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Winds of Change 5: Simoom

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Calgary

June 11th, 2017

Magnus woke to a half-empty bed, the sheets on Alec's side already well on the way to cooling out.

There was no light filtering in through the curtains drawn before the window, nothing to suggest that dawn had arrived yet. A glance at the clock on his bedside table told him that it wasn't even five.

With a small sigh, he slid out of bed, throwing on a silk bathrobe and wrapping the belt loosely around himself. Even after all the things they had been through together in the last few months, he didn't need to run into any of their housemates stark naked.

Alec wasn't anywhere within their suite of rooms.

The downstairs training room was Magnus' next guess.

The way there took him down the hallway and through a larger, open area they had furnished with comfortable armchairs and a low table, along with a small counter that held a coffee maker and some other essentials. It was their own small meeting place, more private than the large living room downstairs where they would invite guests.

No one had bothered to draw the curtains closed here.

Cat eyes saw well in the dark, even when they were glamored to look human. Glancing outside, he spotted movement that quickly resolved into a familiar shape. Apparently, Alec had felt the need for more fresh air than an open window could provide.

The nights were cool in Calgary even in June. Alec didn't seem to care. He had put on a pair of track pants and nothing else. Barefoot and bare-chested, he was standing in the night, looking across the street and into the silent park.

What was he seeing out there?

Magnus shifted his own vision to bring the strands of magic into focus.

The park looked like always to him, shot through with veins of power that pulsed in a steady, even rhythm, guarded and controlled by David Gale.

*

Alec was staring at the web of green threads that stretched out before him, as if a net had been laid down to keep the fabric of the park together. His mind wasn't on what he was seeing, though.

Once again, he was running through the events of the last months in his mind, probing his memories to see if he could find any decision he could have made differently, anything that wouldn't have brought them to where they were now.

As always, he failed to find one. There hadn't been another outcome ever since they had set out on this path together. Most of the time, he accepted the knowledge and focused on continuing down that road to an unknown destination. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, the burden grew heavy.

Someone moved behind him, a second, silent presence breaking his solitude.

His lips twitched into a rueful smile, though he knew the newcomer wouldn't be able to see it from where he stood.

I didn't mean to wake you, he sent silently, through the new bond he shared with his parabatai. A month and a half after they had swapped runes for charms, changing and deepening their connection into something perfectly familiar and yet entirely new to them, it still felt strange to communicate in this way.

The impression of Jace in his mind wasn't much different from the one the runes had given him now. They kept the bond deliberately dampened most of the time, not wishing to end up in each other's heads in the most inopportune of moments. They valued their privacy – both their own and the other's. Still, a message sent directly would always get through.

I was awake already. Jace's mental voice seemed to come from just behind Alec's ear.

Liar.

There was a small rustling sound of bare feet in the grass as the other man closed the distance between them to put a hand on Alec's arm. Alec could feel Jace's mental shields open up a crack, extending an invitation for him to share what he wished.

Tell me we're doing the right thing and I'm not leading us all into disaster. Alec leaned into Jace's touch, both physical and mental. There was a familiarity and comfort there that he could only share with his siblings. He dropped a layer of his shields, allowing his brother to see the doubts, the worries and fears.

So much about their lives had changed in the last months. So much of what they had always thought they knew for certain had turned out to be half-truths only at best and outright lies at worst. The history of their people, their purpose, and the role of the very creatures that had created them… even after months of research, there were gaps in their knowledge, and they still weren't certain what to do with what they knew.

They were renegades now, outcasts, sought and wanted as deserters. There was no way back for them, and their entire group was looking at him to lead them through all this and out the other side, though they had no idea where that would be.

There was no way back ever since the first time we went through Ritual, Jace pointed out.

He was right, of course. They couldn't have ignored what they had felt that day when they had first joined the Gales in their unique manner of generating power. They had felt something trying to happen then, had felt their runes prevent it. Half a year later to the day, they had taken the drastic steps of removing the marks from their bodies, leaving behind only the charms the Gales had taught them to use.

The effect had been enlightening and terrifying at the same time. It was as if a barrier had been removed that had prevented them from properly tapping into the power of the world around them before.

Do you want to fly? Jace asked when Alec didn't return anything beyond wordless acceptance of his statement.

The Gales were rooted in Earth. In keeping with the fertility deity that was their legendary family ancestor, their males sported metaphysical racks of antlers when they channelled enough power – antlers that would solidify as the power increased.

With their origins in Air, rather than Earth, the Nephilim had come out of their first foray into full channelling with wings. Though they hadn't made the transfer from metaphysical to physical, they were perfectly capable of carrying them in flight, as they had found out since.

Alec shook his head.

"It's too early in the day to tire ourselves out like that," he said, out loud this time. "I should probably go inside and get dressed – and let you go back to sleep."

He didn't move from where he was standing, though. Neither did his brother.

*

"They're talking in their heads again."

Clary had come up next to him and was staring into the night as well.

"I can tell. Jace always tilts his head like that when he does."

Magnus nodded at that.

None of them had expected the way the bonds of the parabatai pairs had changed after they had replaced their runes with charms, blending the Nephilim ritual with one the older Gales had dug out of their family history. It had turned out to be a blessing quickly, when Alec had been kidnapped and held by a demon, since it had allowed them to stay in contact with him through Jace.

"Do you ever wonder if they're getting too close?"

Magnus turned at Clary's words, frowning. "What do you mean, Biscuit?"

She gestured vaguely at the two men outside. "Jace and Alec. Do you ever… Do you ever wonder if Alec still has enough space for you on top of Jace? Or if he's really thinking of him when he's talking to you?"

Centuries of experience allowed him to hold in his first reaction to that. Giving an incredulous laugh at the young woman's words surely wouldn't have done any good.

"No," he said simply. "Never."

"Just now…" Clary told him, "he woke up and started to leave. When I asked him where he was going, he said Alec couldn't sleep and he was going to check on him. In the middle of the night. What would you be thinking?"

"I'm thinking I'm really glad he has a brother he can rely on to do that even when he doesn't have the good sense to ask for it," Magnus said. "And I am certain that Alec would do the same if the situation was reversed. I'm glad to see they're actually there for each other these days. I remember when things were different."

She had to remember that, too – back in the early days of their acquaintance, when each of the Shadowhunters had been essentially fighting on his or her own, in spite of the family and parabatai bonds that connected them.

"Breaking with the Clave, leading you all to who knows what, knowing that if you're caught by the wrong people you'll probably be executed – its hard on Alec, Clary. He's keeping it from getting to him by staying busy during the day, but it's still there. I'm glad Jace won't let him hide."

"But shouldn't I be more important to Jace?" She wasn't looking at him, but still held her eyes fixed on the brothers down in the garden. "What if one day Alec has a nightmare or something and he's jumping up in the middle of … of …" She didn't finish her sentence.

Magnus schooled his features into a neutral expression, ruined only by one slightly raised eyebrow. "Biscuit, has Jace ever been distracted by Alec while you were getting intimate?"

"Well… no," she admitted. "But—"

"You know they keep their bond down when they engage in personal activities," Magnus interrupted her. "Neither of them wants to end up in his brother's head in that kind of moment. I'm sure either of them could break through with some effort, but they'd only do so in dire need – and if I'm any judge, not even then unless it was a matter of life or death."

She still didn't seem entirely convinced, though she didn't object to his words.

Magnus refrained from reminding her that the first thing those two had done after Alec had been retrieved and healed had been figuring out how to prevent the accidental slips of the first days without shutting down their bond entirely. 

"They are brothers, Clary," he said instead. "They'll always be special to each other. But that doesn’t mean they don't have the space for us to be special to them as well. A different kind of special, though."

She nodded wordlessly, just as the two slim figures out in the night turned as one to walk back towards the house.

"Come," Magnus continued, reaching out with one hand to touch Clary's arm. "Let's go downstairs and see if our special men want to have a cup of coffee and start the day early."

*

Sunday lunches along Macewan Glen Drive were meagre, restrained meals, with everyone making sure to leave plenty of space for dinners – because Sunday dinners on Mount Royal were epic.

In the course of Sunday afternoon, everyone who counted as a member of the Gale family in Calgary – be it by blood, adoption or association – and didn't have pressing needs to be elsewhere would gravitate towards the magnificent manor house with the large garden and pool, using the opportunity to relax, exchange news and simply enjoy pleasant company.

It never took very long before one or several of the children pulled Jace into the basement to where the piano stood, knowing that he was merely putting up a token protest, while Alec was quickly pressed into service to join the group of older teenagers and young adults around Elessar and Arwen, who were putting on an impromptu streetball match. The property was large, but not quite large enough to set up a full basketball field, after all.

Instead, they worked with chalk marks on the driveway and the street in front of the house, charms protecting what cars were parked there as well as the neighbors' properties. Just as always, the Seelie prince who called himself Elessar in the Midrealms tried to interest Alec to have a go at a professional sports career. He was joking, of course – or so Alec told himself as he declined, as always.

"Too bad," Elessar noted, a gleam in his eyes. "You'd be an asset, with your size and your reflexes."

"I don't have time for basketball," Alec insisted. "I have a revolution to plan." He could have sworn that some of those around them were silently mouthing their exchange along with them. Were they really that predictable?

They probably were, he had to admit.

Meliorn, the latest addition to their group of family, friends and associates, was sitting on the low garden wall, watching them. Though recovered from his recent ordeal and torture, he still preferred to limit himself to watching. Growing up at a Seelie court had left him with an ingrained respect for Seelie royalty, and no amount of insisting that he was merely a university student and semi-professional basketball player here in Alberta would make him agree to put himself into any situation where he might have ended up hurting the prince – no matter how unintentionally.

Clary and Izzy had taken the opportunity for a few laps in the pool – generous as pools went, and magically enlarged further for easier use by a large number of people and a dragon. Afterwards, they gravitated from group to group, talking and enjoying the company. Magnus wasn't anywhere to be seen. He had disappeared to join the kitchen crew almost as soon as they had arrived.

Their Shadowhunter friends had come over, too. Sebastian was probably down in the basement library, where he was helping Tomas Gale with the sorting and cataloguing of the books. Even more than seven years after taking over the property and its inventory from the sorcerer they had killed to save Calgary and, not least, the Half-Dragon Jack, the Gales were far from done with getting everything catalogued. Part of that surely was due to the fact that Tomas usually lived in Ontario, where he worked as a High School teacher. He came over most Sundays, brought by Charlie through the odd dimension they called the Wood, but it was still slow work and he appreciated the help he was getting.

Sebastian's parabatai Chris had found himself surrounded by a clutch of Gale Girls - most of them young women really. While quite a fertile family, the Gales had a unique gender ratio of six or seven girls to every boy. As a result, the unattached Shadowhunters found themselves under intense scrutiny quickly. Sebastian had gotten some slight reprieve when he had started to go out with Izzy, though since they hadn't made any progress beyond that and even their dates remained few and spaced apart quite widely, they didn't consider him entirely off-limits.

While always polite, Chris never took any of the more explicit offers. He never volunteered his reasons, and they didn't ask, keeping invitations open instead for him to take if he wished.

Both Sebastian and Christopher had come with them from a parallel timeline they had visited a few months ago. That dimension's counterpart to Clary's brother Jonathan, Chris had spent many years keeping what he called his demon powers suppressed and under control. While studying under Magnus now, losing control remained his greatest fear. It wasn't hard to guess why he continually refused to engage in any sort of activity that might occupy his mind to the point where he might forget to clamp down on his powers.

Among the Gales, Jack was the most sympathetic with him. Thanks to his dragon ancestry, he had been facing a similar issue during his first years as an adult Gale, though his marriage to Charlie the Bard was working out nicely for everyone involved.

Aline and Helen, who had turned into targets thanks to their friendship with the Lightwood siblings and had to flee from their assigned post to the safety of Gale-controlled Calgary, had been roped in by a few of the children insisting that they show them some of the flashier Shadowhunter combat moves.

Most of those children were clearly related, sporting the gray eyes of the younger Gales and the dark-blonde hair that most of the family shared. One face among them stood out: a dark-skinned, dark-haired girl of five, who didn't always use charms to do her magic. Madzie had been brought over to keep her safe when the power in New York had shifted and her foster mother had feared for the girl's continued well-being. It had taken only hours for her to become part of the family. Life with a brand-new older sister, two mothers and a father suited her. Having her former foster-mother Catarina Loss join them all less than two months ago had made her happiness complete.

Originally, Catarina had planned to return to New York at the earliest convenience. It had been weeks now since she had last mentioned it, though, and she had even started discussing the merits of working as a nurse again over actually being a doctor this time around. She certainly had the skills. Roland Gale, the family's lawyer, was merely waiting for her final decision so that he could prepare any documents she needed. As with many things, the Gale family's relationship to the principle of forging documents was a rather relaxed one.

As the afternoon neared its end, they gravitated inside, the adults gathering around the long tables set up in one of the large ground-floor rooms while those children old enough to eat unsupervised and unassisted had their own dinner in a separate room, where they didn't have to interrupt their play.

David, the Gale family's Anchor to the city and the magic of Calgary, had come to join them, taking the head of the table flanked by Auntie Gwen and Auntie Trisha. The other two Aunties' places remained unoccupied, as did two seats along the length of the table. During his first months and even years in his position, having the Aunties close to David had been a necessity, his change not always entirely under control in the presence of so many people and so much power. No one fancied suddenly having a fully grown stag galloping through the dining hall. These days, the man seemed comfortable enough in human skin again as he easily kept up multiple strands of conversation at once without forgetting to eat.

*

They had nearly finished the main course when Allie looked up, a smile on her face. "Katie and Hodge are coming back. They've just pulled into the driveway."

David's younger sister was his counterpart in anchoring the family, though in contrast to him, she didn't spend part of her life as a deer, and she didn't live in the park. She was never quite happy when the family wasn't all together in town, where she could have an eye on everyone's well-being, though, and as her latest pregnancy progressed, she was growing ever more nervous about having anyone out of her reach. The family, first among them her husband Graham and Charlie, had been keeping her busy and distracted while their cousin Katie and two of the Aunties – the older women who ran the Gale family and wielded the greatest power – had been gone along with one of the most recent adopted additions to their group.

Still, the relief at her announcement was almost palpable.

A few minutes later, the door opened to admit first the two older women and then a man and woman walking arm in arm, their posture and the look they exchanged just before they threw a general greeting into the room telling anyone who bothered to look that they were very much in love.

Katie had the signature Gale look and blended in perfectly with the many cousins already in the room. Hodge, though a Shadowhunter like Alec and his friends, fit the Gale pattern surprisingly well, down to his family name Starkweather which, as had been pointed out more than once, could be interpreted as being 'just another way to say gale' if one squinted at it a little. His presence was owed to Charlie's unique time-travelling skills, saving him from certain death and preserving his knowledge to help their Nephilim friends in their quest of shedding light on the truths of their history – both remote and recent.

They had healed his wounds, but even Gale charms couldn't bring back the hand he had lost to Jace's sword. That had been the purpose of the trip the four had taken: While acquiring a good prosthetic limb usually took a little more time and a lot more involvement of members of the medical profession, a combination of Gale Luck and the generous application of two Aunties who weren't above using their powers to smooth the way had done the trick easily.

The hand protruding from the left sleeve of the loose shirt he wore was made of white plastic and metal, the fingers curled in slightly in a relaxed position.

"How was the trip?" Izzy asked as soon as the two slid into the free seats across from her and her siblings. "Does the hand really work?"

*

Maybe the effect was exacerbated by two weeks of absence, but Hodge still found it jarring to look at the three young Nephilim he had trained for most of their lives and see them devoid of runes. He had found it much easier to get used to his own unmarked skin.

Then again, the restyling he had received at the hands of Katie and Charlie had left him perpetually surprised at the man who looked back at him from the mirror every morning anyway.

"It works," he said, opening and closing the fingers as proof.

The servos in the joints gave a low hum as they jumped into action. They were controlled using electrodes taped to the skin of his forearm beneath the prosthetic.

A plate generously filled with food kept hot via charmwork was passed his way. He hesitated, aware that all eyes were on him, or, more specifically, his hand right then. The temptation to continue making do with his right hand only, as he had before, was almost too much to resist.

He had spent the last week practicing use of the hand for hours every day, supervised by people whose job it was to make people like him whole again – or more so than they were when they arrived in any case. He was very much aware that it was less time than one usually got, and that only the presence of Bea and Carmen had prevented questions from being asked that he wouldn't have been able to answer.

He had the basics down, and had been confident that he could work on refining his skill on his own. He'd been feeding himself using two hands for days. Still, he was half convinced that he was going to embarrass himself now that everyone was watching.

Telling himself not to be ridiculous, he kept his eyes on the fork as he picked it up, relieved to find that he only needed one attempt to do so.

"Hodge ended up with quite a lot of driving practice, too," Katie was just saying, redirecting everyone's attention slightly.

He felt his lips twitch into a grin. "Kind of had to," he claimed. "It was that or letting Auntie Bea drive."

A chuckle ran around the table. All the Aunties had a reputation for reckless driving, relying on charms to keep them, their car and any other traffic participants safe. Even Bea didn't look particularly offended at the statement.

"It was all for the best, young man," she declared. "Really, those people who trained all of you left some gaping holes in your general life skills."

He couldn't even object to that statement. They were, of course, perfectly fine living among Nephilim in an Institute or in Idris, but becoming part of the Gales' extended network had shown him, just like the younger Nephilim, exactly how much of the mundane world they didn't have a clue of. He had learned the basics of driving cars from Katie at Alec and Izzy's recommendation, but he hadn't expected to actually use the skill until he had realized that it was either that or praying for everyone's safety while Bea navigated the city for him.

"Is it good for combat training?" Alec asked. "The hand, I mean," he added when Hodge needed a moment to react to the change of topic.

He shrugged. "Maybe. I don't think I'm going to risk it. I can't really expect everyone to drop what they're doing and help me get a replacement if I break it."

"Don't be ridiculous," Bea scoffed from her end of the table. "You're not going to stop and take off your hand first if you need to defend yourself somewhere. It'll be better if you know what you're doing then."

It took an effort of will not to sigh at that. Sometimes during the last two weeks, he could have sworn that the Aunties in general and Bea in particular simply enjoyed contradicting people. This wasn't doing anything at all to change that impression.

*

The first people had started to depart after dessert, returning to their own homes to enjoy the rest of their Sunday with their direct families, or to pursue their own pastimes. The remaining group had moved back outside, making use of the mild evening.

"I'll collect you in the morning," David told Izzy as he got ready to leave as well.

"Right," she told him. "I trust you'll make sure I won't embarrass myself."

David chuckled. "I'm sure no supervision will be needed for that, but I will be there."

With the loss of their Shadowhunter salaries and without access to their Clave funds, they had found themselves in need of securing some sort of income beyond the proceeds from the items they had previously spirited away from their possessions in Alicante to Calgary to be sold in Allie's magic and junk shop. Magnus, recently named High Warlock of Calgary, had offered them a share in the income generated from the possessions seized from the creature that had usurped the position before. They had played a big role in helping the local warlock community dispose of the ogre that had been stealing their magic and life force, after all.

Alec had declined, with a little regret but firmly. That procedure was far too close to the principle of spoils, and their position as Nephilim in formerly Shadowhunter-free Calgary far too precarious to risk it, even if they hadn't wanted to set themselves apart from anything connected to the Clave – present or past. The local residents from the ShadowWorld were just beginning to accept them as not entirely unworthy of all trust, and he wasn't going to risk that in exchange for a few dollars. Or even a lot of dollars.

As it was, they had had to secure jobs of some sort or another.

Magnus, at least, had a steady income from his magic and potions work, which he didn't intend to give up in spite of his position, and though the houses they lived in and were jokingly calling the Calgary Institute had been bought with his funds, they were registered in both his and Alec's names. They weren't going to find themselves suddenly facing homelessness due to being unable to make rent at least.

Still, living this close to the mundane world required mundane money.

Jace had found it the easiest among them to secure a modest but steady income: he had been helping out in Allie's store when he found the time before already, and with the inflow of more ShadowWorld items that remained unclaimed as the warlocks progressed in dividing the possessions of all those the being that had called itself Carlotta Cross had killed, Allie had been more than happy to give him regular hours.

Christopher had already been working with Jack and Graham in the newspaper some of the family ran, while Sebastian had become assistant librarian on Mount Royal, though Tomas wasn't quite ready to let him do any sorting or appraisal of books on his own just yet. His weekdays were mostly spent with refining the catalog of those shelves the older man had already been through, and roughly pre-sorting some of the boxes still stashed away to speed up their Sunday afternoon work.

A long-harbored interest in wards had given Helen the idea of combining Shadowhunter and Seelie knowledge with newly learned Gale skills. While studying under the warlocks to add to her repertoire, she had begun to sell warding work – a business that was starting up slowly, but promised to become successful.

That strange force the family called Gale Luck had long encompassed them, too, and was probably at fault for the art gallery just a little way down the street from the Emporium losing a long-planned exhibition due to a string of events that had caused the artist to happily retire and refuse to share his work with anyone else ever again. The gallery's manager had happened to run into Jace and Jack at the coffee shop just minutes after receiving the news,  and a heartfelt rant had turned into an opportunity for Clary and Aline to present some of their work in a professional environment. The two women had coordinated on a theme and were working hard to produce enough sellable pieces – paintings on Clary's end and sculptures on Aline's – in time to make everyone happy.

On top of that, and to the vast amusement of much of the ShadowWorld of Calgary, Clary and some of the others had secured jobs at the Silvan Diner, a place that catered to those whose homelands or ancestries was not entirely of this world, the undead and the shape changers. It had taken some small intervention on the side of Elessar's group of Seelie to let them try, but so far it had worked out without unfortunate incidents.

Now, David Gale, the part-time stag with a doctorate in criminology and prized consultant of the local investigative forces, had suggested that Isabelle use her skills in pathology to a similar end, and introduced her as a consultant for his most recent case – in which he, at least, heavily suspected Downworlder involvement.

"I've never autopsied a mundane before," Izzy mused as she watched David get into his car and pull out of the driveway.

"I hear they look the same inside as we do," Alec told her, just as Jace pointed out: "You operated on a live Seelie not too long ago. I'm sure you can cut up a dead mundane without accidents."

"Don't even remind me of that," she shot back. She was surprised she hadn't ended up with nightmares from the time she and Catarina had had to work on and inside the dying Meliorn. It had probably helped that their efforts had been successful.

"You'll do just fine, Iz," Alec assured her. He and Magnus were sharing one of the benches set up behind the manor, leaning into each other with their hands entwined. It seemed that a need for physical contact had been among the things they had absorbed from their Gale friends – or maybe it had always been there and they had merely refused to admit to it before.

Clary and Jace were similarly curled up together, and Hodge had settled in grass that was allowed to grow higher than was probably customary in this neighborhood, with Katie by his side, her head resting against his shoulder. His right arm was around her, the hand absent-mindedly stroking hers while his artificial left rested in his lap. The expression on his face suggested that the wonder of not only being free to go where he would and do what he liked, but finding himself the object of another person's desire – a feeling that was entirely reciprocal – still hadn't worn off entirely.

The scene was disturbed slightly as the Aunties emerged from the house, briskly crossing to where their group was sitting.

"We'll have that hand now," Bea announced with a look down at Hodge.

His expression darkened, confusion mixed with defiance moving across his features. "Excuse me?"

"Your hand," Bea repeated. "You'll get it back tomorrow. It needs some more work done."

"Work?" he repeated, shifting his arm as if to protect his hand from the Auntie's stare, while Katie was glaring up at the old woman, ready to intervene at need.

"You didn't think you'd be keeping it as it is?" Bea shot back. "You have an indestructible phone that never needs to be charged, but you were going to worry about your hand breaking in combat and hooking it up to the power socket every night? Where's the point in that?"

He blinked, considering that. Still…

"It's not a phone. What if anything goes wrong with that? Charging may be inconvenient, but at least it's working right now."

Bea did look a little offended at that. "Are you suggesting we might break it? I'll have you know that those are charms that have been tried and tested for years. The risk is minimal."

"Minimal," Katie repeated. "That's still existent."

"Don't be ridiculous." The old woman exchanged an exasperated look with her fellow Aunties, in the way they always did when the younger generation didn't do precisely what they expected of them. "You're—"

"And why don't we just avoid the issue by having Jack make a duplicate?" Allie interrupted her. Talking over an Auntie was not usually a recommended course of action, though her special position, along with the unusual amount of power she was able to hold and use, gave Allie a certain advantage. Her advanced pregnancy added to it. The Gales were rooted in the magic of a fertility deity after all.

Jack disentangled himself from Charlie and unfolded his long, lean frame. With only family and friends present, he hadn't bothered with a glamor for the day, showing off his non-human heritage in his golden eyes and the almost cat-like angles of his face. The old half-moon scar on one cheek looked the same as with his glamor, though the more deliberate looking line down the other side of his face was a lot more pronounced. A pattern suggesting golden scales was visible on his skin above the collar of his t-shirt.

Among the Gales, Jack came the closest to a warlock. He didn't need charms to practice his magic. Trained at a Seelie Court, his powers were unique among the family. He had never given them a full break-down of what he could or couldn't do, and in light of the family's general reluctance to accept those powers they called sorcery, he avoided casual use in the presence of most of them.

His ability to convert matter and duplicate any object he was handed had been known to them from the first day of his arrival in the world they called the MidRealms, however. That day, he had destroyed the interior of their car by producing clothes for himself after being sent to Nose Hill Park stark naked from his home in the UnderRealm. He had been an untrained thirteen-year-old boy then.

Now, seven years later, and thanks to an episode of time travel, he was approaching forty and had become a master of his craft.

"Do we really need to involve sorcery in this?" Bea asked, though both her tone and her eye-roll suggested she already knew the answer.

"So it would seem," Jack informed her as he crossed the distance to them. "Hodge? You'll have it back in a moment."

Still not entirely convinced of the wisdom of this course of action, the other man pushed back his sleeve to detach the prosthetic.

"Do not let it out of your hands," he cautioned as he handed it over to Jack.

"Won't," the Half-Dragon said with a smirk, his magic already probing the object.

Chapter Text

Alicante

June 12th, 2017

Sitting in the cell that had been her home for the last weeks, Lydia rested her head on her hand and marveled at the dread she didn't feel.

Maybe she shouldn't have been surprised. She had known, on some level or another, that it would likely come to this, ever since they had arrested her in her office and marched her off to where the prisoners were kept while awaiting trial.

They should have agreed to let her wait at home, maybe under house arrest, as Imogen Herondale had suggested when she had come to see her. She hadn't been told of the reasons why they hadn't. She didn't greatly care about them either. Most likely, they were just as fabricated as the vast majority of the accusations that were raised against her.

Conspiracy and treason against the Clave were at the top of that list.

Farther down among the many things she had supposedly either done, participated in or facilitated, there was the one single act she had actually committed: The theft of a file from the hospital in Alicante. She'd done it for Jace, back when he had been injured and not expected to ever fully recover, when they had tried to keep knowledge of the details of his wound from him.

While not something to take pride in, that alone should have earned her a reprimand, maybe some minor inconvenience on top of it.

None of the other accusations would have stood if properly investigated. She could have sworn to being innocent under the Truth Sword, though while she had suggested just that, that path had been denied to her without reasons given.

She didn't need them. She was perfectly aware of why she was here, in a dim cell with no sunlight and barely any fresh air.

If she hadn't been certain of it since the moment of her arrest, she would have been after the day they had finally taken her to the Sword. It hadn't been in front of the Clave. It hadn't even been in front of a judge. There had been a Silent Brother in attendance, but the interrogation had been led by someone else.

Robert Dearborn – formerly Lightwood – and his companion hadn't asked her a single question intended to find her guilty. Instead, they had quizzed her on the younger Lightwoods. When had she last seen them? What did she know of their plans? Where were they now? How had they escaped from the New York Institute? Where had they gone? Why were they conspiring against the Clave? What was their goal? When had all of this started?

Even the Sword couldn't draw the answers from her. She did not know them.

Oh, she had known that something was going on. She had known that Alec and his friends were involved in it. She had even known that they were looking for the man Robert had brought along. She recognized the face from the likeness Clary had drawn, blond hair starting to gray at the temples a little longer than in the sketches now, but otherwise identical, down to the insane number of enkeli runes that covered his skin between scars she didn’t want to know the origin of.

He hadn't volunteered a name. She hadn't asked. It wasn't her place to ask questions, as she had been informed more than clearly, and she was going to regret every single one that she uttered anyway. She'd decided to pick her battles as wisely as she could.

The face, she knew, was that of a convicted murderer, who had lived out his wretched life in a cell under the City of Bones – one of the cells she had half-feared would be her destination.

So what if she had done nothing to warrant it?

They weren't looking for justice. They weren't looking to solve a crime.

They wanted Alec and Izzy, Jace and Clary, and they seemed to believe that she as their friend was more likely to know something of interest than Maryse Lightwood did.

She could follow that line of thought. If she'd planned to revolt against the Clave, she wouldn't have told her mother about it either. But she didn't know that that was what the four were up to, though her interrogators certainly were convinced of it.

Half a year ago, when they had been in Alicante, they had been willing to tell her about it all. At the time, she had refused the information. Given her position, she'd been afraid she'd be unable to avoid harming their cause. Even then, she had trusted them to have good reasons for whatever they were doing. Even then, she'd been certain that if Alec was convinced that they were doing the right thing, he was most likely correct.

While she hadn't expected the outcome to be what it was now, she was relieved that they had agreed to leave her ignorant of their details.

She knew that somehow, they had managed to bring a phone to Idris that worked even within the Shadowhunter homeland – in spite of the interference with all things electrical, in spite of the fact that there was no phone network to log into and no mundane internet to connect to there.

That was knowledge her interrogators didn't have, and they hadn't asked her any questions that would have required her to give up that one piece of knowledge she had.

Aline Penhallow and Helen Blackthorne, she was quite certain, had been better informed – but those two had disappeared months ago. As the institute cameras proved, Helen had abducted Aline, catatonic after an incident on a mission, the details of which had never been resolved. She had injured a fellow Shadowhunter in the process and escaped from the Barcelona Institute with the other woman. They hadn't been seen since, and no amount of tracking had revealed their whereabouts.

The only other likely candidate for information on the quartet within Alicante was a woman even Robert and his friends seemed to consider off limits. That was too bad, really. Lydia would have very much liked to see those two try to deal with her protectors.

By the end of their questioning, they hadn't even tried to pretend that they were out for anything other than finding a way to track down and capture Alec and the others. They'd suggested to her that she contact them, ask them to return, beg them to come and help her.

She had declined that, informing them calmly that she had no way of contacting them. That was true. Though she knew about the phone, she did not know its number. The clave-issue phones they had used before had been gone for a while, never replaced by their institute. That in itself had been an oversight Robert in particular seemed to be angry about.

They had eventually returned her to her cell, given her another few days to consider. When her answer had remained the same, the judgement on her crimes – the crimes she had not been questioned about, and that she hadn't come within several miles of committing – had been announced to her early this morning.

It wasn't the City of Bones, and for that she was grateful.

She was to be deruned and banished as a traitor to the Nephilim, though, cast out and left to fend for herself without weapons or angelic marks, in a world where she would be easy bait for any demon that crossed her path and where any Downworlder with a vendetta might choose to take out their anger at the Shadowhunters on her if they found her.

She should have felt more horrified at the prospect.

Instead, she found herself almost relieved. The long wait, at least, was over.

*

Imogen Herondale was livid.

She had been kept out of any investigations related to the accusations of Lydia Branwell – accusations she was certain wouldn't hold up. Lydia, they had said, was involved in what some had dubbed the Lightwood plot. Inquisitor Herondale, while above suspicion herself, was not trusted to be impartial on the matter, considering that her own recently rediscovered grandson was one of the conspirators, and she had even more recently more or less welcomed his adopted siblings into her family. The youngest, Max, was still interning in her office.

All of that had been given as reasons to keep her out of the loop, deny her access to the files or the records from Lydia's interrogation.

This morning, finally, she had been informed that Lydia had made a full confession, admitted to every crime she had been accused of and accepted her punishment.

She didn't for a moment doubt that Lydia had done just that.

Just the same, she was convinced that every word of that confession had been a lie.

She knew how the inquisition worked. She had been Inquisitor for longer than most. Back after the Uprising, she had been in charge of a few cases where a judgement needed to be spoken while the prisoner was refusing to cooperate. Cases where even with the Truth Sword, they did not manage to phrase their questions quite right to draw the answers they needed from the person questioned.

Cases where, if she was quite honest with herself, they were sentencing innocents, because crimes couldn't go unpunished and the people had to see justice done.

Young Hodge Starkweather had been among those her own words had condemned to banishment and a curse. He certainly hadn't been innocent – but the more time passed, the older she grew, the harder it became to ignore that he, like a number of others, could impossibly have committed more than a fraction of the deeds he had been tried and sentenced for.

Knowing how the inquisition worked, she didn't have the least doubt that she also knew exactly how Lydia's confession had come about.

She needed to do something, yet at the same time she found herself unable to speak up. Certainly, she could lay open the procedures to the Clave. She could admit to having produced confessions in her own time, expose the practice for everyone to see.

And then what?

It would be the end of her career. It might be her end as a Shadowhunter. Living with that, she thought, couldn't have been any harder than living with herself as it was, after her grandchildren had finally made her realize what kind of person she had become in the aftermath of her son's death and Valentine's Uprising. It would be no less than she deserved.

Had she been alone, she wouldn't have hesitated – but she no longer was.

There were Maryse Lightwood and her son Max to consider now. Their association with her were one of the few things that still kept them safe after Jace and his siblings had gone AWOL.

She couldn't risk that.

There had to be something, though…

She'd been unable to bear being in her office after she had received the news. Some furious marching, trying to walk off enough of her anger to think clearly, had taken her to the main library of Alicante, where no one had dared even address her after a single glance at the storm clouds on her face.

Without making a conscious decision, her path had taken her into the restricted section of the building, diving into the room that housed the old court files. She'd spent some time here in the last months, reviewing old cases, trying to find out if any other than the one she knew about had gone missing.

While the Nightshade file remained conspicuously absent on all channels she had tried, everything else had seemed to be just where it was supposed to. She had started reviewing her old cases then, not sure what she was looking for and not finding anything that caught her attention either. Somehow, using the printed files felt more reassuring than checking the computer database these days.

She'd revisited many cases she was proud of solving, and just as many, if not more, that brought a blush of shame to her face when she thought of the ways in which she had handled them, caring more about results than about justice. Would she ever be able to make amends for those? Should she even try?

Today, she wasn't sure why she had come here at all, as she found herself staring at the shelves, her eyes uselessly going back to the boards labelled "B" every once in a while. The Branwell case wasn't even complete yet. There was no way anything concerning Lydia's interrogation had been filed here already.

With a sigh, she turned, forcing her gaze to focus elsewhere.

It caught on the large watercolor painting of Brocelind Forest on one wall. That brought a smile to her face in spite of herself. The painting was one of hers. She'd been proud to provide it to decorate a public location back when she had finished it, even if it was one that only few people would ever see. She rarely produced anything that large anymore. It was a special challenge to paint, but a harder challenge to find a place to put it afterwards.

Turning back to the shelves, trying to decide what to do next, she found that something about the painting had snagged on her mind. A thought was forming, too vague to put it in words.

Something about a painting…

"Imogen."

She startled at the sound of her name, turning quickly to face one of the librarians.

Forcing a non-committal smile was easy. She had two decades of practice, after all. "Marius." She didn’t owe him an explanation of what she was doing in here, and she didn't volunteer one. Those with legit business in a place had no reason to defend their presence there.

"Don't let me disturb your work," he said. "I just saw the wards were tripped and thought I'd check. We still haven't found out what happened back that day."

"Right," she returned, nodding. "I should have let you know I was coming up. I fear I was a bit preoccupied today. I'm sorry."

"I'll live. It's not like the building is gigantic." He offered her an almost boyish grin, though he had to be at least seventy if he was a day. "I'll let you get back to your work."

Her eyes narrowed as she looked after him. That day, half a year ago, just after Clary had come to live with her, and Alexander and Isabelle Lightwood had been temporarily banned to Alicante, something had tripped the wards that guarded the restricted rooms of the library. No intruder had been found that day, though one of the team who had come in to check after the alarm had been raised had sworn she had heard whispers from this very room. Entering it, she had found no one.

The alarm had eventually been put down to a malfunction, the voices to imagination. The corridor leading into this section was warded and glamored against sight of those who weren't keyed in as authorized.

Yet, a few days later, one of the Silent Brothers who had an office in this part of the building had claimed that his room had been disturbed in the night, though he couldn't provide details, or determine that anything had been stolen. That day, not even the wards on the entrance had reported any sort of anomaly.

The painting... What was there about a painting?

Was it possible that the painting was hiding anything? She had never heard that the library sported any secret doors, and the very thought seemed ridiculous. It was surely large enough for it, though.

Before she could talk herself out of checking, Imogen had crossed to the wall in question and hooked the fingers of one hand beneath the frame, drawing it away from the surface just enough to peer behind, while taking care not to pull it off the hooks at the top.

There was nothing there but a rectangle of plain whitewashed wall.

Another painting appeared before her inner eye as she carefully lowered the frame back in place. That had been a forest scene, too. And it had been oversized. But it hadn't been painted by her.

Clary had worked on it during those days she, and then also Jace, had stayed at Herondale Manor, which had eventually ended with Imogen inadvertently driving the two from the house with her useless attempts to protect her grandson. In retrospect, she should have known better. Reading Jace's letter had stung. I can't be a prisoner, he had told her. Not even yours. It had taken weeks after that before he had started to make his peace with her again.

Up until the four had disappeared, she had been wondering if she would ever be able to fully close the rift between them that she had started to create even long before Jace's injury and return to Alicante for treatment. Surely, she had started out the path of alienating the quartet right when she had first met them, and sentenced Isabelle to a conditional deruning to force them to give up the Cup she was sure they had.

She'd been right, and successful, but the point remained that the incident was always at the back of her mind – and surely also theirs.

Right now, however, that didn't matter, and she forced the memory away. Instead, she focused on the day when she had come home, gone to greet Jace, and found an empty room instead, her grandson and his things gone, as were Clary and hers. Somehow Jace, wheelchair-bound at the time, had made it past a professional bodyguard or through a locked and warded door, down a flight of stairs and halfway through Alicante without being seen by anyone. Somehow, he had managed to take along his possessions.

They had never volunteered how they had done it. She had only asked them about it once.

Her concern and confusion at Jace's disappearance had been enough at the time to distract her from something else – something she found herself remembering now quite vividly.

The two had left behind one single item that day: The painting Clary had been working on in the days before. At the time, she had put it down to the fact that the canvas was large and difficult to transport in addition to everything else they must have been carrying.

The idea took more concrete shape. What if there was a far more dramatic reason why that painting had been left where she had found it?

She closed her eyes, remembering the footage she had received from the day her grandchildren had disappeared from the New York Institute, both before Jace had cut out the cameras with his special runic powers, and right after the recording had come on again.

They had not left behind any  personal possessions they could have been tracked by, though closer scrutiny of the other recordings had shown them that they had barely had any in their rooms anymore anyway, their eventual disappearance apparently far more planned than it had seemed at first glance.

Her idea was crazy. It was entirely unheard-of and would probably earn her a psych evaluation if she spoke it out loud.

But she had reviewed those videos so often that she knew every frame of them by heart. There had been a painting on an easel before the cameras had cut out. It had been a large one, too, as tall as Clary herself was. That painting had remained behind.

And it had been off the easel and leaning against the wall when the feed had come back on.

 

Calgary

"Well", Alec said, smoothing out the piece of parchment on the table for the others to read. "We've been summoned, it appears."

"Why did she write to you?" Christopher asked. He was leaning in with a frown to read the lines, put down in Imogen's neat, precise script.

My office, 9 pm local time, it read. Clary's painting that stayed behind in the manor. I'll be alone.

The fire message, signed "Imogen Herondale" and addressed to Alexander Lightwood, had come in just a few minutes ago, while they had sat together to discuss current plans.

"She's Jace's grandmother after all," he clarified.

"Because I made it very clear that a soldier is all I want to be, and Alec is my commanding officer," Jace replied. "I told her she needed to observe chain of command, and that Alec speaks for us in matters that concern the team."

"Are you going to risk it?" The other man's voice clearly suggested that he didn't think that wise.

One corner of Alec's mouth twitched upwards. "I believe we will," he decided. "But first we'll see if Charlie and Jack have the time to join us. I don't think Imogen would lure us into a trap on her own, but we don't know what else may be going on. Either way, it will be much harder to hold us if we come with a Bard and a Dragon."

"Why not just pretend you never got the message?"

It was Isabelle who answered this time. "It seems she's figured out how we travel. We need to know what else she knows, for one. And it's a chance to learn more about Lydia. Mom hasn’t been able to get us any information beyond her arrest."

*

 

"Let's make a small detour. I want to show you something!"

"Show me something?" Hodge repeated. He found himself matching Katie's grin. So far, only good things had come out of anything she had decided to show him.

They had just departed from the Aunties' house on Macewan Glen Drive, after collecting the Jack-made and Auntie-improved hand he was wearing now. Guaranteed to be indestructible – save by dragon fire and a very few other minor catastrophes that charms simply didn't live up to – and waterproof, never running out of battery and silenced to mute the giveaway hum of the servos in each joint, it would have been a masterpiece of charmwork already.

An intricate glamor made it indistinguishable from the rest of his body. It even felt warm to the touch.

They hadn't left it at that, though, but added more charms to speed up reaction and even somehow increased the number of movement patterns he could control without having to resort to using his phone for it – at least once he got used to that particular improvement.

Whatever Katie was going to show him was apparently close enough to walk, since she took him right past her car and down the street in the direction away from the gigantic patch of green in the middle of Calgary and towards the much smaller Macewan Glen Park.

"Someone came to me the day before we left with Bea and Carmen," Katie explained as they walked. "Wanted me to sell her house for her. She insisted it should be me, even though I pointed out I was about to go on leave. Apparently I have a reputation."

He found himself chuckling at that. There wasn't a single Gale who didn't have a reputation.

Her next words almost made him stop in his tracks. "I'm of a mind to buy it myself, actually."

"Buy it yourself?" he repeated. "But your condo…?"

"You mean the condo I've barely slept in in months?" she returned. "I'm sure someone from the family will be happy to rent it from us. It's a bit inconveniently located for us, and it's not large enough to raise kids anyway."

Now he froze, staring at the woman who had turned his life around in so many ways. "You want--?"

There was a patient smile on her lips, but a sparkle in her eyes. "I'm a Gale, Hodge. Children are going to happen. It's what we do. I thought you'd realized that."

He blinked. He had, of course. He just never—

"Somehow I didn't think that'd include me." A decade and a half spent as a traitor and convicted criminal, shunned by most outside of his work, sure that he would live out his life alone, had left marks that were hard to shake off somehow.

"If you Choose, that includes you."

Within the Gale family, the women asked, and the men Chose. He'd been warned more times than he could count against declaring a Choice rashly. He looked away, needing to know and dreading the amusement that might come. Even though it never did, he kept expecting them to laugh at his utter lack of experience for his age, his cluelessness in matters that were second nature to them. More than fifteen years of relative isolation didn't help a man build the skills of navigating families or relationships. "Are you asking?"

"Are you ready?"

Was he? He wasn't sure he would ever be. On some level, he would probably remain damaged goods for however long he lived – and not just because missing a body part, however well replaced, would always reduce his skill as a fighter somewhat. Twice questioned under the Truth Sword, twice kept in the City of Bones – no matter how briefly – had left a mark he didn't think it was possible to erase.

But he'd been given an unexpected chance to build a new life for himself, and no matter how long he probed his mind, he couldn't imagine anything he would rather do than share every moment of that life with one specific person.

"Yeah," he heard himself say.

"Then I'm asking."

"Then I choose." How was this supposed to work? Somehow, with the way everyone had been warning him, he had expected something dramatic. Would there be some sort of Auntie-managed ritual to bind them? Then why had everyone sounded as if saying the wrong words might lead to disaster?

Right. Words. Be specific, he told himself. He inhaled deeply. "I Choose you."

This time, he felt it. It was as if the words had triggered a spell, flows of magic settling on him, on her, and binding them without restricting. For a moment, his awareness extended, encompassing both of them before he settled back in his own mind – with hers just there at the edge of his awareness and feeling close enough to touch.

He felt her smile before he saw it. The relief that accompanied it almost made him frown. Had she secretly feared his answer might be anything else? She stretched up to kiss him, not caring if anyone else was out and watching.

"Are the Aunties going to kill me now?" he asked when they broke apart.

She laughed. "No. But they will lecture you like a proper Gale."

"That I'll survive." There was a confidence in his voice he didn't know he had.

He felt a small object pushed into his right hand, knew before his fingers closed around it and without looking that it was a key. More information followed, springing up in his mind from a source he couldn't identify. He knew which building it belonged to, situated right by the edge of the smaller park. He knew it had two floors and an attic that could easily be converted into more rooms – just as he knew that part of the ground floor had once housed a dojo, quite recently closed and ready to be reopened, should someone come along who had the skill and the willingness to teach.

 

Alicante

Imogen was, indeed, alone behind her desk, working on some paperwork, when they arrived.

Alec and his friends were glamored in their old runes, unwilling to give away all of the most recent developments.

Charlie and Jack joined them barely a heartbeat after they had left the Wood, the Bard guiding the Dragon and two more Nephilim determined to drive home that the matter at hand was larger than just the three Lightwoods and Clary.

Jack had settled for his usual glamor of a human male in his early twenties, his dragon heritage an ace up his sleeve in case it was needed. Charlie was Charlie – her body too thin, her hair black with streaks of bright color for the occasion and her guitar feeling alive and dangerous to anyone with the senses to perceive it.

"You've come." There was a hint of surprise in Imogen's voice. It seemed that she hadn't quite trusted her own conclusions – or maybe she hadn't trusted that they would heed her call.

Alec nodded. "We can't stay for long."

The old woman rose from her chair, coming around the desk to stand before her grandson. "You do look good, Jace," she declared before pulling him into a brief, but tight hug.

Of course. While she'd been told – both by them and probably by others – that Jace was long recovered from his wound, she hadn't actually seen him in the time since they had last left Alicante. At the time, he had still been weeks from being able to walk without assistance, let alone fight.

"I'm fine," he assured her before he handed her over to Clary. "I've been for a long time."

She embraced each of the four in turn, just as if they were, indeed, all truly her grandchildren. Only then did she turn to the second quartet.

Aline and Helen had their hands on the hilts of their swords, guarding without threatening.

"Miss Penhallow. Miss Blackthorn." Imogen nodded at both of them. "It is good to see that you are alright as well. Your mother is worried out of her mind, Aline."

"My mother cannot know." Aline's voice and eyes were hard, though her friends knew what saying the words cost her. "Not in her position."

As the Consul, Jia Penhallow either had to know of and condone the things they had turned against, or she was somehow kept as a puppet of those truly in charge – in which case anything she might learn from them would put her in direct danger.

Imogen nodded, though her expression suggested that she did not know the reasoning behind the young woman's statement.

"And who are your friends?" The Inquisitor asked instead.

"Charlie and Jack," Alec introduced without bothering with particulars. "They've been a great help. You wanted to see us?"

The Inquisitor sighed. "You're right. As much as I would like for this to be a family reunion, it is not the time or the place. Briefly after your… departure from New York, Lydia Branwell was arrested for treason."

"We're aware," her grandson said neutrally from where he was standing by Alec's shoulder.

She refrained from asking them how. "She was found guilty on all charges and will be stripped of her runes tonight. I was kept away from the case and only informed of this after everything had been determined. There is nothing I can do on this short notice without getting her killed."

There wouldn't have been anything she could have done on longer notice either.

"She didn't do it," Clary said, defiance in her voice.

"I know she didn't," Imogen snapped, as if personally affronted by the idea that Clary might consider her incapable of seeing through the ruse. "This isn't about Lydia. This is about you." She turned back to Alec. "As you pointed out, we should not waste any time. What do I do to help?"

The young man didn't think long about it. "Where will she be released after it is done?"

"I don't know," Imogen admitted. "But that I can find out."

"Tell us when you know. You know how."

The first fire message had gone through. Another would as well. Imogen inclined her head in agreement. "Anything else?"

Alec's expression bordered a smirk as a sudden idea lit up his face. It was a thought that had come to him only now, nothing they had discussed before.

"Have you seen Baba Agnieszka recently?"

Imogen's brows drew together in a frown. The ancient warlock was living in a cottage out in Brocelind Forest, her relationship to the man who had helped Jonathan raise the angel Raziel back when the Shadowhunters had first been created ensuring her the Nephilim's care though her mind had long slipped into the senility of old age even though her body remained young. "Not recently, no."

"Then it's time to check on her, I think," Alec informed her neutrally. "I think her cottage could do with a piece of art to brighten it up, too. Maybe a painting. Maybe that one." He pointed at the canvas they had stepped out of just a few minutes ago.

"I see." The expression on Imogen's face spoke of acceptance more than comprehension. She would do what they asked of her even though they didn't tell her their reasons. Knowing that she had to be suspected by some already of choosing family over duty if it came to that, she had to see the wisdom in the decision. "It will be done."

"Thank you," Jace told her, his smile warmer than any she had seen from him since they had learned of their relationship, just as Alec added: "And if she asks you if we found something? Tell her that we did."

 

Chapter Text

June 13th, 2017

A war-torn country in the Middle East

Lydia forced herself to keep moving. The pain where her runes had been had ebbed, but not disappeared. It no longer had the agonizing quality of the actual procedure, but she still felt like something inside her body had been ripped apart, torn and shredded… She knew it was a metaphysical pain, but it surprised her every time she glanced down and saw no blood. Would the pain ever go away entirely? She didn't think she'd live for long enough to find out.

How long did deruned Nephilim usually make it out in the world?

She had nothing but the clothes she wore, and she hadn't realized how little she knew about the mundane world until she'd had to decide where to go once they had set her free and told her to get lost.

Plenty of Downwordlers would find her welcome prey if they found out what she was. The Shadowhunters surely weren't going to consider that a breach of the Accords.

Lydia didn't think she'd be able to avoid giving herself away. She couldn't stay away from human company for long. Hunger was already starting to add another discomfort.

She felt weak, her body's responses sluggish. The world around her was dull and blurry, missing definition and clarity. Was this how mundanes lived all the time? No wonder they needed protection.

She had to sleep, but the only way to do that would have been to lie down on the ground, here in this unfamiliar town in a place of which she didn't even speak the language.

A sound in the distance brought her out of her thoughts.

She tried to tell herself that it was nothing, just a trick of her imagination. Some mundane's dog, maybe, blown out of proportion by her mind.

She'd almost convinced herself when the sound was repeated and picked up by others. Baying, still distant, but audible on the wind now. She shuddered.

A pack of hellhounds had picked up a scent.

She thought she knew whose scent it was.

Even knowing it was useless unless she found help, knowing that she was unlikely to find any such thing with no knowledge of the local language, no way to explain her supernatural predicament to people facing a far more mundane and immanent threat to their lives every day, Lydia turned and started to run.

 

Calgary

"It's still barely past midnight in Alicante," Izzy said as she saw Alec look up once again at a sound made by nothing but a breath of air passing by. "Give it some time."

Her brother sighed, lowering his eyes back to the target. "I know, Iz. I know exactly how late it is in Alicante. And two a.m. is not barely past midnight."

They all kept converting the time, trying to guess at when Lydia's deruning would take place, when she would be banished, when Imogen would send out her message.

Normally, they would have expected them to wait until morning at least.

Thinking about it some more, they hadn't been so sure. Depriving her of sleep by scheduling the deruning very late or very early, then turning her out right away seemed right down the alley of the people they were up against.

As a result, their gear had been collected and packed, just waiting for them to pick up their things and get going.

None of them had been able to keep their minds off of the mission ahead of them. Even Sebastian and Christopher, who had never met Lydia before, had been caught up in the general unease.

They had come over to the park eventually, moving to the training area they used there. It was marked, warded and charmed, keeping any unbidden visitors out and arrows and bullets in. It had been Graham Gale's personal shooting range before their arrival, which he used from time to time even though the man was metaphysically unable to miss his target.

Now, Graham and Jack had joined them for a sparring session while Charlie had taken her guitar off to the side and was running through music that sounded no less pleasant for being improvised.

There hadn't been any question about the bard and the dragon joining them. That Allie was sending along her husband had come as a bit of a surprise. No one argued with it, however. If Allie felt that something was a good idea, it most probably was.

Alec sighted on his target and loosed an arrow, watching it hit at the edge of the bull's eye. Good, but not good enough. He knew he was able to shoot better than that.

If they actually had to wait for morning in Alicante – or worse, longer than that – they would probably have to resort to charms to keep up their edge after hours of trying to get rid of nervous energy.

He glanced over to where Magnus was standing right outside the fence that marked the shooting gallery. His boyfriend gave him one of those smiles that still made Alec's heart do a somersault in his chest.

A moment later, Magnus was climbing over the fence and crossing the distance to them.

"Do you think I could try?" he asked, gesturing at the bow.

"I never knew you were interested in archery," Alec replied, a little confused.

Magnus chuckled. "I'm interested in archery because it's a part of you, Alexander," he declared. "I want to know what it feels like when you draw that bow and shoot your arrows."

"Your arrows," Alec corrected, a smile of his own on his lips now. "They're still your payment for when you defended Izzy." He knew exactly what Magnus was aiming at: to distract him from the long wait. He decided he didn't care.

"Stand here," he told him. "Like this. Now, usually we would be starting a little differently, but we'll make an exception for you today. If you actually want to learn to shoot properly, we'll start over the right away, though."

Magnus nodded, following Alec's instructions.

"Take the bow."

Alec reached for his boyfriend's hands and adjusted them, watching his bow change as he did so. It was one of the special features of that artifact that it adapted to the size and strength of the user.

"Now the arrow," Alec continued, picking a fresh one from his quiver. "Like this."

He kept his hands on Magnus', wondering for a moment if, during all the centuries of his life, he truly had never learned archery.

The first arrow Magnus shot should have gone wide. Alec knew the moment it left the string that it was aimed far from the target.

He bit his lip in an effort to keep a straight face when he saw a wiggle of Magnus' fingers from the corner of his eye, adjusting the shortcomings of his aim.

 

A Country in the Middle-East

They were close now. She was out of breath, aching physically as well as metaphysically from the scrapes, the falls she'd taken when she missed a step in the dark. She caught herself thinking that she should just give up, sit down and wait for them to come.

She couldn't do that. She owed it to herself to at least try.

No one had paid her much heed so far, a crazy-looking woman running through the alleys as if her life depended on it. Little did they know…

But there hadn't been a great many people out anyway, and those who were surely made up some explanation in their heads of what they were seeing. Dawn had come, and it was only a matter of time now until someone stopped her.

She had to pause for a moment, leaning into a dirty house wall, one hand pressed into her burning side. With her other one, she clung to a piece of wood she'd picked up along the way. Nothing worth the term of weapon, but it was better than having only her bare hands to defend herself with.

Pushing herself away from the wall, she continued. She couldn't stay in one place for long.

Maybe if there'd been a river somewhere, she could have jumped in, let it carry her, hoping the current was faster than the pack on her heels, and diluting the track.

But if those were really the hellhounds she thought she heard, they would be following a metaphysical track, and they'd stay on it for as long as it took.

Calgary

Aline and Helen had gone through several rounds of sparring with the others, and eventually retreated to sit in the grass and watch while Hodge Starkweather had Clary and Jace go through some sword exercise that had the redhead repeatedly staring at him in disbelief at what he apparently expected human bodies to accomplish.

"I hope we're not waiting entirely in vain here," Aline said, her voice pitched for Helen's ears only.

Leaning into her, their bodies fitting perfectly together, her girlfriend nodded. "I know what you mean. Deruning and banishment is the tradition, but they might try more."

"They have no reason to question her the way they questioned me, at least." Aline lowered her head, burying her face in Helen's long hair as she remembered her brief capture and Valentine's heavy-handed attempt to draw knowledge about Alec and his friends from her using a mind-control device. The attempt had failed – but mostly because she had not had the answers to the questions he had asked.

Helen had saved her from worse afterwards, and they had Charlotte Gale to thank for it that she had come out of the experience with her mind in one piece.

"No one will question an interrogation by Soul Sword," she continued. "Not when she's being tried for treason."

"But she won't have the answers they want," Helen spoke what Aline was thinking. "And she'll no longer be protected by Nephilim law. If they don't let her live, Alec will forever blame himself for her death."

"So will Izzy and Jace." Aline glanced over at the continuing lesson again, which had drawn the other Lightwoods and Magnus, holding on to Alec's bow, by now.

Helen reached up, two fingers gently stroking a spot on the side of Aline's neck that she knew was sure to get her full attention. The smile on her face when Aline drew in a breath of air was more Seelie than Shadowhunter.

"I don't think they'll kill her," she said. "If anything, they will use her as bait to net some or all of us."

Aline caught her hand before she could continue the caress, redirecting it to brush her lips over Helen's fingers. "And that is why we're here in force, and not letting any of them go anywhere alone."

Still watching the others, she spotted the spark of fire in the air a moment before Alec did.

"So it begins," she said, rising to her feet and pulling Helen along with her in a concerted motion that spoke of more than the harmony borne from an established relationship. They weren't entirely sure how, since no one had asked and no one had chosen, but somehow the Gales' marriage bond seemed to be rubbing off on them as well.

 

A Country in the Middle-East

Sometimes, all of their various means of instant travel turned out to be sorely lacking in practical application.

Clary needed a painting to travel in and out of the Wood. Charlie needed a marker of some sort that she could identify. Had she had a bearing on Lydia's Song, they would not have had to wait for Imogen's message to begin with.

Portals could only take a person to where they had been before.

As it was, they had to settle for jumping to the point closest to the location they had been given that Magnus was familiar with. Once he had taken the first group through, Charlie followed with the rest, homing in on Magnus' and Alec's songs easily.

Though they were hoping for a quick retrieval, they were planning for the worst, geared up for combat. Graham had his preferred rifle in his hands and a second slung over his shoulder. Charlie never moved her guitar from where she could easily reach it.

The Nephilim all had their best weapons out. The three Lightwoods and Clary were dressed in the leather armor Imogen had given them half a year ago, covered in cloaks of material made too finely to have come off a mortal loom. Spells were woven right into the cloth, causing the outlines of the wearers to blur and merge with the background as soon as they moved. Having Seelie associates was certainly of benefit.

Hodge, too, wore a Seelie cloak, though the leather he had on beneath wasn't Nephilim work. Like Aline and Helen, Christopher and Sebastian, he had had to resort to mundane stores to acquire something as close to mission gear as he could get. His cloak had come from Elessar himself, and he'd had to promise to return it.

The other four Nephilim went unshrouded. They would be their backup if the need arose.

Magnus, his own cloak the only protective equipment he wore apart from a set of spelled jewelry, had magic in his grip, ready to use it. They may have been quite a distance from their destination, but none of them were taking any needless risks.

Jack stepped back, a flare of flame that felt searing without burning anyone engulfing him as he switched from human to dragon shape.

Alec and Izzy climbed onto his back, settling quickly before he took off.

We'll find her soon enough, his voice sounded all around them and, they were quite certain, the others as well.

*

They caught up with her an hour after dawn.

The dirt square she'd just reached was abandoned. All but the least sensitive mundanes would have felt the pack approach and found a reason to be elsewhere, the terror those creatures exuded too tangible.

She heard the growl behind her and turned.

So this was it. At least she wasn't going to die running. She clutched her makeshift staff in trembling hands as she faced the creatures that had trailed her through the night.

The pack was a writhing mass of darkness, wiry fur and blazing eyes, teeth and claws looking ready to make short work of their prey.

The leader of the pack stood a little apart, crouched close to the ground, ready to jump.

Habit made her drop into a fighting stance.

The hellhound shifted its weight onto its hindquarters, tensing its body like a spring before it launched itself at her.

She struck, felt the shock as her staff connected reverberate through her arms and into her shoulders. Once, that blow would have thrown her opponent halfway across the square, dazed and hopefully not ready to fight again for a while. Now, it barely served to deflect it, sending it to the ground in front of her feet, from where it sprang up again with a snarl.

This time, she went down under the impact. Teeth sank into her shoulder. She tried to use the pain, turn it into energy to defend herself, though she knew it was useless. Blood ran down her back and her arm. Her hands scrabbled for purchase in the fur, trying to find a vulnerable spot. She felt hairs like wire slice her skin.

