadows under them made him look as ill as she had ever seen him.

Yet, there was a resolve and determination in those bleached eyes that went beyond his previous resolve.

"Oh Jem," she said as he approached him, once again taking in the setup around him. She'd worked side by side with Catarina as a nurse in the past. She may have stayed away from the mundane world for the last two decades, but she was still familiar enough with the equipment. "What are they doing with you?"

"Keeping me alive," he returned.

"Is it helping?"

He nodded. "More than a little."

"Then all of this has my complete approval."

She watched him watch her as she took the chair that still stood by his bedside and settled there.

"You seem surprised," she noted, reaching for his hand slowly enough to give him the opportunity to draw away if he didn't want her to hold it.

"I wasn’t sure you would come," he admitted. "I—Magnus told you what I've gotten into? The risk of being associated with me now? And you have every right to be angry. I will fight, but there's no guarantee that I will live. Especially—especially not if Samael's idea is anywhere near accurate. That means I'm breaking my promise to stay with you."

"I would never be angry at you for choosing not to be – like that." She said. "I know I've said I'd rather have you alive as a Silent Brother than dead as Jem Carstairs, but—I saw the price you paid for it. And I got a very brief summary from Magnus, too."

"I don't know if I have the breath to give you a longer one." Jem sounded regretful.

"I'm sure someone can fill me in later," Tessa said. "But no matter what – unless you're telling me to go away, I'm here to stay and see this through with you to the end. One way or the other."

"I'd like that." Jem's hand twitched in the slightest approximation of a squeeze. With a jolt, Tessa remembered what she had learned about the damage the yin fen would do to a body. Before she could dwell on the thought, Jem went on: "But when – if it comes to the worst, I… You don't have to stay around for that. You don't have to actually watch me die."

"In good times and in bad," Tessa said. "In sickness and health. I'm in whatever happens, Jem."

He lowered his eyes, studying the pattern of the quilt.

Tessa watched him, silently probing her own feelings. Once, she'd been engaged to be married to Jem. She'd agreed to advance their wedding even, to make sure that it happened before he died. It hadn't been an act out of pity for a dying man. She had loved Jem. Oh yes, she had loved Will, too, who had become her husband, and grown old, and died. She still didn't understand how that had worked. Maybe it was part of her warlock nature that she could romantically love several people at the same time to the same degree.

She didn't think it mattered. In the century since, she'd never found anyone else she had felt that way about. Magnus had promised her that that person would come some day. Catarina had agreed. She had known better. Even if the part of her heart that belonged to Will would be free to love again at some point, the part that belonged to Jem remained occupied. There still was a piece of Jem alive even in the increasingly cold and remote Brother Zachariah. He had promised her that he would always keep a small part of Jem inside him, since his transformation could never be complete.

And while the smallest part of Jem remained, all of her continued to love him. Jem and Will had been parabatai. She didn't think she'd be able to do the same trick of splitting again with anyone else.

Now Brother Zachariah was gone, and Jem was back – dying but fighting, and according to Magnus with a certain chance of beating the monster that had threatened his life every day that he had been himself since he'd been twelve years old.

There was no telling what would happen, how much time remained for him – and whether it would be measured in decades or hours.

She knew for certain what she wanted to do with that time, however long it was.

"Jem?"

He looked at her, his expression unreadable.

Shifting slightly, she took his hand between both of hers. Her eyes remained fixed to his face. "James Carstairs," she said, her voice clear and steady. "Will you marry me?"

For a moment, he only stared at her.

"Are you trying to give me some more incentive to fight for my life?" he eventually asked her carefully.

"No." She felt her lips twitch, though she wasn't sure if she wanted to smile or look at him sadly at the idea that he thought this might be a bribe. "I—If your feelings have changed over the years, I can understand that. But if they haven't, then if you haven't gathered that much from our meetings, neither have mine. I never loved Will instead of you, Jem. It was always in addition to you. If I can, I want to go right back to where we were the day I was taken from the Institute. And if this is the path you choose, I'd like to ask the people here to send for a priest or … whoever is in charge of marrying people here. I don't want to delay even a day. We know where that got us last time."

His smile looked almost involuntary. He added his second hand to hers, though gripping with it gave him some trouble. "How would I choose anything else?" he asked, his expression suggesting he couldn't quite believe he was saying these words – or was given the opportunity to say them. "Yes, Theresa Gray, I will marry you. At the earliest convenience to that."

He froze, almost before he had finished speaking. Tessa didn't need to ask him why. She was feeling it, too, like a blanket of a spell settling on her, snapping into place more comfortably than any such thing had any right to sit on her without her permission.

It wasn't an ordinary spell, though. It was more of a tether, a bond that connected her…

To Jem. If she focused on it, she could feel a faint echo of his pain, get an idea of how his breath caught in his throat every now and then, the absence of feeling in his hands where there should have been an abundance of it.

She didn't get the opportunity to mourn his loss, since it was pretty clear to her that his violin would stay exactly where it was now indefinitely, because all those perceptions were covered in a blanket of perfect joy – and love that matched her own and drowned out all else for the moment.

"I'm not sure we need a priest," he said, more breathless than before. "I think we accidentally triggered some kind of spell."

His hand came up to cup her face, and she followed its gentle suggestion. She leaned in, mindful of the tubes that fed him oxygen and fluids, and the other tube that she couldn't see under the quilt but that she now somehow knew was there, and kissed him.

She certainly had a lot more experience at that than he did by now. She wasn't even sure whose thought that was.

Her own, she decided. She couldn't actually read Jem's mind. What she was getting was more of an echo of what, and how, he felt, along with bits of information that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Right then, the moment she ended that kiss and pulled back a little to give him space to breathe, she knew that he had thought of something that worried him.

"Jem?"

He gave her a lopsided smile. "I really can't die now," he declared. "This doesn't feel quite like a parabatai bond, but it's close enough I don't want to expose you to – what Will went through."

*

"Allie!" Max called out as he burst through the front door. "I need your help! Katie said you probably had some books or toys to explain traffic rules to children!"

Allie looked at the boy with a little amusement.

"Are you having trouble with the traffic in Calgary, or are you actually trying to teach some children?" she asked.

"The latter," Max claimed. "Very big children. They're called Jonathan, David and Abigail and Alec left them in my care but they're the worst at getting anything. They don't know the first thing about traffic and when I try to explain anything they just look at me like this, because they don't know half the words I need to use." He gave a reasonably good imitation of a blank, uncomprehending stare.

The woman laughed. "Give me a moment, and I'll see what I can find."

"Do you want to portal back with me?" Magnus asked, looking back and forth between Max and Samael as Allie disappeared into her sons' room. "Either or both of you?"

Max made a face. "I think I'll walk. The weather's nice and it'll give me some extra time to think about what to do with those three."

"What me to come along?" Charlie, coming over from the kitchen with a bowl of fries she held out to each of them in turn to take some, asked. "I've had plenty of baby cousins who needed to learn the same things. I could act as your advisor."

"You just want an excuse to escape lunch with Allie," Magnus claimed. "Samael?"

"I'll join the walk if it's all the same to everyone," the demon decided. "I'd like to mark the route for myself."

Charlie and Magnus understood what he meant. Back in his home dimension, he had left markers of magic along the routes he took routinely, making them faster for him to navigate. While Calgary was far smaller than Pandemonium, it had much heavier traffic, and placing the markers once surely would be much less work than learning every detail of the way by heart. Max didn't know about those details, but he didn't object.

"Sure," he agreed instead. Then, with a minute hesitation, he added: "Magnus? Are you coming, too?"

"I'd love it," came the response. "But I learned a thing that I want to pass on to Alec as quickly as possible."

"He's still in London," Max pointed out.

Charlie put down the fries and playfully snatched at Magnus's sleeve to pull him towards the front door. "Which means you'll just be fidgeting as you wait for him to come back if you portal over. You're coming with us. I don't want to explain to Alec why you rearranged half the house."

*

"The Silent Brothers have runes that let them see with their eyes closed, or even removed," Max noted as they made their way up the street. "Maybe Alec could figure out how they work."

"And then what?" Samael asked, his tone suggesting that he knew precisely what the boy was getting it.

"Then you could put them on as a charm."

The demon made a sound that was somewhere between a groan and an indulgent chuckle. The second, surely, was owed to Max' age. The first was born from too many suggestions of a similar kind.

"Demons can use charms!" Max pointed out. "I've seen you all do it!"

"It might work if I'd lost my sight somewhere along the way," Samael agreed. "Probably would, even. But I've been like this since the moment I came into being, and that part of your brain that processes what you see doesn't exist in mine. Even if I was suddenly rendered physically – or magically – capable of receiving visual input, that would give me exactly two things: Complete and utter confusion about random impressions I cannot parse, and a roaring headache. I'm not keen on either of that."

"We could get you one of those long white sticks blind people use to scan their path," Charlie offered. "Seeing how most things here aren't imbued with magic the way your home dimension is."

Samael made a face at her. "I'm a Demon Lord, Charlotte. I'm—"

He'd been walking on the edge of their group, leaving his magical marker where he wouldn't end up in the middle of the path while following it. They'd set a brisk speed, and the way his shoulder collided with a signpost he hadn't heard coming looked and sounded quite painful to Max.

"—sure that is a splendid idea, actually," he finished, rubbing his shoulder.

"Good save, Sammie," Charlie told him, laughing the moment she was certain he hadn't actually been injured. "Very good save."

*

Alec studied the palm of his hand, where the wards protecting the abandoned former Institute of Milan had left a faint scar in spite of the spells and ointments he had used on it. It wasn't anywhere near as prominent as those the young Shadowhunters who used the place for dares sported, but it was certainly visible.

"So we go back to Milan," he said. "And give that door a chance to mark me properly after all."

"You don't have to be the one who does it," Izzy pointed out. "One of us can take the ward instead."

Alec looked at her as if that hadn't occurred to him at all yet.

"I don't think that's how it works," he said slowly. "I'm the leader. The leader does the thing most likely to cause pain. That's the rule."

"Actually," Charlie threw in, "the rule says the leader stays safely home and the second in command heads the away team. Ask Captain Picard."

"I don't like that rule," Alec shot back. "Tell me which book that is so can make sure not to read it."

"You'd miss out on a lot of good things," the Bard informed him.

Jack studied Alec with his head cocked to one side. "I think he's more of a Captain Kirk than a Picard anyway."

"Can you stop talking in riddles?" Alec demanded. "Better tell me if you're planning to join us in Milan or not."

"Sure thing, we—" Jack broke off as a flash of fire appeared over the table. "I liked it better when I was the only source of random sparks."

"Milan is postponed," Alec announced, reading. "We have a trip to Brussels ahead."

"Brussels," Izzy repeated. "I was wondering about them, actually. I expected them to be the first to respond, from the way they were when we visited. I wonder what took them so long."

Alec waved the message at her. "We'll find out soon enough. Magnus, Jack, Charlie? She's asking us to bring our friends from last time. Any objections?"

When no one raised any, he stood. "Get geared up," he told them. "This is a diplomatic mission, but there's still something going on. This message is co-signed by Marie-Louise and Antoine, and I'm reasonably sure neither of them has been promoted to Head of Institute in the meantime."

 

Brussels

They portaled into Brussels out of sight of the Institute and walked a few blocks, choosing caution over trust.

Like most Institutes, the building was, of course, glamored. So were the two standing guard at the entrance. Having physical guards at the Institute door was unusual as such. Having one of them be a warlock went beyond that.

"Alexander Lightwood and company," Alec introduced themselves to the two women, neither of whom he knew. "We've been invited."

They nodded, the Shadowhunter among them indicating with a short gesture that they should proceed inside.

It shouldn't have felt so strange. They had embraced the concept of living with and among the Shadow World. They were promoting the same in New York. So far it was only a suggestion in London, and Geordie had hinted at it that Hightower might be just a bit too set in her ways to allow the same in her city. Brussels, on the other hand, had had a comfortable relationship with the beings they shared their city with – with the notable exception of the swamp demons – even when they'd come to visit that January.

Alec told himself that this was the last place where he should have been surprised about such an arrangement.

The inside wasn't much different from New York. He spotted two vampires, standing well away from the windows, gesturing at a young soldier barely older than Max, who was grinning up at them cheerfully.

One of them spotted their group and pointed at the door leading to the Ops center.

With a nod back at them, Alec led the way.

There were more Shadowhunters there, though sprinkled with a generous helping of Shadowfolk.

Conversation ceased as they filed into the room, aware and trying to ignore that for all they knew they might now be standing sandwiched between two groups of locals. There was no telling how many people were waiting in the other parts of the building.

A tiny, slender figure separated from a larger group on the raised stage that would be used to make announcements or deal out orders to larger groups.

Going only by sight, it was easy to underestimate Marie-Louise Stargazer, who barely came up to Isabelle's shoulder. Seeing her in action once was enough to convince anyone that she made up her lack in height with an excess of speed. Her primary weapon was the crossbow, adding reach and power her small frame would not give her.

"Alexander Lightwood," she said solemnly. "The Brussels Institute is yours. I just hope you're lenient with mutineers."

There was some muttering at her words, though it came mostly from those people present who wore no runes. Alec frowned. Mutineers? What was she talking about?

Not far to Marie-Louise's left, he spotted Antoine Whitescar. Before he could speak, another familiar face appeared at the man's shoulder, moving in protectively.

While he hadn't expected to find Andrei in Brussels, the surprise was a pleasant one. So he had acted on his pack mate's suggestion and left to rejoin his former lover. Alec couldn't help but see a certain parallel between the two and his own relationship with Magnus. Was there something that drew certain Shadowhunters to those of other species?

No, the logical part of him supplied quickly. But with the way the Clave treated same-sex relationships, finding them where only one partner had to get over Clave customs was probably easier. Besides, he never would have learned of Underhill's long-term commitment to Francesco Youngwolf if they hadn't used their camera-free hideout for their own purposes that one night, and Aline and Helen had been very careful to keep their own relationship concealed from public view as well. There was no telling how many of those secret couples there were.

"By the letter of the law, we're mutineers and deserters ourselves," Alec pointed out. "So why don't you give me a bit more detail?"

He hadn't meant to make it sound like a command. He wasn't even sure he had.

Nevertheless, she snapped to attention, shifting into the posture of someone delivering a report to a superior.

"There was another visitor close on your heels after you came in January. He was asking a lot of questions about you. We had no idea where you went or whether you had any agenda other than showing your friend around, of course, but he went snooping around, and he didn't like what he saw. The next we knew, our Head of Institute and weapons' master were recalled and a pair of Dearborn siblings installed in their place. Things changed after that."

Alec could about imagine how they would have changed: A curfew announced; fraternization between Shadowhunter and Downworlder forbidden; no more easy nights spent in the shadow pubs together in exchange for a certain quota of swamp demons banished.

"We gave them what they wanted on the surface, but they were two and the rest of the institute liked the way things were before, so most of us didn't try too hard," Marie-Louise continued. "And then your letter came, and Harry Dearborn decided to lay a trap for you. We wouldn't have that, so we laid one for her. And her brother."

So Harry probably was Harriet then. Alec only briefly tried to remember how she was related to the woman their father had married.

"And where are Harry and her brother now?" he inquired.

"In a cell, with all comforts," came the response. "We weren't sure what you'd want done with them."

"Opening a fixed-destination portal into Brocelind Forest and letting them walk back to Alicante from there seems reasonable." Alec determined.

Andrei moved forward. "You don't want to keep them?" His French was accented but perfectly comprehensible. Alec was grateful for that. They had only shared Jace's Romanian earlier that year and never actually learned the language.

"We don't have the resources to keep prisoners," he pointed out. "Do you?"

Marie-Louise shook her head. "Probably not." She pointed at a trio made up of a Shadowhunter, a Seelie and another Warlock. "Get them up here for us, please."

"Why does everyone here get along so well?" Clary asked as the three walked past them and filed out through the door. "Everywhere else it's such a big deal and here—" she gestured around the room.

"Swamp demons, I bet," Charlie offered.

In response to the confused looks her companions gave her, she elaborated. "Remember what we told you about groups sticking together in the face of a common enemy? I bet everyone here is hunting swamp demons and suffering under them just the same. So they have a we against them that's not Nephilim against everyone else."

"Confirmed," came Marie-Louise's agreement. "Speaking of which, we've reinstated the extra patrols, but the population has grown incredibly in the last months while we just couldn't keep up our end of the work…"

"I wish I could send you some reinforcements, but I don't have that many people." Alec was mentally running through the New York teams, wondering if he could ask Underhill for anyone who could profit from some extra training.

Magnus cleared his throat, and he looked at his partner expectantly.

"Don't we have a bit of a crowding issue in Calgary?"

"Well – yeah," Alec agreed. "But I can't send Jonathan or Abigail or David out while they don't even know how to survive in our time. And everyone else—"

"I was rather thinking of the three young old ones," Magnus said cryptically.

Alec stared at him speechlessly for a moment. Then, turning slowly and taking in every single non-Shadowhunter in the room, he eventually returned his attention to Marie-Louise.

"Would you," he said slowly, hardly believing himself that he was about to make this suggestion, "consider accepting a loan of three demons to fight by your side?"

"Pardon me?" came the response. "Did you say demons?"

He nodded, feeling even less certain about the idea than before. "They are quite young, very amiable and eager to learn. We don't exactly have the time to show them the ropes the way they were hoping to. They like to try human food."

"We can certainly ply them with all the waffles and fries they can eat," she decided. She gave another few moments' thought to the rest before she came to a decision. "Alright then. I assume we will accept your loan of three demons. Who's going to run the institute from here onwards?"

Alec blinked. He hadn't quite realized until that moment that she had literally placed the institute in his hands when he had arrived. "Who's been running it now?"

She indicated herself and the two men by her side.

"Then that's a running system we really don't need to change," he decided. "Carry on."

Chapter Text

July 6th, 2017

Milan

"So how are we going to go about this?"

Magnus was eyeing the abandoned building and its wards. He hadn't forgiven it for hurting his partner the last time they had visited, and though he knew, of course, that neither building nor wards had any say in it, he harbored an acute dislike for the place.

Upon examination, the spells looked no different than they had the first time around.

While he waited for Alec's answer, he probed at them further, trying to spot anything that he could recognize as originating from a warlock.

"The same way as last time," Alec decided. "Except this time I'll be challenging power. Step back."

The last left no doubt as to how much power he was planning to channel. Neither did the fact that he was taking off his shirt as he spoke.

They really needed clothes better suited to wings, Magnus thought as he took one step to the side to get out of the way, while Clary and Jace hurried to remove themselves from where they were likely to be suddenly slapped by unfolding limbs. Not every situation lent itself to getting half-undressed in the middle of their work.

He felt the shift of power as Alec opened those internal sluices he had to receive the flow of energy.

A mass of inky black darkness unfurled, muscles flexing as if probing their solidity.

The first time they all had manifested, their wings had appeared and simply been there, attachments to their bodies that might as well have been for decoration only. With more frequent use, they had started to appear more like body parts, reacting, twitching, stretching as an arm or leg might if set to move again after a long period at rest.

There had been a similar effect when they had first manifested physically back in Alicante, but that time they had gotten over that first stage must faster. Alec's wings weren't random appendages, attached to his body but not quite fitting there like most of the wings on humanoids that Magnus had seen in mundane movies so far. They were part of him, and Magnus resolved to ask Alec if he would manifest for him at some point when they both had some time at their leisure, so he could run his hands through those feathers and feel their softness…

This wasn't the time for that, and he didn’t indulge himself in the thought.

Instead, he watched with some apprehension as Alec crossed the distance to the gate and placed one hand on the handle. The first time, he had officially requested entrance before proceeding. This time, he simply pressed down and pushed.

Magnus half-expected another yelp of pain, or at least a quick withdrawal from metal suddenly too cold to touch.

It wasn't Alec who reacted to the contact, though. It was the wards.

They shifted, the flow of energy changing, adjusting both their direction and quality and finding Alec an outlet through which it could pass.

Without a moment's hesitation, Alec did what he had learned from the Gales, directing the excess stream of power down, and letting it safely dissipate into the ground.

A few seconds later, the wards were gone. The building stood unchanged, abandoned, decaying even underneath the glamor that made it look like nothing but a ruin to mundane eyes.

Alec gave the gate a small push, and it swung inwards, hinges protesting slightly against having to work again after centuries of rest.

Magnus reached for the power in him. The buzz of magic running through him, ready to be shaped and used, was reassuring. He hadn't put it to the test, but he felt that, for all the unpleasantries that had followed, that period of over-exertion in the angels' dimension had left his channeling stronger than ever, his sense for fine-tuning their local magic improved to where he could extend both his power and the time that it would last him.

Jack was holding power as well. Jace and Clary had drawn their blades. Izzy's muscles were tensed to release her whip any moment. All three were open enough to sport visible yet insubstantial wings. Charlie had her guitar at the ready.

Alec studied the building ahead, doubtlessly observing the view with his magic vision. Then he raised his hand for a brief sign, and they followed him onto the premises.

The front door was sealed with runes drawn over the lock and along the frame, warning against entry.

The same spell they used to remove the runes from people took care of them easily enough.

A small push from Alec brought no result at all.

He exchanged a look with Magnus, then Izzy and Jace, and finally shrugged and put his shoulder to the door.

In a corner of his mind, Magnus had been worried that the Institute of Milan had been sealed with the corpses of those dead from the mysterious demon plague, which as they now knew had absolutely nothing to do with demons at all, inside. Reason told him that even if that was the case, there would be nothing left of the bodies but skeletons or mummies now, and there was no reason to expect a wave of putrid stench to greet them.

As so often, instinctive reactions and reason did not match up very well. He involuntarily held his breath when the door swung open.

The first whiff of air inside, however, told him that, while a little stale and dusty, it was perfectly breathable.

On second thoughts, it was more than just breathable. He frowned.

"Magnus?"

Always perceptive, Alec had picked up on the shift in his attitude immediately.

"I've been in long-abandoned buildings before," Magnus said. "And this one doesn't smell anywhere close to bad enough to have been left to itself for this long. That old warlock must have done some thorough spring cleaning when he came here to set those wards and hide whatever."

They had all been careful not to speak their thoughts of what it was that was hidden here, or even who the unnamed old warlock might have been, as if by saying the words they might jinx the mission. It was a very mundane thing to do, but sometimes even the Nephilim weren't immune to certain kinds of silliness, even if they would laugh about them later.

"We'll sweep the building," Alec said. "No splitting up in case anything is trapped. We go through the ground floor, then up. If we find nothing, we check the basement if there is one. If we still find nothing out in the open, we go through the place again with a fine-toothed comb for any secret hiding places."

 

Another dimension

"You're pretty hard to find." Samael leaned in the door he had just opened, taking in the flow of magic before him. His target was moving around the room, trying to concoct something or another. The uneven heat distribution and the acrid smell didn't bode well if this was supposed to become what Samael suspected.

Plenty of those who had dabbled in alchemy and brewing beyond the basics had been busy trying to recreate the radiation remedy since its arrival.

With the recipe they had, they had started their own central production, of course, but so far the output was limited. They lacked both the setup and the pure ingredients to make large quantities quickly, and they had literally millions of people to supply.

Oh, things would improve. They were working on building the systems that would take care of the greatest part of the production without needing constant supervision and manual intervention, which slowed down the process and increased the risk for error. They were working on improving their raw materials, too. Still, it would take years, if not decades, before they would have a reliable supply for everyone. Centuries, probably, before every last citizen was healed.

They'd given a good part of the supply to those who had suffered the worst effect for all this time, though a number of them, with Samael, Asmodeus and Lilith among them, had kept personal stocks. A single application felt like it worked wonders, but the effect didn't last while there was still radiation in the air. His recent off-world experience had told Samael that even without further exposure, continuing recovery took time – and repeated applications of the remedy.

No one had questioned them so far – at least not openly. They'd always had the freedom to take more resources for themselves to stay in a state that would allow them to do their job of running the city as well as they could. People were used to it.

It surely hadn't hurt that they'd released the formula, encouraging everyone who wanted to try to make their own supply of the remedy to do so.

"Not hard enough," the demon moving around the small lab snarled. "Look at that! You ruined this batch because you startled me."

"Your batch was already ruined," Samael pointed out calmly. "No need to blame it on me. Besides, if you'd wanted to not be disturbed, you should have made sure people know about it."

"You'd think leaving the city to work in a mountain citadel would be hint enough," Yanluo snarled. "Besides, I'd expect people to understand the message I left all around the perimeter."

"I'm sure it's easy to escape anyone's notice," Samael returned in a lazy drawl, "but I can't actually read."

The other demon slammed a lid onto the pot he'd been stirring and pushed it off the flame. "Even you should understand the message in a set of shields and wards."

"Not if they're so flimsy I barely feel them when I walk through them." Samael's expression remained mild, but his tone was icy.

Yanluo gave an exasperated sigh. "What do you want, Samael? I thought you were gone to play war off-world."

"Information." He paused for a moment. "Tell me what I want to know, and I'll be on my way and leave you to your cooking practice."

"What?" Yanluo laughed. "In what world does the mighty Samael come to ask me for information? Are you kidding me?"

"Wish that I was. It's a world in which you are, unfortunately, the only one alive who is likely to have the information I need."

Samael didn't need to see the other demon to know he had shifted from annoyed to suspicious. Unaware of the precise details of his quest, Yanluo had to wonder what exactly made him admit to this quite so openly.

"What's in it for me then?"

"Hope," Samael told him coolly. "That I won't send a message to Michael on where to find you, including the keys to your wonderful wards, before I leave again. In spite of the favor Asmodeus would owe me if I finally got rid of you for him."

"You know as well as I do that it wasn't my fault!" He sounded rather petulant, Samael thought.

The unbidden visitor took a step inside the lab, a motion of his hand extinguishing the fires, another opening the windows to let the fumes escape. It was a display of magic done with an approximation of the ease that they had all exhibited once. A reminder to Yanluo that Samael had access to resources he was lacking.

"I don't care whose fault it was. And neither do a great many others – as you very well know, considering for how long you hid off-world yourself."

There was a wordless snarl. When Samael didn’t respond to it, silence stretched between them for long seconds. Finally, Yanluo shifted as if getting ready to move, then froze again.

Samael wondered if he had just realized that he was still strategically positioned between the other demon and the door.

"What is the information you want?" Yanluo asked.

"What exactly did you give to James Carstairs?"

"To whom?" It came so fast and sounded so confused that Samael was inclined to believe he actually had no idea what he was referring to.

"The Shadowhunter boy you drugged to take revenge on his parents, about a century and a half ago. Does that ring a bell, or were you torturing children so often in that world that you need more details?"

"His name was Ke Jian Ming," Yanluo said, proving that he knew exactly what incident Samael referred to. "And his family deserved it. They murdered mine. A family for a family, and their anguish was nothing in comparison to mine at coming home to find everyone slaughtered, even those too young to defend themselves. He was trained. He was less of a boy than those I'd collected, born off-world and never exposed to the poison. They—"

Samael interrupted him. "I don't care. Just tell me what you gave him."

"Who're you trying to take revenge on?" There was a curious note in the other demon's voice. He suddenly sounded genuinely interested.

"No one. James – Jian Ming, if you wish – is dying. I want him to stop. I need to know what we're dealing with."

"He what?" the vehemence of the response made it seem as if Yanluo was taking personal offence at that. "How is he even still alive?"

"None of your business." Samael took a step forward, though still carefully placing himself to prevent a sudden escape. Yanluo's wards were better than he had made them sound, and they prevented teleportation – which was fine if one was trying to keep out intruders, but surely annoying for Yanluo right now, because it meant he couldn't get away by that method either. Maybe next time he'd remember to rig his wards to alert him if they were breached. "Just tell me how to keep him that way. Actually…" he allowed his expression to grow a notch cooler. "Let's play a little game. I'll give you the rules: For as long as James Carstairs remains alive, I will let you continue here with your game of badly performed alchemy. The moment he dies, I will make good on Asmodeus' promise and you become an angel snack. How's that for some incentive?"

 

Milan

They progressed through the rooms one by one, securing and inspecting each in turn. The Institute hadn't been cleared out at the time. What books they could see looked remarkably well preserved, the leather and paper untouched. There had to be some sort of spell against rodents and other paper-eating vermin either on the tomes or on the building itself – or else the wards that had kept Shadowhunters away for centuries had served to lock those out as well.

The furniture, though covered in dust, had once been serviceable and practical. Now, it would surely fetch a handsome price as antiques.

"Do you figure anyone would mind if we took a few of these and gave them to Allie to turn into money?" Clary asked as they walked through the third bedroom, giving everything a cursory sweep. "I mean, it's not like anyone is using any of this…"

Alec turned to her with a grin. "I like the way you're thinking, and I might just consider sending you back with a sketchpad to collect a few things," he told her. "Though we better make sure nothing's cursed."

"Why would it be?"

"To discourage robbers and plunderers. Remember, those extra wards probably weren't there from the beginning. At the very least, they were tweaked at some point, but we have no way of telling how well the place was warded before – and it still looks pretty much untouched."

The next door brought them into what had once been the head of institute's suite.

Alec stopped, half-turning to exchange a look with Charlie and Magnus.

"I wouldn't necessarily be surprised if whoever ran this place had his rooms spelled for cleanliness," Magnus noted, "but if the spells are still active on their own after all this time, I want to talk to the warlock who did them."

There was a constant flow of magic in this room, washing over every surface and picking up any particle of dust that dared try to settle anywhere.

To the eyes of those who couldn't see the movement of energy, it was still visible in the fact that the furniture wasn't covered in a grey or white layer here. It reminded Alec of how Magnus had cleaned parts of a parallel dimension's Wayland manor for them when they had used it as their base for a couple of days.

Thinking of that once again drove home how clean the Institute was, in spite of all the dust. It wasn't just that there were no mice. There wasn't a single cobweb anywhere.

"I wonder how they kept up their surveillance in times before cameras were a thing," Izzy mused, studying the ceiling.

"Spells and spies," Magnus suggested. "And just living with not knowing every single move everyone in the building made, I assume. The spell is starting somewhere behind that door, by the way." He pointed.

Alec dropped his gaze to the floor. Either age had warped the wood, or the door had never fit as precisely as he was used to it from modern buildings, but there was a gap of easily half an inch at the bottom of it, where he could see green light wafting lazily out of the room behind.

"Cover me," he said, walking to the door before anyone could object.

"Definitely more Kirk than Picard," Jack determined, but he moved along with the others.

Depressing the handle with a slow, deliberate movement, Alec pushed open the door.

This had once been the head of institute's bedroom, as was easily recognizable by the fact that the room was dominated by a gigantic Italian four-poster bed equipped with silken sheets that had survived the centuries as remarkably well as the furniture. The wardrobe looming against the rear wall, with its intricately carved doors and spotless polished wood, looked as if it could easily fit all of Magnus' clothes, and Alec found himself entertaining the fleeting thought that if they ended up helping themselves to the interior of the former Milan Institute, he was going to want to keep that piece for their own use.

A small table in the corner still had parchment and an inkwell – the latter surely dried out in spite of the preservation spell that kept everything reasonably intact – on it. The robe of fine spun cloth shot with gold threads that was draped over the chair had a Shadowhunter coat of arms embroidered on it that suggested it, too had come with the room.

What certainly hadn't come with the room, however, was the man sitting on the edge of the bed, just looking up from where he had been bent over to lace his boots.

"Quod patientia sid virtus," he hissed at their group. "Give an old man a moment to get ready."

"Patience may be a virtue," Alec returned, speaking slowly. His Latin was fine for reading – and writing if he had to – but he'd never thought of actually using it for conversation. "But we weren't exactly told 'go in and wait', so excuse us for coming to look for you. Master Elphas, I presume."

It was more than that, of course. Just like the others, he had recognized the man easily from Jonathan's memory. He was dressed by multiple centuries more modern than he had been in the scene they'd been shown, though still several centuries out of date for their current standard. He had acquired a scar down his right temple since then, and let his hair grow out in what was probably the style of the time when he had laid himself to rest.

The fact that he sported neither a wild beard nor an immense, unkempt mane of hair suggested that the preservation spells weren't limited to the building, but had also kept him just as he had been that day.

"And who are you?" Elphas demanded, without admitting to his identity. "Why do you wake me from my slumber?"

"Pierre Haine directed us this way," Magnus informed him pleasantly. "And you can't deny the Nephilim among us have met your requirement."

Elphas scoffed as he resumed his work on his boots.

"Took them long enough," he declared when he straightened again, his eyes roaming the floor and a slight frown appearing on his face as if he was trying to remember where exactly he had put something. "Someone seems to have declared tripping the wards some sort of sport. I haven't been able to sleep as much as two months at a time these last eight years or so because they keep being tripped."

"I hear that there has indeed been an issue with young Shadowhunters using them for dares," Alec confirmed, not mentioning that he had also, albeit inadvertently, been among those tripping the wards in the last year.

"Should have made the effects less pleasant," Elphas grumbled. "Or more permanently painful. Too bad I've always had a bit of a soft spot for your kind, and it doesn't seem to want to go away no matter what I do. Or they do." He squinted at Clary, then Jack and Charlie, none of which were following him very well. He gave an exaggerated sigh. "I hate these days' Italian."

"These days' or your days'?" Alec asked. "Don't bother, it wouldn't help much. Hoping that you speak English would probably be a bit too much, but Clary has been learning French, and Jack and Charlie are Canadian…"

Elphas rolled his eyes at him. "I don't like English much better," he said, switching languages with ease anyway. He sounded astonishingly up to date in his pronunciation and choice of words. "Latin was such a nice, precise language. They don't make them like that anymore."

"I'm working on it," Clary informed him. "Maybe I need a more enthusiastic teacher, though. For the moment – thank you for the English."

"Considering the fluttery feathery things you're trailing, Latin is your least issue," he returned, more acerbically than the situation may have warranted.

"You have no idea," Alec agreed. His wings were still out, though he folded them more closely against his body at the reminder. The others had stuck with the insubstantial version and didn't need to worry about hitting anyone over the head with them. He resolved to find out if there was a way to let the wings dissipate that didn't require depleting the energy that had brought them into being. Flying laps around the park just to be able to move comfortably indoors again was a waste of time he didn't need on a regular basis.

If the wings worked as much like the Gales' antlers as they thought, the answer would to that question would be disappointing.

"So what happened with that fool Valentine?" Done with his second boot, he leaned further forward to run his hand over the floor under the bed, as if probing for something that had rolled that way.

The tension that snapped through them was almost tangible. If this was Elphas – and all they could see suggested so – and he had gone to sleep here as long ago as Haine had suggested, then there was no way he could know of Valentine. That was, unless they weren't his first visitors.

"How have you learned of Valentine?" Magnus demanded before Alec could put the thought into words. The magic around his hands had thickened, fiery sparkles ready to go off at a thought from him.

"There are spells, boy," Elphas all but snarled. "You might want to learn them in case you need to take an extended timeout at some point. You think someone going dormant could just wake and jump out of bed and get going? The world changes. Your sleeping mind doesn't, and you wake to a world you don't understand and that's as likely to kill you as not if you try to go out into it. I've seen it happen once or twice when old ones were roused for some reason. One went mad over it."

Slightly alarmed glances were exchanged between them at those words. If he noticed, he didn't show it.

"So if you never plan to wake up again, you don't have to bother and it'll be fine either way. But I would assume if you never plan to wake up again, you take a knife or a good hot spell or something of the sort instead. You don't just go take a good long deep nap until someone wakes you up. And what you do is that you rig a spell that'll drip-feed you – your sleeping mind – a bit of a view of world events while you're out. It's exciting. You never know what you'll have learned by the time you wake up. In any case—" He brought out his hand from under the bed, closed tightly against a staff that looked fascinatingly similar to the one from Jonathan's memory.

Did he periodically replace it with one of the same design, or had he actually managed to keep that thing for centuries? Alec figured that it wasn't the best moment to ask about that.

"I'm pretty well up to date on what went on in Idris and a good number of other places up to the time when the stupid children from the European Institutes started playing around with my wards. I haven't been able to go down deeply enough to make it work since then."

Putting his staff in front of himself, he closed his hands around the wood and used it to lever himself laboriously to his feet.

At first, Alec thought of lingering stiffness for the long rest, no matter how many preservation spells he had on himself to prevent sores or wasting muscles.

There was more to it, he realized a few moments later. The old warlock stood, his staff an anchor keeping him upright. His knees didn’t stretch all the way and his balance seemed seriously off. The way he shifted his feet for a better stance looked precarious and a little awkward, as if his limbs wouldn’t move just as he needed them to.

"As you may realize," Elphas said drily, clearly noticing their eyes on him, "'The Unsteady' isn't exactly an affectionate nickname bestowed for my reputation of making clear and unwavering decisions."

"Warlock mark?" Magnus asked, gesturing vaguely down.

Elphas gave him an annoyed look that suggested that he had answered that question more often than he cared to.

"This is my warlock mark," he informed him, coolly, raising one hand to brush aside his hair and expose ears tufted at the top like a lynx's. "That," he waved at his feet, "is what happens sometimes if children survive a long and complicated birth."

Alec blinked. Certainly, he'd heard of mundanes being born with things wrong with them from the beginning, and if he thought about it, he assumed the same happened to Nephilim now and then, though he wondered what would happen to those children. He certainly didn't know anyone affected by impairments not acquired in the line of duty.

Hell, he barely knew anyone who was, other than Tatyana Redwood, and hers wasn't exactly the average situation. That made him wonder what had become of her after they had fled from Alicante, but he forced the thought away for the moment. He'd ask Imogen to check on her later.

Back when Jace had been wounded, and expected never to recover full use of his body, it had been strongly advised that he should spend the rest of his life where he would use up the least resources and not be in the way of people doing their jobs hunting demons and Downworlders. He could only guess that children never likely to go into active duty would be kept in Alicante, staying at their parents' homes and maybe taking care of the administrative duties there later. He certainly hoped so.

Still, it was easier to imagine the situation in principle with a Shadowhunter than a warlock.

Even Magnus seemed to agree. "Your childhood must have been… interesting."

Elphas gave him a long look. Eventually, he turned his head, shifting his grip on his staff a little once again. "If by that you mean that most children in a similar situation, in the same time and environment, would have been left on a rock outside the village some night to let nature take its course, you're not wrong. I had the good fortune to have a loving mother who would hear none of that, and an equally loving father who made it very clear that he would raze the entire village to the ground if anyone as much as hinted at such a suggestion. He had the power to back that threat, too."

He looked at Alec at the last words. "Never make threats you're not prepared to carry out. That was a good lesson he taught me. I don't think he needed to have bothered, though. The village was happily used to the little boosts and tricks he gave them. If he wanted to raise a son who wouldn't be much good for field work, or hunting, or taking up arms, that was his choice. He made sure to teach me the magic I needed to make sure I turn that I'd be left alone as soon as I had the coordination for a spell. Trained me to replace him in the village, too, for the day he'd leave and return to his homeland. My sister was more of a warrior magician than a village witch even at the age of six."

His eyes narrowed as Alec's lips moved to form a response.

"Are we going to discuss my upbringing in more detail now?" the warlock inquired before he could speak. "Because if so, I'm going to sit down again."

Chapter Text

Calgary

Tessa sat on the bed, a choice of cushions in her back for comfort and Jem a warm, welcome presence by her side.

She refused to think of probabilities, to try to calculate the odds.

He was alive. He was throwing every ounce of energy and resolve he possessed into staying that way. She wasn't going to dwell on the fact that he was radiating a lot more heat than any body should, or that his breathing had grown gradually more pronounced as the hours passed, the effort clearly visible by now.

He was propped up with more pillows, his head resting against her shoulder. With his eyes closed, he looked, for all intents and purposes, asleep.

She knew better.

She knew he was listening to her read, taking in every word and following as the story unfolded. It wasn't the sort of book she usually read, or one she would have ever thought about picking up on her own. It wasn't anything she would have ordinarily recommended to Jem either. But Charlie had left it with him, and Jem was clearly enjoying the exploits of that strange young mage so like, and yet entire unlike, himself. That was all she needed for now to approve of both book and magician.

Catarina had been in and out, checking on Jem. Each of those times, Tessa had left the room and gone to sit with whoever was in the living room. The apartment was never empty, and Allie seemed disinclined to put more than two rooms between herself and the weakest person in the building.

She'd looked at Tessa with a question in her eyes the first time.

"Not everyone has the stomach for medical things," she'd offered when Tessa hadn't given an explanation, unsure what she was trying to get at. It was as much of a hint as she needed.

"It's not that. I've worked as a nurse myself. I trained in London during the Blitz. Under Catarina, actually. I've seen just about all the ways in which a human body can be messed up."

Allie had put a cup of coffee down in front of her and waited, leaving it to her if she wanted to elaborate further or not.

"It's not me," Tessa told her. She didn't owe this woman any explanation, strictly speaking, but it really wasn't as if this was any sort of secret. "One of the first things – maybe the first thing Jem ever asked of me was that was would never be his nurse. I'm going to honor that as far as I can."

She'd spent the rest of the time with him, though, talking to him, reading to him, simply holding him when he grew tired and his focus started to waver.

She didn't need to feel his pulse to know his heart was beating too fast. She didn't need to check the oximeter to know his lungs were finding it harder to do their work even with the increased oxygen supply.

Right now, her main hope was that the demon would return from his self-appointed mission with some news they could actually use.

Samael, she told herself. He had a name and it was Samael. She had stopped actively trying to find out who her father was a long time ago, but she'd still mentally crossed one option off the list. Her mother had never known she'd given birth to a warlock child. The creature that had fathered her had come to her under the guise of her husband, glamored. Samael couldn't glamor, as he himself had told Jem so recently. That was too bad, really. He sounded like the nicer sort of demon.

The knock on the door was so perfectly timed it felt as if her thoughts had summoned it – and the man outside.

*

Jem straightened at the knock.

It wasn't that he didn't want anyone to see him use what might be the last hours of his life to snuggle with Tessa when his thoughts should probably be primarily on breathing and preserving energy. No one here would hold that against him. He knew that much.

But he knew that he looked awful, as it was, and if that was one of Allie's cousins coming in to bring tea or dinner for Tessa, he wanted to at least make an effort to look a little less scarily ill.

He relaxed when he saw the visitors. Samael wouldn't care what he looked like, and Catarina certainly knew exactly what his health status was.

Whether the two of them showing up together was a good sign or a bad one, he couldn't quite tell.

"Are you back already or about to leave?" Tessa asked as Samael took the vacant chair and Catarina did a quick check of the equipment.

"Back," the demon said. "I found Yanluo, and had a little chat with him. With… shall be say, mixed success?"

"How mixed?" Jem asked. Right now, he was inclined to count any degree of success as positive, but there was no telling if the demon's interpretation of the term and his had much of an overlap.

"He was quite surprised you were still alive," Samael began. "Not just because your kind doesn't mostly have this sort of life span. As far as he was concerned, you weren't  supposed to live. He would have given you days at most after he was chased off. He insists your name is Jian, by the way."

Jem felt his lips tighten for a moment. Normally, he had no objections to anyone using that name instead of his English one, though he suspected the number of people who even knew about it was currently limited to the group present right then. Thinking of the demon who had tortured and killed his family saying it made him feel sick, though.

"It is," he confirmed anyway. "It was what my mother called me. She was Chinese, my father English. I'm sorry. I—didn't realize it was something I should mention."

He'd have to remember Samael was at a disadvantage where others might have drawn conclusions based on visual cues. Then again, people had been thrown off enough by the exotic look of his white hair, his bleached skin and light grey eyes that they hadn't managed to parse the rest of his features even with two perfectly good eyes.

"Think nothing of it," Samael reassured him quickly. "It's hardly relevant for the matter at hand. What is relevant is that I was right. He didn't just give you the yin fen. In fact, that wasn't even his primary means of torture. It was more of an… extra, to draw out the rest."

The world seemed to stop for a moment. Jem was suddenly aware of his own blood pounding in his ears as he processed the words.

"What did he give me?"

"A toxin distilled from some creatures native to our plane. It settles in your tissue and doesn't deplete unless used up. It binds to certain… receptors and causes your body to attack its own structures. Hence the internal bleeding, the nerve damage, and so on. The yin fen he gave you, that you continued to take, binds to the same receptors, but more strongly, and while it causes much of the same reaction, it does so far less severely."

"You couldn't get off it because the moment it left your system, you didn't just go into withdrawal. The toxin kicked in," Catarina said when Samael paused. She must have been filled in before they'd entered.

Jem felt his breath catch in his throat as he filed the information. "I wasn't just weak and lacking the will to quit." His voice was a whisper. He hadn't realized how much he'd clung to the thought after Samael had first brought it up. He hadn't even realized to what degree even he himself had assumed that just that was the case, no matter the Silent Brothers who had told him time and time again that they had tried to wean him off the drug while he was unconscious and it hadn't worked.

Tessa moved closer, offering wordless comfort, just as Catarina stared down at him, shaking her head for a moment. "Did you really think that was the issue?"

Jem looked away. "I tried not to." That was the best he could muster without lying, which he wouldn't do – not to the team that had gathered to get him through this alive. He tried to turn the subject back to more pressing matters. "But this – does it mean there's no hope? That the toxin is still in my body and killing me unless I go back on the drug, and then the drug will kill me?"

"We hope not." Samael paused briefly, then continued when no one else spoke. "Yanluo takes your continued survival quite personally, so he wasn't as helpful as he might have been. He would still prefer to see you die, miserable and in agony."

Which was exactly what was about to happen, as far as he could tell. Maybe we should invite him over and offer him a front-row seat with some popcorn, and then at least one of us can enjoy what's ahead, a thought shot through his head, its tone so acerbic he could almost taste it on his tongue. He merely lacked the air to throw it at Samael immediately. Then Tessa's hand was on his arm, just above where his skin started to feel numb, her fingers gently stroking and providing a distraction. By the time he had taken enough of a breath, the moment of anger was past, the thought filed with all the others he had thought but not spoken in the past.

"How do we keep him from getting that satisfaction?"

Though it was Tessa who had asked, Catarina talked to Jem directly when she answered. "You're still alive so far, so we're going to assume you managed to deplete the toxin in your body considerably by years of skirting the worst effects pretty much permanently. The trick is going to be keeping your body from destroying itself while it uses up what remains of it."

He could see in her face that while she had a plan, it wasn't going to be an easy one.

Her next words confirmed that. "I want to take some of your blood and try to isolate the toxin to see if we can bind it somehow. I also want to give you some more mundane medicine – to render those cells in your body that try to destroy it inactive to buy us some more time."

Tessa caught on more quickly than Jem did. "You're talking of suppressing his immune system," she said. "If he catches any sort of infection on top of all this—"

"Yes," Catarina confirmed. "Then we have to be really quick to do something about it. But right now it's the only thing I can think of that has a chance of getting us the time he needs. Jem." She caught his eyes and held them as she continued. "Tessa is right. It's risky. You'll be lacking defenses against perfectly mundane illnesses at the same time. And we can only hope your body will remember how to do this properly afterwards, and not just continue to act as the toxin directed it so far."

"What if it does?"

"Then the next thing to do would be killing and rebooting your immune system." She'd thought about that. He could hear in her voice that it wasn't something she'd consider as anything but the most desperate measure, but she'd thought about it and come up with an option that might work. "Once you're regained some strength."

"Do it." He said it quickly, not allowing himself to dwell on the ifs and thens. "Do it either way, but tell me if this is giving me a realistic chance or if we're just grasping at straws."

"We're hoping this is a straw that will give you a realistic chance."

He appreciated that Catarina didn’t lie to him.

"I'm weakened and there is damage done already, and if my body decides it's had it and shuts down for good, there is little we can do about it," Jem summarized. "Is that roughly correct?"

Both she and Samael nodded.

Jem shifted to look at Tessa. "If a moment comes when I'm unable to make my own decisions – anything that will keep me with you is hereby approved."

 

July 7th, 2017

"Reporting as requested, Alec," Max announced as he entered the room. "Sir." It was almost an afterthought.

Alec didn't make too much of an effort to suppress a grin. Considering that he was standing at the kitchen table, a moist dish towel still stuck in the belt loop of his jeans and his right sleeve soaked because it had slid forward as he'd reached into the sink, he couldn't fault his brother for not being quite certain if this was an official summons or a family matter.

He resolved that, whenever Katie managed to find them an Institute, an office for himself would take one of the first priorities. It was hard to exude the air of a brilliant leader before a backdrop of dirty tableware that hadn't fit in the dishwasher because the number of people sharing their meals right now exceeded the kitchen's design capacity by a considerable margin.

He half wished he'd taken Magnus up on his offer to do the cleaning on a regular basis. He would have  thrown a few spells across the room and taken care of the matter in an instant.

There were reasons he had refused it, and even now it wasn't hard to remind himself of them. They were going to take turns at the work that affected everyone, each according to their skills. There would be no turning the magic users effectively into household staff or servants simply because they didn't need to expend the same amount of physical labor for the same effect.

Still, having an office to retreat to, rather than using their dining table or taking institute matters into their private rooms, would have been nice

"Did you have communication with any of your friends recently?" he asked Max, watching carefully for the boy's reaction.

The tightening of his lips and the slightly lowered gaze gave him the answer before his brother spoke.

"I might have. Fire messages can't be tracked to a location and I didn't give any secrets!"

"I didn’t think you had!" Alec hurried to reassure him. "Still, coordinate next time. We've got a bit of a problem here now, you see." He handed over the parchment that had arrived and almost ended up in the dishwater because he'd been juggling with glassware he hadn't had any intention of breaking just to grab the fire message from the air.

He gave Max a moment to read the lines. The message had come from Mumbai, where the institute as such had no interest in joining them. However, it appeared that the younger generation disagreed with that decision.

"Did you tell your cadet friends to desert their posts?"

The deeply offended look Max shot back at him was all the answer he needed.

"What are you going to do about it?" Max inquired as he pushed the letter back across the table.

"Portalling over to have a talk with them and hear how they thought this was supposed to continue, I guess." Alec sighed. "We have neither the space, nor the resources to take in a dozen boys and girls who aren't even fully trained yet."

 

Mumbai

They portalled as close to the Shadow Market as they'd dared. They didn't need to run into anyone from the local institute, who would surely find it easy enough to guess their mission.

The last time they'd been here had been a visit of two days, officially to show Clary the institute and the world's largest Shadow Market. Unofficially, they'd been conducting their own investigations, putting their noses where their superiors wouldn't have them and learning things that had eventually brought them to where they were now.

They'd talked to a warlock there at the time, and that was exactly what Magnus was planning today as well, while Alec went to have a chat with the young Shadowhunters who were apparently set to go against their own institute to join them instead.

He wasn't going to go alone.

The first to go through his partner's portal, Alec turned just in time to watch his sister appear, followed by Jack and Charlie. Once again, they were coming as a wild card just in case they ended up walking into a trap after all. Magnus emerged with a small delay, the old warlock Elphas clinging to his arm.

Alec reflexively reached out to steady the man as his feet hit the ground.

Elphas' spell had indeed kept him reasonably up to date. He hadn't found it too hard to shift into current-day life. He certainly didn't have any issues grasping traffic. He'd had a very good idea of what sort of modern clothes he wanted, and Jack and Magnus had collaborated to supply him with a modest but high-quality wardrobe of suits. The staff he still used looked all the more jarring for the fact that the rest of him looked very much like a reputable businessman, albeit a slightly eccentric one for the long hair he still wore.

Portalling wasn't something he had ever done while awake, though again, he knew the concept well enough.

Exiting the vortex somewhat elegantly, however, was something most people with perfect Shadowhunter reflexes and balance needed a few attempts to get right. Alec doubted that Elphas would ever master it. The only reason he hadn't ended up in a graceless heap on the ground when they'd returned to Calgary with him had been because they had had to guide him through anyway, since he didn't know their destination.

Today, they'd made allowances for the situation, anticipating a rocky arrival.

"You need to improve that spell for a smoother ride," he told Magnus as soon as he stood firmly again, his staff braced against the pavement. His tone was the perfect reflection of a teacher admonishing a student relying on a great idea to get away with sloppy execution.

"Tried that for about three decades," Magnus claimed. "Gave up eventually." He gestured, suggesting that they should start walking.

Alec tensed involuntarily as their group moved. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but watching Elphas by Magnus' side required an effort of will to remind himself they didn't have a non-combatant among them. The man walked by mostly moving his legs from the hip, making his gait awkward and, well – unsteady. He had let go of Magnus' arm and used only his staff to balance himself. They'd seen the day before, once they'd been safely home, that he could, in fact, stay on his feet without help while in motion, though he couldn't remain standing in place without holding on to anything.

He had held his own in many an altercation over the centuries, Alec told himself. He'd gone after those first werewolves, He might not be able to stand and do magic that required him to have his hands free, but he had to have ways to make up for that. The second-oldest warlock among their acquaintances may have been many things, but he certainly wasn't helpless.

The men and women guarding the entrance to the Market didn't take any special notice of him – or of them, for that matter. If anything, Alec thought that eyes lingered on Jack, who hadn't bothered with much of a glamor once they'd been off the street. The angles of his face looked more Seelie than human, and the golden scales rippling over his skin where his collar fell open showed his mixed heritage.

As a dragon prince, he commanded a certain amount of respect, even if he didn't desire it.

Thinking about that, Alec realized that Jack's presence alone would probably be enough to assure they wouldn't get into trouble with the Shadow World citizens in any case. He didn't mind. One less thing to worry about still left him with plenty.

They split up once they reached the area with the vendors, the warlocks going one way while the rest of them turned the other towards the designated meeting point.

The cadets were waiting for them, sitting where the gigantically enlarged room actually had a corner and looked like a room, rather than a vast square in which it was easy to forget there actually was a ceiling somewhere overhead. They scrambled to their feet as soon as they spotted the four approaching, shifting into formation in an awkward but eager way that would have brought a smile to Alec's lips under different circumstances.

"Who speaks for you?" he asked, letting his gaze roam across their group.

There were about a dozen of them. They all wore gear and armor. Packs and bedrolls stacked against the wall, previously used as backrests and cushions as they had waited, spoke of their decision to leave their previous home. Alec estimated the youngest among them to be about Max's age. The oldest, a girl he put at fifteen or sixteen, straightened and gave him a military salute.

"Virginie Bearclaw," she said by way of introduction. Indicating the group around her, she added: "The cadet corps of Mumbai is yours, Mr. Lightwood."

"I—" Alec had hoped that he'd find the right words once he was actually in the situation of talking to them. Now that he was, he found he still wasn't quite sure what to say. "I appreciate that."

"He doesn’t want us, Gin." That was a boy who looked to be just a little younger than her.

"It's not a matter of want," Alec said, looking at him directly for a moment before switching back to Virginie. "It's more that we're only building up our own organization. We don't have the resources to continue your training. We're scarce on space. I can't deploy anyone to teach full-time. It's just not that simple a situation to handle."

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that the fact that they were all barely more than children should have weighed in more than it did. What they were doing could end up killing them. He should have felt more reluctant to pull them into that.

Yet he knew what his answer to that would have been, back when he'd been that age. He knew that Max expected to be treated as a full Shadowhunter, and by the rules under which they'd been raised, was entitled to it. Most of this group would have been on regular patrol for years by now, facing the risk of death by demon every single day. Was death by angel really that different?

Allie would point out that they were children and shouldn't be facing death at all.

But the Gales became adults in the family at fifteen, and were then expected to participate in the family Ritual, which, at least for the boys, also posed a risk of injury, and even death – and that wasn't counting the injuries caused by excessive strain on one specific organ.

"We can help gather the resources," Virginie said, as if she'd been able to follow his thoughts. "We all have our runes. We're responsible for ourselves. Those of us with more experience can train those with less, and just join regular sparring with your other people."

"No." That was Izzy, responding faster than Alec had sorted his words. "That's not how it works. We don't use steles anymore. You will need a trainer to learn how we're doing things differently. And the part about the resources – that isn't as easy as you might thing. You'd be fine among Shadowhunters, but we're by necessity living among mundanes to a considerable degree right now, and in their eyes childhood goes until you turn eighteen. There would be questions, and possibly consequences."

Virginie didn't turn her eyes away from Alec for a moment. "We only got part of the message you sent," she told him. "But when Trainer Shadowscale returned from Idris, he had things to say about the way you left the execution. Max told us more when he wrote."

"There'll be—" Alec began, only to interrupted by the young woman almost immediately.

"War, no doubt. And we've chosen which side we want to be on when it comes. If I die fighting Shadowhunters, I want to die fighting for the right side. We're not mundanes. We're not children."

"In the eyes of the Institute, we're deserters," the boy who had addressed her before added. "Like you. If they get their hands on us, they will execute us – like you. I don't think we'll live for very long if we stay here in the Market either. If you're not taking us, you may as well get that bow off your back and shoot us right now."

Unfortunately, the boy was right as far as Alec could tell. That narrowed down his choices considerably. He was thinking hard. They had three affiliated institutes. He didn't think any of them could take in twelve adolescents, but maybe if he split them up…

"Alec, if I may make a suggestion?" Charlie asked, her tone uncharacteristically submissive for the Bard.

Alec frowned at her. If she was trying to imitate a soldier talking to a high-ranking officer, he didn't think she was being very successful at it. He gestured, indicating for her to continue.

"We have a bunch of families with spare bedrooms in Calgary. If you can split them up so there's one or two per home, they'll all have a place to stay. Our people can teach them charms just as well as you could – better, since they've been doing them a lot longer. And, you know, other things."

Things like surviving in the mundane world and giving the Shadow World the respect it deserved. Alec didn't need to think about it a great deal. The Gales had taught them more than they had ever expected in the period of less than two weeks, that first time they had met. He had no doubt that they would be able to handle a few youngsters.

"Would the families agree, though?" he asked, trying hard not to sound hopeful.

"Pretty sure they will," Charlie confirmed. "Pretty sure they will even appreciate the opportunity. I know the Aunties will approve."

They would, of course. In their own way, they were as ruthless as the most ardent Shadowhunter. They made no secret out of their disappointment that only one of them had shown any interest in a Gale so far. They'd been hoping to breed their Shadowhunter skills into the family from the time they had understood that they existed.

There'd be another benefit to it, too, Alec mused. Living with Gale families, there would be no way these young people could avoid trying some pie sooner, rather than later. With the spells on it, it was an unfailing way to tell apart friend from foe. If any of them was likely to betray them, they would know by the time dinner was over.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Magnus Bane," Indira Lock said as soon as they stopped by her stall. "All without your pet Nephilim today? Or are they busy removing a certain pest from the Market?"

"They are hardly pets," Magnus responded. "And you wouldn't use that ugly word to refer to a group of children running away from home, would you now?"

She gave a dismissive sound. "Insolent armed children barging into the Market, demanding space where they can wait, with no respect for the elders and barely any for the Watch."

"Those insolent armed children left their Institute under threat of death to join those working to find a place in the Shadow World that is actually sensible," he pointed out. "And you know that. And so does everyone else in this building who has any leverage with the Watch."

She studied him, head cocked to one side. "What makes you think that?"

"I can hear you're annoyed with them. I don't doubt they gave you reason to. Yet, neither you nor anyone else had them thrown out or made sure they disappeared."

"What would we have done?" she asked, in a good effort to sound bored. "Couldn't very well throw a fireball at them. And having them camp outside the entrance wouldn't have been hell for business at all."

Magnus marveled at how she kept the sarcasm in the last statement from forming a physical puddle on the floor.

"One fire message to the Institute was all it would have taken."

Her lips thinned briefly, but she didn't acknowledge the subject any further than that. Instead, she turned to look his companion up and down. "I thought you were sleeping."

"I was," Elphas confirmed. "I stopped."

"I thought you didn't know him in person." Magnus' voice was a lazy drawl, but his muscles had tensed ever so slightly.

"I lied."

Elphas rolled his eyes at Magnus. "She was one of my brighter students, though always at my sister's throat."

"And she at mine," Indira added. In Magnus' direction, she added: "I do wards. Always have. Never wanted anything to do with battle magic. Agneta is… the opposite, and for some reason, he thought everyone should have some groundwork in offensive magic as well as the defensive kind. Never understood why. It's not like he's any good at it himself."

"And that is precisely why I understand its importance," Elphas said calmly. "Besides, you spent the greatest share of your time under Pierre's tutelage, with things that actually did interest you, so don't complain about the handful of battle lessons I made you take."

"True," she admitted. "I wonder where he got to. Did your friends find him as they planned?"

"They found his work," Magnus said. "And I met him a few days ago, in the Spiral Labyrinth. He seemed quite fine. Tired of life, but ready to try adventures once more before he went to rest, just in case the spark could be fanned again."

"Then what do you want from me? Don't tell me that three warlocks as powerful as you have need of my services for wards."

"I wouldn’t mind your services for wards, actually," he told her. "But right now, the thing I'd like to know most is whether you have found anything of interest in the designs we paid you with last time. There are still some sections that look like nothing I have ever seen before. I assume you have studied them since."

Her posture changed, her eyes and voice suddenly suspicious. Magnus couldn't fault her. It had to sound an awful lot as if they had left her the designs she'd requested as payment only so she could do the research work for them. "I may have. Why would I share the results?"

"Indira." Elphas' voice was low, but insistent. Looking at him, Magnus found himself unexpectedly impressed. The older warlock stood, one hand closed firmly on his staff, the other clamped to the counter. There was no way he could have quickly freed his hands to get off a spell, and yet he exuded all the calm of someone who had the situation perfectly under control and nothing to fear. "There are new times ahead. They may be very bright times, or very dark ones. A lot of this will depend on how people make their choices. The rest will be luck. I say, let's reduce the share of the latter. When war comes, it won't be against the Nephilim. It'll be against the same creatures who drew those wards."

 

Calgary

Tessa had settled on the chair by Jem's bed, watching him as he slept.

If the medication Catarina had added to the cocktail she was already giving him was doing anything, it wasn't very visible to her. That made her worry that the damage already done to him was too extensive, that his body was failing no matter what they did.

He had barely managed to stay awake so far that day, and while she wanted to tell herself that sleep was good for him, that he could fight the war raging inside his body without wasting energy on being awake, she knew better.

He might not have admitted to it when he'd been awake briefly, but she knew he was in pain again, the morphine either not working or no longer enough.

Back when they had been children, Will had sat with Jem during his worst spells, as she knew. He had told her how he'd spent sleepless nights, alternating between holding Jem as he thrashed in nightmares he couldn't escape, and sitting in an armchair by his bed, pretending to read yet actually counting his breaths, worried every time his chest lowered to exhale that it wouldn't rise again.

She wasn’t counting. She didn't even need to look at Jem to know the precise moment when every breath started and ended, a little more labored and painful than the one before it.

She also knew the moment they stopped.

"Jem!" It was almost a shriek, combining the agonized certainty that she was going to lose the man she loved before she could summon Catarina if she didn’t come up with something quickly, and a demand for him to wake up and stay with her.

Her hand shot forward, grabbing at his shoulder, her fingers closing more tightly than would be comfortable as she shook him.

"Wake up, Jem! I need you here!"

Magic surged up in her without any conscious decision on her part. Raw power streamed through her fingers and into him, and it took an effort of will she hadn't been sure she possessed to shape it at least marginally, hoping he'd be able to put it to some use.

Jem's eye fluttered open. He gasped for air the moment he became aware, filling his lungs to capacity. The next second, a series of agonizing coughs shook his body.

Tessa couldn't even remember moving later, but by the time Allie came rushing into the room she was sitting on the bed, Jem raised into a half-sitting position and leaning against her while she held him, stroking his back with one hand and praying that the fit would pass quickly.

Taking in the situation with one quick glance, Allie covered the distance to the bed.

The charms she drew on Jem's chest were complex – far more so than any Tessa had seen around the house. Either they took effect or Jem managed to wrestle his body under control again on his own at that point.

For several long seconds, he rested against Tessa, with the heavy and boneless feeling of a body asleep or unconscious or entirely beyond its owner's control, as if forcing air into and out of his mistreated lungs was taking every last bit of energy that he had.

His breaths sounded almost like sobs to Tessa, each of them carrying an effort and agony that breathing had no business causing.

"What happened?" His voice was choked and breathless.

Tessa shifted, leaning her head against his shoulder from behind. She squeezed her eyes shut briefly before she answered. There was no reason to start crying now, she told herself. He was there. He was alive. He was coherent even. They would get through this.

"You stopped breathing there." He deserved to know the truth, but she hated actually saying the words.

She felt his body shake. She could feel a spike of fear through their strange connection. At the same time, she knew it wasn't death as such that terrified Jem. He wanted to be there to help those young Nephilim neither of them really knew in their fight. What terrified him was the prospect of leaving her behind, and taking a piece of her with him, the same way his change had affected Will.

And the way Will's death was affecting him, even though their bond had been broken so long ago.

The latter was one more piece of knowledge that was just there in her mind, present yet not really part of her.

She should have told him that it was alright. That he could let go if he needed to. That she would carry on.

She couldn't do that. He was fighting with every last ounce of strength he had. She couldn't tell him to just stop.

Shifting her hold on him, she let more magic seep into his body, the flow more controlled now than it had been before. Boosting him. Steadying him. How much time could she buy him that way?

Not enough, she was afraid as she listened to him force another breath of air into his lungs.

His voice was barely above a whisper when he spoke again.

"Get Catarina."

*

Jem was fighting to stay awake with every bit of resolve he could muster. While he was awake, he told himself, he could force his body to go on. He could make his lungs take in another breath in spite of the pain, in spite of feeling as if an irresistible force was compressing his ribcage.

It had only been a few minutes, and he was already exhausted. His eyelids felt impossibly heavy, though he forced them open every time he noticed them drooping.

He felt Tessa's heartbeat against his back, and put some of his focus on that. He wasn't even sure if it was imagination or real, but it gave him a rhythm to latch onto, something else to focus on than the pain, and the need to sleep, and the feeling that no matter how much he struggled to breathe, it never seemed to be quite enough anymore.

Without the energy streaming into him from the woman he loved, without the charms Allie kept drawing on him relentlessly after one pleading look the moment she had first stopped, he would have lost the battle already. He was sure of that.

Whatever message they had sent to Catarina must have been sufficiently urgent to reflect the situation in all its severity.

When she arrived, she did so by portal right into the room, without bothering with the nicety of knocking and waiting to be called in.

The spell she administered before saying a word to them brought some small relief. It wasn't much, but it would get him through another few minutes.

He could see in her face as she added a scanning spell that that might be all he would get.

Catching the pleading look he directed at her, she sat on the edge of his bed and reached for his hand.

Her touch was only the most fleeting suggestion to him. He suspected that he wouldn't have felt it at all if he hadn't seen it. He raised his gaze to her face instead.

It was getting harder to focus. Her features blurred before his eyes, and he blinked a few times, hoping to return a sharper image.

"Is there nothing you can do?" His voice was so low he wasn't even sure she'd heard him.

Tessa had, in any case. Her grip on him tightened, reassuring him that she'd be there to the last moment if it came to that.

"Not if we continue as we were." There was a finality in her words that hit him deeply, even though it only confirmed what he had already known based on the signals his body gave him.

He felt his breath catch in his throat, clamped down on the reflex to cough again and yet somehow managed to not miss her next words.

"It's not just the demon toxin and the withdrawal anymore. Your body is trying to break down the substances that shouldn't be in it, and the tissue already killed, and swamping your system with more toxins. Your kidneys and liver are supposed to filter all of that out of your blood, but they can't keep up. Your organs are failing, Jem. I can't fix this with magic."

There was a sharp intake of breath behind him as Tessa registered Catarina's words. The warlock doctor paused, letting him parse the information. He had learned enough about anatomy and medicine as a Silent Brother to know what it meant.

He latched on to the phrasing of her last words.

"And without?"

She closed her eyes briefly. He thought he knew what suggestion she was going to make, and he understood just how much of a risk it entailed.

"I can take you to the hospital where I work. I can charm and spell an ICU room against mundanes, and hook you up to mundane machines that will do what your body can't to buy more time. I can't promise that it will work. I can't promise we won't be discovered. If it works, I can't promise you'll come out of it without irreversible damage."

The last almost made him want to laugh. He appreciated her honesty and understood her need to caution him about it, given his people's attitude towards those not in best physical shape, but he was reasonably certain that he had already suffered irreversible damage. What was some more to add to that?

He picked his words with care. She was going to take an immense risk. Even with the best spells, there would be a chance of discovery. What were the consequences for a doctor hijacking a hospital room, and equipment, and hiding a deathly ill patient there?

He was sure she'd follow his wishes either way, but he couldn't let her think even for a moment that his request was motivated mainly by a fear of death that would give way to despair soon enough when faced with the consequences of his decision.

"I want to live, Catarina. The how is secondary." He couldn't say 'irrelevant'. She'd never believe him that.

"I need you to hold up without help for another ten or fifteen minutes while I get a room ready." The flow of magic from her hand into his intensified, as if she was trying to fill him up with as much power as his body would take. "Can you do that?"

He moved his head up and down in a single nod, not wasting breath or energy on words. He'd do it. He'd have to. One minute equaled about fifteen breaths. Fifteen times fifteen was two hundred and twenty-five.

He started counting.

*

Alec felt a lot more exhausted than the situation warranted.

The Shadowhunter families Charlie had texted hadn't even hesitated. They'd shown up in force at their place, and what had been meant as a quick attempt of matching them at least a little based on sympathies had turned into an impromptu barbecue in the park when Peggi Gale's husband had realized that between the time difference and their desertion, none of them had had a proper meal that day yet.

It felt almost like Gales, and everyone associated with them, had some sort of inbuilt barbecue detector.

While realizing that it was much more likely a case of having phones, he had watched in fascination as people arrived in small groups, just as if this was a long-planned event.

Katie and Hodge showing up didn't surprise him a lot. She had been a Gale all her life after all, and Hodge was doing his best to turn into one. He found it more interesting to see Maia and Simon appear just a moment after he had decided that he should text them, and before he had even unlocked his phone.

The cadets stayed close to their group, watching the organized chaos around them.

"You've just arrived and it's already not what you expected," Alec observed as he noticed Virginie's eyes on him. "Are you regretting your decision?"

She shook her head silently, though he wasn't sure she looked all that convinced of her own answer.

"You won't win a war with barbecue and ball games," she said slowly after another moment, indicating a group of teens who had, in the absence of a basketball hoop, easily formed into teams for a beach volleyball match in the grass.

"We aren't an army," Alec returned. "We're still hoping to avoid the war."

"There's no avoiding it. Alicante is organizing a campaign against you. We overheard some messages."

"Eavesdropped, you mean," Alec said mildly. "You can call things by their name. We did that a lot when we were your age, too."

The look she gave him suggested she found it hard to believe that he had ever been her age. He refrained from pointing out he wasn't that much older now either. A few years made a world of a difference at their ages still, and experience of the kind he had gained even more so. "What did the messages say?"