*

They spotted the hellhounds before they saw Lydia.

The pack was immense – far larger than chasing down a single deruned Shadowhunter warranted.

"They were planning for us to show up," Izzy spoke aloud what Alec was thinking. "Do you think Imogen sold us out?"

Without looking away from the canine demons, Alec examined his feelings on the matter. The first conclusion clearly was that yes, she must have. But it felt wrong. They had never tested Imogen Herondale's loyalty, but every instinct told him that she wouldn't betray them. She could have done that far easier in other ways anyway.

"Not on purpose in any case," he qualified his thought eventually. "There." He pointed, drawing his sister's attention to a sole figure who had just run out onto a free space ringed with houses so dark and quiet they appeared abandoned. "Jack? Do you see a place to land?"

He didn't ask the dragon for a pass over the hellhounds with a gust of dragonfire to take care of them. They had reached the town and were streaming through the streets and alleys. Even the best-aimed blast from Jack's nostrils would have caused a firestorm that would rage through the small town and destroy most, if not all of it, leaving behind burned homes and dead citizens. Nothing was worth the kind of devastation they would leave behind among the mundanes if they did that.

Jack swerved, trying to find a spot where he could touch down. Had he been alone, he could have shifted his size to fit into any of the larger streets. With two passengers, his ability to reduce in size was limited.

That square to our right, Jack's voice sounded. Can't get closer than that.

He didn’t wait for Alec's confirmation before dipping down, headed for the indicated location.

Alec and Izzy slid off the dragon as soon as they felt him connect with the pavement.

Now, Alec sent through his bond to Jace, knowing his parabatai would relay the information to Charlie instantly.

Jack was back in human form before he could even turn to his sister to coordinate. While more intimidating in dragon shape, a large flying reptile just didn't navigate narrow passages between human dwellings all that well. His clothes, as always burned away by the change, were quickly replaced with grey slacks and a shirt of the same color that had started their lives as rocks on the ground.

They heard the thud of soft-soled boots at the same moment that Alec felt the sudden reduction of distance between him and Jace. Charlie had come through with the first set of their group. She stayed just long enough to make sure that everyone was safely back in the right dimension before diving into the Wood again to collect the rest of them.

The baying of hounds was  audible on the wind, muted only slightly by the houses that separated them.

"Hellhounds," Alec noted. "A lot of them."

Sebastian patted the bag he had slung over his shoulder. "Then it's time to find out how well our artifact works."

The smile Izzy gave him had a predatory quality to it. "Let's show them just how much they underestimated us."

*

Christopher and Sebastian hadn't been the only things they had brought back from their foray into a parallel universe. Along with their two new friends had come four raptors that had adopted them after being saved from certain death by their group, and the two non-stationary Mortal Instruments of that world. In its all-but-destroyed state, overrun by Seelie and ruled by demons, no one in it would have had any use for them anymore anyway.

That Cup was what Sebastian brought out of his bag now as he ran after the three who knew where they needed to go.

They noticed the moment they came within smelling range of the hellhounds. The quality of their sounds changed, part of them redirected their way.

He raised the Cup when the first furred bodies came into sight, rounding a corner with teeth bared and bloodlust in their eyes.

"Stop!" he shouted at them, his hand tightening on the stem of the artifact he wielded. "Go away!"

He could see the leader of the group that had come to face them stop in its tracks, head moving back and forth between him, Alec, Christopher and the others. He wasn't sure if it truly was the Cup that had caused the beast to halt, or the sight of a rifle, a bow and a crossbow pointed at it, along with multiple armed men and women waiting to take their turn. The hounds certainly didn't obey the second part of his command.

"Leave!" he repeated, raising the Cup. "Go back where you came from!"

Two of the demons turned in place, their bodies going in a full circle but not increasing the distance from their group. The others looked torn between conflicting desires.

"I don't think this Cup is working so well," Sebastian admitted, casting a slightly  desperate glance, first at Christopher and then at Alec.

"I think the Cup is working perfectly," Alec returned without taking his eyes off the front-most demon. "And so are you."

Sebastian hadn't voiced any concerns that the failure to send the demons away might have been due to some shortcoming on his own end, but apparently it had been obvious enough anyway.  "Then why‑‑?"

"They're trying to obey two masters at once," Izzy said. "Valentine probably sent them with the other Cup – our universe's Cup. We know he's used it before to that end. They have two Cups telling them to do two different things now."

"What do we do?"

Alec drew his cloak closer around himself. "We get ready to fight. Try to keep them off of us for a while longer so we can get to Lydia, but let's expect we'll be fighting our way out of this. Anyone with cloaks is with me. The rest of you stay with Aline and take care of the pack from this end when it comes to battle. Leave them a way out if they decide to run."

He looked at his second in command, who gave him the briefest of nods before starting to position her part of their group.

Sebastian braced his feet and raised the Cup again, focusing. He could feel the strain of trying to keep control. Though they kept their connection muted almost entirely, as they always did on mission or in battle, he could feel Christopher's support at his back, offering a boost through their parabatai bond if he needed it.

They had both almost lost their lives once because one of them had been injured in battle. It wasn't going to happen a second time, especially not with their new, changed and strengthened bond. But the hounds had to be kept under control for long enough so Alec and his team could complete their task.

A small trickle, he decided. He would take that, and be ready to shut down immediately if anything happened.

*

Over the beast's growling and her own panting breaths, she didn't hear the swooshing sound of an arrow speeding through the air. She did, however, see the feathered shaft suddenly sprout from the creature's shoulder, causing it to release its prey and drawing a long, painful whine from it.

It turned, head swinging back and forth, looking for the attacker.

The pack milled, uncertain. Something in the feeling of the scene had just shifted.

There were shadows moving along the edges of the square. Not daring to take her eyes off of the beast, Lydia barely registered them.

The hellhound had its teeth bared. It had backed up a few steps, to get into a better position to dispatch of whoever had just wounded it.

"Last chance to leave," a voice called out, its commanding tone ringing loud and clear across the place.

The shadows moved in, gliding silently like a gentle breeze, somehow obscured from sight while they moved.

Eyes wide in disbelief, Lydia saw them take position in a loose circle around her. Stillness resolved five shadows into cloaked human figures, hoods pulled up to obscure their faces. One of them had a new arrow notched to his bow. The tip was pointed steadily at the pack leader's snout. It should have been impossible to use a bow while wearing a cloak like that.

"This can end here."

She knew that voice.

"Leave now, and we will have no quarrel with you."

Were hellhounds intelligent enough to understand that?

While she was still trying to process what she saw, a sixth figure moved in, crouching by her side.

"Lydia." That voice, too, was familiar, pitched low and with a reassuring quality to it.

She turned her head to look at him.

Under his hood, Jace was studying her with some concern, but with no trace of the panic any sane person would have felt in the face of a pack of hellhounds.  "Are you alright?"

Stupid question. Her blood was painting warm, sticky lines down her back. She shook her head.

"Other than that," he amended. His stele was out, and before she could say a word, he had drawn an iratze over the torn flesh, adding an extra flourish she hadn't ever seen in the rune before.

She could feel the wounds straining to close, the pain growing faint and distant.

Jace pushed the tatters of her shirt away, baring more skin. His stele danced over her body. Strength, Stamina, Agility, Precision, Nourishment. She felt the lightheadedness that she hadn't even realized she was experiencing fade.

The marks didn't sear or burn. She would have been ready to think that the deruning had rendered her incapable of bearing runes again, but she could feel the effects nonetheless.

Jace moved to put two more marks on her back.

Looking around again, she spotted a flash of silver on an arm reaching out from under a cloak. An electrum whip, coiled into snake form, worn as a bracelet. As she watched, the spirals moved, sliding down across the wrist and into the hand that belong to it.

Alec. Izzy. Jace. They'd gotten Seelie cloaks from somewhere, concealing their movements. It wasn't hard to guess that two of the others were Clary and Magnus Bane, the latter given away by the bands of magic already playing around his hands, ready to be thrown.

The sixth…

From where she sat on the ground, she could see a pair of combat boots, complete with dagger sheaths. The rest was still obscured by the cloak. She thought the figure was male, tall and powerfully built. Who would they have brought into their confidence?

The pack leader and Alec were still facing off, but it had apparently come to a decision. The pack was moving now, no longer in place but towards them, approaching with slow, menacing steps, snouts close to the ground.

"So that's how it is?"

Jace rose to his feet in a smooth motion, holding out a hand for Lydia to take.

She let him pull her up.

Unhooking two blades from his belt, he held them out to her wordlessly.

It felt good to have a proper weapon. She wasn't as steady as she would have liked, but the pain was still ebbing away and the runes made her feel better. Ready to hold her own in what was about to come.

Six cloaks fell away, leaving the wearers free to move without risk of being tangled – even though Seelie cloaks didn't tangle.

Lydia glanced again at fighter number six.

He stood with his arms crossed before his chest, a chakram in either hand. His dark blond hair was a little shorter than she remembered it, the beard all but gone, making him look at least five years younger, but the double crescent scar on his cheek was the same as ever.

The last time she'd met Hodge Starkweather, he'd knocked her unconscious with a single hard blow. She'd been fighting the effects of that concussion for days, even with the runes. He'd stolen the Mortal Cup. Then he'd died, but not before Jace had severed his left hand.

His left hand was closed firmly around his weapon now.

She had no time to think about it in any more detail.

The hellhounds attacked.

*

Magic flew from Magnus' hands while Izzy's whip lashed out and Alec released another arrow. Jace hurled two daggers before switching to blades. Clary was stabbing and slashing already, as was Hodge Starkweather.

Lydia let years of training take over, her moves guided by muscle memory and reflexes as much as by her mind. She thought she could hear sounds of fighting, growls and occasional yelps a small distance away, too.

Then a sound like a gunshot tore through the night, causing her head to jerk around, trying to spot the source. Was there some mundane trying to take out demons with a bullet?

"That's just Graham," Clary, fighting the closest to her, informed her. She sounded somewhat breathless as she spun away, sunk her blade into a demon until its body disintegrated and whirled back to face Lydia again. "Don't worry. He can't miss."

That wasn't what she'd been thinking about, but it wasn't the time to discuss it either.

A second group of fighters came into view not long after that, working their way towards them from the other end of the pack. The fighting style was unmistakably Nephilim, though they, too, appeared to have a warlock among them.

She evaded snapping jaws with a quick sideways movement, feeling fur brush against her body and drawing the edge of her shorter blade across a demon's throat as she moved. Her target fell into ashes, but two more replaced it quickly. Stabbing and slashing, she let the rush of the battle high fill her to chase away the last remnants of fatigue and pain. Both would probably come back later with a vengeance, but then she would hopefully have the time to deal with them properly – and without being killed by it.

Another turn brought her face to face with Aline Penhallow, and while she had been telling herself for months that the two missing women had to have somehow made their way to safety, she hadn't quite been able to convince herself of it until this moment.

"Good to see you," she told the younger woman as she lunged past her to stab a hound that had almost caught Aline's sleeve.

"And you," came the reply, just before a spell collided with another demon about to launch itself at them in a long, shallow leap.

Two warlocks, then, she amended in her mind. Strange. Until a moment ago, she could have sworn that the white-blond man with the crossbow was one of the Nephilim.

Graham, whoever he actually was, must have taken position somewhere on a roof nearby, from where he was shooting, dropping demons with every bullet. He must have loaded blessed rounds for that to even work. But work it did, and Lydia wasn't going to complain.

The battle couldn't have lasted more than a few minutes, but she felt the toll it took on her faster than she should have. The runes Jace had given her weren't enough to balance out the effects of her imprisonment and deruning entirely.

She missed a step, stumbled and caught herself just in time before she fell, stabbing at another hellhound that tried to take advantage of her slip while still trying to regain her equilibrium.

Then she heard the unlikely sound of music nearby. More even: she felt the notes, speeding through the early morning air and carrying some extra energy towards them all.

Whatever was going on here – her friends would have a lot of explaining to do.

First, though, they had the rest of the demon pack to dispatch of.

Chapter Text

All of them had come out of the melee bloodied and scraped, with the exception of Graham the sniper, who had dropped down from a low roof top as they had assembled by the side of the square once the last of the demons had been dispatched.

The warlocks and a number of iratzes were all the battlefield medicine they needed, though.

Lydia stood back and watched Magnus and the blond warlock they called Jack walk across the square, fire shooting from their hands as they incinerated every last drop of blood they could find.

"Aren't they being a bit overzealous?" Lydia asked when Izzy came to stand beside her.

"You're the one who was almost torn apart by demons," the younger woman returned. She shrugged out of her leather jacket and stripped off the hoodie she wore beneath to hand it to Lydia before putting the armor on again over her t-shirt.

She took it gratefully. It wasn't cold, but the shirt she'd been wearing was all but falling apart after the attack and the subsequent fight. She felt naked enough with her runes gone… most of her runes gone…

She looked at where Jace had marked her anew. Those were odd marks, but she could still feel them working.

Deciding that that was a matter she needed more time and energy to tackle, she let her eyes wander across the group. The four looked like always, but there was a distinctive change to the way they interacted, reflected even in the manner in which they shifted when passing each other.

She'd thought she'd seen some of that back in Alicante already, but it had been far less pronounced then. They'd grown closer, to the point where they seemed to anticipate each other's movements. It took her another few moments of watching to realize what the thing that felt the strangest about it all was, and it came to her when she saw Jace place a hand on Alec's arm as they both leaned in to talk about something she didn't understand.

It was the casual way in which they were touching, all four of them, without requiring any reason to. Even the distance they kept from the other Shadowhunters and the man they called Chris – she still wasn't sure what exactly he was – was less than what they had used to keep between each other, except when touching served a purpose.

"Anything wrong?" Izzy asked her.

Lydia shook her head. "I don't think so. It's just that—"

"We're ready to leave if you are!" Magnus called across the square, apparently not bothered in the least by the risk that someone from one of the houses around them might finally come outside to check.

Then again, it was a wonder no one seemed to have noticed the battle going on at their door steps, and it couldn't have been only the horror the demons had exuded. The logical conclusion was that there was some spell going on that kept people away.

"Later," Lydia said. "Let's get out of here."

Calgary

Guided by Izzy, Lydia stepped out into someone's living room. She winced slightly. Magnus had put some warlock healing on her to add to the effect of the runes, but going through the portal had left her acutely sore again and brought back all the lingering aches with a vengeance. It must have been from the damage the deruning had done. The strain of running and fighting should have been gone after the first, and certainly after the second healing.

Something that she had previously identified as exhaustion but wasn't sure about now was back, too. It wasn't as acute as it had been, but it was still there. With the adrenalin kick from the fight gone, she felt downright wobbly.

Still, even so it was impossible to miss that the place they had come to was special. Without being able to tell exactly why this was the case, she didn't think she had ever in her life felt quite so safe and protected as she had in the moment Izzy had brought them out into this room.

There were a lot of people here, none of which she knew, but they were speaking English at least. Izzy exerted gentle pressure on her arm, pushing her sideways to clear the way for the next group coming through. Someone put a cup of hot chocolate in her hands. She automatically lifted it to her lips to take a sip. The thick sweetness helped settle her a little.

The warlock Jack came through alone, and he was emerging a lot slower from the portal than any of the others had. It almost seemed as if he was pushing himself through a tunnel that was just a bit too narrow for him.

Magnus followed on his heels.

"Next time you make your own portal!" he scolded, the effect ruined by the effort he was making not to laugh at the same time. "You're way too big for mine!"

"I'm your size!" Jack returned, mock-exasperation ruined by the grin that accompanied it.

"The portal doesn't care about your glamor or your shapeshifting, Dragon," Magnus claimed. "Why'd you jump into mine anyway?"

"Everyone else was!" The other warlock – Dragon? – was pouting now. "Are you saying I can't use your portal because my mother is a reptile?"

"Strictly speaking, so are you," Charlie, the woman with the guitar announced. She had not come through the portal but somehow arrived anyway, and just entered the room through one of the doors.

"You're supposed to be on my side!" Jack complained. "You're my wife!"

Charlie laughed, crossing the room and kissing Jack's cheek fondly. "And I know from experience how large you are for metaphysical travel," she declared.

Everyone was watching the two now, and Lydia realized that they were putting on the show for her benefit – giving her a few more moments to come to grips with the sudden change of scenery.

"Are we in New York?" she asked, turning to Alec, who had joined them.

He shook his head. "Calgary. That’s in Canada."

Canada? She frowned. "Why?"

"Because this is where it's safe." That sounded like he was stating the obvious. What was she missing?

The drained mug was taken from her hand by a woman who looked roughly thirteen months pregnant. The last thought must have reflected on Lydia's face. The woman laughed.

"Twins, and due within the next week or so. I can't wait."

"Neither can Calgary," Graham grumbled. "Even with Michael here to ground you, your mood is telling."

She glared at him, but in the same fond way that Lydia had just seen pass between Jack and Charlie.

"I'm Allie," the woman said in her direction. "How do you feel about taking a bath before we take care of anything else? You look like you have some unpleasant experiences to wash off."

She was still dirty, sweaty and had dried blood gluing her tattered shirt to her body under Izzy's hoodie. She wasn't going to argue.

*

She'd intended to make it a quick shower but caved when Allie pointed her at the large bathtub and told her to take her time and use whatever she found helpful in the room. They had had the foresight to place some folded clothes on a stool and any necessities she might need to clean up by the sink. As she found when she opened the water tap and let her eyes roam the rows of bottles placed on a shelf above the tub, someone in this household apparently had a penchant for bubble baths.

Lydia emerged some time later, a faint floral smell clinging to her, feeling a bit more like herself.

Upon closer inspection, the runes Jace had drawn on her had truly looked as if painted on with a thick marker pen. They also came off with some scrubbing, leaving behind faint shimmering lines. Their feel didn't change, though.

She returned to the living room clean, wearing clothes that were loose and soft, comfortably cut and not very suitable for fighting – and carrying more questions in her head than she'd started her bath with.

Everyone else had changed out of fighting gear in the meantime as well. Clary and Jace were part of a complicated choreography being acted out in the kitchen. Alec and Magnus Bane were stealing a few moments on one of the large sofas, while Izzy and Aline appeared to be doing someone's math homework. Lydia mutely shook her head. This was surreal.

Helen, Chris and the man who had, for whatever reason, chosen to wear the face of a dead shadowhunter – which Lydia had chosen to ignore so far since no one, including Aline, seemed to take any note of it, had disappeared somewhere. The rest of the group who had come to save her were setting a table and distributing plates of pie on it.

The pies looked oddly familiar.

"Don't tell me this is where your pie came from!"

"Okay," Jace said without turning. "We won't."

"Did you have the pie portalled in from Calgary?"

Jace came over to the table with a stack of plates. "Something like that," he admitted. "Though it's not technically a portal."

Alec and Magnus had untangled themselves and joined them, arm in arm.

"There's a lot we need to tell you, Lydia," Alec began. "All the things we couldn't tell you back in Alicante, and more. And I bet there are about a million questions you'll want answers to."

"You bet there are!" She heard her voice rising to take on a demanding tone on its own volition. "And while you're at it, can you explain this?" She pointed at the non-runes visible over her collar.

"Yes," Alec said, surprising her with the perfectly neutral tone he used. He raised a hand as if to wipe a smudge off of his cheek.

His glamor flickered and fell, revealing beneath it an Alec with skin unmarked by black lines, wearing instead the same unreal-looking shiny marks in the same places where his runes had been, as well as some that had not been visible before.

The others followed his example as she looked from one to the other, all with the same effect – all, save for Hodge, whose skin was unmarked already. Now that she thought of it, she wasn't sure she'd actually seen any runes on him in the fight either. She studied his left hand from where she stood. Was that hand a glamor? She thought it was, but it was hard to look through it.

Hodge, noticing where her attention rested, chuckled. "I'm not taking the glamor off of that," he said. "I'm told it's hell to put together with all the right effects, and I wouldn't want to get in trouble with the people who made it." His right hand slid up his left forearm, doing something there that she couldn't quite follow. "I can take off something else if it helps, though." With that, he pulled the stump of his left arm from the prosthetic, which remained glamored to look real.

Turning her gaze from the detached limb took an effort. She forced herself to do it anyway. It wasn't going to suddenly start moving on its own and attack her. "What is he even doing here?" Lydia asked in Alec's direction.

"Helping us," Alec said. "Opening a dojo. Eating pie."

"He's a traitor. And supposed to be dead!"

There was a wry quality to Alec's smile. "He was a traitor. He's been making plenty of amends. Also, in case you haven't figured this one out, Lyd, he's in the best of companies. We're all traitors now in the eyes of the Clave. I don't assume they'd stop at a deruning if they got their hands on any of us now."

 

 

Alicante

Maxwell Lightwood frowned at the pair before him. It would have been one thing if they couldn't do any better than what they had just shown him, but he thought that the issue was likely a different one: He was barely thirteen years old, and they were both approaching twenty, not much younger than his own older siblings.

Yet all three of them were interns with the Inquisitor's office, and he had been placed in charge of this exercise because he was, as Imogen would remind anyone who looked like they might complain, the best tracker they had among the younger staff. He was better than a lot of the adults, too, as he was very well aware. It was a matter that gave him no small amount of pride. Tracking was one skill Jonathan Christopher Morgenstern hadn't been able to take away from him.

Tracking, of course, was the very thing that had gotten him into the situation he was in now. If he'd been less adept at it, he wouldn't have been able to follow the connections of a single hair that hadn't been attached to its body for two decades. And then he wouldn't have walked in on the disguised man, wouldn't have been injured, wouldn't have ended up with brain damage, as he had.

He had been so happy to finally go on field duty. He'd been ready. Now, he was reminded every day that whatever was in his future, field duty wasn't going to be part of it. Three quarters of a year had passed since his injury, and he was still walking unevenly, though his leg wasn't dragging as much as it had used to. The last time he had tried to run had brought tears of frustration to his face that had taken an effort of will to swallow.

His hand on that side had curled in again, as it always did when he wasn't paying attention.

With an effort of will, he made the fingers straighten. They moved sluggishly, not as far as he would have wanted. There wasn't much else he could do with that hand, unable to get a reliable grip on anything. Even at the rare occasions that he did, he had all of about fifteen seconds before the tremor set in. There was no way he could fight with that hand.

His mother had insisted that he took up combat training one-handed. He hadn't had a choice but to agree, though he hated every minute of it. At least she didn't make him practice with the woman Alec, Izzy and Jace had all but adopted, and who still dropped by to exercise under Maryse's strict instruction now and then.

It would have been easier to just ignore what his hand did and let it have its will. Still, he always made the effort to flex his fingers and keep them from curling in when his attention was drawn to it. He looked less crippled that way, he thought.

Right now, he really would have liked to know where the couple's problem was: Gaining skill would require effort on their part, but was eminently doable. If they were being difficult because of his age, he couldn't help that, but would have to impress them with his skill. If it was because of his physical status, the same basic principle applied, though the impressing would take place with a lot more gritting of teeth and silent raging in his head as he did so.

Recently, however, another thing had been added to the list of potential causes of trouble: For the last weeks, he had been the younger brother of a trio of traitors, sought and hunted, complete with prizes on their heads and the certainty of a death sentence if they were ever caught.

He wanted to be angry at them for it. He dreamed of them sometimes, and then he wanted to yell at them, scream at them and ask them what they were thinking they were doing, betraying the Clave and their people, leaving their post and going into hiding. Didn't they ever think of what they were doing to him, to their mother?

He knew there'd been talk of making him try to track them, using the family bond in addition to his tracking abilities. Imogen had vetoed that, though he didn't know the precise reasoning she had given them.

It wouldn't have done any good anyway. He knew that because he had tried, right that first night after he had heard of what they had done. He hadn't even known what he would do if he did get a bearing, but it hadn't mattered anyway. He hadn't even gotten the faintest hint of a direction, no matter which of the objects they had left at the Lightwood townhouse he had used.

Their mother seemed strangely unperturbed by it all, including the fact that she was basically put under house arrest.

Of course, Maryse had an entirely different set of issues to deal with right now. She'd done her best to keep it from Max, but living in the same household, he had eventually caught on to the apparent deterioration of her health. He'd asked her once, and she'd insisted it was nothing. Some food gone bad, maybe. It would be over quickly enough. Her tone had told him clearly that she wasn't going to discuss the matter any further with him.

She'd been even more careful after that, but he'd already known to watch for hints by then.

That was how he knew that the constant nausea and vomiting had stopped in the meantime, but he had also noticed other things.

Eventually, he had taken himself to the library and consulted a few books from the medical section.

If he was supposed to become an investigator, no one could blame him if he investigated a few things, could they, now?

The conclusion the books had given him had been shocking, and utterly impossible.

Inquisitor Herondale, the woman who still insisted he call her grandmother in spite of what Jace and the others had done, had told him on the first day of his internship that he couldn't let his investigation results be guided by what he thought should be the outcome. If every clue agreed on one thing, then that was what he had to assume lay at the heart of the matter he was dealing with. No matter how much he personally disbelieved or disliked it.

He'd thought it sound advice all the way until that day in the library.

Still, he kept his findings to himself, not knowing how to even broach the subject to confront her with them. No matter how often he resolved to make his mother tell him the truth, that resolve never lasted past the moment he entered the same room as she, leaving him with the same confusion that he experienced at night, when he dreamed of his siblings and instead of berating them found himself clinging to one or several of them as if his life depended on it, begging them to take him along and make him part of whatever cause they were secretly fighting for.

 

June 14th, 2017

Somewhere in the Alps

The four of them had tried to dress for business without being threatening. Each of them wore the full set of leather armor with the overlapping Lightwood and Herondale – and Lightwood and Fairchild – insignia stamped into each piece though their belts were bare of sheaths and weapons.

That didn't leave them unarmed. All of them had boot knives made of adamas. Three of them wore electrum bracelets that converted into powerful weapons. Clary had another small blade concealed on her person, just as Jace had a set of throwing daggers worked into his jacket.

At first glance, they may have looked easy on the eye and harmless. At closer scrutiny, they were deadly.

They hadn't put on glamors. When they had gone to Lydia's rescue, they had worked under the assumption that there might be someone around watching to see what happened. If so, they hadn't wanted to give away more than they had to.

If, contrary to their expectations, either Imogen Herondale or Baba Agnieszka was luring them into a trap now, they were going to have far greater problems to deal with than spreading the knowledge that they had discarded their runes.

On the other hand, they expected that the old warlock would be far more impressed by seeing them as they were now than if they appeared as they had once been.

"This is not Brocelind Forest," Alec noted when they emerged.

He looked around. Gaging their whereabouts was made difficult by being enclosed by rock. It appeared that the recipient of their gift had decided to dispose of the canvas at the bottom of a narrow gorge.

"I guess this is Baba Agnieszka's way of telling us she doesn't want to see us?" Clary asked.

Izzy was shaking her head as she turned to inspect the object that had brought them here. "I don’t think so. She could have destroyed the canvas or thrown it away. But she didn't. She put it up quite carefully actually." She pointed at the ground, where a number of heavy rocks had been arranged to support the bottom of the frame. Her eyes went to the sheer rock face the frame was leaning against, then the one across from it. "I think this is a test. There's no way we could climb that, and I bet it's not getting any better in either direction from here."

"Agreed," Alec said, one of his hands running over the rock in front of him. "She's dropped us on top of a leyline, and she's anchored a few spells in here."

"What do they do?" Clary wanted to know while Jace was taking a few steps to one side, testing Izzy's theory.

Alec shrugged. "I can see the power is there, but not really what it does. But I think it's just a deposit. She's left us some batteries to use if we can."

Jace looked up. The band of blue and white that was the sky above them seemed insanely high. "I get that she wants us to manifest and fly to see her, but we're no helicopters!"

"Bring it up when we get there," Alec advised his brother. He was already opening up to the power around him, letting it flood into him. His senses sharpened, to the point where he could hear the heartbeats of those around him. He became aware of the little creatures whose home they had disturbed by their entrance. Letting his gaze wander up the gorge, he realized that the rock was not nearly as smooth as it had appeared. With a lot of effort and close scrutiny, they might even have managed to find enough finger- and toe-holds to make the climb. Izzy, Jace and he might have in any case. No matter how far Clary had progressed in her training, it remained a fact that she was about a decade and a half behind the rest of them.

He felt the tug on his shoulder blades and along the length of his back as the energy he was channeling broke through to manifest in wings that towered over him.

*

Jace had been right: they weren't built for vertical flight. Had those wings been actually physical, they wouldn't have made it. Even so, they felt metaphysically scraped when they reached the top. All four were breathing hard from the effort, and Alec was reasonably sure he'd feel phantom-pain sore from strained flight muscles that weren't there for a couple of days after this exercise. Maybe Jace was right and they should be flying more often.

The landing was not the most elegant one they had ever managed, but all four of them kept their footing.

If they had expected the warlock to be waiting for them, they were disappointed.

"Now what?" Izzy asked as she turned slowly to check the area around them for any indication of where they were, or where they needed to go.

Alec shrugged. The motion felt strange from the pull of his additional limbs, which were still gleaming a pearlescent white behind him. He reached for the vein of power that ran through the mountain again, letting the sheen solidify a little more. They were here to impress.

"We follow the leyline," he decided. "I expect a warlock will be found close to the power she uses."

He set out, trailing the green gleam that only he out of their group could see without help.

He was prepared for a longer trek. He even expected to be facing more tests on the way. It was almost a disappointment when they came across a cottage after less than ten minutes of walking across easy terrain.

The ravens out in the trees left no doubt about who was living here.

The woman who emerged from the cottage as they approached was not the Baba Agnieszka they knew. She matched the description Magnus had given them of her other persona Ariana. The raven feathers made her hair look untidy and untamable.

"Do you fit through the door?" she asked without preamble.

Alec bit down on the first thing that came to his mind and let the power he held go in one long exhalation.

The wings grew thinner, more transparent, and then all but invisible. The other three followed his lead.

"Now we do," he said.

Even in their most visible and functional form, those wings remained insubstantial, the force that carried them in flight more connected to the channeling of power than any physical process, no matter that their bodies were hard to convince of that. Agnieszka didn't need to know that. Let her think that being in close quarters would impair their ability to grasp and handle power.

She gestured behind her. "I have tea."

*

Moments later, they were seated around a round table in a small living room. A set of cups and plates, a pot of tea and a platter of cookies appeared between them as soon as the warlock had settled in her armchair.

Alec scrutinized the food. He saw no tracks of magic in it, but he thought he would play things safe and not eat or drink anything he was offered anyway. Nevertheless, he poured himself a cup to hold and placed a cookie on his plate.

"So," Agnieszka said after a few moments of silence in which they all helped themselves but left it at that. "I assume you now want to know what happened to poor little Aveline Montclair."

Alec tilted his head a little to one side. "She learned something that she was not supposed to know about. I'll take a stab and say she learned that the world is not as black and white as we are raised to believe. Angels are not all good and demons are not all evil. Angels getting their hands on demons are capable of things we would only expect in the deeper recesses of the demonic homeland. She came to you for confirmation, or to fill some gaps in her knowledge. You gave her what she sought. She went back, and tried to share her knowledge, and everyone who was told was thereafter killed to keep the information contained."

Agnieszka nodded regally at him. "You're good, little angel," she said. "What do you need me for?"

"Don't call us angels," Jace said in Alec's stead. His voice sounded a little rough. "They may have created us, but that is where it ends. They've lied to us, they've used us, and they've been keeping most of our inheritance from us – from the beginning, I assume – while we struggle to complete the task they set us. We don't work for them any longer."

"Is that so?" She considered, her eyes narrowing. "I assume it is. You'd hardly survive if any of them found out what you did. Those runes serve more than one purpose."

Izzy put her cup down. "The steles serve more than one purpose. The runes mostly don't. Except for the one."

"You are using them like they do now," the warlock agreed.

Alec started briefly at that. She was right, he realized. Many of the descriptions he had read of angels, and of Raziel specifically, had included a mention of gleaming, shiny runes painted all over their bodies. Even with what he knew now, he had never made the connection that that was a perfect description of charms. "Most of them," he agreed.

"Do you know that back in the day, the mundane lords and masters used to take hot irons to their slaves to brand them?" Agnieszka asked.

The non sequitur made them blink. She was far less addled than the variation of herself that she played in the forests of Idris, but it didn't seem that the years had gone by her without leaving a mark either way.

She didn’t wait for an answer.

"A mark of ownership," she continued. "Branded in the skin so anyone would be able to identify the runaway slave and return him to his rightful owner. You can imagine the fates of those so returned." She gave a small huff that could have been meant to be a laugh. "It was a barbaric custom, but I must say, at least none of the mundanes were ever stupid enough to brand themselves."

"They would if they were told from childhood that it was the greatest honor and a way to raise themselves out of the mass of those less worthy," Izzy pointed out. "We know what they've been doing. The question is: why?"

Agnieszka sighed. "Because they are at war and have been for millennia. Because instead of further destroying their home dimension, they decided to go after the refugees and those trying to regroup elsewhere. And because then one day, one of them decided to create a weapon the like of which none had ever seen before. A weapon that would think, and multiply and grow on its own, and work with minimal supervision, while still striking blows for them without even realizing that was what it was doing."

"I don't quite understand," Alec said. "The legend goes that Jonathan Shadowhunter raised the Angel Raziel by Lake Lyn because he was set upon by demons, his companions were all dead or dying and he was begging for help. That the angel had mercy on him and gave him his blood and the first runes. Plenty of those legends say that it wasn't Jonathan who raised the angel at all, but a warlock. Elphas. Who is said to have been your brother."

"Do you notice something odd in that sentence?" Agnieszka asked.

They looked at each other, frowning slightly. Which of his sentences was she talking about?

They were shaking their heads, but she didn't seem inclined to help them out.

Silence stretched for several more minutes. Then it was Izzy who spoke. "Brother."

All eyes turned towards her.

"There was that Iris Rouse with her warlock nursery in New York, but other than that, how often have you heard of one woman bearing several children to a demon? No woman would ever procreate with one of them voluntarily. They force and they deceive, and then they move on to new victims. The woman would be far more cautious after understanding what happened, if she even survived the realization, and even if not – well, the moment we hear of a new warlock birth, we are there to track down the demon who did it."

"We?" Agnieszka asked, her lips twitching into a sneer.

"Nephilim," Izzy said. "We're not associated with the Clave anymore, but we would still act to make sure the mundanes around our home are safe."

"And why would no woman ever voluntarily sleep with a demon?" the warlock wanted to know.

Alec ran the tip of his tongue over his lips. "Because they are …" he hesitated. They had been taught that the demons were far too grotesque, too evil, that they were incapable of feeling anything reminiscent of love, or raise any feelings approaching the same in any creature that was alive. But they had met a demon who had, in her own strange way, loved. Beneath the outermost layer of appearances, she hadn't been innately evil either. She had worked to a code of behavioral norms that was so strange to them that it was near-impossible to comprehend, but the foremost purpose of her actions hadn't been to cause suffering – even though she had. And even though he himself had been at the receiving end of it, he had come to understand that their idea that what she was doing was wrong was just as foreign and incomprehensible to her as her reasoning for doing what she did was to them.

"Because they are too different," he said, eventually. "I cannot imagine that difference being bridged."

"But you see," Agnieszka said, her sneer turning into a smile. "Back in the day before it became all but impossible for any of them to live in this dimension for more than a few weeks, some of them would spend enough time here to adjust to local habits. Some women were even drawn by the strangeness, willing to look past the differences. Loving in their own way as they were loved in their own way. Elphas and I knew our father. We were raised by two parents. And I assure you, there was no force involved."

 

 

Chapter Text

"You might what to start at the beginning," Alec suggested, before quickly amending: "Or at least the Demon Incursion."

Her lips twitched into a half-smile at his words.

"The Demon Incursion," she repeated. "The inexplicable sudden increase of interdimensional travelers showing up here and wreaking havoc. Let me go back a little farther than that."

They nodded, indicating for her to continue from wherever she deemed best.

"The creatures you call greater demons and those you call angels have been at war since long before my father's birth," she began. "But for the longest time, that war didn't go anywhere. The sides were evenly matched. And while there was war, there was also time to spare for other things. Both sides had discovered interdimensional travel a long time ago. And some of them came and stayed for a while to study dimensions like this one. Some of them stayed for a long time and lived out a life with the mortals. Some had children. At that time, the children of those travelers were not sterile. You'll find reference to them in many old myths. They were often held to be gods in their own rights by the mortals."

Alec's eyes darted to his siblings, who were listening intently. Izzy was wearing a frown that deepened by the second. Jace was leaning forward, focusing as if he was hoping to hear more than just the words she said.

Clary mostly looked confused.

"But then something happened," Agnieszka continued. "Something that is not spoken off. Maybe the other side developed some new weapon. Maybe it was some disastrous nature event." She shrugged. "I don't know. We were never told. But the travelers weren't the same after that. Unable to produce offspring with their own kind. Producing sterile offspring with mortals. Slowly growing desperate."

She took a sip of her tea and shot a piercing look at Alec.

He understood what she wanted of him. A sign of trust after she had freely shared some information on her end.

He reached for his cup, raising it to his lips and taking a careful sip.

The tea had cooled off somewhat. It was a fruit mix with some strong vanilla notes – not what he would have usually chosen, but not unpleasant. It could have done with a little less sweetening, he thought.

"You're speaking of the greater demons," he said. "What about the lesser ones? The Demon Incursion brought both kinds in great numbers, and unless the legends are all lies, they weren't peaceful researchers either way." He let the statement hang in the air, just short of a challenge.

"Patience," the old warlock told him. "Patience. I'm getting there. So the power in their homeland shifted. Your angels pushed back the other side, uprooting and displacing them, and the peoples that had sworn allegiance to them. Driving them back farther and farther… and they now knew that their numbers were limited. Deaths were irreplaceable. And so, many of them fled."

She gestured, encompassing the world around them.

"We read about a demon that was questioned and spoke of having been driven from its home," Izzy noted.

Agnieszka nodded. "They came to this world, and others like it – but where once those travelling had been scientists, who had gone through training and preparation, most of those now using the dimension change skills came unprepared. I don't know what they expected, but I know they ended up in a land that was entirely foreign to them, with rules they didn't understand, a climate that didn’t suit them, a sun that burned some of them, food that offered them no sustenance. They'd hoped to find refuge and came to a different sort of hell."

As she paused for another sip, Alec was about to copy her again, only to realize that he had emptied his cup while listening. He reached for the pot to pour himself a second. He'd put on an anti-venom charm later, just in case.

"It was still better than returning home. But misunderstandings happened. Accidents happened. And some were near-crazy with fear and grief and pain already. Contact with the locals didn't go well in many cases. More often than not, the newcomers were stronger, faster, less easily killed, so it was mostly the humans who died in those encounters. All those new creatures that had appeared in a short timeframe – they quickly acquired a certain reputation. That didn't help further relations, of course. And your angels made sure the mortals they already associated with knew that those creatures had to be exterminated. Yes, those were violent times. Deadly times. And they would have been even without their intervention."

Alec nodded. What she said made sense. They hadn't ever considered that the demons might have had another purpose in coming to their world than to enslave, kill and feast on the humans living there, but he couldn't deny that it was more logical the way she had just presented it: that there hadn't been a sudden influx of demons for no other reason than that they had decided one day to converge on a specific dimension, but that there was a far more intricate network of forces and chains of cause and effect at work.

He was still thinking about it when his sister spoke up again. "So what happened that day by Lake Lyn?"

Agnieszka looked out the window, her eyes focused into the distance for a moment. She spoke without turning her face back towards them.

"At the time, Lake Lyn was a mountain lake, far off and away from any human settlements. A group of demons had found refuge there. That day, three refugees of a different sort came across them. Both sides, when they spotted each other, expected to be attacked. Both sides decided to attack first. The demons, being more, and physically stronger, and with a grasp of magic that the three had not, were winning. That was when Elphas and I stepped in. We'd been raised among humans. We felt far more closely connected to them than to the strangers – which they were to us as well. They weren't even of the kind we were descended from."

She paused, and the four of them waited to let her sort her thoughts before she continued.

"Then my brother had an idea. He thought he could make the killing stop if he could just foster some sort of understanding for what was going on. And he had these three mortals before him. But they'd been trained in the spirit of your angels already, and while they were outlaws by the rules of their own people, they weren't ready to let go of those viewpoints. He argued. He begged. And eventually, he decided that what would do the trick would be to let them hear the truth of the matter from the mouth of one of those creatures they revered so much."

This time, she didn't continue even after several seconds had passed.

"So he raised Raziel?" Clary asked eventually.

"No." She said, her voice flat. "He convinced me that it was the best course of action. I was stronger in that sort of magic than he was. He always meant so well with his plans. He always was so convinced that he was doing the right thing. It wasn't the last time he was wrong about it."

"We know," Alec told her. "The werewolves."

She nodded. "I didn't raise him. He was nearby already, hunting that pack of demons we had just killed. I merely summoned him. The only reason he let Elphas and me survive the experience probably was that we had just done his work for him. My brother demanded that he explain to the mortals what was going on." A dry laugh followed. "You can imagine how well that went over. I can't tell you what happened next."

"You—what?" Clary almost squeaked. "Why not? I thought you were going to tell us everything now that we have—" She gestured towards her back.

Izzy and Jace bristled, straightening in their seats, though they kept their peace. They would at least listen to her reasons.

Alec thought he already knew.

"There was a flash of light. Then darkness. Your angel didn't fancy having two half-breeds witness what he was doing. When we came around, the land had changed. The valley had become a pocket universe, anchored with some of their … technology, though we didn't have the word at the time. The three mortals had been changed, too. They were already wearing their brand – and while they saw it as a sign of honor, the true meaning was clear enough to Elphas and me." Finally, she turned back towards them. "In a way, we'd been the cause of what they had become. I will tell you truthfully, I would have left right then. My brother insisted that we stay. Just like he later went to help those other creatures he had unwittingly had a hand in creating. That first time, at least he survived the experience."

She put down her cup and raised her hands, palms up, in a half-shrug. "That is all I can tell you. Make of it what you will."

"It was… very interesting," Izzy said. "Enlightening even. But we were hoping to answer some other questions."

"Ask." The single word was said in a completely neutral tone. "I'll answer three more."

The four exchanged a look, and Alec nodded at his sister.

"Are we safe from their wrath now that we no longer bear the enkeli runes?" she began.

The old warlock shrugged. "I don't know. Safer than you were, since they cannot target you through them anymore. They may yet have other ways of tracking you through whatever means they have available. I cannot tell."

"I know you just said you didn't witness the creation, but do—" She broke off, shaking her head. "No, scratch that. If you wanted to find out about what we truly are, how we were created and what other implications there might be – where would you go?"

"The homeland." The answer came immediately. She hadn’t thought about it for as much as a fraction of a second. "Right to the source. You won't get that information from any other than them."

All four faces hardened a little at the thought. It wasn't a surprise as such, but they'd hoped for a different answer.

"When we go there," Alec said, taking over. "What do we have to expect?"

"I don't know."

He nodded, feeling like he had wasted that third question, but willing to take responsibility for it. He remembered all the cautions that Magnus had given them on the way about not gauding Agnieszka into anything. He wasn't going to be foolish enough to try and insist on another question.

"We'll take our leave then," he said instead. "We have taken up more than enough of your time."

"You have indeed," she agreed. She watched them rise, studied them as they nodded their farewells to her.

Her voice stopped them when they had almost reached the door. "Are you truly planning to go there?"

Alec half-turned to meet her gaze. "We do what we have to do."

"Then I take back that answer," she said.

He almost asked her if they could have another question, but realized just in time that she had not cleared the question along with the response. "What do we have to expect?" he repeated instead.

She rose to her feet as well then, an unlikely mixture of pity and scorn on her face.

"Death."

*

"Death," Jace said as they walked along the forest path back the way they had come from. "She couldn't get any more dramatic than that, could she?"

Alec chuckled at his parabatai's words. "Admittedly, we've been chased by death for the better part of a year, so it's not like it's going to make much of a difference," he declared. "And no one ever said visiting her is going to be safe."

He didn't need to elaborate on who 'she' was. The demon who had kept him prisoner briefly less than two months ago had eventually all but invited them to pay her dimension a visit. While they had not made an official declaration on that, none of them had truly expected that they would be able to get around it.

"You realize that going to see her will mean we're probably still as far from any angels as we can be while staying in the same dimension," their sister pointed out. She skipped over a particularly raised tree root easily, moving for all the world as if they were just on a leisurely stroll through the woods.

"We'll have to cross that bridge when we get there," Alec stated neutrally. "First, we get to the right dimension. Then we figure out how to proceed from there."

"Who's 'we' in this?" Clary asked. "We'll have to take Chris, I assume."

While Aline and Sebastian, cousins though originating in different dimensions, had quickly found into a comfortable relationship with each other, Christopher and Clary had done no such thing. Even now, they regarded each other with remnants of the distrust born of knowing the other's counterpart had been their enemy before.

"We will most definitely have to take Chris," Alec confirmed. "And that means Sebastian will come."

"Jack and Charlie," Izzy added. "I'm sure they'll love to come along on another adventure, and having a dragon and a Bard with us may be conducive to our continued survival."

The others nodded.

Jace stopped at the edge of the cliff "The Traveler takes twelve," he said as he peered into the depths. "I vote that we fill up those other slots. A few more allies might make all the difference in a place like that – whatever it will be like. Iz?"

Izzy came to his side, kneeling and reaching out to sketch a charm on the rock before her. She was the strongest among them in charmwork, and the one who had left one half of a magnet charm on the canvas before they had made their way up here. None of them fancied having to climb back down to get to their way home – and while Charlie was only a phone call away, using her as a taxi felt unprofessional.

The moment her shapes were completed, an object came shooting up to them. She jerked back just in time before the painting hit her square in the face.

"There we go," she declared as she picked it up and turned it until the trees in the picture were pointing the right way. "One entrance to the Wood."

 

New York

From the day Clary and her friends had come to him and told him about charms – or at least from the day he had tried them out and found that they worked for him - he had known that finding a way to merge being a werewolf and having back a variation of his runes would be tricky.

Maia knew, of course, but so far he had not confided in the rest of the pack. Though he had left charms in strategic places all over their lair and the docks, keeping away those who had no business there and adding to the safety and well-being of the residents, he could about imagine what some of those would say if they learned. They already saw him as too involved in things that were not strictly speaking pack business: too worried about Clary, too interested in Nephilim things – and not only from the point of view of a Downworlder representative.

He'd be back in the Institute in that capacity soon. Victor Aldertree had called a meeting, not so much inviting as very much ordering him and Raphael to attend.

There had been very little information given. Luke doubted that the head of the New York Institute intended to reinstate Alec's Downworlder Council.

Raphael wasn’t a bit more keen on attending than he was, his last experience with Aldertree fresh enough in his mind. This time, there would be no Magnus Bane to patch him up, should the man decide to have another go at torturing him.

Requesting more information on the scheduled meeting had not promised to be a very successful endeavor. He couldn't very well send a fire message and demand further details. He wasn't supposed to be able to send fire messages to begin with.

He'd have to take a more personal approach, then.

With the seraph blade he had kept the day they had freed Jocelyn from Valentine's grasp concealed on his person, he left the Jade Wolf and turned in the rough direction of the Institute.

He sketched on an invisibility glamor as soon as he was sure that none of his wolves were following him and that no one else was watching.

Safely concealed from most eyes, he made his way on a more direct route to his target. Once within sight of the building, he ducked into the shadow between two houses. It was time for his most complicated piece of charmwork yet.

Once he had put the sheath on his belt, he hefted the blade that belonged in it. It lit up obediently as soon as his hand closed on the hilt. The charm the Gales had shown him that countered the werewolf effect was more or less permanently installed on his palm.

Pulling the tip of one finger over the edge of the blade, he watched red blood well up.

Charms drawn in blood were the most powerful. Powerful was exactly what he needed now.

The four young Nephilim had worn glamors for weeks to mask their switch from runes to charms. Valentine had posed as Michael Wayland for years even. He only needed a few hours.

After some consideration, he had chosen the likeness of a man who had briefly been associated with the Circle until his untimely death nearly twenty-five years ago. It was unlikely that anyone in the Institute would made the connection – especially not after he had aged him up to approach his own age. He had practiced in front of his mirror until he was sure the glamor held.

He sketched it on now, the change barely noticeable from the inside.

Wiping the remaining blood from his hand, he sheathed his sword and stepped out into the street to walk towards the Institute, slowly and deliberately, as if he had every right to be there, but without dropping the invisibility.

His palms felt sweaty as he approached. The blade accepted his charm and lit up for him. Would the door?

With a silent thanks for the fact that sweat didn't wash away a charm, he climbed the steps and reached out to place his hand flat against the door. If it recognized him as what he had once been, it would open under his touch.

 

Calgary

Magnus had assembled a group of his most powerful warlocks, equipping them with scrying materials and other objects that would help them spot any disturbances within the confines of their city. While he would never have said any such thing, he regretted it more than a little that the creature that had held the warlocks of Calgary hostage before they had helped put an end to her reign had not left the stronger ones among them alive for very long.

On second thoughts, Calgary had survived this particular upheaval twice before already. It would survive a third time, though they were hoping to keep the repercussions low today. Cleaning up after the births of Allie's first two sets of twins had been hard work, the Gale Aunties had told him. With her ties to the city, the very fabric of the area she had marked as hers back when she had anchored the family reacted to her moods, dispositions and her pain. Even for a Gale, births did not happen without discomfort.

"Back East", as the family called it, there would have been plenty of Aunties around the help balance out the effects. Here, the four present were barely above the required minimum number and far from being the steadying influence they would have liked to be. Flying in enough from Darsden to make a true difference was out of the question. Bea wouldn't permit any of the other family group's leaders to enter her realm for anything other than a short visit that would not require intricate charmwork. She'd at least been good-natured about letting Charlie collect Allie's mother to give them a hand.

As it was, Magnus had offered his warlocks' services in keeping an eye on the city and stepping in when anything needed magical intervention.

That was what they were getting ready for now, and Magnus was taking the opportunity to introduce his two apprentices – a young local warlock who still looked his own age and Christopher Morgenstern whose demon blood gave him abilities so close to warlock magic that it made no difference, and who was still suffering from bouts of self-consciousness about it – to the finer points of scrying.

He didn't need a scrying bowl or mirror to feel the power shift around him as Allie's labor progressed. He also felt it echoed in a closer location, as David prowled his park. He had taken the day off of work once he had felt the first flows of power, finding it hard to hold on to his human shape if there was any disturbance at all in the magical network of the city.

Glancing out the window, he spared a moment's thought for Alec, wondering how his mission was progressing. He hoped that his boyfriend would come out of his meeting with Agnieszka less scorched than he himself had the last time he had tried to get some information out of her.

 

New York

Luke had forced himself not to breathe a visible sigh of relief when the door opened and admitted him – the first time in nearly two decades that he had been able to enter an Institute without the help of one of the resident Nephilim. Now he merely had to remember that he didn't know anyone here, that he wasn't supposed to know the layout of the building and find a way to get some information without asking too openly.

Using the advantage that, in contrast to the man he impersonated, he knew who worked close to Aldertree and who didn't, he made his way to the mess hall, where he helped himself to a plate before letting his gaze roam the room. It was quite crowded, which was only to be expected this time of the day.

He made for an unoccupied spot close to where Raj Silverwood and his friends were sitting. He focused on their conversation as he ate, hoping for some sort of opening that he could use to join in.

No one paid him any notice. Institutes were open to all Nephilim, and enough of them travelled either on assignment or on research to make new faces nothing out of the ordinary. In spite of what had happened with Jonathan Christopher the year before, the fact that the wards had admitted him was still considered enough proof that he had a right to be there.

Presently, their discussion shifted from the fighting style of some resident or another and its aesthetic virtues to something more useful.

"Has she announced yet if she's going to send a representative as well tomorrow?" A woman in that group asked. Luke knew her first name was Susan, though the rest of it eluded him.

"Not to my knowledge," one of the others replied. "I don’t think she will. This isn't about Downworlders as a whole, but about keeping the local groups in check. She's on our side this time."

Raj made a derisive sound.

"She has shown herself quite eager to make up for her ill-advised alliance with Valentine," the speaker continued.

"It's wrong," Raj declared. "Not putting a leash on the Downworlders – that's long overdue. But using Seelie methods for it…"

"Seelie methods?" Luke asked, rising and turning towards them. "Excuse me – I couldn't help but overhear." He held out a hand in greeting, hoping that his glamor's smile looked less forced than it felt. "Richard Highsmith. I just arrived today – and would you believe it? I'm on a research project about Seelie ways and Seelie interaction."

Susan laughed as she shook his hand while the man he had just interrupted pointed to the free seat next to Raj.

"Paul Oakblade," he introduced himself. "You're a few months late. If you'd come back in April, you could have talked to Iz Lightwood. She knew all about Seelie ways and Seelie interaction." His tone made it clear what kind of interaction he meant.

Luke bit down on his first reaction, opting for mild disappointment instead. "Where is she now?"

The three shrugged almost as one.

"Gone," Raj said. "And good riddance. Went AWOL with the rest of that group and hasn't been seen or heard from since. It doesn't matter. They have to come out at some point."

"Maybe not the person I wanted to talk to anyway," Luke decided. He wasn't sure how much talk about Clary's friends he would be able to stand without giving himself away. "But I did choose to come here precisely because of the local Seelie Queen's actions of the last year. Would you mind filling me in?"

Paul gave him a grin that caused the hair on the nape of Luke's neck to stand on end. "If you were hoping to meet her, you're out of luck. She converses only with our head of institute."

He didn't have to feign the shudder. "I have absolutely no wish to do that. I like my research nice and theoretical."

They laughed at that, and he joined in. "Now," he said when they had quieted. "Will you tell me what Seelie methods you are about to use to put a leash on the Downworlders, as you just said? Can you tell me?"

Paul shrugged. "I hope that things are more controlled at your usual Institute, but we've had a bit of an issue with Downworlder compliance ever since that time control of the institute changed about a million times in a week and then ended up with the Lightwood boy. Who was doing the high warlock, which didn't help the situation. In any case, they've forgotten their place."

"They're revolting?" Luke asked, keeping his expression somewhere between shocked and frowning.

"Not so much," Susan admitted. "They're more subtle than that. But they're not cooperating either."

Luke couldn't exactly deny this in his mind. Raphael and he, at least, were doing all they could to avoid having to 'cooperate' with Aldertree. Magnus' successor among the warlocks was even less favorably inclined towards the Nephilim, and a couple of slights on the side of Aldertree hadn't helped.

"And teaming up with the Seelie court is going to help in this how?" he asked.

"It's not really teaming up," Paul corrected him. "She's merely providing the wherewithal – a draft derived from the essence of Seelie food that binds and commands obedience."

His blood ran cold at that revelation. Masking his reaction with a blink of surprise, he leaned a little in Paul's direction. "And how are you going to get the draft into the Downworlders?"

"There's a meeting scheduled for tomorrow," Raj said from his side before the other man could answer. "The leaders of the local werewolves, vampires and warlocks will be offered a drink in greeting. They'll hardly be able to refuse that. Once they have consumed it, they will be ours."

"And the beautiful thing is that by binding only the three, we will have every single affiliated Downworlder in New York," Susan added. "Apart from the rogues, who need to be hunted down anyway. Which those under our control will then help us do."

"Apart from the rogues and the Seelie," Luke said. "Sounds to me like the queen found a practical way to keep her own people free to do as they will. Now see—" he gestured without taking his elbows off the table, "that is precisely the kind of behavior my research suggests to expect from them. It's not even particularly subtle. Now, if I was your head of institute, I'd think twice about this course of action."

From the corner of his eye, he saw people rise from another nearby table, whispering urgently to each other as they made their way to the door. Without turning to get a closer look, he could only guess that one of them was Ian Underhill, who had helped out Clary's friends not too long ago.

Momentarily distracted, he almost missed Paul's next answer. "He has a water-tight agreement with her. She's committed to it. Seelie can't lie, as you should know."

Luke raised his eyebrows slightly. "They can still change their mind. And they're masters at interpretation and phrasing. But I'm sure your head of institute will have taken all of this into consideration…" He broke off, lifting his hand to cover his mouth as he yawned. "I'm sorry. I think I need to request a room and get some rest. Time zones… my body's still running on European time."

A chuckle of agreement ran around the table. All of them were familiar with the effect of instantaneous travel across time zones and the toll it took on the body.

"Do you want one of us to show you the way?" Susan offered.

He most certainly did not. That, of course, was not something he could say. "Yeah," he told her instead, only to backtrack immediately. "No, wait. I'll probably learn my way around the institute better if I find it myself." He yawned again, this time more forcefully. "Actually, I think maybe I should go for a run first instead. If I lie down now, I'll just take forever to adjust. Would anyone like to join me?"

Predictably, they didn't.

"I'll see you around then," he announced as he pushed back his chair and rose to his feet. "It'll be interesting to see how that little plan plays out."

They waved at him, back in their own conversation before he had exited the room.

That foray, he thought as he made his way towards the front door, swerving slightly to avoid colliding with Aldertree, of all people, in the corridor, had been worth the risk he'd taken. Now that he knew the nature of the trap that was set for them, he would hopefully be able to avoid being caught in it. So far, he had no idea how, short of not attending the meeting – which he would choose to do if no other solution presented itself.

First, however, he was going to talk to a few people who tended to know about potions and their uses in food.

Chapter Text

Calgary

"We need to install a proper planning room somewhere," Magnus claimed as he let his gaze roam over the state their living room was in.

The resident Nephilim, along with several of the younger Gales and associates, were generously spread across all available seats and surfaces as they put together a plan that was, as they hoped, the least likely to get anyone killed.

"You're right," Alec said without looking up from his notes. "We'll do that when we come back."

The last time they had travelled into a different dimension, they had been ill prepared for it, never expecting most of what they had found there. This time, they had vowed to do better.

While they hadn't been able to find any information on what to expect in the homeland of angels and demons, they were trying to consider as many possibilities as they could. The inwardly enlarged bags they called pocket universes, even though Joe insisted that they weren't, at least would allow them to take ample supplies. Jack, presently sitting cross-legged on the floor and flipping through a book that covered legends on heaven and hell, had tried to duplicate Jace's water purifier.

As it turned out, duplicated runes didn't work.

"Focus, power and intent, remember?" Charlie had pointed out when they had realized that. "You can't intend for them to work if you don't even know which ones are in there – or how many."

Disassembling the device had been unanimously objected to. The single unit had helped them through one interdimensional journey already. It would do so a second time.

Charlie's sisters had brought them heavily charmed tents. Flashlights and all sorts of survival gear were being treated by Melissa and Cameron, with some support from Jace and Clary. Peggi Gale and Catarina Loss had offered to put together a choice of medical supplies that wouldn't rely on working runes or charms, and walk Izzy through the use of them sometime the next day.

Allie, somewhat exhausted but happy about the successful completion of her last double pregnancy, had called to let them know that they were free to take whatever they thought might be useful from the store or the storage rooms below it.

"Tell Charlie that I expect her and all of you back in one piece," she had said to Alec before hanging up.

"Who told her you're going?" Clary had asked when he relayed the information.

Charlie had shrugged. "No one. I'm not surprised she knows. I'm surprised she's not putting up more of a fuss about us leaving again, and going so far."

"I guess Ryan Alexander and Roger Magnus Gale will keep her sufficiently busy and occupied for a little while," Jack had suggested. "We just shouldn't stay gone for so long that she'll register the lack of babysitters."

"We still need to decide who will fill the last three slots," Alec declared, bringing the conversation back to the plans for their mission.

There had been no question about the five of them going. Christopher had looked a little pale at the thought when they had presented him with the need to go and visit the home of the creature whose blood had been used in his creation, but he had not for a moment suggested that he would prefer to stay behind. As they had expected, Sebastian coming along as well was a matter of course. Their new bond made the parabatai pairs more inseparable than ever.

Jack and Charlie had been downright eager to join the party.

A brief consultation among themselves had led them to the decision that Aline and Helen were to stay in Calgary, continuing to represent their group.

They'd talked about asking Hodge, but decided to leave that as a last resort. The man was a superb fighter, but though the oldest among them he was the one with least field experience after having been locked in the institute for more than a decade and a half.