"They're not marching on the Institutes that joined you as a whole while they try to find out where your headquarters are. They don't want to give you any advance warning. But they're putting together an army. A real one, not whatever a single Institute may muster. They're also still debating whether to actually call it 'war'. But it's going to happen, no matter the name."

"Good luck in finding out where we are," Alec told her. "People have tried before. It's not that easy. And if they do, then they might find they have no idea what they've bargained for if they show up here."

She gave him the darkest of looks. "What are you going to fight them with? Ball games? You should be drilling your own army, not letting everyone run wild and play."

"Your angels play ball games," Samael's voice noted behind Alec. He shifted to make space for their friend. "In fact, they can get quite excited about them."

Virginie didn't seem convinced. Alec's lips thinned as he remembered something. "I heard that actually one reason Raziel made our kind was that it enabled him to go home and watch a match instead of staying to see his assignment through."

"That's called delegating," Samael pointed out. "And it's certainly a story that's going around. Probably no more than that, but…" he shrugged, shifting to face the young woman. "Try thinking of it less than a useless game, and more of an exercise in coordination, both physical and as a team. It may appear a lot less silly from that perspective."

Now there was a thought. Alec decided to file that away for later, and to find their basketball-playing Seelie friends to discuss an idea or two at the next opportunity. "What about you, Samael?" Alec asked. "Do you play?"

He didn't just see Virginie tense the moment he used the demon prince's name. He could feel it.

"Relax," Alec told her. "He's on our side." History lessons. They had to set up some sort of history lessons. That would be more useful than explaining to each and every one of them separately.

"'You' as in the people of Pandemonium?" Samael asked. "Certainly, we play ball games. Or was that 'you' as in me, personally? I've played, but I've long found I prefer fixing things to hitting things, even if they're just balls."

Simon and Maia joined, cutting across the grass and apparently looking for someone, joined them. "Your angels play other things, too," the Daylighter said. "They revive dead Shadowhunters, take away their memories and will, and make them fight in pits while betting on the winner. Except that Raziel always wins and they're still doing it."

"Why are you saying that?" the cadet asked. "That is—"

"True," Alec interrupted her. "We were there. We saw it." It was stretching the truth a little. They had seen the mindless puppets they made of regenerated Nephilim. They hadn't actually seen the fights, though Maia and Simon had observed some training for them.

"You were dead?"

"Luckily, no. But we went to visit the place where the angels live – and the demons – and I promise you it's not a nice place. The war I'm afraid we need to prepare for isn't one against other Shadowhunters. It's against the same beings that made us. We won't win that with swords and axes. But we'll lose it for certain if we're keeping the Shadow World of his dimension fragmented as it is now. So, if you truly want to stand with us then the best thing you can do, starting right now, is to go and mingle. Become part of this group. Learn to use all the power you have, including the parts of it you have always been told not to touch. You'll need that. All of that."

"Speaking of learning," Maia threw in. "I was looking for someone who could send off a fire message for me. I really need to talk to some of the Wolves."

"But everyone can send a fire message." Virginie seemed appalled at the thought that an adult woman would need help with that.

"I'm a werewolf," came the calm response while Alec already held out his hand. "We don't usually come with magic. I'm not going to ruin a whole pack of printing paper until I manage to draw the charm just right without the native skill if all I need to do is ask someone who can do it right every single time. It's called expediency."

 

*

The last time Catarina had prayed had been when she'd been a child.

Some warlock children had a brief period where they seemed to be normal babies, regular toddlers and perfectly ordinary children.

Some thought they were the lucky ones, giving them an opportunity to experience a glimpse of a normal childhood, the love of parents with no clue as to their demonic nature.

Others disagreed. It was like dangling the sweetest of treats in front of them, only to take it away irretrievably when their marks manifested and their parents understood what they had been nurturing.

Catarina, raised by a mother willing to look past the color of her skin and hair, but always aware she had to hide from the world to be safe, had once believed in a God who was merciful, and kind, and good to those trusting in Him. Back then, she had prayed, with all the faith of a young child.

She hadn't had much of an interest in God, or prayer, since she'd set out in the world on her own, learning about the reality of hate for everything that was different, and the way people like her were hunted in the name of that same God.

Now that she knew what the creatures called Angels really were about, what exactly those prayers were feeding, she had even less of an interest in siphoning off even the smallest drop of energy to them.

Still, right now she wished there was a higher power she could turn to, to ask for help and assurance that she wasn't killing someone here.

Not Jem. She didn't know whether he would live or die. Everyone involved, including him and Tessa, knew that there was no way she could make any promises about that. But they were all doing their best.

But she had portaled back into the hospital, gone to the rear-most ICU room, and started drawing charms and sigils on the door, placing wards and spells to make any mundane who came down the corridor walk past that room. More spells disconnected it from the monitors. Then she had added more magic on top of that. By now, no one in the hospital other than her and Tessa and Jem, would even remember that this room existed, or be able to hang on to the memory, for as long as they needed it.

They were effectively removing an ICU room from existence, which meant that there was a risk that someone who needed it would not get the treatment that would keep them alive. Of course, she wasn't just blocking an empty room. Jem needed it, and the same situation would have applied had the room been occupied by another deathly ill patient. But there were procedures to follow for that, rules, priorities… and she was breaking all of them.

It wasn't just the room. She'd be blocking equipment, too.

Understanding her worries, Allie had promised to keep a close eye on Calgary. She had some power over the city and its inhabitants, and she was twitching bits of the city into place all the time, though she wasn't usually using her skills to prevent nature from taking its course.

Now, as far as it was in her hands, Calgary was about to start into days of unusually safe traffic and unprecedented good health among its citizens.

"Jem," Catarina said, looking down at her patient. He was still awake, his lips moving silently as if he was talking to himself to keep from nodding off.

There was a delay in his response before he looked at her, his eyes the only thing that moved while most of his focus remained on breathing. She hadn't been able to keep him on the oxygen supply while portaling, but she was about to solve the issue of his breathing a bit more aggressively anyway.

"I know you two have an agreement, but I need Tessa to work with me now. I can't bring in a nurse from the hospital, and none of our other friends has the knowledge, or the skill I need." Tessa barely wood. The last time she had worked as a nurse had been decades ago.

He gave the slightest of nods. It might have been just a twitching muscle, really, but she didn't have the luxury to second-guess now.

"I need you perfectly relaxed for a little while now, so I'll give you something to make sure you sleep, and stay asleep for a bit," she continued. "You should feel a little better when you wake up."

If, she thought, but she was never going to say that out loud.

Tessa had moved into position to assist her.

They waited just long enough for Jem's eyes to close. They could tell the moment he was asleep by the way his breathing changed. Without his conscious control on it, his breaths were even flatter, with long breaks between exhalation and inhalation. It wouldn't be long until those faltering breaths ceased entirely.

By then, there'd be a machine breathing for him, forcing air into his lungs at intervals.

They'd start filtering his blood after that, replacing the function of his other failing organs.

She was just maneuvering the tube down Jem's trachea when the door slammed open.

Centuries of practicing medicine in situations of crisis, in wars and disasters, always expecting anything from having someone shoot at her, random objects explode nearby, power flickering in and out or even outright assault by someone who thought she should be taking care of their friend first, kept her hands steady, and Jem from suffering damage to his vocal cords.

"What the hell is going on here?" A woman's voice rang loudly across the small room.

Tessa let go of Jem's head with one hand, gesturing to use her magic to pull the door shut, pushing their unexpected visitor into the room with them. From the corner of her eye, Catarina recognized the movements that followed. Her friend had sealed the door, locking the intruder inside with them. They'd have to handle her somehow, but it could wait until Jem was safely supplied with air.

"Catarina!"

She didn't have to look up. She certainly knew her colleagues by voice, and Sonya Greyson had been kind enough to show her around the place when she'd first started to work there even, sharing all the tricks of how to get the least mushed food in the cafeteria and how to make the copier spit out anything other than white pages striped in black but no discernible print.

The thing was that she had absolutely no idea how the woman had made it past her wards. She'd shown absolutely no sign of seeing anything beyond the mundane world so far, and they were spending all of the time they were in each other's company in a hospital, after all. Ghosts happened in hospitals. Sonya gave barely any indication that she even felt the temperature drop around them. She'd walked past the Brownies that lived on the third floor, because the head nurse there was Sighted, or Sensitive, or whatever it was locally called, and she fed them. She'd looked right past a Seelie mother who'd come in to collect her half-mundane child after an unfortunate accident with friends and had dropped her glamor in her excitement, until she'd gone outside and returned wearing a proper human likeness. She'd talked to the woman bringing in a baby in the process of manifesting a warlock mark, and promptly diagnosed some rare congenital disease Catarina had never heard about, never as much as blinking at the obvious traces of non-human elements that had to show up in a blood test, even if the kid hadn't been developing horns. She knew that part for certain because she'd tracked down the mother afterwards.

If anything, she'd have classified Sonya as the person in her vicinity who was least susceptible to the Shadow World.

Could she be so resistant that her wards hadn't even affected her? Could a person be immune to magic?

They'd have to deal with that, one way or another, but not until Jem's airway was secured and he was hooked up to a ventilator. She'd need a moment to get everything else ready anyway.

That brought back her thought from a couple of days ago: having a Shadow World Clinic with proper equipment and staff trained in handling people who were anything other than mundanes would be amazing. As far as she was concerned, she'd be perfectly happy never to have to conduct any living room – or guest room – procedures again that rightfully belonged in a sterile operating room.

"What are you doing here?" Sonya demanded when she didn't react immediately, because in addition to filing the thoughts that tumbled through her mind, she also had to settle a plastic tube barely small enough to fit in her patient's windpipe. "What's going on with him? Who is she? What are the signs on the door outside? And don't tell me I'm imagining all of this!"

With the tube in place and secured, Catarina looked up. Long practice on her previous job meant that she barely needed to glance down to make the connections she needed. She didn't have the background to fine-tune the machinery either way, but their current goal was survival, rather than comfort, in any case.

As far as Sonya was concerned, she leaned towards hoping that she was not, in fact, immune to magic and that she could simply turn her around, erase a few minutes of memory and leave her with a powerful unwillingness to come near this room for the next few days. Something in that last sentence had prodded at that, though, causing her to shift slightly away from it. Sure, it had been said in the most demanding tone, making it clear that she wasn't taking 'no' for an answer. But there'd been something else underneath – a sort of urgency even with a hint of what? Pleading?

"You're not imagining anything," she said. "But Jem here doesn't have time for the full story now. Will you take a promise of a later explanation instead?"

Sonya hesitated, looking back and forth between them as Tessa carefully stroked Jem's hair out of his face and Catarina flexed her hands for an antiseptic spell before setting out what she needed to get a good vascular access. "It'll do. Why are you in here alone with him in street clothes and without a team, and not over where he should be to get this handled?" She came closer and squinted down at their patient. "Whatever this is."

"He's been poisoned," Catarina offered the fastest approximation she could find that would need no further explanation. "And he's not entirely human. His blood can't go through the lab – not even to determine a blood type. The consequences of the wrong people getting wind of the existence of people like him would be – immense."

As her colleague parsed that information, long habit took over. She was standing in an ICU room. There was a patient in some sort of distress. She went to disinfect her hands and get a set of gloves from the supply kept in each room.

"What sort of poison?"

Catarina noted that the question hadn't been 'what sort of non-human?'. "Nothing of our world. It was given to him as a way of torture and with the intention to kill. No risk of accidental exposure."

"Antidote?"

"None. He either survives or he doesn't, and we've come to where he wouldn't without intervention. His liver and kidneys can't keep up."

She glanced at the ventilation monitor, noted the values and swore under her breath as she abandoned her current work. She took just enough time to turn up the oxygen before reaching for the equipment she needed.

"Be glad you're out of right now, Jem," she told him as she started unpacking the kit, quickly sliding her hands into the fresh gloves she found there. "Tessa, I need you to give him some oxygen in between. We have to clear out whatever is clogging up his airways down there."

Neither of the two of them had any doubt what that was.

Sonya watched, with some surprise at the speedy and confident way in which Catarina handled the suctioning kit, then frowned at the bloody mess the procedure produced.

"He's bleeding into his lungs?"

"He's bleeding into all sorts of places," Catarina corrected, vaguely gesturing at the bruises slowly darkening on Jem's pale skin. "From the liver failure. But his lungs have been an issue on and off for a long time. And I was an ICU nurse before I became a doctor. I've probably done this a million times, so you can stop looking quite so awed."

"You may have a double qualification, but don't have enough hands to do everything at the same time," Sonya observed, moving in place as if she was a doctor in a team. "Your patient, Doctor Loss. What do you want me to take care of?"

 

Chapter Text

Magnus was balancing a lot more plates than a single person should be able to carry, stacked and held securely in place with magic.

More accurately, the plates were floating and all he was doing was push the entire stack in front of him with some fleeting touches of his fingers.

A small shadow passed over him. He smiled to himself. He'd been waiting for that. Three falcons were already perched near Alec and his friends, ready to claim their share of the barbecue. The fourth was late, as she had been every time they had met for food out here in the park.

Alec was looking up, pointing. Jace rolled his eyes, visible even from where Magnus stood.

Another few steps, and the plates separated. They floated to each of the quartet, Katie, Hodge and Charlie. David, Abigail, Jonathan and Elphas were sitting with them, but already supplied with plenty of food.

"Share," Magnus admonished Jace. "No one will be happy if they have to put the rabbit on the grill for her."

"She doesn't need to have it on the grill. She's a falcon. She can eat it raw." Jace was frowning at the bird that had claimed him as its human. Valentine's lessons about not treating a hunting bird as a pet still sat deeply with him, though the falcon seemed determined to convince him otherwise. Since his one ill-considered complaint, she'd delivered a small rabbit to him every time she wanted to get a share iof his human food, as if saying 'look, I can still hunt even if you feed me.'

"Feed her," Alec told his parabatai. "Before she throws her prey at you again. It's bad enough that we have the cat carrying in mice."

"And it's not even our cat," Izzy muttered.

The cat belonged to the Gale family next door, or had, until it had decided that the Lightwood-Bane-Fairchild home was more desirable a place to be than a house shared with five children, and Magnus had taken right to it.

"Feed the bird," Elphas said darkly as the falcon chirped a demand at Jace. "So we can talk about what our precious Idris has to prepare for."

"Our Idris?" Katie asked.

He glared at her. "I helped build the place. My magic raised the stones of the first buildings that your kind called their homes. The core of your Gard is my work. I lived there for centuries, and called it my home country, and worked with you. I get to call it mine."

"Fine with me," Katie returned evenly. "But it's not my Idris. I've never been there. And I have no angel-changed DNA in my body anyway. My husband was banished from it, forbidden from ever returning. It's not his Idris either."

Elphas' lips thinned for a moment. "Apologies. It's hard to tell the difference now that they," he gestured at the Nephilim present, "erased their silly markings."

Jonathan almost choked on his beer. "I never knew you thought they were silly!" They were working with Speak in Tongues charms for the moment to facilitate communication.

The warlock shrugged. "It didn't seem wise. But you may have noticed what you all can do without them. Would you really call wearing them sensible?"

"Rune discussion later," Izzy interrupted them. "What did Indira say?"

"Did she try the wards?" Clary followed up.

"Of course she tried the wards," Magnus returned. He gestured, summoning a paper roll from their home.

Spread between them, it turned out to be a rendering of the signs that had once held the Alec and his friends, as well as Magnus, captive. The drawing was multi-colored, showing clearly that there were several sets of runes, or sigils, or whatever one wished to call them, that were fitted together into one whole.

"The black lines form the pocket universes. The blue ones are what diverts sight, and hearing, and teleports people through the field covered by the wards," he explained.

They nodded. That was about as far as they'd come before Indira Lock had had a go at the designs.

Magnus pointed, touching a set of twelve clusters spaced at equal distances around the circle. They were draw in red, as was another set of lines at the very outermost edge. "According to Indira, these close the wards and make them impassable. If they'd been activated when we were caught, it is unlikely that any of us would still be alive."

"But then the demon general that was supposed to eat us couldn't have reached us either, right?" Izzy asked. "Why did they put them in at all then?"

"And why not activate them, then turn them off at need?" Abigail asked. She touched a solitary design in green. Its placement made it look at if the circle with its many symbols actually had a top and a bottom. "I recognize this. That's a…" She searched the words the charm had given her. "remote control. It wouldn't have been too difficult to key into this with a matching artefact."

"Would they be permeable to air?" Alec asked. "If not, they would have suffocated us before the demon came. We were caught in time but we were still breathing. We might not have survived as long as they needed us to be there." He remembered the time when they'd been traveling and Magnus had cautioned against sealing the wards around their camp against wind.

"We probably wouldn't have died, and it would have added to the panic and the madness they wanted to produce," Magnus corrected. "But the short answer is, they couldn't. These wards need a battery. They burn through an incredible amount of energy. Indira tried connecting them to a ley line and barely managed to disconnect them again because she couldn't stop the flow. Magic would be impossible around them. Valentine couldn't access ley lines with his runes on him – Nightshades' million enkeli probably hamper him more than even a regular Shadowhunter would be in that respect. His cronies wouldn't find it much easier, and they wouldn't know how to go about it to begin with. Their warlock helper didn't have the power, or the skill. And the same flow of energy would be needed to keep them on standby to receive an activation signal. As for the other question, they put them in because there would have been gaps in the design otherwise. You don't want that. You never know where the power you're using might go. Besides, I suspect Valentine never knew what all of these were. He just had the pattern to work from."

"Can we assume that they're not on standby in Idris either then?" Jace asked, turning back and forth between the two warlocks. "Magic works in Idris. We've seen plenty of it."

"They're on standby," Charlie said. Her voice was low, but pitched to be heard by all of them easily. "They're not using ley lines. They're using the power of the land. The same power Gales use. The same power you use." The last was accompanied by a sweep of her hand around the Nephilim in the group. "Remember how you didn't have anything to use there in Alicante? It's all siphoned off by something, and I bet this is the solution."

"But wouldn't you…" Alec gestured vaguely, "need some sort of other signs… or things… to do that? I've never heard of there being any other ancient wards in Idris anywhere." He looked at the three oldest Shadowhunters, mutely asking them to share any additional knowledge they might have.

To Magnus' surprise, it was David who spoke.

"The Demon Towers. We know they power the wards, but we never knew precisely how. We knew no details of how they were built. They were there when we woke up that day, as were the wards. If we're looking for some sort of battery, that's what it has to be."

"He raised them from the ground," Jonathan said. "But I don't think I would understand how he did it today – and certainly not back then."

Alec nodded. "So if we turn off the demon towers, we turn off the standby function?"

Magnus nodded. His eyes had returned to the design. There was one last set of marks there, colored in a magneta sufficiently glaring to stand out from the red.

The others hadn't missed those. Izzy pointed at them first. "What's that?"

He met her eyes soberly, then looked at the others one by one before speaking. "That," he told them eventually, "is a self-destruct mechanism."

A moment of silence followed. Eventually, Alec asked: "They would destroy Idris?"

"They would destroy the wards," Magnus corrected. "The protections would be gone. The pocket universe would pop."

Once, they might have all broken into random chatter now, sharing their thoughts, and theories, and ideas. The last months had taught them better strategies. They remained quiet as they thought.

Finally, Alec said aloud what was going through all their minds.

"When a pocket universe collapses, what happens to the people inside?"

*

Catarina looked down at her patient, wondering what Jem would say if he could see himself now.

He'd probably point out that he'd been right: mundanes were awfully fond of plastic tubes. And wires. And bleeping monitors that recorded his heartbeat, the oxygen level in his blood, and a number of other parameters.

"I'll need a few tests run on these," Catarina said, collecting the vials of blood she had drawn.

Sonya moved forward, her arm half extended. "Do you want me to take those to the lab?"

Catarina treated her to the darkest look she was capable of. She'd thought the other doctor had understood the basics of their situation. "Not entirely human," she repeated. "Lab can't have his blood."

"What if I give it to Melissa and tell her not to let it out of her hands?" Sonya asked.

Catarina froze.

One of their Gale associates, Melissa had helped her analyze questionable substances before, but she'd done it in her private lab, back home – the same lab she used to brew potions. The same lab she had planned to take these samples for analysis. She was probably the most promising one among the younger generation's brewers and would likely one day follow in the footsteps of Auntie Gwen, who ran the Gales' potions business.

"Why would you suggest that?" she asked carefully.

Sonya raised her hands in a placating gesture. "It was trying to be a joke. I'm sorry. You've heard people say Melissa isn't entirely human herself, have you?"

She hadn't, which told her that either she needed to work harder on making friends in the hospital, or that people had sufficiently noticed that she was friends with the other woman and her family that they weren't going to make any such suggestions where she could hear it.

That thought delayed her answer, and she could see in Sonya's face that the pause had been long enough to convey some information of its own.

"It's true, isn't it?" she asked, her voice low. "She isn't--?"

"That's not my information to share," Catarina replied, fully aware that that was as much as a confirmation. She glanced at the clock. "I don't even know if she's in right now."

"She was when I came here," Sonya offered. "I walked into her in the corridor. Quite literally. She was in a bit of a hurry. Said something about swapping duty on very short notice, and that those were always the days when interesting things happened." She indicated Jem, then the blood samples. "I'd say she was right."

Gale Luck, the family called that force that made sure they were where they needed to be when they needed to be there. Still, she couldn't be certain that that was the only reason the young woman had come in today.

Fire messages were a bad idea where mundanes might be around to watch. She pulled out her phone and typed a quick text.

"Asking her to come up," she responded to the other doctor's questioning look. "I'd rather this wasn't discussed where the rest of the lab staff can hear it."

 

July 8th, 2017

"I want to go talk to my sisters,” Abigail said.

They were sharing dinner prepared by Jace, Clary and Maryse. Though quite delicious, Alec found it hard to actually enjoy it. There was too much else going through his mind, and taking the time for a leisurely meal seemed like losing minutes they didn’t have.

Another one of Magnus’ spells had expanded the room and enlarged their dinner table to let all of them sit comfortably.

He hadn’t just elongated it, but reshaped it from rectangle into oval, which increased the number of people it could reasonably sit at the same overall size. That had allowed him to get away with the smallest possible extension of the room. He had insisted that wasn’t any serious issue with the enlargement spell, but Alec knew that after the space in the house had been changed every which way already, an additional floor put in that wasn’t anywhere visible from the outside and the existing ones supplemented with more rooms than the house had ever fit, every further change to it required more effort than the one before. At the same time, portaling into the building, or even close to it, was rendered more complicated by the spatial distortion.

What happens to the people in a pocket universe when it collapses? The question returned to Alec’s mind unbidden.

"You’re thinking of rejoining them?" David blurted out, dismay bordering on shock in his voice.

Centuries of separation weren't something one could casually shrug off, though in both their cases, their changed states in the two orders, followed by the stretch of time in which their minds had been held captive by sleep and magic respectively, helped reduce the effect.

It was impossible for anyone sharing the house with them to miss that they both wanted to return the state of affairs between them to what it had been before David's observation. It was equally clear that it wasn't going to be a matter of a few days, or even weeks. There were too many new habits acquired, too many experiences not shared, for that.

Charlie had looked at them with something almost bordering on pity, and Alec couldn't help but wonder if she'd been thinking of the time when Jack had spent twenty years away to master use of his magic, then returned to her by way of time-travel. They'd had to re-acquaint themselves, too, and done so successfully.

With retreat into the Brotherhood closed to him, Alec wondered what David would do if Abigail was, indeed, going to decide that this new world was not one she wanted to share with him. Out of the three of them, he seemed to be the least happy to work with them. Would he just go back to sleep?

It didn't seem to be imminent, at least, as Abigail reached out to put a reassuring hand on his.

"Certainly not. But we're all in agreement that the issues we have with our brothers and sisters in Alicante will stop mattering soon enough. Simply staying out of that without supporting either side will cease to be helpful in any manner. And when we have to make that stand, those pretty little light-up swords won't do us much good against the enemy." She turned away from him, focusing on Alec once more. "We will need different weapons, and the sooner someone starts forging them, the better we will be prepared. Let me try to bring that about."

"Do you want backup?" Alec could see an array of feelings pass over the faces of both Jonathan and David at the speed of his response. It was a reminder to him of how used he had become of thinking of the same creatures he had once thought their greatest benefactors as potentially mortal enemies.

"A portal would be appreciated," she returned. "There and back. I don't think I have anything to fear from the Sisters as long as there are still some who remember be from before."

Alec gave her a brief nod. "Alright then. While you're at it, keep an ear out for whether they’ve heard any news from Idris?"

The night before, he had sat down with his sister, Magnus and the three first Shadowhunters and crafted a careful missive detailing their new information on the wards, and their suspicions about the way the Demon Towers worked. That had been followed once again by a reminder that they were not the enemy the Nephilim had to prepare for.

Rather than hand-write, they had printed it from a computer, leaving as little of their personal essence on the letters as possible. Then those had gone out as fire messages, directed to the inquisition, the Consul, a small handful of high-ranking citizens Maryse had suggested might be reasonably willing to consider a point presented sensibly, Imogen personally and, finally, the Redwoods. If the couple was willing to reactivate some of their old contacts, if only to spread a seed of preparation, the risk that Alicante would be hit unprepared at some point in the near future would lessen considerably.

Imogen was the only one they had heard back from so far.

"I'll be ready with the portal whenever you want to leave," Magnus declared. "Though you might want to take Clary or Charlie along with you after all for an easier return. I don't think we should leave a portal open, just in case there's someone who can determine the origin of one, and the Sisters won't appreciate me coming to collect you – or any other warlock, I'm sure, even if she's a woman."

Abigail hesitated a moment. Then she looked at the redhead. "Would you? I'm not sure how long I'll take, and I think Alec is going to need Charlie properly rested tomorrow."

Clary nodded her agreement as Alec almost made a face. The Institute in Iceland, tiny as it was, had declared its support earlier that day. It had come with a condition, however, that Alec was determined to honor. Over the centuries, the Shadow World of Iceland had never been as clearly separated from the mundane world as it was in most other places. Many, if not the majority, of the people living on the island had some Seelie blood. The Sight was more common than not, and Shadow World citizens formed a much higher proportion of the total population than they did anywhere else. With the institute tiny as it was, run by a single couple, the local Shadowhunters had not had any choice but to find their place among that community already.

The Reykjavik Institute wasn't going to stand against them. To become full allies, however, they required one thing of Alec: To join a meeting of the local representatives of the Shadow World, and to convince them all of the sincerity behind their group's efforts.

He shouldn't have been that nervous about it, he told himself. He'd held that speech a few times already.

Still, it would be the first time he was doing so to people of the Shadow World, and more so: people used to being treated as equals. For once, the standards he would have to meet to make a favorable impression were actually much closer to what they were trying to achieve in Calgary. Failing there, he thought, would feel like a personal deficit.

His thoughts were leaking, as he could tell by the minute shift of Jace's attention, mentally sampling the inflow through their bond.

"You remember that scholar we talked to the other time we visited Iceland?" His parabatai asked after a few more seconds.

All four of them nodded. They weren’t likely to forget someone quite so annoying – and as it had turned out, not all of his theories had been entirely inaccurate.

"I don't expect he's still there," Alec said.

Jace treated him to a small grin. "He doesn’t have to be. I was just thinking that we should get Virginie to send a fire message to her grandfather, detailing her encounters from last night. I doubt he would listen to us, but I expect he will to those three." He gestured at their guests. "And he might know other people who would, too."

*

Catarina had been in and out, but Tessa hadn't left Jem's room except for non-optional bathroom breaks. She held his hand, careful not to disturb any of the equipment. She watched his chest rise and fall in a steady rhythm relentlessly held by the ventilator. She listened to the sounds of the monitors, glancing up every now and then to observe the visualization of his heartbeat.

In spite of her connection to him, it was reassuring to see that that pattern, at least, had improved as other devices worked hard to clear his blood of the wastes his own body produced in its fight.

His eyes were open right now, though he wasn't focusing on anything. There was a vagueness to his presence in her mind to match that gaze. Catarina had, by necessity, given him a powerful sedative to keep him from waking up far enough to panic -and panic he would if he came to a point where he could actually process the tube running down his throat and the fact that he was unable to control his own breathing. Hardly anyone had the self-control to prevent that without help.

Though he'd probably retain little, if any, memory of this period later, she was talking to him, telling him about all the places she wanted to show him once he was back on his feet.

The door behind her opened. She wasn't expecting Catarina to return just yet. For a fraction of a second, she felt alarm. Catarina's colleague had walked right through the wards the day before. What if someone else in the hospital did the same?

But the sound was controlled, careful even. This wasn't someone who barging in to find out what strange things were going on in the room.

"Melissa?" she asked. It seemed to be the best guess. She'd come up here a few times both the day before and this one, after they had agreed that they all wanted to monitor Jem's blood as closely as they could. To everyone's relief, they had determined that none of the processes were thrown off by those cells in his blood that were more angel than human. The machines were working hard, and progress was slow since his body continued to produce more waste to be removed by the minute, but they were making progress. One of the last times, Melissa had even circled another value on the sheet she'd brought them, coded with letters and numbers that would have made no sense whatsoever for her colleagues, and certainly wouldn't have been found in any handbook but that they'd agreed on between them.

It was an otherwise unidentified compound circulating in his veins, suspected by them to be the demon toxin released from wherever it had been stored in his tissue.

The value had been stable in the first samples. The last one showed a small reduction.

It was within the scope that could be attributed to a measuring error. Still, it was a glimmer of hope.

She hadn't expected Melissa to drop by again this quickly, but she had to use what breaks she could get to sneak into this room. With one notable exception, the young woman had informed her, the Gales didn't portal. Melissa, however, had knocked every single time she'd come.

"It's Sonya," an entirely different voice responded. "I hear you've been here all night and all day."

Tessa turned just far enough to look at the doctor. She was carrying a covered tray.

"I don't need much sleep, and I napped a bit," she said. She would have needed more if she hadn't learned about charms as counterparts to runes that didn't require the use of a stele. She had raised two Shadowhunters. She knew the runes as well as any of them did. She'd helped them with their studies for years when they'd been children. Luckily, the application of a caffeine rune had shown that she was not as immune to charms as she was to runes.

"So – did you eat anything in that time?"

Tessa blinked. It took her a moment to make sense of the question.

"I grabbed some candy bars from a vending machine on the way back from the bathroom," she admitted eventually.

"Thought so." Sonya put the tray down on the small table in the corner, surely meant to hold medical supplies, and lifted the cover. "I brought you something. The meals they serve us doctors and the nurses here aren't as terrible as they could be, I promise."

"I don't—" Tessa began, though the smell of a hot meal stopped her protest.

"You'll not help anyone if you collapse for lack of calories," Sonya pointed out practically. "Eat. I'll check on Jem here. Catarina is quite busy with patients right now." She was already sliding her hands into gloves.

Did you come because she can't interfere right now, or did you come as her stand-in? Tessa thought before she could help it. The next moment, she mentally scolded herself for the idea. She had no reason to doubt the woman's motives. She'd done good work with them the day before. Getting Jem properly settled had been plenty of work with three people on it. She shuddered inwardly at the thought of having to do it with Catarina alone.

She released Jem's hand and shifted her own upwards, briefly stroking his arm near his shoulder, where there were neither wires nor tubes in the way and she knew he could feel her touch. "I'm not going far, and I'll be back in a few minutes," she promised.

If Sonya noticed that she moved the chair around the table so she could watch her with Jem, she didn't comment on it.

The other woman was certainly right in that the food was surprisingly good for being served in a hospital, even if it was meant for the staff.

Then again, it might have just been that she was surprisingly – or rather unsurprisingly – ravenous for something solid in her stomach that wasn't equal parts chocolate and caramel by now.

The second option grew in likelihood as she realized with the first bite that what she'd taken for a hot meal was, at best a mostly hot meal anymore.

"I'm sure he has another name than just 'Jem'," Sonya noted as she gave the man a quick but thorough check-up. "If you can share it, I'll be more respectful in addressing him."

Tessa's eyebrows went up a little. "James Carstairs," she offered. "No offence, but I've rarely seen a doctor in ICU bother to be polite."

A wry smile pulled on Sonya's lips when she looked back at Tessa. "I spent enough time with doctors as a child that I know all about how that sort of treatment feels. Too many don't bother with it no matter where in the building you are if you're underage."

She could just about imagine that.

It was almost a surprise to see how quickly her plate had emptied. That had been more of an inhalation than actual eating, she mused. Once she had put everything back on the tray and the cover on top, she moved back to the bed.

Sonya's smile changed a little as she watched her. "Catarina said you used to be nurses together," she began.

"A long time ago," Tessa agreed. "And then we both stopped, and she went into medicine and I into research." Considering that she hadn't bothered with a glamor and was looking like a woman in her early 20s, that might not have been the smartest thing to say. Then again, they had already let the woman know that there were at least two people in the building who were more than they seemed at first glance, and it would have taken someone either very naïve or not very bright to miss that both she and Catarina were unlikely to be ordinary humans.

"I realize this isn't any of my business," Sonya continued, returning to her work, "but are you Mrs. Carstairs?"

Though the other woman had turned her back to her again, Tessa found herself lowering her head slightly to hide extent of the smile that pushed its way onto her face.

"You could say that," she confirmed. Actually claiming Jem as her husband towards another person made her feel strangely light-headed. "Though my name continues to be Grey. Theresa Grey. Tessa."

"You know mine already," Sonya observed. Her hands were quick and confident in her work, but there was something off about them.

Tessa found herself frowning as she watched more closely.

There was, indeed, something going on with the woman's hands. It was harder to spot while they were in motion, for the deft, precise manner in which she worked, but when her hands stilled, she could see their shape wasn't entirely right. The gloves further served to conceal it, but something looked wrong about the distance between her thumbs and her index fingers, and about the angle at which the digits stood to each other.

By the time Sonya looked back at her again, Tessa had turned her own attention to Jem once more.

"He's not well, but he could be worse," she offered. "And he's stronger than he looks."

"I'd still call his condition worrying," Sonya admitted. "But you're right – he has stabilized somewhat. The bleeding seems to have stopped, and as far as I can tell we've managed to stave off actual organ death. Barring any sudden changes for the worst, his outlook is much better than it was yesterday."

Tessa knew what she meant: The degree to which Jem had stabilized went beyond what should have been possible in less than 24 hours, given the state he had started out in. She'd poured magic into him as often as she'd dared since, and so had Catarina during her visits, targeted at preventing necrosis and giving him the energy to continue his fight. He was making good use of all the resources he no longer needed to expend thanks to the machines running around him.

"Are you like him?" The question had come so suddenly that it seemed to surprise even Sonya, who hurried to give her a way out the next moment. "You don't have to—"

"It's alright." Barring any unexpected developments, they were going to have to remove this room, and themselves, from the doctor's memory anyway once Jem was ready to come back home. Letting a mundane walk around with the sort of knowledge she had by necessity acquired was rarely a good idea. "My mother was like him. My father was… something else." She still didn't even know who her father was. It didn't matter greatly anymore. Her children had grown up and died. There was nothing to suggest that demon traces still lingered in her descendants, sparse as they were these days. Who had fathered her was of no essence.

Yet, she wondered for a moment if Samael might be able to find out – and whether he'd be willing to do that if she asked him.

"What about Catarina?"

"Catarina's father was like mine," Tessa said. "If you want more details than that, you need to ask her about them."

With a nod to herself, Sonya started to remove her gloves. "When you were working as nurses together," she said slowly, "how recent was that?"

It was mostly the awareness that her own appearance already suggested immortality that made Tessa tell her the truth. "Not very. Catarina trained me, actually. That was in the 1930s… we worked in London together during the Blitz." She looked down at Jem again, passing her gaze over Sonya's now-ungloved hands on the way there. Both were scarred, in almost identical patterns along the last metacarpal and in a rough triangle between thumb and index finger. Combined with the way her fingers were positioned just a little wrong and her previous statement, Tessa was going to assume that reconstructive surgery had taken place there after some sort of childhood accident, though she was lacking the knowledge to guess at the details. She wasn't going to ask. It wasn't that important.

"I didn't stop working in that profession in the 1940s," she said instead. "I may not be entirely up to date, but I think I still do know enough to take care of him."

Once again, she found herself remembering that Jem wouldn't precisely approve of the arrangement, but she forced the thought aside. It wasn't like they had a choice. He would understand.

Sonya cast a regretful glance at her watch.

"I'm afraid I need to get back to work," she said. "My official work, that is. I'd like to come back later, though. I'd love to hear some more about you and Catarina in the Blitz."

As Tessa watched her go, she wondered if that had been genuine interest, or an attempt to catch her making up stories that wouldn't hold up to logical review. She should have assumed the second. Mundanes rarely took unprepared contact with the Shadow World in stride. Still, everything about the way the woman talked and acted suggested the former was more accurate.

"You know, Jem," she quietly told the man she loved, "I think it's going to feel damned unpleasant to have to wipe her memory when we're done with this."

 

Chapter Text

July 9th, 2017

Iceland

Alec hoped that he looked less nervous than he felt. He'd arrived at the institute with Charlie and Jack, deliberately not bringing any more Nephilim along with them. Carl and Greta Longwind, who went by Icelandic patronymics around here, had been the only Shadowhunters with a regular post on the island for years.

Certainly, they'd had visitors, but those were usually the scholarly sort. They had always maintained friendly ties with the local Shadow World, and showing up with a band of warriors hadn't sounded like the most trust-inspiring thing he could possibly do.

The Bard and the Dragon were worth as much as a small army in their own rights, of course, and he had reason to believe by now that everyone who had ever settled in the Seelie Realm at least was well aware of the latter.

Still, he assumed that Jack's presence would come across much better than Izzy's or Jace's, or even Clary's.

He'd wondered how they were planning to get a sizeable gathering into their institute, which had been quite crowded when they had visited earlier that year, between the family living there, their longer-term guest, the four of them and two additional dinner companions.

As it turned out, the answer was: not at all.

"May I ask where we're going?" Alec asked once they were marching down a footpath away from the cottage that served as the Institute.

"Church!" the couple's son informed him.

Given the choice to stay behind in the safety and comfort of their own home, or to come with them to the gathering, both children had reacted by getting their boots.

Alec decided to take the fact that the adults had left the decision to them as a good sign. They weren't expecting an attack on their institute in their absence, but neither did they believe the gathering would pose any danger to pre-rune-age children.

"Church?" he asked.

"It's where we meet when we need more space," Greta informed him, gesturing down the path. "It's not that far."

"And if we encounter any White Walkers on the way, we still have dragonfire to destroy them," Jack added, grinning.

"Iceland hasn't had any undead other than the local vampire population for centuries," Carl informed him, his tone one of good-natured lecturing. "They made sure of that."

"I would have thought even a vampire community would be an issue in a small place like this," Alec noted.

"They don't allow their own numbers to grow beyond what's sustainable," the local Shadowhunter explained. "They have a waiting list, actually. Those vampires who desire to live the most conventional lives possible – they find that easier to do in places where winters are long and days are short much of the year."

"And it's not like the cold bothers us."

Alec started at the new voice by his shoulder. He had seen – or rather, barely perceived – vampires moving at full speed before. He knew the way they could seem to suddenly materialize when they stopped close to a person after a dash. He'd never before seen any of them do it so silently, though. Now there was a question he’d have to ask Raphael at some point: was this a skill only some of their kind had, or did they have reasons to be deliberately clumsy around Shadowhunters?

"But summer should be abolished," the vampire continued. "Whoever invented twenty-hour days and worse deserves to be drawn and quartered for it…"

Carl laughed as his children skipped closer to their new companion.

Alec suddenly understood the strange timing for the meeting, scheduled for the local midnight. The sun had set just around the time they had arrived. They'd made sure that representatives of all the groups living around the institute would be able to attend comfortably. Though that begged the question…

"Are you going to be alright if the meeting's held in a church?"

The vampire's smile showed only a hint of fang. "Many thanks for your concern, Alexander Robertsson. But ours is indeed a church where all are welcome."

Alec made a face. "Clearly, you have an advantage over me, since I do not know your name, and you not only know mine, but also my parentage." He didn't mind observing local naming custom while on site, but the reminder of his father certainly was something he could do without. "I hope you'll understand that I'd prefer no association with Robert. He has tried to kill us a few too many times. My mother is Maryse. Alec Mary—" How did Icelandic grammar work? He should have asked Carl and Greta for a Speak in Tongues before they'd set out.

"Marysarson," Silvia, the other child, kindly helped him out. "Look, we're almost there!"

Following where she was pointing, Alec spotted the building just coming into view. While considerably larger than the institute, it still looked smaller than most churches Alec had seen in his life.

Then again, most churches he had seen close up in his life had either been fronts for institutes or old and venerable religious centers where Shadowhunter gear was stashed for them to pick up at need.

This building looked as old as it was well cared for, the walls painted a snowy white that made it look as if the church was radiating its own shine in the light of the full moon overhead. Thanks to a cloudless sky, the moonlight was quite enough for Alec to make out green shutters around each of the three windows along the length of the church, repeated in the markings of the single tower above the front gable. The roof, in contrast, was dark enough to look like a hole against the sky.

Beyond the church, Alec could see a row of four buildings, but no lights. Either the residents were already in bed, or not at home. The river meandering past it all must have made for a rather idyllic view during the day.

A man dressed impeccably in black was waiting for them by the door of their destination.

"Erik," he acknowledged the vampire, who returned something in rapid Icelandic. The man chuckled, then turned towards the Shadowhunters ad Gales.

"I am getting too old for such midnight gatherings," he observed, talking to Carl, but speaking English for the guests' benefit.

"The need for them will soon be past, and you can recover from the effort until next year," Carl promised, a grin audible in his voice. "Alec, Charlie, Jack - meet Jón Sveinsson, the man whose church we are borrowing."

"Thank you for letting us," Alec said, studying him. Even if he hadn't assumed that this was the local priest, he didn't have the pallor of a vampire. His ears suggested no Seelie origin and he couldn't spot a glamor on him. He couldn't imagine a werewolf pursuing a priesthood, and his power vision showed him no signature even remotely similar to Jack's. "Will you be attending as well?"

Jón's laugh suggested that the source of his confusion was clear enough. "Of course. Someone needs to represent the ordinary humans around here."

Alec remembered that Iceland had a high ratio of Seelie blood among the mundane population. He knew many of them were Sighted and had heard that the priests often doubled as someone who would mediate between people and local Seelie.

Still, every instinct told him that this wasn't right. Mundanes weren't supposed to attend Shadow conferences, surely?

None of the others objected, though, and he once again decided that it would be the wisest to follow Carl and Greta's lead.

"He's not quite as ordinary as he seems," he heard the woman whisper at his shoulder just as he stepped through the door. "If you meet him again after tonight, ask him to tell you just how old he is."

 

Calgary

Calgary wasn't a bad place to be, Maia thought. Under different circumstances, she might have found it tempting to make this town, with its considerable non-human population, a permanent home. In the absence of an institute, and the absence of any meddling by the closest institutes, for decades – if not longer – there was a notable difference to the way people interacted. There was an absence of fear and tension that she had never, in all her days as a werewolf, experienced.

In spite of what she'd been taught, in spite of what the Shadowhunters kept claiming, the lack of Nephilim to keep the peace had never led to war among the factions here, or any sort of rioting or random preying on mundanes.

You'd almost think people were smart enough to self-organize, she mused as she put away her purchases. Without knowing how long she was going to be stuck here, she and Simon had decided to treat this as a regular move as far as possible, keeping an actual household rather than living from day to day.

So far, Simon's apprenticeship with Charlie was something they were still both figuring out, but the Bard had called in some favors and gotten him slots in a variety of location to play, earn a little money and try his luck with different audiences. Maia had gone to watch, and she'd seen the older woman there, hiding out around the back to study her student as if trying to make sure she wasn't accidentally influencing the crowd.

In addition to that, he had taken over the music lessons Jace had given to some of the younger Gales, freeing the other man to focus on the current Shadowhunter issues. That was what he was doing right now.

Maia had gone to the Sylvan Diner, the town's most popular Shadow World hangout, to ask for a job. She'd gotten it, too, and worked it all of a single night before realizing that the same issue that kept her from staying in New York would be prohibitive for tending a bar in Calgary: the city had werewolves, too, and they reacted no differently to her than the ones back home had.

She'd tried to tone down the effect. She knew it had to work somehow. She'd seen and felt the older wolves do it. The problem was that she had no idea how to go about it, and none of the things Magnus and Catarina has suggested to her had worked. She'd even talked to the Gale elders, with no more success.

For the moment, she had by necessity settled on babysitting and tutoring Gale children herself to earn a little money and feel a hit less as if they were taking charity from the family, while hoping that the message she had sent out would be received and heeded. She'd certainly have a thing or two to say to the father of all werewolves if she ever met him again – which right now she silently prayed would be soon. She had run out of options of who else could fix her problem.

A knock on her door startled her out of her thoughts. She rolled her eyes at the sound. They had a perfectly functional doorbell after all. A moment later, she realized what sort of visitor might not even be aware of the purpose of that gadget. The bag with her groceries left on the counter, she wiped suddenly sweaty hands on her jeans as she went to open the door.

In another situation, this might have felt as if her thoughts had summoned someone. Considering how much the issue had been on her mind recently, all it evoked was a feeling of mildly annoyed relief, spiced with a helping of worry that she'd open that door and find someone outside whom she didn't expect.

Worry turned into certainty when the door swung open to reveal two young men she could swear she had never seen in her life before. They looked a little older than herself, with the same dark skin and black curls. One of them wore his hair long enough to brush his shoulders. The other had it cut short and supplemented by a tidy beard. They were dressed in denim and leather respectively, combined with identical white t-shirts that were missing seams.

The latter caught her attention because she'd seen the same on Jack when he didn't pay enough attention to his magicked-up clothes.

That realization made the rest of her senses catch up. The smell of wolf filtered through to her brain, quickly resolving into more personal detail as she focused on it, rather than her sight.

They may not have looked the way they had the last time she met them, but they certainly weren't strangers.

She stepped aside to clear the way for them.

"That button next to the door is a bell," she told them. "People don't knock anymore."

"Noted, little sister," Hati, son of Fenrir, told her. Both he and his brother looked around. "New lair? It doesn't seem very … you yet."

"It's an apartment, not a lair," Maia returned. "It's temporary. And you don't even know what me is."

She understood what they had done, glamoring themselves to actually pass as relatives of hers. Luckily, few people knew about her actual family.

"I know most of this place still bears the signature of someone who is neither you nor Simon," he told her. "Speaking of whom, where is our brother in law?"

"He's not your brother in law. We're not married." The look he gave her said Does it matter? As clearly as if he'd spoken the words. She sighed. "He's at work. Did you need him?" She noticed almost as an afterthought that she hadn't objected to him addressing her as little sister. Ah well. She probably should have objected to that back in their dimension, had she wanted them to stop it.

"We don't," his brother said. "But we have read that vampires don't usually like having wolves in their lai—their apartment. I was wondering if we should go elsewhere to talk. It is his place, too, isn't it?"

Maia's lips thinned. She wasn't sure if she wanted to laugh or groan at that. She had known, somewhere, somehow, that their encounter with Simon during their last few days in the dimension where they had made their home had to have been the first time they had encountered a vampire in the flesh.

"Simon isn't going to try and rip your throats out for being here. He doesn't play the 'vampires and werewolves hate each other' game. And he knows I asked for help." She waved them into the living room, still furnished with Katie's things, since she and Hodge had chosen to take the opportunity their new, much larger home, offered, and acquire an all-new interior. Maia suspected it had at least a little to do with Katie's wish to give her husband the option of properly contributing to his daily surroundings after years upon years of being virtually imprisoned.

She served them iced water and put a bowl of chips on the table between them while they studied the TV and Simon's PlayStation from where they sat. She wondered what two ancient almost-deities would think of a game of Mario Cart once everyone was home.

Sitting down across from them, she realized she wasn't entirely certain which one of two requests she wanted to make. "So how are your grandparents doing?" she asked instead. She wasn't just taking the polite route to play for time. She'd been thinking of the two, rescued from centuries of torture so recently.

"Grandmother seems quite fine so far," Hati told her. "Keeping busy. Working more than she's resting, but that's always been her way. He…" he exchanged a brief look with his brother. They shared a very wolfish shrug, then gestured vaguely. "Some days are better than others."

"Some hours are better than others," Sköll specified. "For all he's said he had no death wish after he was freed – and I do believe him – I think on some level he wouldn't have minded going down in a blaze of fire when you got away. Surely you didn't ask for a visit in order to catch up on family, though?"

Of course not. She took a breath and fixed the older wolf with as much of a stare as she dared. "I need someone to reverse what your father did with me."

They looked taken aback at that request, deep frowns creasing their foreheads.

"Why would you want that?" Hati asked eventually.

"It's a gift others would do anything to receive," his brother added. "You can't just … give it back."

"I didn't ask for it," she informed them, her voice firm. She wondered at the ease with which she could oppose them. Were they keeping down their own dominance on purpose, or was this also a side effect of how she'd been changed? "And others may not have an issue with being unable to walk into a room full of their own people without everyone trying to go to their knees, but I do. At least show me how to turn it off."

"Now see," Hati told her, a small smile returning to his mouth, "that we can do."

*

It was late when they received word from London that a single Shadowhunter had turned up at the Institute's door, asking for both refuge and a portal to wherever Alec and his friends were. A brief exchange of fire messages later, they were fully dressed again, waiting just outside their portal room. Though they weren't expecting a covert attack, Magnus had a spell ready in his mind just in case. The scanning wards he had put up around their entrance would alert him about any concealed weapons, or concealed spells, carried into their home.

Alec didn't even try to hide his smile as he watched his partner move into place.

He'd known that for Magnus, the last days had been filled with worry about his friend, that though he did his best to hide it and put it our of his mind while he was working with them, he had turned the situation in the City of Bones over and over in his head, trying to find a way he could have avoided the man's deruning. Alec had felt his partner's tension spike every time a text message had come in, knowing he was afraid that this time, it would be the one announcing James Carstairs' irreversible death.

Still, Magnus had centuries of experience in hiding how he felt, and he hadn't appreciated the full extent of his anguish over what his spell had done until that moment, briefly after Alec's return from Iceland, when another message had come in and Magnus' relief upon reading it had seemed like a palpable thing in the room with them all of a sudden.

He had interrupted his own tale of success to let them all share Magnus' delight at the news: Catarina's last desperate measures were working better than they could have anticipated. Mundane machines had done what spells and potions had been unable to, cleansing the substances Jem's body released from his blood. Melissa's last analysis had returned results so close to the standard for Nephilim that Catarina had decided to see how his body would cope with taking over again.

So far, it was going well enough. Organs protected from destruction by magic and potions were working adequately. His immune response remained under control, with no further attacks on his own tissues evident so far. Encouraged by that, they taken another step. He was once again breathing on his own.

They were still giving him additional oxygen. They had no way yet to tell what long-term damage his body had suffered from the ordeal. They were going to keep him under close surveillance in the hospital room for another night to be safe, even though Catarina's scans had yielded only positive results.

The bottom line that had Magnus weak with relief was that Jem would live. He hadn't killed his friend by carrying out his request.

It was a day of happy news, Alec thought as he remembered it. His speech in Iceland had been received well enough. Abigail had returned from the Iron Sisters, informing them that the order would not provide weapons for Nephilim to fight Nephilim – not something they would have asked for anyway – but that they were willing to turn their efforts to the other sort of weapons they needed, giving themselves a head start for the supply, though they would not hand out any of the equipment before it was needed.

That was well enough, and all that they had hoped for.

It was David's reaction when the women had returned into their midst that had Alec mentally shaking his head. At that moment, it had been impossible to miss that he had indeed been afraid that Abigail would reconsider once she set foot in the Adamant Citadel again, and decide to stay.

He could only hope they hadn't used up all the good news allotted to them for the foreseeable future.

The portal flashed, and Magnus nodded. The man who had just stepped through was cleared by his spells.

Alec firmly fixed his thoughts on the moment at hand and stepped forward into the room, hand extended in greeting.

"Mr. Redfern. Thank you for joining us. I'm sorry to hear that your institute didn't quite agree with you."

 

July 10th, 2017

"How long do you need to pack a bag and be ready to travel?"

Simon froze at the woman's words, spoken before he had even fully entered the room. "Good morning to you as well, oh teacher," he told her pointedly. "Where are we going?"

"Places," Charlie replied cryptically. "Wherever we're washed by the tides of chance. Bards are supposed to be itinerant musicians. We're not meant to be stationary. It's time to get on the road and do some proper performing."

He stared at her. He'd known Charlie Gale had rarely ever stayed in place as long as she had in the last few months. People had remarked on it often enough since they'd all started spending time in Calgary. Their sojourn together into another dimension and her brief visits to New York before that hadn't really qualified as an interruption of that – not in the way her usual habits worked in any case.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked her cautiously. She'd said that she didn't like responsibility. She'd said she needed the freedom to come and go at her leisure, that she needed to be moving, that she was happiest living day to day, hour to hour, carrying only her instruments and a change of clean underwear.

But they needed her. His friends depended on her and her skills. Certainly, Clary could use the Wood, but her options there were far fewer than those of Charlie Gale.

So far, he had expected that she would see all of this through with them. He certainly hadn't expected her to leave with barely any notice, and to expect him to come with her.

Oh, sure, he had asked her to be his teacher. It was only right of her to expect him to follow where she went. Under any other circumstances, he would have been delighted to go on tour with her. Under any other circumstances he would have liked to ask Maia to join them.

But Maia was spending this day, and the next, and any other in the foreseeable future, with her own new teachers, and everything in him balked at the thought of leaving Clary and their friends to do whatever they had to do on their own.

It's not like you've been able to do a whole lot to help, a small voice at the back of his mind told him.

Maybe Charlie knew things that he didn't. Maybe this was how he would learn to harness the powers of a Bard, and he could return with skills and knowledge he could actually put to everyone's use. Maybe—

"Very sure," she said. "In fact, it might be a bit late to make as much of a difference as I'd like to, but I want to get as much coverage as I can. I'll do it on my own if you don't want to come, but I'd appreciate your help." She waved the notepad at him that she'd been writing on. "I'm almost done with the setlist. I'll text it to you in a few—"

"Charlie, what are you talking about?" He was missing something. He had to. Surely there was some way all of this would make sense.

As she looked up at him, he felt his face darken. Charlie rarely looked well. Maybe it was his imagination, but right now she looked several levels more ill and exhausted than usual. Had she run herself this ragged trying to help them? "Are you alright?" The question felt stupid the moment it left his mouth. One look at her should have been enough to give him the answer.

"Yeah." The air around her face rippled, lines smoothing out, angles softening just a little, shifting her appearance from frighteningly unwell to merely thin and tired. "Just a little distracted."

He slid into the chair across from her. "How often are you wearing that glamor?"

She gave him a long, mute look.

What do you think? It said.

"Does Allie know?"

"Who knows what Allie knows. If she does, she has the good sense not to mention it." She pushed her notes at him. "Anything on here you're positive you cannot perform?"

She wasn't going to discuss the matter of the magic-borne damage to her health with him. He understood a hint when someone hit him over the head with it. He read through the list. What sort of tour was she planning?

The songs didn't have a lot in common, he found. They might have been vaguely connected by a theme, but that was nothing you would base a concert tour around.

Then again, you didn't just start a concert tour without preparation from one moment to the next, no venues booked, nothing organized, no—

"Where are we going to perform?" he asked her, pushing the list back across the table. "And why? I don't feel good just disappearing on everyone." He might as well be honest with her about that. At least he could mention the issue without seeming to accuse her this way.

"We're one call or text message away," Charlie told him. "We have the Wood to use, remember?" She rubbed the side of her head as if trying to massage away the beginnings of a headache before she continued. "You know about my fiddler?"

He nodded. He didn't understand quite how it worked, but he'd heard her talk about it often enough.

"I believe we reached critical mass sometime this night. He woke me up playing 'Over the Hills and Far Away', and he hasn't stopped since."

"Nightwish?"

"John Tams."

That told him exactly nothing.

"What does that mean?"

She looked away briefly. When she met his gaze again, her eyes were cold. "It means we're at war. And we'll need more than must the Nephililm and the Gales if we want to come out the other end alive and with our world intact."

Chapter Text

Catarina let her eyes roam the room one last time. A good magical cleansing had made sure that nothing remained in it that suggested that it had been used for anything out of the ordinary during the last few days. Every last trace of Jem and Tessa, physical and magical alike, was gone.

Finally, she allowed herself a little sigh of relief. It was done. Jem was safely back home, sleeping off the last of the sedative under Tessa’s watchful eyes.

She had one last task left to do, however, before the hospital could fully forget their little stunt.

Sonya had dropped by every day before the start of her shift. Surely she would today as well. All she had to do was wait for her.

Thoughts of what she was about to do left a bad taste in her mouth. She had volunteered for the job so Tessa didn’t have to leave Jem and risk that he would come around without her being there.

While she never particularly enjoyed this kind of magic, this was one of the few occasions where it felt utterly wrong to her.

Then don’t do it, she told herself. Swear her to secrecy, put a geas on her, and leave it at that.

A more reasonable part of her mind was shaking its immaterial head at her. She knew that only ever led to grief.

"Oh," she heard her colleague's voice from the door. "When did you move him?" She looked around the room as she approached. "You work fast. I would have helped."

"There wasn't much to do, and you couldn’t have helped the way I did it," Catarina admitted. She turned to study the other woman. "Do you have a moment?"

Sonya nodded wordlessly. Of course she did. Her shift wouldn't start for half an hour, as Catarina knew very well.

"Then walk with me for a bit?"

The small park behind the building was mostly deserted at this time of the day. The two women walked in silence on the way there, as if there was nothing for them to say to each other now that their shared secret had come to an end.

On Catarina's side, it was that all words felt pointless right then. What was there to say if you were about to take it away again in a few moments?

Reaching the farthest corner, they stopped. They were alone, with no one likely to stumble upon them and wonder at what was happening.

Sonya broke the silence before Catarina could say a word.

"So is this where you'll do it?"

"Do – what?" Catarina asked, surprise and confusion on her face.

"Delete my memories of what happened in that room in the last days," came the reply, matter-of-factly and so calm that she must have thought it through. There was no hint of a joke in it.

"What makes you think that's what I'll do?" She should have just done it, not debated it, but she was still hesitating.

Stop looking for an excuse, she told herself. Nothing good had ever come of involving mortals in the Shadow World.

"That's what happens, isn't it?" Sonya asked. "In the books – everywhere. If someone human stumbles into the fairy realm, they are either swallowed up by it or their memories are taken. Will you at least‑" She broke off, shaking her head slightly.

"Will I at least what?" Catarina prompted.

The headshake intensified for a moment, now clearly directed at her, rather than inwards. "Never mind. I was going to say 'let me know how Mr. Carstairs fares now and then', but I won't even know who that is. How often have we done this before?"

"How often – what?" This conversation was feeling surreal. It wasn't supposed to go like this. When talking to a mundane about Shadow World things, they were the ones supposed to be confused, not the warlock.

"I was just thinking that for all that I know, I might walk in on you doing things like that regularly, and never remember it afterwards."

Catarina couldn't help a small laugh. "I've been working here for a few weeks. Even if I was in the habit of misappropriating rooms, which I'm not, I wouldn't have had the time."

"True."

Another stretch of silence followed.

Eventually, Catarina said: "If you knew this was a likely outcome, why did you do it? Why help us in the first place?"

"I'd like to say because it was the right thing to do," Sonya told her. "And I do hope that was part of it. But mostly it was just…" She looked around, searching for words, then indicated a bench along the path. "Do you have a moment?"

"Your shift starts before mine," Catarina observed, moving already. She didn't know where this was going, but she would listen. It was the least she could do, and it wasn't like the other woman could suddenly disappear with the knowledge she had gathered in the last days.

"I was born with a rare condition," Sonya told her once they were seated. "We know little about it today – just a handful of cases are known. We knew less about it back then. A lot of my childhood was spent on this or that study, under close observation of how things were developing, and on fixing things… Don't get me wrong there. I had a good childhood. I wasn't unhappy. My parents were great about it all – well, my adoptive parents, since my birth mother wanted nothing to do with me. Not everyone copes well with a child that is different."

"Tell me about that," Catarina muttered. Warlock children, and especially those with marks too obviously unhuman, were at a high risk of being abandoned. She'd found homes for quite a few of them over the centuries, raised others herself. Of course it didn't help that most warlocks were not conceived without force.

"For the longest time, I was told she was overwhelmed by the prospect of raising a child with unknown needs. As I found out later, they actually took me away for my own safety. She insisted I was the devil's child and should be smothered or drowned. I learned that when I went looking to find out more about where I came from. A lot of children who are adopted want to do that sooner or later."

Catarina nodded distractedly. Her eyes went to the other woman's hands, studying the scars, the way her fingers didn't quite fit the regular pattern, then her face. How old was she? Young, to have the qualifications she had, in any case. Unless she looked younger than she was.

"So when—"

"Wait." They didn't have an unlimited amount of time, and Catarina's priorities had shifted. She'd gone over her wards several times, trying find the loophole that had allowed Sonya access, but without success. Except for that one time, they were perfectly impermeable to any mundane.

Sonya was looking at her expectantly.

"That condition – that you have. Tell me more about that."

The wry expression on the other woman's face told her that she'd heard that request far too often.

"Children are born with a variety of deformations, or develop tumors in early childhood. That's how all the cases I know of were noticed. Facial tumors are common, but I was lucky in that area. My hands, though…" she held them up, showing the old scars. "Were just wrong. They fixed the worst of it early, even before they put me into a proper foster home, but there was some corrective surgery here and there throughout my childhood. My dexterity is fine now, but I wouldn't try going into surgery as a career."

Catarina kept her face carefully blank as she filed the information, though a feeling of horror was starting to build inside her. She indicated for the other woman to go on.

"There's a blood marker. Our bodies produce some blood cells that are just weird. They don't impair function but – well, I can't donate blood in any case. There have been a number of unexplained childhood deaths, but the risk reduces the older children get. There's not enough of a sample to know for certain if it's doing anything to our life expectancy. Mine is basically the first generation in which it's documented. On the flip side, there's something different with our bodies' collagen formation. We don't scar as much, which is lucky…" She raised her hands once again as she continued. "And we tend to look younger for longer. You start appreciating that at some point. On the other hand, we have some reproductive issues."

She nodded mutely. Wherever this talk went from here on, she was going to have to do something about the information she had just received.

"Do you – know any other people with the same thing?" she asked.

"Not really." Sonya's lips tightened briefly and she shifted to look past her colleague. Whatever she was going to say next wasn't something she was comfortable with. "Few make it to where they live independent lives. Mental illness is common. Hallucinations are the rule. Visual, auditory, anything."

She met Catarina's eyes again. "And before you ask, yes I have them. I learned to pretend they weren't there a long time ago, and my parents and everyone around me were happy enough to believe it. I will also deny ever having admitted to such a thing if you bring it up anywhere."

Catarina could only imagine the amount of work that had gone into ignoring the Shadow World to the point where she would have sworn the woman didn't see it. She had turned the trick of passing as a mundane into an art form.

"You know," Sonya continued, "growing up, I was so aware that I was different. Not just because of the time it took until I could handle a knife and fork, never mind a pen… the hours of therapy that went into that. The times spent in hospitals to improve results. The studies, the tests, the questionnaires, my parents afraid I might stop breathing when I was little, check-ups to make sure I wasn't developing growths anywhere. Always being watched for whether I was seeing or hearing things 'again'." She drew quotation marks in the air at the last word.

"And maybe that's just part of all that, but I felt like I was some sort of freak beyond that. Who knows - Maybe something carried over from my birth mother's reaction to me. I don’t know. What I do know is that once I discovered fantasy books, I spent so many hours reading and dreaming. Imagining a world in which I wasn't wrong. Different, sure – but still right. My kind of right." She gave a small, helpless laugh. "If some big bearded stranger had walked up to me some day and said: 'You're a witch, Sonya, and you're going to Hogwarts'," I would have gone with them in a heartbeat. I may have had a bag with some necessities packed and hidden under my bed just in case."

Catarina could just about imagine that. She wanted to say something, but Sonya wasn't finished, and she didn't pause for long enough to let her without talking over her.

"I read a story, a while ago. There's a woman with a deformed face and an eerie sense for people's intentions and emotions. She's working at the border, sniffing out smugglers and criminals. One day, she encounters a man like her, and eventually she learns she's not human at all. She's a troll, taken from her parents as a baby and raised by a human family, her tail amputated, her origins obscured… that man gives her a glimpse of what she was meant to be, shows her – things. I'd managed to forget just how much I wanted to have that place where I was right until I read that."

The last sounded as if she was talking to herself, rather than to Catarina, now. With a visible effort, she turned her attention back to her colleague. "There in that room with you, and Tessa, and Mr. Carstairs – I like to think that I felt a bit of that there. I think I could have been at home in that world. Maybe. I can't tell you what it was that felt right about it. But if there's anything I can say, or do, to convince you to let me keep that memory…" she shrugged, letting the thought hang between them.

There wasn't really a question of what to do with that anymore. Catarina shook her head ever so slightly. Sonya's lips parted, but she raised a hand to stop her before she could speak again.

"I won't take your memories. But we have a problem here."

The other woman's face registered surprise, then relief, then concern. "What is it?"

"I don't… quite know how to tell you this." It should have been easier, given what she'd just heard. Still, some wishes did not live up to the imagination when they came true, and she had no way to judge what sort this one was.

"Just say it?"

Well, then. "You're a witch, Sonya." She gave it a second, almost regretting she couldn't do a better Hagrid impression. "Literally so, I believe." Turning her own hand palm up, she called magic to it, letting the sparkling light play in the air between them.

"Warlocks are what happens when a creature we call a demon has intercourse with a human woman and she conceives a child." Looking around to make sure that they were alone, and turning to make sure anyone unexpectedly approaching them from the building would not see her face, she dropped her glamor, exposing blue skin and snowy-white hair. "This is called a warlock mark. Random mutations either present at birth or manifesting in childhood. Weird skin colors. Extra limbs. Different limbs. Horns and growths. Tails. Pretty much anything is possible." She let the spell slide back into place, resuming her usual appearance.

"We cannot have children. We don't age. We don't die unless actively killed. A warlock child unsupervised would be at risk of being killed either by some creature out for their life force, or by early manifestations of their own magic getting away from them. The extra cells running in our veins? We call that demon blood." She'd have to do something to find those poor warlocks with no idea of what they were, before some well-meaning mundane scientist or another ended up with the wrong – or the right – conclusions. The best thing probably was that people had a tendency to refuse to see what they didn't want to accept as real.

Speaking of which…

"And I believe the Brownies on the third floor would greatly appreciate it if you stopped calling them hallucinations. They might even clean up your locker now and then if you feed them.

*

He felt as if he had slept for years.

Actually, he felt as if he could easily have continued to sleep for a few more, but some vague sense that escaped any attempt at definition told him that that was not an option.

As awareness increased, and Jem slowly processed his environment, listening to the sounds of people moving around, dulled enough to originate outside of the room he was in, the small, reassuring rustling of someone sitting very close to him, watching over him and shifting ever so slightly now and then, the medical smells reminding him that whatever room he was in right then was a sickroom, light coloring the insides of his eyelids red, it was the absence of something that struck him the most.

The pain was gone.

It wasn't even that he was entirely free of discomfort. Swallowing told him that his throat was feeling sore and raw, though he couldn't pinpoint a cause. His hands were tingling, the feeling not painful, but no ness unpleasant for it. He was going to take that as a good sign in any case: confirmation that the nerves in his fingers were not entirely dead. Pressure against his back where the sheet under him had developed a fold was relieved by shifting slightly.

Breathing felt harder than it should have, as if, in spite of the oxygen-enriched air it was getting, his body was managing to take in just barely enough of it, but there was no agony accompanying every breath. The wet, suffocating feeling from his chest was gone. The burning in his hands and feet had not returned. The flares of pain all over his upper body and abdomen had quieted down.

He felt exhausted, without knowing from what, but still better than he had in a long time.

He focused, trying to remember.

He'd been on the brink of death. Catarina had offered to transfer him to a hospital, to let mundane contraptions help her in her task of keeping him alive. He could only assume that it had worked. The sounds he heard and the way the bed felt under him, the fact that he could feel the comfortable magic of a quilt underneath and above him, told him that wherever he had been , he was now back where he had started out: in Alysha Gale's guest room.

How much time had passed?

Clear memory escaped him. Most of what his mind had retained of the last period was vague impressions that made little sense to him. There was just one thing he knew for certain: Tessa had always been there with him.

As he let his eyes drift open, he shifted his arm to get his hand closer to where he suspected hers.

Movement came slowly, his limbs heavier than they had any right to be. His body left him no doubt that he had fought a hard battle.

Tessa shifted almost at the same moment, her hand meeting his. He saw it more than he felt it. An effort of will made his fingers curl around hers.

"Did we win?" His voice sounded rough, matching the feeling of sandpaper the words left in his throat.

"We won," she confirmed, the expression of relief on her face so raw for a moment that he shuddered inwardly at the thought of what his condition had put her through. "You won. You did all the work."

Picking up a glass from the bedside table, she offered it to him. Ice cubes clinked in it. The idea of cold liquid soothing his throat sounded heavenly, and he indicated his agreement.

There wasn't much water between the ice, letting him drink without having to sit up far and still not spill the liquid all over himself.

One of her hands was still holding his, the other supporting the glass. He let her, too aware that he lacked the coordination or strength to do without the help.

"What's wrong with my throat?" His voice sounded a little better for the lubrication, though still not quite like his own.

"A little irritated," Tessa told him. "I guess it doesn't much like mundane life support measures." She set the glass aside to free one hand for a spell. "I can make it go away if you want to. We weren't putting any extra magic into that before to avoid confusing your body about its priorities."

Priorities. Fixing the damage the drug, the withdrawal, the toxin had done.

Carefully taking a deeper breath, he filled his lungs with as much air as they would take.

He didn't think that breath was as deep as it could have been, as he remembered being able to breathe, but there was no warning stab, no sudden tightening that told him that if he continued to inhale for another moment, he would pay for it with a fit of coughing, and pain, and blood.

He turned Tessa's words over in his mind. They felt foreign, like something he had never expected to hear. Had not dared to expect to hear in a long time.

They had done it. He was healing. Finally, after a century and a half, or as close to it that it made no difference, his body was in a position where it could work on recovery without being interrupted again by more destruction.

Pushing himself up slightly was all the exercise he dared attempt for the moment.

There were patches of white material stuck to his arms. Looking at the line still feeding into the veins in his right forearm, he could about imagine where those came from. More inconveniences too minor to warrant an application of magic.

His movement had brought his face into a ray of sunlight falling through the window, and that in turn had started another thought process. Apparently, his mind was still going more slowly than it should have, though he felt as if he could sense it speed up with every minute that passed.

"How long has it been? How are matters standing with the Lightwood group?"