"I say we ask Meliorn," Izzy suggested. "He's a trained knight, he knows Seelie magic, and in contrast to most of us, he's got both angel and demon blood. He might come in handy." He was also still struggling with finding a useful place for himself as an unassociated Seelie, and wasn't going to leave behind any sort of obligations or commitments. She didn't bother to point out the latter.

"Will you ask him if he's willing to come? I think we—" the vibration of his phone interrupted Alec's thought. Checking it, he frowned at the screen. "Luke. He says he needs to talk to Auntie Gwen and Peggi, and could someone please get him a portal."

"I'll go," Charlie said, rising to her feet already and collecting her guitar that rested against the wall by the door. "Be right back."

*

When the door opened again, it wasn't Charlie who returned, though.

Instead, two equally familiar, albeit entirely unexpected faces joined them.

"You're supposed to be in New York!" Clary blurted as she laid eyes on her best friend and his girlfriend.

Simon gave her his best carefree grin while Maia looked around, taking in the scene with interest and a determined expression.

"Charlie was going to take Luke out past the boathouse, so we ran into each other," the vampire explained. "We figured we'd come along and check in on you."

The enthusiasm they sported at that announcement varied immensely between them.

"We're a bit busy here," Jace pointed out. "We're planning a mission."

Simon gave a sharp nod. "To see Lilith. Charlie said." He turned away from the blond man and focused on Alec instead. "We'll join you."

"You will what?" Alec asked, a little perplexed, just as Jace and Clary both blurted: "Absolutely not!" as if on cue.

"Look." This time it was Maia who spoke. "We were there when you all rescued Alec. You know we have certain skills. A werewolf and a vampire – a daylighter, too – might be able to do things that you alone can't."

"Besides," her boyfriend added, "won't it be the best opportunity to prove that you really can work with all sorts of Downworlders on equal footing? The werewolf and the vampire on the team might come in handy there."

The corner of Alec's mouth twitched upwards. "I find Maia's reasoning a lot more convincing."

"I don't want you to go into danger, Simon," Clary insisted. She had come over, reaching out one hand to put it on her friend's arm. "Please—"

"That makes two of us." Simon put his hand on hers, squeezing slightly. "We don't always get what we want, do we?"

"They both proved they can hold their own on a mission," Izzy pointed out thoughtfully. "And they might add an element of surprise."

"But you don't know what you're getting into!" Clary tried again, her eyes pleading with Simon to reconsider.

There was a wry quality to his smile. "Neither do you, I've heard."

"You have no combat training!"

"Unless we take Ashley and Carrie or Graham, neither will anyone else we pick." Sebastian didn't move from his place and spoke without raising his voice. The others turned to look at him. "We can't ask Graham to join us right now. The twins would surely say yes, but they're probably going to get into trouble if we keep them away from work for however long it takes. Gale luck goes a long way, but that might be a bit much for it."

"Gary is still an option," Clary insisted.

"If Gary comes, Elessar comes," Christopher said. "And while he hates to admit to it, he is a Seelie prince, and we'll be spending at least half our attention on making sure no harm comes to him. I'm for taking the volunteers."

"Wait!" Clary tried once more, staring at Alec now. "Since when is this a vote?"

"It isn't," their leader replied. He turned to Simon and Maia. "You realize that if you join us, you'll be part of the hierarchy. Debating things will get people killed on a mission. If you come along, you do as you're told by whoever is in command. You don’t get to complain about it or object until the thing is over and everyone's safe."

They both nodded briefly.

"Then go over what gear you have and what we need to find you with Chris and Sebastian. Iz – can you find Meliorn and ask him if he'll be our last team member? Let's not draw this out any longer than we have to."

*

Meliorn had settled comfortably on the mossy forest ground, letting the veins of energy pass through him as they would.

He thought he could have stayed like this for a century, watching the seasons come and go around him.

Even Charlie the Bard, scarily powerful as she was, liked to have a way to control the passage of time when she travelled through this dimension. She'd confided in him that she avoided staying still in the Wood, as she called it, as much as she could.

He didn't care one way or the other. His kind always knew how to emerge where they had entered.

The Wood. It was a fitting name for it – at least as fitting as any other he had ever heard.

He could feel his homeland beckoning to him, so much closer here than it was from the Midrealms. It would have been easy to give in and step out in a familiar place, enjoying the feeling of being home at least for a few moments before he would have to leave again.

But would those few moments of joy truly be worth the risk? If his queen laid hands on him again, this time it surely would mean his death.

His former queen, he amended in his thoughts. The young prince who insisted to be called Elessar called him free, not beholden to any Court. Meliorn mostly felt lost, abandoned and adrift, though he tried not to let it on when any of the others could see.

It would be a long time before he grew desperate enough to risk falling into her hands again. Not only would his life be forfeit then, but it would hardly be an easy end. Slow and painful would be more like it. He was certain of that. It had been slow and painful the last time, too, and she hadn't even meant to end him that time, although he had come awfully close to dying. He had the Gales and the Lightwoods, Magnus Bane and Catarina Loss to thank for the eventual outcome. It had been their magic and their care that had ensured not only his survival, but also his eventual return to full health.

He certainly owed it to them to take care of himself. More than that, however, if he examined his thoughts truthfully, he came to the conclusion that he had no wish to recklessly endanger his life.

The first time he had realized that, it had caught him by surprise.

By now, he accepted it as a comfortable truth. Although he was an outcast among his own people, although the markings of his queen had been taken from him, burned from his skin until none of the vines would ever grow back, he still wanted this life to continue.

Though he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with it, what place to take in this corner of the world that was unlike any that he had visited before, thanks to the beings that ruled it, he knew that he wanted to find some place in it.

Thinking of them made him smile silently. Descendants of the Horned God, the Gales called themselves, but few of them – if any, apart from the Bard and the Dragon – knew just how literally true that was. He had seen glimpses of the god here and there during his forays into the Wood, and wisely kept his distance. That creature was too powerful for his tastes.

He made sure that none of the less savory inhabitants of this dimension came anywhere close to the places that allowed an exit in his family's territory, however, and Meliorn appreciated that. It allowed him to relax, never needing to worry about any of his kind passing through and finding him here. Not as long as he stayed close to the entrance.

Most times, he simply settled between the roots of the tree that stood as a rare, fixed marker in the ever-changing forest. No matter how much the scenery around it changed, that one impossible plant, with bark that felt polished, blossoms that smelled of beer overlaid with some other, even stranger, notes and leaves that rustled with the sound of music in the wind that didn't exist in the Wood, always remained the same – a silent sentinel that could bring anyone who knew how to look for it home to Calgary.

The plants around it reacted to his touch, growing and shrinking, changing season or even merging into something entirely different at his will, only to become what they would again as soon as he was gone. That tree wouldn't budge a single bud, no matter what he tried. It was an enigma, a conundrum he didn't try too hard to solve, lest it lose its wonder for him.

Sitting in the shadow of that tree, he enjoyed the silent peace around him, when his eyes fell on a different kind of plant – as strange, as out of place and as impossible as the one at his back.

He froze, staring as he lifted his hand to his face.

There, on the back of his hand, just above his wrist and close enough to the scar left from where his vines had been seared away to touch it, were the outlines of a bud in his skin.

Hardly daring to blink, as if losing sight of the shape might cause it to disappear, he brought up his other hand, the tip of one finger carefully running over closed petals barely different from the shade of his skin. It felt all the same, the ridges and indentations of the scar the only difference to the touch. The vines never did, though, and it was undoubtedly there, where nothing should have grown anymore.

The vines' growth was controlled by a knight's tie to a court, their position there reflected in the placement and density, as well as, at times, the type of plants found in the markings. What, he wondered, was going to grow in his skin now that he was on his own?

For a moment, he contemplated trying to nudge it on, speeding its development the way he might something actually growing outside of his body. That was against the rules, of course, but why would he still follow those?

In the end, it was something else that stopped him: The urgent feeling that someone, far away and yet very near, was looking for him.

*

He may have had to set up a portal from the Wood to enter most dimensions, but stepping back into the one where he lived, the one whose blood he shared, was as easy as walking through a doorway.

He emerged in a copse of trees on one of the many small rises in Nose Hill Park, not far from where Isabelle was standing, her phone out and typing on it.

"I'm here," he said, his voice low so as not to startle her. "No need to text."

She turned with a smile. "Alec sends me."

"Does he require my advice for his plans after all?" Meliorn wanted to know. He had left them to their planning earlier, excusing himself since he felt he had nothing to add to their work and was only going to take up space in the already-crowded room if he stayed.

"Well…" she began. She seemed a little uncertain of how to begin, which surprised him. Isabelle Lightwood was rarely, if ever, at a loss for words. "Yes and no. Maia and Simon have joined the team."

Now that certainly was a surprise. He hadn't known the two were in on their plans. That the Nephilim accepted them as companions on their quest gave him some reason to hope, though, that they were truly serious about building a new organization based on true cooperation on equal footing. That was, of course, if the two weren't going to be relegated to fetching and carrying once on the road.

He thought that he had an idea of where this was going now, however.

"So you still have space for one more companion," he pointed out.

Isabelle nodded. "Do you feel adventurous? We'd like you to take it if you do."

"Why?" He thought that he knew the answer already, be he wanted to hear her say it.

"All sorts of reasons," Isabelle told him. "We're going where the angels and the demons come from. As a Seelie, you have angel and demon blood both. It may be a special asset. We have Nephilim, warlocks, Gales, a dragon, a werewolf and a vampire. The last slot should go to a Seelie if one wishes to join us. You're a trained fighter. We know we won't have to watch out for you the way we would for most others we could ask. Your experience will be a valuable asset – and you can travel across dimensions without help."

He listened with raised eyebrows. "And your brother will listen to my advice when I give it?"

"You'll have noticed that Alec isn't adverse to input." She met his eyes evenly. "If the situation calls for it, he'll command and expect to be heeded. If there's time to talk things through, he listens and he considers – as you know."

And know he did. He'd been surprised a few times already in the last weeks to see how that small band of Nephilim was fitting itself into the established structures of the Gale family, and how they were striving to weave themselves into the fabric of the assorted Downworlders who called Calgary their home.

That left the question: did he want to join them? He had just reminded himself again that he didn't have a death wish. Going on that mission might very well equal suicide.

But what if he didn't join them and they didn't return?

He was tempted to tell himself that a single person wouldn't make that much of a difference, but he was realistic enough to know that subjectively that would be an entirely different matter.

Besides…

What Isabelle hadn't said was that he was not bound by family or profession. If he didn't return, he wouldn't leave behind people who depended on him. He wasn't going to lose a job due to his absence, since he had none.

And, no matter how he turned things in his head, he couldn't deny the little thrill of anticipation that had gone through him the moment she had said the words. He wanted more than a vague self-appointed task of looking after the park. He liked the idea of going on an adventure, a mission in which he would be able to use skills he would never put into the service of a single ruler ever again.

He inclined his head gracefully.

"Tell your brother that I'll join you. I just need tonight to finish up some work around here."

 

June 15th, 2017

New York

"Just like him, to hatch a plan like that," Raphael declared, as soon as Luke had finished his explanation.

The leader of the New York werewolves had come to the Hotel du Mort early, in order to fill in his vampire counterpart.

"I still can't believe you took that risk and went into the Institute uninvited! Or that it worked!"

Luke shrugged, trying hard for a nonchalant response. "I had a good glamor. Now, what do you think? Should we stand him up, or do we go and surprise him?" He raised the small potion bottle he held at the last words.

Raphael contemplated. "How far do you trust the people who gave you that?"

"With my life," Luke answered immediately, before adding: "With Clary's life."

"Ah." The vampire's lips twitched. "And you wouldn't by any chance know where she got to, along with the three musketeers?"

"Not by chance, no," Luke said. "And it's not my secret to share, so don't ask. We should make our decision before he makes his appearance…"

The High Warlock was supposed to join Raphael and take him to the Institute by portal, sparing the vampire the dangers of having to somehow navigate New York in daytime.

"He'll probably be fashionably late anyway," Raphael pointed out. "And it's not my fault you didn't show up earlier than this. Do you trust him?"

"No." That answer, too, came without the slightest hesitation. "And not just because of how Magnus was treated."

Raphael nodded his agreement. "We still can't let him get caught in Aldertree's web. If he has the warlocks at his beck and call, who knows what he'll use them for. And if we skip the meeting, we still won't have any way to make sure he will, too. Especially not if we don't fill him in. So I say we risk it."

Luke held out the bottle.

Procuring a glass from one of his cabinets, Raphael poured himself some of the potion.

"You're sure this works on vampires?"

The werewolf shrugged. "They said it should. You might want to add some blood to it to make it go down more easily, though."

Raphael frowned. "I'm not some fledgling vampire who can't manage to force down other substances, you know."

"I didn't know that was a reason to make it more uncomfortable for yourself than you had to. But suit yourself." Luke settled in one of Raphael's armchairs, watching him as he raised the glass to his lips and tilted back his head to drain it as if throwing back a shot.

"Is it me, or does this taste like whiskey?" Raphael asked when he put down the glass, barely grimacing at the reaction of his stomach to being treated with something that was not a vampire's natural nutrition.

"It tastes like whiskey," Luke confirmed. "That's what they used to dissolve the antidote in that their Seelie associate delivered. It was the first thing at hand."

"Well." Turning on his heel, Raphael retrieved three more glasses and a carafe with a dark red liquid. "In that case, I think we should offer the High Warlock of Brooklyn a drink as soon as he arrives – for good success with today's endeavor."

*

When Alec had held his councils with the Downworlder leaders, he had come to greet them by the entrance, shaking hands and at least making an effort to seem as if he was meeting them on equal footing.

Aldertree did no such thing. They were left standing by themselves, watched by a small group of Nephilim who were no doubt intended as guards, and who didn't make the least attempt to talk to them.

The three exchanged a glance and chose to wait in silence, without betraying impatience.

Eventually, the woman in charge of their supervisors glanced at her phone.

She must have been sent instructions, since as soon as she had put it away, she signaled for the three to follow.

"You understand that we've all been here before," Raphael pointed out to her. "We know where the meeting room is. You don't need to waste this many people on showing us the way."

She barely looked at him. "It's for your own protection. After all that's happened since last year, someone might feel like starting a fight, and then what?"

Though tempted to ask her if she couldn't have come up with a better excuse, Raphael held his peace.

Behind him, Luke walked without acknowledging the man who had moved to take the place right by his shoulder.

"Lucian." The word was said so low that only his always-enhanced hearing allowed him to pick it up.

"Ian." Luke barely moved his lips, hoping that Underhill had a listening rune on – and that no one else did.

There was a moment's silence as they passed right under a camera. Only when they were half-ways between that one and the next did the other man speak again. "The meeting is a trap. Don't eat or drink anything."

Luke clamped down on his surprise before it could register on his face. He wasn't sure what he had expected, but it hadn't been an outright warning.

"We're prepared," he returned. "But thank you."

Underhill took one longer step that brought him even closer to Luke. "You don't understand." His tone had increased in urgency, as much as it could without picking up volume. "Trust me this once."

*

They had settled around a table – not the round one they had used for this purpose before, but instead arranged so that the three of them were facing Aldertree and the two guards who stood flanking him.

A younger Shadowhunter – probably an intern, Luke thought – came in carrying a tray with three glasses that he placed before each of them. Aldertree himself already had a drink waiting by his elbow.

"I realize that the relationship between Nephilim and Downworlders has been strained recently," Aldertree began, smiling at them in a way that turned Luke's stomach. "I hope that you are aware that I will do anything to fix this and improve our relationship again. I swear that I will do all that is in my power to ensure a harmonious cooperation from here on."

Luke barely managed to suppress a sneer. Oh, certainly – if Aldertree's plans worked, their cooperation would be very harmonious indeed going forward.

"I'm sure," he said instead. He could see Raphael's lips twitch out of the corner of his eye.

The warlock made an impatient sound. "Why don't we get down to business?" he asked. "As far as I am concerned, deeds speak a far clearer language than words."

"Very well." Aldertree leaned back in his chair, taking each of them in. "And indeed they do. So let us begin this meeting by drinking to our new partnership." He reached for his glass and raised it towards them.

Raphael glanced at his, apparently filled with blood. Luke and the High Warlock had a slightly yellow, sparkling liquid in theirs.

"If you insist." The warlock's impatient eye-roll was audible in his voice. He'd been far more gracious about accepting their offer of a pre-meeting drink.

As Luke reached for his glass, he could see Underhill, standing against the opposite wall along with several other Nephilim on duty, move his head in a suggestion of a shake. He felt the man's eyes on him, could almost hear his silent pleading for him not to do anything stupid.

Hoping and praying that Elessar and the Aunties were right and that he was going to be protected from any sort of Seelie binding – hoping further that Aldertree had not come up with any other, new sort of plan that he had no knowledge of –, Luke raised his glass. "To good cooperation," he said.

"May it be more fruitful after this day," Aldertree added.

Luke focused on the taste as he drank. Even knowing of Aldertree's ploy, and in spite of all the boost that his werewolf senses carried even while in human form, he was unable to detect anything out of the ordinary in the Champaign. He didn't feel any different from drinking it either.

The blond Nephilim on the other side of the room let his shoulders slump a little as he watched them, his eyes closing for a moment as he swallowed the knowledge that he hadn't been able to prevent disaster.

"Now." Aldertree's voice had taken on a business-like tone as he put down his own glass. "Good cooperation requires honesty, don't you agree? And as much as I hate to do so, I have to ask you for your help first thing here."

None of them filled the pause that resulted, and Aldertree continued after a few breaths.

"You are aware that Alexander Lightwood, Jonathan Christopher Herondale-Lightwood, Isabelle Lightwood and Clarissa Fairchild are wanted for treason and other crimes against Nephilim and Downworlders, and currently on the run. It would be most … unfortunate if anyone got the idea that one or several of you had anything to do with their disappearance, or were aware of their current whereabouts, and didn't share the information. So, please – if there is anything you have forgotten to tell us so far, this would be a good time to fix that oversight."

The High Warlock snorted. "I have not had any dealings with them. I've never even met them. Why would I have anything to do with their disappearance?"

"The last time I saw any of them was in this room," Raphael declared. "In October last year. I haven't had contact since."

As Luke opened his mouth, he felt the slightest, vaguest pull on his mind, suggesting that he tell Aldertree the truth – about where the quartet had gotten to, and how. It was gone almost as soon as it had appeared, and had he not been watching out for anything like it, he would have probably put it down as one of those odd momentary urges when an unbidden, self-destructive thought crossed one's mind in the most inopportune of moments.

"As far as I know," he said slowly, "the man you just called Jonathan Christopher prefers to be referred to as Jace, and has dropped Herondale from his name. I fear that's all I can tell you."

Aldertree fixed him with a dark look. He hadn't reacted to the other two's statements. He probably hadn't expected anything else from them. He'd clearly hoped for something more substantial from Luke, though.

"You were like a father to Clarissa," the man pointed out. "Do you mean to tell me that she hasn't confided anything in you? Nothing at all that you could glean some sort of plan from?"

Luke let his lips twitch into a wry smile. "She's Nephilim and has fully embraced that part of her heritage. I'm a werewolf. What do you think? Besides—" he gave a small laugh, "would you have told your parents about any such thing at eighteen? Or even hinted at it?"

The other man nodded, albeit still with some hesitation. His hopes of a quick solution to that predicament had just been destroyed.

While they had been talking, another young Shadowhunter had moved in, placing thin folders in front of each of the three.

"Pity," Aldertree said. "But it can't be helped. It trust you will let us know if they contact any of you, or if you hear word of them. Now, to business then. I believe our cooperation will best be founded on a more formal agreement. You have just been given a draft of the terms we propose to ensure a peaceful and calm environment in New York and around it. I'm sure you will find them quite… agreeable."

All three of them reached for the folders, their faces darkening ever so slightly at the idea of being offered a set of completed terms, but without any surprise about it.

Reading what Aldertree had put together, Luke wondered if any sort of Seelie binding would have been enough to sign away his werewolves' rights like that. Probably, he admitted, though he secretly hoped that he would have somehow managed to keep his act together – or find his senses again after reading through the proposal.

Raphael closed the folder with a snap, pushing it away from him.

The High Warlock showed less restraint.

"This is outrageous!" he yelled, accompanied by the clatter of an overturned chair as he surged to his feet. "You cannot seriously expect us to go along with this! If this is supposed to be some sort of joke‑‑"

The guards along the walls shifted on their feet, ready to draw blades if the need arose. The warlock made a visible effort to keep his hands where they could be seen, and free of magic. Luke noted Underhill's perplexed relief at their reactions, quickly masked with a more professional expression.

"Please, calm down!" Though his voice was placating, there had been a flash of panic in Aldertree's eyes. He had gambled, sure that he held a winning hand, and he had lost. "It is only a draft. We can discuss and negotiate adjustments."

"I don't think so." Raphael stood in a more controlled fashion. He pushed the closed folder towards Aldertree. "Burn this. Come back when you have a proposal that is actually worth discussing."

"Oh." Luke joined the other two, though he kept the folder. He was sure that Alec and the others would be quite interested to see what Aldertree had tried to get their signatures on. "But didn't we just agree on making an effort at peaceful cooperation? A suggestion, then – to make sure this project doesn’t die before it has begun."

Aldertree frowned at him, but nodded. "Go on."

Luke gave him a smile that he hoped looked less painful than it felt. "Why don't the three of us," he gestured to include the other two,. "sit down together and draw up a new proposal that we can then use as a basis for negotiations? As you said: if the content is not entirely to your liking, it can still be adjusted thereafter."

The other man's lips thinned momentarily as he contemplated his options.

"Very well," he allowed eventually. "As a sign of goodwill, let us try that."

"Then I assume this meeting is adjourned," Luke declared, turning to the warlock. "Can we have a portal back to the Du Mort?"

Chapter Text

June 16th, 2017

A Dragon's Lair in the Russian Taiga

They had used a Gate to come in from Calgary, set up far enough from their destination so as not to disturb whatever magical workings Jack's uncle Viktor might currently have brewing. They had walked from there, falling into a loose formation on their own, with Alec in the lead, flanked by Izzy and Magnus, while the other four Shadowhunters brought up the rear and with the remaining members of their group spread in between.

Viktor was waiting for them outside the building that housed his lair as well as the magic store and workshop that ensured his livelihood. He wore human shape, as he had since the day he had fled to the Midrealms after the loss of one wing – an injury reflected even in his current form by the way his posture appeared a little lopsided and the way his arm tended to move into a slightly awkward position against his chest when he didn't use it. Torn muscle and broken bones, never properly treated and healed into thick scars, took their toll no matter which variety of his body he favored.

Eyes with piercing red irises took them all in.

"So you're dead-set on ruining my best artifact again," he grumbled.

"We'll try not to discharge it like we did last time," Alec offered. "I promise we won't bring back all sorts of passengers."

Viktor scoffed. "You're going to use up all its capacity and block it for further use until you're back anyway."

Which meant that if anything happened to them and they didn't return, he would have to find a way to replace the devices that allowed them to call up the portal to go home from whatever dimension they were going to be sent to. At least this time, they wouldn't need to leave someone behind to make sure the dragon didn't rent out the device to anyone else while they were gone, thereby closing their way back to them: They were going to take the entire set of activation artifacts with them.

"Uncle Viktor," Jack said, his voice perfectly even. "We talked about this."

Their eyes met for a moment before the older dragon lowered his lids slightly in the barest acknowledgement of Jack's dominance. It had been Viktor who had attacked Jack several years before, Jack who had torn off his uncle's wing in response. Jack, too, had been the one to find the crippled Dragon Lord and, instead of following his species' instinct and ending his life by turning him into his next meal, had instead found him this place, helped him settle and establish a business.

In return, Viktor helped out Jack when he needed assistance that he could provide – grudgingly to the outside, though he never put up any real resistance, not when his nephew desired to use any of his artefacts, and not when he had dropped off a Shadowhunter in need fo a safe place.

Avoiding the need to verbally acknowledge Jack's words, Viktor let his eyes roam across the rest of their group until they fell on Meliorn. "You look good," he noted. "Much better than you did the last time I saw you."

"I should hope so," Meliorn muttered. "Last time you saw me, I was dying. I'm told I owe you my life, but I fear I don't remember much of those days I spent here."

Viktor gave a dismissive gesture. "It's Giulio you need to thank for that, not me. He did most of the work. Do you remember nothing at all?"

"I remember tumbling out of the portal and hearing you say that you're not eating anything you can have a conversation with," Meliorn obliged. "After that it's bits and pieces, nightmares and pain until I came around in Calgary."

"You would remember that, wouldn't you?" Viktor said darkly. "You wouldn't have made a very good snack anyway."

Alec cleared his throat. "Before we get any more deeply into the merits of having Seelie on the menu, can we focus on the mission at hand? I was hoping to quickly talk to Giulio before we leave."

"He's out putting another artefact through its paces," Viktor informed him. "Should be back any moment, so if you want to wait for him…" He let the sentence trail off, not quite willing to issue an offer of hospitality this easily.

It wasn't necessary either, since Giulio chose that moment to appear, as if summoned by Alec's words. Walking around the corner of the building, the older Shadowhunter carried a length of coiled rope over one shoulder, ending in a deceptively small piece of metal. "The air hook works perfectly," he declared in Viktor's direction before nodding at the others. In contrast to them, he still wore his runes, though he, too, had applied charms on top of them in the meantime.

Alec had just opened his mouth to speak when Magnus stepped forward with an interested expression on his face. "Air hook?" he asked. "Can I see that?"

*

One presentation and several rounds of vicious haggling and negotiation later, the air hook had changed owners and had been stowed away in Magnus' enlarged messenger bag.

The group had collected the return devices and taken their places inside the circle of the Travelling artefact set up in Viktor's basement. The room hadn't changed since the last time they had been there.

Giulio stood aside, watching as Viktor took the small vial of thick, dark liquid from Alec's hand.

"Last chance to abort," the dragon said, the look he gave each of them almost hopeful.

No one took his offer. Simon even shook his head.

With a sigh, Viktor pushed a button to open the hatch that would allow him to feed in the sample of matter from the dimension the group was about to travel to.  "Send me a postcard at least," he told them as he uncorked the vial and emptied it into the device.

It started up, working more slowly this time than it had the first time they had used it. Whether that was because they were more people, because they were using its other mode or if it had anything to do with the work Viktor had done on it in the meantime, they couldn't tell.

"Not sure they produce postcards there," Alec told him. "But we'll make sure to ask Lilith about it."

Viktor froze at his words, staring into the condensing lights of the forming portal. "Lilith?" His voice bordered a squeak. "You're not—you must be completely insane!" He spun, his hands frantically running over the buttons of his control panel as he tried to interrupt the process he had just set in motion.

He could hear voices, thought that one was Alec's and one Jack's, but the words were being whisked away along with the speakers as the Traveller did its duty. The Gate flashed the moment he hit the last key to complete the cancellation, leaving behind nothing but accusatory silence.

Giulio had stepped forward in reaction to his sudden rush of activity. The man's face reflected confusion along with worry.

"They're dead," Viktor announced in a flat voice. "If not now, then soon. And once they find out, the old women will come after us."

 

Another Dimension

The first time they had travelled with Viktor's device had been bad.

Knowing what they were in for and steeling themselves for it didn't make it any better.

Alec hit the ground at their destination hard, his head spinning and his stomach roiling as he squeezed his eyes shut against the glare of an unforgiving sun much brighter than the one he was used to.

Sunglasses, a thought shot through his mind. We should have brought sunglasses.

He blinked carefully, letting his eyes adjust to his surroundings.

They had landed in the middle of nowhere, on an inhospitable piece of land. Cracks ran through the earth they stood on, cutting lines through parched, dried-out plants that seemed to be some variety of grass, though much more rigid and with a thicker, harder outer layer. He could feel the resistance through his boots as he took a step forward.

For a moment, he wondered if the device had malfunctioned again. Then he realized that no one had ever said that it would deposit them in any specific location.

As he turned to his companions, a cold dread seized him in spite of the heat that was already causing a sheen of sweat to form on his skin, the first beads coming free and running down his back under his shirt.

There was Maia by his side, Izzy and Jack. The others weren't anywhere to be seen.

Jace! The call he sent through the parabatai bond was like a reflex.

To his immense relief, the response came instantly. We're alright. Was it supposed to spread us out?

Alec glanced at Jack, who was looking around with a frown. He had dropped his glamor, wearing his humanoid dragon form openly here. I don't think so, he sent to Jace. Who's with you?

Chris, Charlie and Meliorn. You?

As he answered, Alec felt for the other bond that he had, connecting him to Magnus. It didn't provide him with nearly as much information as the one he had with Jace, but it did give him the relieved certainty that his boyfriend was alright and not in any distress.

He was just about to say as much when his phone buzzed.

Oh yes… he loved Gale phones that worked no matter if there was a phone network they could log onto or not.

Phone, he thought at Jace, already snapping it open. The screen had shown him Magnus' face.

"Everything alright over there?" he asked as soon as he had accepted the call. It wasn’t quite what he wanted to ask, but inquiring about the entire group – hopefully everyone who wasn't accounted for yet would be with Magnus – was probably much better style for the leader of the group than frantically demanding that his boyfriend confirm that he was fine. He left the device on speaker.

"Other than that two thirds of the group are missing," Magnus' voice came from the phone, sounding a little fainter than it usually did.

Putting that down to their environment – there was nothing but flat, barren country any way he looked – Alec sketched an amplification charm over the speaker.

"We seem to have been split up into groups of four," Alec said

"And if you have Simon, Sebastian and Clary with you, everyone's present and no one's double," Jack declared from behind Alec.

"I can confirm that everyone's present and only came along once," Magnus replied. "What are the plans for merging us back into one group?"

Alec considered for a moment. "What does it look like where you are?" he asked. "We're on some sort of dry plain, no landmarks or anything in sight."

"Sounds about right," his boyfriend agreed.

Before he could answer, he felt a slight pressure inside his skull. It wasn't painful or even uncomfortable – merely the announcement of a presence that was as familiar to him now as his own mind. He hadn't closed his connection to Jace, letting his parabatai hear the echoes of what was going on. Now Jace was knocking on the door to their link, silently asking for a look through Alec's eyes.

With a small mental twist, he allowed him in, turning once, slowly, to let him see their surroundings.

Same, Jace told him before retreating, leaving behind a tendril that beckoned to Alec to follow.

"I'll quickly check out Jace's corner," he said out loud, letting the others know not to worry if his body went vacant for a short time while part of his mind was elsewhere.

Then he blinked, and looked at Charlie, who was tuning her guitar and muttering something about sudden changes in temperature not being good for the instrument. Meliorn had let himself drop to the ground, sitting cross-legged in what passed for grass here and appearing quite relaxed in spite of the heat.

As Jace turned to give Alec an impression of his surroundings, he found Chris standing on the young man's other side, his eyes suddenly coming back into focus. He, too, had been with his parabatai for a moment. "It looks exactly the same," he said.

"Same for Alec's group," Jace replied.

Alec wasn't sure that he would ever get used to the way his brother's voice sounded from inside his head.

Ask Charlie if she can collect everyone? Alec requested.

Jace relayed the question.

The Bard looked at them. "I'm not sure I can use this stuff in lieu of plants." She gestured at the growth by their feet. "And I can get in here and out by your or Magnus' Song fine, but I'll need sounds to step through to get back in with everyone. So unless you want me to leave someone behind, it's going to be tricky."

Alec nodded mentally and found that Jace repeated the motion with his body.

We'll think of something, he declared. I'm going back to talk to Izzy, Jack and Maia.

The next blink had him looking at his own phone again.

Portals were out of the question – they could only take a person to a place they knew, and none of them knew any place in this world so far.

Maybe if they combined skills, having Charlie collect Magnus and take him to the other two groups so he could then open a portal to where he had originally been…

"Unless the entire world looks like this, we seem to have landed in the same general area at least," Alec declared.

Izzy looked at him through slightly narrowed eyes. "What was the sun doing?"

"The sun?"

The corner of her mouth twitched. "If the other place had the sun in a considerably different location, then the entire world looks like this," she declared. "If it didn't, we're at least marginally in the same area, though not necessarily close enough to walk."

Alec focused on his memory of Jace's view for a moment. "We're in marginally the same area with Jace's four at least," he declared before passing on the information to Jace so he could have Chris and Sebastian confirm the same.

"I could go and fly circles," Jack offered. "And also keep an eye out for shelter. I feel right at home here, but most of you are probably going to need some sort of shade sooner or later. If I spot any of the others, I can collect them."

Now there was an idea they could work with. Alec nodded. "You do that."

"Should we just come along right away?" Maia asked.

Jack hesitated. "I'm large, but seven of you may be a bit much to carry in one go."

"And if you encounter any sort of flying predators or whatever, you'll find it easier to get away if you're not weighed down by passengers from the beginning," Alec added. "Let's face it – we know next to nothing about this world. For the moment, we'll stay here and wait."

*

Jack dropped his pack and stepped away from the others, just far enough to not hit anyone when his body unfolded. Releasing his dragon shape always felt liberating – not unlike taking off shoes that were fashionable but just a bit too tight to be comfortable.

Once he had switched skin for scales, the heat felt even more welcome to him than it had before. He was a reptile. This sun filled him with more energy than the one in the Midrealms ever could.

He frowned, though he wasn't sure any of the others would be able to interpret his dragon face's expression.

Put on sunblock, he said, broadcasting for all three of them to hear. If he felt charged up by the rays, they would probably burn soon enough.

Without waiting for a response, he beat his wings to take off.

The hot air made flying a particularly pleasant experience. Doubtlessly, this was the sort of climate that his kind was made for. A few powerful strokes brought him high enough to make Alec and his two companions only small dots far below.

From his higher vantage point, he could see that the plains stretched vast and wide at their backs, but gave way to craggier, stonier and no less inhospitable terrain on the other side. In the distance beyond that, he could see the tell-tale signs of civilization, the sky discolored by smoke and the colors and shapes of the land appearing more sorted

He allowed himself a smile. Knowing in which direction he didn't have to go looking for the others was going to make his task easier.

Dipping a wing, he banked to turn, gliding back to his companions.

No life that I can see, no settlements nearby, he told them without changing back. But there's something like hill country that way, and people beyond that. Want me to fly you over so you'll be out of the sun?

*

Magnus hadn't thought that he would ever envy a vampire in bright sunlight, but right now he came quite close to it.

Out of the four of them, Simon the daylighter was the only one who wasn't sweating profusely.

"Yeah," he'd declared, "I can feel it's hot. But it's not burn-you-to-ashes-any-moment kind of hot."

It was for the rest of them. As soon as Alec had hung up the phone to let Jack carry his group to the edge of the plains, he had thrown up a shield with the closest he could come to improvising a filter that would keep the worst of the sun off of them. He wasn't worried for himself, really – he would be able to cool off with magic if he had to. Clary and Sebastian, however, red-haired and blond, did not have the best of prerequisites for dealing with the glare.

Clary had drawn her blade and was walking circles around them. He wanted to tell her to stop it and not heat herself up even more, but he didn't quite find it in himself. She probably needed to feel useful while Sebastian and Christopher continued to switch back and forth and were in silent communication much of the rest of the time as they filled each other in on what was happening.

Simon had started out fidgeting and eventually settled on following around Clary.

That at least gave Magnus some peace and quiet to delve into the veins of magic below them. He had noticed the strange feel to it the moment he had reached for it to throw up his shield.

At first, he had been tempted to say that it felt wrong to him.

Upon closer scrutiny, he thought that it was more a matter of feeling heavier, and, for lack of a better comparison, more viscous. If the magic in his home dimension, as well as the parallel timeline they had visited together, was like water, then the one in this dimension felt like thick molasses.

Running through a few simple trial spells, he quickly came to the conclusion that he could use it – that, indeed, even small spells seemed to carry far more power than they would have at home. It was also lacking finesse, however. It wasn't surprising that lesser precision would be the tradeoff to suffer for greater strength, but it would make it hard to use those parts of his magic that required exacting work.

Portals might not be among those, but healing most definitely was.

There was another piece of information that his examination of the local magic brought about: The ley lines in this world ran deeper and wilder than in his own, even though the flow itself was much slower. What seemed like a contradiction when he thought it through all the way actually felt very fitting every time he touched those flows of power.

Five of them were coming in right below him, converging in a star-shape to form a vortex of power that he didn't think he was going to touch without a lot of wards set up around him. That made him think of something else.

"Sebastian, can you ask Chris to check if there are any ley lines around where his group was dropped?" he asked. He could have simply called, of course, but he liked his hands free while he was playing with magic. He needed them to shape his spells and he might have to react quickly at some point. Gale phones survived a lot, but he wasn't going to rely on it that they wouldn't be harmed if dropped into a failed spell.

*

In between texting with Clary and keeping up a loose connection with Alec to keep track of his parabatai's progress, Jace studied his surroundings. If he put on a FarSight charm and squinted just right, he thought he could see a shadow at the horizon. Was that the hill country Jack had mentioned?

Since nothing much was going to come of that, he focused on his closer surroundings. What had looked like growth of a single stubborn type of grass at first glance turned out to be a selection of plants on closer scrutiny, some of them even sporting miniscule flowers. None of them looked like anything he had ever seen before, but he took pictures of them with his phone anyway. He was sure someone was going to find a use for those photographs.

The growth told him something: they weren't in a desert.

Drawing a knife, he bent to cut through some of the vegetation. A careful check of the cut showed him drops of a thick slightly yellow liquid. Although the grass looked more brown than green on the outside, it clearly wasn't dried out.

That in turn told him that there had to be some source of water somewhere, even though right now the place felt like it should have been parched.

He crouched down by Meliorn and waited a moment until the Seelie turned his attention to him.

"What do you make of this place?"

Meliorn gave a graceful shrug. "It's more alive than it looks," he declared. "But it's not a good life. It's all blighted… I wouldn't eat any of that if I was you."

"I wasn't going to." He had, however, been about to wipe his hands on his jeans. Reconsidering, he fished a tissue from a pocket and followed up with a cleansing charm on his palms.

Looking back towards the others, he noticed the focused expression that had come on Chris' face. It wasn't the kind of absent look that told him he was talking to Sebastian.

"It seems we're on top of a ley node," the other Shadowhunter announced before Jace could ask. "So is Sebastian's group."

Jace frowned. "Does that help us with anything?"

"It might explain why the group was pulled apart," Chris said slowly. "The magic may have disturbed the portal field from the Traveller somehow. And if Alec's group was also on top of a node, then it might make it easier for Jack to find us – If he can get an idea of what direction we're in, he could simply follow the ley lines."

"I'll tell Alec."

"Too bad that you and Jack don't have any sort of telepathic link," Meliorn noted in Charlie's direction while Jace sent the message off to his brother. "Since texting him isn't going to do much good while he's flying."

"Yeah," Charlie returned. "Jack never texts and flies. It's not safe."

*

Jack had flown them a little way into the hills and put them down by a small creek. It should have looked reassuring after the dryness of the plains, but Maia found that looking at the running liquid for too long made her feel queasy. What looked like water at first glance behaved wrong upon closer scrutiny. The way it formed waves where it hit obstacles and the sluggish manner in which it changed course made it seem like some sort of oil, rather than the water it should have been.

There were more plants growing here, though they looked scraggly and malnourished.

They hadn't seen any wildlife yet, which was possibly owed to the presence of a large predator among them, and Jack's lingering scent even after he had left.

Maia herself might be contributing, if smaller creatures living in the area could smell the wolf on her. She didn't much care one way or the other, but she was quite glad that nothing had tried to jump them so far. There were only three of them now, after all.

She had climbed down into the small gorge the creek had dug into the rock to have a look around and take pictures, while Alec and Izzy had stayed at the top, watching the surroundings and recording as well. They might not be here on a science mission, but there were enough interested people among the Gales that they would be in for a number of lectures if they didn't bring back any evidence of where they had been. Taking samples, Alec had declared, was out of the question. They didn't need to anger Viktor again for bringing back more luggage than the Traveller could deal with.

Thinking of the device, Maia quickly let her hand run to the pocket that held the small pendant that would allow her to activate the return function to go back into her own dimension. Knowing it was there was reassuring. Touching it was even more so.

She hadn't hesitated for a moment to declare herself willing to join when Simon had decided to go with Clary, but she was wondering if anyone among their group had any real idea of what they were getting themselves into.

Her nose, finer than a mundane's even in human shape, picked up scents that were sweet enough to be sickening, along with other, more pleasant notes. Mixed in with all of it, however, and inseparable from everything else, there was a veil of decay. Either this world was perpetually rotting somewhere just underneath the surface by nature, or there was something very much wrong with it.

When she had told Alec as much, he had looked at her seriously and nodded, taking down a note in his phone.

Just as she was about to move a few steps downstream to see what lay around the next bend, her ears picked up a buzzing sound. She straightened and turned in the same movement.

"Alec! Iz! Something's here!"

Neither of them asked any questions. She could see Alec reach for an arrow, while Izzy let her bracelet slide into her hand.

Climbing the banks again to join the others, Maia spotted the first signs of movement between the rocks as thick coils of something grey and beady pushed themselves into view.

*

Jack and Charlie might not have a telepathic bond like the parabatai did, but their second circle link was enough to make him feel the urgent desire to check his phone.

He had touched down briefly, not bothering with clothing while alone in the desert, and picked up the device. He didn't know how it stayed with him when he was changed, but it was always there as soon as he returned to human shape, even if everything else burned away in the transformation. The Aunties insisted that the mix of charms used to get that effect were far beyond the skills of a second-circle male – even if said male was also a sorcerer and half a dragon.

Calling Charlie, he let her quickly fill him in on the two groups' latest findings.

Then, back in dragon shape, he returned to where they had first appeared, working his way up and along the first ley line. He was going to rule out the ones that led towards the edge of the plains, but trying the others couldn’t hurt.

It took a few minutes of flight at full speed – taking him farther than a human could have walked easily in this climate – before he spotted the first colorful interruption of the ever-same brown grassland.

Through the UV filter shield Magnus had thrown up, he could see Clary pointing up at him.

He tuned down his size a little in his approach. He didn't need to treat the group to the full impact of the wind beaten by his wings at their fullest span.

Got you, he said, grinning a dragon grin at each of them in turn. Get on. Any idea where we need to go?

"I can try sending an impulse along the ley lines and hope that Christopher will be able to pick it up," Magnus offered as he gave Clary a hand up. "Can't promise anything, though. The lines don't behave just right here. It may take a long time to get anything through, or it might be overwhelmed on the way and never make it."

"I have a better idea!" Clary declared. "I can track Jace."

"If you're carrying a token of his affection, you'll be disappointed," Sebastian told her as he clambered up to settle on Jack's golden-scaled back just where the shoulders met his neck. "For the sake of tracking, that kind of thing counts as belonging to you."

Jack could hear the grin in her voice. "Something much better." She fidgeted, and craning his neck a little he could see that she was pulling a small locket from beneath her t-shirt and opened it. "I have a strand of hair from each of them – we exchanged them on New Year's Eve."

"Go ahead," Magnus encouraged. The warlock jumped up, reaching out to grasp Jack's scales in one hand and Sebastian's offered arm with his other to join the two already mounted.

Simon, boosted by his vampiric skills, was the one fastest up.

Clary had closed her hands over a strand of blond hair, and her eyes scrunched shut in concentration. After a few seconds, she pointed. "That way."

As my lady commands, Jack declared, spreading his wings and flexing his legs to launch himself and his passengers into the air.

*

Alec kept his bow in a ready position, his aim firmly on the creature that came slithering into view. Until proven differently, he would assume that they were under attack, but he wouldn't be the one to initiate violence.

The demon – he couldn't help but call it that – looked reminiscent of a snake, though its skin was beady, rather than scaly, and mottled in a myriad of shades of grey and brown. The raised head was weaving back and forth, swaying as if trying to hypnotize them.

Izzy held her whip ready as well. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Maia had drawn the small gun Graham had given her. There hadn't been time to train her in the use of a blade, but with blessed ammunition and the best accuracy charms they could find on the weapon to make up for her lack of experience with it, she was hopefully going to be an asset even without changing shape. He certainly understood why she didn't want to do that. Their opponent certainly didn't look very appetizing.

Opponents, he corrected, for there was a second one rearing up its head – more smoothly structured than the rest of the body, with bottomless black eyes and nostrils that constantly dilated and contracted as if trying to make sense of the strange scents carried by the three visitors from a foreign dimension.

Unsure if the creatures were sentient, and in spite of knowing that even if they were, they'd hardly understand any language that he spoke, Alec raised his voice: "We're not here to harm you. We're just waiting for our friends to arrive and we'll be gone again."

He was about to repeat the words in other mundane language that he knew – while Magnus, Jace and Christopher spoke demon languages, he had never focused his studies on those – when a third, then a fourth came into sight.

With the arrival of backup, the first of the creatures surged forward, opening a mouth and exposing rows of small, pointed teeth. It snapped for Izzy, its intent clear enough for her brother.

Alec sunk an arrow into the demon, aiming for the point where head met body, as far as he was able to determine, while Izzy's whip lashed out. Demon skin sizzled where the electrum touched it. As the long body twitched, the source of the buzz became clear: it was made by a movement of the tail-end, equipped with several appendages with no other readily apparent purpose than the production of that same sound. He was reminded of a rattlesnake.

He had another arrow on this string by the time Maia fired her first shot, throwing back a demon that had come right at her.

"Well done!" Alec told her quickly without taking his attention from the remaining attackers.

Another one of them shot forward, mouth open in a silent snarl. As it approached, a jet of fluid came gushing from an opening in its body just below the lower jaw.

Its range was impressive.

Most of its attack missed, though a smaller amount hit Izzy's leather armor, where it left an ugly, dark stain.

The young woman hissed between her teeth when a few droplets ran down to her exposed wrist.

A flick of her arm brought the whip around with enough force to let the electrum string bite deeply enough into the demon to nearly sever its head.

As it dropped motionless, the others hesitated for a moment.

Alec, Izzy and Maia moved closer together, ready to defend each other's backs.

The respite was brief. The quality of the buzz changed, turning almost painful to their ears. Maia gave a low growl at it.

Then the demons attacked in force, more of them that had previously lain concealed among the rocks rising up to join the battle.

Arrows flew quickly from Alec's string. After half a dozen, he had found a spot where the opponents seemed to be particularly vulnerable.

A buzz that sounded closer than it should have been made him turn sideways.

He had no idea how one of the demons had made it that close. Most likely, it had crept in low to the ground and without making a sound, until it was close enough to nearly touch them.

It didn't really matter. Now, he found himself almost eye in eye with it. As he brought around his bow to try for a shot, even though it was, strictly speaking, too close to him to make that move very sensible, its jaws, previously opened in a soundless snarl – or possibly a snarl at a level of sound inaudible to his ears – closed to clear the way for one of those venom sprays they had been trying to avoid.

In one terrifying instant, Alec realized with horror that there was no way he wouldn't be hit this time. In a desperate attempt to evade, he let himself drop and rolled. The maneuver saved him from getting the full load of it, but wasn't in time to avoid contact altogether.

He felt the sticky wetness on his face fractions of a second before he felt the burn: a painful sting on his skin, but the agony of hot irons in his eyes.

Chapter Text

"Why didn't we think of tracking to get a direction?" Jace asked, shaking his head, when Clary told him how they had gotten a bearing. His hand had gone to the locket he wore, complete with strands of hair from Clary, Alec and Izzy.

"Sometimes the simplest solution is the one most easily forgotten," Charlie declared, springing to her feet.

Don't feel too bad about it, Jack advised. It would have been too far to walk in the sun anyway. He didn't mention that the search for the first group might have gone a little faster if he'd had a direction from the beginning, but he thought they'd done well enough as it was anyway. Who's going to fly and who's going to walk?

They had decided that Charlie was going to take three of their companions into the Wood, walking through sounds made by the others. She could easily take them to Alec and Izzy's Songs while Jack carried the rest.

Sebastian slid off the dragon's back and landed lightly in the grass. "I'll walk. Jace can ride with Clary."

She gave him a grateful smile at that.

"Alright," Jace agreed. He was about to take the other man's place when he froze, one foot already on Jack's scales. "Get going," he said, his voice harsh. "They're under attack."

"Demons?" Chris asked as Jace vaulted up to join the other two dragon riders.

Charlie reached out one hand for Christopher and the other for Sebastian. Meliorn placed his hand on her shoulder. He didn't strictly speaking need her as a conveyance into the Wood, but from a dimension that was still foreign for him, it would be faster to go as a passenger.

"Some sort of snakes or worms," Jace said. "There's a lot of them."

"Get going!" Charlie's voice had an edge. "I'll use the ruckus you make when you take off."

Wing beats, Jack corrected her, flexing flight muscles already. Stop fidgeting up there, vampire. I don't want to have to go back for you if I lose you.

Simon, realizing that if Alec was under attack then so was Maia, had started to move around so he could look at Jace, who was their best connection to that group.

Trusting that Simon would not, indeed, lose his grip on him, Jack took off with just a glance downwards to make sure that Charlie and her three had made it into the Wood before he sped away, back to where he had left the others.

To his surprise, it was Jace who suddenly jerked so far that he almost toppled off.

Jack shifted in flight to catch the imbalance, while, judging by the way his burden shifted, one of the others had reached out to pull the young man back where he belonged. Jace was breathing heavily, the sound clearly audible to Jack's dragon ears. He sounded as if he was in no small amount of pain.

"Alec's hit," he said through gritted teeth. "Badly. Hurry, Jack!"

I am! Jack returned. Believe me, I am!

*

Alec had dropped his bow in a frantic attempt to wipe as much of the venom from his face as he could. His hands were stinging now as well, the skin of his palms wetted by the substance. His eyes felt as if they had been replaced by liquid fire. His lids seemed to be glued shut. Hopefully that was just his body's reaction to prevent more of the stuff from dripping into them…

He wanted to force his eyes open just to have proof that, in spite of how it felt, he could still see. At the same time, panic was rising up in him at the thought that he might open his eyes to nothing but darkness.

We're coming!, Jace's voice sounded by his ear, pulling him out of the spiral he had started out on.

Mustering all the willpower he could dredge up, Alec focused on that thought. Right now, they had to survive for long enough that Jack could bring in help. His eyes could be dealt with later. Jace was—

Jace!

Alec mentally clamped down on their bond, shutting off most of his pain from reaching Jace. He didn't cut contact all the way. They had promised each other that they would never do that if the other had reason to fear that they were in a potentially fatal situation.

He felt Jace's relief as the echo of Alec's sensations was tuned down, followed by a surge of guilt at feeling relieved. He grimaced. They'd deal with that later, too.

Though it felt like forever since he had been hit, only seconds could have passed. He assumed that Maia had shot the snake that had attacked him. There had been the sound of her gun firing as he'd gone down, and no second attack had followed on him.

Forcing his focus away from what he could or couldn't see and towards what he could very much hear, he found that Izzy was doing her best to keep the demons at bay. He could hear the sound of her whip cutting through the air, as well as the impact on demon skin.

He couldn't stay down. He'd cause the other two to worry more than they had to, and that would distract them in turn. As he put down his hand to push himself up, his fingers met the familiar shape of his bow. He grabbed it, feeling strangely reassured by the knowledge that he was holding a weapon in spite of being unable to use it.

Or was he?

Moving seemed to intensify the pain, and keeping it controlled took all that he had for a moment. Then he was standing, his feet braced shoulder-width apart as he fought a feeling of dizziness that came with the disorientation from his lack of sight. Maia was at his back. Izzy slightly to this left.

His hand went up, fingers sketching an amplification charm behind his ear that stung with the last drops of venom that still clung to his hand. Shooting blindfolded had been part of his training. If he could make out his target by sound…

Shoving the burning in his face and eyes to the farthest corner of his mind, he focused on what sounds he could hear.

Thanks to the charm, he could make out the slithering of the creatures over the rocks, track their progress around their group. He tried to remember their precise shapes. Where were the heads in comparison to the part of the snake in contact with the ground?

His fingers fumbled a little as he picked an arrow to put to his string.

Still unsure of where to aim precisely, he shifted slightly on his feet. The two women must have noticed his hesitation. Did they realize how badly he'd been hit? He wasn't going to announce it and distract them by making them feel they needed to protect him.

Just as he decided that he would simply have to risk a shot and hope that the arrow wouldn't go wide enough to give him away anyway, he heard the hiss of a discharging venom gland to his left.

As Izzy scrambled to evade, momentarily drowning out all other sound around him in his enhanced hearing, his body swiveled as if of its own accord and he shot without thinking – not at the snake he had originally aimed at, but at the one that had just given him a precise sound to use as a target.

A hiss that bordered on a shriek was his reward. With a grim, determined expression, he reached for his next arrow.

*

Though none of them spoke, Jack felt the impatience of his passengers as he sped across the plains towards the place where he had dropped off Alec, Izzy and Maia.

Do not jump off before I've landed, he cautioned as the tension among the group on his back increased. The last thing they needed now was a botched touch-down because his weight distribution suddenly changed!

Landing, however, was an issue of its own. One quick pass overhead told him that all three of their friends were still standing. He would have liked to send down a burst of fire to take care of the snakes, none of which seemed to react to the presence of a large predator above them. Quarters were too close, though, and dragon fire not made for precise shots. The risk of hurting his friends was far too great.

He swerved into a narrow turn, heading for the closest spot where he could land without dropping much bulk. He was carrying four adults after all.

Charlie and her group clearly were still on their way through the Wood. Going through that dimension shortened the distance, but she still had to actually do some walking if she didn't already know her exit point.

The moment his feet made contact with the ground, he felt Jace slide off his back, followed closely by Magnus and Clary. It was Simon, however, who was the fastest.

Using his vampiric speed, the young man catapulted himself forward, closing the distance to his girlfriend faster than any of the others could have dreamed of even with all their charm enhancements.

As Jack, now unburdened, compressed his size far enough to be able to maneuver the terrain easily and to get close enough to the attackers to get off a safe jet of flame, Simon ground to a halt between the three defenders, arms stretched out in a V-shape with his palms facing outwards.

"Stop it!" he commanded, throwing all the weight of his vampiric encanto skill into the words.

Several of the snakes froze instantly, giving Izzy and Maia the opportunity to pick them off.

Alec, strangely, didn't join them. If anything, he seemed confused, standing with his bow moving side to side.

Two of Jace's throwing knives flew, each striking home with deadly precision. He drew his sword as he ran to his friends' aid, Clary two steps behind him with her blade already out.

Magnus' fingertips were gushing blue fire that incinerated what it hit and left behind only small heaps of charred ashes.

A few wing beats took a much smaller Jack across the battle and down again on the other side of the attackers, from where he sent a powerful burst at those of the creatures still lying in wait. He didn't have the time to count, but it wasn't hard to see that there were still plenty ready to replace those that they picked off.

Or would have, if the sudden increase of the enemy's numbers hadn't given them incentive to reconsider their involvement.

Just as the last four of their friends burst through an interdimensional opening that hadn't been there a moment before, the demons decided that beating a hasty retreat was their best chance at ensuring their continued survival.

For a moment, they all stood, frozen, watching the long, slim bodies slither away.

Magnus's hands darted through the air, throwing up a shield as soon as there was a sufficient amount of space cleared so he wouldn't lock any of the snakes in with them.

It was barely up when he spun towards Alec, reaching out one hand for his boyfriend.

Still outside the shield himself, Jack watched Jace come up at Alec's other side, his hand going for his parabatai's bow.

"Dizzy…" Alec said in a voice just loud enough for the dragon to make out. The skin of his face was reddened and blistering in places, his eyes squeezed shut. Pain was evident on his features and growing as the adrenalin seeped out of him. "I can't—"

He didn't get around to telling them what, precisely, he couldn't do. One moment, he was standing on his own feet, swaying ever so slightly. The next, all tension went out of him and he sank into Magnus' waiting arms.

*

Magnus shot a look at Christopher as he gently lowered his boyfriend to the ground.

The man's innate ability to see the life force of those around him and to tell how close they were to death was the fastest way to gage Alec's condition.

"Not in danger," the young man announced with just a short glance at Alec. His sword still out, he directed most of the rest of their group to take position along the edge of Magnus' shield, guarding just in case the snakes returned – or anything else arrived.

Jack had come over and was waiting patiently outside the shield until Magnus gestured to open it for him.

The dragon, dressed all in grey now, ducked inside and slid into position between Clary and Meliorn.

Isabelle had collected her bag and was kneeling by her brother's side. As she unpacked a bottle of water and a soft rag, Magnus let his magic sink into Alec's body.

The skin of his face was red and blistering in places, but that was barely more than an inconvenience. Even without intervention on his part, that would probably heal without leaving behind any evidence of the injury.

As far as he could tell, some of the venom had gotten into Alec's blood and was the cause for his fainting as soon as the excitement of the battle was over. Everything he saw suggested that he would simply sleep off the effect and be fine upon waking.

His eyes, however, were a different matter.

The tissue there had reacted more strongly to the substance. It felt inflamed and painful to Magnus' magical probing.

Soothing it and nudging it towards healing shouldn't have been an issue. He had already started to call up the magic and point it in the right direction when he hesitated.

"Magnus?" Isabelle stopped washing Alec's face. "What's wrong?"

"Not wrong, really," he returned, gesturing vaguely with one hand while the other went to brush a lock of hair from Alec's forehead. "But the magic here is different. I'd feel confident blasting up that boulder over there, or even raising a shelter for us by changing the shape of the ground – big things, you know? Healing is the opposite of that. It's delicate work. I'm not sure I can be that precise here." He paused for a moment. "I also don't really want to try. I might do more damage to his eyes if I do."

Isabelle slowly exhaled the breath she'd been holding. "How bad is it?"

He took a moment to run the diagnostic magic once more, making sure that the result hadn't changed in the last few minutes. "He'll heal," he declared confidently when he was done. "I don't think the iratze will do much good because it's a venom wound. If they don't have the same issue with the magic, any of the Gale healers could probably fix him instantly. Since we don't have any of those…"

She waited as he thought about how to voice his thought.

"I can take him home and fix this. I just don't think he'd appreciate that course of action."

The young woman across from him couldn't quite help a chuckle. She continued her ministrations, carefully wiping every last trace of the venom from Alec's irritated skin. "What if you don't?"

Magnus moved to cushion Alec's head in his lap while trying not to interfere with Isabelle's efforts.

"His eyes will take a while to heal. I don't know how much he'd be able to see for a while, but they should be protected anyway. If you have any sort of eye drops in that first-aid kit of yours that would be soothing or help stave off infection, we should use those."

"I do indeed," she confirmed, thinking about the implications of his words. "He may come to the conclusion that going home will be more prudent than staying if he's effectively blind for however long it takes. Can you tell how close he's to waking up?"

"Not very." In contrast to the actual healing, his diagnosis spells were strictly passive and thus didn't pose any risk to the target. Through them, he could watch Alec's body work to clear the traces of venom from his system. "I think the battle high kept him going while you were under attack."

"He was shooting blind at the end there, wasn't he?" Isabelle was rummaging in her bag, putting out a jar of salve, rolls of bandages and eventually finding a small bottle of eye drops.

Magnus nodded. "I think so. He put listening charms on his ears."

"And spread the venom some more with that," Isabelle noted. The irritation around the charms was barely worth mentioning, however, and she merely ran a wet rag over it in the pattern that removed the glittering design on her brother's skin. He could re-apply them if he had need of them, and waking up to enhanced hearing would probably only serve to give him a headache.

"Company!" Jace announced just as Isabelle started to pry open Alec's lids to wash away as much of the venom as she could with water and drip the clear liquid into his eyes that was supposed to improve recovery from irritations. She didn't cease her work, trusting in the others to let her know if she had to come to their aid.

Looking past Jace, Magnus spotted a small group of people approach them at a rapid pace.

"Demons," Sebastian noted.

"Greater demons," Magnus specified.

Those of them on their feet moved closer together, effectively forming a wall between the three on the ground and the newcomers.

There were five of them, their appearances all perfectly human, just as the demons appeared when visiting their home dimension. They stopped an arm's length from the shield.

"Greetings," the one who was leading the group began. His voice sounded hoarse and the words came with a little hesitation, as if the language was one that he hadn't used in a long time and that he was no longer entirely confident speaking. "My name is Amon. I am glad to see you all survived your encounter with the serpents. The queen would have been most displeased if any of you had been lost. Who speaks for you?"

The queen would be Lilith, Magnus assumed.

Amon had taken the form of a tall, slender man with black hair slicked back from his forehead and piercing green eyes. He was dressed simply yet elegant in black fabric that didn't throw the smallest folds and might have been part of a glamor.