 

Los Angeles

Simon wondered how Charlie kept going.

For the first time since he'd been turned into a vampire, he felt completely and utterly spent. He still wasn't sure how he had regained the ability to eat and drink mundane foods, but he had ordered the strongest coffee he could get here and there, hoping that it would help to keep him going a bit longer.

It didn't. Maybe feeding the coffee to someone and biting them then would have helped more, but while he had no doubts that plenty of the Gale cousins would be amenable to participating in such an experiment, he didn't have any of them at hand right then.

He felt like the caffeine charms he had eventually requested from his teacher weren't working on him as well as they could have.

It was either that, or Charlie had some other, secret source of energy, because she kept going without faltering. The moment she picked up her guitar, all fatigue seemed to roll off of her like water from a waxed cloth.

Maybe it actually was some sort of glamor she used. When he looked at her while she was playing, he found himself wondering how he had ever thought that she looked ill, or too thin, or tired…

All of that came back when they stopped. Once off the stage, she returned to her usual self, though as far as he could tell, she was no worse for the effort expended.

They'd been travelling with the sun, hopping from one major gathering place of the Shadow World to the next, stopping where it was just the right time for large groups to be in one place. He had lost track of the precise amount of time they'd been travelling. He told himself that was because they kept hopping from time zone to time zone, but secretly suspected that it had something to do with Charlie moving them a little back in time every time they emerged in a new place, maximizing the length of their day.

He had heard of Shadow Markets, but he hadn't actually seen any until this day. They'd played in pubs, in streets, between market stalls, and once in a forest clearing. That one had confused Simon until, halfway through their second song, he had spotted movement among the branches, and then slowly made out the creatures that had come to watch them.

Maybe it was a rather metaphysical, rather than predominantly physical, exhaustion that he was suffering, he mused. Charlie took them into the Wood between stations, but she had him study the process, feel for the connection, and told him to listen - with his mind, not his ears – for tunes that were there-yet-not-there, suggestions of melodies both fleeting and unreal and far more solid than anything made of sound should have been at the same time, from that other dimension.

They only played a handful of songs in each place, chosen from the list Charlie had made based on the audience they had.

They weren't happy songs. Not really. They weren't, strictly speaking, sad songs either. They were the sort of songs that told of people questioning the path they were on, rethinking their future. They spoke of worry about what was ahead, the consequences of action and, more so, inaction.

Though she might have been able to, Charlie didn't cast a full spell on her audience. She didn’t force their opinions, or their alignments. She didn't, as he had heard the Gales say with that undertone that suggested they spoke of more than was usually meant by the word, change their minds.

That, she'd said when he asked her, would have been wrong. It wasn't the sort of power she should be exercising over people she didn't even know.

But she gave them suggestions. She nudged their minds a little, making them just uneasy enough about the status quo that they would be more likely to take action when asked.

Soon, if her fiddler wasn't mistaken, the creatures once hailed as angels would march against the Nephilim, and possibly every single creature with either angel or demon blood in their veins.

When that time came, the only way for the Shadowhunters as a whole to survive would be to turn to the Shadow World for support. Charlie was going to make sure that as many of the most influential groups among them would be ready to consider a major change to the status quo, willing to see a redistribution of power as a possibility and to take the actions needed for it. With every miniature concert they gave, every song they played, they increased the likelihood of swaying minds in favor of change.

This time, they were playing at a pub not unlike the Hunter's Moon.

That was, Charlie was playing. Upon entering, she had steered Simon firmly towards a table and sat him down there, ordering him to wait and watch instead of joining her on the stage.

Two stations earlier, he might have protested. By now, however, he was tired enough to simply do as told, sitting and nursing a drink of watered-down A-neg.

Maybe, he thought as he looked up and saw the door open to admit a figure as familiar as it was unexpected in this location, maybe she hadn't put him there to give him a break at all.

Charlie had just started on another one of those songs designed to push the audience into a mood that would leave them just a little dissatisfied with their current situation and thinking about how they might improve it. She'd only play one more after this.

If Raphael wanted anything specific of him, he'd have to hurry.

Chapter Text

The call came in while they were training.

Magnus had worked with Hodge to create a training area for the Shadowhunters behind the dojo – another set of rooms added by dimensional distortion.

Under the watchful eye of their former and current trainer, Alec and Jace were going all-out, swords and daggers flashing, meeting with full force and at speeds that would have rendered every mistake dangerous.

Alec was grinning broadly, and Jace knew his own face reflected the same expression. It had been far too long since they had last had an opportunity to spar like this, and they'd both missed it.

"Next time," he panted as they both whirled towards each other, one pair of blades meeting overhead and the other between their chests, "we should try this with wings."

"We'll have to do that in the park," his parabatai returned, disengaging, spinning and coming in again, aiming at where Jace was no longer standing.

Catapulting himself in the air for a flip over his brother's head from a standing position would have been a feat barely physically possible without their enhancements. The charms they had agreed to use beforehand left it an exercise that required focus and straining muscles, but was eminently doable.

"Wingspan's too large for in here." Those words came as Alec pivoted on the foot he had just put down, blocking and attacking rapidly.

Jace matched him move for move, stabbing, slashing and blocking in turn.

The sudden blare of a ring tone he was sure none of them had ever set drowned out what he was trying to respond, though even the unpleasant noise didn't break their focus.

Rather than startling and stumbling in surprise, they both broke off their fight in a controlled manner, blades lowered harmlessly, and nodded to each other in acknowledgement before moving apart.

They had left their phones on one of the benches along the wall, together with bottles of water and towels, which they had good use for now. They were both drenched in sweat, hair sticking wetly to their faces.

"Sorry, Hodge," Alec told the older man as he scrambled to get his phone, still loudly announcing that someone wanted to talk to him. "That thing is muted."

None of them pointed out that that was clearly not the case. If the Gale phones went off in spite of their settings, the call was important.

He reached for his phone, flipping open the cover with one hand while grabbing a towel with his other to quickly dry his face

It was a Skype call.

"Imogen," Alec said as soon as the call connected. "I assume this is not a strictly social call."

The connection established, their grandmother's face filled the screen.

"It's a strictly unsocial call," Imogen informed him without preamble. "I'm about to incite you to commit a crime. Hello, Jace."

Her grandson had moved into view behind his parabatai's shoulder. He nodded at her and vaguely waved a hand to suggest she continue.

"What are you proposing?" Alec asked at the same time.

"I'm proposing that you find a way to break into Idris." She fixed them through the connection. "The wards changed this morning."

The two men exchanged a glance.

"Did they close up?" Alec asked.

She nodded, but the way her lips tightened as she did so said that there was more to it.

"As you suggested they might, they have turned physically impassable. But that's not all there is to it. People tried portaling out."

"They were blocked?" Jace asked. Even as he spoke it was clear that that, too, couldn't be the end of Imogen's news. She looked uncharacteristically shaken at whatever memory it conjured up.

"In a way," she agreed. "They were thrown back to the portal. What emerged…" she hesitated. "Wasn't human anymore. Portaling in does not work either."

"So you want us to open up the wards again," Alec summarized, trying not to imagine what it might have been the portal had spit back out. It hadn't escaped his notice that Imogen hadn't said anything about whether the remains of those Shadowhunters who had tried leaving the country that way had still been alive. "And what then? I assume there's still prices on our heads."

The picture wobbled as Imogen reached out to pick up her phone.

"And the Consul's office, and the Brothers, and some of the Inquisition would still see those heads roll if they could. But we've been talking to people."

Before they could ask who 'we' was, she angled her phone, pointing the camera at a woman standing by her side.

Alec's eyes widened – not due to her identity. Imogen had taken the phone they had given her in stride to the point where she had to have known of the devices' existence. There was only one person left in Idris who knew of them. Since that was also a person with over a decade of experience in getting at computer feeds that weren't intended for her without leaving a trace, he hadn't had much doubt as to who Imogen's unnamed reactivated associate was.

What caught him by surprise was that Tatyana was standing there with her face unglamored, showing the scars she'd previously hidden to avoid, as she had put it, drawing attention. She met his gaze with her one remaining eye.

Her lips twitched, with what might have been an amused smile at his reaction pulling one way as scar tissue pulled the other.

She had kept the glamor on her hands, insubstantial fingers useless for gripping but allowing her to sign.

More impressive.

His brows drew together in a frown. There was no reason for her to communicate that way for their sakes. Her speech may have been slurred due to the fact that most of her tongue had been lost to the same knife that had left those gouges in her face that still stood out in cords and pits of angry red and glossy white and destroyed her eye, but both he and Jace had proven perfectly capable of deciphering it in the past.

Then Imogen moved the phone again, slowly giving them a view of the rest of the room.

"If you manage to break open those wards," she said, "send word to me. By the time you reach Alicante, the Consul will no longer be in power."

It was quite a gathering assembled there in the sitting room of Herondale Manor. They didn't know every single face she showed them, but there were Anestis and Elizabeth Redwood, Tatyana's aunt and uncle. Lydia's parents were there, and so was Helen's family. Alec spotted Philip Silverrose, last known to them as a source of great annoyance. He must have been the youngest man in the room, with everyone else being closer to their parents' generation than their own.

"I understand that the wards snapping closed the way they have is impressive," Alec said slowly, scanning the crowd along with Imogen's sweep. He had no doubt that the group was capable of staging a coup if they put their minds to it. Each and every one of them looked absolutely deadly. He didn't know the names of those standing closest to the Redwoods, but they exuded the same cool lethality as those two did. Visible scars marked most of them as veterans with plenty of combat experience. Until told differently, he was going to assume that those were former colleagues, once deployed, like Tatyana's relatives, in special forces, sent to handle those cases that a regular institute was not equipped for. "But I take it that there is more." His brows went up as Imogen stopped, her camera pointing at a man and woman who had just conferred in a whisper.

These were two he recognized, though he had never met the woman in person. Even without knowing anything more, he would have identified her as Sebastian's aunt Élodie. The family resemblance was too uncanny. The head of the Paris Institute, she hadn't been available to them when they had visited there months before. He had assumed it had something to do with her blaming them for the death of her nephew, though there hadn't been anything they could have done to prevent it at the time. That had been before their own world's Jonathan had given himself away, while they had still had every reason to believe that the man was exactly who he claimed to be. He'd fooled even Aline, Sebastian's own cousin who had known him from childhood.

There was no malice in her eyes now, however, as she met watched him as attentively as he did her.

By her side stood a dark-haired man he was well enough familiar with. He hoped that Imogen was truly certain of his loyalties. Patrick Penhallow was Aline's father – and the Consul's husband.

"I know what you're thinking, Lightwood," he said before Alec could continue. "But the truth is that I do not know the woman who shares my home, and my bed, these days. Becoming Consul – it changed Jia. Any office of that caliber would do that, of course. It wasn't unexpected. Recently, though?" his head was moving from side to side, as if he could hardly believe what he was saying himself. "She's not just changed. It's as if someone had taken possession of her body and was using it for their purposes. Or replacing her under a glamor, except that that person would have to be intimately familiar with her… and me."

He didn't elaborate further, but he didn't have to. Alec was certain that if someone decided to impersonate Magnus, there was no way he wouldn't find out about it. If nothing else, he was positive that he would recognize the impostor for what he was the moment they went to bed together.

"My Jia would not have taken the loss of our daughter in stride," he continued. "Or brushed it off as sacrifices that needed to be made for the greater good. Sacrifices!" His mirthless laugh was aborted half-way, dying before it had properly formed. "For what? How? Why? What happened during that last mission she was on? How did she disappear from Barcelona? Why is there a kill order out for the Consul's own daughter, should she be recovered? She will not say. She isn’t even disturbed by it."

Alec motioned outside of his own camera's field of vision.

With the smallest of nods, Jace went for his own phone.

"I came to Alicante to finally get some answers," Élodie added. "I missed you at the Institute in January, but the man who came after you was still there when I returned from my conference. It took me a while to remember where I'd seen that face before. We lost a young man from the Institute around that time. His body was found … carved to pieces." She looked away from the camera briefly, and Alec had no doubt that she was glancing at Tatyana. "I didn't think of Nightshade until a few weeks ago, but when I did, it suddenly made sense. I have no doubt who killed Michel Lionheart, and it wasn't a demon. Or if it was, then it was a demon in a Shadowhunter body."

Alec felt Jace move back in, his text messages sent off.

"My messages to Alicante on the subject received no response. When I called, I was assured that Nightshade was dead. If you ask the computers, he never existed. It wasn't hard to guess that something was very, very wrong there. I came to demand some answers."

"It's Nightshade's body only," Alec said. "The mind inside is someone else. And if it's any consolation, he killed Michel before he cut him up. He sent us photos of the body, from Michel's own phone. My sister was positive that the wounds were inflicted after death."

Élodie released a slow breath. "It is indeed," she confirmed. "Decay had progressed too far to be certain by the time we found him." She shook herself slightly, returning her thoughts to the previous matter. "Imagine my surprise when, upon my arrival, I found out that the man I was reporting was coming and going openly in the Gard, highly respected and invited to all the big meetings. He had the nerve to suggest I take a sabbatical to recover from my nephew's death – implied I was looking for people to blame for work accidents as they happen on demon hunts from time to time. I don't understand why the boy was killed, though."

"He staged the demon attack while we were there." Alec kept his voice calm and matter-of-fact. "Not Michel, of course – Valentine. 'Nightshade'. He had the Mortal Cup. We were certain no one would believe us at the time, so we never reported what we'd seen. Michel was there, too. He knew. We warned him to stay away from Valentine, but…" he let the thought hang in the air.

"Valentine." There was a world of disgust in that single word. He couldn't tell if Imogen had shared the information before or not. "He believes he can negotiate with the angels, get another chance to catch and deliver you to them."

"What do you think?"

Without waiting for Élodie to respond, Imogen moved. The screen showed only blurred motion for a few moments.

When the image stabilized again, the camera was pointed through a window. The darkness took Alec aback. Of course he was aware of the time difference between Alicante and Calgary, but there was something—

The darkness was too complete, he realized after a few seconds. The streets outside of Herondale Manor should have been lit by streetlamps. The garden itself was usually brightened by runes strategically placed.

"When the wards closed," Imogen told them, "something about the flow of energy inside Alicante – inside Idris - changed. All energy produced in our angelic power cores is rerouted, directed elsewhere. It wasn't instantaneous but it's getting steadily worse. Our steles do not work. Passive runes already set and active continue to work, but anything drawn anew only sits there and does nothing. We cannot activate inactive runes. It is as if all the power we usually use is being closed off from us. At this point, we can't even send a fire message. There is no negotiating."

She paused, giving Alec a moment to process her words. In a corner of his mind, he registered that Hodge was opening the door at his back, letting in more people.

Imogen continued before he could spare any attention for them. "The first two deaths have happened. The hospital has no way to use treatment runes. The drain of energy is worsening, and spreading outwards. I assume that eventually it will take down the wards that anchor Idris in this world. If we're still here then, none of us will survive."

It was a simple, hard truth. If the wards fell and the pocket universe collapsed, space would snap back to its regular size, compressing the entire country to the size it truly occupied in the world. Every single living being inside Idris would be crushed to death, or die from suddenly inhabiting the same space as several other people, merging into something monstrous, inhuman and not viable. They hadn't been able to determine which one was the more likely.

"If our calculations are correct and if the speed at which the drain happens does not increase, we have about five days," said another voice off to Imogen's side. The old woman turned, showing them a man neither of them knew by name. His hair was greying over a face marked by battles survived. His light blue eyes were as calm as they were hard. "That is, if anyone is still alive by then. If we could figure it out, others will. Civil war among a people like ours…" he let the though hang in the air.

Alec knew what he was thinking. If Shadowhunters turned against Shadowhunters, people trained to be deadly from the time they were able to grip a weapon intent fighting each other, Idris would become a slaughterhouse.

"If she is still inside the wards, send someone to Baba Agnieszka." He was a little surprised to hear that his tone had taken on the quality of command. Those men and women on the other side of the connection were all his seniors by far, many of them with twice the years of combat experience under their belts than he had been alive. Who was he to give orders to them?

When no one challenged him, he continued: "She'll be the one person with most knowledge of the wards inside Idris if she hasn't fled before they went solid. I will need a few hours to gather my forces. We'll keep you in the loop."

He heard Jace whisper behind him.

"Imogen, can you show me Élodie and Patrick again?" he asked. "And the Branwells and Blackthorns."

The image blurred once more with her movement. He could hear the group shifting. Were they wondering? Were they suspecting? Hoping?

They would do all they could to get back control of those wards. No matter how that ended, though, he wouldn't keep the small measure of relief from those people that he could give them.

Keeping an eye on his own screen so he could make sure the camera was pointing where he thought it was, he moved until his friends were framed in the small rectangle that showed him what the other side of the conversation would see as their main image.

Aline and Helen stood side by side, the way their bodies touched saying that they'd both had enough of hiding their relationship. Lydia stood at Helen's shoulder, her arms loosely crossed, her stance relaxed but ready.

On Aline's other side, Sebastian had moved into place. His expression was impossible to read as he watched his aunt on Alec's small screen, while shocked disbelief was warring with a joy that asked no questions on her features.

"There'll be time to talk soon," Alec promised. "For now, please stay alive and don't start any more wars than the one we already have at our hands."

 

Los Angeles

"I need to talk to you," Raphael said as he slid into a chair across from Simon.

"How'd you get here?" Simon asked the older vampire. "How'd you even know we were here?"

"Portal from our warlock liaison," came the answer. "And I called Magnus, who called someone named Allie, who found out where Charlie was, and they agreed that would be where you are."

That made sense at least. He gestured for a waiter. Raphael looked like he needed a drink.

"What about?" he asked.

"Angels."

Even with vampiric hearing, Simon had to strain to hear the word.

"What about them?"

Raphael gulped the plasma that was brought to him down almost as soon as it touched the table.

Thus fortified, he elaborated: "Did you actually meet them?"

"'Meet' may be a bit too much to say," Simon informed him carefully. "We were in the place where they live. Maia and I were arrested by some of them briefly, but we got away. That's the closest that I 'met' any of them. Unless you want to count the ones we had to knock out to get away later."

The older vampire glanced at Charlie as if suspecting that she was on her last song.

"Simon," he said, his voice urgent. "I was a good catholic when I was alive. I was as good a catholic as I could be after I became a vampire. I've heard some things, back in New York. From the Lightwoods, from Luke… is all my life based on a lie?"

He didn't know how to answer that.

No, that wasn't quite right. He knew exactly how to answer that. He just wasn't sure he could bring himself to say the words.

He didn't have to. The sudden change in Raphael's expression told him that his reluctance alone was enough to tip him off.

The shaky breath Raphael took was all the more pronounced for the fact that he usually didn't breathe at all unless he needed air to speak. "So we've been on the wrong side all along."

Simon shook his head. "There is no wrong side. Or right side. There's a war we shouldn't ever have been part of. There have been war crimes on both sides. I'm sure there are some wonderful individuals among the angels, but that's not who you'd meet if you're breaking in and found out, you know?"

Raphael's lips twitched. He appreciated the effort, but he wasn't convinced. "But… God? Any sort of higher power? Is everything I have ever believed in nothing but the product of … racism? A power source for the factions of a civil war? Did my sister's soul just … dissolve and disappear?"

He couldn't help but think of the Shadowhunters, revived, their bodies rebuilt and their souls enslaved. "There may be worse than that."

Before Raphael had the opportunity to ask what could possibly be worse, Charlie ended her song and thanked her audience for their attention. There was a finality in her voice that forestalled any calls for an encore.

Frowning, Simon watched her jump off the small stage to come and join them. Was this because he hadn't been playing with her?

She was fishing out her phone, checking the screen before she had reached their table.

"Drink up," she said without much ado.

It only took one large sip to drain his glass. "Where are we going?" Casting an apologetic glance at Raphael, he added: "Charlie's my teacher. Bardcraft. We have some work to do."

"Home," Charlie informed him. "Right now we have some sleeping to do. When the sun rises over the Alps, we need to be in Switzerland.

"What for?"

Charlie was signaling to the waitress for the bill, waggling her fingers between the two vampires to suggest that she was planning to pay for both their drinks. "To see if we can sing a hole into the wards around Idris."

 

Calgary

Charlie and Simon, who had returned several hours before they had departed from Los Angeles, were by far the best rested among the group that assembled outside the improvised Calgary Institute just before ten. Charlie surely needed the sleep after the long day's work, and Simon had appreciated the rest the rest as well.

As he'd settled down with a wine glass and a bottle of flavored blood he had taken home from the Sylvan Diner, he had suddenly realized how exactly Allie had figured out where he and Charlie had been when Raphael had called. It hadn't taken any magic. She'd had – was going to have – Charlie right there in the apartment, packing to get ready for their new mission.

Alec and his friends were geared up.

"Are you sure about this?" Alec asked Samael, who had taken his place among the group.

"Quite," the demon returned evenly. "Why? Would you rather not have me along?"

"I'd rather not have you randomly die," Alec informed him calmly. "Those wards have always been programmed to not let any demons into Idris. We don't know if they'll just stop you or actually… do anything."

Samael's posture relaxed a fraction. "I believe the consensus was that we won't manage to open the wards entirely from the outside, but at best to produce an opening for a group to pass through. I would assume such a window would allow me passage as well. Besides – I'm not too certain I even still meet the wards' definition of demon."

If Alec was about to respond to that, the was interrupted by the arrival of three large grey shapes.

The wolves trotted past them and out of sight, only to reappear a moment later on two legs, all three wearing outfits of green. Only Maia's clothes had seams.

"Fast learner," Jack noted appreciatively. "How does it feel to be a creature of real magic?"

Maia gave him a tired-looking smile. "Haven't figured it out yet. It's certainly odd."

Magnus was conferring silently with Charlie, whose sisters had joined them and moved to stand by the Bard's shoulders as if they had appointed themselves as her bodyguards. Elessar, who had come with Melissa, was similarly accompanied by his Glashtin friend and guard.

The other two Gales in attendance were Graham, rifle shouldered, and Katie, who stood with Hodge. She wouldn't have minded if he had fully disassociated himself from all Nephilim business, but since he wasn't about to do that, she was going to have his back all the way through. It was part of what choosing meant for a Gale.

His trainer looked at Alec a little nervously.

"You can still tell me to stay behind," he pointed out.

Alec shook his head. "Not unless you don't want to come. They're going to have to accept the people we bring. If we start sorting out by who people in Alicante might take offence at, we'll have to leave very nearly every single member of this team behind."

More than a decade and a half ago, Hodge had been banished from Idris for life for his crimes. He had long broken the spell that had enforced that punishment. Going to help bring out the four of them had been the first time since that he had set foot on the soil of Alicante, even if it had been more of a balcony than any actual soil. That was a mission mostly relying on stealth and concealing themselves, however. Today, they were planning to walk openly into the city.

Max was the youngest among the assembled Nephilim, geared up and armed like his older siblings. He stood at a careful distance from Maryse, making sure that no one could believe that he was seeking his mother's proximity for reassurance. She, in turn, was in whispered conversation with Abigail, Jonathan and David standing at attention close to them. The siblings wore their borrowed gear easily and comfortably. David looked as if he still hadn't gotten used to wearing pants instead of robes again.

Elphas stayed with Jonathan, compensating for his lack of balancing skills by holding on to his staff with one hand while his other rested on the first Shadowhunter's arm, their arrangement as well as the way they moved together so comfortable that it looked like habit grown over decades.

"No word from Agnieszka still?" Alec asked in their direction.

Both shook their heads. They didn't seem all too concerned, though. "She's probably waiting somewhere, watching to see what we're doing. What you're doing," Elphas suggested. "She'll show up when she decides it's the right moment. If she does."

"Let's hope that moment won't be too late," came the response. "Alright. Let's get going."

The group rearranged itself, forming pairs and trios to make sure that everyone who didn't know the place they were portaling to would have someone to guide them through the process.

Magnus stepped forward, his hands trailing magic already.

His portal snapped into existence and anchored in the grass.

"I will make sure this stays open," another voice promised.

Turning, Alec found himself looking at David Gale, clad only in jeans, his feet and upper body bare. His eyes were black holes in his face, even though the season wasn't one that would have pushed him closer to losing a hold on his human shape.

Unable to physically leave the city, just like Allie, David wouldn't be able to join them. Like Allie, who had packed them all charmed snacks and potion-spiced drinks to keep them awake and alert while offering some extra protection, he seemed resolved to help them out in whichever way was available to him anyway.

"Thank you," Magnus and Alec told him as one, with Magnus continuing: "Who'll be the first through?"

 

July 11th, 2017

Switzerland, outside the wards of Idris

For the first time in his life, Alec could actually see the wards that protected his home country.

The thought was following immediately by an internal wince at the reminder that the protections had turned into a deadly trap.

Before, the shields has been clear, but invisible, intangible, as unnoticeable for any citizen of the Shadow World, except for demons, as they had been impermeable to mundanes.

They were still transparent enough to see through them easily, but there was a clouded quality to them, as if streaks of milk were running through their substance, tracing a wall that soared as high as he could see, with only the faintest curve suggesting that the wall was, in fact, a dome, enclosing the space it covered on all sides.

He frowned at the ground, the bare grass struggling on the thinnest layer of soil over stone. Where were the wards themselves placed? Was there a place in Alicante where they were drawn, projecting their shields outwards? Or were they actually here, maybe cut somewhere into a lower layer of the bedrock, far enough underneath to be impossible for them to reach?

But these wards weren't what they needed to change anyway. Their plan wasn't to erase or alter them. All they were planning to do was to create an opening in the magic that prevented entrance, so they could, hopefully, wrest back control of the flows of energy within, and take the remote control in hand.

Jack was in the air, not so much to find out if there was an end to the change, but as a flying sentry to warn them should anyone approach who might try to find out if the wards were equally impermeable to missiles.

Alec tried to listen to the discussion going on between Magnus, Samael and Elphas as they probed at the structure, but quickly determined that it was going much too far into magical theory that he had no knowledge of.

A shift at the edge of his field of vision drew his attention. He turned, spotting Charlie and Clary where they had not been before.

"It does extend into the Wood," the Bard announced. "Or rather, between the Wood and this world. I could probably squeeze through, and Clary might with some more training, but there's no way either of us could take someone else."

"It's… magically smooth, for lack of a better term, on the outside," Magnus, joining them, added. "We can't put a magical crowbar to it because there's no nook or cranny we can brace it against."

"What about Clary's opening rune?" Jace was hefting a Seraph blade as if he could cut a hole right through the barrier, though it was, of course, more a matter of needing something he could do, and pretending to be guarding against physical danger was the first thing that had come to mind.

"It doesn't even fizz if you throw a spell at it," Magnus pointed out.

"I believe they've protected it well against our – and their – kind of magic," Samael added. "But go ahead and try. The worst thing that can happen is absolutely nothing."

Absolutely nothing was precisely what happened, bringing a slightly dejected look to Clary's face even though she'd had no reason to expect anything else.

"So, Bard," one of the wolves said, his voice more curious than challenging or goading, "is there anything in your musical repertoire that will make this monster go away?"

Charlie gave a small shrug. "We won't know until we try it," she told them. Turning, she looked at Alec and their friends who had spent the longest time in Calgary. "Remember that play we all went to to cheer on Sandi?"

They nodded. How could they not? Going to support one of the Gale cousins who had finally landed a role in a musical had been their first time in a mundane theater, constantly afraid of messing up and proving that they shouldn't be there in the first place, and equally constantly being reminded by the Gales that they would stand out no worse than some of the less conventional mundanes in attendance, no matter what they did, provided that they didn't suddenly jump on the stage to kill some demon or another – which was not what any of them had had in mind anyway. Clary had certainly enjoyed being the knowledgeable one among them for a change.

Charlie was pulling a thick folder from an outer pocket of her guitar case.

Shaking his head internally at himself, Alec accepted the first sheet of paper she separated from the stack inside. They were all using magically enlarged messenger bags. It was only logical that Charlie would have similar spells on the one piece of luggage she never went without.

"I took some time last night to rewrite the lyrics of one of those songs. I'm going to try to re-key those wards to us… or us to them, so they'll recognize us as something that's supposed to be there. I'll need every one of you in the song. This isn't the moment to be shy about your musical talent. I promise I won't be grading any performances." The latter was said in response to several frowning faces that greeted her announcement.

She turned her attention to their demon companion. "Samael, unless you have a way to make regular paper read out its own contents silently in your head, I'll need you to do some very quick memorizing. I didn't have the technology to print anything legible for you."

"That would have been a first," Samael told her. "I've rarely seen anything 'legible' for me that doesn't have a voice output. I have a memory spell, though." He was drawing on the back of his hand with one finger already.

"Simon, can you remind everyone of the tune?" Charlie asked as she approached him to convey the contents of her changed song. Using the memory sharing charm was easier than reading out the lines, and let him get an idea of the purpose and background of the song additionally. Being part of the original group blocked by the wards, he remained the one for whom her plan was most likely to fail. Any bit of extra information he had might be helpful.

Eventually, she freed her guitar from its case and checked its tuning.

"Ready?" she asked, looking first at Simon, then at the rest of them in general.

They nodded, some more reluctantly than others. More than one among them was glad that no one had come from the Idris side to watch their efforts. Starting an impromptu concert in face of their task must have looked ridiculous to anyone who hasn't previously witnessed Charlie's skills in shaping and using music.

"Great. I'll begin, you respond. Assorted gentlepeople, I give you – the first and hopefully only ever performance of Why We Build the Wards."

Chapter Text

"That was not a very flattering variation of the song," Katie noted. They were walking down the narrow path cut into the mountain, slowly descending towards the valley that was the Brocelind Plains, with Alicante at its center.

"Are you trying to tell me that those were in any manner flattering wards?" Charlie asked.

Her plan had worked, though not entirely the way she had intended it to. Her hope had been to get the wards to let them pass. That had certainly worked, but in addition to it, they had gotten a small amount of control over them. Each of their group could now open a passage through them in the stretch she had managed to affect. That at least meant that the citizens of Idris would be able to escape before the space around them collapsed. It would take some coordination, given the number of individuals, but the option existed.

Everyone would still have to walk to the wards. The warlocks were unwilling to declare portaling safe, and Jack had tried setting up a Gate and announced that it felt like nothing he would willingly step into.

They had texted Imogen, updating her on their progress. Then they had set out for the city.

Three wolves accompanied their group, scouting ahead and ready to alert them of anything unexpected. Jack had stayed on the ground. Accidentally getting into sight of the people in Alicante would not help them.

"We need to start thinking about how we're going to make it to the Gard," Izzy pointed out. She was walking behind her brother, Lydia by her side. Jace and Clary followed, then Aline and Helen, Sebastian and Chris. There wasn't any space for more than two of them to walk side by side on the narrow track. "No matter what Imogen is saying, the risk that someone might shoot us on sight is still too high."

"I can try to glamor us again," Magnus offered from Alec's side. "But it seems like a waste of energy." He hadn't been able to cast a single spell inside the wards regularly, and neither had Elphas, or Samael. The wolves had only their shapeshifting at their disposal. Charms weren't doing anything either, though it appeared that, just as with the runes, the passive ones already applied to them and activated still did what they were supposed to do. Their phones still didn't lose power and had a connection.

Hodge's hand continued to work with all its magical additions. The glamor that made it look and feel life-like, however, had been stripped from it, as had every other glamor they had tried to carry through the wards. There appeared to be a specific removal function in the mix.

While the warlocks were still able to use the power they carried on their bodies, locked into crystals and other stones set in jewelry, glamors cast anew would not hold up. Since the energy store they had brought that way was all the magic they would have at their disposal while inside the wards, at least until they could have a go at the control unit, they had postponed further experimentation.

The glamor block made sense. Preventing someone from carrying in a glamor once whatever security mechanism that was currently active had been activated seemed sensible enough as precautions went.

Unfortunately, that meant that they'd be walking through part of a city that was not guaranteed to take their presence very gracefully without further explanation, and even less so that of some of their companions.

"I might have a solution for that," Charlie announced. She had not put down her guitar. "My power's renewable, so it can't hurt to try, right?"

"Have you spent all this time trying to come up with a good glamor-song?" Alec asked. That certainly would have explained her relative silence so far.

"Sort of," the Bard admitted. "And I'm not thinking of a regular glamor either. One, I'm not sure that wouldn't trigger the dissipation spell again, and two, I couldn't come up with anything that would cover all of us but still be allowed to pass by everyone ahead and that there's a good song for."

"Then what are you thinking of?"

Charlie adjusted the tuning on her guitar as she replied. "A variation of the look elsewhere thing we use to divert people's eyes. Except, since that barely really works on anyone with the Sight, more of a 'see what you most desire'. Or more specifically, see what you think would be your salvation right now."

"There's a song for that?" Simon asked in surprise. It seemed awfully specific.

His teacher laughed. "A few years ago, one of my aunties told me to never underestimate the power of an agreed-upon symbol. And it doesn't even need to be agreed upon by those I'm targeting. It just needs to shape the power I play is a specific way. So yes, there's a song for that, and I'm sure you know it. I'd appreciate some musical backup, by the way. The group is quite large. Any boost is welcome." She raised her voice slightly. "And that goes equally for my dear cousins!"

*

Not being able to see their own group with an outsider's eyes, they remained tense as they came into view of Alicante, and more so once they reached the city's gates.

The one they approached was manned by some of Imogen's people, skillfully moved into place.

It was the first time any of them had seen their hometown guarded.

As he walked through the wide gate, Magnus couldn't help a mental note of just how lucky the citizens were that they meant them no harm.

Alicante was many things, but one it was certainly not: prepared for an attack from outside of its walls. He remembered the way the entrances into the city had been blocked in that other dimension they had visited.

There were no shields on the city, and there wouldn't have been any even without the magic leak the area was currently experiencing. The town walls were examples of prime craftmanship, beautifully sculpted and built, but in the end, they were an architectural and aesthetic choice, a supplement to the city built at a time when it behooved a city of a certain size, in this part of the world, to have walls.

These walls had never been made to hold off an enemy.

There was nothing to hold off.

Oh, certainly, it was said that the werewolves who lived in Idris were among the most feral packs in the world. There supposedly were vampires in the caves around the Brocelind Plain. Seelie came and went around Lake Lyn.

None of them would have had the insanity needed to attack a city filled with warriors, where every single able-bodied citizen was trained in combat virtually since infancy.

Those dangers that could have razed the city were kept outside of the country by the same wards they themselves had just breached.

The gate through which they entered was huge, but more decorative than defensive. It lacked the stability of a piece of fortification. The straps on it were electrum. It was beautiful and certainly would have been a small deterrent for demons, hadn't there been the issue that demons couldn't usually get this far in the first place. Even then, nothing would have prevented them from going over or under those walls, or portaling through them.

A warlock portal couldn't be opened into Alicante, but they knew that Jack had no issues opening a Gate in there.

If Clary and Charlie could get into and out of the Wood, then any Seelie would be able to enter and leave at will. The thought of Seelie made him wonder where Meliorn had gotten to. He certainly hadn't followed Alec's message to their friends to ask whether they wanted to join them.

He couldn't blame him. They knew that his former queen had access to Idris. Staying away may have been a simple act of self-preservation.

The streets leading through Alicante towards the Gard were broad and open, more evidence that the city hadn't been built for defense. There were no inner rings of walls surrounding older parts of the city. Growth rings were the first image that came to mind, but it wasn't quite right. By all rights, city walls were rather like snakeskin, restricting the ever-growing reptile inside until the pressure built up to where the skin would burst and be shed. The one big difference was that a city wall wasn't typically shed, though pieces of it might be torn down eventually to build more houses, or a new ring wall around the newer, larger quarters that spilled over the confines. In any case, even if inner gates would remain open, towers unoccupied and the walk along the battlements empty, they were still usually there, and if the worst came to happen, might be pressed into service again to form a second, smaller ring of defense against an attacker.

Alicante had none of that.

He could about imagine the discussions that had gone into that one wall, considerations of representation and beauty and style rather than use in combat.

He didn’t know if Alec understood. The young man had never had any reason to study historical fortifications. He'd talk to him about it. Later. When they could be alone for a little while – or at least alone with their friends.

Whatever Charlie's song was doing, it worked. He could tell Imogen's people by the way they nodded at them. Expecting their group, they wouldn't see much else if what Charlie had said about the spell she was trying was accurate.

The others were staring, some in confusion, others in relief, some in awe, and a few almost in horror.

Whatever they were seeing, it wasn't a handful of Nephilim in gear, a few women in jeans and t-shirts, two warlocks, a vampire, three werewolves, a demon, a dragon a man who was theoretically a mundane carrying what must have been the first rifle Alicante had ever seen and two seelie.

It probably was just as well that there weren't many in the streets. The fewer people who saw them, the less of a risk they had of being found out.

The thought made him glance up, even though he was actually quite aware of the time of the day. They'd been walking a few hours since they had breached the wards. The sun had been properly up for a while. The city should have been bustling with life and preparations.

Except that it wasn't, and as they reached that building that housed the Nephilim administration, judicial and legislative branches, the 'why' of it became clear quickly enough.

The place was positively teeming with people.

Everyone who didn't have pressing matters elsewhere must have assembled, including the very old. The Clave had rarely ever seen a session as big as the one underway when they walked into the council room, with its rows upon rows of benches, all of which were filled.

People were standing at the back, sitting on the steps and in window niches, crowding in every bit of free space there was.

Magnus reached for his magic, forming the spell of a shield in his mind, ready to release it at need. They would have to drop the protection Charlie gave them soon enough.

As if by magic, the crowed managed to part for them, compressing even further to form narrow aisles that would let them pass. They walked down into the center of the room, fanning out before the front-most of the benches in a maneuver that couldn’t have been any smoother if they had practiced it.

Alec took a single additional step forward towards Jia, who had been speaking but had fallen utterly silent at their appearance.

Charlie's low humming, continuing for as long as the magic had to be preserved, had been an even background noise he had successfully tuned out.

It had been soothing, in a way.

Its sudden absence was not.

*

Charlie stopped humming and the spell collapsed, leaving them standing for everyone to see as they were.

A gasp went through the crowed. Alec couldn't tell if it was mostly surprised or mostly angry.

The group on the podium stood in stunned silence, not quite ready to believe their eyes and possibly wondering if they had been looking at a glamor before, or if they were now.

Jia was the first to recover.

"Seize them!"

The malice in her voice took Alec aback. Patrick had been right. That was not the Jia Penhallow they had once known. A sideways glace showed him that Aline's expression was horrified.

Magic blazed around Magnus' and Jack's hands. A less flashy sparkle condensed around Samael's, and Jonathan shifted to close his hand on Elphas' arm to steady him in a way that would let him free at least one hand for a spell.

Alec was suddenly glad for the crowded situation. There was no way anyone could have drawn a bow in here, even if they'd brought one. As it was, any weapons bulkier than a dagger must have been left outside by most of the audience to avoid accidentally stabbing each other in the tightly packed room.

The men and women standing as guards by Jia's side, however, had no such restrictions. Swords were whipped from sheathes, blazing brightly the moment they were exposed.

"I think not."

He hadn't even seen Anestis and Elisabeth Redwood shift from wherever they had concealed themselves before. Moving smoothly and with a speed that belied their age, they had their own blades at the guards' throats before they could take as much as a step towards Alec's group.

More of their comrades in arms had acted at the same time, quickly subduing the three men who had stood at Jia's back, as well as the rest of the group who had taken the lead in whatever debate had been going on.

"What are you doing?" Jia's voice had gone up, bordering on shrill. "What is this? You're—"

No matter the changes that had gone on in Jia, she must still have trusted that her husband would be unflinchingly on her side. It was his grab for the sword by her side, disarming her in a single quick move, and suddenly finding herself held at swordpoint with her own weapon that silenced her.

"Mutiny," he said calmly. "I'm sorry, Jia. We can't let this continue. It'll be the death of every single one of us."

Her eyes shot daggers at him. If any of them needed proof that something had happened to change the consul, her reaction would have gone a great way towards it. That wasn't the look of someone just betrayed by the person who had once sworn to be her loving husband for the rest of their lives.

"You don't understand!" she all but yelled at him. "None of you do!"

At the edge of his mind, Alec realized Charlie had started to pick a slow tune on her guitar. As he became aware of it, he felt it wind around him, through him, spreading some of its mood. It wasn't much, but it helped keep people from either panicking or erupting in violence, holding them safely in their seats and watching what was happening before them.

"No." That was Imogen, slowly approaching to take her place among the mutineers. "It's you who doesn't understand. You're not going to lead our entire species into destruction as long as one of us still draws a breath."

"The Jia I married would have understood what we're doing," Patrick pointed out. "Or rather, she never would have brought about this situation. But I have no idea where she went, or what happened to her."

Jia stared at him. Before she could answer, another voice spoke up.

"The Consul's Rune. That's what happened to her."

Though the words were spoken calmly, his voice had been raised enough to be heard through the room. Alec found himself startled by the volume the usually soft-spoken man who wouldn't waste more words than he absolutely needed to even now that he could speak again, managed to command.

"And who are you, to say such a thing?" That was Robert, his voice dripping venom. He looked about ready to launch himself at someone, never mind the blade ready to plunge into his flesh if he moved.

"David Shadowhunter," the other man said, moving forward and slowly, deliberately, putting one foot on the steps that led up to where Jia and the others stood. "Once known as 'The Silent'." He ascended one step. "I was there the first time that rune was put on a man." Another step, another sentence. He kept up the pattern until he had reached the top. "I saw the change happen many times. It's subtle most of the time. When it comes to the big decisions, it's not. When it comes to not acting on the knowledge it also conveys, it's not."

Next to Robert, Valentine's face settled in a sneer. "And we're supposed to believe that? I don't know in which obscure Institute those children dug you up, but don't you think you could have come up with a slightly less ridiculous tale?"

"Question me with the Truth Sword if you will," David said dismissively, now looking at the audience at large. "It's of no consequence to me."

"You still do have the Sword, don't you?" Abigail asked, her tone a challenge. "Or has your reincarnated friend Valentine there taken it on one of his little side trips and neglected to bring it back?"

She'd only known about Valentine from their tales, but thanks to Clary's drawings she'd had absolutely no problem identifying him even though, dressed as he was, most of the runes Nightshade had once inscribed on the skin he now wore were covered up.

Those few who had left New York with them had heard the accusation regarding the man's identity before, of course. It didn't seem to have spread very far yet. A moment of silence in the audience was followed by agitated chatter.

"With the way power is behaving now, we don't even know if it is still workable," Valentine announced loudly, ignoring the reference to his identity entirely.

"We can hand it to you first and you can try it out," Élodie Verlac suggested. Either she had positioned herself conveniently, or the group had agreed to let her be the one holding Valentine in check. "We can start by asking you what you did with Michel Lionheart, and why."

"Michel who?" Valentine asked, sounding genuinely confused for a moment.

"A young man from my Institute, seized, killed and cut to pieces earlier this year," she informed him coldly. "Looked like you were trying to emulate the man whose body you're wearing."

The man's eyes widened. "Ridiculous! You've been cut some slack due to your recent loss, but this is not the time for such outrageous claims! I will not be made a spectacle of on the word of some… some woman—" Swiveling his head, he stared at Abigail with unconcealed hatred

"The woman's name is Abigail," she informed him.

He gave a scoff. "Nice naming scheme. And who is he then? Jonathan?" He gestured at her brother.

Jonathan gave a small bow in Valentine's direction, as much of one as he could while keeping his warlock friend from losing his balance. "If it please you m'lord," he said, his tone a reasonable imitation of the peasant boy he had once been. Sobering up the next moment, he added: "We don't need the Sword. We brought several people with the magic to remove runes. All we need to do is strip the Consul's Rune off of her and see what happens."

"You're insane!" Robert shot back. "As if we would allow any of your warlocks' dirty magic to touch one of us."

"If you claim to be Jonathan Shadowhunter come back to us through the ages, why don't you tell us about your experience with the rune?" Valentine challenged.

"Never wore it," Jonathan informed him, his tone suggesting the other man should have known better to begin with. "I never was Consul. That office came after my time."

As Valentine and Robert, unable to move without impaling themselves and with some help from Victor Aldertree, who was similarly detained, started shouting again, Patrick Penhallow turned his entire focus on his wife.

"I'm sorry, Jia." His words weren't very loud, barely enough to carry to where Alec stood.

Then Patrick moved with all the speed of long training, drawing back her sleeve and slicing the edge of her own sword through the Consul's Rune before she even realized what he was doing.

Blood welled and she gasped in a pain that wasn't all physical.

Her expression and her entire posture changed the moment the rune was destroyed. "By the angel, thank you," she mouthed at her husband. "That took you long enough." She half held out her right hand, her left one held firmly on top of the cut to staunch the flow of blood a little. It wasn't quite a demand, or even really a request, but something in what she said or did must have convinced Patrick.

Flipping over her sword, he handed it to her hilt first.

She hefted it, turning and raising her head to look at the trio at the edge of the podium. "Valentine Morgenstern, Robert Dearborn, Victor Aldertree – I'm placing you under arrest for crimes against the Nephilim. We'll be dealing with you as soon as we're not facing the imminent destruction of our people and our homeland, but until then I want you secured where you can't do any more damage."

"You have no grounds for this!" Aldertree all but yelled at her. "You—" The pressure of a blade against his throat silenced him.

Jia's voice was hard. "Don't forget that I know what you’ve been about. Lightwood."

Alec looked up at her, his face carefully neutral. "Consul?"

"I should probably step down from that office. Do you want the stage?"

"I'll take it," Alec informed her, walking towards the steps to where David was still standing at the very edge of the raised area. "The stage, that is. But I believe you should keep your office. This is not a situation for us to be leaderless – or for a new leader to learn the ropes. Can we remove those three before we carry on?"

A muscle twitched in Jia's face. With the iratze useless, David finally stepped forward to offer her a handkerchief.

"Certainly." She agreed. "I believe we have a number of holding cells in the building that will work fine without runes. Do some of yours want the honor?"

She may not have said it, Alec thought, but the risk that those three would manage to talk themselves out of being locked up was far lower if it were his people wielding the keys. He looked back at his group, locking eyes briefly with the older ones of his siblings, then Christopher.

All three stepped forward.

"With pleasure," Jace almost growled as he followed Isabelle.

Jia watched with the others as the three took over, Izzy heading right for Aldertree while the two men exchanged a brief look, after which Jace turned to Robert with the slightest of shrugs, leaving Christopher to handle Valentine. As they marched their prisoners away, Jia briefly lifted the cloth off her arm to glance at the cut.

"I could help with that," Magnus offered from below. "I have some bottled magic on me."

Her hesitation was impossible to miss. Alec wondered what it was she was thinking. Was she wondering if she could say yes to what would really be a waste of some perfectly good magic, since her wound wasn't anything that wouldn't heal on its own? Or was it Magnus' parentage that made her uncertain?

Apparently realizing the second interpretation as well, she nodded. "I'd appreciate that." She gave their group another sweeping look before turning her attention briefly back to the general audience, many of which were now either staring or whispering among each other. "And could someone in the front row possibly clear a chair for our new friend there?"

"Old friend," Elphas declared. "The oldest. But I'll take the chair."

*

Back when they'd been children, before their first runes, Alec and Izzy had, at times, accompanied their parents to Clave meetings. They hadn't been allowed in the actual council room, of course, and not for many years afterwards even once they had taken up active duty.

Staying with the other children, however, hadn't been to their liking. More than once they had snuck away, roaming the deeper levels of the building where they were unlikely to meet any adult at that time, enjoying the sweet controlled terror of moving through those corridors lined with empty cells. Sometimes they'd been alone, sometimes other children had joined them.

They'd continued this later, with their runes, pretending they were hunting creatures of darkness. Training, they called it among themselves. Once Jace had become part of their family, they had taken him as well.

The last time they'd gone on this sort of excursion had been different. That day, one of the cells hadn't been empty. That day they'd almost been found out, lucky that the prisoner either hadn't reported them, or hadn't been believed.

It hadn't so much been the shock of seeing a living, breathing being down there other than themselves, or of coming up close to one of the feral werewolves who lived in the forests around Alicante that had stuck with them, thought of at rare times but never talked about.

It had been the very inappropriate feelings the sight of that wretched creature inspired in them.

They hadn't been terrified then. They hadn't felt glorious either.

The one thing that had been predominant in their minds as they'd studied the wretched creature through the bars, half-naked, unshaven, not particularly well fed, stinking of unwashed human more than wolf, and refusing to even try to meet their eyes even though they could hardly be mistaken for jailors, had been pity.

Inappropriate, uncalled-for and shameful for any proper Shadowhunter, or so they had thought at the time.

As they moved through the same dark corridors now, Christopher following them with Valentine, Izzy wondered what had become of that prisoner. Why had he been there in the first place? How long had he been kept? Had he survived the ordeal?

Unlikely, she had to admit to herself.

"Isabelle," Aldertree said, his voice silky-soft and honey-sweet. "You don't have to do this."

"Maybe not," she returned, matching his tone. "But I want to."

Robert had been talking a lot on the way down, reminding them that he was their father.

"I've heard you plot our deaths," Jace had told him calmly. "I was behind the ventilation grille in Aldertree's office when you were talking about eliminating us. I think you've lost the right to call yourself any such thing."

At least Robert had had the good sense not to protest. The dagger Izzy had seen glint in Jace's hand might have helped with that. She certainly didn't mind. She didn't need to hear him go on in the same vein all the way until they locked a door behind him.

Valentine had been conspicuously silent. He'd turned a few times, studying his captor, as if trying to figure out where he had seen him before. Chris didn't oblige and start a conversation.

"Look at where you're going," he hissed when the man once again paid him more attention than the path, almost missing a step and stumbling. He couldn't ignore that. It would be too easy to turn a near-accident into an escape attempt. "I don't want to have to explain how you broke your neck."

They had reached the last set of corridors, lined with empty cells. Just like back then, Izzy wondered if there had ever been a time when all, or most, of these had been occupied. Back then, she'd thought it would have been glorious. Today, the thought made her shudder inwardly.

"One cell apiece," she suggested. "And let's keep them far enough apart they can't talk."

The two men nodded their agreement.

"I feel like I've seen you before," Valentine said, though he obeyed and didn't turn again. "Help out an old man. Or maybe it was one of your parents I knew?"

Chris gave a short, dry laugh.

"You 'knew' my parents well enough," he noted, pulling open the first door he could reach and pushing his prisoner through the opening. "And me. One version of me in any case. The version you sent away to be tortured and driven insane, after the foundations you had laid for ten years."

He slammed the door shut, wincing slightly at the creak of the hinges.

The lock engaged with a satisfying click. Chris shook the bars briefly, making sure that the cell would remain firmly closed.

A light was blazing in Valentine's eyes as he processed the words. "You're Jonathan?"

"Christopher," Chris corrected. "There is no Jonathan left."

Turning away, he hurried after his friends, opening another door down another corridor to deposit Robert.

"Wish us luck," Jace told the second man in his life who had first raised and then betrayed him. "If the worst comes to happen, these cells won't be the highest priority for evacuation."

*

The day had been a long one.

Alec had almost been done with his account by the time the three had returned upstairs. He had offered to testify to the truth of it with the Soul Sword in his hands. More than one of those listening had demanded that he do just that.

As he waited for someone to fetch the blade, David had stepped away from the wall against which he'd been leaning while the younger man talked.

"Magnus, Elphas," he'd said, looking at the warlocks, but speaking for everyone's benefit if judging by the volume of his voice. Once again, Alec had wondered at his sudden initiative. It was as if, faced with the certainty that there was no way out left for them, he had finally decided to stop waiting for fate to happen. "I'm of a mind to do what should have been done a thousand years ago. Do you have enough bottled magic on you to cast a memory-sharing spell?" he made a circling motion with his hand, indicating the entire room.

Alec knew Magnus well enough to tell that his partner was about to offer a thing he wasn't certain he could do. There were too many people gathered. Spreading out the effect would be difficult to do reliably under the best of circumstances.

"I can do the spell if you lend me the magic," Samael had offered instead.

With a brief exchange of glances, first with Elphas and Jack, then with Alec, Magnus had stood and guided him to the podium and up the steps, rather than letting him blunder about in a room deprived of the magic he used for orientation, with too many fires of life forces to make much sense and a myriad of stray sounds all around him that would not allow for reliable parsing of echoes.

"While we're waiting," David had said, now speaking to the audience, "let me show you what it was that drove me away from our community that day. Let me show you what we're facing now."

"The energy I have at my disposal is limited," Samael had told them. "Everyone who wants to see will have to make an effort to remain inside the spell. On the other hand, it should be easy to slip out of it if someone doesn't want to see."

Under the impression of that, and Alec's subsequent oath on the Sword, dissent had been silenced for the moment. They were under no illusion that it would come, at some point. Right then, people were sufficiently impressed – and frightened by the prospect of losing their homes, and potentially their lives.

They had started taking those who would not be taking part in any battles to come, the children and the elderly, the few invalids living with family in the city, women too pregnant to fight, and a small handful of those whose wish to be safe outweighed their desire to be seen as bold warriors, to the border and through the shields that afternoon.

Many Shadowhunter families maintained residences in other countries. Those who had them retreated there. Those who didn't went along with others. Guest rooms would be well-filled for the moment. The magic users had thrown up portals, taking turns in keeping them open so everyone could get some rest in between.

Those back in the city, in the meantime, were busy finding every last piece available that had ever been written on the demon towers. To get at the remote control for the wards, they had to find their way inside those.

At least they hoped that getting into the towers would get them to where they needed to be.

So far, they weren't any closer to it than they had been.

Sun had set eventually, and everyone had returned with strict orders to rest, so as to be ready to face a new day of work by morning.

Their group and some of their friends had crowded into the Lightwood townhouse, while Clary had given the keys to the Fairchild house to the others.

Imogen had kindly offered Herondale Manor, but the general consensus had been that that was not the most comfortable place for a good part of their group to be. Besides, their group was going to be a little loose with their own advice, continuing their efforts out of the public eye.

Presently, they had decided to take a break from reading old books and contemplating spells and strategies for a couple of hours, to give their minds a rest and hopefully tackle their tasks again with a fresher eye thereafter. Sitting together with tea and sweet pies was comfortable enough, but conversation wouldn't quite come.

"Mom?" Alec asked eventually, his gaze intently on his mother. "What are you thinking?"

He wanted to say that she looked worried, but that would have been a bit too much like stating the obvious. They all were. They had about four days left to find a way to prevent complete disaster.

Well, not complete disaster, since they would start removing more people from the city in the morning. Maia and the two older wolves would try to find as many of the feral werewolves in and around Brocelind Forest to warn them, and direct them to their breach of the wards. Elessar and his bodyguard would do the same with the Seelie around Lake Lyn. Jack would stay nearby in case he could be helpful, but since the relationship between Seelie and Dragons was strained at best, would not push. Simon was out even now, canvassing the pocket universe for its Vampire clans.

Still, even if they managed to completely evacuate Idris, the loss of their homeland would be a heavy blow.

The message in Maryse's expression and posture seemed to be a different one.

"I'm just thinking that if it comes to battle, I'll have to choose between endangering my youngest children or letting my older ones go into battle alone," she admitted after a moment's consideration. "I don't assume we can somehow push it off a few months."

Alec leaned into Magnus, for one moment weirdly relieved that that was not an issue they were going to have.

"It's okay, Mom," Izzy responded before he could, but speaking his very thoughts. "There will be plenty of opportunities later for you to fight with us."

That was, provided that they won that first, decisive battle – or war – that was looming ahead. No one believed that the creatures they had no other name for than 'angels' would simply stand by if the destruction of Idris was thwarted, or even if it wasn't but it became obvious that they had not all but extinguished the Nephilim in its course.

"I know," Maryse said. "Still…"

Charlie, sitting cross-legged on the floor and doing something with her phone, shifted to look at the other woman. "We won't be able to put off whatever happens a few months," she agreed. "But what about putting you back a few instead?"

Maryse looked appalled "What? Do you want to go back in time and tell me not to get pregnant again?" She didn't look or sound as if she approved of the idea.

The Bard shook her head. "Can't do that. It already happened. I cannot change the past. But we have family in Darsden East. Where we grew up. I could talk to them. And if they agree – which I believe they will if I ask them – I could take you into the Wood, count back a few months, take you out there. Your children can be born in time for you to rejoin us in the present. What do you think?"

Chapter Text

July 12th, 2017

Switzerland, outside the wards

"Right." Maryse stepped through the breach in the wards right behind Charlie, noticing once again that it felt like water shaping itself around her.

She carried a bag that was deceptively small for the duration of the trip she was about to embark on.

Then again, she wasn't going to fit most of her clothes soon anyway, so there was no point in taking an entire wardrobe. She had money. She'd go shopping.

Elphas, Magnus and Jack were maintaining portals. Groups of people willing to leave had been brought up from Idris all day. Looking around, she spotted others securing the perimeter, dressed in jeans and leather, in flannel and denim shirts. They looked like they were used to living rough, wearing their hair wild, many sporting beards. She saw eyes blazing green in more than one of those faces.

"Werewolves?" she asked. The question had been directed at Magnus, but it was Maia, just walking back across the portaling plane they had set up, who answered.

"I can't guarantee the Seelie or Vampires won't be slaughtered in the collapse, but the wolves got out."

"Did you—?" She regretted it even as she said it, but Maia shrugged.

"Let more of the dominance shine through than I like?" she asked. "Yeah, probably. But as my brothers pointed out, it's life or death. My personal feelings about it come second." The way she emphasized it, Maryse could tell she was far from considering those two wolves her brothers, and she assumed that words would still be had if Maia encountered Fenrir ever again, for putting her in this place to begin with.

Maryse vaguely indicated the group – the pack? – gathered around. "Why are they still there?"

Maia ran a hand through her curls. "We offered them portals to wherever they liked, but they didn't want them. Idris is their homeland – the only place they care about living. There's not a lot of forests left in the world where wolves can roam reasonably freely. So they're hanging around. They offered to guard against mundane interferences, or other intruders.

"I wouldn't have thought they'd be willing to work with us," Maryse noted. One of the wolves caught her eye, and she focused on keeping her expression non-threatening, non-challenging. She offered a smile without showing teeth, a grateful nod for the services provided, and looked away. That was how wolves did it, wasn't it? Staring into each other's eyes wasn't a good thing.

The younger woman gave a small laugh. "They're not enthusiastic about it, but since you're our friends, they're willing to make an exception."

"What if we don't manage to secure Idris?"

"I don't know." Maia glanced around, and even Maryse could feel that she was deliberately dampening the feeling of dominance she exuded as she did so. "Viktor's forest can hold a pack of predators. There'll be others. We'll find places. But it would be better if we didn't lose Idris." She indicated Maryse's luggage. "You're travelling sensibly." Her lips twitched into an amused line as she directed the other woman's attention to the line of Shadowhunters waiting for their turn portaling with a jerk of her head. They were loaded with suitcases and packs, some looking as if they were carrying enough to start a new household somewhere.

"I'm not preparing to leave behind my hone forever," she pointed out. "I'm just taking a little break. I'll be back soon enough – from your point of view. For once, I'm almost glad I don't have a way to contact the father. I've tried imagining how I'd tell Peter that his children were miraculously born carried to full term just five months after we met…"

Maia blinked.

"Peter?" she asked.

There was a brief nod. "The man I – my twin's father, doubtlessly."

"Peter who?"

"I don't know. We never exchanged last names. I know, don't say it."

Maia had tensed, and somehow Maryse didn't think it was because she was going to express her disapproval of her having a one-night stand, unprotected, with a man she'd only just met and without as much as any proper introductions.

"Is his first name all you know about him?"

Charlie made a move that suggested she was going to stop the young werewolf before she could embarrass Maryse, but Maryse found herself raising her hand to stop her. She wanted to know where this was going.

"He lives near London – the one in Canada, not the one in England. He's a linguist, but not employed in that sector. He said his uncle runs a sheep farm, where he works, I think he's part of some sort of religious cult or some such thing – the morning after, he fled in a panic because she wasn't… I think he wasn't, by their rules, allowed to have sex."

"What does he look like?"

There was a curious tone to Maia's words, and though she had no idea how that could be, Maryse was suddenly convinced that she wasn't telling her anything new.

"Not particularly tall, red hair, clean-shaven. He has a limp. He hides it well, but it's stronger when he's not wearing boots. Something happened to his ankle, I assume."

Maia turned to Charlie. "Can you wait a few minutes before you leave? I think I should fetch something."

"Someone," Charlie corrected with a laugh. "Go ahead. Half an hour more to go back won't do any harm."

Maia sketched a salute in her direction, then stepped back to give herself space. The alteration Fenrir had wrought on her hadn't just given her the same dominance that the oldest of werewolves had. The change, as she had found out the first time she'd switched to wolf shape with her teachers, once a messy, agonizing affair of deforming bones, rearranging joints and breaking skin, had become as smooth and painless as it was for her other werewolf friends. On top of that, she now shared Fenrir's magic, though she'd not had the time to harness more of it than the two spells Hati and Skoll had shown her that first day: The making of clothes, and the creation of portals, both potentially relevant to avoid discovery.

The motions, the bundling of power and the shaping of what to her mind was still strictly a warlock domain, was far from coming naturally to her, but she managed.

"It was a wolf trap," she said before she stepped forward into her glowing creation. "And the Heerkens' aren't religious fanatics. They're werewolves."

 

New York

Maia had used warlock-made portals before, and she hadn't much enjoyed the experience.

Oh, sure, they were quick means of travel and could get you pretty much anywhere you'd been before. But the experience of being pulled every which way at once, spun in multiple directions at the same time and eventually spit out and expected to know which way was up and which was down so as not to embarrass yourself, all the while keeping your stomach under control, wasn't the most comfortable option.

One of these days, she was going to ask Magnus if the experience was the same for the person who made the portal. If not, then the method her teachers had shown her was going down in her book as superior.

Though still far from being a smooth ride, it felt much more controlled. For one, her own portal didn't try to dump her on her backside.

Her knowledge of what went on with the New York wolves was limited to text messages, but for all that she knew, Peter would be where Rose was, and Rose, it appeared, had taken to being mostly where Luke was.

Luke, in turn, was going to be in the institute he now co-ran, and so she had picked a concealed corner in park outside of it as her destination.

Once on firm footing again, she went over the shields she'd practiced building the last few days. She couldn't turn off the dominance. She could just keep it from leaking.

Satisfied that they were about as good as they would get, she briskly crossed to the front door and entered.

Where she would have needed a Shadowhunter to open the building for her in the past, the handle moved easily under her hand now.

She'd seen the institute busy before, but the almost hectic activity going on now added an entirely new dimension, and not only because it wasn't just Nephilim running about. She approached the first wolf she spotted, relieved to see that her reaction didn't go beyond a residual wariness she couldn't blame her for. She knew how she'd felt around Fenrir and his sons even when they were shielded, and she had never at any point felt the pressure of their full power on her.

Giving the briefest greeting that was polite, she came to the point immediately after an acknowledging nod. "Is Peter Heerkens in the building? I need him for something."

"Try the basement," came the response. "The last I know, he was going to discuss some old records with Luke for repayment of spoils."

Now that sounded as if he had finally found a task that matched his skills. Too bad that she was going to distract him from it.

Once downstairs, she could literally follow her nose to where the werewolves were gathered. Her human senses had always been more acute since she had turned, but most recently they were sharpening to the point of approaching her werewolf ones.

The trio was bent over a table on which ledgers upon ledgers were spread, with Peter presently pointing out something on a page filled with scribbles. Rose looked and smelled utterly bored, but seemed to be trying to find some interest in the exercise for her brother's sake.

"Luke?" Maia asked, staying by the door and addressing the alpha wolf instead of simply barging in.

As he turned to look at her, so did Rose and Peter.

"Maia." Luke's tone matched the happy smile he directed at her. "So good to see you! Weren't you in Idris?"

"I was. The wolves there are safe now, and I learned a thing. I -- Luke, I need to talk to Peter. Actually, I may need to borrow Peter… for a while."

"Borrow me?" Peter's eyes narrowed as he gestured behind him at the documents spread out. "We're not even a third through these records." She could see his expression change as the next thought arrived in his mind. "Do you have any texts to decipher to save that place?"

"I have no idea, actually," Maia admitted. "What I'm coming for is a bit more… on a personal level. Can we talk alone for a second?"

Luke was about to nod his consent, but Peter shook his head. "Just say it. Whatever it is, there's no one here who can't hear."

Right. She'd known from the conversations they'd had that privacy didn't exist within the pack Rose and Peter came from. She wasn't sure what Maryse would think of her passing this information on within Luke's earshot, but it probably wouldn't make much of a difference if Peter was going to share it with Rose anyway, and Rose was going to share it with Luke—

Actually, come to think of it, if Peter wanted to come back with her, they'd have to tell Luke something either way.

"When you told me about how you left your pack," she began, gesturing towards her phone. They hadn't been able to be comfortably in one room together, but nothing had precluded lengthy exchanges by What's App and text message. "You somehow neglected to mention that the woman who set it all off was Maryse Lightwood."

"I didn't know her last name!" Peter protested immediately, only to glance at his new alpha with a concerned expression as Luke made a stifled sound, managed to half-choke on it and started to cough.

Rose helpfully patted his back, her expression more amused than the situation warranted.

"Who is Maryse Lightwood?" she asked once Luke could breathe again.

"Shadowhunter," he informed her. "We grew up together. Trained together. She ran this institute with her then-husband. She's divorced now. She's the mother of Alec and Izzy and Jace."

"The head rebels," Rose noted. "Man, Peter, you really did go big."

Peter's gaze had dropped to the tips of his boots, but Maia could spot the outlines of a grin on his face. She hoped her next information wasn't going to go over too badly.

"She's also about almost five months pregnant with twins. And the only potential father is called Peter, used to live near London and ran out before phone numbers could be exchanged."

"Pregnant?!" Peter's voice bordered on a squeal. "You mean she was in heat? That's what I smelled? She—I didn't—Uncle Stuart is going to kill me!"

"I don't think Shadowhunters go into heat," Maia informed him calmly. "They're just ready to conceive about once a month."

Rose's hand shot out to clamp on Peter's arm. The way her fingers gripped his wrist had to border on painful. It certainly stopped him from continuing what had shaped up to become a string of incoherent half-panic.

"Stuart will do absolutely nothing because you're no longer part of his pack and he has no jurisdiction over you. Luke will do nothing because not only does he not care if his pack multiplies, it also happened before you joined. You have to talk to her, though. I don't know if there have ever been half-werewolf children before, but she'll have to know what's going on, just in case her cubs start changing at some point…"

That's not the main point, Maia almost said. Then she noticed Peter's expression change to one of relief and noticed the satisfied air exuding from Rose. The woman knew her twin brother perfectly. She'd given him just the reason he needed to reduce his internal struggle about leaving the pack on his own business, even if it was only temporary.

"Go talk to Maryse," Luke added his own input, his tone not quite a command, but certainly decisive enough to be interpreted as one if Peter needed any added incentive. "I'm sure this is something she'll make time for in between helping save her homeland. And if you can help with that – don't bother asking permission. It is my home, too."

Peter blinked at him, as if only now processing that Luke was also born a Shadowhunter.

"About that…" Maia ventured.

All three looked at her now. Luke's face was suddenly frozen as he tried not to imagine what she might have to say about the likelihood of saving Idris. Rose appeared mostly curious. Peter seemed torn between hope and fear of being told that he'd have to put that encounter off a little while longer.

"Maryse doesn't want to endanger her children in what's to come. So Charlie's taking her back in time a few months. She'll live with the Gale relatives and have the babies before catching up with our time and coming back to join us. I think—" she looked at Peter only now – "that if she agrees to this, the best thing might be for you to go with her. You'd have a few months to figure out what you want to do."

To actually get to know each other, she thought. You've certainly been thinking of each other, so figure out if you'll want to do more than that.

"I don't think I can," Peter said, sounding regretful. He hadn't even taken the time to think about it. "We would—We don't—We haven't—" he looked at Rose, looking for help from her.

They were twins. Among their species, it was a close bond. They had rarely spent more than a day or two apart.

Rose straightened, making up in personality what she lacked on actual height or bulk, and suddenly radiating the presence of a pack leader, rather than a family member. "Maia's right," she told her brother. "I think you should go if she agrees. Don't worry about being separate. It won't be long for me, because you'll catch up again soon enough – and I bet you will be far too busy to even think much about it."

"What Rose said," Luke agreed. "If she'll have you with her, go. We'll go through the rest of the spoils ledgers later. It's not like they're going to go bad any moment now."

He had shifted to move closer to Rose, understanding just as much as Maia did – or possibly even more so – that she hadn't put on her official face for Peter's sake alone. If Maryse agreed to having his company, and if Charlie agreed to taking him along as well, if the Gales agreed to letting him stay, then the next time they met there would be months dividing them even if that meeting took place the next day, and whether Peter was still going to be happy to rejoin his twin's pack at that time remained to be seen.

 

Five months earlier

Darsden East, Ontario, Canada

"Thank you for letting us stay with you," Maryse told the two women who had greeted her.

Charlie hadn't lingered. She'd given the briefest of explanation about why she was delivering two boarders instead of one, and had taken her leave speedily.

Given the look Peter had cast after her as she disappeared between the trees, Maryse hoped that no one was going to regret this particular stunt before too long.

He hadn't been given a lot of time to dwell on any second thoughts he may have had about this trip, since he was immediately pressed into service. They hadn't been expecting two guests, and Allie's old bedroom was only set up for a single occupant. Since he was going to live there, they informed him, he could just as well help moving things around and swapping the bed for a larger one.

Neither of them had found an opportunity to throw in that they were not, strictly speaking a couple; that they'd met exactly once before and were going to use this opportunity to find out what exactly they were in the first place.

Peter had jumped to do as he was told. Gale dominance didn't seem to work all that differently from werewolf dominance. Actually, even Maryse felt the pressure of the oldest woman's words on her mind, though she was sure she could have acted against them, had she tried.

She didn't try. She was a guest here, and glad enough this other branch of the Gale family had agreed to go along with their plans that she wasn't going to do anything to risk slipping into their bad books.

Still, she couldn't quite help adding one more thing. "I could have helped with the room, too, though. I'm not that far along."

"I know," the old woman told her, her tone clipped. "But we need to talk to you before you do anything, and this was the fastest way to get you alone."

"I see." She wondered if she should have felt threatened. The words did seem to loom, but she knew the way the Aunties back in Calgary spoke, and the way the younger family took it in stride. These two doubtlessly were aunties.

The younger one she even knew – if not in person then at least by sight. She'd seen her picture on Allie's wall and even on her own children's phones. She was Mary, Alysha's own mother. Presently, she was giving Maryse an encouraging smile, just before she went to get her a cup of tea.

"Do you understand why we agreed to this?" her older counterpart asked. Jane. Charlie had called her Auntie Jane. "Why we let you stay?"

"I assume because Charlie asked you," Maryse offered. "Because you wanted to help us?"