Sebastian and Jace shot a look at Christopher, who in turn glanced at Isabelle. With Alec currently out of commission, one of them would have to take over for the moment.

Isabelle didn't hesitate to nod to him, confirming that he should take the lead.

It was sensible, Magnus thought. He was the one who shared Lilith's blood, after all. He was the one she would have the greatest interest in.

"I do for now," Christopher declared. "Our leader was injured in the attack."

"He will live," Amon declared with barely a glance at Alec. "The serpents' venom burns, but it is not deadly."

Christopher nodded. "It would be wise to get him to shelter. Are you by any chance here to show us the way to … your queen?"

The hitch in his words didn't go unnoticed. Amon's lips twitched. "Go ahead and call her your mother," he suggested. "She certainly refers to you as her son."

The surprised look on Christopher's face made the demon laugh out loud. "There's no point in denying it. I can see her blood in you. And yes – she has indeed sent us to make sure that you and your friends make it safely to Pandemonium." The human name for the demons' city – or what they assumed to be the demons' city in any case – came with a scornful tone to it. Amon clearly didn't approve of the term.

Their temporary leader decided not to react to it. "Just give us a few more moments to take care of our friend," he asked instead.

Amon inclined his head regally and took half a step backwards towards his four companions, where he remained without speaking or betraying any sign of impatience.

Magnus scrutinized the other four. He couldn't identify any of them, and they were dressed so identically in black and yellow that it could have been some sort of uniform. It made him feel somewhat relieved: The moment in which he had to face his own father could be postponed a little longer.

 

Viktor's Lair

Viktor the dragon was pacing, smoke rising from his nostrils with every exhalation.

"Can you just calm down a little?" Giulio asked, not for the first time. "You're going to set the house on fire, and then where will we be?"

"It won't matter, will it?" Viktor returned. "When they find out what we did, we'll be gone anyway."

Giulio poured another cup of tea and held it out to the other man. Though Viktor had rightly pointed out that the amount of calming tea he would have to drink to make any difference, given the size of his true shape, was immense, at least he couldn't drink and breathe fire at the same time.

"Surely it's not so bad," he began.

Viktor slammed the cup down on the table with a sound that suggested that it had come just barely short of breaking. "You don't understand! They killed several of my brothers, and they banished our sister from this realm. It won't matter which way they choose to go for me."

"I know all of that," Giulio pointed out. His hand had shot out the moment Viktor's cup had begun its downward movement, lifting the tea pot to keep it from spilling as the table shook. Several months of cohabitation with a Dragon Lord honed reflexes he hadn't known he still possessed.

"I merely find it hard to believe that they would have managed to keep that trip, or their destination, a secret from them. Not the way you keep talking about them. And if they knew of it and condoned it, they'll surely not blame us for supplying the transport. And if, for some reason, they didn't know, then maybe we should go and tell them. They can try ordering them back if they don't approve."

He remembered well how Jack, who had boarded with them while Alec Lightwood and his lot were traipsing around another dimension, had used the device that posed as a regular cell phone to communicate with his friends. It stood to reason that the Gale Aunties would have absolutely no difficulty contacting the travelers this time around either.

Viktor stared at him.

"And if they don't listen," Giulio continued, "they can hardly blame us, can they?"

"You have no idea of what those old women can or can't do." Though his tone still sounded uncertain, his eyes had narrowed at the suggestion and his expression had acquired a thoughtful note. "But maybe that's one course of action that won't make things any worse. Speed them up, maybe, but then at least the wait will be over."

 

Demon Dimension

Their guides spread around the group when they set out, guarding to all sides – though if to prevent any of them from veering off the set path, or to protect them from outside dangers wasn't entirely clear. Other than Amon, none of them spoke.

Alec showed no sign of waking yet, and had been handed over to Simon to carry. The vampire wouldn't tire under the weight of a Shadowhunter, and he didn't need his hands free to use the Encanto in a pinch.

The Nephilim were walking with weapons out. Though officially in order to be ready to face any further attacks, should they come, Sebastian and Christopher had not switched back from swords to crossbows. They were guarding at least as much against their own guides as they were against any external threats.

They made good time. The demons who led them were familiar with the terrain, taking them on paths that were barely visible, yet undisputedly there.

With the exception of Jack, who seemed to thrive on the heat, and Simon, who didn't care, they were all drenched in sweat by the time the first buildings came into view, the water supplies they carried running dangerously low already.

The transfer from wilderness to a more controlled environment was gradual initially. After they had reached the first obvious signs of outside intervention – Magnus amended his first thought of 'human intervention', realizing after a moment that humans probably had nothing at all to do with it –, another few minutes' walk on a path that was now increasingly fortified brought them to the pale glow of a warding shield.

The pendant Amon pulled from beneath his shirt to place against the barrier hadn't previously been visible under his tight clothing, further confirming Magnus' assumption that most, if not all, of his appearance was in fact a glamor.

They stopped, studying the passage that had opened.

"Will going in there effectively make us prisoners?" Christopher said what they were all thinking.

Amon treated him to an amused expression. "We are at war here, you know. The wards are not to keep anything in – they're to keep things from getting there in the first place. If you leave without being given a key, you may find it difficult to come back."

They exchanged a look and a set of shrugs. None of them liked going in on nothing but his word, but realistically, they didn't have any choice if they wanted to complete their mission.

Eventually, Christopher nodded. "Let's go. Most of us need to get out of the sun sometime soon."

That drew a laugh from the demon. "Nightfall's just a few hours away," he declared. "Let's see if you like it better when there's no sun in the sky."

*

Space either did not behave as it should in this dimension, or someone was using some very powerful glamors or extension magic.

Given their experience with Alysha Gale and her enlarged backyard, or the fact that their own home had one more floor on the inside than it did on the outside, Izzy thought that they probably shouldn't be surprised.

Still, entering what looked like a humble farm house on the outside and stepping into a sprawling palace was a slightly disorienting experience.

Amon had handed them over to another demon, this one also humanoid in shape but its entire body showing a smooth, dark grey surface not covered by clothing and interrupted merely by openings in the location of nostrils and the mouth, as well as a pair of pitch-black eyes.

They, she amended in thoughts. The times when they had viewed demons as an it were supposed to be over. If they accepted that what they had been taught on the matter of angels and demons did not correspond to the objective facts, they had to at least give the demons the benefit of a doubt and treat them as people until proven differently.

Like the others, she was increasingly certain that the latter would not happen.

"Follow, please," the demon said, the sound apparently produced somewhere inside them since the opening of their mouth didn't move. Still, it was a sound, rather than the thought projection the Silent Brothers used.

Without another word, they began to climb a broad flight of stairs that seemed to lead into nothing. They didn't address the fact that one of them was injured with a single word, or spare as much as an extra glance for Alec. In fact, none of the demons so far had made the slightest move in that direction, instead apparently relying on it that they were able to take care of their own companion.

Watching the demon, Izzy found herself reminded of the shadows Lilith had used in her base in New York, though the color was different and at least this one did have some distinguishable features. Still, knowing that they had banished several of those made her feel better about being alone with this one. No one had made a move to relieve them of their weapons or asked them to leave them behind anywhere either.

That thought led to another: It was understood that demons killed in their world would not actually die, but merely be banished to their home plane. What, she wondered, would happen if they killed one here?

Asking the question probably wouldn't go over well right now, but it was something she thought they should find out about. Maybe they could ask Lilith at some point. Which reminded her of something else.

As the building seemed to take shape around them the farther they ascended, nothingness coalescing into landings and corridors, more stairs and windows that overlooked lush gardens, she sped up her steps, passing Clary and Jace to position herself by Chris' shoulder just behind their guide.

"We didn't call ahead," she pointed out. "And yet it seems as if we've been expected – or do you always invite random visitors that you find in your backyard in like this?"

The demon turned, studying her with their head cocked sideways, not unlike a curious bird.

"The Queen tracks her blood," they said eventually, as if that explained everything.

It did explain some things, though she wasn't sure if that meant that she was keeping track of Chris' whereabouts, or if she had been able to somehow tell that they were using the vial she had left with Alec.

Another two landings higher, they turned into a broad corridor with doorless walls. Doorless, that was, apart from a single large, arched double door that opened at a touch, admitting them into a spacious sitting room from which several curtained but otherwise open arches led deeper into what, upon closer exploration, turned out to be a generous suite of rooms.

When Izzy turned back from checking what was behind one of those curtains, the demon who had guided them up here was gone, the doors to the corridor still standing open.

"I guess we have accommodation for now," Sebastian noted, sketching a protective charm on the inside of the door before closing it.

Simon shot a look at Magnus. "Pick a room so I can put down Sleeping Beauty here," he suggested. "How long does he plan to stay out of it anyway?"

"Until most of the venom is out of his blood and his brain," Magnus returned. "Hopefully not long."

He walked past Izzy and turned into the first room off the corridor, stopping short in the doorway. "This is interesting."

Peering over his shoulder, she could see what he meant. The rooms behind that door were eerily reminiscent in style of Magnus' former loft in New York. The bed with its satin sheets seemed a direct copy even.

Jace and Clary, who had entered the room across from it, were coming back to have a look as well.

"Either Lilith knows us scarily well, or these rooms somehow shape themselves to our thoughts," Jace declared, gesturing over his shoulder. "There's a corner with canvases and paints and a piano in that one."

"Interesting," Magnus noted, his eyes thoughtful. Izzy resolved to ask him about what theory he was developing there as soon as they had finished settling Alec, whom Simon had lowered onto the shiny sheets.

"I think we should—" Christopher began, only to be interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing insistently and with quickly increasing volume.

Hands went to pockets, each automatically checking their own, except for Izzy, who was the closest to the source of the sound. "Alec's," she declared, teasing the device from her brother's pocket and snapping it open. "Yes, Auntie Bea?"

She hit the speaker button in time for the others to hear most of Bea's answering sentence.

"—are you doing with Alexander's phone, Isabelle?"

"Talking to you, apparently," Izzy said, not bothering to keep a sarcastic note out of her voice. "Did you need anything?"

"I do not." Bea's clipped tone wasn't quite a snap. "But the greater part of a dragon and his boyfriend just showed up at our doorstep in a panic because they think they sent you to your certain deaths. I'd be much obliged if you could confirm to them that you are not about to get yourselves killed so we can get on here without having him set the house on fire."

 

Chapter Text

The last thing Alec remembered was feeling increasingly disoriented as the battle sounds around him subsided.

He must have passed out at some point. At least that was the only reason he could think of for waking up in a horizontal position, his face still stinging from the venom – though not nearly as badly as it had been. He wasn't hot anymore, though. Either the weather had cooled off considerably, or he had been brought into a room with air conditioning.

Considering that the material beneath him felt a lot more like a mattress than a slab of rock, the latter seemed the more likely.

Trying to open his eyes brought no result. Instead, his lids met resistance, gently holding them shut. He raised a hand to get an idea of the bandage that ran around his head, fighting down the first moments of panic.

He wanted to call out for his friends, demand to know how badly he was injured, hear them say that he would be alright – yet at the same time, he didn't want to draw that kind of attention in a place he didn't know was safe. He didn't even know if he was still in the demon dimension with them. They might have just activated his return device and sent him home if they decided that either his injury or his unconsciousness were more than they could handle.

As he forced his focus on his environment, he quickly came to the conclusion that that, at least, had not happened. There were various people breathing around him. He could smell both Izzy's and Magnus' distinctive scents.

"No, Auntie Bea," he heard his sister say. "Alec is not in a situation in which he can take the phone. Also, you can let Viktor know that we will return the moment we find that we cannot handle this place."

"You will excuse us for not finding it particularly reassuring if Alexander is walking around somewhere in a strange dimension without his phone," he heard Bea Gale's haughty tone coming from a phone speaker – his phone's speaker, he assumed.

Ah. So no one seemed to be paying him any attention right now because everyone was busy being scolded by the Auntie? Things couldn't be that bad then.

He reached out vaguely in the direction of Izzy's voice, touching her sleeve and then her arm, and gesturing vaguely for the phone.

To her credit, she took it in stride, placing the device in his hand and letting him close his fingers around it.

"Are you still there, Isabelle?" Bea asked suspiciously when no one answered her.

"We're a bit busy here, Auntie Bea," Alec said, glad to hear that his voice didn't sound as if he had just woken up. "I need my team now. I'll call you back later."

With that, he snapped the device shut with a decisive flick of his hand.

Jace and Simon chuckled. Magnus, sitting on the edge of the bed, or whatever else he was lying in, put a gentle hand on his shoulder, letting Alec lean slightly into the contact.

"Well?" Alec asked, without directing his question at anyone specific. "Status report?"

"Lilith sent a welcoming committee and we got ourselves and you safely to her place." That was Christopher. Alec didn't need to see him to know he was probably standing almost in his own favorite parade rest position as he explained. "We've been given a suite of rooms and were just getting settled when Bea called because apparently Viktor was having second thoughts about sending us here. I think she was mostly annoyed at him until she realized Izzy had answered your phone and you didn't seem to be anywhere near."

So they hadn't told her about his wound? That was probably good. He hoped that that meant no one expected his injury to be permanent.

"I'm still not quite over it that she thinks Giulio is Viktor's boyfriend," Simon declared. "I mean—"

Alec found himself beginning to frown at that – a reaction that the still-tender skin of his face quickly protested. He made an effort to smooth his features  and turned his face towards where Magnus had to be.

"Was anyone else injured?"

"Only our valiant leader came out with anything to speak of," Magnus declared.

Alec's mouth twitched. That reaction, too, was reassuring. Had there been anything seriously wrong with him, his boyfriend surely wouldn't have been joking. "What do I need to know about his condition?"

The fingers of Magnus' hand on him moved, stroking in a way that felt more teasing than calming. "He got a face full of demon venom it appears. He's slept off the worst of it now. The magic in this world is behaving quite strangely, so the local warlock doesn't quite dare to heal him immediately. The iratze doesn't work because of the demon aspect. His face will probably be sore for a few days and his eyes may take a bit longer to heal, unless he decides to return to his home dimension immediately for treatment."

He considered. "Am I risking permanent damage if I stay?"

"No." Magnus sounded quite certain. "but you'd probably be more comfortable if you went and had Catarina fix it right away."

"But I wouldn't be able to return to join you again, unless we all go back and return," Alec pointed out. "In which case we may end up scattered the same way again, or worse – or we might not be able to do it at all if Viktor's artifact discharges again after all."

He thought he could feel Izzy nod her agreement.

Alec took a deep breath. He had no idea what the situation around them was, or how much his inability to see for a few days would impair them. No, he amended in thoughts. Magnus had said he'd feel sore for a few days, but his eyes would take longer than that. Well… the question remained. "Are we in any sort of danger if I stay?"

"Not that we can tell," Izzy answered quickly.

He could hear others shift around them, but no one objected. It was impossible for him to know if they were all there, though.

"Any objections to me staying?" He steeled himself for the answer. If anyone didn't feel comfortable with him there and not at his best due to  his injury, he would accept that. He felt Jace's approval, and resolve to fight anyone who might demand that he left them.

Easy there, he cautioned in his thoughts, just before adding aloud: "Chris?" Since he had been the one to react to his request for a status update, he assumed that Christopher was the one who had stood in for him.

"Happy for you to take back over," Chris said, and he sounded as if he meant it, rather than just saying it under the glare that Jace doubtlessly aimed at him. "We don't seem to be under any direct threat, and I'd really rather not be the one to negotiate with Lilith if I can help it."

"Then I'm—" Alec broke off at an insistent sound from somewhere outside the room.

"I think someone's knocking," Charlie observed as the sound repeated.

Someone shifted and started to move away from them. "I'll get that." That was Jack's voice.

As he nodded, Alec came to the uncomfortable realization that he didn't even know if the dragon had been waiting for his endorsement.

Well, he hadn't been going to oppose it. Out of all of them, Jack was probably the one safest person to open to door to an unknown demon – which was what Alec suspected would be the main source of a knock in Lilith's abode.

Alec slowly pushed himself up on his elbows, testing the movement to make sure that he wouldn't be caught by another dizzy spell.

To his relief, he found that that part of the venom effect at least seemed to have made it out of his system. He was just silently debating with himself whether he should sit up all the way when Jack returned. Apparently whatever message he had taken had been quick to relay.

"Herself has invited us to dine with her; she's expecting us in half an hour," Jack declared without preamble. "May I suggest that we break up this gathering to freshen up and change so we won't look like a horde of uncultivated savages who somehow ended up at court?"

"Good idea," Alec confirmed, filing away the information that they hadn't been at their destination for long enough for the others to take care of that. "Magnus? Is there any reason I shouldn't get up and join you?"

"None at all," his boyfriend said, moving closer as he spoke. "At least not medically speaking."

He let the thought hang in the air without saying the rest of it out loud. Alec didn't need to  hear it. How he felt about being among Lilith's demons while not being able to see what they were doing was an entirely different matter.

Still, he thought that it would probably be a greater show of strength if he went anyway than if he was hiding in their rooms.

"Will you help me find my things and clean up?" He sat up properly then, carefully swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and hoping that anyone who might still be standing in the way would move before he hit them.

"Certainly," Magnus confirmed, shifting with him.

A feeling of disorientation returned as he slowly turned his head from side to side, trying to find something that he could use to gage his position and the layout of the room.

"Get going then," Alec encouraged the others. "We don't have  a lot of time to get ready!"

"Yes, Sir!" he heard Simon quip as everyone started to file out of the room until he was left with only Magnus and Jace.

Do you need to have a look around? He parabatai asked silently.

Instead of answering, Alec sent a confirming thought after a second's consideration. It certainly couldn't hurt to know his whereabouts.

He could feel Jace shift mentally, making space to accommodate him inside his head, and turning slowly once Alec had joined him to give him a full view of the room. He grimaced mentally when he spotted himself, looking disheveled and badly in need of a bath. A broad bandage ran across his eyes, the skin around it just a little irritated.

A moment later, he called himself to order. Going by how it had felt initially, that could have been Jumuch worse.

Does this look like Magnus' loft? Alec asked as he took in the furnishings and the satin covers on the bed next.

She's personalized everything for us, Jace returned. Either that, or the rooms personalize themselves. It's a bit scary.

Maybe you can walk me through everything later. Alec retreated back into his own mind as he suggested it. For now, let's just get ready for that dinner.

*

Chris' door was just leaning against the frame when Sebastian left his room.

He tapped the knuckles of his first two fingers against the wood as he pushed the door open with his other hand, sticking his head inside. "Do you think I can go to dinner like this?"

If they'd been Alec and Jace, he probably would have just walked in, already expected. Those two seemed to always keep each other at the edge of their awareness, happy enough to share head space now and then.

It was different for the two of them.

It wasn't that they minded the new bond, closer and more direct, with the ability to communicate silently or entirely join the other in his body at need. While at home and safe, they were just as open with each other as the other parabatai pair was – or possibly even more so, since neither of them had a partner he would want to spend time alone with. Sebastian had been going out with Izzy a few times, but it was hard enough to find a time when they were both free, and he had come to wonder if it was a good idea at all. He liked her, but at times he found her seemingly infinite supply of energy almost frightening, while being certain that it wouldn't be long until she would turn away from him, completely and utterly bored.

On missions, Chris and he had long become comfortable with keeping their bond suppressed to the minimum that still allowed them to feel each other's presence. They'd started doing so after that day when Chris had acquired the wound that had almost cost him his right arm and left him with a deep burn scar spiraling around it from above the elbow to the wrist. The shock of that wound had nearly ended with both of them dead.

They had kept up the arrangement, feeling safer with it.

As a result, Chris only looked up when he heard the knock, waving him inside a moment later.

Sebastian looked around.

The room was furnished for simple comfort, the pictures on the walls the same that Chris had had in his room at the Institute back in their home dimension. A narrow drawing desk and two bookshelves supplemented the furnishings.

Chris had changed into black dress pants that he wore over combat boots, taking a welcome cue from Alec, as did Sebastian. No one could fault them for following their leader's fashion choices, after all.

Above, he wore a dress shirt so dark a blue that it looked black at first glance. It made him seem paler than he was, his white-blond hair a stark contrast. Still, it suited him. Sebastian had put a black waistcoat over a satin shirt in a shade of red just dark enough to not be reminiscent of execution garb.

"Yeah," Chris decided after looking him up and down for a moment. He didn’t move from his place on the bed, and Sebastian didn't need their bond to know that something was bothering him.

He walked closer, then turned to stand next to his friend and look in the same direction as he had. He saw nothing out of the ordinary.

"What's wrong?" he asked after another moment.

Chris shrugged. "Nothing really. It's just this place that creeps me out a bit."

"Because she made us perfect rooms?" Sebastian wanted to him. He didn't particularly like the idea that Lilith or one of her court was able to read their minds enough to tailor their rooms as they had, but he had resolved not to think about it too much until they could all sit down together and discuss it.

"No," Chris said. "She didn't. The palace made them for us." He turned, fixing his eyes to Sebastian's. "The entire place is alive, Seb. At least kind of so, in a weird way. And it's not well. Like everything I've seen here so far."

*

 They met up in the front room with a few minutes to spare. Alec had thrown on a beardless charm so he wouldn't show up at the dinner with the stubble he had already grown since his morning shave. While he usually preferred actually using a razor, he hadn't thought that they had the time for him to figure out how to shave by touch only. He had done most of the rest of his preparations the conventional way, with Magnus handing him objects and putting them away for him while he got ready as well.

Now he was standing by Magnus' side, close enough to brush against each other. The fine silk of Magnus' shirt was soft under his hand as he raised it to rest it on his boyfriend's arm. For the moment, he was going to allow himself the reassurance of that touch. Once in company, he would make do on his own as far as he could at all manage.

"You look good, big brother," Izzy commented as she joined them.

"I feel naked," Alec returned. He had gone with Magnus' suggestion of adding a simple white shirt and dark jacket to his dress pants. Having no combat gear on him at all – unless one counted the boots – in potentially hostile environment had part of his mind screaming at him and calling him all sorts of careless.

He forced himself to ignore it.

He had decided to at least leave his electrum bracelet on. It was ornamental enough, taking the shape of a large predator cat wrapped around his arm, and the material was particularly effective against demons. Izzy would wear her whip as well. He didn't need to see her to be sure of that. His sister never went anywhere without it if she could help it.

How the others were armed or not, he didn't know. He was just debating the merits of asking, when Jace mentally knocked on Alec's mind.

Do you need to inspect us all?

Alec felt his lips twitch into a smile. That'd be nice.

This time, he stayed in Jace's mind just long enough to have one quick look around the group. He felt both Jace's own electrum bracelet and the weight of several throwing knives on his parabatai's body while he did so, which in itself was reassuring.

Chris had buckled on a blade, apparently resolved not to go to dinner with the demon who had given her blood to create him unarmed. Sebastian wore a large dagger in his belt that would do well enough in an emergency.

Clary has one of my knives, Jace informed him as Alec turned his attention to the next of their group.

Simon and Jack, both dressed impeccably in black suits, were relying only of their own special skills. Charlie had what looked like a baby guitar. Sight of the instrument almost made Alec laugh.

Maia, looking gorgeous in the dress she had chosen, seemed unarmed, but was hopefully carrying Graham's gun just in case.

Finally, Meliorn, dressed in garments too finely spun and woven to be of human origin, and therefore most likely had been borrowed from Elessar, had chosen to also wear his sword openly.

"We look great," Alec decided as he slid back into his own mind. "Let's get going then. Chris? Will you lead the way?"

"Only if I have to," the other man returned.

Alec nodded at him. "Afraid so. I have no idea where we need to go, and if I had, I'd still have trouble finding it."

Picking apart the sounds of everyone starting to move at once, he decided, was too difficult. He turned his focus instead on Magnus, who took his arm and applied gentle pressure to steer him out into the corridor.

Once there, he almost stopped in his tracks as the quality of the sounds around him changed instantly.

"You okay?" Magnus whispered close to his ear.

He wasn't quite sure of that, but there was only one answer he was willing to accept from himself at that moment. He gave a single sharp nod. "I now know what a corridor sounds like," he claimed. "Everything is fine."

It didn't sound entirely convincing, but no one challenged it.

As Magnus led him forward, Alec let his hand on his other side trail slightly along the wall, giving him a better idea of how to move in a straight line.

It wasn't far before the hand on his arm tightened, just as the quality of the others' steps changed again.

"Stairs," Magnus informed him. "Reach forward and to your left."

Doing as he was told, Alec's groping fingers found the hand rail. Still, he moved forward slowly, carefully feeling for the edge.

The first step down wasn’t quite as deep as he had anticipated. Hitting resistance sooner than he had expected, he felt the impact jar through his ankle.

Brilliant, he thought. Maybe he should have just physically stayed in their rooms and joined the dinner only through Jace's eyes.

It was too late to do that now, unless he wanted to draw even more attention to his wound than he already would.

With that firmly in his mind, he pushed his other foot forward, feeling for the next edge.

*

Once they had reached the ground floor, another one of the featureless servants collected them to show them the way to the dining hall Lilith had chosen for their gathering.

The room, clearly intended for a larger group than theirs, was lit by lights along the walls and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, centered above a square table that would allow them to converse more easily than an arrangement on either side of a long, narrow one would have.

Across, just inside another door, stood the familiar figure of Lilith, her long, black hair worn openly and held back only by a thin golden circlet that appeared to be more ornament than sign of rank. The fabric of her dress caught and reflected the light, making it seem made of a myriad of colors that shifted and changed as she moved.

She was in conversation with another demon – this one wearing the same perfectly human seeming that she did, and dressed in a black so dark it seemed to swallow up all light, forming a stark contrast to Lilith's sparkling attire.

Magnus froze at the sight.

Frowning, Alec turned his face towards him, his expression as questioning as it could be with part of it obscured by the bandage.

"Just surprised," Magnus quickly assured him. His voice was low, pitched for Alec's ears only. "I did not expect to meet my father today."

He had barely said it when the man pivoted towards them, eyes with irises of pure gold shining with utter delight as he took them in.

Alec shifted, evidently trying to look in the same direction Magnus was facing. With a shift of the pressure of his hand, the warlock directed the turn as Asmodeus stepped away from Lilith and crossed the distance to them with steps too smooth and soundless. The movement never disturbed the clothes he was wearing. In anyone else, Magnus might have called the glamor sloppy. In these two, he tended to assume that it was nothing but a deliberate choice.

"It is so good to finally have you here, my son!" Asmodeus declared, reaching out to pull Magnus into a brief embrace that wasn't returned. The demon seemed unfazed by it. "Will you introduce me to your friends?"

Magnus pulled back a little, breaking the contact. "This is the demon lord Asmodeus," Magnus obediently informed Alec. "My progenitor." The creature that came to my mother in disguise, raped her and left her pregnant, he added in his thoughts. He refrained from speaking the words out loud, relying on Alec to know what exactly he meant. He indicated his boyfriend, his eyes and voice warming considerably. "Alexander Lightwood – my partner and our group's leader."

"I'm very happy to make your acquaintance," Asmodeus claimed, reaching out to take Alec's hand in both of his for a second.

It took an effort of will for Magnus to resist the urge to pull Alec out of reach.

"I have heard only the best of things about you," the demon continued, "about your valiant help in preserving Jonathan's life."

Alec's face hardened at the words. "The praise is misplaced," he stated. "It was not given by my choice."

In fact,  Lilith had kidnapped and tortured him, using the power of his pain to keep the broken body of their own dimension's Jonathan Christopher Morgenstern alive in some fashion.

"Ah, but that makes no difference," Asmodeus claimed, his hand going out again to pat Alec's arm. "You did well either way. I regret that you were injured before you even properly arrived. I would offer you a healing, but I am afraid that my skills in that area are no longer what they used to be."

Magnus imagined Alec rolling his eyes under the bandage. To those who knew him, at least, his entire posture suggested precisely that sentiment.

"No need to worry," he said smoothly. "It will heal on its own."

"I trust that my son will take good care of you while you require protection," Asmodeus determined.

"Will he?" Magnus' voice had an edge. "What is there in the manor that Alexander could possibly need protection from?" he deliberately hadn't graced the strange building with the term 'palace', and  while he could think of at least two creatures in the room with them right then who would fit the definition, he wasn't going to give Asmodeus the satisfaction of confirming that out loud.

The demon gave a low chuckle. "He does not seem the type who would stay indoors with a minor wound. But your friends appear to expect danger in any case. They have come armed."

"Habit," Alec said before Magnus could open his mouth. His muscles had tensed just short of the point where the bracelet would spring into action. "We're trained to never leave our accommodation without means of defense. I'm sorry if we've offended."

"I was hoping that we would be able to have some questions answered without needing to roam the countryside," Magnus added.

Asmodeus let his gaze travel over the rest of their group, who had come to stand behind the two of them, waiting for further orders and listening. "No offence was taken. It is always a prudent choice in unknown terrain. As for the answers you seek…" His eyes returned to Magnus, suddenly cool and unbudging. "Today is not the day for that. I am glad you seek knowledge, and what questions you have will be answered. First, however, I want you to understand things that are better seen than told. Send out your friends. Go and see for yourself if you dare. Learn. Then seek me out again."

Chapter Text

June 17th, 2017

Pandemonium

"So, you and Sebastian?" Meliorn asked without taking his attention off their surroundings.

Izzy's smile felt a little rueful. "Not really."

There had been no trace of Lilith or Asmodeus that morning, though they had found a set of small, round tokens marked in signs most of them couldn't read lying on a low table just outside the door to their suite – a table that hadn’t been there when they had returned to their rooms the night before and that merged into the wall as soon as they had removed everything from it.

Magnus, Jace and Christopher had studied the objects and quickly concurred: going by the writing on them, they were to grant each of them safe passage in Pandemonium under Lilith's protection.

Though barely two inches in diameter, they made their presence known to those who carried them. Izzy felt the weight of hers heavily in a buttoned pocket of her combat gear now. It wasn't that the material was particularly heavy. The pressure exerted by the small objects wasn't really of the tangible world.

Most of the tokens were identical save for the names they were marked with. Only three of them differed. Magnus had looked as if he had quite suddenly developed a bad toothache when he had laid eyes on his own.

"It's made out to 'Prince' Magnus," he had explained to their questions. "I'd much rather be 'honorable' like you all are."

"Same," Chris had agreed.

Alec, it appeared, warranted a special designation as well.

"It's.. a sort of title, or rank," Magnus had determined when asked. "Maybe a bit like General."

"General's close enough," the other two had agreed. They hadn't been sure if it was a nod to his position as their leader, his relationship with Magnus or his unintentional support of Lilith in keeping Jonathan alive a little longer that had warranted him the special treatment.

Alec himself had shrugged it off and simply pocketed the disc.

Determined not to waste any more time, and with Asmodeus' suggestion that they learn for themselves what they could in mind, they had set out to get a better idea of their surroundings, splitting up to cover as much ground as they could. Izzy and Meliorn, Simon and Maia were exploring the area around their current residence on foot, split again into pairs but remaining within shouting distance.

Charlie, Jace and Clary were flying with Jack to map the wider area, while Magnus and Alec, Chris and Sebastian had stayed to explore the palace and its grounds.

The farm house they had arrived at had taken on the appearance of a small castle by the time they had left, as if it had chosen to adjust its appearance more closely to the way they thought of it.

Jack had shrugged as she had mentioned it.

"It's not as if that's really what it looks like," the dragon had told her as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "It's merely how our brains process what they perceive – the closest they can come to rendering the things that belong in this dimension. Don't dwell on it too much. That way lies madness."

With that, he had burst into flames and changed into his dragon self, ready to take his assigned companions on a spree.

"How then, if not really?" Meliorn prodded, the slightest smile on his lips.

She chuckled in response. Meliorn had been too serious, too subdued ever since he had joined them less than two months before. Anything that made him smile was fine with her.

"It was worth a shot, but we're not a good match," she elaborated. "He's so proper he borders on boring, and I think I scare him. We tried. That's it."

Letting her gaze roam the path ahead of them, she made sure they weren't going to walk into any nasty surprises. An amplification rune behind her ear let her just make out Maia, walking with quick, confident steps along a street that ran in parallel to the one they were on. Simon moved silently even in their own world, thanks to his vampiric nature. Somehow, this dimension apparently amplified every Downworlder skill he had, though he didn't even seem aware of it.

With the charm, she could have focused on the couple's conversation, had she chosen to. Instead, she willed herself not to hear even bits of their words floating over. It felt too much like eavesdropping.

"So, you and Charlie?" Meliorn continued.

Now she laughed, happy to find that he joined her, albeit briefly. She hadn't realized how much she had missed hearing that laugh, though it was far less carefree than it had once sounded.

"You know Charlie," she told him. "Her heart is all Jack's."

"But the rest of her isn't," her companion pointed out.

He certainly had a point. For the Gales, any relationship was only as exclusive as the people involved chose. Jack may have found it too much of an effort to keep himself from roasting and eating any potential partners other than his wife, but Charlie had no such issues -and Jack had no issues with that.

"If she makes you an offer, don't decline on my account," Izzy said. "I have no expectations."

"Ah, but so you have some experience."

She shrugged. It wasn't a secret that Charlie came to spend the night when they both felt like it. She'd made it on Charlie's list of people she shared beds with a little over half a year ago.

What was he getting at, though? He wasn't working up to asking her if she was interested in resuming their former relationship. She knew what Meliorn felt and sounded like when he was flirting, or trying his hand at seduction – and this wasn't it. She didn't expect it either. Too much had happened since the time she had told him she wouldn't be able to see him again. For a moment, it occurred to her that he might still be honoring that, in a way. Would anything change if she told him that letter no longer held any meaning?

Maybe she would find out about that. Later, at a different time and in a different dimension. This was most certainly not only the wrong moment, but also the wrong place for that. They all needed to keep their minds on the mission.

As such, neither of them had stopped keeping track of their surroundings. Like inside the palace, the world around them seemed to cut off just before the edge of their vision, only for more of it to spring into being as they progressed. Once there, things remained somewhat consistent. It was as if the matter of this world was shaping itself into something they could see at the same rate as they approached it.

What did Jack see through his dragon eyes when he was flying high above? Did the same happen to him, or was he somehow able to look through the seeming and to the actual core of things?

The streets they were walking along seemed not unlike the outskirts of Alicante, where the wealthier families lived in detached town houses placed inside generous gardens. Jace's grandmother had one that wouldn't have looked amiss in this neighborhood.

Alicante, however, was never as deserted as this place. Maybe it was the heat. Though the sun had only been up briefly, she was starting to feel unbearably hot, with dampness collecting under her leather gear. On the other hand, shouldn't the locals be used to that?

"I don’t understand," she said eventually, turning their subject away from relationships. "Where is everyone? This looks like there should be plenty of people, and yet –" she gestured.

Meliorn looked at her, one perfect eyebrow arched.

"But they're everywhere," he said.

For a moment, she thought he was allowing himself a joke on her account. Then she blinked. Though no longer court-affiliated, Meliorn still was Seelie. That meant he couldn't lie.

She frowned, first at him, then at the world around them, then at herself.

Eventually, she forced her mind to go back to the time when she had been young, so young that using the twist of her mind that allowed her to see through ordinary glamors, to perceive the shadow world just like the mundane one, hadn't become habit to the point where she never turned it off and remained perpetually aware of it all.

It took her a second to tune her Sight just right. The world around her sprang to life in an instant, suddenly populated with the humanoid figures that had been so conspicuously absent.

"Right," she said. "So they are. Thank you."

She took in the beings that now shared the streets with them, mentally taking inventory of what she was seeing. Some of them looked close enough to humans to be indistinguishable from them. Others were less so than the featureless servants they had met in the palace. A number sported extra limbs, appendages at the purpose of which she could only guess. All of them had in common that they hadn't gone to any special effort to make themselves perceptible to them.

Most were simply going about their lives, not caring one way or the other about the strange pair. Some were staring at them in curiosity. On some faces, she thought she could see distrust and even open hostility.

Her hand went into her pocket to close around the token. All of a sudden, she was very glad that they had those.

As they progressed, and she started to get used to the variety, the similarities, rather than the differences, started to stand out.

Among those whose features were recognizable to her, she could see an ever-present air of fatigue, a pallor to the skin that suggested ill health, eyes lying just a little too deeply in their sockets, shadows just a little too dark. If that was what her mind was making out of what she was seeing, did that mean hat everyone she saw was unhealthy?

Lilith and Asmodeus hadn't shared that look, she thought. On second thoughts, she was less certain. Their whiteness had seemed fashionable rather than ill, but was that actually the case? How likely was it that there was something going on here that affected every bit of the population that she could see and sufficiently perceive to make sense of it?

Forget about likelihood, she told herself. Simply take note and record for now. Compare notes later. Make decisions then.

Just as she came to that conclusion, she realized something else: Everyone she could see and identify had the appearance of being fully adult. No matter how hard she looked, there was no sign of children or anything that might have passed for them anywhere.

*

Maia hoped that she wouldn't actually need to change while they were here – and for once, it wasn't because the change was unpleasant, or because she was fearing for her control, or even because she'd been conditioned for most of her time as a werewolf to consider the wolf shape – her fur form, as some of her new friends called it – inferior and undesirable, something to be avoided at all costs except in dire circumstances. She'd started to make her peace with it after she had met Rose and Peter Heerkens, and more so when she had helped their friends track the demons who had stolen Alec.

Even so, she was far from the easy relationship those other wolves had with their four-legged self. She didn't see herself ever chasing a frisbee as a wolf, or demanding to have her coat brushed – no matter how enjoyable those two had made the latter sound.

She certainly didn't see herself ever chasing and eating rats or other small animals, and in that area, she was quite happy to tell herself that the two wolves had only made up that part of their account of their lives in order to have some fun with her shocked expression.

Right now, however, she had an entirely different reason not to want to change.

Part of the sharper senses of her wolf shape carried over even into her human form, and her improved sense of smell did not agree with this world at all. Or maybe it was the other way around.

In any case, there was a faint note of an unpleasant underlying odor shot through everything she could perceive. It had been there from the time they had arrived, but it was much stronger here in the city – or its outskirts, as the case might be. It was part of everything from the plants in the gardens to the demons populating them and the streets, to the buildings themselves. The closest she could come was that it smelled as if something was rotting nearby, but just well enough concealed to not be immediately overpowering. Nevertheless, there was no way to escape it.

She'd thought she'd stopped noticing it when they had been in the palace, but either the quality of the smell was different out here, or it was just that much stronger.

As they progressed, taking note of the layout of the area, wondering if these buildings, too, were larger on the inside than on the outside, or if they could change their appearance at need, she forced her focus on her other senses.

It seemed to be the sort of neighborhood where everyone who didn't belong was noticed. The two of them certainly turned a great many heads where they passed, as conversations conducted in a language they didn't speak ceased  when they drew near.

Simon had put on his best polite smile, though she couldn't help but notice that his fangs were more evident than usual. If that was his way of telling anything that might accost them that he was ready, able and willing to defend the two of them, she thought he probably could have chosen a stupider way to do it. Still, she was going to rely more on Lilith's promise of safe passage than on teeth and claws, should anything happen. The token weighed heavily in her pocket, feeling as if it should have visibly pulled her jeans to one side. It didn't, though, and she had mostly stopped trying to compensate for a weight that wasn't physical in the first place.

Another two heads turned to watch them pass, one of them graced with about a dozen horn-like appendages in place of hair, decorated with delicate chains of sparkling material, the other something out of a nightmare that resolved into perfectly ordinary human features as she focused on the being.

Their eyes were not resting on them as a couple, Maia realized. It was Simon they tracked, carefully and not without some degree of distrust, while they were mostly ignoring her.

"I think they've never seen a vampire before who walks in daylight," she said in a low voice.

Simon's smile widened a little, his eyes sparkling.

"Glad we're not the only ones who see new things here, then," he determined, before turning towards the two she had indicated. Apart from their obvious strangeness, their demeanor seemed to be not much different from any pair of neighbors meeting at the fence to discuss the latest gossip and disapprove of the overall situation around them in general and the newcomers to town in particular.

"Don’t worry," he said in their direction. "I know I'm confusing. There aren't a great many of me."

The sounds that went between the two demons sounded like angry birds to Maia's ears, before morphing into the harsh demonic language that they had heard Magnus use before. Or something similar to it. For all that she knew, there could be any number of languages and dialects that sounded similar to each other but weren't.

That last part seemed directed at them, however, and she could only give a confused look back.

"I'm sorry," she said, suddenly realizing that they had no idea about proper conduct in this place. Was she supposed to look at the person she was talking to? Should she avoid their eyes? The predator in her felt like a direct starting contest could only lead to grief. The human part thought that avoiding a direct look would seem shifty.

Simon looked at her, then at the two demons. "I fear we don't understand that language. You don't speak English by any chance?"

That brought them another stream of rapid, unintelligible chattering.

"I guess not," Simon concluded.

They were about to move on when the demon who was looking entirely human to them now took half a step forward, one hand coming up in a universal gesture for "stop".

"We should have taken Chris or Jace or Magnus," Maia muttered under her breath.

Unsure of what else to do, and trying not to offend more than they might already have, they waited.

The one with the ornamented horns tilted her head slightly to one side as she regarded them. Maia couldn't quite say why, considering that what she could make out of the body bore no telltale markers, but she certainly registered as female to her. Then, without another word, the demon turned towards the building, staring at it as if willing something to happen.

"Do you think we should call over Izzy and Meliorn?" Simon's hand had gone into his pocket, doubtlessly reaching for his phone.

Maia was of a mind to agree. Calling for backup when it turned out they didn't need it would still be preferable to getting into trouble on their own, though she still wasn't sure what exactly they had done that might turn into a problem.

He had the device out but not open yet, when the door to the building opened – not in the mundane way, and if anything reminiscent of a portal trying to pretend to be a door – and spit out another horned demon. This one, too, wore decorations, looped in different patterns but mostly of the same materials. Where the first felt female, this one parsed as the opposite to Maia. He approached, stopped for a moment to hold a brief birdsong conversation with the other two, and then regarded the pair of them.

He gave a soft whistle and took a moment to collect himself.

"Do you understand?" he then asked, his voice low and his words hesitant.

"Yes!" Maia knew the relief she felt was reflected on her face just as much as she could see the same sentiment on Simon's.

The demon, if anything, seemed surprised at his success in establishing communication. She could have sworn the sounds emanating from the other two equaled amusement.

"I study your language, but I do not know much," he declared. "Not many travel to your place now."

Maia thought that the Shadowhunters in general would disagree with that statement, but she wasn't going to challenge him on it.

Simon gave the demon his most winning smile, baring only a hint of teeth. "We're only looking around," he claimed. "We're Lilith's guests – your queen's?"

That brought them a confused frown, followed by what must have been a peal of laughter. "Queen, yes," the demon said when he had calmed down. "But not the way your queens work. Do not think that." As his confidence in his ability to communicate with them increased, so seemed his fluency. What had come out as individual words at first, with small pauses for consideration between them and longer ones between sentences, quickly became one unbroken unit, though the melody of it still seemed a little off.

The one who seemed to have called him said something to him in that odd language, and he turned towards Simon.

"My sister asks why you have so much blood inside you," he translated.

"I'm a vampire," Simon said slowly. "I… drink blood? To live."

The demon shook his head. "Different blood," he elaborated. "You smell like a… a mix of everything. You are a …" He was fishing for a word, and realizing that he wasn't going to have any success in finding what he was looking for. "Your own. Vampires'. Theirs. Dragon's?" He lowered his voice on the third, as if afraid to be overheard. The last sounded like a question, as if he wasn't sure he was placing what he perceived correctly. "Why would they all give you some of their powers?"

Simon opened his mouth to respond, closed it again and came to a decision. "Long story," he declared. "I might tell you some day, but today, we shouldn't linger for too long. Our friends will wonder where we are."

As he spoke in their own language, presumably to pass on the response, the demon inclined his head in the same fashion that his sister had earlier. "What are you looking for?" he inquired then, once again in English.

This time it was Maia who answered. "Nothing in particular. We're just trying to get an idea of this place. It's our first time here."

The demon who didn't seem related to the other two had something spoke up, her voice soft and melodic and entirely at odds with the glance of her shape that Maia had caught initially.

"What have you come here for?" their translator asked.

"To learn," they replied, almost at the same time.

"About this place," Simon continued.

"About your people," Maia added.

"And about history."

He turned to the other two demons, engaging in a brief exchange with them. They seemed to come to some sort agreement quickly, as they all stepped forward, moving right through the fence that marked the edge of their properties as if it wasn't there at all.

"We'll show you the place," he declared. "We'll tell you about the people. It will be less boring than waiting for something to happen and trying to earn enough credit to afford a … casket?"

"Probably not," Maia said, unable to imagine what he might be trying to say. "But we get the idea."

She wasn't sure how she felt about suddenly having acquired three demon guides. At least they seemed only curious, and not at all hostile towards them.

Once again, his sister spoke, and once again he repeated her words in English: "Are you old and wise among your people, to be travelling here?"

That drew a chuckle from Simon and Maia. "Actually," she told him with a small grin, "We'd be considered rather young and foolish."

The demon's face split in a similar expression. "As are we," he informed her. "Barely…" he trailed off, frowning as he did some calculations in his mind. "Not even a thousand of your years, I think."

"Right," Simon said drily. "Practically babies."

"The youngest," their self-proclaimed guide confirmed. "Too young to remember the world before. The only history we know comes from books. But we can find you someone who was part of it."

 

 

The New York Institute

Lindsay was humming to herself as she walked down the corridor with a small spring in her step. The morning's training had gone remarkably well, and she'd breezed through her assigned work easily. There was just enough time left to make it worth dropping by her boss's office and asking if he had anything else he needed her to do.

She was quite happy that Aldertree wasn't holding the incident with the Lightwood group against her. She'd tried to stop them from going through with their plans. She still didn't know how they had knocked her out, and she'd been out cold for long enough even under the medics' care to leave no doubt that there had to be some sort of trick involved.

For a short while, she had been afraid that he might have lost faith in her, that she'd lose her position among his more trusted soldiers. That fear, as she found out quickly, had been unfounded. While he had grilled her mercilessly on everything she remembered from the time she had spent with the four, Aldertree had quickly understood that while she had been on a good path towards gaining their trust, she hadn't had enough time to get to where they would confide any details to her.

Reaching the Head of Institute's office, she stopped with a frown. She could hear angry voices inside, though they were muffled and not quite intelligible from where she stood.

Her curiosity piqued, her hand went for the door handle, depressing it slowly and pushing open the door just a crack to peer inside.

There was her boss, facing two men who been regular visitors over the last half year. One of them was Robert Dearborn, formerly Lightwood, who had once run this very Institute with his now-divorced wife. The other was the heavily runed man who had first shown up around the same time the younger Lightwoods, Clary Fairchild and Jace Herondale had gone missing the first time. Usually, their meetings were of the amicable sort.

Today, the trio appeared to be disagreeing on something.

"She deceived me!" Aldertree spat, staring daggers at the two other men in his office. "I do not know how she got around the whole 'Seelie can't lie' thing, but she somehow didn't deliver what she promised. That is the only explanation!"

"The explanation is that you failed," the blond man standing across from him returned sharply. "You bit off more than you could handle – again. One would think you learned a thing or two from losing those four."

"That was none of my fault!" Aldertree shot back. "They disappeared out of a surveilled Institute. You have all the footage! You know it hasn't been tampered with! The power went out in one room, out of which they disappeared! How was I to know the girl had learned to make her portals untraceable?"

Robert glowered at him. "It would have been part of your job to keep track of their skills," he said, his voice dangerously low. "Apparently you have too many duties to keep track of all of them at the moment."

"Says the man who can't even bring himself to go into his own house anymore because that lot somehow cursed it against him?" Aldertree's voice was icy. "And don't tell me again that in my position, you would have just shot them and been done with it. You know they aren't that easy to shoot. They even got out of Val's traps."

"Not without help," the third man, who had never given Lindsay his name, growled. "They couldn't have. And you were supposed to find out who helped them!"

"And I had someone on them before they disappeared," Aldertree declared. "It's not my fault the girl was working too slowly to get anything useful out of them. Besides – how do I know you didn't have a hand in this disappearance?"

"If I'd had, we wouldn't be here now," the blond man declared. "They would be safely interrogated, dead and harmless. Besides, you were the one who claimed he would be able to handle them! Instead you lost them, and now your wonderful plan for taking control of some of the last links to them that remained in New York failed as well. Spectacularly so, I would add! We'll have to at least put up the appearance of negotiations now."

Robert snorted. "That'll keep him busy at least."

His companion didn't share his amusement as he rounded in on the last speaker. "Do you realize what will happen if they find out that we lost them again?"

The former head of the New York Institute raised his hands in a half-annoyed, half-placating gesture. "Val, I don't think the Angels will care a great deal about what happens to those four brats. What can they possibly do that would cause any real harm?"

"What can they--?" Val sputtered. With the limited view and impractical angle that she had, Lindsay couldn't quite tell if it was stark disbelief or exasperation on his face. "You have absolutely no idea what we are dealing with, Robert! As long as we don't know what they are doing, what they have learned and what they are up to, our entire race may be in danger!" His voice was rising at the last words, each of them coming out clipped and precise, each an accusation all of its own.

"Now why don't we all calm down a little?" Aldertree suggested, his reasonable tone sounding only a little forced. He had plenty of experience in pitching his voice just right to seem as if he was suggesting the most sensible thing that there was. "Surely the survival of the Nephilim does not hinge on the demise of Alexander Lightwood and his cronies."

There was a moment of silence before Val spoke again, his words carefully measured and his tone icy now. "You'd be surprised. The last time I spoke with one of them, they were quite clear. If they contact me again before I can supply proof that we have dealt with the situation…" he let the words trail off, waiting for a moment before he added: "I wouldn't guarantee for anything if that happens."

"That's just crazy," Robert declared. "What could they possibly know or do that would be a danger to them?"

"That," Val informed him, "is not knowledge we are supposed or required to have. We merely needed to know that they have become a danger, and that we were tasked with getting rid of that danger. You have failed your parts in that."

They both glared at him, their looks clearly stating: You haven't been successful at it either.

"Val," Robert said after another brief pause. "You're starting to sound as crazy as Nicky did there towards the end!"

The expression with which Val turned to the other man was nothing short of murderous. Had looks been able to kill, Robert Dearborn's new wife would have been a widow now.  "Do not," he hissed, his voice just loud enough for Lindsay to make out, "ever compare me to that pitiful creature. Nicholas was too weak to take the blessing I gave him gracefully. His mind broke under the glory of it all. At least he was able to provide his body to me as a vessel to continue my work. I'm putting it to better use than he ever could have."

Lindsay found herself staring in shock as she pressed herself against the wall, suddenly seized by a cold dread that one or several of the three might realize that they had an eavesdropper. Val? Using another person's body? That couldn't possible mean…

Or could it?

She had never seen Valentine Morgenstern in the flesh. He'd been a story she had grown up with, a horror at the fringes of her reality. A far more real, tangible horror through the things that had happened the year before. She'd thought the work she'd been doing – with Aldertree, for Aldertree – had been precisely to prevent another Valentine from rising.

Through her thoughts, even as she knew she should retreat and forget all that she had seen and heard here, the conversation inside the office continued.

"Does that mean you have finally also acquired his visions?" Aldertree was speaking, his tone one of polite interest.

"Sadly not," Val admitted. "Which makes me think that they were never real to begin with, but merely a part of his personal insanity. Surely if they had come from the benefit of his angel blood ratio, I would have experienced them by now. But do not concern yourself with that. This body is superior in many other areas."

She didn't need to know which ones those were. In fact, Lindsay was certain that she hadn't needed to know even a fraction of the things she had just been witness to.

Afraid that they might hear the door snap shut again, she merely pulled it closed until it was learning in the frame before slowly creeping away from it.

As she did, her eyes fell on the camera across the hallway. Panic threatened to overwhelm her the instant she understood that if they suspected someone had been listening in on them, all they had to do to find her was check the feeds. Fighting it down and forcing herself to think, she turned her steps towards the ops center. She had to get rid of those recordings as soon as she could – and where better to do that than where no one would ever suspect her of doing anything illegal at all?

Chapter Text

Lilith's Home, Pandemonium

Alec was beginning to feel restless.

He was used to activity. Even during his time as head of the New York Institute, he had gone on missions and spent a good deal of his hours at home with physical effort of some sort or another. Now, everyone else had tasks to complete, and he was sitting on the edge of the bed he shared with Magnus, with nothing to do but to plot and plan and tell everyone else what to tackle next.

It didn't feel right.

Resisting the urge to knock on Jace's mind and at least catch a glimpse of the demon homeland from dragonback, he focused on his surroundings instead.

He listened, straining to focus on any telltale sound that would let him know when Magnus returned. Chris and Sebastian had set out to explore the demon queen's residence and the property around it, but Magnus had remained with him, serving as a communications hub for the three exploration teams. Alec could answer a phone call easily enough, but taking notes was not within the realm of things to be sensibly undertaken while unable to see what you were doing. Upon Alec's insistence that he would be perfectly fine on his own for a little while, Magnus had agreed to go and track down one of the servants to see what news a little small talk could render.

The hearing amplification charms had turned out immensely useless inside the building, as he had found out quickly. They made sounds reverberate almost painfully from the walls, the echoes too numerous and too loud to make any sense of them, and sounds filtering through the walls, floor and ceiling from other parts of the house adding interference that made it hard to make sense of the hodgepodge that reached his brain.

Opening himself up to the power around him and taking in some of the energy of this world sharpened his working senses and gave him a clearer idea of his surroundings, keeping him from bumping into things and even allowing him to guess at the location of open doors. It wasn't something he thought he should be doing when in other company than that of his own friends and family, however.  He knew from experience that holding enough power to get that effect would also bring about at least a faint manifestation of wings. He didn’t think he needed to remind his hosts of their alignment and their origins constantly.

In spite of the inconvenience, he found being blindfolded the lesser evil for the time being.

That morning, Izzy had taken off his bandage to drip some mundane solution into his eyes. It was supposed to prevent infection and speed along healing without the inconvenience of having the demon venom and the healing charms battle each other. She also had some sort of numbing eyedrops, but he'd chosen to forego those. When the burning sensation returned, he sketched on a painless charm to block it out. That, at least, didn't care about the demonic essence causing the discomfort.

He'd been nervous about what he would see – or not see – when she took off the bandage and he opened his eyes for her to administer the drops. He'd steeled himself for blurred vision, or even continued darkness.

In retrospect, he didn't even remember what he had seen that moment. Nothing had prepared him for the onslaught of pain when his injured eyes were exposed to sunlight. Before he'd been able to stop himself, he had slapped away his sister's hands and covered his face with his own, momentarily willing to do anything to make the pain go away and blessed darkness to return.

They'd had to put blackout charms on the windows, and Izzy had worked by the tiny light of the witchlight stone from her charms bracelet and a NightSight charm on her own eyes. Even that miniscule light source had felt like daggers digging into his face.

At least it had improved once his eyes had been closed and protected from the light again.

Feeling thirsty, he reached for the glass Magnus had put on the nightstand. Though his hand closed around the smooth material quickly enough and without almost pushing it off the surface – at least he remembered where he had put it the last time –, he quickly found that there was a different issue with his plan:

The glass he raised to his lips had been as good as empty. What water remained in it was hardly enough to moisten his mouth.

He sighed, about to call Magnus to ask him for a refill. He had him on speed dial, and hitting the button for that wasn't something he needed to actually see his phone for.

Then he reconsidered. He couldn't keep asking his boyfriends to do the simplest things for him. If that was how it would be, he could as well just admit defeat and go home. In order to stay with his team, he couldn't be more of a burden on them than he had to be.

So where was the pitcher Magnus had used earlier? He hadn't put it with the glass, but that was only logical. The square surface wasn't very large, and a searching hand could easily push something off it.

Focusing on the memory of the room as he had seen it through Jace's eyes, he quickly came to the conclusion that if it had been left inside it, it had to be either on the nightstand on Magnus' side of the bed, or the small table between two armchairs, along the wall next to the door.

Moving across the bed, he determined with carefully groping fingers that Magnus hadn't left anything on his side at all.

The table, then.

Alec stood, taking the glass as he did so. If he was mainly going to ponder their plans, he might as well do so from one of those chairs, and that would spare him the need of carrying a potentially full pitcher of water.

Being upright made him feel a little dizzy again. It wasn't real vertigo, he reminded himself, but merely a result of not having any visual input to use as reference.

Reasonably sure where the door was, he turned to face it, then took a careful step into the room.

Two more, and he started to wish he'd taken the long way, moving along the walls. He had no idea how far he had gone, and no wish to walk straight into a piece of furniture.

He held out his free hand in front of him in order to prevent any collision before it happened.

Rather than shuffling along, he forced himself to take steps of a normal size. It wasn't as if there would be anything on the floor that he could trip over. His bow and quiver had been placed under the bed, easily within his reach from there if he wanted them but out of the way while they were not needed. Everything else they had brought had been stowed away neatly. Magnus was nothing if not efficient in keeping things in order if he set his mind to it.

No sooner had he thought that than he realized that he had misjudged the height of those chairs. His hand had apparently passed well above the object, letting him walk into it with a clatter that made him wince.

"Alexander?" Trust Magnus to return at the most inopportune moment possible.

"I'm alright!" Alec called back as he steadied both himself and the chair by grabbing for its backrest. His hand on the glass had tightened reflexively.

Quickly ascertaining the direction in which the chair was facing, he moved around it and approached the table with much smaller steps, determining its whereabouts by a soft bump against its edge. There had to be a more sensible way of discovering furniture.

Alec ran his hand over the tabletop in a random pattern, and found to his satisfaction that the object he had come for was, in fact, where he had suspected it would be. He hefted it carefully, trying to judge by the weight how much liquid there was in it, then moving the glass close to the spout and tipping just a little so as to avoid spilling anything on the floor.

It wasn't quite enough, as he found a moment later: his glass was still as good as empty.

A second attempt turned out only slightly better.

"What are you doing?"

Magnus had reached the door to their bedroom by now. Alec could about imagine him standing there, watching him with one eyebrow raised quizzically.

"Getting something to drink," Alec informed him. Determined to not come up near-dry again, he tipped the pitcher farther this time, only to regret it the next instant, when he felt liquid run over his fingers.

At least Magnus didn't laugh.

"Do you want a rag to clean that up?" he asked instead, while Alec's imagination suggested that he was indicating the spill with a sideways movement of his head.

"Yeah," Alec heard himself say. "Thanks."

It was only fair, he assumed. He had spilled it. He could mop it up.

While Magnus went to get the requested item, he carefully raised the over-filled glass to his lips to take a sip so he could put it down safely. The pitcher went on the table next to it.

He'd hear what Magnus had to report, he decided. If there wasn't anything more important to do after that, he'd ask him to do a google search to learn about maneuvering in the dark. The mundane search engine had served them well enough when they'd had to figure out adjustments for Jace after his injury the year before. The Gale phones didn't care that they were in another dimension when they needed to call anyone. Hopefully, they would be just as indifferent to their location where internet use was concerned.

*

Whenever Clary had flown on Jack before, she had made use of one of the first things Izzy had told her back when her friends had taught her to ride: Always look ahead, never down.

Today, in the air specifically for the purpose of surveying the area and taking home as much information as they could gather, looking down wasn't optional.

She had no previous flying experience. Her mother had never taken her anywhere on holidays, and her travels of the last year had all been done by portal or gate or through the Wood. She could count the number of times she had flown on Jack on her two hands and have plenty of fingers left.

For the first minutes of flying and observing the world below, she wasn't sure that she liked dragon flying. Maybe they should have brought their falcons. She never minded riding in the bird's mind, looking at the world through raptor eyes. For one thing, she wasn't actually there. For another, the bird she was riding wasn't trusting on anyone else's wings to carry it. It was quite capable of keeping itself airborne…

And with that thought, she almost groaned at herself.

She had, like her friends, done the other sort of flying. Though they never rose nearly as high as the dragon could, and it was terribly exhausting and left her sore with the strain of immaterial muscles pulling on her shoulder blades, she didn't exactly have to drop like a stone to the ground if she slipped. All she had to do was open herself up to the power around her, beat her own wings, metaphysical as they were, and lower herself gently to the ground.

With that in mind, the experience suddenly became a lot more enjoyable. She almost would have sworn Jack's back had grown wider and less slippery, too, though that was, of course, nothing but an effect of her calmer nerves.

Jace had his phone out, taking pictures of what they saw, even though they had already learned that the results of those turned out blurry, with shapes often too vague to make out anything unless you knew what you were looking at.