"That is," Jane said, "in a way closer to the truth than you can know. Please – sit." She gestured at the chairs around the kitchen table, and Maryse moved to obey.

Finding herself bristling inwardly at her compliance – it had been a few decades since she'd allowed anyone to order her around like this – she decided that it would be wise to not antagonize her hosts on the first day.

"What do you know about our family?" Mary asked. Leaning comfortably against the kitchen counter, it was easy to see her daughter in her.

"I know what you derive your powers from, if that's what you mean," Maryse offered. "I know about the Circles, and the charms."

Jane waved her hand dismissively. That wasn't what she'd been getting at.

"For centuries," the old woman told her, "our family has been quite stable. Stagnating, you might even say. We've never been very good with change. And I'm sure you know that nothing can survive in an ever-changing world if it cannot change with it."

She nodded, wondering if the same wasn't in a way, true of the Nephilim as well.

"So for centuries, what would happen was that the family would grow, and gain power, and then it would reach a turning point where there would seem to be just too many people in one place for the magic to sustain us. Power would wane. Control would lessen. Ritual be less vigorous and Hunts more common."

Something about her tone warned Maryse against asking what a Hunt was.

"Then a group of our youngest, a small group of the most flexible Second Circle members and the bare minimum of Aunties to maintain a Circle would leave, throwing down roots for a new branch of the family elsewhere. Starting fresh under someone who had just crossed into Second, who wasn't anchored in our set ways as much yet… and the family would be … rebooted, in a way, a new sprout growing from the new seed just planted."

Maryse nodded. That was what Alysha had done, starting a new Gale branch in Calgary – the branch that had saved her children from their certain deaths and set in motion all the things that had eventually brought them here.

"The old branch," Jane continued, "wouldn't be renewed, though. It wouldn't catch up with its times and blossom again or recover in some manner. Within a generation or two, it would wither and die, while the new branch flourished. We knew this would happen when Alysha left us."

'We' doubtlessly meant the Aunties, those old women who ran and controlled the family as a whole.

"You said 'within a generation or two'," Maryse noted, thinking about what she knew of Allie's branch. "It's been only… eight years?"

There was a nod from Jane. "And yet, we felt it. Within the first five years, we had two Hunts. Our Anchors were failing, unable to keep the family strong. And then, three years ago, Charlie did something."

She had done something alright, though Maryse didn't know the details. She knew it had something to do with Charlie's perpetually unhealthy appearance, that she had destroyed part of her body in the process of whatever she had done. She also knew that, while she wouldn't talk about it otherwise, Charlie insisted that it had been worth the sacrifice.

"My sister is Wild, like Charlotte," Jane continued. "She does not visit anymore, and has vowed not to set foot onto the farm again before the day of her death. But we've met out there by the edge of the forest, just outside that ban she's set for herself, twice. The first time, she came to tell me the world was about to end unless the family found a way to stop it. The second time, to let me know that the stopping had changed the world."

She turned away to get a cup of tea for herself, which reminded Maryse to take a sip from hers. Herbal, she decided, though she couldn't identify the ingredients. She wondered if Hodge, always enjoying a well-blended tisane, could have.

Jane didn't stop talking as she rummaged around for a spoon to add honey to her cup. "Not ours, that is, but that other world the Wild Powers use to travel through. The Wood, they call it. It was more alive than it had been, she said. Less stable. Less stagnating. She said she'd almost run into the God there, and that she'd made off as fast as she could before he could spot her. You do know about the God?"

"The Gales' legendary ancestor," Maryse offered.

"Not so legendary, it appears. At least according to Catherine."

"You believe Charlie somehow lured a god into the Wood?"

An offhanded shrug preceded the answer. "I know there is a God where there didn't used to be one, and I know Charlotte had something to do with it."

"Have you asked her about the details?"

"No."

The decisiveness in that single word took Maryse aback.

It was Mary who clarified. "She's not talking about it. Trying to insist – trying to make her – would be a bad idea. This family depends on a certain power structure. As a Wild Power, Charlie gets a certain amount of leeway, but allowing a situation in which she openly challenges a First-Circle Anchor and wins would be a bad idea. And win she would."

"Charlotte must be the most powerful Gale alive," Jane admitted. "Today, if not ever. Our stability may not hinge on her willingness to pretend otherwise, but I will not risk it."

"So you literally agreed to this because Charlie asked you?" Maryse asked.

The old woman laughed. "So impatient. No, we did not agree out of fear of being forced to do Charlotte's will if we didn't acquiesce. The change she wrought sure enough spread to cover not only her part of the family, but also ours. It slowed the decline. It didn't stop it."

"And you're… trying to stop it… how?"

Jane's dark eyes blazed briefly with an expression that made Maryse feel as uncomfortable as if she'd been facing her own mother after admitting to doing something particularly stupid in sight of her teachers. It took all she had not to wince.

"Let an old woman tell her tale," Jane scolded. "It has stopped, but not because of anything that Charlotte did."

She paused, and Maryse waited, unsure of whether she was supposed to say something now, or simply wait until the other woman had decided that she had had enough time to let the information sink in.

It was Mary who continued, however, with a look at her elder that suggested she found the time she took to get to the point inacceptable.

"It was the day of the second Ritual last year, and we all felt the change when it happened. The family stabilized for good the moment Allie did what we had avoided doing for centuries, and opened it up to outsiders. Really opened it up, that is. We've always had a few marry into the family in every generation. My own husband is one of them. But they were always – part of the family yet still staying apart from it. They wouldn't participate in Ritual. They certainly wouldn't anchor one. No one thought much of it when Allie had Graham with her to anchor Second. He's special. There's no saying what the parameters of a seventh son of a seventh son are, and it clearly worked. But it was when she opened up the circles to your children, and when your children came, and joined, and took their places in them and gave their power to merge with the family's, that we felt the difference."

"The key to survival," Jane took up the narrative again, "seems to be not to stay among ourselves, to avoid diluting what we have beyond the degree that is needed to preserve a healthy gene pool and to add the odd extra feature to the family. Whether she knew what she was doing or not, Alysha has given us a broader base to rest on, a firmer footing in the world. We felt it again when Melissa Asked her Seelie prince and when Katie took your Hodge as her husband, though it wasn't as much of a landslide then. More of a little shift in the right direction."

She fixed Maryse with a long look that suddenly made her think of her own grandmother, who might even have been roughly Jane's age.

"Your family, knowing or not, somehow saved ours by becoming part of it – if not in blood then in spirit and magic. We would owe them for that, and go along with this plan for that, too."

"But the main point is," Mary said before Maryse could respond, or Jane continue, "that if Alec and Izzy and Jace are family, then you are family. And family can always rely on support from the rest. That's all the reason you need to get whatever you ask from us if it is within our power to give."

A moment of silence stretched into long seconds. Maryse wasn't sure what she'd expected, but it hadn't been a blanket promise of support.

"I don't think I can grasp the whole scope of that right now," she admitted eventually. "I know too little. I haven't lived with Allie and the family for long, and I could only know bits and pieces before that, for my own safely and that of my youngest son. I know the way that I was raised, the way that I have lived, isn't going to be sustainable either. But I have five months now in which I have nothing to do but to watch and learn better – if I can find a teacher. So if you, Mrs. Gale, or someone from—"

"Mrs. Gale is for outsiders," Jane said, her voice suddenly sharp. "Within the family, I am Auntie Jane. I'd appreciate it if you called me that."

Chapter Text

July 12th, 2017

Calgary

There was nothing but the sky above him, the air surprisingly clean for being in the middle of the city, and sun warm on his face and a slight breeze stirring just enough to make sure he didn't feel like he was being roasted alive, in spite of his request for a jacket.

The latter had been greeted with some amusement by the Gales, though they had fulfilled his wish quickly enough.

Resting on the family's roof terrace, comfortably arranged on a sofa bed he didn't think had been intended for outdoor use, he wondered how long it would take for him to actually arrive in this century. After spending his teens in Victorian London, and more than the following century never leaving his room without the full robes of a Silent Brother, the mere idea of venturing outdoors in his shirtsleeves felt wrong. He knew that the fashion of the current time suggested that it was perfectly fine to do so even in sleeves that were short, not even reaching the elbow, or virtually non-existent. He didn't mind seeing it on others.

Where he was concerned, however, the idea of being outside of the house in only a t-shirt felt wrong.

He was on strict orders to do nothing but rest and eat, with the occasional bath added in. He had access to as many books as he liked, and Tessa had explained the TV to him.

Tessa.

On some level, he still found it hard to believe that she had waited for him all these decades, that she hadn't hesitated a moment to renew their relationship, and that she had actually stuck with him through all the ugliness of his illness.

The only reason she wasn't with him now was that he had told her to go, that he would be fine on his own for a few hours while she returned to the Spiral Labyrinth to accompany old Elphas as he laid the details of what was going on in and around Idris on the table in an assembly of the oldest and most experienced of warlocks. Many of those would not remember him, but Tessa was a familiar figure in the Labyrinth, respected by her fellow researchers there. Her word might bear more weight.

Neither Jem nor Tessa were prone to self-delusion. If the destruction of Idris could not be stopped, then less than a week from now the world would be flooded with displaced Nephilim, crowding Institutes and country estates, town houses and the odd holiday location. It wouldn't be the end of the war they had on their hands, but in fact the very beginning of the action.

At first glance, it might not have seemed in the best interest of warlocks, vampires and werewolves to actively help the same group that had kept up their systematic oppression for centuries stave off the destruction of their home. As Tessa had pointed out quickly, taking that stance meant not thinking things through.

If the war turned hot, if there was an actual attack on the Shadowhunters in this world, then having that attack spread out across the globe, rather than centered on Idris, had the potential to destroy everything.

She'd gone to put that thought into the minds of those who had long retreated from the world and from Shadowhunter influence just as much as she had gone to appeal to their scientific interest – how often would one get the opportunity to study those particular wards, or those particular towers?

He would have liked to join her. He would have joined the Nephilim in Alicante if he could have.

No one had asked him to come, though, and he understood the why of that too well to ask in turn if they would have him. He was still weakened, barely able to stand, unable to walk without support. He struggled to juggle a spoon or fork. He would be useless if it came to battle.

So he had stayed, resting and doing all he could to regain his strength as quickly as he could – which for the most part meant: nothing.

Brian and Michael, the family friends and architects who seemed always busy planning or expanding this and several other buildings for Gales and Lightwoods alike, had joined him for a short break earlier. He enjoyed listening to their banter, following the memory it brought up in him of himself and Will, as they had been back in London, before he had become a Silent Brother.

He had still been smiling silently to himself when Allie and Gwen had come upstairs to join him for a few minutes, the former carrying a tray of thick soup, bread and butter, the latter bringing more of the potion that was meant to counter the damage he had taken from a century and a half of stele use.

He didn't mind their company.

They said nothing about the awkward way in which he started eating, his eyes firmly on his hands because he had to compensate for lack of feeling with visual input.

Allie was talking just enough to put him at ease, and while he could tell that Gwen was running a quick magical scan of his health, she wasn't being pushy about it.

As soon as he had put his spoon aside, the older woman poured some of the potion in a cup and pushed it towards him.

"Drink up," she told him. "It's good for you."

"Is it possible that the amount of this stuff that you make me drink grows more every time you bring me some?" Jem asked mildly.

He probably could have handled the cup with one hand, by pushing his fingers through the handle and lifting it that way. Not wanting to run even the slightest risk of spilling the precious liquid after all, he cradled the cup between both palms anyway, trying to gulp it down before he could actually taste it.

It took several more reassurances that he was, in fact, quite comfortable on his own and didn't feel in acute need of more permanent company before they both packed up again to return downstairs, and he found himself breathing the smallest sign of relief.

"They don't bite, you know."

The voice suddenly sounding on his other side, where no one had been a moment before, made him jerk around, adrenalin spiking and putting him on high alert.

Spotting Charlie standing in one of the flat, wide flowerpots set up around the roof terrace's perimeter, he exhaled a long breath that was only a little shaky. While he wasn't sure he would ever get used to the Bard appearing just like that, there was a layer of secret pleasure at the fact that none of his reaction to being surprised had made him cough. Progress, he told himself. It may have been slow, but it was doubtlessly there.

"The aunties," Charlie elaborated as she stepped out of the earth. "They can be a bit scary at times, but they're not actually going to do anything that'll harm you."

"It's not Gwen who makes me wary," Jem corrected.

"Oh?" Charlie slid the guitar off and settled in the nearest deck chair, the instrument resting against her leg. "Care to elaborate?"

"Your aunties are powerful," he admitted. "But it's a power I'm used to having around me. There's age and knowledge and skill in there, and the boundaries are very clear." He swallowed, uncertain of the wisdom of continuing but somehow feeling that he couldn't let a half-answer stand. "It's the other power that frightens me a bit. The sort that you and Allie carry."

He wasn't sure what reaction he had expected, but apparently it hadn't been a serene nod on the Bard's side.

"I know what you mean," she told him. "I feel the same way."

His eyes narrowed as he studied her, looking for any sign of mockery and finding none.

Yes, she was a Bard and could probably make him believe whatever she wanted to, but every instinct told him that that wasn't what she was doing – and not only because he couldn't imagine what benefit she would derive from it.

"You?" he asked eventually. "But surely you're perfectly used to it. You grew up with it – grew into it – isn't it just … normal for you?"

She gave a small laugh, though it was directed inwards rather than at him.

"Allie," she said. "Allie grew up with it and grew into it. Everything in Allie's life up to the moment she called that first Ritual that anchored the family here in Calgary was geared towards putting her in just that situation, at that moment. She's comfortable with her power and sometimes I'm not even sure she realizes how much of it she has, she's just so casual about it. I?"

She looked away, but not fast enough for him to not spot the sudden bitterness on her face.

"All I ever wanted to be was a musician. Always on the move, no permanent home, no permanent relationship, no responsibility. Sometimes the things we want change – I'm never going to regret Jack, for one thing – but often we don't exactly get what we want, do we?" As she looked back at him, the expression in her grey eyes had gone flat. "I didn’t ask for this. I didn't mind being Wild, ever, but I also didn't know what it meant. Not really."

"What does it mean?" he was curious, but more than that, he sensed that he had inadvertently touched on something and it wouldn't be fair to leave her to steep in it alone. And that meant he needed to keep the conversation going.

"Sometimes, outliers happen and individuals are born with more power than can be contained in the usual Gale way," she said, in a tone that suggested she was quoting something, or someone, rather than using her own words. "That's how Wild Powers happen. And apparently, they end up screwing their family over whether they want to or not."

"I've seen them around you, and talk about you and to you," Jem told her. "Not a lot, granted, but nothing I've seen looked as if anyone expected you to screw them over."

"I need a drink," Charlie declared, though she made no move to leave her chair. She did reach for her guitar, however, and started picking an idle tune. Jem wondered if it had any purpose.

"They're not expecting it," the woman told him, her voice low and strangely wrapped in the music, "because they don't know about it. It hasn't happened yet."

Jem waited, not sure what he could say. He knew Charlie could travel through time, but that was as far as his information went. He wasn't familiar enough with the particulars to venture an opinion.

"Whatever you're planning to do," he said, focusing on a different aspect of her words. "They're your family. They might understand you better than you expect."

"My family." The words carried a bitterness that shouldn't have been there. It was so at odds with how he had heard the Gales speak of their clan so far. "That it is, and more so than you can know. More than they can know." She fixed him with a hard look. "I made my family, Jem. And by making it, I destroyed it."

She looked away, silent for a moment. Then, before he could speak, she started once more, her voice sounding as if coming from some far-away place.

"We grew up with some family legends. They told us that one day, a young woman went walking in the wood and came across a powerful young man, antlered and well-endowed. She wasn't averse to a nice little tryst, neither was he, and nine months later she had twin daughters and the Gale family began. And the wood, some said, wasn't some forest in our world, but the Wood, that place through which we Wild Powers travel. But everyone who'd ever been there could tell you that there was no god in it."

Her fingers never stilled, the tune repetitive but not as annoying as it should have been. In fact, Jem thought he barely heard it at all anymore around her words. Rather, it seemed to spin a cocoon around them, shielding them from the world.

Maybe that was her way of preventing eavesdroppers.

"Until three years ago," Charlie told him. "Three years ago, the god appeared in the Wood, and he's been there ever since."

"Do you know how he got there?" Jem asked, afraid that he might know the answer already.

"I do," she confirmed. "Because I put him there."

"You imprisoned a god?"

Her laugh sounded painful. "Wish that I had. Though in a way, I guess I did, since I don't think he can leave it anymore. But before that, I made him. I went and took him from his life and made him what he is now, and no one – no one – should have that power! I certainly shouldn't!"

"And you did this because you felt like it?" He knew that couldn't be the reason. What little he'd seen of Charlie wasn't consistent with that.

There was a second of stunned silence before she replied. "Of course not. The world was about to end. We needed someone with the power to stop it from happening. Jack had disappeared, hopping into the Underrealm to get trained as a sorcerer, but I didn't know that. I just knew he was gone. So I thought if used the Wood to travel, not into the past but into the future… to get the person I imagined to be the most powerful we would ever have at hand… that he could fix it."

"Who was he?" Jem asked her, his voice as calm as his mind voice as a Silent Brother had been. The same tricks worked for speaking out loud, it seemed. "Or who will he be?"

He could see unshed tears glisten in Charlie's eyes as she turned towards him again. "He was – he will be – he's Allie and Graham's son. The last, the one who isn't born yet. The Seventh Son of a Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, of a Gale. He trusted me, because I – the future I – told him to go with me. I told him to take the bears and to meet me at the edge of the grove in the park. And that was all I told him. He thought he would go back in time and live in Darsden until he caught up with time. I took him into the Wood with me, and once there, he changed. I looked away, and back, and he wasn't human anymore. I don't know what I would have done if Auntie Ruby hadn't shown up and distracted him either. I might have turned into that first Gale."

"Auntie Ruby?"

"Long story," Charlie said. "Another kind of 'no one should have that power', but at least she asked for it. She knew what she was doing. The kid … I don't even know his name … He didn't. Because clearly, I didn't care enough at the time to actually tell him what was going to happen, did I? And it didn't even make a difference because it was Jack who came and saved the day – and the world. At this point, I have eighteen years left before my best friend will hate me for the rest of her life, probably banish me from Calgary the way she banished our grandmother and never talk to me again, and until then I will know that for a total of twenty-one years, I keep her love for me only based on a lie—or, in any case, based on not telling her the truth of what happened that day."

"Charlie." Jem shifted, pushing himself up and moving sideways, sliding his legs off the sofa so he could sit properly across from her. "You can't judge people for acting based on the knowledge they have. Did you have a way of knowing more than you did?"

He continued after a slight shake of her head.

"And it's not true. It wasn't useless. Would the end of the world that almost happened three years ago not have happened if the Gales had never existed?"

"No," she admitted. "It would have happened."

"And would Jack have been there to stop it if the Gales didn't exist?"

Another shake of her head. "Jack is a Gale. If the Gales didn't exist, Jack wouldn't exist."

"Then what you did was necessary. And I don't know a lot about Allie, but I can feel the power around her. I can't promise you she will understand what happened, but I think chances are good that she will comprehend that it wasn't a choice you could make."

As Charlie blinked, a tear broke free and slid down her cheek. She released her strings to wipe furiously at her eyes with the back of her hand. He could tell from the way she watched him that she wasn't entirely convinced, but he had given her something to hold on to, to stave off the worst of the feeling of having betrayed her friend, of doing so again every day that passed that she didn't confess what had happened to Allie, at least for a while by laying out an outsider's impression of what she'd just told him.

"You know what?" she sounded a little shaky, though less bitter than she had.

"What?"

"I just realized I'm no longer immortal. And I thank you for that. I hated that feeling. That's another…"

"…power no one should have?" Jem asked, a small smile on his lips. "How did I make you stop being immortal?"

"The boy – Allie's son – he told me I'd told him to come see me, right? So, while I was the only one who knew about what's going to happen, there was no way I could die before then. But now that you know? Only one of us needs to live. I still don't know how much the magic I used that day, and the proximity of the god, and being there when he changed, has changed me, and how much the Gale cycle of life and death is still open to me, but I am no longer incapable of dying."

Jem allowed himself a small chuckle. "Well, if it's any help, I will certainly strive to remain alive and well enough to jump in, should anything happen to you. Still – I'd prefer it if we both survived the war to come. I have a feeling that this new world will need each and every one available."

 

July 13th, 2017

As the evacuation of Idris continued around them, the core of their group and a handful of those residents determined not to let the county go down, even if it was the last thing they were going to do in their lives, were forcing themselves not to pace as they studied, and discussed, and tested and went back to studying.

There were a few things that they were certain of: To stop the wards from shutting down, they had to turn off the remote-control mechanism that had set the process in motion.

The only place to do that, if it existed at all, had to be somewhere inside the Demon Towers, though they had no idea what would happen if they made it into those structures to begin with.

Elphas and Magnus had walked the perimeter of each of them, blocked by wards that were impermeable to all of their group who were not Nephilim. The only result they'd been able to bring back was that the situation was the same as it had been back when Elphas had come and gone in Alicante: Anyone who did not parse as a Shadowhunter to the wards could not pass into the ten pace radius around the towers covered by those protections.

Charlie had tried keying into those the way she had into the main ones, but so far to no avail. Unless she had more information as to the specifics of those shields, finding a song that would not slide off of them would be unlikely. In addition to that, even she was having trouble holding on to the very energy she produced if she did it that close to the devices that siphoned it away. Afraid that she might speed up the decline, rather than help stop it, she ceased her efforts.

Even at the distance, Samael had pointed out the energy pattern of the opening mechanism to Alec, who, followed with his own magic vision, had marked the spot out for them in a number of photograph printouts they had added to their papers. They knew where they were likely to find an entrance, and the Shadowhunters among them had no problems approaching that spot, but they had yet to find the way to disengage the lock.

"I can't believe Raziel made these things and didn't leave us any way to get into them," one of the local scholars who had joined them groaned. Artifacts had been brought from the museums and collections of Alicante, hoping to find something that might be an as-yet undiscovered key.

"I can," Jonathan, going through the most recent box with his sister and friend in hopes to see what they could identify as stemming from their own time, returned evenly. "We weren't supposed to get into them."

"If there was a key, he probably threw it away after locking the last one," Abigail declared. She fished one of the items out of the box and held it up between the tips of two fingers. It was a thin rod about the length of her hand, marked in an intricate spiral pattern. "This isn't an artifact. That's a bit of pookah. And not one you want to put on display." She put it down away from the other objects. "Who keeps such things?"

The younger Shadowhunter glared at her. "Why are you even doing this if you don't think it's going to do any good?"

"I think better while I keep my hands busy," she returned. "Besides, there's nothing else to do. Do you want to go over what he told us back then again?" The last was targeted at her husband and brother.

They both shook their heads. "We've been through it so often that our minds are probably making up half or three quarters of it by now. Approachable only to Nephilim, accessible only to those of demon blood. Anything else is gibberish."

Their group was placed around a set of tables put up outside of one of the buildings closest to the first tower, where they could quickly run over to try out anything that looked as if it might work.

"Anything?" Chris, Sebastian, Isabelle and Lydia had come over, weaving through a small group moving the other way with backpacks and duffels. Alicante was emptying, but there were still plenty waiting their turn to portal.

"Nothing," Jonathan told them. "What about your end?"

Izzy shrugged. "Samael left half an hour ago. He's going to try to Ithuriel to come and have a look."

"He what?"

"Ithuriel was gifted and bound to Valentine, who used him for his experiments," she elaborated for the sake of those who hadn't been privy to that information yet. "Clary and Jace freed him, but if he'd returned to the angels' place he would have been enslaved again. He wanted to avoid that, so he ended up hiding out in Pandemonium. The last we saw there, he wasn't happy about it. And we're not happy about how he tried to trick us, but right now he's the only angel we have access to without actually kidnapping one right out of their homeland. And that, frankly, is sounding just a bit too likely to be fatal."

As the others nodded their understanding, she continued: "So Samael has gone to bring us Ithuriel if he can, and to talk to Asmodeus and Lilith again just in case they remember something that—"

"Lilith!" Chris blurted out, cutting her off. "You know what we are, Iz?"

She gave him a confused look. "Shadowhunters?" She suggested.

"Idiots!" he shot back. "Complete idiots."

Turning on his heel, he strode towards the tower.

The shields were as insubstantial to him as they were to any of their kind.

He whipped his dagger from its sheath at his belt as he marched through them, pulling the tip across the burn scar in his palm without breaking his stride to score the skin.

They had opened similar locks back when they had visited the angels' realm. They'd freed prisoners that day, and it had been the angel blood in their veins that had allowed them to operate the release.

While the other wards didn't recognize him as anything other than what he had come to think of as his main affiliation, there was more than just angel blood running in Christopher's veins.

He slapped his hand, bleeding sluggishly, onto the spot they had pinpointed as the equivalent to a keypad. "Open up," he all but growled at it. "We have work to do."

Blood, a handprint and the desire to open the lock. That was what had worked back in the angels' power banks.

The door didn't open the way their own doors did. Instead, it folded inwards in the same manner they had almost grown used to during their visit to the angels' and demons' plane, leaving a hole in the brightly shining wall of adamas that seemed to glare at him with dark disapproval.

*

"That was… easy," Izzy noted as she looked around herself. The deep darkness inside the tower had come to life the moment Chris had walked through the doorway, lights flickering into being as if in greeting.

On the inside, the demon tower was a single undivided space, rising up and up above them to where, in the distance, she thought she could see something like a ceiling. It was hard to tell. The adamas of the walls was reflecting the light from the witchlight elements set in it, increasing the brightness and dazzling the eye. Signs like runes were etched into the material as far as she could see, though most of them were not ones that she could read. A protrusion interrupted the smoothness of the walls roughly at the level where a standing desk would be put. It ran around the entire tower, starting on one side of the door and ending on the other. The only inconsistency was one section just across from where she stood, where it widened further and drew their attention with a structure of thin lines set into it.

Walking over, they studied them for a moment. They looked like writing, though it wasn't a language they could identify.

She watched as Chris carefully reached out to run his hand around the edge of the lines, the way they would turn on the angelic-power-run computers in an institute.

Lights blinked into being, and a projected screen unfolded, hovering in the air before them.

"We need Jonathan or Abigail in here," he determined. "I don't read Angelic."

"We'd love to oblige," came the first Shadowhunter's voice from the doorway. "But the tower disagrees.

Izzy spun, taking in the scene just outside the opening of the structure.

Sebastian and Lydia were standing on either side of the door, peering in at them. Abigail had taken a step back. She looked annoyed. Jonathan had his hands flat against what appeared to be an invisible wall spanning the entrance – either that or he was miming for their collective entertainment, but the latter seemed a bit too unlikely.

She groaned. "Don't tell me we got in and now we're locked inside."

A few quick steps brought her back to the door, where her distant ancestor took a hurried step backwards just in time to avoid catching the heel of her hand in his face.

Slapping a magical shield in exasperation was a lot more effective when the shield deigned to stay in place for you. Catching herself and turning a stumble into a somewhat controlled set of steps, Izzy found herself standing among the group outside.

Gale phones had been used to best effect, she realized. Her brothers were just coming jogging down the street, trailing more than a few of their associates.

"Report!" Alec demanded as soon as they came to a stop.

Christopher had come over again as well, leaning in the still open doorway as if afraid it might close up if he moved out of the building entirely.

"It appears I have enough of Lilith inside me to get the door open," he explained. "There's nothing inside but a computer, for lack of a better word, and a lot of runes shunting and channeling energy. We need someone who can read Angelic, but apparently the tower only admits two at a time, so we were just about to shuffle."

"Let me see?" Alec asked.

Izzy watched as Chris moved aside and her brother briskly walked up to the tower.

The wards farther out that kept all who were not Shadowhunters away from the direct vicinity were perfectly invisible. So was the wall that Alec collided with the moment he tried to cross the threshold.

Rubbing his shin, he allowed himself a brief glare at Chris and Izzy. "Two at a time?"

"How many people are you, Chris?" Jace asked from where the rest of the group stood, watching.

"I guess it's not 'two at a time' then," Chris admitted a little sheepishly.

With a sigh she didn't quite bother to suppress, Izzy pushed past her older brother and back into the control room.

"Only Nephilim can get to the tower, but you need essence of demon inside you to actually enter," she offered a new theory. "I guess a drug test would still return evidence of former vampire venom use on me. It's not prohibitive, just inconvenient. We need to get out of the magic-free zone, swap the language, and come back. We can stream anything we do inside to you on our phones."

Alec nodded, his hands running over the opening. He blinked a few times, in the way Izzy had come to recognize as him turning on his magic vision. "It does beg the question of how Raziel planned to ever get in there."

"I bet he didn't," Izzy said, speaking her thoughts just as they came to her. "He knew he could remote-control the equipment. He just needed to have a place where he could put the focus and the controls, and then secure it against being tampered with by anyone. This—" she gestured at her and their friend inside the tower, "was not supposed to happen."

"Right." Alec was looking into the distance now, doubtlessly towards one of the other silver spires towering above the city. "Chris, can you come and see if the other towers open the same way? We can start working out the controls next thing."

"Sure." He cast one last look back at the screen, still lit above the strange desk, before exiting the building. The door didn't close until Izzy had joint everyone outside again as well.

There was some shifting towards the back of their group, among those who had by necessity stayed outside of the outer ring of shields. As she turned to look, she saw Jack's slim shape trot away down the street, only to burst into flame and emerge as a dragon as soon as he had gained enough space for the change without barreling anyone over. He rose in size with each of the powerful wingbeats that carried him upwards and away.

"Where's he going?" Izzy asked.

"No idea," Magnus, who had also by necessity stayed outside the outer ring, told her. "He said 'Dragons are good at math. I can count', and off he was."

Chapter Text

"It was never the Sword and the Cup, was it?" Alec asked.

They were walking back to the first tower after completing their circuit of the other three.

There were two things they had learned: Chris was, indeed, able to open any of the towers as he wished. Isabelle was not. While able to enter once the doors were unlocked, the mark her addiction to vampire venom had left on her couldn't trigger the release mechanism. Her own theory on it was that while residues of the drug were stored deep in her body's tissues, there wasn't actually any of the substance the lock reacted to in her blood.

Trying to avoid a needless delay, she had commandeered Jonathan to hike to the wards with her so she could get the language skills he had acquired during his centuries in the angels' homeland. She'd start on deciphering the computer screen to figure out how to turn off the remote control and give them back some power to work with as soon as she was back.

Chris looked at his commander with some confusion. "Come again?"

"When we were dumped in your timeline," Alec elaborated. "The parameters of the travelling machine were that it would take us to whatever we needed the most. Then we had that grand idea about getting a Mortal Cup and a Soul Sword for our own use. Remember how Viktor got all upset about how we stayed there forever and brought home a bunch of things?"

The other man nodded slowly.

"He was right. Not in that we shouldn't have brought anything – I don't regret the time we spent or the things we learned. But it wasn't the Cup and Sword we were sent to get."

"Are you saying--?" Chris started, then let the words trail off.

"I'm saying the thing we needed – that wasn't the Mortal Instruments or any other item from your world. It was you. You're our insurance against angel-organized destruction."

"I'm not sure I like this," the other man returned. "I mean, not the part where we came over with you. I don't think I've regretted that for a second. But the part where it implies that this world's fate rests on me. I don't like that."

Reaching out to pat Chris' shoulder briefly, Alec chuckled. "I know how you feel. At least that means we're in good company, right?"

 

Calgary

Among the group of young people in and around the London Institute, where he had grown up, Jem had always been the patient one. The Silent Brothers had viewed him as a bit of the opposite, the rebel forever almost but not quite fitting in and never entirely happy with the state of affairs as they were.

Even back in London, however, he'd grown impatient with lying in bed and resting when he had had one of his bad spells. He'd been up and about as soon as he could without breaking down again, training as much as his body allowed, going out with Will on missions and insisting that he was fine as long as the pain remained at a level that he could lock away in his mind and hide behind a smile.

He found that not much had changed. He had spent much of the last evening doggedly walking the length of the corridor in the apartment. He wasn't in pain, but the lingering numbness in his hands and feet would take some time getting used to. In fact, he suspected he was going to have to find a stick of some sort to help him hang on to his precarious balance if he was going to walk any farther than from one room to the next.

That was alright. He had routinely used a cane back in his London days, when he had never quite known when a spell of weakness would come over him. He’d get used to it again quickly enough.

Come to think of it, maybe his old cane was even still around somewhere in the Herondale household. Will had kept it for as long as he’d been alive, but he had no idea what his and Tessa’s children had done with it afterwards. If it was still there, he might be able to convince the current Herondales to return it to him.

Originally custom-made for his father, it had served him well, with an integrated sword that served him as his main weapon.

It felt strange to think of going back to a blade if he ever went back into combat again. Many decades as a Silent Brother, training and fighting with a staff only, suddenly seemed much closer. He marveled at how his memory set its priorities quite randomly from case to case.

For today, he had convinced Allie to let him help with the preparations for lunch, giving him some work to keep his hands busy. He’d been slower than he liked, but managed to decent overall result. After the meal, he had stayed in the living room, reading while he waited for news from Tessa.

It wasn’t Tessa who interrupted him, though.

"Heya there."

Jem looked up to see a young man standing in the door that led to the stairway.

Dressed in jeans and a tight t-shirt that showed off the muscular contours of his upper body, he seemed to be making an effort to blend in.

It didn’t work particularly well, since Jem could feel a strange power radiate out from him, similar to what he felt on Allie and Charlie, but also quite different. Though his hair was a lighter blond than the other family members’, the man’s features marked him as a Gale. His face looked pleasant enough, in spite of the scars on his cheeks, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was looking at a glamor.

Still, he’d been assured that nothing harmful could enter the apartment, and having felt Allie’s power close up, he was inclined to believe.

"Hey," he responded. "Anything I can do for you?"

"Actually…" The man pushed off from the doorframe and approached him. "Yes, there is. How'd you feel about going back on active duty?"

Jem blinked. "Is—Are they asking for me?" Realizing that he sounded as if he wasn't sure he wanted to be involved, he quickly added. "Don't get me wrong. Of course I'll come. I'm just surprised. Also, I need to find a walking stick. I'm still dealing with a few side effects. Do you have a warlock nearby for a portal?"

"They're not," the man said. "Not yet. They'll realize they need you soon enough, and I figured I'd spare them the frantic running and phoning and organizing transport and all. I can open my own Gates. I figured I'll fly you to Alicante from the border. No need to walk that far. I can be the Cyan Bloodbane to your Raistlin."

Jem laughed, closing the book he'd been reading with the dust jacket folded over the pages as a bookmark, and held it up for the man's inspection to show him how far he'd come in the series. "You're Jack then," he noted. "The dragon?" He'd heard the others talk about him, though he hadn't expected a dragon to look quite so normal, even if he was wearing a glamor.

"The one and only," Jack returned, He gesture. There wasn't a flash so much as a sudden clatter as the expansion of a pencil on the coffee table pushed several other items off the surface.

Jem hurried to pick them up, a little satisfied to see in the process that he was getting the trick of looking at things and knowing, rather than feeling, where his fingers were down much better than it had been a couple of days ago.

Once done, he inspected the pencil-turned-walking-stick.

It felt sturdy enough in his hand. It also was nothing at all like a regular cane. For one thing, it had the full length of a quarterstaff, just as the staves that were the Silent Brothers' weapons. For another, it was topped by a carved claw grasping a transparent ball.

He allowed himself a chuckle as he ran his hands over it. "And thus, Raistlin was gifted with the Staff of Magius. Does it do anything?"

Jack shrugged. "Felt like fun, and if you're arriving riding a dragon, you may as well do so in proper style. I can spell it for Light and FeatherFall if you like." His eyes dropped to Jem's feet. "You'll want boots, too. Nice and sturdy boots so you don't turn your ankle if you put your foot down wrong. I remember when Jace was still recovering from his back injury and didn't walk well."

Jam cast a doubtful glance at his feet. He was wearing the same footwear he had as a Silent Brother, which was made less for sturdiness and more for playing into the silent part, so as not to ruin the effect of his sound suppression runes. "Can you alter these like you did the pen?"

"I could," the dragon admitted. "But it's probably more useful to ask Graham for a pair of his combat boots and alter them to fit your feet. I'd rather have some material with a little less magic in it already to work with."

"Right. Where's Graham?"

"In Idris, standing guard against the possibility of a sudden angel invasion with a semi-automatic rifle. I'll get you some boots. We'll tell him later."

"I don't think that's how asking works," Jem noted, but Jack had already crossed the room and disappeared into another.

 

Alicante

Alec rubbed his face tiredly before going back to staring at the table in front of him. It was covered in paper, outlining the city, the valley and the flows of energy on it.

No matter how they turned it, they kept coming back to the same conclusions.

They had access to the towers. They could read the control mechanisms inside.

Going through them one by one, Izzy and Chris had turned off the remote-control mechanism, thereby preventing further access to the wards from the angelic plane.

The problem was that it hadn't made a difference. The process already in motion continued. The energy within Idris was being bound and siphoned away, and the wards were going to collapse in two days at the latest, taking down the pocket universe with them.

There seemed to be no way to stop the program once it had been started.

"Turn them off" had been Ithuriel's advice that he'd sent back with Samael. He had adamantly refused to come in person, stating that only a fool would deliberately enter a pocket universe doomed to fail.

And fail it still would if nothing happened.

There were in agreement on a few things:

First, removing the demon towers and any further functions that might have hidden inside them from the equation would be a good thing.

Second, removing the demon towers from the equation to the point where they had absolutely no connection to the energies of Idris anymore would destroy their pocket universe as much as the current process was.

And third, even if they managed to bypass that, they couldn't turn them off one by one. The four towers worked in perfect balance, the energy flows distributed evenly by and between them. If they took out one or two, then the imbalance would have caused potentially disastrous issues by the time they reached the others.

The first solution that was suggested was to have two of them bitten by Simon and use the vampire venom in their veins to bypass the shields the same way Isabelle could.

As it turned out, that wasn't enough. It was less of a surprise than it could have been, since they'd already determined that however the venom had changed her, it wasn't a matter of blood, but something that marked her tissue on a deeper level.

"I can't believe I'm saying this," Katie said from across the table, where she stood with an arm around Hodge. She hadn't contributed much to the discussion so far, watching and listening and not looking very happy. "But I may have a solution for one of your problems."

It didn't escape Alec that she'd said 'your', rather than 'our'.

"Let's hear it," Jia said on his left, eager for anything that might help.

Katie sighed. "Right now, the towers and their energy flows anchor your pocket universe. When you take them down, you are going to have a very short period of time while the structure destabilizes to throw down a new anchor and seal your land to it. The energy flows within it will be free to use then. What you need is … not so different from what Allie did when she rooted us in Calgary."

"You're suggesting that we form three circles, call Ritual and bind ourselves to the land and the land to us like the Gales do?" Alec asked.

For a moment, it seemed completely wild, as suggestions went. Then, as he thought about the way he had felt the echo of Allie's connection to the land around her when they had been in Ritual with the Gales in Calgary, and he had held the central position in Third Circle, he found himself nodding slowly. "It may be our best shot. But who would anchor?"

The woman's face hardened as she looked around. "I assume I would have to anchor Second. Charlie can't, the twins would have to cross pretty damned quickly and no one else has the skill. I'd have to stay and train someone up to take my place, preferably by November. But First? That'd have to be one of yours. And while we don't quite know the properties for someone of Air anchoring a circle, you'd have to expect that person being tied to the ground as firmly as David is to the park. Do you think anyone's willing to sacrifice their life like that?"

Alec closed his eyes for a moment. He felt Magnus moving closer to him, though he wasn't sure if it was in support or to stop the words that were about to come from Alec's lips.

"I'll anchor. We'll deal with the rest… when it happens."

"I don't understand any of what you're talking about," Jia admitted. "I have no idea what you mean by anchor or what Ritual is, but if it's going to help us handle this, I'll try to provide whatever you need." She looked at Katie. "And thank you for being willing to help – even though I gather you don’t much like this place – or our people."

Katie gave a small scoff as she met the older woman's eyes. "Your people banished my husband for life, on top of further punishment, in part for crimes he didn't commit and in part for crimes that were at no proportion to the punishment – and instigated by the same creatures you professed to serve until very recently. You barely tolerate his presence now, because you don't have any other choice. I've seen the looks he gets. I have no reason to love this place, or its people. But he still does." She shifted to lean into Hodge for the shortest moment, and he met her half-way in the uncannily synchronized way in which all of the Gale couples could move. "And for that I'm willing to give you three months of my life to save his homeland."

Jia was silent for a moment when Katie was done. "She's right," she said eventually, looking at Hodge directly. "We can't just keep tolerating you inside the borders as a necessary part of the Lightwoods' group. We don't have access to the computers or anything else running on angelic energy right now, but I'll have a proper pardon drawn up as soon as we have back control of our equipment. Is that acceptable?"

A stunned look crossed over Hodge's face. Whatever he had expected, that hadn't been it. He nodded.

The Consul turned back to Katie. "What do you need?"

"A dozen post-menopausal women who know how to channel power," Katie said. "As many fertile couples as possible who are willing to produce power for us to use while being inside a potentially collapsing pocket universe, and as many unattached people aged fifteen or older who are okay to do the same."

"Infertile," Charlie corrected. "I can be one of the twelve. Only three of them need to stay behind when we're done. Warlocks would work. Vampires would work."

"I'll talk to Catarina." Magnus reached out to squeeze Alec's arm, waiting only for his brief nod before he turned and left. Whatever he thought of his partner's decision, he wasn't going to challenge it here in public.

"I don't know how to channel power." That was Elizabeth Redwood speaking up before Alec or Jia could say anything more. "But I'm a quick study. I can be 'one who stays behind'. I've not planned on leaving Idris anytime soon anyway."

"I will join that instruction," Imogen added. "The method seems adventurous, but it's the best shot we have."

Graham, standing with Charlie's twin sisters, laughed. "Not the best," he corrected. "It's your only shot right now. And you still need to find a way to take down the towers for it."

"Yeah," Alec agreed. With an effort of will, he put all thought of what was ahead for him firmly out of his mind. "I believe we need two volunteers. Charlie can take them and Simon back in time, and they need to go through the full process of the venom addiction and all—I'm sorry. I was going to offer to take one of those slots, but I can't be in two places at the same time…"

Simon raised his hand. "Now wait a moment. Are you sure that's a good idea? Or even going to work? I can't just take two people a few weeks or months into the past with me and keep biting them on a hunch!"

"You can reduce that to one," a rough voice sounded from the entrance.

They turned, blinking in different degrees of surprise at the man who had just arrived. His skin was runeless like that of the members of Alec's group, but he carried himself in a way that doubtlessly said 'Shadowhunter'. Though older than Alec and his friends, the grey his hair was shot through seemed premature. He was dressed in jeans and a sturdy shirt of flannel that showed all the signs of being its wearer's companion in an active life.

"Giulio!" Alec called out in surprise. "I thought you didn't want anything to do with this."

The man shrugged. "That was before Jack dropped by and told us how things were right now. Viktor's out by the barrier, helping with the portals." He turned to the rest of the group. "I'm Giulio Whitelake. You'll find me in your files as lost, presumed dead. I left my institute without leave one day after a medic had treated me with yin fen and I'd lost control over the substance. I've been clean these last few months. Never thought I'd come back to Idris again."

"That wouldn't have been Victor Aldertree, by any chance?" Imogen asked him. "The medic?"

"You can sh—bet on that," Whitelake growled. "Jack says he's nicely under lock and key. I'd like a word with him if you don't mind. I think I get to gloat just a little."

"I'll show you the way when we're done here," Izzy offered.

"You might want to take them a snack," Charlie threw in. "I don't think anyone's had the leisure to go and feed the infernal trio yet today."

"I volunteer," Clary offered as Whitelake took a place at the fringe of their assembly. She'd been a fraction faster than Jace, whose lips had already parted to speak up as well. "We only need one more, right?"

"No." Charlie's tone was final. "Out of the question. We need every single one of you who know how Ritual works. It's bad enough we'll have to make do without Izzy. We can't have you and Jace drop out too."

"Look," Clary insisted, "it'll be easier to replace us in Ritual than to find someone from outside our group who's ready to go and – do what needs to be done."

She looked as if there was something else she wanted to say but kept herself from uttering aloud with an effort of will. Alec thought he knew what it was. She was Simon's best friend. It was going to be hard enough on him to have to deliberately send someone through the process of addiction and withdrawal, though he didn't see any way around that. Clary, at least, knew him well enough that she would stand a chance at convincing him she was doing all of this out of her own free will, and get him to believe it where it mattered.

They could find another vampire volunteer, of course, but he wasn't sure that there was anyone he was willing to trust nearly as far as he did their Daylighter friend. Maybe Raphael would—

"No one needs to go and do anything." Jack's voice had them all looking at the entrance once again.

The Dragon Prince had returned from his self-appointed mission, but he hadn't come alone. Dark blue denim further emphasized his companion's bleached skin and hair and the unnatural light grey of his eyes.

"Zachariah," Alec said. "Jem? Mr. Carstairs? What do you—" He knew Magnus called the man Jem, but Magnus had known him since before his first transformation. He wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to call this man, so young looking yet at least twice the age of anyone else currently in the room.

"Jem is fine." He approached, walking slowly and with his eyes on the ground ahead. The manner reminded Alec of the way Jace had moved when he'd regained most of the motor control over his legs, but from all the feeling. Jace had used a crutch, and later his electrum sword stick, for support.

Jem had, somewhere, acquired a staff so eerily reminiscent of the one wielded by the character Charlie kept referring to him as that Alec had no doubt as to the origin of the piece.

"Should you be here?" Alec wanted to know, only to realize the uselessness of his question. They didn't have the luxury to decline the man's help.

"Apparently," Jem told him. "Jack tells me you'll need four people capable of passing through two very specific wards."

"And how Jack was able to guess at that before we had even started turning off the remote controls is beyond me," Alec returned. "But thank you. Thank you for coming."

As Jem nodded serenely, Jack gave a snorting laugh, accompanied by very dragonish sparks. "I know a thing of three about wards and shields," he said. "I did study sorcery for twenty years, you know. It wasn't that hard to guess."

 

July 14th, 2017

Alec was surprised that he had managed to sleep at all the last night. He'd lain down fully expecting some restless tossing and turning in anticipation of what was to come in the morning. Maybe Magnus had worked some magic on him. In any case, he had slept in his partner's arms, deeply and without interruption until the first rays of the sun falling through the window had woken them both.

The day had passed in a blur, with everyone working together to clear the country and reduce the potential number of victims to a minimum.

By now, the only people remaining in Idris where those about to be involved in their plan. Their three prisoners were locked in three different institutes, guarded well: Valentine in Paris, where the local Shadowhunters had been informed of his involvement in the demon attack on their home and the death of one from their midst. Aldertree in Brussels, with the friend of the werewolf he had murdered years ago among the people organizing his guard. And Robert in London, secured by the pride the Head of that Institute took in having no one step out of line in her city. Everyone else had left the country as well, safe even if their group was going to be destroyed.

They hoped that even if they failed, it wouldn't come that far. There would be a small margin of time between the moment when Chris, Izzy, Jem and Giulio turned off the towers and the actual collapse. With the loss of the towers, they expected to have the magic in the area back under their control. That meant that the magic users among them – Magnus and Elphas and Samael, who would join with Graham and a few others in a fourth circle guarding those busy in Ritual just in case some of the angels caught wind of what they were doing and tried to intervene, as well as the warlocks inside First Circle, Maia and Clary with her portal rune – should be able to open ways for them to escape if it turned out that their efforts were in vain.

Chris could make his own portal if he didn't make it to the rest of their group in time. Tessa was staying with Jem, waiting just outside the wards that prevented her from passing until they hopefully came down with the tower. Viktor the dragon lord would do the same for Giulio. Izzy was taking the tower closest to where they were setting up their circles.

If their plan worked, the rescue of Idris would be a joint effort, the pocket universe held by a cross-section of the Shadow World.

Imogen, Elizabeth and Jia were going to represent the Shadowhunters in First Circle.

A talk to the werewolves around the borders had brought them three grey- and white-haired women, all of them scarred and showing the signs of a life lived rough in the forests and caves around Alicante. They had joined Charlie's emergency class in power handling, by necessity held outside the wards, where they actually had power to work with.

Three vampires were going to come in, which meant that they had to move the entire event to after sunset. It hadn't been much of a problem. If anything, it had made the ongoing evacuation a little less frantic, knowing that people were not waiting to jump into action the moment the last person cleared the wards.

Catarina was going to hold one of the warlock positions. The second slot had gone to Indira Lock, following another one of Magnus' messages. Charlie would stand in for the third. This was the group they weren't quite happy with yet, since neither of the three was truly willing to stay in Alicante afterwards. It wasn't going to be an issue by numbers – they needed three, and the other nine would be regular residents of the country. It would leave the warlocks massively underrepresented, however.

Standing at a window near the top of the Gard, Alec was looking out over the city. This late in the day, Alicante should have been lit by witchlight, if nothing else. For as long as he had lived, the city had never been truly asleep. Now, it lay silent and dark beneath him, looking not so much asleep but abandoned, dead, like a ghost of its former self.

Restoring it to life would be their task for tonight.

"You don't have to do this."

Alec didn't start at his parabatai's voice. He'd felt him approach, followed his steps through the building all the way up there through their bond, which was one of the few bits of magic that still worked even now.

"Yes, I do." He didn't turn from the window, though he focused on the approaching presence until Jace stood just by his shoulder, close enough to touch. Magnus hadn't tried to talk him out of this. That last night, when they'd been alone in Alec's old bedroom in his family's town house, he had taken Alec into his arms and held him close, as if he was afraid it might be the last time they touched in this manner. Yet when he'd spoken, it had been only to give him his reassurances and full support.

He knew Alec wasn't going to step down if this was their only chance at saving their home country – and potentially their people, otherwise scattered around the globe with no place to rally – from destruction. He didn't ask for it either.

It would be alright, Alec told himself. No one knew if he'd even be bound to the land the same way David was. And even if so, there would be a life for him in Idris, and Magnus would be able to be part of that. In this new world they were building, the place would be open to the entire Shadow World. It would have to be. And even if Magnus remained in Calgary as its High Warlock, he would only be one portal away – and so would Izzy, and Jace, and the rest of his family.

"We can swap."

That made Alec turn to stare at his brother, more than a little appalled. "Jace, you would make the worst anchor if you end up bound to this place. You'd never be happy if you can't be active and on missions."

At least his parabatai didn't object to that.

"Oh, but you will?" he asked instead.

"More so than you, in any case," Alec insisted. "It won't be so different from being Head of Institute. Lots of admin, lots of paperwork, lots of time in the office. I'll be fine, Jace. I promise."

"Is that why you're hiding up here?" There was a cunning tone to Jace's voice, and it actually made Alec laugh briefly.

"No." He opened their bond a little wider to let his brother see that he wasn't lying. "I'm hiding up here to keep visits like this to a minimum. I don't want to explain myself over and over again. I'll be down as soon as everyone's assembled. And I'd—actually appreciate it if you'd go and keep anyone else from coming up and then herd them all to the spot so I don't have to deal with it?"

Jace shifted a little closer still, more Gale than Shadowhunter as he wordlessly offered a parting hug. Alec returned it, giving himself a moment to rest his head against his parabatai's shoulder. Nothing would destroy their bond. They were sure of that. Yet, they had no way to tell how it would change, how Alec would be changed just a few hours from now.

"I'll guard," Jace promised as they moved apart again. "And I'll see you in Ritual."

Alec resumed his scrutiny of the city below, letting silent minutes pass by. He closed his bond with Jace as far as he could, not wishing to go through even the second-hand annoyance of dealing with anyone else trying to offer to take his place right now.

Someone cleared his throat behind him, and this time it did catch Alec by surprise.

Spinning, he saw himself facing a most unexpected visitor.

"I asked Jace not to let anyone in," he said.

Sebastian gave the smallest of shrugs, pointing to the coil he wore draped over his shoulder. "I didn't take the main entrance."

Alec frowned. He knew the item his friend had brought. They'd bought the rope with its air hook, capable of allowing a climber to scale anything, no matter how little purchase it gave, from Jack's uncle Viktor before their trip to the world of angels and demons. What he didn't understand was why the other man would use it to virtually break into the Gard. What was there that couldn't wait a little longer?

"What do you need me for?"

"I can't let you do this, Alec." Sebastian took one step towards him, then another. His eyes rested firmly on Alec's as he spoke. "Our new world – it will need a leader. Someone who can go places. Chances are good that by this time tomorrow, we will be at war in more than theory. We'll need our main general, and we need him able to act where he's needed. We need you in command. You cannot tie yourself to Idris."

"I can," Alec said. "I have to. There are other generals." He gave a small, almost helpless, laugh. "Heck, there are plenty of generals more experienced than I. You can stop trying to talk me out of this, Seb. It's not going to work."

"I know," the other man said calmly. He was standing right across from Alec now, his arms loosely by his side, his right hand nervously toying with the metal hook. "And that's why I'm not going to try talking you out of it."

Alec frowned. "Then… why did you come?"

"You can try me for mutiny if we're both still alive tomorrow," the blond man said. "I'm sorry, Alec."

He was still talking as he moved, the blunt side of the metal hook in his hand speeding towards Alec's temple too fast to evade.

"For the headache. Nothing else."

Chapter Text

As he had promised Alec, Jace had left his post in time to walk ahead to their gathering place. It wasn't long before Clary joined him. They didn't say much as they walked side by side.

Their plan was a bit wild, maybe even bordering on desperate. No one had come up with any other suggestions, though, so this was where they were.

He didn't like the idea of Alec potentially binding himself to Idris.

Whatever came after this day, they were going to need someone among the leaders of their people who was comfortable dealing with the Shadow World outside of the Nephilim, and who would be accepted by other leaders in turn. Someone who would be believed if he declared that they were aiming to improve things. Someone who had proven that his loyalties lay not with their former masters.

Someone who was as familiar with what had gone on, what was still going on, between those creatures they called angels and demons, as they could be, given their circumstances.

He didn't think any of those previously involved in leading the Nephilim would stand a chance of being accepted as a liaison. Maybe even keeping them in positions of power they already held would be a challenge – though not one they would be able to avoid entirely.

The person leading their kind visibly towards the other species, representing their will to change and adjust, would have to be one of their group.

He knew he could never step up to take Alec's place in that. He had made a singularly bad leader the one time he had tried, and that was only on institute level. Command of anything beyond a field mission team was not something he was made for.

Izzy could probably do it, but she didn't particularly care for the job, and three was a risk she might be seen as either favoring or disadvantaging vampires – no matter that she would not. Aline would always have people wondering how much she was merely doing her mother's bidding. Helen could be seen as favoring the Seelie,. Besides, those two hadn't been among the group that had visited the other dimension.

The oldest Shadowhunters still lacked an understanding of most aspects of modern life and were entirely out of the question.

Sebastian seemed the happiest when he could bury himself in research. He could fight as well as any of them, and he was quick enough to spring to action when told to, but Jace couldn't see him taking the sort of initiative they would need.

Christopher on the other hand…

He was their best bet after Alec, though with him coming from a different timeline, he would always carry that as a sort of stain when dealing with their own people. There'd always be some who would claim he didn't belong.

The same, in a way, went for Clary, whose contact with the Nephilim was less than a year old.

No matter how he turned it: Alec was their greatest asset for that position, and unless something unexpected happened, Alec was about to remove himself from the equation for good.

They nodded to those who had gathered already, exchanging meaningful glances and watching as Anestis Redwood set up his fourth circle of fighters, the line of protection against anything that might endanger them. Tatyana was there, too. Whether she'd be any good if battle happened was doubtful – she'd improved her combat skills in spite of her extensive injuries from her run-in with the original Nicholas Nightshade, and she had certainly worked hard to conquer her fears, but how she would hold up if faced with an actual enemy was impossible to tell. She'd certainly refused to leave the country and stay along among strangers while everyone she knew was gathered here.

Charlie was organizing her First Circle. All they would do would be to take the energy Katie roped in and divided and use it to tie down the pocket universe, threading back the strings of power through their anchor.

Who wasn't there yet.

In fact, Alec wasn't the only one still missing.

Looking around, Clary locked eyes with Maia in what clearly was a question of Where's Simon? and got a shrug in response. Sebastian was missing, though he was probably hanging out with his parabatai until the last second.

Magnus, doing with the magic users what Redwood was doing with the fighters, looked tense. Jace couldn't fault him.

He felt the same way. If he hadn't known the way Ritual got into you once it started, he would have worried about his performance, and not only because he was going to be mostly undressed and doing things that usually belonged under no one's eyes but his and Clary's in full view of his own grandmother. He could only hope Imogen would be too busy handling power to pay attention.

Still, he tried to position them as far from her as he could.

A rush of wings in the air made him look up, just in time to fully appreciate the effect of a gigantic flock of ravens darkening the sky.

More than one arm went up to shield faces as the flock descended, though the darkly feathered birds passed harmlessly through the crowd, eventually landing on posts, walls, gutters and even on the ground, sprinkling the perimeter of their circle in black specks.

They'd been enough to have everyone distracted for a moment, and in spite of knowing exactly where he had seen those birds before, knowing that they were not truly birds at all, but bits of bound magic, stored away by the second-oldest warlock currently known to be alive, Jace startled as much as everyone else did when he glanced in the direction the flock had come from to find a solitary figure standing where there had been none a moment before.

Wild-haired, with raven fathers generously mixed in with her dark locks, her signature staff in one hand and her fingers, wrists and neck sparkling with gems that doubtlessly held more power, the eternal resident of Brocelind Forest came walking towards them with slow, measured steps.

"Baba Agnieszka." Jace heard himself speak before he had made a conscious decision to do so. "Fancy seeing you here. Have you come to gloat, or to help?"

"On the day you little birds finally take control of your own destiny?" she asked, her laugh that of a much younger woman. "What do you think?" She turned her eyes on Charlie, who met them evenly.

"Go to your dragon, Gale girl," Agnieszka advised. "You'll do more good there. I'll take your place."

If there was anything Charlie wanted to say to that, she swallowed it.

Maybe it was her giving way to the raw power emanating from the ancient warlock. Maybe she was actually quite glad to step back into her usual circle. Maybe there was even a little bit of satisfaction at knowing that the warlock faction would be represented properly after all. There was no reason Agnieszka would discontinue her habit of residing in Idris.

A quick sideways look told Jace that Elphas was rolling his eyes in a way that awfully reminded him of how he or Alec might look at Izzy if she'd done something needlessly theatrical or, for that matter, the way Izzy would look at either of them for the same reason.

Whatever else those two warlocks were – in that one glance they were, first and foremost, siblings.

Just as Charlie shifted to take her new position, one of their missing members appeared.

Sebastian came walking towards them slowly, apparently fully confident that they had not started without him. He wore jeans, but had shed his shirt already, apparently expecting a quick outburst of wings. There was something odd about his approach, though it took Jace a moment to put his finger on it: He was coming from the wrong direction. Wherever he had been – it wasn't with Christopher.

"We can begin," Sebastian announced, as if assuming that they had waited for him only.

"Alec's not here yet," Jace informed him. He tried knocking at their mental connection, but Alec was still firmly closed off. Rather than force his way through, he started to tease his phone from his pocket.

"Alec isn't coming."

Jace froze and stared, as did everyone else who had heard.

"Alec is – what?" Now he was pushing at the barrier in their connection, feeling it give much too sluggishly, as if Alec was either holding against it with some effort, or—

"I fought him for the position, and I won. That means it's my right to take his place."

—unconscious. The lack of response through their bond wasn't because Alec was shutting him out. It was because he was out, and Sebastian had been coming from the wrong direction because he had previously gone to see Alec

Sebastian wasn't looking at Jace. Actually, he wasn't looking at anyone. He kept his eyes fixed only at the place at their center where he would gather and hold strings of power.

For a moment, Jace almost followed the urge to throw his mind into getting through to Alec, to jar him awake and get him to rush to them as fast as he could.

Then another thought wormed its way into his brain. If Alec wasn't here – if Alec didn't anchor First Circle – then there was no risk that Alec would be bound to the land of Idris.

"Seb?" he asked, the calmness of his voice surprising even himself.

Sebastian turned, and now their eyes did meet.

"Are you sure about this?"

There was a wordless nod, the briefest confirmation.

Jace looked away. He wasn't looking forward to talking to his parabatai about this.

No one else objected, some of them because they didn't care which one of them stood at the center of the group, and the others because they realized that it was too late to change anything now.

"Tell them to bring down the towers," Catarina said. She was poised as if ready to start a spell, though there was no magic her hands could grasp just yet.

It was Charlie who had her phone out and ready, the group message to be sent to the four in the towers already typed and waiting to be sent.

What was supposed to happen now? Clary was giving him an expectant look, searching for a cue. He returned the smallest shrug. Someone surely would text Charlie when they were done…

A flurry of motion to the side drew his attention.

Simon, rushing in at full vampire speed, came sliding to a halt next to Maia.

"Sorry for that!" He didn't actually sound breathless, but there was a tone to his voice that suggested he had just been through a little more effort than he as a vampire usually experienced. "I had to deliver something to the barriers."

"Something or someone?" Jace asked drily.

The vampire grimaced wordlessly, which was as good an answer as any.

Jace was about to say something more, but he never got that far. His lips had barely parted when a wave of energy slammed into him, driving his wings out of his back with a vehemence that was bordering on painful. His veins felt as if suddenly filled with liquid fire.

Clary gasped, shifting to compensate for the weight of her own wings, unfurling and stretching out once to keep her upright.

Light sprang to life around the warlocks' hands, so bright it was painful to the eyes in the darkness that had had Alicante firmly in its grasp before, drowning out the lesser lights of the streetlamps winking back on.

His hands were already moving forward, the urge conveyed by the energy inside him far less severe than what the Gales' ritual brought on. Still, there was enough of the Gales they had among them already in the mix to tell him what exactly he was supposed to do.

He glanced up. The city had looked wrong while the power had been out. It still looked wrong now. The lights outlining the city itself may have been back, but another source of eerie white light had disappeared:

The Demon Towers had gone dark.

*

It wasn't going well.

Katie had anchored third circle often enough, both in the family's old home and their new, before first Melissa had taken over her position and then Magnus and Alec had replaced Melissa and Cameron. She was familiar with the process of gathering energy and passing it on to the next level, where it would be refined and spread further to those who were actually meant to use it to renew their bond to their home, stabilize the family and its magic.

It wasn't that she didn't know how the refining went, or that dividing what Charlie fed her from Third and what she gathered from her own into twelve strands to feed to her First Circle went beyond her skills.

The issues that had her panting and sweating were twofold:

With Charlie and Jack helping with the supply, in addition to the Daylighter Simon and Maia in her still somewhat undefined changed state, the sheer volume of energy that was running into her came close to drowning her. Add to that the power her own circle supplied in abundance, and it was everywhere: in her, around her, shooting through her very thoughts. More than once, she felt herself at risk of having pieces of her washed away by the flood.

Strong arms encircling her, a familiar mind brushing against her own and reminding her of who she was and where she belonged, took care of that. Hodge was pressed close to her, holding on as if never intending to let go again, even though there was only one hand resting on her body. He had taken off the prosthetic hand before they had started, uncertain how the magic on it would react to the flows of energy that would hit him, too.

One thing was certain, though: Graham was not the only non-Gale who could anchor a Second Circle.

That, however, was also where the second problem came in.

The energy itself was different. Among her own family, the power they worked with was familiar. They'd lived with it, around it, all their lives. It was as known and comforting to her as her own cousins were. When the Nephilim had joined them, they were still by far in the minority, their different power swept along with the Gales'.

This, today, was a wild hodgepodge of energy of different flavors, coming from werewolves, from vampires, and most of all from Nephilim. She was born of Earth. Her family, her people, were rooted deeply in Earth. The Nephilim, as the Aunties had once pointed out, were of Air, and of the Elements Air and Earth did not mesh particularly well, though they had seen just how successfully it could be done in the right sort of setting.

Still, it was like baking in someone else's kitchen, in an oven you had never used before and with ingredients of brands that were not your usual ones. You knew what to do, you had done it successfully many times in the past, and the same principles still applied - yet everything was just slightly different enough to pose a hazard to your success. You didn't know the specific quirks and habits of the equipment. Where you might know to put the tin just a little to the left at home, lest one side of your pie burn due to uneven heating, the details became a matter of guesswork with unknown appliances.

That was how she felt as she was grappling with the strings of magic, when even the deftest grip on them could turn out to be less than ideal, requiring more energy of her to direct and shape than it should have.

On top of that, the magic itself didn't much feel like complying.

Back home, the power came willingly, letting itself be spun and fed onwards.

Here, it was shifting and jerking, trying to get away from her. She knew that her mental grip on it wasn't limited to what she could do with her physical hands, yet that still was the image she was working with instinctively. She'd have needed at least a dozen tentacles to keep all the random strands from escaping. With the thought of baking still in mind, she found that it felt rather as if the magic had been thoroughly oiled and buttered, making it hard to grip and harder to hold.

Was this how Allie had felt in that first Ritual, when the family hadn't been anchored yet and the power hadn't known where to go?

She might ask her about that, later. Or she might not, because she was increasingly losing her grip on the power as it kept pulling away from her.

She could feel her husband's concern through the bond they shared before he said a word, and answered before all of his "What's wrong?" had even left his lips.

"I'm not connected to this place well enough. I can't control the magic right." Her voice sounded breathless, as if she'd just run a race. No, more as if she was still running.

"What do we do?"

Thinking while also needing all her focus to keep from causing a complete disaster by letting go of everything was hard. She needed something that would mark her as belonging to this place, drawing the energies to her as they went to an established Second Circle Anchor.

That could be accomplished by sharing Ritual in a place often enough – or by different, more immediately powerful magic. Gales learned at a young age to carefully dispose of any bodily fluids or bits of their body that they lost, including hair and nail clippings. Cousins who were pranked using any of those would never forget the experience, if they lived to tell the tale. Yet, there was one that was superior to all others, giving strength and power to any charm that could go far beyond the user's normal level, and binding objects to the owner even more tightly than their phones were bound to them.

Idris was large. Establishing a blood bond would not bind the place to her, but her to the place. There would be no training a successor and leaving by the time November came around and she handed over her duties in a regular Samhain Ritual. If she let the soil drink her blood and recognize her as part of it, she would be bound to this weird country as surely as David was bound to the park.

She didn’t want that.

In fact, there were few things she wanted less than that.

But neither had Allie ever wanted to bear seven sons and no daughters, neither had Charlie, back before Jack had disappeared to age twenty years in a single day, wanted to avoid the love of her life to avoid breaking a family taboo that had good reason to exist.

Sometimes, what you wanted and what you had to do to prevent dire consequences for someone else were two diametrically opposite things.

Of course there was Hodge, who would be hit by the loss of his homeland. He would get over it.

But there were so many others, people dislocated from their homes, spread across the world. There was the knowledge that no matter what they did, war was likely imminent, and without a place to rally, their side would have as good as lost before they ever started. They knew how the side that would be victorious treated those they defeated.

And in the end, if they swept across this world to flush out all the Nephilim in hiding anywhere, and possibly all those they considered to be of demon blood as well, they were likely to descend on the Gale family in force in the process.

The decision wasn't truly a choice. Her wishes and her life meant little in the equation that stretched out before her as she lost hold of another line of power, stretching and feeling as if she was pulling a muscle in her mind to recover it.

"I need a blood connection to this place. Do you have a knife?"

She felt him shake his head. That was what their protective circle was for. Everyone inside had taken off everything that might injure someone else by accident.

Riding out another wave of energy dead-set on washing her away with it, she scanned the members of that fourth circle within her view, settling quickly on a woman who seemed less focused on potential threats, and more on them. Katie had seen her around their war council. She was battle-marked, her face deeply scarred and one eye missing entirely. From the other, she watched as if able to see the flows of energy.

Katie gestured, focusing hard on using only her physical hands while not shifting her mental ones.

The woman pointed at herself, her expression questioning.

It took another nod from Katie to make her step out of the line and move towards them.

"I need a knife." Katie's voice was a hiss she was going to have to apologize for later. "The land doesn't know me. Your people's power doesn't know me. Giving it some of my blood to sample may help. If not, we need to end this and leave."

Her words were loud enough to be heard by those around her, as she could feel immediately in the echo through the power she was handling.

There was something else, though.

As if spurred by the announcement that she was going to do something about their belligerence, the strands of power were wriggling and struggling against her worse than they had before.

Losing hold of one, she watched it slam into the woman, drawing a small gasp from her and driving her own wings from her body, the fabric of her shirt ripping across her back.

"Some of my blood has to go into this soil now," Katie all but snarled. She couldn't quite place the woman's expression. She couldn't put any effort into trying. She was losing her battle, and she knew it.

The woman's lips parted, the sounds that emerged unclear and slurred enough that she needed a moment to parse them.

"I don't have a knife," she said.

They didn't have time for this. Katie was already looking around for someone who was holding a sword rather than a staff as she continued: "Can I help? There's plenty of my blood in this soil."

She knew nothing about this woman. She didn't even know what Circle she belonged in, but the way she felt from this close up, it wasn't Second. Then again, their own circle classifications were based on their ties to Earth, and to their cycle of fertility and life as a result. Air didn't have to work that way.

She prayed it wouldn't, as she reached out to spin the other woman around, holding her. It was a bit of a feat, since she had to avoid the wings. Her counterpart clearly had little experience in using them.

Katie knew how to anchor a person. She'd anchored Cameron often enough in Third Circle. It was just that the way their family worked, anchor couples were supposed to be of mixed gender, and there were clear rules for who had which job.

This wasn't her family.

This wasn't her family's energy.

And even there, Alec and Magnus did just fine anchoring Third Circle together.

There was no time for words. She fed strings of power to their new anchor, letting a little of her mind seep along them so she would be able to guide her, show her what to do. It was an approach that certainly matched their situation in desperation.

Tatyana – her name came to Katie as their minds touched – took only a second to orient herself.

It had been the right decision, Katie realized with a surge of relief, as she passed on more and more of the energy. What had fought her turned malleable under its new mistress's influence. She hadn't lied when she'd said that her blood was in the soil of Idris.

There were scars on her body as well, as Katie felt through the shredded remains of Tatyana's shirt.

How much of this went into the ground of Idris? She wondered wordlessly.

The question must have been as clear as her instructions in Tatyana's mind, however.

All of it.

There was no way she could have ever achieved the sort of bond she was watching now with what she could have done.

Finally, the magic provided was flowing together as it should, distilled, refined, spun together for greater power, and then dealt out in twelve equal strands, establishing a steady stream rather than the fits and starts Katie had been able to supply.

It may have been a little early to heave a sigh of relief, but for the first time since they had started, Katie felt that they had a chance of success.