Even with their own eyes, the land beneath them looked as if viewed through a steamed-up window, with an effect like fog clouding their vision beyond a certain distance. Still, they were able to determine a few things:

For one, Pandemonium was huge.

She had heard, of course, that the home of the demons was supposed to be a city of dimensions that would easily fit an entire country, or even more. She had put that down to exaggeration. Now, she wasn't so sure. While it was hard to judge the speed at which Jack's powerful wing beats propelled them forward, she was certain they had crossed the entirety of New York several times by now.

The general layout hadn't changed either.

Where in Alicante, the outer parts of town with their houses placed in small parks quickly gave way to houses surrounded by gardens, then townhouses built side by side with smaller garden patches out back, and eventually, closest to the core, houses that had no gardens of their own at all, this one didn't seem to veer from the first pattern at all.

That, or they were still above the outer fringes of the city, which was a thought she simply refused to consider.

During times when their vision of the world below was clearer, a FarSight charm would allow her to bring what was happening on the ground into focus. It was rather anti-climactic. There was no eternal torture going on, no fiery pits or hordes of demon soldiers drilling to invade some unsuspecting world or another.

All she could see was people – though some of them shaped quite grotesquely to her eyes – going about their business.

They had been out for about an hour when they first encountered other fliers: two demons mounted on creatures that reminded her just a little of the flying mount the demon general they had battled the year before had ridden. That had been roughly Jack's size, though. Unless these shared his ability of adjusting their size, they were small enough that he could have plucked them out of the sky.

One of them twisted in mid-air, craning a long neck to watch their progress, before its rider drew its attention back where to where they had been going.

Look there, Jack's voice suddenly sounded in her head. To our right and ahead. He was broadcasting for all three of them, since the other two turned along with her.

Straining a little to see through the haze, Clary spotted the first interruption in the ever-repeating landscape below: A complex of tall spires, spitting plumes of a purplish grey smoke.

"Mark for later," Jace suggested. "I don't know what is cooking down there, but I really I don't want to get into those fumes…"

"No argument from me," Charlie told him. "Can you get us around and then over there to see what else lies that way, though?"

Don't see why not, Jack returned, dipping a wing carefully to move into a long curve with minimal risk of dislodging his passengers.

*

*

While unsure what Izzy and Meliorn would say to their new companions, Simon had absolutely no intention of telling the three to stay behind. He wasn't above asking directions in an unknown place, and he certainly wasn't going to turn down the offer of a local set of guides.

"What do we call you?" Maia inquired as they turned at the next crossing to join the other pair. "I'm Maia, and this is Simon."

The demon who served as their translator rattled off a string of sounds that had them both staring for a moment.

"Was that your name?" Simon asked after a brief silence.

The demon nodded.

Simon frowned. "Don't you have a shorter name? I don't think our mouths are made for pronouncing that, or our brains for remembering it…"

"Shorter?" the demon asked. He seemed genuinely confused.

"Like Lilith, or Asmodeus," Maia said. "You know…"

"Oh!" His face lit up, comprehension visible even on the strange demonic features. Then his expression sank again. "No."

Well, that wasn't helpful. Simon was about to say as much when the demon continued: "We're nowhere near ready to travel to other planes. I don't expect I'll be able to afford a casket for at least --"

The sound that followed must have been an indication of time. Simon decided to simply assume that it designated a long period.

"When I travel, I'll choose a name for the destination."

"Great." Simon made himself smile without showing teeth. "But we kind of need something to call you now, not in however long!"

There was some rapid consultation in the demons' own tongue.

"How do you make your names?" the demon asked when he turned back towards them.

They exchanged a look.

"Well," Maia began, "our parents give them to us when we're born, of course. But some of us choose to let their friends call them by a short version of their names."

Simon found himself nodding his approval. "Usually it's the first syllable or two. Like – our leader is Alexander, but we all call him Alec. And we have two Jonathan Christophers – one is Jace and the other is Chris. And Isabelle is Iz, and Clarissa is Clary."

"Are we friends?" the demon inquired, his head cocked sideways.

"If you like." He wasn’t sure it was a great idea to offer blanket friendship to a demon, but they were supposed to not think of them as ultimately dangerous, evil creatures, weren't they? Besides, these three really did give off the vibes of high school, or at best college students, rather than seeming like bringers of imminent death and destruction.

"Then you should call me Arr," the demon informed him. "That is my first syllable. And these are Sal and Ro." He indicated first his sister and then their friend.

"Nice to meet you," Maia told them earnestly. "Now let's hurry and see what Izzy and Meliorn have to say to all of this."

*

Chris was sorely tempted to turn off his life force vision by the time he and Sebastian had left the building and walked the length of the park-like garden that stretched behind Lilith's home.

"Tell me if I suddenly grow hourglass eyes," he told his parabatai with a small sigh as he looked at the flower beds that lined the path. They were pleasing enough to the eye on the surface. If they were a bit on the dry side, that was to be expected given the climate. The leaves, thick and covered with a waxy layer, were less attractive, but probably an adjustment to prevent excessive loss of moisture.

"Hourglass eyes?" Sebastian's own eyes narrowed, his brows drawing together as he studied his friend. "What do you—"

"Never mind. Just a stupid reference to one of the books Jack and Graham loaned me." He bent to study one of the plants in more detail. "It's all—I don't even know how to say it."

Back in their own home dimension, after their Valentine had activated the Soul Sword and destroyed all demonic essences in the wake of its blast – a blast that he himself had only survived by sheer luck of having been inside adamas-reinforced walls at the time – a great part of their surroundings had been tainted by death and living decay to his vision. There'd been very few things that hadn't contained at least traces of demon energy in them – or whatever specifically it was that the blast had killed.

It wasn't enough for things to die outright, but it had done irreparable damage that they didn't recover from. Everything was just a little less alive afterwards, and slipping towards death a little faster than it would have otherwise. A year later, the signs of deterioration had been impossible to ignore for him, and even their new friends had quickly understood that things were not alright, even without the benefit of the special skill he had inherited from his demon blood.

He hadn't realized how bad things had become until he had returned with the others to their own dimension, and stood in the middle of a reasonably healthy world for the first time in many months, almost blinded for a moment by the ever-present glare of living energy around him.

What he saw in this world reminded him of that, though there were differences. Everything he laid eyes on seemed to be missing some vital aspect of its life force, making it seem sickly and undesirable to him.

Lilith had given off much the same impression, the first time he had seen her in his new home dimension. In fact, thinking back, he thought he had seen the same signs in every demon he had ever encountered, though he had always put down the wrongness simply to the fact that they were demons. He'd never considered the possibility that the demons might actually have something wrong with them. Even now, it would have been easier to just consider the entire thing proof that these things came from the demon dimension, and nothing more.

Between what the others had told them about Agnieszka's words and his own experience with the Soul Sword effect, he refrained from talking himself into that.

As he straightened again, he layered on another sunblock charm, drawn in his own sweat. Silver-blond and with the palest skin, he would have burned up in the glare far too quickly without. Sebastian fared only a little better, and he could about imagine how Clary was feeling, though Charlie would surely make sure she didn't forget to protect herself from the sun.

"I think we should go inside and peruse Lilith's library," he determined eventually. "I really want to know what happened here."

"Let's hope her books are in a language you can read," Sebastian told him with a ghost of a smirk. "If they are, you can give me a Speak in Tongues and I'll help you research."

*

"What—Who are you bringing there?" Isabelle couldn't help herself at the sight of the three trailing their friends.

"Izzy, Meliorn," Simon said with a small flourish. "May I introduce? These are Arr, Sal and Ro." The way his voice strained at the three syllables suggested that he was trying to reproduce an inflection that he was otherwise unused to applying. "They're friends."

She could feel Meliorn's amusement by her side.

Glancing at him, she spotted the grin to match.

"Baby demons," he said. "I haven't seen any of those in a long time."

One of the demons muttered something under her breath. The one Simon had indicated as 'Arr' directed a look at the Seelie that, if she was able to read his expression at all, was somewhat insulated. "We're not that little."

The corner of Meliorn's mouth twitched upwards some more. "You're about the youngest there are, though, aren't you?"

"Well, yeah." Arr admitted, his expression further darkening. "Not our fault we can no longer make young ones... Babies."

His companion spoke again. Izzy's eyes narrowed. She had shared Jace's language skills with a Speak in Tongues before they had left, giving her at least a few hours in which she could speak the demon language Valentine had taught him. Yet she could only make out some fragments. Either the demon's accent was terrible, or she was speaking a dialect – or an entirely different language – that wasn't covered by his knowledge.

"May I ask what language it is you're speaking?" she asked, switching to Chthonian. The Speak in Tongues charm didn't change the fact that the words felt almost painful in her throat.

Arr gave her what passed as an approximation of a frown. "That is the worst accent," he commented, still in English.

"That's a bit rude," Simon observed.

"I'm sure it's a good effort," the demon hastened to add. "But you didn't learn that from anyone around here…"

Izzy laughed. "No," she admitted, back in English as well. "I am sharing my brother's knowledge, and he got his from… dubious sources."

"Chthonian isn't good anyway," Arr told her. "No one uses Chthonian other than text books and scholars."

"We were under the impression it's ultimately understood." Izzy was making mental notes. She would have to talk to Magnus about that – then again, he'd never claimed it was an active language. The only thing that had ever come up was that it would be widely understood and that it was used in some warlock spells.

And so was Latin, which wasn't exactly used outside of scholars and text books either.

"Would you be willing to share your language with us?" She asked before Arr could respond. "We have a charm that allows us to transfer a copy of your knowledge to us. It will fade after a few hours, but it would make it easier to talk if your companions don't speak English."

The answer came immediately. "What do I have to do?"

"You'd have to let me draw a design on you, and on myself, and then we'd have to touch. I've never tried to charm a demon before, but it's safe on warlocks."

"And vampires, and werewolves," Maia added. "Basically on everyone we've tried so far."

"Fine," Arr said. "Draw your design on me. Does it have to go in a special place?"

"Your hand would do." Izzy drew the charm on her own palm first, showing him the process.

His face lit up as he watched her "Oh! It's sigils!" the tip of one finger flew over his own palm, copying the charm neatly before he held out his now-marked hand.

Izzy made an effort not to hesitate as she reached out to grasp it.

The rush of words into her head was dizzying, as usual. It only lasted a few heartbeats. When it had ceased, she looked at the other two. She let her newfound knowledge take over as she spoke.  "Is this better?"

"Oh yes!"

While she knew that the response had been in the demon language, it no longer parsed as foreign to her. Well, it would go back to that soon enough, but for now, communication was established. Izzy turned to her own friends. "Does anyone else want the charm?"

Both Simon and Maia held out their hands. Meliorn marked his own. While they didn't use the Gales' charms much, all the Seelie they had among their associates were perfectly capable of drawing power to the focus shapes.

"So, what can we help you with?" Sal asked. "We've never met outworlders before, and this is exciting!"

Izzy refrained from commenting on her eagerness. This wasn't how she had imagined a meeting with demons to go.

On the other hand, she hadn't ever imagined there might be young demons.

"We were just exploring the neighborhood," she told them. "We're staying with Lilith. We're just… trying to learn a bit more about your dimension."

The demon whose appearance was inconsistent with the other two – Ro – cocked her head slightly sideways. "You smell of them, but just a little. Did one of the defectors make you?"

Her friend elbowed her in the side at her words, as if to prevent her from saying more lest she might offend.

"I don't know what you mean by defectors," Izzy admitted. "I, and my brothers, and some of our friends, have angel blood. But we broke our affiliation with them. We want to learn the truth."

"You want the library, don't you?" Ro sounded less than amused by that. In fact, she sounded very much like Izzy's own brother Max would have sounded if he had been hoping to do something exiting and then learned that all he was going to do was to show someone the way to where the books lived.

The thought brought a smile to her face. "Eventually," she said. "But for now, we'd just like to see the area. Get an idea of the place. Learn where things are … and what not to do to keep from offending people."

"That's simple," Sal said. "Don't be boring."

Her companions laughed, and the four of them joined in after a moment.

"I think we can manage that."

Arr gestured down the street they had been walking on. "You won't see any of the neighborhood if we just stand here," he pointed out practically.

Nodding, Izzy fell into step next to him, staying back just far enough to let him take the lead. The other two demons arranged themselves between the four.

"What's up with the houses?" Simon asked after a few steps. "Chris said they're somehow alive."

The demons gave him confused looks that quickly cleared into comprehension.

"Not quite alive," Ro said. "But they… interact with us. They're supposed to adjust to our needs."

"Supposed to?" Maia was the fastest to catch on to the word.

The demon shrugged. "They were better once. Things just haven't been the same. We're supposed to supply them with energy to use, and keep them well. But everything living here has been changed, to a greater or lesser degree, and our energy is … faulty. Most of the time, we're stuck with what we have."

"How has everything living here changed?"

"It was the—" Arr broke off, studying Izzy. "Why did you break with them?"

Unsure how much her answer would affect his willingness to continue to help them, Izzy chose her words with care. "They lied to us. About our past, about our purpose, about many things. They used us. They made us weapons in a war we didn't know about. And they would have killed us if they had found out that we knew."

"They will kill you if they find out you are here," Sal pointed out helpfully.

Izzy made a face. "We're going to delay that moment as far as possible."

Arr looked ahead, his eyes on something in the distance. "I know the answer to your question," he said slowly. "But I do not think we should be the ones to tell you. Would you agree to meet with us again at a later time? We would make sure the one who should answer your questions will be available then."

That sounded as if he had just suggested that he would take them to see a historian or something of the sort. Now, that would be ideal!

"That would be great, actually! Do you think we could bring the others along, too?"

"I don't see why not," the demon told her. "In fact, I think it would be good if you all came." There was a moment's silence, then he added: "How many are you?"

"Twelve. We probably don't need to all come if the party's getting too large." She would definitely want the Nephilim among their group there, though. And Magnus. He had the closest relationship to both the demon world and the more distant past among all of them.

"No, it'll be fine," Arr claimed. "We'll send a message to Lilith when we know a good time. Until then – Why don't we just show you some of the local sights today?"

 

Chapter Text

They had sat down to eat at the large table in what passed as their suite's dining room. Dinner consisted of Gale pies, sent on request through the charmed pennies. They had agreed to keep their intake of demon food down to a minimum. It wouldn't be entirely avoidable – Lilith's dinner, for one thing, had required them to partake if they didn't want to risk being unbearably rude.

They had sketched on anti-venom charms just in case afterwards, layering them heavily until they were sure that they had done all they could to protect themselves from any substances that might be native to this plane but harmful to them.

They used the water Lilith supplied, though they sent it through their purifier before drinking it.

"We have chicken, and rhubarb," Magnus informed Alec. "Seems they're out of basilisk."

"Maybe they thought it could be bad style just in case it's also local here," Alec returned as he moved his hand in from the table edge to find his plate. Once there, he let his fingers run around it to discover where the cutlery was placed. "I'll start with some of the chicken."

"When have the aunties ever cared about bad style?" Magnus served chicken pie both to himself and to Alec, watching to see if his boyfriend needed any help with his food.

"Actually, I think they would care a lot if you accused them of the same," Jace pointed out.

Though he knew he had an open invitation to use Jace's eyes to check out the room, the table, his plate and whatever else he might need to look at, Alec resisted the temptation of doing so. He didn't know how long he'd have to make do without his vision, and he couldn't rely on it that Jace would always be there to lend him his eyes.

Using his fork as an extension of his hand to determine where the piece of pie on his plate started felt odd and awkward, but he did end up with a reasonable idea of where his food was.

"You're sure we shouldn't wait for the others?" Clary asked.

"They said not to." Alec brought the first piece of pie to his mouth and found to his satisfaction that it was of a reasonable size. "If they'd wanted us to wait for them, all they had to do was not tell us to start without them."

Izzy and her group had ended up venturing farther from their residence than they had planned, making their return somewhat late. They had called shortly after Jack had brought back his passengers.

"I just hope they've had more luck in finding something interesting than we have," Chris declared.

He and Sebastian had asked the first servant they had found to point them towards the house's library, which had looked like any book lover's dream at first glance. Then, however, they had found that most of the tomes were written in languages that they couldn't parse, and most of those they could didn't cover subjects that were of even the slightest interest to them.

The entire place was also lacking a catalogue, and they failed at finding a system in how the books were sorted – which was most likely owed to the fact that they couldn't figure out most of the titles.

They'd first gone for Magnus to help them with it, and when he could only make minor contributions, with the choice of languages being somewhat too large even for his greater knowledge, he in turn had found another servant and asked for help.

That had given them a handful of books that might contain something helpful, but still no way to read them.

Jack's group had brought them a rough outline of the part of the city that they had surveyed, with markings in the places where they had discovered buildings that stood out. On the way back, they had flown along the shields that enclosed the city and its surroundings, taking care not to pass through them and find themselves suddenly locked out, as they'd been warned.

"I've been  wondering if we could swap bracelets for a little while," Alec said, his head turned to face in his parabatai's direction. "I'd like to have something to feel my way with so I don't walk into furniture again, and your stick would work a lot better than my staff for that."

Jace didn't even hesitate a moment, but unclasped the bracelet from his wrist. "Yeah, sure," he added for Alec's benefit.

"Is that wise?" Chris' voice was calm, but with a warning tone to it. "Poking at things with electrum, here?"

"I wasn't going to POKE," Alec said, though he couldn't deny that the other man had a point. The risk of potential injury to their hosts or one of their servants by accidental contact was considerable. They didn't even know if their clothes were actually there or part of their glamors.

"I'll think about what to do outside," he determined. "It should be safe enough in here, though, and I don't need to walk into another chair."

"No, you really don't," Jace agreed, laughing.

"Well," Jack started, "you could always—"

They never found out what Alec always could, since Izzy and her group picked that moment to return.

Alec, you've got to see this, Jace sent as everyone briefly fell silent to stare.

In an instant, Alec found himself looking out of Jace's eyes, at the three companions their sister and her team had brought along. They doubtlessly were demons, and while he thought he could remember the name of one of the races if he thought about it for a little, he had no idea what the other was.

They looked perfectly amicable and relaxed, though from the way they were looking around, the inside of Lilith's home was new to them as well.

"Alec," Izzy said, coming over towards him. "These three were our guides today. They're great, and very helpful. They've also offered to get us into contact with someone who can answer some questions tomorrow." She turned to the demons. "This is Alec, our leader. It's best to coordinate with him, because he's the one who makes all the plans."

Rather than make the effort of speaking with one body while looking out of the other, Alec withdrew entirely from Jace's mind. "Nice to meet you," he said. From his own body, it felt as if the one demon who was of a different species could have easily taken on a side job as a space heater. She was radiating warmth in a way that would have spoken of immensely ill health in a human.

A sound by his side that he couldn't place initially turned out to be Izzy rubbing her hands together.

"I can't believe how cold it gets outside the moment the sun goes down," she declared. "We should have taken coats."

"Find me something no one needs anymore, and I'll make you some," Jack offered.

"What is this?" One of the demons wanted to know.

Their grasp of English was surprising. Somehow, Alec couldn't imagine that demons routinely learned that language, out of all the many human languages there were.

"Language charm," Izzy muttered, apparently guessing at his thoughts.

"Pie," Simon answered the question in the meantime. "It's human food."

"Can I try?" the demon asked.

"Sure," the vampire said, followed closely by Chris' sharper: "Now wait a second there!"

His warning came too late. The demon helped herself without much ado. "This is delicious!" she declared after a moment. "Why don't we have this here?"

"Well," Chris told her, "you can introduce it now if you want to. But that was a stupid thing to do. You didn't know that our ingredients were safe for you – and there's also magic in the pie. It might not have sat well with you."

But it did, and Alec welcomed the confirmation that that demon, at least, would be safe for them to trust.

"Oh, but I love it!" The demon insisted brightly. "Does everything in your dimension taste so… so alive? If so, I understand why people want to travel there, even though it's supposed to be terribly dim!"

"Then why don't we find you some more plates and chairs and have you join the meal?" Alec suggested. "There's plenty of pie, and we can always request more if we run out."

That suggestion was greeted by unmitigated enthusiasm. Alec found himself smiling at his mental image of the three demons.

"What happened to your face?" the male one of them asked curiously.

Alec automatically raised his hand to touch the bandage. "We had a run-in with some serpents," he explained. "I got venom in my eyes. Light hurts me right now."

The sound the demon made wasn't part of the English language, but it was easy enough to guess that it was roughly corresponding to "Ouch". "Those beasts are mean," the demon told him. "And it takes a week or so to go away. We mostly avoid them. Their nests are huge."

"Yeah, no kidding," Alec agreed. "We're lucky to have a dragon."

"You were doing fine without the dragon," Jack claimed. "I merely sped things up a little."

 

June 18th, 2017

For all that water seemed to be in short supply outside, with the ground cracking and parched even where vegetation grew, except for the places that were clearly groomed gardens, there didn't appear to be any problem indoors. They all had generous ensuite bathrooms with running water.

For Alec, that led to the somewhat tricky question of whether he wanted to brave the shower. They had been sitting and talking too late the last night to leave him with the time to take an actual bath then. Doing so now, when everyone was getting up and surely soon looking to start their day's work, didn't seem right either.

That limited his choices to taking a shower or using charms to clean up.

He was about to settle for the charms when a small voice in his head piped up. Did he really want to let an injury dictate his choice of clean-up? He had never before used being wounded as a reason to not do what he would have done anyway to the fullest extent possible.

He undressed and turned, glad to find with an outstretched hand that the shower was still where it had been during his exploration of the apartment the day before. He wouldn't have put it past this strange building to change around its layout at its convenience.

His hands moved over the fittings inside, making sure that this shower was no different from any other that he had ever used before.

Luckily, it did indeed appear to be shaped just to their expectations of what a shower was supposed to look like. The material felt a little strange, but he was able to identify the shower head and the tap by touch.

As he turned on the water carefully, the jet pointing away from him until he had adjusted both the temperature and the flow to his liking, he realized that he might have done better to find a towel first and put it within reach.

Ah well. No one could be perfect at the first attempt.

Another issue turned out to be somewhat harder to solve. Magnus had left bottles in the shower, but distinguishing shower gel from shampoo without actually opening them and smelling the contents was impossible.

Thankful for Magnus' personal mixes with their distinctive scents, he recapped one and used the other. His hair would have to make do with a charm for now. He thought that he might just ask Magnus to give him a hand in light-proofing the bathroom so he could take off the bandage wrapped around his head and properly wash it later, though.

With that determined, he was left with time to contemplate their plans for the day – few as they were so far. If their new demon friends were indeed successful in securing them an appointment with a historian, the way to go was clear. If not – well, while he hated to ask Chris to do something that he most definitely had no wish to do, seeking out Lilith for a good long talk was the most feasible course of action.

Jack could surely do another flyover of another part of the city, but Alec was honest enough in his own head to understand that that would just be buying time before they had to actually deepen their contact with their hosts.

Were there any warlocks at all who had chosen to live here instead of on their plane of origin? If so, maybe it would be worth to have Magnus seek them out.

Apart from that, what they needed was a map and a plan to establish an expedition into Angel territory. Where their own origins were concerned, chances were that they would find their answers there, rather than where they were right now. How much did the demons know about the Nephilim to begin with, other than that they had been created in order to fight their kind?

He had dried off and was just feeling for the seams of his t-shirt to make sure he was putting it on the right way around  when he heard the familiar whoosh of an arriving fire message, and his hand shot up by reflex to catch it.

With a small smile to himself at that, he turned the sheet between his hands, his happiness about the automatic catch quickly giving way to frustration as he realized he wasn't going to be able to read the missive without asking someone for help.

"I don't suppose there's a charm to make you talk?" he muttered.

At his last word, he parchment in his hand crumpled between his fingers, the material disintegrating so quickly that it was almost over by the time he realized what was happening.

Before he could wonder about it, he heard Arr's voice loud and clearly by his ear.

"He agreed to talk to you tonight, but you have to bring Clary and Jace.  Can you be where we first met Maya and Simon two hours after noon? It's quite a walk if you can't just shift."

"Well, that works," Alec muttered to himself as he continued to dress. It also gave him a plan for the afternoon. Maybe they should just declare the morning to be practice time…

*

"…or I could fly you over," Jack said when Alec had relayed the message and his preferred schedule to the group.

Alec didn't need to see the dragon's expression and posture to know that he was offering because he thought he should, not because he wanted to.

That made it easier to decline without feeling ungrateful.

"If no one terribly minds, I'd rather we walk," he said. "We might see something of interest along the way, and it'll give us an opportunity to get a better idea of the place, too. I don't want to pass up the chance to be out with guides who actually know what they're about."

"Alright then," Jack confirmed when there was no opposition. "Will you need me to come along?"

"You're welcome to," Alec decided. "But if you have other thoughts on what you should be doing, go ahead and share."

Jack gave a small chuckle. "I thought I might ask Lilith for a pass to get back into town, and take a proper flight out there. Scout the area we didn't see while walking in, maybe check out that desert some more."

"Eat," Charlie threw in. "What you want to do is hunt a proper dragon-sized meal and stuff yourself after having to limit yourself to a human stomach for days."

"Well, yeah." Jack's attempt at sounding rueful failed. "There is that, too. But it will be a wonderful chance to get some scouting done."

"Is Charlie going to join you?"

He had barely finished speaking by the time the Bard started to object. "Certainly not. A dragon on the hunt is no fun to ride, and watching him eat while not getting anything myself isn't prime entertainment either. I'd much rather go hiking with you guys."

*

Their training session had gone as well as ever. All the Nephilim in their group were trained to fight blindfolded. After a few moves that felt insecure and wrong, Alec managed to convince his brain that this was no different than any training of that sort.

He went through a round of sparring with Izzy, then Chris and Sebastian, while Jace was focusing on Clary and showing Maya and Simon a few moves.

Magnus had opted out, taking instead one of Lilith's books on magic and browsing it, looking for things that might help him handle the local ley lines better.

Jack had excused himself and only texted to say that Lilith had indeed agreed to give him a token to return inside the wards, and that he might be out late.  

Izzy had helped him lightproof the bathroom afterwards, and he had used his after-training shower to wash his hair.

The cooling effect as it dried, even though it only worked briefly before the hot air had soaked up every last bit of moisture, was welcome when he ventured outside with Magnus after a quick lunch of leftover pie. He wasn't planning to keep up the group by stumbling along blind, and Chris had had a good point – he shouldn't be using an electrum stick to feel around with while out among demons who would burn on contact.

As it was, there was time enough before they had to set out to work out a way in which his boyfriend could safely guide him on unfamiliar terrain – not with Magnus' hand on his arm, but with his resting just above Magnus' elbow, as their googling had suggested.

Trying the same with Jace, he found that unless they clamped down on their bond, the leak he received from his parabatai only served to confuse the information their physical contact gave him.

He'd focus entirely on Magnus for this, then, at least while away from their quarters. Jace in turn could focus on the task of defending the group at need.

*

The demon trio were waiting for them already. Arr and his sister had taken off the last day's horn decoration and were wearing matching red and black ribbons in its place.

"Language?" Ro asked, sketching the Speak in Tongues shape on her hand already.

"Gladly!" Izzy stepped forward, holding out her own to their friend. "Though if you have the time, you should teach us at least the basics properly. We shouldn't just keep using the shortcut."

"Where are we going?" Jace asked as their group set out again, with the demons leading, Izzy, Magnus and Alec just behind them, and the rest following in loose formation. Charlie was picking a lively tune on her guitar to accompany them as they went, much to their guides' fascination, to whom that particular instrument seemed to be a novelty.

Alec wondered idly what they would say when they first saw Charlie use her music to channel magic.

"Yes, where are we going?" he asked.

The word Sal gave them in response didn't seem to have any equivalent in any language Alec knew. With the charm active, it felt tantalizingly close to something that made sense, but he couldn't quite resolve it into anything that he could use.

"I'm sorry," he told her. "What is that?"

"Where those who don't have homes of their own live," she elaborated.

A homeless shelter? Thinking of such a thing in this dimension felt utterly jarring and unfitting. Alec forced the feeling aside. That was, of course, borne of their ingrained perception of demons as ever-evil, ever-dangerous creatures. Nevertheless, it couldn't quite be the right idea, since the charm would have just given him that meaning then. For the same reason, it was hardly going to be an apartment block – which surely would have qualified as a place where people lived who didn't own their homes.

Well, he'd see soon enough.

 

New York Institute

Lindsay mentally steeled herself and schooled her features into a neutral expression before she left the room. She had penned a note, carefully bent over her desk to shield her hand and the paper from the camera in her room, and in between writing other things that remained on the table so as not to let anyone wonder what she had been doing.

She'd been used. She understood that much.

She had no idea what Alec, Izzy, Jace and Clary had been up to – and they surely had been up to something – but the truth she had taken as absolute, fed to her by Aldertree and Robert Lightwood, felt twisted and inaccurate now.

After the talk she had witnessed, she had to assume that she had unwittingly played a part in an attempted murder. One that luckily had never happened, since the quartet had disappeared without a trace.

She desperately wanted to talk to them now, ask them about their side of things, demand answers.

Thinking about that made her wonder. Had they known she was working for Aldertree? Except for that last time when the remaining three of them had tried to leave the institute after Alec had disappeared, they had been outstandingly nice to her. More so than they'd had to be. More so than she had expected. Had they known, and deliberately worked to put her at ease so she wouldn't pry any further?

What did the other two who had been part of their team know? She couldn't be sure that they hadn't been among Aldertree's people as well, but for all that she knew, they had actually been requested by Alec Lightwood. Yes, talking to them was a risk, but at this point she felt that it was one she had to take. They were her best shot at finding an ally she could confide in about Aldertree.

The folded note concealed in her hand, she made her way to the mess hall at a leisurely pace. This was about the time Ian Underhill usually went to grab lunch, though he rarely ate with the others. More often than not, he took a portion and left again to have his meal in peace.

She was in luck, finding him just lining up to collect his lunch.

"Hey there," she said as she stood behind him.

He turned, giving her a suggestion of a smile. "Hey." He sounded polite, but not particularly inviting conversation.

Brightening her own smile a little, she indicated his arm. "I never got the chance to tell you how glad I am your wound healed up so well!"

"Oh." The way he flexed his arm seemed to come entirely automatically. "Yeah, it's not perfect yet, but it's functional." Back when he had been injured, there had been talk of sending him to Alicante for treatment. His wound had healed better than expected, though, and he'd been declared fit for duty as soon as he was able to handle a blade again.

"I really am glad," she repeated. "Have you been back in the field?"

"Not yet." He wasn’t sounding impatient, but still didn't seem invested in continuing their exchange. After a moment's pause, though, he added: "I've been doing security work in the institute."

Before she could ask another question, the queue moved, and they shifted along with it.

Stepping forward, she put a foot down wrong just enough to trip without actually twisting her ankle.

She stumbled, bumping into Underhill and catching herself on him. The movement brought her hand into easy reach of the outer pocket in his jacket. She could only hope that he'd be putting his hand there and find her note at some point today.

"Whoa, careful," he cautioned, reaching out to steady her. With his good hand holding the tray, he had to use the formerly injured arm for his maneuver. She hoped it wasn't still giving him any pain.

"Sorry." She looked down, trying for an embarrassed air. "I'm so clumsy sometimes. I don't know what I'll do if that ever happens to me in combat."

"Try not to let it happen in combat," he advised her. He moved forward again, putting them at the previous distance and studying the meals on offer. Now that was as good an indication as any that he considered their talk complete.

She wasn't surprised. They'd never had anything to do with each other before their shared assignment to Alec Lightwood, and they hadn't exchanged as much as two sentences since that had ended. In fact, he had no reason to react to her note if he found it. She was just going to continue to hope that he'd be sufficiently curious after all.

 

Pandemonium

Their guides pointed out landmarks as they walked, and they started to get a better idea of the layout of the gigantic city. The residential buildings were clustered around sets of towers that housed the administrative and logistics functions, forming something not unlike quarters with clear centers. Stores and markets were placed in strategic locations, making distances reasonable even for those who did not have the natural ability to teleport.

They learned that Pandemonium was the home to multiple species. When they heard that the Shadowhunters grouped all of them under the term of "demons", Sal laughed so hard she had to stop to catch her breath.

"I guess it works if you take it to mean 'someone from this plane'," she admitted eventually. "But we're really not all the same things at all – and most were never able to interbreed, even before."

She remembered what Agnieszka had told them. For a moment, she wanted to ask about details. What had happened, to render the demons unable to sire young except with moral humans, and to change their offspring to the warlocks they now knew? Well, they were about to see a historian, weren't they? It was probably prudent to keep those questions until then.

Izzy felt her sun protection and cooling charms wear off, and she hurried to re-apply them. Clary, more susceptible to the sun's glare with her red hair and light skin, had done so a while ago already. She looked around at the others. Simon seemed fine and entirely unbothered. The rest of their group was visibly hot, but didn't seem in need of fresh charms quite yet – with one exception.

She moved through their group until she could elbow Jace in the side. "Charms," she reminded him. "You look like you're about to melt."

His lips twitched into a grin, but he did renew his charms at her words. "Thanks for the reminder," he told her. "I was way too busy listening and watching to notice."

"Don't be too busy to take care of yourself," she cautioned.

The people they met on their way weren't behaving much differently from the crowds in the streets of New York. They would move to avoid a collision with their group, but otherwise barely acknowledged their presence. She wondered idly if that would have been any different, had they still worn their runes.

Though, looking at the immense number of demons here, and considering that most of them probably never ventured into their world, she suddenly wasn't sure if most of them would even have recognized them for what they were. Now there was a thought. If it was true that all demons had the ability to travel between dimensions freely, then they were lucky that there had not, in fact, been a full-out invasion of their plane at any time. They would have been overrun beyond any hope at containing the flood.

"What do you know about Nephilim?" She asked their friends curiously.

The look Arr gave her registered as the equivalent of raised eyebrows to her, though he had no such thing at his disposal. "Not much," he admitted verbally. "Vicious, brutal things, created to hunt those who tried to take refuge in your world. Yeah, I know." A placating gesture accompanied his words. "You're not that."

"Well, neither are you evil, vicious, brutal things hell-bent on destruction and wreaking havoc," Chris threw in. "Which is what we were told about demons."

"Yet you have some of Lilith's essence within you," Ro pointed out calmly.

Chris lowered his eyes as his lips thinned. "Yeah." His tone was resigned. "I was an experiment of my … father's. So were those two." He pointed at Clary and Jace.

"Do your fathers experiment on you often?" Sal sounded wary and not quite sure what to make of the information. "I don't think it would be looked upon very kindly here."

"No!" Izzy hurried to assure her.

Jace met the demon's gaze, an entire bouquet of feelings flashing in his mismatched eyes. His voice was harsh as he spoke. "It was the same father. He was aiming to create improved soldiers … to destroy more demons."

"Did he succeed?"

"He succeeded in changing us."

He didn't elaborate any further, and the three didn't ask. As the conversation returned to explanations on the city around them, Izzy turned her attention to her oldest brother.

Alec was walking easily by Magnus' side by now, their motions perfectly in synch. If it hadn't been for the blindfold and Magnus' periodic muttered warnings when they had to go up or down steps or needed to move closer together to let through passers-by, it would have been hard to guess that he couldn't see where he was going right now.

In spite of his current limitations, Alec had his quiver and bow on his back. None of them had commented on it. Even they hadn't known he'd been trained to shoot blindfolded, they had all seen that he was able to do so by hearing during the fight with the serpents.

She wondered, though. What would this excursion have been like a year ago? Back, before they had met the Gales, before the events, new friends, new knowledge and new trust had forged them into the close-knit unit they now were?

Oh, they had been close before that, of course. They'd been as close as Nephilim ever got, their sibling bonds, parabatai bond and love as strong as anyone's could be. But in the end, they had still each been  essentially alone, keeping that insulating layer of protection between them that they had perceived as necessary – as vital, even, ensuring their continued survival in ever-lasting battle.

How different would the events leading up to the death of Valentine's body have played out if they had gone into it with the sort of bond that was between them now? The Isabelle of a year ago seemed strange and foreign to her, like a person from a different world, a different age who happened to share her name. The Alec and Jace from a year ago also seemed entire lifetimes removed from the young men by her side today.

If Clary seemed the one least changed, that was possibly owed solely to the fact that she hadn't known the old Clary all that well. They'd met scarcely two months before it all went down, after all. Maybe Simon would have an entirely different impression if she asked him about it.

She was just wondering if she should do just that, when Ro's voice pulled her out of her thoughts.

"We're here."

They all looked where the young demon was pointing.

They had reached one of those quarter centers, and the building they had stopped at, at the very edge between the administrative area and the residential one, did indeed resemble nothing as much as an apartment building.

Arr gestured, sending up some sort of magic that sped along the outside of the house and through one of the opaque sections in the façade that took the places of windows.

"I have announced us," he declared. "Let's go in. You won't need another charm to talk to him. He speaks your language."

"Alright," Alec said, nodding. "Should Jace and Clary speak for us?"

"He just said they should be there."

Izzy didn't find it hard to guess that that had something to do with Valentine's experiments or their increased angel blood ratio. That knowledge did put her a little on edge, though, and she could see the same sentiment in the near-imperceptible increase of tension that went through the others.

They followed Arr inside, Magnus and Alec taking the lead. As she watched the door open by folding from the outside inwards, suggesting that it had never been made of any sort of actual matter to begin with, Izzy found herself a little sad that Alec couldn't see what he was walking through. Well, if their stay extended for a while longer, he might still get the opportunity. Arr had said the effect of the serpent venom lasted for about a week. Of course, they couldn't know if the same applied to Nephilim, but she was keeping that timeline in mind for now.

Izzy found that the way in which the world built itself around them as her mind made sense of what she saw had lost much of its disorienting effect in the meantime. Looking around, she determined that they had entered some sort of lobby, though the unavoidable cubicle with a porter inside or counter that she would have expected in their own world was conspicuously absent.

There were some tables and seats, though, their shapes suggesting they were meant for creatures with rather diverse bodies. Only two of those were occupied at the moment, and none of the demons there gave them the least attention.

Three closed doors interrupted the walls, some of which were adorned with colorful artwork. She blinked. The thought that demons liked art clashed with her upbringing, and she forced it in place. From the way the others were studying those paintings, most of them were feeling the same way. Alec's posture had shifted slightly, in a way that by now told her that he was sharing Jace's mind, probably using his eyes to look around.

Clary had taken one step away from their group to begin a closer study of one of the pictures while they waited, when one of the doors opened in the same strange manner as the front one had, revealing a man of predominantly human appearance, dressed in simple grey slacks and a loose tunic of the same shade.

Her friend froze, her face draining of color instantly.

Izzy moved to her side. Before she could ask her what was wrong, however, Clary spoke, her eyes fixed on the stranger.

"Ithuriel."

Chapter Text

Magnus felt Alec's hand tighten momentarily on his arm as Clary said the angel's name.

Ithuriel inclined his head slightly, regally acknowledging her statement. Then his eyes narrowed as he took in the Nephilim, his gaze running over every bit of charmed skin and his face darkened with something that wasn't quite fury, but certainly well on the way to becoming just that.

"Blasphemy." His voice was almost a hiss. "Who gave you permission to use Marks as the Angels do?"

"We're not asking permission," Alec said, his stance unchanged, his voice calm and even. "We've shed centuries of your lies. We may not have all the answers yet, but we're no longer your slaves."

It was the three young demons who stiffened at his words. They hadn't expected this, and they clearly were uncertain about the way this was going. Magnus didn't blame them.

The angel's eyes were fixed on Clary and Jace. "Does he speak for you?"

"He does." Jace spoke up loud and clearly, while Clary nodded in confirmation.

"He should answer to you, not the other way around," Ithuriel insisted. "You have the benefit of fresher blood."

"Tried that, didn't like it," Jace told him. A belligerent light was shining in his eyes.

"Our blood doesn't matter," Clary added. "Alec has the experience and the skill to lead. Ithuriel, what are you doing here?"

He shook his head ever so slightly. "Not here." His eyes flickered to the demons sitting at the tables, who were now watching them with mild curiosity, but made a show of returning to their previous activities at his words.

He turned, motioning for them to follow.

"Well, at least he didn't throw us out again," Magnus muttered, low enough to be heard by Alec only.

Alec's lips twitched into a ghost of a smile.

*

They followed the angel down a corridor and up a flight of stairs. Magnus was just beginning to wonder if he planned to take them to his own quarters, and whether they would be large enough to accommodate the lot of them, or whether he'd expect some or most of them to wait outside, when he beckoned them into a spacious room with only something akin to benches along the walls in place of furniture. The walls and the floor were adorned with markings of various colors.

"You'll have to excuse the venue," Ithuriel said, though he didn't sound sorry at all. "This is meant for some sort of game, but they don't exactly have conference rooms here."

"It'll do," Alec said without missing a beat. "Shall we sit?"

He hadn't left his body even for a moment. Magnus could feel the change in the grip of his boyfriend's hand on his arm the instant it happened. Still, Jace must have given him a silent description of the room, as he indicated the benches while he spoke, as if he had seen precisely where they were. He couldn't help a small grin. Let Ithuriel wonder at that one.

"You should try it," Arr said, leaning into the wall by the door. "It's fun."

Ithuriel shot him a glare, but didn't grace the statement with an answer.

"Unfortunately, I cannot offer you refreshments," the angel said, turning back to their group. Magnus still didn't think he sounded as if he was particularly sad about that. "But as I am sure you have noticed, these good people do not understand food the same way that you do." His words continued to not quite match his tone.

None of their companions said anything, though Magnus could see in their faces that the information was new to them.

"We'll make do," Alec promised. "Do you mind if we take notes?"

The angel shrugged nonchalantly. The motion, more than anything else, drew Magnus' attention to the lack of wings in evidence. Was he keeping them concealed because they were in the way indoors, or was it a matter of avoiding undue attention among demons?

Isabelle and Jace pulled out notebooks. They'd been their record-keepers during their previous research travels as well.

Magnus could sense Alec sorting his thoughts, putting together the things he wanted to ask.

Clary ran out of patience before he could speak.

"Ithuriel, what are you doing here?" she blurted the question that was going through all their minds.

The look he directed at the young woman was far more indulgent than the one he had previously favored Alec with. "I could not stay in your world, weakened as I was, after you freed me from Valentine's grasp. I could not return to my own people either, so I went to the only place that would have me. Be assured, I didn't do so gladly, or lightly. Call me weak, if you will, that I would choose this path to ensure my continued existence, even though I knew I'd mean becoming one of them eventually." There was bitterness and self-loathing in those last words, both feelings that Magnus knew well from his own past.

"It's not so bad, being one of us," Sal offered. "We survive."

Ithuriel glared at her. "And that is all you do."

She bristled, and Arr put a hand on her arm to signal to her to calm down. "We," he said, calmly but with a decisive tone. "How long do you think you need to be exposed unprotected for the change to happen?"

The angel said nothing.

"You have only your own people to thank for it. All of it," the young demon continued. "Now don't make it sound as if the way we are was our choice."

Before Ithuriel could respond, Alec cleared his throat. "Please. We have a long way to walk back, so if you don't mind."

Magnus raised a hand to his face to conceal a smirk, hoping that Jace was relaying Ithuriel's momentary expression.

When no one protested vocally, Alec continued: "The first thing I would like to know is how you came to be Valentine's prisoner to begin with. I know he's quite inventive and ruthless when he wants to achieve something, but somehow trapping an angel seems a bit much even for him."

"Is?" Ithuriel asked. "Didn't you kill him last year?" he had focused on Clary, who lifted her hands slightly in a gesture that suggested 'not my fault'.

"His body," she elaborated. "His mind dropped down into the City of Bones and picked a new one from among the prisoners. The last time we saw him, he was trying to kill us."

Ithuriel blanched visibly. "Is he still working with them?"

"If by 'they' you mean the Clave," Alec took back over, "Yes, he does."

His reaction to the angel's new change of expression came so fast that Magnus found himself almost surprised by it.

"Yes, we know Valentine never truly worked against the Shadowhunter organization."

"What else do you know?" Ithuriel asked.

"We know he had a contact in the Consul's office he coordinated his raids and plans with. We suspect he was doing what they couldn't do officially, to avoid repercussions. We suspect that he was brought back into play when the memory of the Circle and the Uprising began to fade. When there were too many young people taking over who hadn't lived through it and experienced the threat, and the Circle was something people didn’t talk about and sometimes forgot that it ever existed. We suspect that after his return last year, he went a little farther than he was supposed to go. We don't think he was supposed to call Raziel." His posture made clear that he would have been staring down Ithuriel now with a piercing glare, had his eyes been uncovered.

"Experimenting on Jace and Clary and Chris – or their mothers – and others, however, was probably something that was entirely sanctioned. We know he wasn't the first to try. We read about the werewolves."

"I was opposed to those experiments," Ithuriel said, his voice sharp. "The ones that involved babies, that is. I never cared about the werewolves. Still don't."

Magnus shot a glance at Maia, who sat stoically, listening. She didn't even seem to care about his words, though he had an idea that she was only covering up her reaction under a calm exterior.

Simon, on the other hand, had bared the points of his fangs in a suggestion of a snarl.

Ithuriel either didn't notice, or didn't care.

"When he first proposed those experiments, most of those in charge of bioweaponry management thought it would be an interesting thing to watch. They wanted to see what he could actually do in order to improve the standard model."

"You're talking about people here." Jace's hand had tightened on the pen he held to take notes with, looking about ready to snap it in two. His voice was slipping into a snarl. "You're talking about us."

"I'm talking about an arsenal," Ithuriel corrected. "Made by us. To be used by us to serve our cause."

"You just said you objected to the experiments," Clary pointed out.

Ithuriel's lips twitched into a cold smile. "I didn't care about the experiments. I objected to using the unborn for them, as he suggested. It didn't seem wise to meddle with development at such an early stage. I was afraid the demon blood would overpower ours, and that over time, blood would tell."

Chris' hand had  reflexively twitched towards the hilt of his blade, ready to draw and defend himself if the need arose. He forced his fingers to relax, his arm to drop by his side again. Sebastian had shifted closer to him. So had Izzy, sitting on his other side, as if the two were ready to protect their friend from more than a verbal attack.

"We were fighting a lot back then, Raziel and I. Eventually, I told him I was going to report the matter to a higher office, have them make a decision on it. The next I knew, I was knocked out, trussed up and shoved into the hands of Uziel, who dragged me to your plane without as much as a backup should Valentine accidentally end my existence there, and handed me over, chains and all. My powers bound as was my body. His to be used."

Clary reached for her sketchpad and flipped through the pages until she found one that held a drawing without much detail, yet still recognizable enough. It showed two figures: one a younger Valentine. The other taller and winged, drawn from the memory Hodge had shared with them. She turned it to let the angel see.

"Uziel," he confirmed. "I do not know how you could know of this, but he was the one who brought me to Valentine, and helped him secure me in that manor house his parents in law had. I heard them discuss the runes they would put  on the door to keep everyone away from the room. To make it sound proof. To lock me in even if I should somehow manage to escape my chains. I never did, and I promise you, not for lack of trying. I tried even when he dragged me to the other house later. By the time he moved from there, I was too weak."

"So this is why you cannot return to your own people," Alec observed. "You expect consequences from Raziel?"

A mirthless laugh preceded the answer. "Raziel made me his slave, the way he bound me. I could not prevent it, and so by law I am his to do with as he pleases. Being chained and returned to Idris for more experimentation is the least I would have to expect."

 

Outside of Pandemonium

Jack had spread out to his full size and was flying, enjoying the sun on his back and the heat reflected from the ground on his belly. Reasonably sure that there were no predators in the air that were larger than he, he abandoned himself to the flight for the moment, choosing his path only by the way hot streams in the air moved to help lift him up.

He hadn't had a flight like this since he had left the UnderRealm.

Actually, he hadn't had a flight quite like this then either. It was the best of both realms mixed together: the relative safety of the MidRealms, where he didn't have to be constantly aware of other dragons that might want to take him out, and the vast flying country of his home dimension.

Of course he didn't fly without paying any attention to his surroundings at all. Habits ingrained from decades spent where he had to expect an attack on his life any moment didn't die easily, or quickly.

Swooping low from time to time where there were clumps of plants that looked as burnt and dry as the grass to see what he could flush, he was disappointed to find that the only things moving were about rabbit-sized. That wouldn't make any sort of dragon meal, unless he could take out an entire colony of them.

He refrained from sending a jet of flame down to see if that would bring out more. He knew the plants down there weren't quite as dry as they looked, but he was still afraid that he would unleash a wildfire if he breathed on them once. He had come to hunt, not to destroy the region – not even by accident.

Beating his wings hard, he rose, spiraling higher until he could see the land stretched out below him, vast and wide. The outlines of Pandemonium were still clearly visible in the distance.

He turned the other way, speeding away from the demon city. If larger prey was to be found, the chances would be better the farther he moved away from civilization

 

Pandemonium

"Aren't you at war, though?" Clary asked. "Why did they let you in here – why do they let you stay – if you are? You don't seem a prisoner."

"What did you offer them as a price to pay for your freedom, you mean?" Ithuriel asked her. To Magnus' surprise, something like approval flashed in his eyes. "There was no price. The war on this plane is over. It has been over for a long time. We won. What you see here around you – it is the sorry remains of a former empire refusing to finally roll over and die. Clinging to life that isn't. Besides, knowing they'd get to watch my despair at changing and becoming like them was enough for the likes of Asmodeus to grant me asylum."

"You've spoken about this change," Alec said slowly. "More than once now. What do you mean by it?"

"It's how we ended the war," Ithuriel declared. His tone brought a frown to Magnus' face. It sounded as if he was actually proud of it.

"Elaborate." Going by how cool Alec's voice was, he had heard the same thing.

Ithuriel turned to him almost reflexively. For a moment, it had looked as if the angel was a soldier, reacting to an officer's demand for information.

Apparently realizing it as well, Ithuriel hesitated for a second before deciding that the best way to conceal it was to pretend that he was merely answering Alec because he had been intending to do so anyway.

"We'd been at war for longer than your species has existed. Our world was once a thriving place, full of life. What you have seen here since your arrival, it's what is left of it. The battles were like nothing you have ever seen, nothing you can imagine, probably. Every bit of ground you walk on here is soaked with blood. Had it continued for much longer, it would have eventually destroyed everything. Destroyed us, too."

"Did you ever try not being at war?" Charlie asked, her voice cutting like a finely honed blade.

Ithuriel visibly flinched  under her words as his face darkened.

"No. That would not have been possible. They would not give in. They would refuse any terms offered. We had long given up the attempt."

Glancing at the three demons, Magnus could see them roll their eyes. They might be too young to have been part of what he spoke of, but they had clearly been told the matter differently. His own companions didn't look convinced either.

"So what did you do?" Alec asked when the angel did not continue immediately.

"We developed a weapon." His muscles tensed, his body straightening as he seemed to grow a few inches in pride of their achievement. "It released a blast so powerful that it killed all that were there during the first strike. And then it spread, until it covered the entire world. Diluted, it no longer kills. We would not have killed millions of non-combatants."

There was a disbelieving sound from Jace. Simon's hands had tightened into fists as he listened, his knuckles white and bloodless. Maia had a hand on his wrist as if she was afraid she might have to keep him from launching himself at the angel. Chris and Sebastian exchanged a look.

"Is it related to the Soul Sword?" the former asked.

The look Ithuriel directed at the young man was dark, displeasure only slightly mitigated by surprise.

"The Soul Sword was activated in the world we came from," Chris elaborated. "Its blast killed those of demon blood who were exposed to it, but the world was not the same after it either. Everything was blighted, though not necessarily dying." He looked around, talking to his companions instead of the angel now. "Looking at this world is similar, but not quite the same."

Eyes turned to Chris for the moment returned to Ithuriel, silently demanding answers.

The angel's mouth twitched. He didn't like the role of the interrogated in the least, but though no one had said so, this had ceased to be a meeting in which he would dispense knowledge and they would take what he threw at them. No matter what he had intended when he had agreed to meet with them, they were in control of the topic at hand now, and forming a closed front against any attempt he might make to evade.

"Your world – your worlds – have been contaminated with traces from this one for millennia – far longer than your people have existed. We and they have travelled there, left behind seeds and traces of ours. By now, it is in everyone, in everything. The thing you call the Soul Sword cleansed your world of all that did not belong there and was not deliberately protected from it." There was a fire burning in his eyes as he once again let they roam over their runeless skin. "The runes protected you. Close contact with adamas protected you. Everything else lost those parts of itself that should never have been there in the first place."

"You handed out a weapon that you knew would destroy not only that it was said to kill, but the entire world around it as well?" Sebastian blurted out, sounding incredulous.

Jace gave him an uncharacteristically measured look. His voice sounded flat as he spoke. "That still surprises you, after all we've seen?"

"Don't be ridiculous!" Ithuriel snapped, without any indication of which of the two he was talking to. "The outworldly traces in most of the native population and flora and fauna were miniscule. Given time, most will recover."

"Most," Clary repeated. She looked chilled to the bone. Magnus imagined that she was remembering that time when Jace had accidentally activated the Sword, and trying hard not to imagine what would have happened if the blast hadn't been contained by the institute's walls.

"Actually they won't," Chris returned icily. "Between your creature Valentine and the Seelie he tried to use, there's not much left in that world. It's turned into another hell."

Now Ithuriel laughed. "There is no hell other than the one we make for ourselves."

"I think we have all realized this by now," Alec cut in before they could continue the discussion. "Chris was speaking metaphorically. The Soul Sword?"

The last words carried a compulsion that made Magnus proud. If he'd ever seen a born leader, Alec was it. Without raising his voice, he had made it almost impossible to resist giving an answer.

"Is an adjusted version of the weapon we used, yes," Ithuriel admitted. "Your world is smaller than ours, and your magic runs faster. The blast does not lose as much power in your world as it does in ours, and so could be used to cleanse it all."

"So to summarize," Alec said, a strain audible in his words now, though he was still speaking calmly. "The Soul Sword destroys all traces of this dimension, but it wouldn't have harmed us, because the same things that you used to make sure we self-destruct before we understand what we actually are would have protected us from your weapon."

"Sometimes the side effects of a cure are as bad as the thing it was used against," Izzy pointed out. Her tone changed to one of cool curiosity. "What happens if we bring a Soul Sword here and set it off? Does everyone die?"

That question seemed to find the angel's approval. His face was marginally more neutral when he turned to her. "It would probably break before it could do anything. It still needs ley line power to channel, and it is not made for the sort that flows in ours."

"It would be like running syrup through your shower," Magnus explained, resorting to the comparison he had used in his head since the first time he had touched the local ley lines. "You'll just get a clog."

"Not very elegantly put, but not inaccurate," Ithuriel allowed.

"I find it quite adequate," Izzy shot back.

"If we're done with the Soul Sword," Alec said before the angel could reply, "let's get back to this dimension. Your blast killed many. What happened to those it didn't kill?"

"Those unprotected were changed by the radiation," Ithuriel replied. Before anyone could point out that they had heard that several times before, he went on: "It put a stop to the uncontrolled population growth on their side. Without a way to replace the soldiers they lost, the war ended."

"What he means," Sal said, her voice carefully  controlled, "is that it has made us unable to reproduce. Some of our males have still managed to leave behind offspring in other dimensions, but they in turn are sterile. Like you." She looked at Magnus, who gave her a confirming nod. "We females cannot even do that. Every one of us who is here now was here at the time of the blast. And since we can be killed, even though we do not usually die, our numbers are reducing now. Slowly, but the time will come when they will have eradicated us just as they planned to."

Arr shot her a sharp look.

"He was going to talk around it forever," she told her brother.

"You're right," Alec decided. "Will you continue? I'm sure Ithuriel will let us know if his opinion differs from yours."

"Many animals that were not as long-lived and that would die on their own for no reason after a number of years are gone already. What remains are those whose life spans equal ours, and many of those have been reduced by hunting. There are some few small creatures that have adjusted to the radiation and still keep up their numbers, but they do not make good sustenance. Plants survive, and grow, and spread, but the older ones say they lack much of what they once had to feed us."

"We're not starving," Ro added. "But we're never quite satiated either. We didn't know what that meant until you gave us your pie last night. Even though we do not usually take up energy through the mouth…"

Alec's frown was visible above the bandage that covered his eyes. "What do you mean ..?"

It was Chris who answered. "She means they usually live by absorbing the life force of things directly." He didn't have to remind them that he had the same ability. He loathed it, and kept it suppressed with all the willpower he had, but was always aware that it was there. "I bet it's why they keep all those gardens everywhere. That is literally what feeds them. Just like they power their houses."

"That," the demon confirmed. "If you believe the older ones, they will tell you that there was once enough for all of us, and many more, to take as much as we needed without killing the things we took power from, so they could replenish and make more power for us. It worked well. They were taken care of. We were fed. All of this has changed. We must pace ourselves. Only few can afford to keep their stores full, like Lilith and Asmodeus do in our quarter."

"The lord and lady?" Clary asked.

That brought her uncomprehending looks from the demons for a moment, before Arr shook his head. "Those best suited for keeping up defenses, should it be necessary. Someone has to be at full power in case they decide it's time to end the truce and not wait for all of us to die by accident over time – and then it should be those best suited for handling them."

They being the angels, Magnus thought.

"So," Alec turned his attention back to Ithuriel, who hadn't corrected what the demons had said. "Since you no longer have access to whatever it is your people use to protect them from the effects, you, too, are going to become sterile, and your access to ready food sources has become limited as well."

Magnus silently commended Alec for the quick conclusions. The difference between angels and demons was less than they had ever thought in the past. His own progenitor was, it was said, a fallen angel. A defector, Magnus was starting to suspect. He pushed the thought away, since that inevitably led to the understanding that he would have to seek out Asmodeus and talk to him, to get some more information that Ithuriel was unlikely to share. Chances were, then, that the creatures they called angels would feed themselves in the same manner – and that they had, somehow, found a way to avoid the issue of a lack of nutrition, just as they had found a way to prevent the sterility.

Ithuriel nodded after a moment of hesitation.

"What about us?" Alec asked. "Will it affect us as well?"

"Yes," Ithuriel responded. "Eventually. I would not stay exposed for longer than a couple of weeks at most if I was you."

"Advice noted," their leader said. Doubtlessly, they would talk about it – later, in the relative safety of their rooms, under the protection of charms against eavesdroppers. They'd have to reevaluate their stay based on this new information.

"What I would like to know," Izzy said into the moment of silence that followed, "is this: if there is no megafauna left in the wild anymore – what is Jack hunting out there?"

 

Chapter Text

Outside of Pandemonium

Jack had no idea how far he had flown from the city. As long as he was certain that he wouldn't be completely exhausted by the time he returned, he didn't care – and he was far from that moment.

If anything, flying like this, across the vast open country and as fast as his wings would take him, was an experience he hadn't even realized he had missed. Maybe, he mused, he should take a trip to some large, desolate place now and then when they returned, just for some flying exercise. The Sahara Desert seemed like a good candidate. He'd have to look up where he'd be the least likely to encounter people.

Oceans seemed like an obvious choice, but they were terribly overfilled with ships and people these days. The last thing he needed was to be spotted by a cruise ship with camera-happy tourists on board. Antarctica would be sufficiently unpopulated, but he was a reptile, and staying agile in that sort of temperature would require a lot of food, before and after.

No, he would definitely look up deserts.

As his eyes scanned the ground beneath him once again, he frowned inwardly at the continued absence of anything worth eating. It wasn't a real desert that he was flying over – or, in any case, not the thing that he was used to people meaning when they said desert. It was more a sort of half-burned, abandoned grassland. Maybe steppe was the right word. For a moment, he wished he'd paid more heed to how people called different sorts of landscape. It would have made it easier to tell the others about what he saw later.

In any case, though, every instinct he had told him that there should be large grass-eaters roaming the countryside, just waiting for something like him to come along and take its pick.

The land beneath him gradually acquired structure, and it took him another few minutes to understand that he was looking at what must once have been the courses of large rivers, now dried out to mere brooks at the bottom of their former beds.

There were some larger plants growing down there, lining the narrow bands of liquid.

Just as he contemplated landing and seeing if his dragon senses suggested that the water was safe for him to ingest, he spotted movement ahead of him. Not any sort of cattle, he found upon closer scrutiny, but something reptilian, probably out to bask in the sun like he might after his flight.

Well, that would do. It certainly looked large enough to make a good meal.

 

Pandemonium

"Demons, probably," Meliorn said, so matter-of-factly as if he hadn't just suggested that their friend was out to hunt – and potentially eat – intelligent life.

They glanced at Ithuriel, who didn't seem particularly perturbed by the thought. If anything, his expression had turned smug.

Charlie, naturally the next target of their attention, showed neither shock nor surprise.

"What?" she asked when she found everyone's eyes on her. "He's a dragon."

"He's a dragon?" Clary blurted. "That's all?"

With her arms resting on her guitar, Charlie leaned forward to better meet the younger woman's eyes. "For Jack's species, eat and be eaten is the natural way of life. If you thought that Viktor was joking every time he said he couldn't return home because he'd be eaten, or when he suggests that Jack might yet decide to do that, think again, because he isn't."

Clary, Simon and Maia stared at the Bard. The others were watching her through narrowed eyes, listening to her words, but slightly less disturbed by them.

"Dragon females eat their males that fathered their clutch when they lay eggs if they can," Charlie continued. "If they can't, there won't be any offspring because she won't be able to make it through to the hatching without eating the eggs – or the young after they hatch. Dragon mothers still eat their young even after hatching if they grow hungry. Hatchlings are known to eat each other in the nest. Dragons eat other dragons if they catch them unawares."

"Dragons also eat anything else if they grow hungry," Meliorn threw in. "Including Seelie."

"Dragons eat Seelie?" Simon's voice had gone up a little.

"Only if they're hungry," Meliorn returned. "We don't hold it against them. They also tend to consider themselves the rightful rulers of the Seelie Realm and, as such, above the Courts. Now that, we do hold against them."

The more experienced Shadowhunters and Magnus were clearly filing the information, but less visibly shocked by the news. They might not have been aware of the details, but they'd had at least some idea.

"But Jack doesn't randomly eat people," Clary protested. "He wouldn't—and neither does Viktor. They understand that that's not … what you do…" She trailed off, suddenly not so sure of herself anymore.

"Jack spent the greatest part of his life in a realm where it was perfectly natural and accepted for him to eat anything that he could catch, and expect to be eaten if caught by someone else. His uncles taught him hunting and flying tricks and a lot of dragonlore, and they still would have eaten him without second thoughts if he'd let his guard down for a moment. They've made their attempts. He doesn't hold it against them, any more than Viktor holds the loss of his wing against Jack. That is how they work, and whether anyone else understands it or not doesn't change it."

There was something else behind her words, carried in her tone and the way she held everyone's attention with the pitch of her voice. The Gales, too, were not entirely human, and in part living to rules of their own that would have distressed the human citizens of Calgary, had they known about them. Allie's own control of and influence on the city could have been considered highly immoral by some standards.

"Spending a few years in the MidRealms hasn't changed that. He is still, first and foremost, a dragon. He's also a Gale, and as such he adheres to the rules set by Gales – or specifically, the Gale in charge of his circles. That is Allie, and Allie has told him he can't eat anything he can have a conversation with or that she knows in person. And while in her realm, he sticks with this. Over here? He's a dragon."

"Viktor isn't a Gale." Sebastian's voice was neutral, as was his face, making it hard to guess how he was feeling about the matter.

"Viktor adheres to the rules Jack sets. Jack is a Gale. It's the price Viktor pays for protection that goes against his species' nature."

Alec shifted, facing toward the three demons, still standing where they had been, and looking at best mildly interested in the conversation. "Let us clear up a practical matter. If Jack catches and eats a demon, what will happen?"

Arr shrugged. "If they allow themselves to be eaten, that is between them and Jack. Who'd blame him for taking care of a need?"

"Leave him to his hunt for then now," Alec determined, ending the discussion of dragon habits. The slight strain in his tone suggested that he was presently remembering the time when Lilith had used his own pain to take care of her need to keep her son from slipping fully into death. "We're not here to judge this place's rules, and Jack doesn't seem to be breaking them."

That surely wasn't all he had to say about the subject, but if he was going to share his own opinion with the others later, he surely wouldn't do so where Ithuriel was listening. Magnus sent a silent wave of proud approval at Alec, hoping that some of it would make it through that hint of a connection that was always there between them.

He turned his focus back to Ithuriel, just in time to spot the tail-end of an expression of disappointment crossing the angel's face.

 

New York

Ian Underhill opened the door to the Hunter's Moon with some reluctance. The general curfew was still in force, keeping all but those officially on night patrols in the Institute at night, and what free time he had was usually too precious to waste it on things of uncertain value.

He had known that Lindsay had slipped him a note before he had left the mess hall. The young woman could be clumsy – an issue that grew worse if she tried hard not to be – but that stumble had gone far beyond anything he expected of her.

Checking his clothes surreptitiously had come automatically.

If he'd been surprised, it was about the nature of the thing he had found. He'd half expected a tracker, or something similarly unsavory.

They'd known Lindsay couldn't be trusted since that day when he had helped Alec Lightwood and his friends retrieve a deleted recording from the video feed, rendering evidence that it had been Lindsay herself who had sabotaged that day's mission. He didn't know if they had ever found out what exactly her agenda was, or who she took her orders from. If they had, they hadn't shared it with him.

So, when he had read her message, his first instinct had been to ignore it.

Then, curiosity had won out – along with the thought that if she somehow betrayed that Aldertree or anyone else had acquired an idea of what had happened to the Lightwood trio and to Clary Fairchild, he should find a way to pass the information on to Lucian. He didn't know if the Shadowhunter turned werewolf actually knew where they had gone, or if Alec had ever been recovered, but if anyone knew at all, it would be Luke.

Luke, who had somehow, along with the High Warlock and the leader of the vampires, resisted the pull of the Seelie spell Aldertree had tried to put them under.

So he'd sacrifice the time he needed to talk to Lindsay, hear what she had to say, and then decide where to go from there. He'd do it on his terms, though – not hers.

And that was why he opened the door but didn't enter the tap room, merely scanning the tables until his eyes found her tucked into a corner at the rear wall.

She glanced up, a wave of relief washing over her face at the sight of him that he didn't think was an act.

Raising a hand, he beckoned once before he turned around wordlessly and walked slowly away down the street.

*

It wasn't long before hurried footsteps sounded on the pavement behind him.

The next moment, Lindsay was by his side.

"I need to talk to you," she said, her voice urgent and a little breathless, though more from fear than from the exertion.

"Not there," he returned. "Too many ears, no matter what you want to talk about."

She nodded, following him without another word.

The place he had chosen was a mundane café – not one that he and Francesco usually used a lot, but one where they had been before a time or two. It wasn't a place they'd be sorry to lose as a retreat, but not so far out of their habits that anyone seeing one of them there would take note that something was off.

Francesco Youngwolf was waiting for them at a table that afforded a good view of the street outside.

"I've ordered for you," the other man told Ian, before looking at Lindsay. "But I didn't know what you'd want."

"Anything will do," she claimed.

"'Anything' isn't on the menu," the man informed her, picking one up and pushing it at her.

Lindsay gave him an unhappy look, but started perusing the menu, scanning the first page and apparently settling on the first thing she found and recognized.

The two men remained silent until each of them had a cup in front of them and the waiter had retreated. Then Ian fixed Lindsay with a cool look. "So. Spill it."

Lindsay was silent for another moment, suddenly not entirely sure if this was a good idea at all. Then she inhaled deeply and met his eyes. "You may be quite angry with me in a moment and I understand if you never want to talk to me again afterwards, but I'll ask you to hear me out first. I don't know if this information will be any good to you, but it might be important."

He gave the barest of nods, indicating for her to continue.

"I wasn't really part of Alec's team."

They didn't pretend to be surprised.

"Aldertree assigned me to it to spy on the Lightwoods. He was sure they were breaking the law and wanted to have proof of it. I was sure they were breaking the law and was quite happy to find it for him."

Francesco's eyebrows went up a little. "And now you're thinking what?"

"I'm still sure they were breaking the law." She had given the matter some thought since she had overheard that discussion. "But now I think they may have had good reason for it."

They said nothing, merely waiting for her to continue.

"I was going to find him evidence so he could arrest them, send them to Alicante to be tried for their crimes."

"He said he would do that?" Underhill asked.

A muscle in her jaw twitched as she tensed. "No. I assumed that. He didn't say anything about the details. And now I – I overheard him talking to Robert Dearborn and another man. A man they called Val." She relayed as much of the debate to them as she could remember, carefully watching their faces.

"I know it sounds far-fetched," she ended. "But I think the third man was Valentine – and if you have any idea where they are, you need to warn them."

Underhill favored her with a long, penetrating look. The young woman did seem to make every effort to tell the truth to the best of her abilities. He'd never heard her sound quite so sincere before, and he didn't think she had suddenly improved her acting skills.

"We haven't heard from them since the day they left the Institute," he told her. "There is no way we can pass on your information. But we will keep it in mind."

She bit her lip as she thought about that. "Do you think they had an idea?"

The two men exchanged a look before Underhill shrugged. "Maybe. We didn't talk about it. What are you going to do now?"

Lindsay looked a little lost under his scrutiny. "Pretend to play along, I guess. I don't know who I could report them to and be certain they're not in on this. And I can't just disappear either. I wouldn't know where, or how. I don't have any contacts outside of our people. I'll put myself down for a transfer the first chance I get, to get away from Aldertree…"

"Don't make him suspicious," Francesco cautioned. "If you hear anything more, be careful about who you share it with. If that man is connected to Valentine, there's more going on here than we thought."

She nodded. When she spoke again, her voice was just loud enough to be heard across the background noise of the café. "What are you going to do with the information?"

"Nothing," Underhill claimed. "Watch, observe and see what comes up. That is all we can do right now. Can you imagine what would happen if anyone publicly claimed that Aldertree and Light-- Dearborn were working with a resurrected Valentine Morgenstern? The commands to arrest the Lightwoods and deliver them, dead or alive, to the inquisition came from Alicante. Whatever is going on runs deeper than our iÍnstitute."

"So you'll just sit back and wait?" a desperate tone had snuck into Lindsay's voice. "But that's—"

"The only thing we can do," Francesco cut her off. "If they are able to, I am sure the Lightwoods will resurface some day. And when that day comes, we would probably do better not to be deruned in some cell for high treason."

 

Lilith's Home, Pandemonium

Alec trailed the fingers of his left hand along the wall of the corridor until he reached the door to Charlie and Jack's bedroom. Jace's swordstick served him well enough in making sure the house didn't drop any unexpected furniture into his path. After their earlier talk with the demons and Ithuriel, they were suspecting that it was making as much use of the fresh energy they were bringing in as it could. Whether it was trying particularly hard to give back to them or whether it was simply keyed to cater to its occupants' every need as far as its energy levels permitted wasn't a question they expected to be able to answer.

He raised his hand to rap his knuckles against the door. Gales may not have known much privacy among the family, and expected the occupant of a room to charm the door shut if they didn't want company, but they hadn't been absorbed by the family quite that far.

"Come in!" he heard Jack's voice, somewhat muffled.

He entered and then stayed where he was, unsure of the layout of the room and hesitant to blunder into random objects. Neither Charlie nor Jack were particularly known for keeping everything tidily put away.

"You have impeccable timing," the dragon told him. "I just got out of the shower."

"How was your flight?" Alec strove for a neutral tone that would betray as little as he could.

"Great!" Jack sounded like he meant it. "Quite enlightening, too." There was a cautious note in his voice at the last words.

"Ithuriel told us there is no megafauna left in this world," Alec offered.

"So I noticed." It was a statement, neutrally put. He offered nothing on what he had made of the situation, and Alec suspected that he knew why.

"When did you realize?"

Jack gave a sound that might have been the beginning of a chuckle. "When they started shooting back."

Alec wished he could have rolled his eyes at the other man. "Can I ask a favor of you?"

There was a pause.

"What sort?" Jack asked eventually.

Well, a blanket confirmation would have been a bit too much to ask for.

"Can you not eat any more demons while we're here?"

"Alec—" Jack's tone carried amusement, and the sounds accompanying the word suggested that he had sat down on the edge of the bed. "They understand the principle of hunting and eating. They're closer to my kind than yours in that. Don't you find it odd that you would ask that of me, when in your own world, you used hunt and kill demons not even to eat, but merely by virtue of the fact that they are there?"

"We try to do better now!" Alec blurted out. "We are quite aware that some – or many – of our actions in the past were misinformed and … unfortunate." He wasn't going to point out that demons were only banished, rather than killed, anyway, but that a demon eaten surely was a dead demon. It wouldn't have made a very good argument. He was too keenly aware of how much they had perceived that fact as an inconvenience in the past.

Jack didn't respond, apparently waiting for him to continue.

He held up his hands. "Look – I don't claim that I understand the whole mindset behind this – or behind Lilith's actions back in New York. But I know it's there, and I'm willing to accept that while we're in this dimension. Still, I have to ask you not to eat any more demons."

The dragon shifted, and Alec imagined that he was leaning forward towards him. "It's easy for me to agree with that for the time being. I won't be that hungry again for a while. But may I ask you why, if not to impose your own morals on this world?"

 He had spent a good part of the way home contemplating this issue with the part of his mind that he hadn't needed to pay attention to where Magnus was leading him. Then, he hadn't been sure if he was wasting time with it. Now, he was glad he had thought it through.

"The demons, plentiful as they are, are basically endangered species. We've learned today that there have not been any new demons since the time just before the Incursion." Ithuriel hadn't volunteered any more information on that, insisting that he had no knowledge of the demon side of things, and that they knew as much as he did – that the demons had left their dimension in masses after that last attack, trying to take their revenge against the angels in other worlds.

Their demon friends had disagreed, but ultimately declared that since they had  been too young to remember the situation, they would try to find them eye-witnesses willing to share their memories. They'd left it at that for the day.

"Ithuriel seemed very … satisfied at the thought that you might be reducing demon numbers. At this point, I don't want to give them that satisfaction. I don't want to give them the least bit of help in their work to eradicate these people until we know a lot more about the story behind all of this." He could feel Jack's attitude shift as if it was a physical presence in the room with them. That seemed to be a reasoning that dragons, too, understood. There was another thing he had to add: "Besides, we're here to learn and collect information. Now imagine if by some freak act of chance, you ended up eating the source we need."

Jack laughed, and Alec thought that he could feel the movement in the air and the heat as the dragon's amusement generated puffs of smoke when he didn't deliberately suppress them.

"I promise you I won't eat any demons during this stay," Jack said. "Unless they try to eat me first, in which case I will not feel myself bound to my words, and consider it fair spoils."

"Please try to avoid that." Alec felt a small shudder run down his body. "We still need you, and no matter how unlikely, any  battle is a battle you might in theory lose."

"Now that's what I call confidence in my survival skills." Jack's voice was dripping sarcasm. "Don’t worry, Alec. I have no wish to be eaten and will do my best to prevent it. Now, shall we go and join the others? I think Charlie was in a mind to play for us."

"Certainly." There wasn't anything left to say for the moment. Whether Jack believed that the reasons he had given were the main motive for his request or not was irrelevant. He had accepted them as valid either way.

As they walked back to the large sitting room, Alec in the lead and Jack trailing half a step behind, not even offering his arm but simply assuming that their leader was familiar enough with the apartment by now to find his own way around it, Alec found a small voice nagging at his mind, wondering if there had been more behind Jack's express agreement not to eat any demons than he had thought just then.

If there had been, he decided, then for today he wouldn't care. Besides, angels weren't large enough to make a good meal for a dragon anyway… were they?

*

Jace had volunteered to clean up after their dinner, an offer that had met everyone's undivided approval. Alec lingered, reluctant to move back to the sitting room with the rest.

He felt Jace's mental presence, the door to his mind open and inviting, ready for him to take a glance through his parabatai's eyes if he felt the need to.  

Alec had kept true to his resolve to use that extra help as little as possible, though he had caved during the meal, when he had ended up with an empty fork one too many times because he had misjudged either his cutlery or the pie.

It had set in motion a string of thought that he had kept carefully locked away since the moment he had first woken up and found himself unable to see.

He could hear Jace move around the room, picking up things and putting them in their proper places.

When Jace started to wash off their plates, he finally spoke.

"Back last year, when you were injured…"

The sounds of Jace moving and water splashing stopped. "Yes?" he asked without offering a guess of what Alec was getting at.

"Did you ever—" Alec hesitated. Saying the words would make it real. No, he called himself to order. Saying the words would do absolutely nothing other than making them said. Besides, this was his parabatai. His brother. If he couldn't confide in Jace, who would he ever confide in? They were closer now than they had ever been. Jace wouldn't sneer at him for a moment of insecurity, even though he himself felt like giving just that reaction to his own traitorous mind.

"Did you ever wonder what would happen if you didn't heal up completely? Or at all?"

Jace shifted, and Alec was sure he had just turned to look at him. "All the time," he said. He sounded sincere, though there was amusement in his voice – at himself, not at Alec, as he realized.

"You never said anything," Alec pointed out. "You didn't show it. You were – from the beginning, you were the one convinced you'd be fine."

"I had to." His tone was dead-serious now. "At first, I couldn't let myself actually contemplate anything else. I would have fallen apart, and I couldn't do that. And later – I wouldn't have fallen apart, but I couldn't very well admit to it after I'd already established I was sure of the opposite, could I now?"

"Did you think we wouldn't take you seriously?"

 "It was more a matter of taking myself seriously. And I hate being scared."

Alec remembered that moment when they had gone to Calgary, for the Gale Aunties to fix the damage to Jace's back. They had asked him about it, and he had confirmed without any ado. But he hadn't said anything else about it afterwards, and Alec hadn't given the matter any more thought once the old women had declared that the work was done, and Jace would heal.

"The time from the Solstice to New Year's was the worst," Jace said, not waiting for another question. "When I was waiting for something to happen, and knew it could be weeks before it did. And then, when I was recovering, those stretches of time where I just seemed to stop improving. It never lasted more than a few days, but I always wondered if that was it now."

"What if it had been?" The words were out before Alec could stop them.

Jace was silent for a moment. "I would have hated it," he said eventually. "But I would have lived. It wouldn't have been all black despair and terror. No matter what, there always would have been you and Izzy and Clary. You wouldn't have cast me aside like some broken thing even if the Clave had."

And the Clave no longer had a say in what any of them did anyway. He didn't have to add that for Alec to hear it.

"If my eyes don't improve…"

Jace cut him off. "It's only been two days. Everyone says they'll heal, and Magnus was certain he could heal them instantly if he dared use the magic here for it. You'll be fine, Alec." Then, probably remembering that hearing that from one of the others when he had been the one injured wouldn’t have helped, he added: "And don’t you think there's a chance you get out of being our leader, even if I end up doubling as your secretary."

"Now there's a thought." Alec couldn’t quite help a grin at the mental image. "We should keep that one in mind. Your handwriting is neater than mine anyway."

"Nope." Jace told him, laughing. "Not happening. By the time you're writing this mission report, you'll be able to see the paper you write on again. Now get yourself over here and grab a towel so we can get these dishes done and go join the others."

Chapter Text

June 19th, 2017

The fire message had arrived while they had been at breakfast, targeting not Alec this time, but Clary.

"Ithuriel requests another meeting," she announced after reading the lines written in a script too neat and even to have been produced by hand. "Specifically, he desires the presence of 'his children'."

"Desires?" Jace asked with a frown.

"Demands, is more like it," Clary admitted, handing him the missive.

Alec's forehead creased in a frown as he listened. "I assume that means he wants to see you and Jace and none of us others."

"That's how I would read it," Clary confirmed.

"Do you want to go?"

She looked at him, studying his posture and the visible parts of his face. "Do you want us to?

Jace handed back the parchment and continued to reduce his breakfast.

"I'm not sure what else he might have to share with us that he didn't say yesterday," he declared between bites. "But I'm willing to find out. Unless you need us for something else."

"I think we will manage," Alec said. "I don't assume he's planning anything harmful, so the worst thing that will happen is that we waste some time."

"And in the best case, we gain some more information," Magnus added.

"Then that's settled." Jace scraped the last of his food onto his fork as he spoke. "Alec can keep an eye on what's going on through me. What's everyone else going to do?"

"We should probably talk to Asmodeus next." There was regret in Magnus' voice. It was one discussion he still wasn't looking forward to. "If he's available to us yet."

 

Calgary

Aline studied the woman across from her, not quite certain of how to proceed.

She was Alec's second in command, but it wasn't like that job entailed a lot of duties yet in the first place – the group of Nephilim in Calgary was small, and they were still finding their place within the Shadow World community, without setting themselves up as the makers of rules and sole keepers of the peace.

With most of their group gone off to another dimension, she hadn't expected her position to be anything more than nominal, with her main duty the continuation of Lydia's introduction to life without a stele

Now she was sharing tea with Louisa Rock, the woman in charge of the Calgary Warlocks in Magnus' absence, and it was starting to look as if she would do well to conjure another few Shadowhunters out of her hat.

The warlock looked tired, as if she hadn't been getting enough sleep recently.

Aline knew better than to draw conclusions from that. Not too long ago, a creature posing as another warlock had tried to drain her of life force and magic, and very nearly succeeded. Even with the help of the Gales' best potion brewers, the effects lingered and exhaustion seemed permanently etched into her features.

Louisa paused briefly after finishing her account. Her eyes, watchful despite the evident fatigue, never left the younger woman's face. "Will you help?" she asked once a few seconds has passed in silence.

"I'm not sure I can." Honesty seemed the best course of action to Aline. "Helen and I are the only active Nephilim in town right now."

There had, Louisa had just informed her, been a series of cases of vandalism in and around the lairs of some of Calgary's Shadow World citizens. Most recently, two warlocks had been targeted as well. In one case, wards had prevented entry into the house, limiting damage to the herb garden kept for potion brewing. In the other, at least the outer wards had been bypassed, a window broken and the room inside left in disarray. The only objects missing had been decorative in nature, but the message was clear enough.

Whoever had done it hadn't left behind a trace that could be tracked by magic. There was no scent to follow in the other lairs that had been vandalized. Both Louisa and the Loireagh who lived in the Bow River had talked to Alysha Gale. While not adhering to the Gales' former rule of ignoring everything outside of the direct family anymore, Allie had been unable to extend her help to either of them.

She may have been able to keep track of all of Calgary with a thought, but minor crimes were far too frequent occurrences to stand out on a normal day. Knowing where something had happened didn't help. Her skills didn't extend retrospectively. Had she known where the next incident was going to happen, she could have kept an eye on that place. As it was, there were far too many of the Shadow World in the city to monitor all their homes on a constant basis – never mind that the greater share of them would have objected to any sort of supervision to begin with.

That had eventually brought about the decision to come and see how serious the Nephilim were about working with, rather than against, Calgary's Shadow-Worlders.

"You have the greatest skill at tracking without magic or extra senses," Louisa pointed out. "You're still the best chance we have."

Aline's lips narrowed briefly as she gave a small nod. "I understand that. But there's only so much ground we can cover with just the pair of us. I can double that if the Gale twins let me recruit them for this mission, but that's about the best I can do. Lydia's not exactly cleared for duty yet."

Ashley and Carrie Gale had been self-proclaimed vampire and demon hunters before the Lightwoods had first come to Calgary. They had slipped right into the group of Shadowhunters as they had established themselves on site, joining them for combat training where they could.

She fell silent, thinking. "I know this is asking for a lot, with very little promise of success," she continued, "but if we might get a map with the places marked where everyone you know about lives, maybe we can start patrols in the places most likely to be targeted. We still won't be able to keep up supervision around the clock."

"I'll see what I can do," Louisa said. "I'm not sure how many will give their permission to that. Do you want to inspect the known crime scenes?"

Aline's answer came instantaneously. "Only if the victims want us to. All metaphysical evidence that there was will have been collected by those investigating before us, and anything non-metaphysical will have been removed in the clean-up. We can see if there's anything we can follow the next time."  She lifted a hand to stop Louisa from interrupting her as the warlock's lips parted to speak up. "I don't put much hope in that. If they left behind anything to be followed, chances are that someone would have found it. Having an extra pair of eyes or two can't hurt, though – even if it's just for us to get a feel for how this person works."

Louisa nodded. "Understood. I'll send messages around and bring you as much of a map as I can."

"And I'll see if there are any more people I can convince to go on patrol for us." She was going to ask Helen to speak to Elessar, for one thing. Her wife was Half-Seelie. She'd be in the better position to request help from the head of the local Seelie group.

She would go and talk to the Gale twins in the meantime, and see if any of the other cousins felt like joining them. And then…

Then there was one more person she could talk to.

 

Pandemonium

While Magnus was trying to contact Asmodeus, though without any great enthusiasm and with Alec offering moral support, Jack had flown off with Meliorn to collect some samples of the local flora. They had no idea if that would even survive the transport back into their home dimension, but the Aunties had asked and they would at least try. Charlie was obliging their demon friends' request to show them some of her music. She had recruited Simon to help her, and he in turn had convinced Maia to come with them. With Jace and Clary gone to meet with Ithuriel again, the others had taken a Speak in Tongues from Magnus and Christopher and spent some time in Lilith's library, trying to find anything more of interest.

Eventually, Izzy leaned back with a thorough stretch and looked at her companions.

"I think I need to take a break. I don't like being cooped up in here all day."

"What were you thinking about?" Sebastian asked her, his eyes slightly narrowed as he watched her over the top of the book he had been perusing.

"I might just go for a run outside," she determined. "Get a bit of exercise in and something that's at least pretending to be fresh air. Either of you want to come along?"

Sebastian shook his head. "I might go later when it's cooled off. I'd rather run to stay warm than put on protection charms every ten minutes to keep from melting."

"I'll come." Christopher closed the book before him with a snap. "Getting out sounds like a great idea."

Izzy sent a voice message to Alec to inform him they'd be out and headed for the door, Chris just behind her, while his parabatai returned to his reading.

Once outside, they turned in a direction they hadn't explored before.

They ran side by side silently for a while, protected from heat and sun by the charms they wore. The silence felt strange to Izzy. With either of her brothers, or with Clary, she would have been talking, in spite of keeping an eye on their surroundings. Even with Sebastian, whose conversation she had found rarely turned out very exciting, she always found something to talk about.

Chris, however, stayed separated from them by some invisible wall, and it wasn't merely the fact that he had grown up in a parallel universe that caused it. They had all settled well enough into thinking of Sebastian as Aline's cousin, and even Aline called him that, though he was clearly shaped by different experiences from the Sebastian who had lived and died in their world.

She didn't think she had even once seriously thought of Chris as Clary's brother, though.

Yes, it was true that he kept himself apart from them, but how much of that was because of his own experiences with their counterparts in his home dimension, how much because he still saw himself as different due to the powers his demon blood gave him, and how much because they had never entirely dropped thoughts of Jonathan Morgenstern, the man who had committed so many crimes, from their minds when they were dealing with him? No matter how much they told themselves that this man was a different person altogether, it never quite left their thoughts anyway.

Well, that should change, she decided. And there was no time like the present to start changing it.

"So, did you come along because you wanted to get out and exercise, or because you wanted to minimize the risk that Lilith would show up and demand some quality time?"

It might not have been the most tactful thing to ask him out of the blue, but it was what she would have asked any of the others.

He looked at her with some surprise. "A bit of both," he admitted. "I know I can't put it off forever, and I will have to be the one talking to her, but I can't—" he hesitated. "It'd be easier if she didn't keep referring to me as her son. I'm nothing like the boy she raised."

"I think she knows that," Izzy said after a moment's thought. "But it doesn't change a lot for her."

"Being a convenient replacement in a position I never wanted, due to an inconvenient fact I'd do anything to make unhappen isn't exactly any better." His eyes were locked to the path ahead now, never veering her way.

"I don't know about most of that," she admitted, "but I know what it is to feel like you're just the spare."

This time, his jerk of surprise at her words almost had him stumble on the next step. His voice sounded incredulous "You? How could you ever be a spare?"

She shrugged, as much as she could without slowing down or breaking her rhythm. "I don't feel like that anymore. I think." Honesty made her add the last as a small stab that she didn't want to analyze right then went through her at the statement. "But growing up, you bet that I did – far too often. Didn't admit to it, of course. Certainly not to my brother. It wasn't his fault he was the shining star and I the rebel."

Alec knew. He must have known since the day when that demon had possessed her and attacked him with her body. It had used that. They hadn't talked about it then. It wasn't the sort of thing they would have spoken about at the time. They had changed since, and sharing those thoughts with her brothers no longer felt impossible to imagine. It hadn't come up, though, and it wasn't like it was all that relevant. It had never been an issue between them before, after all.

"You're not a spare," Christopher repeated.

"I know." She gestured, suggesting which branch she wanted to take at the crossing ahead of them. "And at this point, our father wants both of us equally dead, and our mother is making every effort to make up for past mistakes. But I remember the feeling."

Chris swerved, staying by her side as she took the turn she had announced. "You should have been Alec's second in command. Not Aline, not me."

Izzy allowed herself a small chuckle. "I don't want to be, and Alec knows it. I'm no more of a leader than Jace is. We can run a mission team, but anything larger than that I'll gladly opt out of. I can see myself as a trainer, but not as a general." She used the title Lilith had given Alec for his token. "Alec's a natural leader. So is Aline. You're not bad at it either from what I've seen."

"Thank you… I think," Chris returned, clearly not quite sure if he was going take that as a compliment. "But we—"

He broke off as a large shape shifted ahead of them to block their way. Both of them skidded to a halt, avoiding collision, and dropping instantly into alert positions, though they stopped short of drawing weapons.

Izzy had kept the twist of her mind active that allowed her to see the demon population even if they didn't deliberately make themselves seen, and so far had found that they were barely given any attention.

The creature that had just stepped in to halt their progress, however, seemed to feel differently about them.

The shape consolidated into a body resting on four legs, broad enough to block both their ways at once. The arms growing from its massive upper body ended in claw-like hands. The demon's exposed skin was colored a dark grey, the texture craggy and spiderwebbed with lines that seemed dug into the surface. The play of light and shadow added to the strangeness, making it hard to discern features on that face immediately.

So far, the demons they had met had seemed anywhere from uninterested to mildly curious, with their three young friends outliers on the positive end of the spectrum. This was the first time that Izzy felt a wave of open hostility, a feeling emanating from the creature before her like a cloud that enveloped her and Chris, leaving no doubt that they were not wanted here.

*

Ithuriel was waiting for them outside his lodgings, dressed as he had been the day before, his wings out and shining in a white so bright the reflected sunlight was downright painful in their eyes.

"Sunglasses," Clary muttered. "We should have brought sunglasses."

Jace gave her a smirk but said nothing in response as he watched the angel shift his stance and stretch those extra limbs, giving him the impression of growing by several inches. His skin was gleaming with charms – whether freshly applied or merely unconcealed and visible for the first time, they didn't know. They did, however, once again remember descriptions that they had read of Raziel, stating that their creator had been covered in shining silver and golden runes.

They hadn't had any doubt that that description referred to charms anymore. Not after what Ithuriel had said the day before. Still, seeing charms on the angel before them, some of them the same that they wore, felt jarring.

"So you have decided to break Raziel's rules and the limits he set for you," Ithuriel said instead of a greeting.

They gave identical shrugs. "We don't care if it's Raziel alone or all of you," Clary declared. "We won't be used like tools or weapons."

The angel's lips twitched into a position that gave his face an expression settled somewhere between a sneer and a show of pity. "You think you can control the powers your blood gives you without our help?"

"We seem to be doing fine at it so far." Involuntarily, Jace had shifted his stance, his body tense and battle-ready in the face of the unknown that was Ithuriel.

The angel scoffed. "You think you could conquer such skills without help? Foolish mortals."

"That remains to be seen," Jace said evenly, leaving it entirely open which part of the statement he was responding to. "Did you call for us merely to insult us? If so, I think we can find something more interesting to do with our day. Clary?"

"Yeah." She pivoted as he did. Turning their backs on Ithuriel may not have been the wisest move, but they were relying on it that the angel was going to respect Lilith's protection, since he had a vested interest in being allowed to stay right where he was.

"I called you because I was going to offer you some training," Ithuriel's voice boomed behind them.

They turned back a lot more slowly than they had spun away. "Just the two of us?" Jace asked.

"You're the only ones with my blood," the angel said, his tone suggesting that it should have been obvious. "And you are much stronger than the others because of how you got it."

The latter was something they had increasing doubts about. Clary appeared to have acquired some of her extra skills – the kind that the Gales called Wild Powers – by inheriting them from her mother. The other perks the two had previously had from their extra angel blood appeared to have been balanced out completely as everyone had shifted from runes to charms.

Well, they could take whatever he had to offer them, and share it with the others later.

Actually…

Jace mentally tugged at the thread of a presence in his mind that was Alec.

If you have the time and attention to spare, come and watch, he told his parabatai through their link. This might be interesting.

He felt Alec follow his invitation and settle just a moment later.

"We should go where there are fewer watchers around," Ithuriel informed them. "And it will be faster by flight." He held out his hands to them in an imperative gesture.

"I don't think that will be necessary," Clary said, making no move to take the offered hand. Instead, she shifted on her feet, preparing for the change of balance that even metaphysical wings would cause.

"Oh yes," Ithuriel insisted. "What I will show you is not meant for demon eyes."

Jace had felt for the power around them, getting ready to let it fill him just as Clary had. "Be that as it may, we don't need to be passengers."

As if on cue, they both opened themselves up to the energy of the world around them, though they kept the flow to a trickle only at first, gradually allowing it to increase until they felt the power break free in a manifestation of immaterial, but quite workable wings. They understood Magnus' hesitation to use the magic of this world for delicate work, if it felt anything like the raw energy they were channeling now to get ready to fly.

Ithuriel's face froze into a stony expression at the sight of the winged Nephilim.

"Is there no end to your blasphemy?" he asked, following up immediately with a shake of his head. "Don't answer that."

Without another word, he flexed his wings, letting them lift him off the ground and into the air.

Jace and Clary exchanged the briefest of looks before following.

 

Calgary

Aline walked the few streets to her destination, the words of the message she was planning to relay playing in her mind already as if in rehearsal.

She had considered only briefly if she should call Alec to talk about this decision before making it, but had decided that it fell well within her competences as the person currently in charge of running the Nephilim presence of Calgary.

The car parked in front of the house seemed good news. Someone was going to be home.

As she rang the doorbell, listening to any sounds coming from inside, she wondered if she should have called or texted instead. A personal talk seemed more appropriate, though.

She was almost ready to press the button a second time when the door opened, revealing Hodge along with the reason of why it had taken him quite so long to answer the doorbell: There were paint stains on the faded checkered shirt he wore, and more paint in his hair.

"We're getting the house ready," he said with an apologetic grin. "I don't assume you've come to help?"

"Afraid not," Aline confirmed, stepping inside as he moved back to let her in. "I'm here on business."

She looked around, taking in what she could see so far. This part of the ground floor belonged to the apartment, and it looked surprisingly orderly if one considered that it had only been a week since the two had claimed the house for themselves.

"What were you painting?" she asked, indicating the green in his hair.

"Child bedroom," he informed her, his eyes glued to her now to gage her reaction.

"Child--?" She repeated before she could stop herself.

A grin split his face, lighting up the entire room. "We're Gales, Aline," he reminded her. "Children happen."

She didn't point out that he was technically a Starkweather. The name tag on the door listed only one name, and that wasn't it.

"Well," she said, feeling her expression match his. Right now, she couldn't help but share his joy. "Are you still going to work with us non-Gales now?"

"Anyone of the Calgary Institute will be welcome at the dojo for combat training as soon as we open," he promised, glancing up the stairs just as Katie's head appeared above the railing two floors above. She sported only marginally less green than Hodge did.

Aline raised a hand to wave at the other woman. "That's nice," she told Hodge. "But not what I meant. I have a bit of a situation right now." She took a breath, watching his reaction as she continued. "There have been attacks on the homes of some of the Downwo—Shadowpeople in Calgary. Louisa has asked for our help. I need to start a regular patrol, but most of our active force is currently out of the dimension."

Hodge's face had grown guarded as he listened. His voice was incredulous. "You want me to go on patrol?"

"Yeah," she confirmed, "if you're willing to be an active member of the Calgary Institute. It's not like you've had an official status so far."

That wasn’t entirely accurate. The status under which Alec had kept him was 'recovering from injury'.

Katie had come down the stairs in the meantime, moving in behind him and meeting his glance at her with an encouraging look – whether it was meant as encouragement to agree or decline, Aline couldn't say.

Hodge turned his attention back to her.

"You realize that I haven't been on patrol since I was seventeen years old. That's about half my life."

"It's not like it's very difficult," Aline pointed out. "You can be paired with Helen or me the first days if it makes you feel better."

"I'm short a hand," he reminded her.

"Doesn't look like it to me." She nodded towards his glamored prosthetic. "No one's going to notice and take advantage. Your fighting skills are more than adequate. We all saw that when we retrieved Lydia."

"I'm—"

She was sure he had been about to point out his status as a traitor. As he broke off in mid-sentence, she glanced down just in time to see Katie withdraw her foot from where she had stepped on his.

His look had taken on a wry quality. "I'm going to need enough time to continue working on the house and getting the dojo ready for opening," he adjusted his words. "Apart from that, I would indeed feel better to be paired with one of you to get back into practice."

He exhaled slowly after finishing. Going back into active duty wasn't what he had expected. Not now, in any case, and possibly not ever.

"You'll want to be on the duty roster as a Gale?" she asked, making sure though she thought she knew the answer.

This time, his confirming nod came quickly and confidently. "It's the only name I'll need from here on."

"Right." She shot Katie a thankful look. She could have made this so much more difficult if she had insisted that Hodge didn't owe the Nephilim anything after how he had been treated in the past. Instead, she had silently nudged him in the direction where Aline needed him. "I should let you get back to your painting then. I'll send you the roster when I know who else will support us, and I hope we can have a briefing with everyone tonight. I don't want to lose too much time before we take action."

"I understand." He paused for a moment. "If you want me to, I can look over what information you have, too. I've had … a lot of time to study the theory of cases."

Now there was an idea she hadn't thought of before.

"I'd appreciate that. I'll email you what I have."

The momentary surprise on his face at her immediate agreement gave way to a professional nod quickly. "I expect I'll see you tonight then."

"Tonight, yes." As she turned to leave, she stopped herself to look back at him one more time. "Hodge?"

He met her eyes expectantly.

"Thank you."

Chapter Text

Pandemonium

"So it is true." The demon's voice sounded dark and gravelly. It was a strange experience, as the sound of his words came in through their ears, while the meaning seemed to originate directly in their minds, the latter effect not unlike the way Jack communicated when he was in Dragon shape. The double input felt jarring.

"Lilith is providing shelter to some of you."

"We're not looking for trouble," Chris said as Izzy found herself reaching into her pocket to close her hand around the token their hostess had provided. Her companion was already grasping his, as far as she could tell.

It wasn't that physical contact with it would change anything about its relevance, but it did feel reassuring to hold it.

"Your existence is trouble enough," the demon growled. "You're their creatures, made to do nothing but hunt and kill, and now you're here."

"We're not at fault for the creation of our kind." Izzy forced a calm tone into her voice. "It isn’t like our opinion on the matter was ever asked."

"They made it your nature to be what they wanted you for, though." The demon didn't move from where it stood, clearly determined not to let them pass.

With an effort of will, Izzy released the token and brought her hand out, showing that both her hands were weaponless – just in case. "We're not slaves to whatever they did to create our kind. We can think for ourselves. We can look through their game and come to our own conclusions. And we have come to learn."

"Learn?" The demon gave a sound that had to be a harsh laugh. The way its face moved tugged on a memory in Izzy's mind. Her eyes narrowed and she focused on the lines dug into his cheeks and forehead as he continued: "What is it that you would learn? That the angels you worship are cruel, brutal creatures whose deeds will match any atrocity you have known any of us commit?"

"No." She met his eyes, small, deep-set black orbs without whites or irises, so foreign in feeling that she wasn't sure if that made it harder, or easier to maintain contact. "We know that. And you have experienced it first-hand. I can only swear to you that none of our group has ever, knowingly, had any part in that sort of torture." She was too honest to pretend, even to herself, that they had not known that handing over Downworlders to the Clave for interrogation would entail certain brands of just that. Saying that they had thought they were doing the right thing seemed like too feeble an excuse. The horrors she had read about in David's journal and seen through her own friend's memory, however, were an entirely different level of it.

From the corner of her eye, she caught Chris' brief look of surprise at her. She felt the demon's confusion interlace his anger.

"How?" he asked, the single word carrying demand with a power that would have made it hard for her to lie if she'd wanted to.

"I recognize your scars. I've seen them before." Not all the marks on the demon's face were alike. It would have been easier to tell if she'd known what his species was supposed to look like, but once the connection had been made and the memory of another face pulled out of its original shape by scar tissue had been jogged, she'd found the pattern, though either the passage of time or the nature of his species had softened it somewhat. The hands made sense then, too. Though species may have had different sorts of gripping appendages, she didn't think she'd ever seen any where the right didn't match the left unless some alteration had taken place subsequently. "A friend of mine has them… or some very close to them."

"Tatyana?" Chris asked, apparently unable to stop himself. He had never met the woman, though he knew of her.

Izzy found herself nodding as she felt the mental pressure on her increase. The demon wasn’t threatening her, but he wasn't going to allow her to conceal the truth if he could help it.

Luckily, she had no intention to do so. She wasn't sure if she'd had a chance at resisting, had she tried. "She's one of us. There was – a while ago, there was a man who saw what they did to your kind in visions of a sort. He tried to recreate their deeds. All but one of his targets died." She shuddered at the next memory connected to that. "He shared one of his visions with her. She passed it on to us. We've seen them at their worst."

"It is not their worst," the demon corrected her. The anger was still there, though it had mellowed the slightest bit around the edges. "Will you change sides and join us to fight them, then?"

The renewed pressure on her mind almost made her take a step backwards. She braced her legs and resisted the urge, though barely. "We will learn what we can. Then we will find our place to stand. We are no longer part of your war."

The demon produced a sound that felt like it should have been a mocking laugh. "Everyone is part of the war," he insisted. "You cannot escape it."

*

"Did you know that they keep those they don't deem sufficiently productive on a diet just above starving?" Ithuriel asked out of the blue. He'd been doing that throughout their flight, pointing out all the shortcomings of demon society that he could think of.

Having it condensed like that fed right into two decades of conditioning. Realizing that, in turn, left Jace short-tempered.

"Did you know Shadowhunters keep those they deem too injured to fight locked away underground where they'll use up the least resources?" He remembered the solution for his further life that had been proposed to him after his injury the year before – the only solution he could have chosen short of deruning and banishment if it hadn't been for his family – keenly enough to use it as a counter-weight to the one Ithuriel had just tried to tip the scales with.

"That's different," Ithuriel claimed without looking back towards them.

"It really isn't," Clary disagreed. "Not enough to make a difference, anyway." Her mood was quickly approaching a new low, too. The heat didn't help.

The angel didn't seem to notice it at all, but both of them had had to redo their protection charms more than once. Flying was more exhausting than walking, and their shoulders and backs were starting to ache fiercely. It didn't help that the speed Ithuriel was setting went well beyond what they usually would have targeted for a longer flight.

Clary shot a look at Jace, who met her eyes with an understanding expression. If they didn't reach their destination soon, they'd have to land and either walk the rest, or be dragged along by Ithuriel after all.

"Where are you taking us anyway?" Jace asked, still feeding on his annoyance from before. "If there's a point to this excursion, I hope it'll show up soon."

"The closest ley line node where we won't be in the way of anyone else," Ithuriel informed them, his tone most resembling that of a parent fed up with their child's complaint about the journey – which was unfair, as far as Clary and Jace were concerned. It had been the first time either of them had demanded particulars. "If I'm going to show you how to channel power properly, we need some proper power for you to channel."

 

New York

Underhill walked through the entrance of the Jade Wolf, scanning the room and trying not to tense or fidget under the stares of the wolves present. Most of them weren't outright hostile, but none of them were particularly inviting.

He stopped where he was, weaponless hands before him though no one could possibly miss the blades at his belt. "I need to talk to Luke." He took in faces turned towards him, keeping his lids lowered just a little bit to avoid anything that could be construed as a challenge. "Please."

How strange that word felt on his lips when uttered to a pack of werewolves. When he had thought about approaching Luke, he had mostly kept in mind that the man had once been one of the Nephilim. That he was a werewolf now was owed to Valentine's treachery. It hadn't been Lucian's fault, unless one wanted to blame him for not killing himself at the time – as many did.

While he could talk himself into treating Luke as an equal – or something close to it in any case – he hadn't even thought about applying the same principle to his pack members.

He also hadn't thought about what he would do if they simply refused to cooperate and chose to ignore his request. He couldn't just let it go – could he? All that would do would be to send the message that the Downworlders could ignore Shadowhunters without suffering consequences. Surely that would cause him to lose all respect they might have, if not for him then for his position.

Did they, though? He had thought so, had assumed that the Downworlders accepted the Shadowhunter presence as a way to ensure the peace and maintain order. But was it that, or was it merely that they had been forced into obedience, or some semblance thereof, to save their own skins? The recent occurrences with Valentine, along with the way Aldertree ran the institute, had started to sow doubts in his mind about that.

The failed attempt at enslaving the leaders of New York's Downworld factions had only been one more addition to it.

He still wasn't sure what to do about the situation, or even whether he had been standing there, waiting, for too long, when the decision was taken from him.

The door leading deeper into the building opened, admitting the tall, powerful figure of Luke Garroway.

"What do you need?" he asked without extending a greeting.

For a moment, it stung. Shouldn't he show more gratitude for the risk that he had taken in trying to warn him about Aldertree's plans, even though the warning had somehow turned out to be unnecessary?

He mentally called himself to order. There probably were restrictions to what Luke could do in front of his pack.

"Talk," he said simply. "Alone, if we can."

There was the briefest pause before Luke nodded, followed by a gesture towards the door at Underhill's back. He stepped back outside, watching the other man cross the front room while declining several offers of an escort or entourage and acknowledging a number of warnings.

Luke indicated the path that led down the docks by the water's edge. If the werewolf intended to get rid of him, that was a good choice.

While still trying to determine whether he was being needlessly paranoid, and finding a small voice in his head reminding him that a Shadowhunter who wasn't careful when alone with a Downworlder was just as likely to become a dead Shadowhunter in the near future, he picked the inside of the path, away from the water, just in case.

If Luke noticed, he didn't comment on it. He simply fell into step by his side.

"I'm not going to kill you and dispose of your body in the water," Luke eventually said without further preamble as they walked. "Besides, you will find that there are plenty of opportunities to evade an attack once we get past those first few buildings."

Underhill almost missed a step in surprise. Staring at his companion, he reminded himself once more that Luke had been Lucian Greymark, raised and trained to the same standards as he.

Luke ignored it. "What did you want to talk about?"

He wasn't sure anymore that he wanted to talk about anything, but it was too late to back out without raising suspicion on all sides now. "If anyone asks, I'm demanding information about a new wolf I've heard has wandered into town. There have been some killings along the highways that may have been werewolf-related. I'm trying to find out if there's any connection."

"I don't know anything about a new wolf in town," Luke told him, his voice and face guarded in the way that suggested: and if I did, I wouldn't tell you without talking to him myself first.

"That's because I made him up," Underhill said. "Not the killings, though. But that's not what I wanted to talk about."

"Alright." Luke's body was tense, as if he, too, was ready to fend off an attack out of the blue, should Underhill decide to jump him.

How stupid, he thought. Why would he do that, unless Luke had broken the law? Even then, he would hardly attempt an arrest without backup, and with his arm still not entirely as it had been.

But hadn't he just expected pretty much the same thing? And how would Luke have known that there was no backup, or that he wasn't even, strictly speaking, back on duty outside of the institute?

"It's about the Lightwoods and Clary Fairchild," he said instead. "I owe them. I have a message for them, but no way to reach them. If you know where they are – if you can pass it on to them …"

"I am not the postman," Luke said, his voice neutral. "But you can give me your message, and if they contact me, I will let them know."

His face fell. "You don't know where they are?"

Only as he said it did he realize how much he had assumed that Luke would know. He was the closest to a father figure Clary had. He had taken in the vampire who was Clary's best friend. How could he not know?

"If you were trying to disappear, would you tell the person most likely to be interrogated about your whereabouts?" Luke asked.

Did he sound amused? Underhill pushed the thought aside before it could make him angry.

"I know how Victor Aldertree tortured Raphael, and with no other purpose than to get back at Magnus Bane. You think he wouldn't have ways to make me spill anything I know?"

He was about to protest, but he couldn't. He knew the surveillance record of the incident Luke was talking about. He had removed it from the official archives on Aldertree's orders.

"What about Simon?" he asked. "The Daylighter?" Maybe he would know more. Maybe, with his special status, they would have relied on it that there would be no questioning technique that could force Simon to disclose his secrets. Maybe Clary had confided in her friend against the others' advice when she wouldn't confide in Luke.

Luke didn’t even hesitate a second. "Simon is gone."

"Where?" It sounded like a demand, out before Underhill had had the time to think about it.

"Same answer as before," Luke said.

Underhill sighed. It appeared that the only chance he had was to leave the information he had with Luke and hope that they would contact him sooner or later. At least he couldn't think of anything else right now.

"Lindsay came to talk to me. She overheard Aldertree and Robert talk about Alec and his friends. Apparently they've been discussing a kill order for a while. The official order still is to arrest them and bring them in, but the sentence appears to have been passed already."

Luke nodded.

There was something wrong about that. Clary was supposed to be like a daughter to him. Shouldn't he have reacted more to hearing she'd effectively been sentenced to death? That was, unless…

"You knew that."

The werewolf shrugged. "Robert and his friends have been overheard before. By other people."

So he had an informant within the institute? Someone who had warned him about Aldertree's plans, too? That made sense, though he couldn't imagine who it could have been.

"There's more. Lindsay thinks Valentine is somehow back and involved in this. She believes he was talking to them."

Luke said nothing, though Underhill could see he was trying to come to a decision when he glanced at him sideways.

"You knew that, too."

He didn't deny it.

Underhill swallowed almost painfully. He had known that things were going on that were not alright. He had known that Aldertree's vendetta against the Lightwoods couldn't be justified. And yet, on some level he had hoped – maybe even simply assumed – that Lindsay's declaration that Valentine was still involved and, more than that, openly plotting with the other men, had been a misinterpretation of something.

"Who else knows?"

"Clary and her friends," Luke said calmly. "Magnus Bane. Simon, Maia. Lydia Branwell."

Who had been declared a traitor, sentenced and deruned, banished and possibly killed by some demon already. Magnus hadn't been sighted anywhere in half a year or so.

"I assume Maia left with Simon?"

Luke inclined his head.

"Why are you still here?"

"I have my pack."

You're their eyes and ears in New York. The words were on the tip of Underhill's tongue, and he only barely kept himself from speaking them out loud.

"Tell your contact in the institute to be extra careful," he said instead. "Lindsay's going to try to keep them from finding out that she knows, but they have years of experience on her."

Luke turned to him with a slight frown. "I don't have one."

He seemed so surprised at the idea that Underhill was inclined to believe him. "Then who warned you about Aldertree's plot with the contract?" Of course, it wasn't entirely inconceivable that it was Raphael or the High Warlock who had a contact inside. At least no more so than that the head of the local werewolves had. It made him even more uneasy, though. There seemed to be more going on in and around the institute that he had no idea about than he had ever imagined.

"No one," Luke claimed. "I put on a glamor, walked into the institute and talked to people myself."

"Right." He knew how to read that statement. It was none of his business where Luke had gotten his information from, and he wasn't going to reveal his source. Instead, he had provided an explanation that they both knew was made up on the spot. "I'm glad to hear you don't have any contact with the wolf we're chasing. I assume you're okay with it if I come back and ask you some more questions if anything new comes up."

"Certainly." Luke's voice sounded carefully neutral now, just as if they had indeed spent all this time talking about the alleged werewolf and him claiming he had no knowledge of him. "You know where to find me."

 

Pandemonium

The illness caught up with them when they were on their way home.

In spite of the distance, they had decided that walking was preferable to flying. Their backs and shoulders were still sore, even though they had spent hours on the ground, being drilled by Ithuriel in the handling of raw power and shaping it through charms – which the angel continued to call runes.

Still, they hadn't felt quite exhausted enough to ask him for a lift back.

They had started to regret it after walking for about a quarter hour, when the first wave of dizziness hit them.

Clary was the first to be affected, stumbling slightly as the world started to turn around her. Jace reached out to steady her.

"You okay?"

They'd been walking in silence until then, both still contemplating the lesson they had had and with exhaustion creeping up on them relentlessly and making conversation an effort.

Jace was glad enough that Alec had only been watching and not insisting on keeping up a string of discussion as well, and that his parabatai was putting off talking about the day until they were back in the same room, too.

He suspected that he was going to beg for an extension until the next morning, even. By the time they got home, all he was likely to want to do was to take a cool shower and then fall into their bed and sleep for a week.

"Feeling a bit weird," Clary said, her words coming slower than usual. "I'm…" she let the statement trail off.

"Want to sit down and rest a bit?" Jace asked her. Looking around, he nodded at a low wall that could be turned into an impromptu bench.

"Nah," she declined. "Let's keep going. Getting back up again is going to be really hard if I sit down."

Jace had to admit that she had a point. His feet were feeling heavier with every step, and there was a nagging sensation at the base of his skull that quickly solidified into a full-blown headache once he had acknowledged its existence.

He cursed under his breath as a queasy feeling rose in his stomach, and the world around him turned unsteady for a moment.

Alec! He sent a silent shout through their bond. I don't know what's going on, but something's wrong here.

He didn't need to explain in any more detail. Alec must have felt the rebound from his own experience. Listening for a response, he almost missed Clary's next words.

"The heat." She stopped again, fixing him with eyes a little too bright. "We didn't pay enough attention to our charms."

Jace found that, much as he wanted to, he couldn't deny that. Ithuriel's lesson had required every bit of focus they had, and the farther the day had advanced, the less attention had they paid to keeping their sun and heat protection charms up.

The more he became aware of the issue, the more its effects made themselves known. Now that his mind wasn't focused on other things, his exposed skin stung where sweat rolled across it. Clary's face looked reddened, though its color paled as she drew a healing charm on herself.

Assuming that he didn't look much different either, he copied her. The headache remained, as did the uneasy feeling in his middle.

He was about to send another message to Alec, but his parabatai was faster.

Find a place with shadow and sit down, his voice sounded through Jace's mind. Jack's coming over to collect you.

He didn't find it in him to refuse. The healing charms took care of the sunburn, but that seemed to be all they were good for. Whatever else was going on, and no matter if it was a side effect from channeling power they were unaccustomed to or actually merely a result of being out in the heat for too long without renewing their protections: it didn't register as an injury.

*

Riding on Jack without seeing where the dragon was going was an experience in itself, Alec found. There hadn't been any question of him coming along: he could direct the dragon to where his bond with Jace led him, which saved Jack the time it would have taken to fly by tracking Jace's or Clary's phone to get the pair's bearings.

I see them, Jack's voice shot through Alec's mind as they approached. Hold on, getting ready to land.

Alec's hands tightened on the scales before him.

"We should make you a saddle or something," he suggested as he tried to guess at the dragon's movements and balance them out by shifting his own weight so as to make the last section of this ride less bumpy.

Bad idea, Jack returned. Unless you can make it adjust to changes of size.

He had a point. Jack's species was expansible after all, and he unfolded as much size as he needed or could afford while staying maneuverable.

Sliding into Jace's mind for a moment, Alec watched the golden dragon and its rider approach. He shared his brother's relief at the sight. Jace felt as miserable as Clary looked through his eyes. The headache had continued to intensify, and the only reason his last meal hadn't made a reappearance was that they had gone through the day on nourishment charms instead of food, since Ithuriel hadn't exactly given them a lunch break.

He wasn't even sure how much of the nausea was a reaction to the roaring headache and how much was a symptom in its own right.

Alec retreated into his own mind again, sliding off Jack's back. He hit the ground harder than he had intended, but didn't waste any time on berating himself for having misjudged the distance a little.

They had landed close enough to Jace and Clary that he didn't need to check his position again. Only a few steps separated him from where they were sitting.

"Stay where you are for a moment," he told them, guessing that they were getting ready to force themselves up again right now.

He kept his feet close to the ground as he maneuvered the distance, lifting them just enough to walk rather than shuffle. Following the edge of the street, he could feel where he stepped on the earth outside of the pavement with one foot. As long as he followed that line, he was walking straight ahead.

"Thanks for getting us."

Jace's voice sounded almost precisely where he had expected it to come from, he noted with some satisfaction.

"We should have thought of that before and gotten you right from the node," Alec returned. "If I hadn't been so focused on Ithuriel's lesson…"

"Not your fault," Clary insisted. Exhaustion and pain were clear in her voice, and she seemed to be speaking around a need to gag. "We should have paid better attention. After all, we were there all the time."

Alec stepped sideways into the stiff grass and knelt by their feet. He was close enough to feel them now, their presence almost tangible even without touching.

"Charlie suggested to start cooling you down a bit more as soon as we can," he explained, unhooking a canteen with water from his belt and pulling two scarves out of a pocket. The fabric was thin and light, but would feel heavenly cool on overheated skin once soaked – or so he hoped in any case.

Jace reached out to take the items from him. Alec relinquished them without protest. With someone else, he might have perceived it as a statement on his ability to work unseeing. Here, he merely took it as an expression of his brother's unwillingness to let anyone make a fuss over him.

*

As much as Jace hated being fussed over, he was secretly glad that they were taken in hand by the group as soon as they arrived. They'd both been reluctant to drink when cups were pushed into their hands, fearing that nothing would stay in their stomachs for long, but conceded when reminded that there was no point in risking dehydration on top of what was already wrong with them.

Charlie called it sunstroke, and though they still weren't sure that there wasn't some reaction to the lesson they had had mixed in with it, they certainly couldn't deny that being exposed to heat for too long with too little protection had to be a large part of the issue.

"You'd be worse off if the charms hadn't still given you some protection at least," Charlie had told them while applying anti-nausea charms to make sure that the water would remain where they put it.

The prescribed remedy of cooling off and resting seemed like sound enough advice. Jace had barely started to object to the idea of having someone help him wash when Clary had given him the most scathing look she was capable of right then.

"Because fainting on the bathroom floor and needing someone to pick you up and handle you from there will be that much more dignified," she had shot at him before he could say anything more.

He'd had to admit that she had a point.

Afterwards, he found himself directed to his and Clary's bedroom, darkened and air-conditioned with extra charms.

The others had started to bring over pillows from the other rooms when it had turned out that lying down flat made both the headache and the nausea flare up anew – a needless exercise, since the room caught on quickly enough and provided a selection.

They seemed to be made of silk, feeling wonderfully smooth and cool to the touch.

He had planned to tell Alec he didn't need to stay with him, sitting on the edge of the bed and continuing to apply towels dipped in cool water to his head and neck, just as Simon did for Clary. First, it had been the concern that emanated from his parabatai that had kept him from it. He was finding it hard to focus, harder to follow the conversations going on around him that weren't directed at him specifically. Still, he realized that they were treating their condition as more than just the minor inconvenience he had taken it for. He made a mental note to check that on one of the mundane websites as soon as he had a moment alone with his phone.

For now, he found himself too tired to ask, too tired even to tell Alec not to worry so much.

*

He was trying to sleep, the exercise made harder by the fact that he was aching all over.

It was a trick of his mind, of course. Father had said so. He'd had a set of combat lessons that had left him battered and bruised, but he would have to be able to fight larger enemies, for longer, when he was on field duty.

There were years until then, and that was well enough, because he felt like he was failing at every single combat style there was. He was lucky to have his father to train him, not exposing his shortcomings to any stranger as the boys and girls trained in the Institutes did. Less risk, too, that he would pick up the bad habits from others this way. He had plenty enough of his own, in spite of having been trained by one of the best for years.

He shouldn't still be this battered at the end of every day.

There was no reason he should feel like this to begin with. Father had activated his iratze after the lesson, which suggested that at least he hadn't acted like a complete failure this time. He had no reason to still feel sore. His head couldn't still be hurting.

It was a trick of his mind, nothing else. A weakness in him, trying to get him to shirk his work and his duty. He knew better than to let it.

Besides, it wasn't that bad.

On days when he was particularly unfocused and made mistakes too stupid even for his standards, the healing wouldn’t come until the next lesson started. Those were the nights when sleep was particularly elusive, every movement tearing him awake again with a new stab of pain.

They were nothing, though, by comparison to the disappointment in Father's eyes when he came downstairs in the morning, unable to keep a limp from his step, awkwardly handling his spoon with swollen fingers. There had been a few days when he'd had to forego his breakfast entirely, unable to eat without spilling. Father kept a neat table.

It was only right. Making the kinds of mistakes that happened to him in combat training once he was in the field would get others killed. Clearly, he needed the reminder more than most.

There was a sense of confusion at the edge of his mind, laced with anger. The strangest thing about it was that the anger didn’t seem directed at him, and the presence felt familiar, in a strange, half-remembered way.

He tried to focus on it, and felt the world dissolve around him.

He was alone in the shed where Father sent him to contemplate his misdeeds.

They'd been out today, hunting, when they had come across a young fox, injured by a larger predator or a careless hunter.

Looking at the creature, beautiful in spite of being bloody and in pain, seeing those black eyes look up at him with what he thought was a plea for help, he had once again given in to his flawed nature. He'd suggested to Father that they should take the animal home, that he could try to patch it up, feed it until it was better and then release it.

Father had looked at him, then at the fox, and then had laughed, in that brief, harsh way that suggested that he had just said something incredibly stupid.

A lecture had followed on the proper way to handle a situation like this.

Then Father had taken the dagger from his belt and handed it to him, telling him sharply to go and do the right thing.

He'd tried to clamp down on the feelings that rose up in him, but once again his self-control had failed him. Half-blind with tears he tried to hide from the man at his back, he hadn't even managed to end the animal's suffering with a single clean stroke. He'd needed two attempts before he had severed the artery properly, adding further suffering to the poor thing.

The ride home had been a silent affair, and once the horses were stabled, Father had sent him here, to prepare an essay on the useless waste of resources.

He understood. He would be just as useless a waste of resources if his performance didn't improve – and soon. Once again, he knew how lucky he was to be able to learn where no others could judge him until he was ready to face them.

Another flash of anger, and for the most fleeting of moments, he thought it was targeted at Father. How could it be, though? How could anyone be angry at him, considering how much effort he had put into his upbringing and education?

It was several years later, and he was lying in his bed, silent tears soaking his pillow.

His falcon, his beautiful, wonderful bird, was dead, and it was his fault just as much as if he had been the one to twist its neck.

When would he ever learn? What would it take to beat the weakness out of him? How many would have to suffer on his account?

He should have known better. Hadn't he been taught for ten years how to do things properly? What else would he kill because he couldn't control the urge to – to love things.

How had he been so stupid again? What, by the angel, had made him think that Father would be proud to see the work he had done with the bird, when he had gone against what he had been taught? How could he have thought that he could be better than what he'd read, that a bird tamed gently would be worth more as a companion, that it would be a feat to boast of…

He almost sent a prayer to the angel to help him finally become worthy of being one of the chosen, to make the lesson stick so this would be the last time anything would suffer for his lack of self-control. He stopped himself just in time. He couldn't bother Raziel with such trifles. More, he didn't want to draw attention to his failure. He had two more years before he would go into the field. Two years to finally be worthy.

He barely registered the stab of an external emotion this time.

The switch went too fast, the sequence so familiar that it almost felt like an old friend, strangely reassuring in all its distressing detail.

Father was gone, killed by men who had come to their home and attacked without warning.

He had stopped counting the number of people who had told him that what had happened wasn't his fault. That he'd been right to run when his father had told him to.

He nodded and said that he understood. It was what they wanted to hear and what made them back off.

Oh, it was true. Obeying orders from your superior – and Father had been that for sure – was what was expected of a soldier. There had been no fault there.

Still, alone in his new room, in a strange place in a different country, constantly surrounded by more people than he had ever seen in one place before, the feeling of guilt was overwhelming.

Because, in spite of knowing better, in spite of being shown his weakness and its consequences so many times, he had still loved his father. He told himself it couldn't be. Father had been a great fighter, strong and fast and skilled, and they'd simply been too many, and the last hunt came for everyone some day. It couldn't possibly have been his fault…

But he had loved his father, loved him still, and now he was dead. Love weakened, love destroyed. How much more evidence did he need? Who else would have to suffer because he couldn't control his feelings?

He, of course, had been safe. Father wouldn't have allowed himself to fall prey to such emotions, and if he himself had at times wondered what it would be like to feel his father's love, rather than his duty in raising the next generation of Shadowhunters, that was only more proof to himself that he was, somehow, deficient.

He could do better this time at least, he told himself. He was with new people now. People he didn't know. People he didn't love. He'd just have to make sure it stayed that way.

A wash of emotion drowned out all thought for a moment, the identity behind it so familiar that it felt almost as if it was part of himself now.

And with it came another rush of guilt, because before long he had done it again. At least that time no one had died, but Alec had been wounded on a mission, and who knew what would have happened if it hadn't been for one of the older team members stepping in?

He didn't know when he had started to think of Alec and Isabelle as his brother and sister, but the affection between siblings was love as well, and that still was an emotion that was not allowed to him. Alone in the training room, he drove himself to exhaustion, working his body until there was nothing but deep, complete exhaustion that left no space for thought or feeling. There would be no iratze for him tonight. The least he could do was to share his brother's pain.

He was—

Someone caught his arm, stopping his next blow.

The weapon master's voice cut through his thoughts. "Jace. What are you doing?"

He was thinking fast. He couldn't let the man see his shame. No one here knew, as far as he was aware, of his shortcomings in that particular area. He had to—

The grip on his arm tightened.

Jace! You need to wake up. Now! The voice came from right inside his head, the last word a command too pressing to resist.

Chapter Text

Coming from the kitchen, Izzy crossed the living room with two cups of steaming coffee that she placed on the low table.

Only once she had settled in the low armchair did she push one of them across the surface towards Chris, perched on the sofa and apparently lost in contemplation.

He looked at her, then at the beverage, before giving her a small smile.

"Penny for your thoughts?" she said, picking up her own cup in one hand and leaning forward, elbows on her knees.

"The energy around us has shifted," he said, sounding as thoughtful as he had just looked. "If I was to try and describe it, I'd say the house is concerned."

"About Clary and Jace?"

He gave a half-shrug, half-nod. "Can't think of anything else."

"I assume telling it they'll be alright won't help?"

With the magic of a diagnosis spell nothing that he had to worry about going wrong, Magnus had run a quick scan of both and pronounced them not in danger, though in need of being cooled down and resting. Chris' own talent of seeing life energy and judging proximity to death had confirmed the first part of his judgement.

"I don't think it works that way," Chris said. "I've tried asking it for a thing or two when I was trying to figure out how it worked. That did nothing. But it's become really good at dropping things in our way that would increase our comfort."

"It makes sense, I guess," Izzy mused. "If it's fueled by whatever positive energy we produce, it's in its own best interest to make us produce more of it."

"Yeah." Chris blew gently on his coffee before turning his head slightly, looking through one of the room's large windows. "And it makes sense to build a home fueled by positive energy. But imagine the sort of nightmare place you could make if you made a counterpart running on the opposite."

Izzy found herself shuddering involuntarily. "What would you—never mind." She knew what one would use that sort of thing for. Interrogation rooms. Torture chambers. Prisons.

How likely was it that those things existed here?

Very much so, she realized. And they knew the demons were using all sorts of energy for their purposes. Lilith had kept Jonathan alive with the power produced by immense shifts of mood from positive to negative, and also with the pain a tortured Alec was forced to supply. Considering the matter-of-fact way the demon queen had handled that, she wondered if the things she had thought of would be the only places a reversed version of the building they were in would be used for.

The last syllables of a sentence penetrated her mind, and she shook her head, as if she could shake her thoughts into place. "Sorry," she told Chris. "I didn't catch that."

"I said: it would be like the prison in the City of Bones, just without the Silent Brothers."

She nodded slowly, running through what Jace and Hodge had told them about their stays there, and through what they had learned in connection with Nicholas Nightshade, the man whose body Valentine was now using. Down in those cells, the Silent Brothers' mind control skills made sure that prisoners went through nightmares that would lead them to do anything to stave off sleep.

The idea might not have been an attempt to produce negative energy, but the effect surely wouldn't be much different. Fear of the next time exhaustion became overwhelming, and the background noise of the screams of those already driven insane by the treatment would make every waking moment just as hellish as the times of sleep.

Izzy sighed. "We went for so long doing so many things we considered normal and necessary that are really… not very different from what we would expect demons to do – My first thought still is that there has to be a difference. We wouldn't do that, would we? What we did was angel-sanctioned. How could it be so similar to demon-work?" She looked at him, her hands tightening on the cup she still hadn't taken a sip from. "I know they're not as different as we thought. And it's still an effort to remind myself of it every time it comes up."

"Conditioning sits deep." Charlie had come over and let herself drop on the sofa next to Chris. "You can't expect it to go away just like that." She snapped her fingers once. "You just keep reminding yourself and seeing things for how they are, not for how you were taught you should see them."

She nodded, her attention drawn back to the man across from her. Chris looked like he was on the verge of saying something, but not quite certain yet about the wisdom of going through with it.

When he chose to speak, he did so slowly, weighing every word. "What you just said – I think it's even more than that."

Izzy felt herself frowning, though she saw a gleam in Charlie's eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Angel-sanctioned, demon-work… looking at what we've seen, I am afraid the difference between angels and greater demons may be purely academic."

When she didn't respond immediately, he clarified: "Lilith, Asmodeus, Ithuriel, Raziel… I think they're the same thing. The war we were made for isn't like a fight between vampires and werewolves. It's more like two clans – or two packs – clashing. They're factions, not species."

"Arr, Sal and Ro are definitely not the same thing, though," Izzy pointed out.

Charlie shifted where she was sitting, pulling her guitar onto her lap and starting to pick a tune, in the automatic way that she sometimes wove moods she caught into sound. It didn't quite seem to fit the mindset of anyone around the table. Was she, too, picking up whatever vibes Clary and Jace were sending that had the palace on edge? "And haven't we suggested many times not to use 'demon' as a catch-all term for everything not strictly otherwise defined?"

That they had, and Izzy had to admit that it all made sense. So much, in fact, that she felt that she should have thought of it herself already.

"Alright. Let's try to distinguish between demon as in person who comes from Pandemonium and demon as in … " She was trying to find a term to express what she wanted to say, and found herself failing.

"Angel who's not on Raziel's side," Magnus suggested. He had stepped behind her and listened to the last part of their conversation. "This is an interesting thought to ask Ithuriel about if we end up seeing him again. Or Asmodeus if he makes an appearance. He was elusive enough today." His voice had darkened at the last words.

Izzy leaned back her head to look up at the man. "That it will be. Does anyone need to relieve Alec?"

Magnus shook his head. "He's staying with Jace. He's… not having an easy night, and the palace is going slightly crazy over there, trying to make him more comfortable."

 

June 20th, 2017

Jace woke to sunlight streaming through the bedroom window and an empty bed.

Stretching carefully, he found that his body still felt heavier than it should. A residue of his headache lingered as well, though that was easily enough ignored. At least his stomach seemed to have settled for good.

He rolled out of bed and slid into a pair of track pants, not bothering with putting on anything else. He'd take another shower before he'd get dressed properly.

Still barefoot, he padded into the kitchen. There'd been water on the bedside table, but that wasn't what he wanted to start his day with.

He felt Alec approach while he watched coffee run into his cup. The mental presence drawing near was the only warning he got. By now, Alec was moving through the apartment so confidently even while blindfolded that no one would have thought that he couldn't see just from watching him or distinguished his movements from those of any of the others.

"Jace?" he asked, stopping by the door.

Jace half-turned, letting their bond convey that Alec had his attention.

"Can we talk?" his voice was low, his tone neutral.

With a sigh, Jace ran a hand through his hair as he nodded his head slightly. He had no doubt of what his parabatai wanted to talk about. He remembered the last night in fragments only, but those fragments were enough to tell him what Alec had probably unwittingly shared. Those dreams had been his constant companion for about as long as he could remember – varying in content a little, sometimes letting a new memory join them – but essentially, basically, always the same.

Alec had chosen to speak instead of sending the question through their mental connection. He was giving him every opportunity to decline, when even a silent 'no' might have conveyed more information by accident than Jace had planned to. He appreciated the thought, though he didn't seriously consider declining. They were past that.

"Yeah."

Alec let a few heartbeats pass in silence while he made his final decision on what to say.

"Do you… really believe those things?"

There could have been an accusation in his tone, or mockery, or laughter at the absurdity of the ideas in Jace's head.

There was none of that.

Jace wasn't entirely sure what the emotion conveyed in Alec's tone was. A hint of worry, maybe. About Jace? For Jace?

"No. I don't anymore. Most of the time. While I'm awake." He realized as he said it that there were two ways of reading his intention in that. He didn't clarify. He wasn't even sure himself which way would be the more accurate one.

"And while you're asleep?"

He shrugged, relying on Alec to read his moment of silence accurately. "You can't blame a man for what his mind does while he's sleeping." Wasn't that something one of the Gales had said at one point? It probably was a quote from some thing or another, but he didn't care. It was accurate enough.

"Not blaming you for anything," Alec said quickly. "Does that mean you dream like that … often?"

The small hitch told Jace that his parabatai had caught on already.

"Not anymore," he said again. "Never when I sleep under my quilt." They were charmed against bad dreams, and they worked perfectly for that, as always. He'd been so overheated the night before that he'd lain down on the bed just in his shorts, and no one had tried to talk him into crawling under covers – not when they had established that getting them cooled down was taking priority.

"What about before?" Alec wanted to know. "Did Clary never notice a thing?"

She certainly hadn't, but even back when the nightmares had been worse than ever under the influence of Lilith's first attempt to reel him in to use his life force to restore her son, no one without a direct access to his mind would have known anything was wrong.

"I learned to sleep without betraying my dreams a long, long time ago."

They both knew what that meant: as a child, under Valentine's tutelage.

Suddenly needing something to occupy his hands with, Jace reached for his cup.

"I'm a complete mess, Alec." He hadn't planned to say that. Yet, speaking it out loud, suddenly hearing the words in his own voice, brought a rush of terror that he quickly seized and clamped down on. They hadn't come this far for him to fall apart because of a nightmare that …

… that reminded him of the real Jace beneath the layers of camouflage he'd so willingly accepted over the last months.

"A big, huge, Valentine-trained mess that's kept together with Gale magic and a lot of luck. And if one of them runs out, I'm in trouble, and so is everyone around me."

Once he would have told himself that his training, his fighting skills and his education in all matters relevant for a Shadowhunter's work would offset any such failings. Since he'd shifted away from seeing himself as the best among them, that line of reasoning was no longer working very well.

"I probably shouldn't even be in the field," Jace hurried to add as Alec's lips parted to speak. "At some point it's going to catch up with me at the wrong moment, and everyone will be in danger."

"That's a risk I'll take any day." Alec's statement was accompanied by a mental wave of brotherly support that enveloped Jace almost like a quilt of its own. "You've never not had yourself under control when it's really mattered for the safety of the team."

For a moment, Jace found himself relieved that he couldn't meet Alec's eyes anyway. "It's been close enough at times."

With a few quick steps, Alec crossed the kitchen, reaching out to put his hand on Jace's arm as confidently as if he had actually seen him standing there. "Hey. It'll be okay. We're watching out for each other – and we'll figure out what to do about this in the long run once we're back home."

Jace turned a shaky smile towards the other man. "You have to say that. You're my parabatai." His tone sounded a little accusatory, but the gratitude he felt at hearing Alec's words reflected clearly in their mental connection. There was no way Alec could misunderstand him. "What about the others, though? They might still feel differently about this if they knew."

"Do you want to tell them?" Alec asked. "They know something was going on last night. The house was trying a bit too hard to compensate and nudge you back into a good place."

He felt his face heat up with embarrassment. Taking a deep breath, he came to a decision. "I don't want to tell them. But I probably have to."

"Not on my account."

"No." Jace appreciated that statement more than he could put into words right then. "But on mine."

 

Calgary

He couldn't remember ever having spent that much time on deciding what clothes to wear as he had that morning. While locked into the institute, he had mostly alternated between training clothes and practical, comfortable things that he could, in doubt, have just fallen into bed and slept in, with the occasional formal suit for special events.

Since his adoption into the Gale family, he used the less flamboyantly extravagant Gales for reference.

He had gone on the mission to save Lydia with the other Nephilim in denim and leather from mundane stores. He knew that many – if not most – in the institute patrolled like that these days, blending in with the mundanes around them as far as they could if required to deglamor at any point, and striking a balance between comfort and protection.

The sort of customized field gear Imogen Herondale had given the four was a rare sight now, even among his generation, as far as he had heard.

Still, it felt strange as he let a simple mundane leather jacket settle on his body – thick enough to afford some protection and in a cut short enough so as not to impair his access to his belt. Buckling on the holster for a seraph blade had been an adventure, and not just because his left hand was still slow and clumsy when handling small items, the feedback provided by the charm improvements not enough for precise feeling and the motor control of individual fingers sorely lacking, but also because his other hand had turned a little shaky.

Of course he was going to take his chakrams, but the sword would be his backup weapon. No one in their right mind would go out without a spare, just in case.

He remembered how it had been, back before the Uprising. Every time they had set out on patrol, his younger self had hoped that there'd be some incident, some reason to jump to action and do something. Today, he was hoping for an entirely uneventful patrol. Just an opportunity to see the terrain they'd be observing, and get an idea of possible weaknesses and hiding spots. Yes, he'd be perfectly happy with that.

Aline was waiting for him, armed up but dressed equally casually otherwise. Other than their weapons, they could have easily deglamored and gone to have coffee in some place other than the Sylvan Diner afterwards.

"I don't assume you had any more thoughts about our situation?" Aline asked as they fell into step side by side, walking briskly towards the first address they wanted to keep an eye on.

"Not really," he confirmed. "It seems strangely random and still very coordinated at the same time. There's been vandalism, but not a single person has been physically attacked. They only go into places while the residents aren't there. Some places were turned upside down and some barely disturbed, beyond the obvious signs of someone entering unbidden. In those that were searched, valuables were left behind and trinkets taken, as if someone's just trying to send the message that they were there. But they could have done so with a lot less risk of accidentally triggering a hidden trap. It's—"

He broke off, the thought he had had while mulling it over in his mind the night before still feeling strange.

"It's what?" Aline prompted.

"It almost feels as if this is the work of someone who doesn’t know their way around the Shadow World very well. Someone just collecting random bits. A corbae feather, or loireagh hair, that could be collected to use in a spell, or to control someone. But a pestle and mortar that's just decoration in a warlock's public rooms for the sake of showing off a sufficiently witch-ey scenery to clients? There's probably less personal energy attached to that than to the money in your wallet."

"Someone with enough knowledge to know where the Shadow Worlders live, but not enough to know what they're actually about?" Aline sounded thoughtful.

Hodge still felt that his scenario was less than likely, but if she was actually considering it, it probably was a good idea to carry on and let her know the rest of his thoughts as well.

"Maybe a sighted mundane with a vendetta of some sort. Or maybe just a mundane who believes in fairy tales a bit too much. A sighted mundane should still be able to tell apart an object of actual magic from an ornamental one."

Pandemonium

They had listened in silence, a small blessing that Jace was thankful for. He wasn't sure he could have started up again if anyone had interrupted him. Admitting just how much of a mark Valentine had left on him to his friends, even though they were like family to him, people he would trust with his life without a second thought, and people who deserved to know who they were trusting their lives to, was hard.

"So that's where I am," he ended, his eyes on the table in front of him. "And if you want me to pack and go back home so I won't risk catching all of you in this at the worst moment, I understand that. I promise I'll try to figure out what to do about this." He gave a small, shaky laugh. "I mean, it's not like I can just go and talk to a therapist or something."

"Jace." Clary, who had been curled up on the sofa when they had come over, and made space for him to join her there, had kept her hand on his through the greatest part of his account. "There is no shame in—"

"He said 'can't', not 'won't'," Maia interrupted her. "And he's right. Who'd he talk to? Can you imagine a mundane listening to what any of us would tell them and take it for the truth?"

They looked at her, the thought clearly an entirely new addition for most of them.

"And I absolutely won't approach a Silent Brother about this," Jace declared. "Which is the only option I'd have among Nephilim. So yeah – unless there happens to be a sighted mundane somewhere who happens to be at hand…"

"Or a warlock with a specialization in mind healing," Magnus offered.

"Or a Gale cousin." Charlie added.

That earned her a set of surprised stares.

Her eyebrows went up as she spread her hands. "What? The family covers as many relevant professions as it can to be as self-sufficient as possible. We don't even do it on purpose. It just happens. And that is a relevant profession. Darsden is just one portal away from Calgary."

"Well, then that's—" Jace didn't get to actually saying what it was. He was cut short by the door into the corridor opening, and the three young demons spilling into the room.

"We've secured you a tour of a thing!" Arr announced, the substitution of the unknown word so smooth it didn't even register as that initially. He looked around at them, assembled around the low table. "Are you having a meeting?"

*

"So we're going to a place to look at a thing," Magnus noted, his grin reflected in his tone.

They had left Lilith's home and were walking through the streets of Pandemonium once again.

After a brief confirmation from Magnus that they were physically well enough for the exercise, and a general confirmation from everyone in the group that no one wanted Jace to stay behind when he offered, the entire group had set out. They hadn't gone very far when Maia and Simon had approached Jack with a suggestion. It had only taken a few minutes before the dragon had found material he could safely use to transform, and presented all of them with matching caps, affording at least a little additional protection from the sun.

They weren't setting quite as brisk a pace as they had before, taking into consideration that two of them were still recovering.

Without discussing it, they had fallen into a loose formation that kept Clary and Jace at the center.

Though they were all keeping an eye out after Chris' and Izzy's recent encounter, no one seemed inclined to approach them and challenge their presence. Whether that was owed to the part of town, their demon guides or mere coincidence was impossible to tell.

"Just so," Arr informed him, turning a little to look at the warlock. His species had to have a few extra vertebrae in their necks, Magnus decided. Or maybe a very interesting joint there. At least that was the only way he could explain to himself how their guide twisted his neck as he did without killing himself.

They had talked about their destination, and come to the conclusion that they had no shared terminology to make it comprehensible to them. They knew it was located in one of the spire-like buildings they had spotted on their first flight over the city, and that the venue was of relevance to the demons. Neither Speak in Tongues nor resorting to Chthonian had yielded any usable result.

"Is that how you would say it in your vernacular if you couldn't come up with a word?" Magnus inquired. Somehow, hearing the demons sound just like his young Shadowhunter friends might did more than anything else had so far to drive home that there was a great difference between the image he himself had kept in his mind of demons for centuries and the reality they were now faced with.

"Yeah," Arr said. "How would you say it?"

"He'd say 'We are walking towards a location the name and purpose of which I find myself incapable of rendering in your language for it appears to be unique to this plane of existence and not part of the concepts located in the chambers of your mind so far. Once there, we will perceive with our eyes an object to which the rest of my previous statement applies'," Sal threw in before Magnus could respond.

"No," Ro added. "He would say: 'We have departed with the object of arriving in the near future at a destination which is—"

Magnus' laugh interrupted her. "I get it," he claimed. Alec's grin, though silent, did absolutely nothing to reduce his mirth. "Chthonian isn't any good for proper communication and only found in ancient books and stilted scholarly debate."

"Or, apparently, when talking to people from your plane. Will you tell them that's not how we actually speak here?"

"Certainly. I am sure every single student who has gone through the hardships of learning Chthonian will be eternally grateful for that insight," Alec promised. "Now if only we made the same sort of discovery about Latin…"

"I didn't mind Latin," Jace and Chris said as one.

"That's because you also had to learn Chthonian," Izzy suggested.

Clary turned to her friend with a smirk. "Wait – you mean Chthonian is worse than Latin, not just as bad?"

"It makes your throat bleed if you pronounce it just right."

"No," Chris objected. "It makes your throat bleed if you pronounce it wrong. It's like a built-in assurance that your accent won't get too bad."

"Right." Sebastian clapped his hands and sounded as if he was about to suggest a new project. "Let's gang up on a dead language! It's not like it can defend itself."

"Oh, but would it want to?" Arr asked. "I think it would just stand there, sadly shaking its head and declare that the world is going to come to an end with all of us uncultured, irreverent people who don't sufficiently value our elders."

*

The spire differed from the buildings around it in more than merely its height and shape. Like the regular houses, it was set within a garden, though this one had the size of a decent park. Only one other building, looking like a smaller version of the boarding house, as they had resorted to calling the place where Ithuriel lived, shared the walled-in plot. If the plants had indeed originally been there to produce life force for the citizens to absorb, whoever had used this building must have had an enormous supply at hand.

Was that an indication of the standing of its residents? Or did it suggest that whatever the building housed required that much more energy to keep going?

Magnus was about to ask their guides about it as they followed a neatly kept path towards the spire's entrance. That path itself was further evidence of the demons' sense of aesthetic, paved as it was with square flagstones in a variety of shades of blue arranged in patterns, some hues so subtly different that they only revealed the shapes they formed when the sun hit just right. The path was dug in slightly, the sides kept clean by a curb of sorts in a darker blue.

They had crossed about half the distance to the buildings when the spire's doors opened in the same odd manner that seemed to be typical door behavior for Pandemonium, and a single figure stepped outside to await their approach.

That made him put off his question for the moment. He was going to assume that that was their guide for today – and if that turned out accurate, the answer might just present itself any moment.

The demon waited for them, following their approach with his head held slightly tilted to one side. He was entirely human in appearance, just like Lilith or Asmodeus. He was dressed in a loose, light beige tunic held and shaped by a burgundy sash around his waist, over full trousers of the same shade and material that were tucked into calf-high boots of what looked like very soft, supple leather at the bottom. His face was clean-shaven, his hair a dark blond falling to his shoulders in waves that were tamed only by a thin, braided cord around his head.

The only thing that gave away at first glance that he was not merely a human with an unusual fashion sense were his eyes, which were left out of the seeming they perceived of him. Sporting no whites at all, they were closer to the full demon-black they were used to seeing in demons whose glamors slipped, or in Christopher, Charlie or David Gale when they were channeling an extraordinary amount of power. Deer eyes, the Gales called them. Where those were a perfect jet black, however, this man's looked like mirror-polished steel. Hematite to the others' jet, Magnus thought.

Their demon friends performed an accurate stop about three paces away from him, respectfully inclining their heads.

"Lord Samael," Arr began, continuing in the demons' language until the other raised a hand in a gesture that must have meant 'stop', although it was performed, contrary to their own fashion, with only two fingers extended.

Samael's words were as incomprehensible to them as Arr's had been. The young demon moved his head, indicating, as they had learned in the meantime, a "no", as he replied.

"Then speak in their language," Samael told him, switching to English as he did so.

Idiot, Magnus scolded himself mentally. After that first time, they hadn't bothered with asking the demons to provide their language, and merely shared their own by way of charms. They'd done it again, expecting the foreign world around them to adjust to their standards, rather than adjusting themselves to its. Judging by the expression of his companions, very similar thoughts were going through their minds right then.

"These are Lilith's guests," Arr said without missing a beat. "They were very happy to hear that you agreed to show them around, though we have found it difficult to explain to them precisely what is happening here. They are curious and willing to learn. They've come here with a great many misconceptions."

"They thought we all speak Chthonian," Sal added, her voice low yet clear.

Samael's expression betrayed his amusement. "I am aware of this," he admitted. "And surprised to hear that they have taken the trip. But I hear you've shed more than your blind faith into what you were told." He had turned to the rest of their group at the last words, and Alec inclined his head in confirmation.

"It's still a work in progress. Ceasing to use a stele and removing our runes, accepting the power that's in us as part of us – that is only the beginning. We try to do better than we were taught, but we still make mistakes." He looked and sounded a little chagrined at the last, just enough to feel earnest without becoming theatrical.

Magnus resisted the urge to reach out and gently squeeze his partner's hand to convey his approval. Alec was standing there as their leader. This wasn't the time.

"Make as many mistakes as you like," Samael said. "But try to limit the number of times you make each individual one."

"That is sound advice," Alec agreed. "And we'll start with requesting your language rather than handing out ours. You've been to our dimension before?"

"A long time ago," Samael said. "I acquired this language in preparation for meeting you today. Your world spoke in different tongues back then. I don't assume that you still learn them."

"Some of us are proficient in Latin and Ancient Greek and Classical Hebrew. To understand inscriptions and old texts. Magnus, Jace and Chris speak Chthonian. Some of our friends know none of those, though, so we greatly appreciate your effort." He didn't indicate which friends, which might have been because he didn't know where everyone was standing precisely. Magnus chose to believe that he didn't want to single anyone out.

Samael nodded at him. "I notice the … diversity of your friends. Your kind is not known for opening up to those different from them, yet you bring one of our children, a dragon, a Seelie knight, a werewolf, a god's child and a vampire – a strange vampire, too, to be out in the open under our sun without suffering for it." The ghost of a smile played on the demon's lips. "It makes me inclined to believe that you have already improved your habits by some degree."

"I hope so." Alec shifted a little on his feet, adjusting his stance to be closer to the parade rest he always defaulted to. He was doing his best to appear perfectly composed, but Magnus could sense his tension.

The demon either didn't notice, or chose to ignore it. He turned to Simon, his head briefly moving back not unlike a predator picking up a scent in the air. "Your kind is rare," he observed. "I can smell the dragon on you, but it's Ithuriel's blood that boosts you. How did you acquire it? Surely not from the very source. It doesn't seem like him to share."

"You know Ithuriel?" Clary blurted out, unable to conceal her surprise.

Simon did his best not to squirm under those grey eyes. "A friend… gave it to me. I didn't assault anyone for it."

Magnus found himself frowning at that. So far, Simon had always claimed that he didn't know what had made him a Daylighter. He'd suspected the vampire was keeping a secret, but hadn't pried. Neither had the others. First there hadn't been much opportunity for it, and then other things had been much more important, and Simon's condition already the status quo that they were used to.

Simon wasn't surprised to hear he had angel blood in his veins. He didn't even miss a beat at hearing it was Ithuriel's. Which meant that he had known perfectly well—

The pieces slipped into place in Magnus' mind just as Jace, his entire posture reflecting a sigh, raised his hand. He knew exactly when and where Simon had acquired Ithuriel's blood. There'd been so much going on that day, but he'd been involved in it, and though he hadn't connected the dots before, it was clear enough now.

"It was my blood," Jace said, clearly and calmly. "Given freely when he was in need of it. I'd do it again."

Maia, Meliorn, Chris and Sebastian stared at him. Izzy looked surprised, but not shocked. Clary's eyes had grown wide. She'd known, too. Jace had gone in glamored as her that day, to allow the rest of them to enter the institute and take it back from Valentine and his people while they didn't expect it. Apparently she, too, had never figured out that it had been the extra helping of angel blood that had changed her friend.

The two Gales were listening, but didn't seem particularly impressed so far.

"I am not going to scold you for it or brand you as a traitor to your blood," Samael said. "I'm surprised Ithuriel didn't have a thing or two to say about it when you met him, though."

"I think he was too busy complaining about the blasphemy of removing our runes and using charms," Alec noted. "Lord Samael, I don't mean to be rude, but would it be possible to continue this conversation indoors? Those of us who aren't Daylighters or dragons are at a certain risk from your sun."

"Oh, certainly." Samael gestured, causing the door to open again. "As you can see, you are not the only one who isn't free of oversights. I'll try to limit the number of this specific one to one. Please – come in."

Chapter Text

Inside, they found themselves in a small, simple entrance room that they crossed, following Samael to one of four doors leading away from it.

Down a short corridor, he took them to a conference room of sorts, with an oval table surrounded by chairs.

"Please," he told them, "sit." He himself walked along the empty seats, one hand brushing their backs in a gesture that seemed habitual.

Magnus stopped just in time to keep Alec from walking into the furniture. "Chair ahead," he noted.

He took his own seat as Alec ran a hand along the upper edge of the backrest, then down the side to get an idea of how low the seat was. Once seated, his fingers went to the table top in front of him, making sure that he knew how far away it was before he shifted his chair to the most comfortable position. He wasn't using Jace's eyes, clearly unwilling to leave his body even for a moment in Samael's presence.

The chair under Magnus shifted, adjusting to the contour of his body.

A gesture from Samael reduced the temperature in the room considerably.

Magnus watched the demon, who had settled with one elbow on the table and his chin resting on his hand. It was impossible to tell what those single-colored eyes were focusing on, but if he'd been asked, he would have said that Samael's gaze was turned inwards as he waited for them to settle, possibly thinking one last time about what he was about to tell them.

He waited silently until he had their attention, not hurrying them along nor trying to talk over the rustling and scraping.

"What do you know about this place?" he asked eventually.

"Not much," Alec answered.

Not much that is useful, Magnus added in his thoughts.

"It's got something to do with death, but it's not a graveyard and no one dies."

That was about as far as they had come while Jace and Clary had gotten dressed and grabbed a piece of breakfast pie. They'd decided to solve the mystery of the location they were to see on site after that.

The corners of Samael's mouth twitched upwards. "Next time," he suggested, the comment targeted at the three younger demons, "when you're lacking a word, try to explain what the thing does, not what it doesn't do." He didn't wait for their response before turning back to Alec. "If I was to render the name of this place in your language, I might call it the Keep of Death indeed although, as you say, no one dies here."

Magnus' eyebrows rose slightly. In human lore, Samael was the name of the angel of death. He was inclined to assume that that wasn't a coincidence.

"Our world is much older than yours, as I'm sure you know," Samael continued. "We developed interdimensional travel a long time ago. Many of us went to visit other worlds, for science and entertainment. In contrast to the people of your dimension, we do not decay in our bodies. We can be killed, but we don't just die."

"Like dragons," Jack threw in.

"Like dragons," Samael confirmed. "And Seelie, and vampires."

"That's subject to debate," Simon said. "Having died is sort of a prerequisite for being a vampire."

Samael acknowledged his comment with a brief nod as he continued. "Well, maybe not exactly like vampires. In any case, though, travelling to different dimensions vastly increases the likelihood of dying by accident or force, and so precautions were taken eventually."

"But, Lord Samael." Jace was making a noticeable effort to sound respectful and not accusatory. "We've been led to believe that demons killed in our dimension were merely banished back to their own."

"Patience," Samael cautioned. "We developed a technique by which we extract a fraction of our essence and store it in an object. Most of our interdimensional travelers use these. When the body is killed, the essence released returns to the extraction kept, where it regenerates."

"Horcruxes," Charlie and Jace blurted out. "You make horcruxes!"

"It's only a horcrux if you have to murder someone for it," Maia pointed out.

"Murder is not involved." Samael did not betray what he thought of the term horcrux. He probably had no idea what it actually meant anyway. "It's a simple self-extraction. Something anyone with a bit of knowledge can do."

Finding himself the object of the demon's attention, Magnus nodded. "Confirmed. I could do the extraction, but that's it. I have no idea how I would regenerate a body from essence alone."

"I could show you the blueprints of the artifacts built for it," Samael informed him. "But it would do you no good. We haven't had the sort of power needed to produce them anew in about a millennium. The ones we do have still work perfectly fine, though. You may see them if you wish."

"Are these the 'caskets' you mentioned?" Izzy asked the three younger demons.

Arr nodded at her. "Everyone wants one, so they're expensive."

"The incursion…" Magnus began. As far as they knew, a large number of demons had entered their – and probably also other – dimensions at that time, fleeing, as they had learned, that last disastrous attack in their home world.

Samael sighed. "Most of those left in a panic, unprepared, unprotected. We lost large numbers irretrievably in those years. Those who went to worlds where they were unable to stay alive. Those killed by the locals, or by the hosts sent after them, or the troops they created on site to do their work."

"Like our ancestors." Alec's tone was sober. "The demon numbers coming into our dimension haven't reduced because of us, as we thought. The incursion was a single outlier that would have run its course even without the creation of the Nephilim."

"Probably," Samael confirmed. "But Raziel thought it a good idea to make them anyway. I don't know if that was to further his own personal glory by making his private army, or simply because he wanted to be home in time to watch the next match of raikum."

The last word, thrown in in Samael's own language, must have designated some sort of sport or entertainment. Magnus couldn't help a smirk at the idea of the Shadowhunters' patron hurrying home to open a can of beer and watch the angel equivalent of soccer. Judging by the faces his companions made, the others' reactions were quite similar.

Samael ignored it. "He was put in charge of cleansing your dimension, in any case, and he only stayed for as long as he absolutely couldn't avoid. But then again, Raziel always was one to enjoy a shortcut if he could find one." In contrast to Shadowhunter habit, Samael pulled the last two syllables of the angel's name apart.

"If you show us your caskets," Alec said, hesitating the slightest bit before the word. Magnus wondered if he'd actually been about to say 'horcruxes' instead. "Aren't you afraid we might take the opportunity to kill a few demons? I assume breaking them would harm the essence inside."

"You are welcome to try." Samael sounded as earnest as he looked. "No method known to us destroys them. They were built and tempered with the best that our people had to offer while at the height of their power."

"I shall not put them to the test by breathing on them then," Jack offered. They had not found anything yet that resisted dragonfire. Even Gale phones died in a blast of it.

Samael looked at him thoughtfully. "I wish we had a spare somewhere to try that. Alas, since we don't, your restraint is appreciated - Just in case."

*

They had returned to the entrance room and taken another door, walking the length of the corridor behind it and to a spiral staircase. The moment Samael set foot on the first step, the entire stair started to turn, effectively serving as an escalator.

"This might be a bit tricky," Magnus warned Alec as it was their turn behind their demon friends.

"Place me at the edge of it," Alec suggested in a low voice. "And stay behind me just in case?"

Magnus did as asked, wishing that he would have dared to use some steadying magic to support his boyfriend. Of course, if he'd been able to use precise magics, Alec wouldn't have needed his help with the escalator to begin with. He hated being limited to passive spells and the truly large and unrefined workings that he'd have no use for here anyway.

Maybe, a small voice in his brain suggested, he should ask Asmodeus for some guidance on how to tap into the local ley lines in a way that he could reliably control.

A large part of him bristled at the thought. He hated Asmodeus with all his heart. For what he'd done to his mother. For what he represented. For apparently not even understanding how any of that was an issue.

Was there a way to accept that the demons were working to entirely different sets of morals and ethics than they did, and still not condone his deeds in their world in any manner? There had to be. He could, in theory, accept that what was acceptable in one realm wasn't so in another. But how to approach a being that had done quite so much wrong in their dimension while on its ground? Oh sure – Asmodeus should have stuck with their world's ideas of right and wrong while there, and made sure that he understood them before he even visited that plane.

But they had done the same thing, skipping dimensions without knowing what they were getting into, and simply assuming that their usual behavior would be acceptable. It wasn't comparable, he told himself. The scope of Asmodeus' crime by far surpassed anything they were likely to commit by accident.

And yet, he was too well aware that Asmodeus might have come prepared indeed. At that time, in that location – the people in power might have found his impersonation of Magnus' Dutch stepfather by far the greater crime than the rape of his Indonesian mother.

Lost in thought for the moment, it was Magnus, not Alec, who almost stumbled when they reached the next floor.

"Sorry," he breathed to his partner as he stepped to his side again to let Alec put a hand on his arm. "A question just caught up with me." Why had they started to dig and transform their entire world view? Things had been simpler when they'd been able to think in black and white, at least where demons were concerned.

He wasn't hypocritically enough inclined to seriously wish for that, though.

Alec was saying something, and Magnus forced his attention away from his thoughts and into the present.

"I just stepped off automatically when I heard the bell. It sounded like an elevator when it arrives."

"I missed the bell." Magnus didn’t hide the chagrin in his voice.

The others had joined them by now, and Samael took them onwards, into a ring-shaped room that ran around the central staircase. It was unfurnished except for rows of what looked like glass crates or boxes.

Demons were moving between them, ignoring the visitors.

"It's their job to provide energy for the caskets," Samael answered Clary's question about them while he pointed to one of the first, closest to the door. "This one is mine. Please, throw a spell at it, Magnus, son of Asmodeus."

Magnus grimaced. Had the demon somehow caught on to his thoughts on the escalator?

Probably not, he told himself. He'd recognized him as demon-sired before, he was carrying Asmodeus' token, and if human lore wasn't entirely mistaken, and assuming that there was only one Samael in Pandemonium, the relationship between him and Lilith was more than just friendly. For all that they knew, their hostess might have provided him with any number of details about them already.

"I am not sure of my control," he said. "The magic in the local ley lines is stronger than what I am used to."

He could feel Samael seize power, the foundations of a warding bubble forming around them. "I'll make sure nothing escapes to where it might do harm," he promised.

Well. If that was how he wanted it…

Opening up the gates of his magical senses, Magnus reached for the ley lines. He didn't have to go far. The spire was built on a junction, not quite enough to be called a node, but stronger than a single line would be. He'd have to look at the map their dragonriding party had brought back that first day, and see if it looked as if all the towers might be placed like this.

Teasing a thread of power from it, his fingers moved in the pattern of a simple blasting spell.

The distance between him and his target was so short that it hit as soon as he released it. The transparent material of the box shone in a pattern of yellows and reds for a moment, before settling again in its previous state. It looked none the worse for wear.

"Was that the strongest you have?" Samael inquired.

Magnus shook his head. "It was just the first that came to mind."

"Give it your best," the demon suggested, nodding encouragingly at him. "I promise I won't hold it against you if you do crack it."

If anyone was in a position to acquire a spare casket, it was probably Samael, Magnus thought as, upon Alec's additional nod, he reached for the magic once more. As he built up his spell, he realized that he had jumped to conclusions again, assuming that Samael was the master of this spire – or even all the spires, if they all held similar setups – and thus in a position of special power. While the young demons' address as "Lord" Samael seemed to confirm a higher standing, there might have been any number of other reasons for that.

Too late now to ask about it. Bolts of multicolored magic flew from his palms, causing the glass box to shine in a myriad of shades. He had a shielding spell prepared just in case it did break, but found quickly that it was entirely unnecessary. Where his magic hit, the very substance of the casket seemed to change, incorporating what he threw at it.

"Thank you," Samael said when he lowered his hands, interrupting the flow. "For the demonstration, and for the power."

Magnus frowned, but Alec, sensing his confusion, spoke up quickly. "You just charged it up considerably. It took all the magic you threw at it and absorbed it."

"You saw that?" He hadn't known that Alec's ability to perceive magic transferred even if he was looking through his parabatai's eyes.

Judging by Jace's surprised expression, he hadn't realized it either.

Alec gave him a lopsided smile. "I thought I saw a flash of magic when you started, and I realized that seeing magic is done with my mind, not my eyes. I just watched the flow."

That would be good to remember. Magnus stepped closer to the box he had just bombarded. It had returned to its glass-like appearance, betraying nothing of the magical beating it had just taken. Its size and shape were, indeed, not unlike a coffin.

A glance down the row told him that the others looked quite identical to this one.

"Does only your kind use these? Or does the size and shape of the container have no bearing on the essence within? How does the regeneration work?"

Samael took his questions in stride. "The main stages of regeneration do happen inside," he confirmed. "But we're keeping those of equal size together where we can. It allows for the most efficient use of space. There are two in the course of regeneration down that way if you wish to see." He pointed, and Magnus moved with the others, curiosity taking a hold of all of them.

He knew when they had reached the first of the ones in question without needing any hint from their guide.

Samael's casket had contained what he would have identified as a forcefield or stasis field, holding a small, fiery core of demon essence. In this one, the essence had expanded, forming a humanoid outline with a suggestion of features where the face would be, the energy field around it stretched to encompass it all.

Several more stations down the line, they found one that contained the motionless body of a woman with short brown hair. Her hands were crossed above her chest, her eyes closed as if sleeping. He saw no breath, but he thought that he spotted a heartbeat visible in a vein that stood out on her pale skin, pulsating ever so slightly.

"This one's almost ready to wake," Samael told them. "Once, the process was quick. Two days, maybe three, and then the same time again for a full recovery. These days…" he shrugged. "A couple of weeks to regenerate if they're lucky. Considerably more if they're not. And months before they've rebuilt their strength as far as it will go. Few manage to achieve their previous status again completely now, so repeated regenerations are avoided."

"Most sell their caskets after they wake," Arr added. "That's how you can get one. They use the payment to fund their recovery, while they're useless for anything else."

Magnus was still looking at the nearly regenerated demon. Where had her previous body died? And how? Had a Shadowhunter killed her for a crime she'd committed against humanity? Or merely for existing on the wrong plane? He could see the same questions reflected in his companions' faces.

"Would you like to see the other levels?" Samael asked, oblivious to his thoughts.

 

Alicante

Maryse had just started tidying up the gym in her home when the doorbell interrupted her.

Had Tatyana left anything behind that couldn't wait to be picked up the next day?

The woman her children had befriended had continued to drop by, on Maryse' invitation, for regular combat training. While her confidence was still improving and she was regaining skill, though no longer as quickly as she had during those first few weeks, she had a way to go before she could call herself ready for duty.

It didn't matter, of course. With the damage done to her by an insane Nicholas Nightshade many years before, she'd never be considered fit for actual duty again. That wasn't her intention either. Their sparring matches were one of the things helping her transform from the perpetually terrified victim hiding in her home for a decade and more, into a woman marked by past experience but demanding a life for herself again that went beyond the confines of her family's protection.

For Maryse, it was an opportunity to get in some action on a level she still felt comfortable with. She wouldn't have dared a full-out practice bout against a trained and active Shadowhunter now. She'd started to be careful even with her son Max.

Max…

She'd been wondering a few times, when she caught him staring at her, just what he was thinking was going on with her. She hadn't confided in him. She hadn't confided in anyone, putting it off and telling herself that she had some time left before she wouldn't have a choice.

She would probably tell him first, to spare him the unpleasant situation in which people around him knew what he didn't, but not before she was ready to share with others.

A small voice in her mind told her that she should at least let Imogen know.

She told it to shut up and opened her front door, finding that it was not Tatyana coming back, but the older Redwood arriving.

"Good evening, Maryse," the woman said before she could express her surprise. "May I come in?"

"Certainly." Maryse made an effort not to apologize for not expecting a visitor, opening the door in training clothes or having nothing ready to offer her. It wasn't like the living room she took her guest to was untidy – or any other room in the house, really. She merely wasn't set up to entertain.

She might not have been officially under house arrest while her older children were on the run, but her steps outside of her own home were certainly supervised to the point where she limited them to the absolutely unavoidable. It spared both her and her watchers a lot of stress. Keeping her reflexes from being set off when she spotted someone lurking was work.

On the other hand, barely anyone had an interest in risking a stop at her place. Lydia had been by a time or two before her arrest. Imogen paid her rare visits, as her time permitted. The other young Shadowhunters her children had befriended had come by a few times for training initially, but stopped long before the situation had escalated. Jia Penhallow, who might once have been among those ignoring the looks and the whispers, couldn't possibly ignore her new position as Consul by spending her free time with someone suspected of being involved in treason. Of course, knowing what her children had found out, Maryse wasn't sure she would have wanted Jia in her home anymore. Even if she hadn't known the details of what was going on in the background before, she had to have learned since she had taken that position – and so far she had not given any indication that she disapproved.

Maryse barely talked to anyone other than Max and Tatyana these days. She paid a neighbor for some of her shopping, but they limited their interaction to the barest minimum during handovers of goods and coin.

"Tea? Coffee? Something stronger?" she asked as she offered Elizabeth a seat.

"Coffee would be great." Left with a free choice of where to sit, the older woman picked a place that had her back to the wall and a free view of the door, without being hemmed in too much by the table.

Going to the kitchen to start the coffee and fetch cups – and check if there were any cookies left that she could put on the table to go with the beverage – Maryse wondered if she was aware that she had kept that habit.

She probably was. Elizabeth and Anestis Redwood had been celebrated officers in the Special Forces, with more high-risk combat missions under their belts than most other Nephilim alive. Even now, more than a decade after retiring, they were as sharp as ever, as far as anyone could tell. They seemed like people who were very acutely aware of what exactly they were doing, when and why.

"So, what can I do for you?" Maryse asked when they were both seated.

"For me?" Elizabeth returned. "I was rather wondering if there was anything we could do for you. My niece is worried about you."

"There's no need to worry." She'd thought she'd said it convincingly enough, and any doubt left could be chalked up to the fact that three quarters of her children were missing and due to be executed if caught.

She was wrong about that, as Elizabeth fixed her with a hard look. "Liar. Try again."

"I don't know what my future will be – if I have a future. If I'll be deruned once I'm no longer needed as bait for my own children. Or killed with them. Yes, it is getting to me, but there's nothing anyone could do. I appreciate your concern, but even if I could think of anything, I wouldn't ask. Enough people have suffered for this whole mess."

"They're not going to come after Anestis or me," Elizabeth noted. "Or Tatyana. You know that. We have just the wrong sorts of connections for it."

When Maryse didn't respond, she continued: "It's not good for you to be cooped up in your home all day, every day. Come visit us one of these days. We have some of the most creative beverages from around the world to try. Great whiskey, too. We can drink and talk about the days when we were young enough to rule the world, and Anestis can guard and look serious while secretly enjoying himself."

"I don't drink."

It had come too fast. Elizabeth looked at her, her eyes narrowed, studying more than just her face.

"I see," she said eventually. "Tatyana mentioned a … change in combat style."

She hadn't thought her caution had been quite so evident, but it seemed that she had underestimated the attention with which the younger woman observed her environment.

"I enjoy the training," Maryse said. "But with things as they are, I cannot risk the tales people might construe if I ended up injuring my student."

"Liar," Elizabeth repeated. "Does he know?"

"Robert isn't involved in this."

"I didn't think he was." The older woman took a thoughtful sip of her coffee. "Lydia Branwell has disappeared."

The change in subject came so suddenly that Maryse almost choked on her own beverage. "What?"

"We are connected," Elizabeth reminded her. "After her deruning, she was taken to a place where no one would have known her, where she would have known no one. It's standard procedure. You know that deruned Nephilim are monitored to make sure they do not get up to any mischief. When her supervisor tried to check on her, she was gone, without a trace that she ever talked to anyone, met anyone or interacted with anyone. The suggestion was brought up that she might have killed herself in despair, but that's not like Lydia – and also, no corpse matching her description could be recovered."

Maryse didn't hold back the scoff that rose in her. She knew where Lydia had been dropped off, and what had happened thereafter. Her children did keep her informed through the phone they had left with her. The phone she left under the covers of her bed every day, just in case she got into a situation in which she might be searched, relying on it that it would do what Gale phones did, and come to her in a moment of need, or hide further, should anyone uninvited enter that bedroom.

"What do you think?" she asked when Elizabeth waited for a further response from her.

"I think the squads in charge of checking up on the deruned have means and techniques to find their targets, and for her to disappear like that, she must have had help. Powerful help. What do you think?"

The house was warded against eavesdroppers and the Redwoods had proved their loyalty to her children, both by action and by eating pie. "I think that those deruned are prone to suffer early, painful deaths by demon," she said in a flat voice, thinking of what she had learned about her own brother's demise. "Maybe Lydia met hers earlier rather than later."

This time, she had surprised Elizabeth. Clearly, she hadn't expected Maryse to have that knowledge. "It appears to have been the other way around," she said. "There's been evidence of a major demon attack. Again, no remains of Lydia. Plenty of power residue from demon deaths. To quote the report of the warlock helping with the investigation: It must have been a massacre." Her eyebrows climbed up slightly. "More evidence that she had help. Lydia is good, but no one would survive that sort of attack the day after a deruning, weaponless, hungry…"

Maryse felt her face darken. "How long have you known?"

"That the deruned don't survive? Probably about as long as you've been alive." She gave a dry laugh at the younger woman's stare. "You want to know why I never said anything? First, we had careers. And an attitude. You think you get into the sort of service Anestis and I did unless you're completely and fully in agreement with the Clave lines? And before you ask – no, we didn't know that Valentine was working with them." She was watching Maryse through eyes that had grown cold as ice and hard as steel.

They were a killer's eyes in the face of a woman who could have been anyone's loving grandmother, except that Maryse understood with a sudden icy shiver that Elizabeth Redwood, easily twenty or more years her senior, would probably not find it to very hard overpower her without ever drawing a weapon. For a moment, an image rose before her inner eye: Max coming home to find her lifeless body, cooling already, her neck snapped.

But no, she told herself quickly. The Gale pie didn't lie, and both Redwoods had eaten plenty of it earlier that year, after her children had been cleared of the various accusations raised against them and before they had left the country to travel – and never to return.

"But if we'd known we would have taken it in stride."

The admission came as matter-of-factly as if she'd been discussing the results of a sports competition long in the past.

Maryse focused to keep her voice steady. "When you retired and became Tatyana's caretakers – were you meant to be her protectors, or her jailers?"

"Just in case Nightshade somehow shared with her what he saw and did beyond just showing her the practice of it?" Elizabeth asked, a gleam in her eye that already told Maryse the answer. "But she didn't need jailers then. Who would she have told? Other than us, your children were the first to make the effort to understand her speech. Apart from that, she was perfectly willing to stay right where she was, never venturing out, until someone put a spark of defiance back into her mind. And by then we'd changed. Twelve years lived virtually as hermits gives you a lot of time to think."

A feeling of detachment settled on Maryse. It was the state of mind she'd entered, back in her office as head of an institute, when she had to give the hard orders, or make the sort of decision that came with the post but that no one ever told you about beforehand. "What were your orders?" Even her voice had taken on the impersonal tone of the commander now. "If she'd tried to tell anyone that he was trying to do as the creatures did that we follow, what would you have done?" She knew the answer – she was certain of that. Still, she wanted to hear confirmation, part of her mind still unwilling to believe.

"Does it matter?" Elizabeth asked. "She never knew, so she was safe either way. She—" She broke off, her eyes narrowing in confusion. "How can you know what Nightshade saw?" Maryse could watch the pieces fall into place as a flash of horror crossed the older woman's features. "She did know. She knew it all this time and never let on about it. She's kept that to herself and—" Her lips closed on the rest of her sentence.

Maryse didn't speak. She didn't know what to say. It appeared that Tatyana's efforts not to make her relatives even more concerned about her had saved her life back then.

Elizabeth's voice sounded dead when she found it again. "They haven't called a hunt for your children because they know about Valentine. That did seem a little excessive. They've sentenced them because they've seen our angels for what they are: no more than demons good at showing us glorious faces."

"For what it's worth," Maryse said. "They knew before Tatyana told them."

Her guest carefully put the cup she'd been holding all this time on the table and rose. "There's no way they'll come out of this alive. Not with that sort of knowledge in the balance. They'll find them and they'll silence them. And then they'll come after us."

She could have meant herself and her family, but Maryse understood that she and the remaining part of hers were included in that just as well.

"First, they must catch them." She was surprised by the confidence in her voice, more surprised to find it honestly reflected inside herself. "And if they come for me, I will take as many of them down with me as I can."

"I believe that," Elizabeth said, the smallest smile on her lips. "They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but no woman scorned has ever lived up to a mother protecting her children. You'll be formidable." She turned towards the door. "I'll take my leave now. I must talk to my husband. The day will come, and then we will be ready. We won't go without a fight either."

Chapter Text

Pandemonium

Alec wished he'd have thought to turn his magic vision on earlier. The entire spire – or Keep, if they wanted to follow Samael's wording – was outlined in the sheen bleeding out of the lines of magic that were drawn out of the ley line junction to help keep the life- or essence-supporting mechanisms running.

It must have blended somehow with the energy bled off by the demons – a sort of power that he couldn't see. What would lie before their eyes if he and Chris found a way to combine their skills and see both at once?

He wasn't going to suggest it in front of Samael, to avoid getting Chris into a situation where he might either see a suggestion as a command to which he had to acquiesce whether he wanted to or not, or provoking a situation where he declined his commander's request in sight of someone who was not part of their own group. It was better to discuss the options of that when they were alone.

For reasons that weren't entirely clear to him, the lines of magic followed the corridors and designated paths through the levels, even running up to the next floor at the center of those spiral escalators. Maybe that, too, had something to do with the demons' sense of aesthetic. They could see them in any case. Samael at least could. He was sure of that. The demon lord was walking precisely on top of one of those lines, turning where it turned, stopping on the junctions where lines led off to the contraptions that stored bits of demon essence.

He himself still had a hand on Magnus' arm, but it only served as additional reassurance now. He was reasonably sure now that the lines of magic could have led him safely through the building, and the power cores in the Nephilim, Magnus, Jack and Meliorn, along with the signature webs that marked Simon and Maia, alerted him to their presence easily enough. Charlie did not have a power signature of her own, as the Gales had pointed out often, but her guitar did. The demons moving across the floors shone brightly, too. He found himself wishing that Lilith's home would turn out to have a similar energy web running through it when they came home.

He couldn't tell the difference between those caskets that were merely storage at the moment and those in the process of regeneration, though. The magic part of the fuel seemed to be precisely the same in each case.

"So what happens when the bodies are fully regenerated?" Izzy asked as they were on their way back down.

Thinking about it as he stepped off one escalator and onto the next, Alec found it quite considerate that the only places in the spire where he couldn't just follow the magic lines were marked by a sound signal.

"Yeah," Charlie added. "Do they just wake up and wait for someone to let them out, or do you actually have to do the traditional glass coffin wakeup ritual?"

"The what?" Samael had stopped. He sounded baffled.

"A human tale where a woman is kept in a glass coffin while in a coma and woken by a prince's kiss," Jack elaborated.

The demon didn't betray what he thought of that comparison. "The caskets open when the regeneration is complete, but the users require some help leaving them. They are very weak when they first come around. You saw the building next door. That's where they board until they're well enough to return to their homes."

"Which takes a lot longer now than it did in the past," Izzy said. "I remember. Are there any clients there right now?"

"There usually are a few at any time," Samael said. "In fact, there's one of my own kind at the moment. He came from your world. Do you wish to talk to him?"

The magical markers guiding him did nothing to tell Alec if everyone was looking at him to make a decision or just wondering what they should answer themselves. He decided that it couldn't hurt if he, as their leader, took over.

"Gladly, if he doesn't mind. It can't hurt to get the point of view of someone who can give us your side of what's going on there right now."

*

Samael had bid them farewell, adding a suggestion that he might see them again at Lilith's palace if they weren't about to go back home any day now. For now, their instructions were to simply walk into the other building and state their desire there. He himself was just a bit too busy with other things to take them in person.

Magnus couldn't fault him for that. They had come to understand that he did, indeed, run the Keep. It was surprising enough that he had taken this much time for them, and he suspected that his relationship with Lilith had more to do with that than the three younger demons' intervention.

Something had changed while they'd been touring the spire. Magnus was going to put off asking Alec about it until they were on their own, but he had noticed a shift in the way his partner walked. He hadn't exactly been insecure before, fully trusting in Magnus' lead, but he'd gained in confidence during the last hour, walking by Magnus's side in a way that made their touch feel more a sign of affection than a necessity for him to know where to go.

Hearing what that was all about would be interesting. Apart from the fact that Alec couldn't possibly have memorized the Keep that fast, it hadn't made a difference when they had walked across floors they hadn't previously visited either.

It also didn't change when they stepped outside and took a branch of the path that led to the smaller building.

The door either opened for everyone or had been informed that they were coming and to be let in.

The inclusion of a lobby-like room by the entrance seemed to be a common theme to all the buildings they visited here. It shouldn’t have surprised him. It was quite a common design for any sort of official building in their own dimension, too, after all, and for good reason.

In this particular building it was tiled in rectangular red pieces laid in a zigzag pattern, interrupted by the occasional black stripe. The walls were a light cream, close enough to white to look bright and clean, and just far enough towards yellow to not seem glaring. Red and black elements of some glazed material decorated them at intervals, picking up the colors from the floor again.

A glossy black semi-circular counter was placed against one wall, manned by two demons. On its other side, casually leaning against on the top with one elbow, his entire posture radiating relaxation, stood a tall, lean figure, dark-haired and dressed in clothes that were an impeccable black counterpart to Samael's undyed attire. The sash he used to shape his tunic was black as well, with thin diagonal stripes in white.

The combination reminded Magnus uncomfortably of another demon he had encountered not too long ago.

Alec had stopped, and he stopped along with him.

One of the administrative demons was busy talking to the dark-clad one, while the other seemed immersed in a device the purpose of which Magnus could only guess.

He looked at their demon friends for a cue on how to proceed.

Returning his look, Arr shrugged and cleared his throat loudly to draw attention to their group.

The second demon behind the counter looked up, face resolving into features of female appearance, though blue-skinned and sporting a ring of small horns around the forehead. She smiled and opened her mouth, presumably to ask their wishes.

That was when the other demon looked up as well, and the one on their side of the counter turned to look at them.

Magnus stared, his body suddenly rigid as muscles locked in a wash of mixed horror and fury.

The demon, already pale, lost what little color he had had, his pupils contracting to pinpricks as he glanced around in the way of prey just trapped by predators, looking for a way out and knowing there was none since they were blocking the only exit at hand.

"Azazel," Magnus breathed, his voice catching.

He felt Alec tense at the word, his head snapping around so that his face was locked on the owner of that name as if he had actually been able to see him.

"You have history?" Ro asked, sounding mildly interested.

"Bad history," Jace confirmed. His hand had gone to his sword, as had Clary's. Izzy stood ready to activate her whip. Simon had bared teeth. The others, though not privy to that particular incident in their lives, had tensed at their reactions.

The three demons' faces darkened. They clearly knew where their loyalties lay in this case, and it wasn't with Azazel.

"He did terrible things to Magnus," Clary elaborated, just as the older demon decided that the healthiest course of action for him was to get away from them as quickly as he could. He bolted, dashing through one of the rooms leading farther into the building.

"After him, then!" Sal all but yelled, taking off the way Azazel had gone.

Clary was the fastest after her, with Jace and Izzy close on her heels. The others were taking off, too, Magnus' hasty "Wait!" going unheard.

"Hey! No eating demons!" Jack yelled as he joined the chase.

"Go!" Alec hissed at him, releasing his arm.

He went. He wondered for a moment what the others were up to. Were they going to adhere to local custom and avenge him as the demons would, from all they had learned so far, not hold against them if Azazel allowed himself to be caught? Decades of training and conditioning towards slaughtering demons might well have taken the advantage of a moment like this to strike through the veneer of restraint they had built. All their education would call for them to end that creature's life after all.

On the other hand, if they were holding on to the second, they were probably going to keep their demon friends from doing just what they once would have done without thinking twice.

For a second, as he barreled through the door and flew after the others with long steps, Magnus wondered which option he preferred, and, finding himself unable to answer that question, focused on where he was stepping instead.

The corridor here was sloping downwards, leading up to a broad stair that disappeared into a lower level. Jace and Clary were already out of sight, Izzy just disappearing. To his complete surprise, Magnus realized that Alec was still with them, moving as if he knew exactly where he had to go. He swerved around Charlie farther than he had to, but barely skirted around Maia and Simon, who stayed close to his girlfriend in spite of surely being able to overtake them all. Magnus figured that he, too, had no idea of what to do with Azazel if he caught him, and therefore preferred not to be the one to do that.

Magnus took the steps two and three at a time, unable to stop now without going head over heels. Alec had caught up with his parabatai by the time he hit the bottom. Jace didn't even twitch, though Clary missed a step at seeing their leader and stumbled, almost falling.

Azazel turned, his hands flying up in a combination of gestures Magnus recognized as a spell just a fraction too late to counter it, and barked out a single word to set it off.

The room around them turned pitch-black as every last bit of light fled from it.

*

To his surprise, Alec found the paths through the park outlined in magic as well, though he couldn't fathom a reason for it. Well, he wasn't going to complain. In fact, as far as he was concerned that could just go on through all of Pandemonium.

Inside the next building, the lines of magic continued, and they were starting to seem less like power lines to him by now than like markings, pointing him the way. He could see the power cores of three demons off to one side of the room: two larger and with vague outlines, one a tiny, but brightly glowing orb. He remembered having aimed and shot at a core like that once, not quite a year ago.

Arr cleared his throat to catch someone's attention, and Magnus suddenly froze under Alec's hand. Alec didn't really need to hear the name to realize that it hadn't been a power core like that that he had shot at back then. It had been that same core, this very demon he had banished, and unless Azazel was merely back to have a chat with the people who had taken care of him after his regeneration, 'much longer' than a few days apparently meant as much as eight months and more.

He didn't have the time to contemplate that, since the power core that marked Azazel took off towards a rear door, and their three baby demons were in hot pursuit a moment later. His own friends went after them, hopefully to prevent any sort of lynching from happening.

He released his hold on Magnus. As far as the lines continued, he could follow those as well as he could his boyfriend, and if they stopped, he'd just have to stop as well, and wait for the others to report back to him.

Staying just behind the bright light that was Magnus until they were through the door, he sped up in the corridor behind, its direction still marked by a line of power and its width suggested by the distribution of the energy cores that were his friends. He didn't remember which side Charlie carried her guitar on, and was glad to find that he hadn't come close enough to run into her as he guessed how far he had to swerve to pass her by safely.

The stairs at the end of this corridor appeared the normal thing, not moving and marked just like the ground above and below.

He sprinted down, reaching Jace at the bottom and mentally apologizing to Clary for distracting her with his sudden appearance.

Azazel ground out a word that sounded demonic. The light of magic flew from where the demon had stopped, spreading to cover the room, and something happened, though he couldn't tell what it was precisely. In any case, he could hear his friends stumbling and crashing behind him, others skidding to a sudden halt. He must have been out of the range of the spell. In any case, it didn't seem to have affected him.

Letting his reflexes take over, he made Jace's sword stick flow into his hand and drew as he dashed after the grape-sized demonic core, still relying on the lines of magic to not let him race headlong into a wall and recalling the image of Azazel as well as he could. Electrum was effective against demons, but he didn't want to kill him before he knew exactly what he'd just done to the others.

One last burst of speed propelled him forward to tackle the fugitive, shoving him where he thought he had heard the echo of his footsteps in the way that suggested a wall, and bringing the sword up as he spun, trusting in his memory to place it across the demon's throat in a way that might have been painful without proving fatal.

"Yield," he demanded, "and keep your hands by your side."

He could hear the demon's breaths, coming fast and sounding like someone who had just ran beyond his capacities. It hadn't even been enough of a distance for Alec or any of his friends to get properly going, as far as he was concerned.

That wasn't surprising him as much, however, as the mere fact that Azazel seemed to be panting. He hadn't ever thought demons would do that.

For that matter, he wouldn't have been certain demons breathed.

Don't be silly, he told himself. Of course they breathe. You can't talk without air and it has to get in there somehow.

At least Azazel didn't seem inclined to increase the risk of meeting an early death by electrum. He remained as motionless as he could.

"What did you do just there?" Alec demanded. He could hear his friends picking themselves up behind him.

He turned off the light, Jace sent through their mental connection. We're fine. That was awesome.

Still off? Alec asked back as long strides announced the approach of his parabatai, followed by the others.

Jace confirmed. Witchlight and nightsight charms goes a long way.

I bet it does, Alec returned. But still.

Azazel still hadn't answered his question. He shifted the electrum sword a little, ready to stop the moment he heard the sizzle of blade on flesh. He wanted to threaten, not harm – at least not yet. How this continued would depend entirely on the demon.

"Turn it back on," he ordered. "The light. And be assured that you're being watched, so don't try anything stupid."

He remembered the scream with which Azazel had incapacitated them all the last time they had dealt with him. He didn’t seem inclined to use it now. Was he unable to do that here, or had it something to do with their status as guests?

He did, however, move, going by the rustle of his clothing. The word he uttered while doing so sounded breathless.

"Of course you had to be able to see Samael's blasted energy markers," Azazel followed up a moment later, his voice thin and interrupted by heavy breaths. "Now kill me or let Magnus do it. Don't just stand there."

*

Izzy surged forward as soon as the light went back on, surprised to actually find that her oldest brother had backed Azazel against a wall, his weapon resting across the demon's throat.

A few quick steps brought her to him, with Magnus and Jace right next to her.

She had her sword out, rather than her whip, and placed the tip just above Azazel's collar while he spoke.

Energy markers? Well that certainly explained why Alec had been able to move so confidently.

The others were moving in, too, forming a half-circle around them.

"I've got him, Alec," she announced.

To her surprise, she found that the electrum had left barely a mark on the pale skin, a shallow cut more visible than the burn. Irritation, really, from the way it looked.

"I didn't know you're immune to electrum," she noted, more for Alec's benefit than because she actually wanted an answer.

Azazel gave a mirthless laugh. "I'm not immune. I just haven't been back here for long enough to get the full effect of whatever radiation they released. Are you going to talk me to death?"

"We're not here to kill anyone," Alec said.

Izzy saw surprise on the three younger demons' faces.

"You mean the electrum reaction is also part of that?" It was a purely rhetorical question. Izzy filed the information and told herself to think things through more thoroughly in future. If electrum was safe for angels but harmful even to greater demons – just as it was harmful to Chris –, and if they were right with their assumption that they were in fact the same species, then it had to be part of the forceful changes.

Alec sheathed his sword and snapped the bracelet back onto his arm.

"Wait," Sebastian said behind Izzy's shoulder. "Does that mean your condition improves while in our world and deteriorates again while here? I'm surprised we don't have a larger demon problem then."

Azazel glared at him, then at Izzy. "If you're not going to kill me, take down that blade."

"Are you going to run again?"

Sparks seemed to flash in his eyes. "Do I look like I have it in me to run again?"

He had a point. Unless he was a very good actor, he looked utterly spent.

She lowered her sword, but didn't put it away.

"Let's go back upstairs," Alec suggested. "And you can answer the question while we walk."

The small jerk of his head seemed automatic, but Chris and Sebastian reacted immediately, moving to either side of Azazel and putting hands on his upper arms, making sure that even if his exhaustion was just an act, he wouldn't find it easy to get away again.

"You would, and it doesn't." They were walking slowly, and Azazel didn't complain about their speed. Alec hadn't returned to Magnus' side, but walked easily in his normal place in their lead, following an invisible guide. After Azazel's statement, she assumed that there were some magical markings that he could make out. "I wasn’t home at the time, and I didn't come back until you made me."

"Explain," Alec said.

Azazel glowered at him, but apparently reached the conclusion that talking to them like civilized people was preferable to provoking a situation in which he might yet lose his life. He placed one hand against his chest, pointing. "Can we go where we can sit down first? I still feel your arrow here, Lightwood." 

*

 

"Where to?" Alec asked once they had reached the lobby again. The larger, vaguer power cores that were the two receptionists – as he was calling them in his head based on their placement – didn't move from where they stood, apparently entirely uninterested in their chase and return.

He shifted to face Azazel, wishing he could have stared at him.

"My room," the demon suggested. "I don't need to explain to Samael why I need one of his meeting rooms."

Alec nodded curtly. "Lead the way."

They were many and Azazel was only one, and seemed greatly weakened. Unless it was an incredibly unnecessary plot of some sort, he had had the opportunity to incapacitate them down in the basement and hadn't used it. There was no reason for him to lure them into his room now to harm them with his demon abilities then, and without them he was quite sure that between their fighting skills, the magic and Charlie's music, they were a match for several demons at once. That didn't even count the dragon.

He gravitated towards Magnus as they walked, Azazel still flanked by two Shadowhunters, just in case the markers ceased at some point.

They continued all the way up another set of stairs, though, and along another corridor, to end only where Azazel opened a door.

Alec rested his hand on Magnus' arm the moment he realized that he had come to the end of his magical guidewire, and felt the tiniest of movements as his boyfriend turned to look at him.

Instead of asking, however, he only stepped into the room behind that opening close enough to one side so Alec could follow without hitting the frame.

"You don't do the thing?" Azazel asked in a mildly surprised tone, snapping his fingers twice in some sort of indication of what thing he meant.

Alec had no idea what he was referring to, but since no one else answered, he must have been the target of that question. He shrugged. "Guess not."

Azazel didn't pursue the topic any further. "Sit where you like. And I hope you don't mind – I need to get some energy into me."

*

Magnus looked around the room, which had started out containing a small cupboard placed under a window set above a deep ledge filled with flower pots, a closet, a bookcase, a small round table with a single chair and a low sofa that must have doubled at Azazel's bed. At their entrance, the room grew several more chairs, a second sofa with two armchairs and a number of cushions.

Making a quick decision, he walked to the sofa, so Alec and he could sit side by side.

Izzy joined them. Jace and Clary picked the armchairs, Christopher and Sebastian the simpler ones. The three younger demons settled on the older sofa, while the rest of them simply made themselves comfortable on the floor. Magnus' gaze brushed across Meliorn as he arranged himself elegantly between Jack and Simon. He almost did a double-take. Had there been a flash of green just below the cuff of the Seelie's sleeve?

When Magnus looked back to Azazel, the plants on the broad window sill had wilted and died, all life force gone from them. The demon looked only marginally better for it.

Fishing a piece of what looked like parchment from a drawer in the cupboard, Azazel scrawled a message on it and sent it off. Then he turned towards their group and pulled the one chair they had left for him away from the table, so he could sit while keeping something of a distance.

"Did you bring any of the pie?" Ro asked. "He could probably use it. It was strange, but it felt so good."

"It wouldn't feel good to him," Jace told her. "It's spelled to only be good for friends. He's not a friend. It would make him sick."

That wasn't exactly how the pies worked, but not even the two Gales bothered to point that out.

"So," Alec said after another moment.

Azazel heaved a sigh. "This is the first time I've been back since before the blast."

Magnus felt himself frowning, but his mind was working fast, reconciling this information with the things he knew about the demon.

Oblivious to that, Azazel continued: "Back when we were still moving freely between Pandemonium and the Gardens, I was one of those who opposed the idea of purity and separation, that we were by default made superior to all the other peoples in this world and destined to rule and enslave them all and use them at our leisure, the most fervently.

"It was a long time ago. We had only discovered your world a few centuries before, and started to visit now and then. We'd left some marks behind, but there wasn't much yet. I wasn't radical, like some who wanted to extend equality to those from other spheres and thought it wrong to present ourselves to the primitives there as the higher beings that we were. They might attain that status at some point, but it wasn't the time yet. Where worlds like yours were concerned, I was among those who sought to improve the simple creatures living there by teaching them skills, showing them treasures their world was hiding that they would have taken eons to find on their own. Furthering the spiritual… setting myself up as some god-sent messenger to be adored and worshipped – it seemed like a waste of time then, just as it does now."

They were all listening, aware that he could be making all of this up on the spot, and yet somehow convinced that he wasn't. No one interrupted him.

"We were about equally split there, between those who wanted to play at having worshippers to supply them with energy to feed on that tasted exotic and new, of all the strangeness and promise of your world – and those who would have their meals at home, having mostly a snack here and there while away, and enjoyed the building of civilizations, planting seeds of knowledge and seeing what your people turned them to. And they were quite creative, I can tell you. Aggressive, too. There's barely an idea they didn't end up turning to cause harm and suffering." He gave a nonchalant shrug. "Their choice. Not our fault. You won't blame us for making use of all the energy they released by it, I trust?"

Magnus wasn't so sure, but they didn't exactly have much use for accusations about something that had happened thousands, or possibly tens of thousands and more years ago.

"Here, in our own world," Azazel went on, "I opposed the efforts of conquering those peoples who were actually, properly sentient and civilized, with full control of the energy lines and stable social systems. It was wrong to push them to the fringes, limit their access to energy, restrict where they could settle. Why, some even suggested we should be making rules on how many offspring they were allowed to have to keep them from multiplying and outnumbering us more. Some claimed that the fact alone that they were growing in numbers faster than we were was proof of their inferiority. I disagreed. I spoke before large audiences. So did Asmodeus and some others, but I was actually good at it."

He was interrupted by the door opening, admitting a couple of demons who nodded at them wordlessly and crossed the room to take away the dead plants and replace them with new ones.

"Is that why you don't just eat one of them to fuel up?" Christopher asked, his voice cool, as soon as the two had left again.

Azazel have him a dark look. "I'd be worse off for it," he said before turning his attention to one of the new plants and wilting it.

He left the others alone. Either he wasn't hungry anymore, or he didn't want to send for fresh energy again so quickly.

"I drew the wrath of Raphael, and before I knew what was happening, he had overpowered me, dragged me into yet another dimension and left me there, bound to it so I couldn't leave it again out of my own power. I was angry, but I knew someone would go looking for me, and at some point they would find me and call me back from my prison. Until then, I made myself a place there."

"The one who found you was Jonathan Morgenstern," Clary said.

The demon shook his head. "No. I was found long before that. But by then, the blast had happened. I only ever heard about it from others. I was sure they had to be exaggerating, but there was no way around accepting that they were sadly weakened. Some tried to call me back, but they didn't have the power. One nearly died trying. So I waited, biding my time and hoping that at some point, either Raphael would decide to come check on me so I could fight him on my own ground and regain my freedom, or someone with the power I needed would show up. And that was Jonathan."

He didn't look at Christopher, apparently aware that he and Jonathan were not entirely the same person.

"We were both bound, but with the powers to break each other free. He was barely trained in that area, so I tutored him, slowly, during the short stretches that we could talk while he wasn't under supervision. Eventually, he broke my bonds. And I, in turn, called him to the world I went to."

"Did you avoid this place to protect yourself from the effects of the blast, as you called it, or because you were afraid to be captured again?" Alec asked with mild interest.

"I would have avoided it to protect myself," Azazel replied immediately. "But I went to your world first because that's where Jonathan wanted to be, and I owed it to him to keep my part of the bargain. Well, you know what happened then. And then you sent me back here, and I woke up to learn that not only was there no exaggeration to the stories I was told, reality was infinitely worse."

 

Chapter Text

"We've heard that last attack made nearly everything unprotected that wasn't a plant sterile," Alec noted.

There could be no doubt that Azazel liked hearing himself talk, but what he was saying was quite informative.

"You have no idea," the demon told him. "At the time I was banished to Dudael and bound there, this city was surrounded by green, thriving nature. Even the park out there is just a shadow of what you would have once found in every garden. I'm told some of the damage came before the blast. The magic in their attacks backfired and ended up changing the climate until this entire world turned into something just one step up from a desert. That's what I heard in any case. Pandemonium started out long before that as a loose settlement of groups who banded together to resist attempts at assigning them approved settlement areas. It was more comfortable then to live here than in the Gardens. But it was all open. Now, our people built a wall of wards around the city, to keep out would-be attackers. But they might as well serve to keep everyone else in. It's just what they wanted all along."

Alec could hear the scrape of Izzy's pen on paper by his side. His sister was taking notes. Thankful that she had thought of it on her own – though he shouldn't have expected any less of her – he forced himself not to linger on the thought that he should have thought of asking her to do the task. He didn't think he could afford to miss anything Azazel said.

"'They' being the angels," Chris suggested.

The demon chuckled. "It may be a great disappointment for you, but they are 'angels' only in the eyes of those who worship them – or the higher beings mortals tend to make up once they witness powers greater than their own. It doesn’t matter – the energy from their worship and awe went to them. But they share the same blood we have. They're just protected from whatever radiation they released."

"We've gathered that," Alec told him. "You and Samael, Asmodeus, Lilith. You're the same species as Ithuriel and Raziel."

Azazel was silent for a moment, and Alec imagined that the was nodding.

"Before I was banished, you could go for a stroll outside and recharge as you went. If you drained anything as you passed, more growth would shoot in so quickly you barely noticed. Now, energy is rationed. Most people go about half-drained all the time. Weak. Unable to access their true powers. The things I did in your world – At this rate, it'll be decades of recovery before I'll be able to attempt even one of them again. And I'm told no one returning here by the way that I did ever recovers entirely anymore."

"Samael mentioned this," Magnus spoke up. "What are your plans when you leave this place?"

"If you want to know if I'm going to leave this plane," Azazel said, "the answer probably is: no. This is a shadow of the life we once had. But it is life. Without a backup, I'd be at risk of being killed by their agents unless I picked an entirely new dimension to hide in – and I don't have the energy for that. But you are right: Soon I'll have overstayed my welcome here. I have a home that's waiting for me after all this time, but I'll still find it hard to fuel it. It'll be some very simple living for me for a while to come. Maybe I'll teach youngsters like your three guides there in exchange for a little energy."

"They're friends, not guides," Clary corrected.

There was some shifting where the young demons were sitting.

"What would you teach?" Sal asked after a moment.

"Shielding," Azazel said at once. "Protection against having them get into your head. Separating mind from body and reuniting them. Things like that."

Magnus had tensed at the words, and Alec reached over to feel for his boyfriend's hand, offering silent reassurance.

"Oh yeah," Azazel noted, still talking to Sal and her companions. "There was an incident back when I was in their dimension. They summoned me, uselessly. I had some fun with them in return. I swapped out that one, and their greatest enemy. They banished me before it was resolved, but I see that Bane got his body back."

"So did Valentine." Alec forced his voice to stay neutral. "You knew what your actions did to Magnus. You expected us to kill you for it when we met today."

"Yeah." The demon paused briefly. His voice was thoughtful when he continued. "Why didn't you?"

"Alec said not to eat any demons," Jack declared. "Besides, you look a bit scrawny… maybe crunchy, but not in a nice way."

Azazel glared at him.

"We're not just doing their work anymore," Alec explained. "We've learned our world was built on a lot of lies, and we don't know quite where this journey is taking us yet, but we'll learn and reevaluate and then decide what to do. So, you may be certain that we won't attack or kill you here, unless you try to harm any of us again. I wouldn't recommend going back into our world, though. Consider yourself banned from there."

The demon laughed. "That'll not be too much of a hardship."

"I have a question," Sal said, speaking slowly and thoughtfully.

Alec turned his face towards her, nodding vaguely.

"The things you said you might teach – can you teach them, too, or only us?"

It took a moment until Alec realized that she meant his group.

Azazel took his time answering. "Possibly," he said eventually. "But why would they want that?"

"Because they're planning to take their research to the Gardens eventually, and they'll be able to use the shielding."

If his eyes hadn't been held shut, Alec would have blinked at that. She did have a point. He didn't know how he felt about Azazel as a teacher, however.

No, scratch that: he knew exactly how he felt about it, and it wasn't very good.

"And why would I want to teach them?" Azazel continued. "And don't say 'to spite Raphael'. That'd be nice, but hardly enough for my efforts."

"Because we'll pay you," Arr said.

June 21st, 2017

Alec thought that the pain caused by the small light Izzy needed to help him apply the mundane eyedrops before she blindfolded him again swiftly and efficiently had diminished a little. A small voice told him that he might also just be getting used to it.

He told it to shut up.

Magnus had examined him and said that he was healing. It shouldn't take more than another few days. And once he was able to see again, they'd set out on a trip that might be just the other side of insane: they were going to try to sneak a look at the Angels' stronghold.

That was a conclusion they had come to the night before, when they had sat together over pie and coffee. They weren't quite sure what would be waiting for them there, though they didn't doubt that their welcome would be less cordial than in Pandemonium.

Still, they did want to have a look – from as close as they dared go.

First, though, his eyes had to improve.

The walk back from the Keep hadn't exactly been a disappointment for Alec, he told himself. He hadn't really thought that he would find convenient magical threads marking the entire way back home.

He certainly would have liked to have them, though.

In fact, they had stopped right outside the Park, forcing him to go back to relying on his partner's arm for guidance.

There had been another short stretch that was marked just outside of Lilith's palace, but the magic didn't continue into the building, making it essentially useless for his purposes. He was wondering if they should explore that line outside and see where it led. Maybe they could do that one of these days…

Maybe they could do it that very afternoon, he thought, before they went to meet up with Azazel again. None of them were entirely comfortable with the idea of letting that demon, of all the ones resident in the gigantic city, try to teach them shielding their minds against angel or demon attacks, but they weren’t going to say no to the opportunity anyway.

A sudden knock interrupted his thoughts, sounding much louder than any that had happened before. Whoever was there clearly knew how to make their presence known.

It only took a few seconds before he heard Simon approach to rap his knuckles against the doorframe with a lot more restraint.

"It's your dad, Magnus," the vampire said. "Asmodeus. He wants to talk."

Alec instinctively reached out to put his hand on Magnus' arm. He could feel the tension that had settled in his boyfriend at the sound of the name.

"We can tell him it's a bad time," he suggested.

He could feel the echo of the motion as Magnus shook his head. "No. We'd only put off the inevitable. Let's greet him. We need to talk to him anyway."

*

In spite of Simon's designation, Magnus thought of the creature who sat on the sofa in their sitting room, looking around with some interest, as Asmodeus, and nothing else.

Charlie was there, her guitar on her lap. Chris and Sebastian were sitting on the other sofa. They had been going through Izzy's notes, as the paper on the table suggested. He could hear Jace and Clary rummaging in the kitchen. Simon was right behind them, with Maya by his side. Izzy had joined them. Jack and Meliorn were conspicuously absent.

"Magnus," Asmodeus said, looking him up and down with a bright smile. "I was told you were looking for me."

"Asmodeus," he acknowledged with a nod. His throat felt tight at the next words, reflecting a sentiment that he didn't feel. "Thank you for coming. We've been exploring. We've talked to people. I think it is time we talked to you."

The demon looked away briefly, then back at him, his head cocked slightly sideways. "Won't you call me father?"

Magnus considered for a moment. He didn't want to. Even with everything that they had learned, even with everything that he knew, he couldn't do it. Maybe, before their first encounter with Azazel, the swap of his body for Valentine's and the subsequent torture under the agony rune, he could have done it. The memory of his dead mother would have been locked away. Now, it was there at the top of his mind, Asmodeus' crime and its long-term effects ever-present when he let his thoughts wander.

The demon understood. His silence had lasted too long.

"I guess not," Asmodeus said with a small sigh. "Will you sit, though? It will be more comfortable for us to talk that way."

Magnus could feel Alec's hand tightening on his arm, a small sign of reassurance that warmed him to the core.

There had only been a small movement on his part, glancing sideways at his partner.

Ever-watchful, Asmodeus nodded. "I must apologize," he declared. "To Alexander, for not giving a proper greeting. I hope you can forgive me. I was a bit preoccupied."

"No offence taken," Alec said, though Magnus could hear the control in his voice. He knew how hard this was for Magnus, and he didn't like it.

As he still hesitated, Alec took the lead, walking confidently towards the sofa with their two friends, his hand on Magnus' arm now meant to lead his boyfriend, rather than being led by him. He certainly had memorized the apartment perfectly.

His other hand went forward as they neared the sitting area, just far enough to catch the edge of the backrest with time to stop and turn towards Chris and Sebastian, who slid sideways immediately to make space for the two of them.

They didn't need to tell him that they had moved far enough. The energy cores of their essences were eloquent enough.

Magnus felt a small smile steal its way onto his face as he watched Alec. Those first days, his progress through the apartment had been careful and slow, Jace's sword stick a helpful tool but this particular use unfamiliar to him. By now, he knew where the furniture stood, and he trusted in the apartment to not refurnish in his path.

He reminded Magnus a little of Samael as he walked around the sofa, his fingers trailing the backrest ever so slightly to find the point where he had to turn.

A few moments later they were sitting, side by side, Magnus feeling a little better for having the reassuring pressure of the armrest on one side and a lot for Alec on his other. Right now, he half-wished he was young enough to simply make a pillow-fort and disappear into it – a stress-relief method the Gale children had introduced Madzie to that the young warlock had taken to immediately.

Before any of them had the time to speak, Clary and Jace came in from the kitchen, carrying trays with plates and cups, fresh coffee and a platter with mixed slices of pie.

"I'm afraid we don't have anything to safely offer you," Clary announced as she put down her load. "This only comes spelled, and it doesn't agree with everyone."

The demon squinted at the pies, reading the charms that crisscrossed the pieces so thickly that Magnus had to keep his magic perception toned down to avoid being dazzled by it.

"I do not mean you any harm." There was a hint of amusement in Asmodeus' voice as he gestured for one of the plates and helped himself to a piece of lemon meringue pie while the other two proceeded to serve their friends.

He savored the first bite, his brows drawing together as he swallowed.

"This is special," he announced, shifting to make space for Jace and Clary who needed a place to sit as well.

Magnus couldn't help a slow nod. "That it is."

Asmodeus ate another bite. "You weren't looking for a family reunion – so what was it you wanted to ask me about?"

Carefully removing a piece from his pie with his fork in spite of not feeling hungry at all right then gave Magnus an excuse to keep his eyes on his plate. "Tell us about the war," he said. "And about the things that led up to the Incursion. We got some bits and pieces, and we can roughly imagine the rest, but we'd like a full account."

Asmodeus hesitated a moment. "What do you know?"

"We know that you and those beings we call angels are the same species. Azazel told us the factions split over a … matter of politics." He kept it deliberately vague.

A disgusted snort came from the other side of the table. "That's one way to put it." He sighed. "This world was beautiful when it was young, you know. Rich, and green, and powerful. There should have been enough for everyone. All life here was feeding on each other, but it didn't matter because there was always enough power growing in anew to keep everyone fueled. We did great things in those days. Great things indeed." His face had taken on the expression of someone lost in happy memories of a time long past.

"Magic allowed us to build wonderful tools. We travelled between the worlds easily. We didn't die, but we could be killed, and we found a way around that. In other worlds, we were revered as higher beings, and we spread knowledge and at times we added our seed to theirs and left behind our offspring to improve their races. Our children were their gods then. We guided entire worlds towards glory. But for some, it wasn't enough to rule other worlds. They couldn't stand the idea that while they were received as the gods of the gods there, they were still just some of many back home."

He paused, taking another bite.

"They proposed the theory that we were the most advanced of the species, and we were by nature superior. That we should be in a place to rule them all. And that some day, the power that fueled this world, our world, would come to an end. We'd never found any other that worked quite in the same way. They suggested that, to make the power last for longer, it should be rationed. They started herding some of what they called the lesser species away from their homelands, some with threats, some with promises. Some of us disagreed."

"There's something I don't understand," Jace threw in when Asmodeus gave them a few moments to digest his words. "You can feed on our kind, right? Lilith was using power generated by … mood swings … to keep Jonathan alive."

He didn't mention that they knew Christopher could drain life force as one of his demon-borne talents. Magnus had seen the young man stiffen from the corner of his eye, and he didn't entirely relax again even when it was clear that no one was about to mention it.

"Emotion produces energy," Asmodeus agreed. "But it's the kind of energy you use to run things. You keep a house going with it, but not the people in it. It's more like… petrol, or electricity, than food. And just keeping her life support spells powered took a lot of it. Imagine if you had to keep that sort of effort up indefinitely. And you still wouldn't be eating."

Taking that word as a cue, he finished up his pie before he continued. "Yes, we've used your awe and your fear for our purposes. All of us. No matter what you call us. And yes, we can feed on your people's life force, too. It is quite delicious, actually. But it's delicious in the way that a foreign sweet might be. A nice treat after a long day. Not something to subsist on for long. Imagine eating one sort of candy for the rest of your lives, and nothing else. You wouldn't exactly be at your best for it."

It was Charlie who leaned in to hand him another piece of pie. The Bard was watching him closely, as if looking for some clue that only she could see.

"A difference in opinion led to a fight, and then to a full-out war. We carried it into all the worlds we visited, including yours. It was bad there, but it was devastating here. You can't imagine what it did to this world, all that power that was once used to build, now turned to destroy…" He trailed off. "I will show you if you wish. I can share my memories with you."

For a few heartbeats, the room was perfectly silent as his last words sunk in.

If he was offering them what Magnus thought he was, this was their ultimate chance to get information right from the source. But it would be a demon's memories, and they would come with all his feelings and associations. How much of a risk was there that they would be influenced more by them than they cared to be?

Alec raised his head, facing Asmodeus as if he could actually see him.

"We accept that offer. How many of us can you take?"

 

In the Past

Alec placed his hand on the table, palm down, and felt Magnus' on his a moment later. The weight increased as the others added theirs – all but Charlie, who had offered to watch, just in case something unexpected happened.

He knew the moment Asmodeus reached out to lay his hand on top. He blinked – not literally, since his eyes were closed anyway, but it certainly felt like it.

The next instant, he could see.

He was flying – or rather, Asmodeus was. The wings that carried him were larger than the ones the Nephilim manifested, and they were perfectly corporeal and feathered.

As he looked down, so did Alec, taking in the vast expanse of lush vegetation as far as he could see. The trees looked strange, not at all like the ones he knew from back home, but they were doubtlessly what qualified as trees here. Other growth was thick between them, blossoms and leaves in a myriad of colors speckling the multi-hued greens and blues of the main plant parts. He spotted some fruit as he passed and knew that Asmodeus contemplated swerving to pick one. They would have no effect on his energy levels, but that didn't mean he didn't enjoy the taste of a carefully assembled bouquet - much in the same manner in which he would delight in a beautiful painting or a painstakingly crafted sculpture.

Asmodeus decided against a stop. He was out to get some exercise, after all.

There was a break in the forest up ahead, a clearing made there to accommodate a village. He knew those people. Among the many small settlements spread throughout this area, they were his favorite for a break. They were natural shapeshifters and never failed to amuse him with the stories they had to tell, or the way in which they would, at times, simply morph parts of their bodies to suit their needs, reshaping or extending limbs rather than bothering to get up to grab something or use a tool.

Something was strange today, though. He could hear no voices drifting over, none of the sounds that accompanied their busy lives in their small, static houses that didn't seem to fit their adjustable bodies at all. Or maybe they did. Maybe having accommodations that morphed as well as inhabitants that did was just a little too much.

Without even making a deliberate decision, he swerved, adjusting his course to pass right over the village. He wanted to know what had caused the strange silence.

It wasn't just the sounds missing, he realized as he drew nearer. There was nothing there – no movement, no shifting of life forces, no drain on the forest around it.

He sped up, needing to confirm with his eyes what he already knew but refused to believe.

His landing was sloppy, hastily executed and stumbling, leaving him running a few steps to keep his balance.

It didn't matter. There was no one there to see his blunder.

The villagers were gone, and from the looks of it had been for at least a few days. The forest, ever-growing, ever-spreading thanks to the power drawn from the ley lines it was rooted in, had crawled almost all the way to the outer-most houses already, young growth not nearly as high as the older vegetation, but just as dense.

He couldn't fathom why an entire village would pack up and move – but then he didn't have to. They hadn't packed. He found a number of objects lying in the knee-high grass, as if people had been interrupted at their work and left their tools and toys right there to come back and pick them up later…

Several of the doors stood open, and he glanced inside one, afraid of what he might find, half relieved to see that it looked as if the family living there had just left on some errand and would be back any moment. Except that they hadn't returned, and everyone else was gone, too.

What, he wondered, could have caused this sudden departure?

He wanted to tell himself that he had no idea, but a small voice at the back of his mind disagreed. Hadn't those demands to do something about the random settlements grown louder and louder recently? Hadn't Gabriel and Raphael in particular made plans about driving them from the area within ten days' flight of their circles?

A few long steps took him into the clear area between some of the houses that wasn't overgrown yet. Snapping out his wings, he took flight again. He would do a quick flyover of another few of the settlements, and then go and have a chat with some people back home.

A turn of his head showed him the palaces towering even over the highest of the trees, delicate structures held together by magic where they were impossible to sustain by mere physics.  No one ever complained about that waste of power, though.

*

The world had changed since the first memory Asmodeus had shared. Alec knew that even though they were indoors in this one, standing in a circular room with a three-dimensional display not unlike the ones they used in their Institutes. There were two among the men and women present whom he recognized: Samael, seemingly looking through the model rather than at it, which made him appear somewhat disinterested, and Lilith standing by his side. They were all dressed in a manner sufficiently similar to qualify as a uniform, in close-fitting seamless garments of blacks and greens.

"It worked too well," one of the others in attendance was currently saying, pointing at one section of the model. "It wasn't drowned out in the node, but jumped into the next lines."

"It wasn't supposed to happen like that," another declared.

"I do not care how it was supposed to happen," Lilith snapped. "Tainting the magic in the ley lines around the Gardens to curb the growth of everything drawing from them was a good idea. Having the taint spread," she turned towards the demon who had last spoken, "is not. We've put too much of a strain on the area helping build up this city already. If this … this taint reaches us, we'll be facing a severe energy shortage. There'll be chaos."

Samael put a placating hand on her arm. "Things still grow from the tainted lines – just not as quickly. No one will go hungry. In the worst case, we'll have a period where we can't be fancy and need to put off special projects until the lines clear up. And let us not forget that they already have just that."

"We still have the high ground," the one who had spoken first added eagerly.

"We have nothing!" Asmodeus snapped at him. "Except for trouble ahead – trouble of our own making, too. Be glad that we need everyone here right now – I'd be of a mood to feed you to Michael otherwise. You know he's not very tidy with his meals."

The other demon's eyes turned black rim to rim as he stared at Asmodeus, who didn't seem impressed.

"At least we're holding our ground at the front lines," he muttered, waving his hand to bring another model into focus. It showed a miniature of a landscape that reminded Alec of the one they had flown over before. This one had been tamed, though, with swaths cut into the expanse of trees, clearings made for camps set up in military precision. And that must have been exactly what he was looking at there – an army set up to defend whatever lines they were holding.

"That is the only ground we're holding right now," Lilith noted, her voice matter-of-fact in spite of the dire news. "Off-world, we're losing everywhere."

Asmodeus gestured again, and the model changed. They contemplated several worlds, each of them appearing in a miniature of its own, with angel and demon strongholds marked.

Eventually, Alec recognized one of them as his own home. By the relative spread and locations of the two factions, he thought he could pinpoint the time to about a thousand years before the incursion.

"They're throwing too much power into convincing the locals to help them fight us," another demon noted, speaking generally rather than referring to the model currently at hand. "We don't have the same power to spare. We'll have to abandon some of those dimensions."

"Not that one, though," Lilith said, pointing at the familiar shapes on display. "I rather like that one."

*

Asmodeus stood before another model, though only three others were with him this time. The background suggested that they were in some sort of tent, or at least a very temporary structure to shield them from the winds and the dust outside.

He wasn't feeling particularly well. He hadn't in a long time. The taint in the ley lines had spread, changing the fauna and taking away a lot of its power. They were spending much of the time that they weren't busy keeping their former allies from razing Pandemonium, the city that still offered shelter to everyone who came looking for it, to the ground, with cultivating the life force they fed on, breeding new plants not for their looks, but merely for their ability to thrive on the changed magic. It was a necessity, as much as it pained them. They were used to having everything around them be small pieces of art.

It was only fitting, Asmodeus mused, that the most ambitious buildings had disappeared as well. They no longer had the power to spare to keep up what wouldn't stand on its own. Most of those delicate structures had been taken down before they could collapse, minimizing the loss of morale as far as they could.

So the shortage of power, long feared by those they now fought, had come to pass, but not in the way that they had forecast.

"Is there anything else we needed to discuss?" he asked, tiredly wiping one hand across his brow. He didn't need to pretend he was impervious to exhaustion here. Not with his most trusted generals.

"I don't—" one of them began, only to be cut short.

There was no warning.

One moment, they could hear the screams in their heads, broadcasts of pain and terror as they had never heard before.

The next, it hit them, too.

Their shelter was no barrier to the wave that tore through it, though it didn't even stir the fabric of those walls.

It cut through Asmodeus like a rain of tiny slivers of searing-hot metal.

This was no enemy they could defend against. He saw nothing – no dust in the air, no bits of matter, not even the sheen of magic. His companions were screaming, writhing in agony before him, and while he was still scrabbling for purchase on a protection spell in his mind, Asmodeus realized that his voice, too, added to the din.

Then it was gone, and he found himself on his knees, his panting breaths almost turned into sobs by the echoes of pain. Looking down, he could hardly believe that there was no blood. He looked unhurt.

It wasn't what he felt like at all.

He couldn't pinpoint the damage yet, but he knew it had happened. He felt torn inside, broken – as if someone had taken every fiber of his body and rearranged it ever so slightly, leaving behind a feeling of wrongness that was impossible to confirm with his eyes.

"What… was that?" one of the generals asked. He was on his knees, bent over with one arm pressed to his midsection as if trying to protect a wound that didn't exist.

Asmodeus forced himself to straighten, though his body wanted to curl in on itself and wait for things to improve.

He knew what they had just experienced, as did the others. None of them were willing to say it out loud, though, as if by not speaking the words, they could somehow make it undone.

Why had he ever volunteered to lead?

"They've released a concentrated burst of adamas radiation." His voice sounded as if coming from very far away. "I am afraid it is safe to say that we no longer have an army."

*

The memory scene changed again. They were outside, but the world was almost unrecognizable from the first memory Asmodeus had shared. Not unrecognizable as such, however. It looked very much like it did in the present day, though maybe a little more burnt, a little less alive. There appeared to have been some small recovery since then.

The first flight had been effortless. This one was labored, his entire body still sore from the blast.

He owed it to his soldiers to at least see with his own eyes what their fate had been. They probably were beyond caring, but he didn't think he'd be able to live with himself if he simply turned his back on them.

He had forbidden the others in his camp from coming along. He had sent everyone he encountered still alive back, ordering an immediate retreat.

It wasn't the radiation he feared. He knew adamas as well as any of them did. It was a pretty metal, though tricky to work, and devious. It focused and refracted magic, like a lens or prism of glass would focus and refract light.

And as it did, it reacted with the magic, releasing a radiation that left its mark on the wielder. Few were foolish enough to use tools made of adamas for boosting a spell. Even those who were rarely did so more than once or twice.

He himself had tried it once, millennia ago. The twinge of the rebound that had hit him then had stayed in his memory, but it had been nothing by comparison to the battering he had taken earlier that day. He could barely imagine what it would have taken to produce a blast like that.

There was no doubt that their enemy had found some way to shield themselves. They surely wouldn't have done this if they had been caught in the effects as well. That was – unless it had been an accident, an attempt at setting up some new weapon gone awry.

He didn't think so. In fact, he was convinced that the weapon was exactly what they had experienced – and that meant that they could very well be lying in wait somewhere, ready to pick off anyone who came to investigate.

Adamas was fierce, but it did not linger.

As he drew nearer to the center of the blast he found the first dead, and among them some still dying.

He landed, his heart breaking as he knelt by the feebly moving figures. He couldn't even tell what species they had been anymore. They looked shrunk and wizened, their hair gone, their eyes clouded over. Thin, cracking voices from toothless mouths begged him to end their existence.

The world before his eyes blurred as he drew his sword. There was nothing else left to do. He could see the tiniest spark of life force remaining in them, but there was nothing he could do to fan the flame.

He'd have to call in the others again, he realized as he straightened, the grisly task done. There was no way he could work through the entire battlefield alone, taking care of those not immediately dead. They'd have to hope that they didn't miss anyone. He wasn't sure if they would even die if left alone, but they would surely suffer… possibly for eternity.

There were so many species living in this world, and they all shared one trait that set them apart from those in many other dimensions they had visited: they could be killed, but they didn't die. They did not know the effects of old age, of slow deterioration and living decay.

It only added to the horror of the manner in which these soldiers and their officers had lost their lives.

Chapter Text

"Adamas," Izzy said when Asmodeus broke contact and the memory dissolved. It sounded like a sigh.

Alec nodded. "Of course. Focusing magic and destroying the user in the process? Exactly what they needed as a self-destruct mechanism. Lucky for them it existed in our world."

Asmodeus gave a small laugh. "Don't you think there'd be more than two adamas veins in the entire world if it was a natural substance? What your kind is mining as natural adamas deposits is a gift from your creators, nothing else. A rather devious one, I might add."

They couldn't object to that.

Glancing at the others, Izzy noticed that Charlie's eyes had grown hard, her expression guarded.

It took her a moment to catch on.

The Gales had concocted a potion that had reversed the damage that had been done to their bodies from stele use. There was no telling what someone who figured the same could be used or adjusted to heal the residents of this world might get up to, trying to secure the recipe – or the ingredients. And that wasn't even thinking of the vast numbers that would have to be supplied yet.

"Your steles were badly processed, not very refined," Asmodeus said, oblivious to their realization. "I bet you barely felt it when you used them."

"That really depended on the use," Clary declared. "Some of those runes were pretty uncomfortable to put on."

"Your world is recovering," Izzy said, changing the subject. "Unless this area was never as badly affected by your failed tinkering with the ley lines, it no longer looks quite as … parched and burned as it did in those last memories."

Asmodeus nodded her way. "There is some progress," he confirmed. "No one can tell how many millennia it will take for the effects to subside entirely, but we do have the time to wait – in theory. Of course, we don't know if we will ever be able to bring back the life that was here before, but there are some specimens preserved under stasis for when it is time."

She picked up a pen and turned it in her hand. "What about you, though? Is your condition static?"

He looked undecided for a moment. Eventually, he shrugged. "Maybe. It'd be easier to tell if we had a more stable energy source for ourselves. There hasn't been any real change to those who survived that day. We're weakened, unable to produce viable offspring unless with outworlders, and even those are affected by the changes in us. We know that taking the substance that protects them from the effects after the damage happened does no good. We've secured some over the centuries."

"What I don't understand," Sebastian threw in, his words slow and deliberate, "is why so many of you are still alive. Given the general mindset we've seen, why didn't people prey on each other to get the energy they needed for themselves? You don't seem to have an issue with that principle otherwise."

They froze as they listened, half expecting the demon to take offence.

He didn't. If anything, his look turned approving.

"Some certainly tried. It didn't work out so well for them." One corner of his mouth lifted, as if something he remembered was, somehow, amusing. "You see, absorbing the life force from those affected by the blast just adds to the concentration of contamination in your own body. Or maybe I should say, it boosts the effects. The same thing that has destroyed us is protecting us from being consumed by our own, or by them. Poetic in a way, isn't it?"

 

Calgary

Aline and Helen were walking down the same street for the fourth time now, their glamors carefully in place, their swords within easy reach just in case.

The reason for their repeated loop was ahead of them, just near enough to keep in view without running a risk of alerting her with sounds accidentally produced in their surroundings.

They had spotted the woman lurking at the crossroads, studying a city map, but not in the way of a tourist. There'd been a decidedly nervous air to her as she glanced up every now and then, scanning the surroundings, looking upwards as if expecting a rabid pigeon to descend on her any moment.

Of course pigeons didn't contract rabies, but the two shadowhunters couldn't fathom a single sensible reason for someone to expect danger coming from that way, in this location.

She also carried a backpack that looked far too heavy for its size and lack of bulk, and had a silk scarf wrapped around either hand.

Apart from that, there wasn't much that set the young woman apart from other people going about their business here. She was dressed like anyone in Calgary might be, the style of her hair and make-up so generic she couldn't have chosen anything better if she'd deliberately tried to blend in.

In spite of the strange behavior and equipment, they almost ignored her, classifying her as some mundane up to some mundane thing that didn't concern them. She wasn't a Shadow-Worlder, or even a sighted mundane. She didn't notice when the two women walked past her the first time.

As they did, however, Helen caught a glimpse of that map, and the red X marking an address on it.

They'd had a similar mark on a different map, but in the same location, that morning.

One brief coordination in a quiet spot at the next street corner later, and after a stealthy photograph of their target and a quick text home to report their findings, they had stood back and waited, falling into step behind her when she finally started to move.

It turned out to be a tedious process. The three of them had rounded the block thrice already, and each pass felt worse than the last. Their target's efforts at looking inconspicuous were rendered useless by the fact that she kept starting at sounds that weren’t there, suddenly turning as if trying to catch someone following her, ducking into shadows where she could see any, and anxiously staring at the same building every time she walked past. She did all of this with Aline and Helen plainly in view at her back for anyone who had even a grain of the Sight.

The two women exchanged an eloquent look as they went into the next round.

Helen's hands flew through the air, running through a sequence of signs. "Do you want to just settle down here and wait for her to come back?" they meant, in the silent language they sometimes used on missions.

Aline almost agreed. The only thing that kept her from it was that they had no way of telling why the woman in front of them kept up her strange reconnaissance, no matter how fruitless it appeared. If she was waiting to meet up with someone else, she wanted to know where they came from.

At the fifth pass, their target reluctantly stepped up to the fence, putting one hand on the gate for a few moments in passing, as if trying to see if it would bite.

Well, maybe they were getting somewhere now.

Another round, and she stopped, standing there and looking for all the world like someone about to do something illegal and worried about discovery to the point where even the least observant onlooker would have to notice.

The home she had chosen for her strange exercise belonged to a Seelie half-breed – or part-fey, as the Gales would have called her. If there had been any traps to be sprung, they would have been of the amusing, rather than the deadly sort, but from the notes their Shadow-World allies had given them, Aline and Helen knew that the only protections this home had outside of the building were strictly mundane. It would have been too hard to explain away more creative measures if the neighbor's teens tried to use that garden as a shortcut and were caught.

Following another brief, mute exchange between them, Helen stepped to the side, her hand on her sword hilt, while Aline moved closer. The woman ahead looked around again, scanning the empty street. The moment she returned her attention to the gate, Aline dropped her glamor, not moving from where she stood.

As she'd expected, her target didn't actually depress the handle without glancing back once more.

The sudden discovery of a woman watching her drew a high-pitched squeal from her. She scurried backwards, only to hit the slats of the fence and be stopped.

"If you're trying to break into someone's home, you need to be less conspicuous about it," Aline drawled, watching the other woman's reaction. "Pay more attention to your surroundings, but don't be as obvious about it."

"I'm not trying to break into anything!" The woman hurried to assure her, her voice sounding unnaturally high with nerves.

Aline gave a good-natured chuckle. "Is that why you've been circling here the last hour? I've been behind you all this time, you know."

"What are you?" She sounded halfway between defiance and panic now.

"Much better at hiding than you," Aline declared. She closed the distance between them and put her hand on the gate calmly. "She works during the daytime. She's not going to be home before nightfall. What do you want in there?" She depressed the handle and pushed the gate open casually.

The other woman stared at her. Her lips and throat worked, but no sound came out at first. "How do you know?" she eventually whispered.

"I wasn't in the area by chance today," Aline said. She didn't think any mundane who actually knew what people trying to break into someone's houses usually acted like would have believed a word she said, but it didn't matter. This woman had no idea of how to do this job, and she was far too nervous to actually process the details of Aline's behavior.

It did tell her one thing: This was not the burglar who was responsible for the other incidents. Everything suggested that those had been the work of someone who knew what they were doing, or at least didn't make a complete blunder of it.

"You, too?" the woman asked. "But why would they send two to the same place?"

Aline let the frown that was building up creep on her face. "They?" she asked darkly. "Who are 'they'?"

 

Pandemonium

They had updated their notes, updated their timelines and filled in a few more gaps after Asmodeus had left.

By the time they had determined that they would get no further, it was almost time to leave for their training appointment.

Jack and Meliorn, returning from their own excursion, met them just outside the gates.

"And won't Ithuriel be absolutely furious when he finds out that we're taking lessons from Azazel?" Izzy asked as they were walking.

The heat didn't seem as bad to her today as it had been. The thing she wasn't sure about was whether it was a change in the weather, or simply herself getting used to the climate. They were still all wearing their protection charms and had put on the caps Jack had made for them, which rather made them look like some sort of mundane gang.

She almost sped up her steps to walk with Chris. Realizing that he was already in conversation with Sebastian and she had absolutely no reason to butt in there, she let herself drop back to Meliorn's side instead.

The Seelie glanced at her, a ghost of a smile on his lips.

"He's a special one, isn't he?" he asked her, his head moving slightly to show whom he meant.

Izzy glanced at Chris but quickly turned her attention back to her friend. She didn't want to have to explain why she seemed to be studying him if he turned back towards her and spotted her at it.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," Meliorn said, his words slow as one corner of his mouth twitched in a suggestion of amusement, "that he's our best and most unshakable proof that demon blood doesn't have the least thing to do with how they turn out."

"But we know that," Izzy pointed out.

"We may," Meliorn agreed. "But focusing on the contrast between those two should help when explaining it to others – they are identical apart from their upbringing and experiences, so any claim that he happens to be an unusually virtuous individual won't work."

His voice was thoughtful, as if he there was more behind his words than what he was letting on. Before she could think about it any further, her friend raised his hand to brush an errant strand of hair back behind his ear. His sleeve slid back a little in the motion, exposing a strip of skin below his glove.

"Is that a vine?" she found herself asking before she could stop herself. The thought felt strangely exciting. She'd known how the loss of his markings pained Meliorn, beyond the physical agony of having them burned from his skin and the discomfort of fresh scars, no matter how good his treatment had been once he had joined them.

His face lit up, and he held up his arm, pulling his glove off his hand to let her see the entire thing.

"It is indeed," he confirmed. "I have no idea what it means. These aren't the markings of a Court. They feel good, though."

She studied his skin, tracing the living tattoos with her eyes. These weren't the same vines he had borne before, somehow come back after being destroyed. Those had been some sort of ivy, like everyone in his queen's court had worn.

Now, he had the small blossom of a wild rose on his wrist, some of the petals fanning out onto the back of his hand. The stem grew up his arm, sprouting three small leaves and two more buds that would bloom in time. Smaller tendrils continued from there, marking the path the new growth would take.

The rose vines followed the tracks of his former ones, though they didn't simply grow next to, or even on top of the ribbons of shiny scar tissue left from them. They used it as a trellis, winding around and along it. If the growth kept up, one day his scars would be all but invisible, covered up by petals and leaves and flexible stems with sharp thorns.

Izzy lifted her hand, but stopped herself short of laying it on the strange greenery.

"Go ahead," Meliorn encouraged her. "I don't mind."

Like the first set of vines he had had, these were indistinguishable by touch from is unmarked skin, just as any tattoo would be. Nevertheless, she got her first tangible proof that there was more to these strange plants than met the eye. Where they covered it, his scar, clearly perceptible as a raised and hardened line in his skin beyond the end of the current growth, seemed to be obliterated. It was as if, by making it part of the vine, it had also ceased to be part of the surface of his arm.

"It's amazing," she said eventually. "And so beautiful. What does Elessar say?"

He chuckled. "It was only a single bud when we left. It grows fast. I didn't think it was remarkable enough to text him a picture to ask his opinion."

More likely, Izzy thought, he hadn't wanted to impose on the other Seelie's time.

"I can't wait to hear what he thinks when the opportunity arises," she claimed.

"I'll let you know." Meliorn slipped his glove on again and shook his sleeve back in place. "But for now, we have work to do. Let's not get distracted by a bit of Seelie flora."

 

Calgary

The woman had introduced herself as Nadine. Whether it was her actual name or not, Aline didn't know, and she wasn't sure yet if it mattered. Once Nadine had started sputtering about some people who did something or another, all the while trying not to give anything away and thereby making her words very much nonsensical, Aline had firmly steered her away from the building with a suggestion that they should find a quiet corner, sit down and talk about this.

While not enthusiastic about the idea, she had agreed. That first moment, she had even seemed relieved at having a reason to leave the scene of her would-be crime.

By the time they were settled in the back room of a small cafe that seemed dim even in the middle of summer, however, she seemed to have recovered some of her equilibrium and decided to try to regain at least some control of the situation.

"So what were you doing there if they didn't send you?" She asked as soon as they had both been served their beverages.

Aline shook her head. "No. That's not how it works. I caught you making a mess of breaking in. I get to have my answers first."

"I wasn't breaking in," Nadine muttered.

"My point," Aline returned. "You were supposed to, though. I'd like to know why, and for whom."

"I wasn't!" Her assertion lacked all power of conviction.

Aline merely fixed her with a look, one eyebrow slightly raised.

"Oh, alright," Nadine relented after a few seconds. "But it's not like a real crime. The thing that lives there – it's not even human, did you know?"

"Maybe not entirely," Aline corrected, fighting to not let the other woman see that she was inwardly seething. Her own girlfriend had as much Seelie blood as the owner of that building.

Nadine lowered her voice. "They are everywhere! All over Calgary, and probably all over everywhere else, too. There's all kinds of them – shapeshifters and werewolves and vampires and zombies and all. They hide among us, and some day they'll just spring their trap and enslave us all!"

"Excuse me?" This time she didn't keep herself from blurting out.

Nadine was nodding vigorously. "But there is this group," she went on, her voice lowered but urgent now, the words coming faster and faster. "They've all been harmed by one of those creatures before, and they're planning a big ceremony where they will banish them all into the Void."

Aline's expression had changed to one of mild confusion. "What void?"

"The Void!" Nadine repeated, as if the words should mean something to her. "And then we'll all be safe from them!"

She decided to let that particular detail go for the moment. "So, which one of them harmed you before?"

"A wizard put a spell on my boyfriend so he'd leave me!" The other woman declared fervently.

As far as Aline was concerned, wizards belonged in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and a myriad of other things the Gales had infected some of her friends with, but certainly didn't occur in the wild in Calgary.

"And that wizard is living in the house you weren't trying to break into?" She asked, the effort of sounding as if she was taking her serious too much for the moment.

"No!" Nadine shot back indignantly. "Of course not! Sunshine needs a personal item or belonging of as many of them as she can get to make the ceremony work. If you want to join the group, you're assigned one of their places, and you have to bring back something she can use."

Aline took a long, slow sip of her juice to give herself time to respond calmly and somewhat seriously. Knowing at least some, if not most, of the items that had been stolen, she was very much aware that with one or two notable exceptions, they would be useless for any sort of ritual.

"Sunshine," she said eventually. "And that is ..?"

"She's the leader! She chose her name because she will drive back those creatures of the night like a blazing ray of sunlight destroying—"

Aline raised a hand to stop her. "I get the idea. Who can join that group?"

"Anyone who has a vested interest in stopping them. You must have had former contact and been harmed somehow. They don't take in anyone just playing around or pretending."

She nodded, indicating that she had understood. "So you join them how?"

"You need someone who's already a confirmed member bring you along and vouch for you. Why are you asking? Do you want to join?"

After a few moments of pretending to think about it, Aline shook her head. "No. I've got my own agenda and I don't think it's compatible. But I know someone who might be a good match for your group. Where do I reach you if he agrees?"

Nadine's face fell. "I won't be able to introduce him. You've got to be a confirmed member. That means you must have delivered on your assignment. I haven't completed it, and I'd have to present it when they meet tonight."

With a sigh, Aline pulled out her phone and started typing a text message.

"What are you doing?" Nadine had suddenly turned nervous again.

"My partner will have completed our mission by now. I'm just telling her to pick something from the loot and drop it off here so you can hand it in. I don't assume they have a way to check if you actually did the job yourself."

The message she had just sent to Helen actually was a little different from that, but the result would be the same. Helen would find something they could pass off as a Seelie possession to the mundane and bring it over.

The gratitude in Nadine's eyes was almost enough to make her groan. "What happens once you're confirmed?"

"I don't know." The tone suggested that it should have been obvious. "I haven't been confirmed yet."

Right. Well, unless her own candidate refused to play along, they'd have someone in that group and confirmed soon enough. While the entire affair sounded quite harmless to Aline right now – nothing but a group on mundanes playing with things they couldn't possibly understand and apparently didn't have enough interest in to actually research – they had to consider the risk that there was more behind this than Nadine knew.

For now, they somehow had to pass the time until Helen showed up.

"So, tell me about this wizard and your boyfriend…"

 

Pandemonium

Azazel had been waiting for them already, even though they'd been right on time. Magnus almost would have said that he'd seemed nervous that they might not show up after all. Was he that desperate for the power the three younger demons had promised him as payment?

They had packed some pie for their friends, donating some energy to them in turn to make their own contribution.

The demon was dressed just as he had been the day before. His complexion was a little more ashen, though, and the shadows under his eyes were pronounced. The expenditure of magic clearly had cost him.

He took them to a paved circle at the crossing of two paths in the park. The plants grew high and dense here, the vibrancy of their colors almost approaching that from Asmodeus' oldest memories, though the size did not. The center of the circle was held by a fountain spouting clear water in a regular pattern, as if it was dancing to some sort of inaudible music. The benches arranged around it, cut from a stone Magnus would have taken to be granite if they had been in their own world, were enough to accommodate their entire group.

"Very well," Azazel said once they were seated, though without much enthusiasm. "Let's see where we can get with this. Try not to use up any more of my time than absolutely necessary. Remember that you're getting this for the price of three."

"Three is better than nothing," Alec pointed out calmly. "You'll be happy to hear that not all of us are going to participate. The rest will just watch and make sure that nothing … unexpected happens."

Azazel glowered at him, not caring that Alec couldn't see his expression. "Do I look to you as if I was in any condition to attack someone?"

Alec's answer was perfectly calm and even. "How would I know?"

Magnus was sitting off to the side with Charlie, Jack and Meliorn. They would form the group's protection, keeping an eye on the proceedings and stepping in if the need arose.

Dragon, Bard and Seelie were reasonably certain that they already knew what Azazel had to teach, as far as it applied to their own natures. Magnus had thought about the matter long and hard the last night, at the expense of quite a bit of sleep. No matter how he turned things in the end: he couldn't get sufficiently comfortable with the idea of letting the being that had left him stranded in the body of Valentine Morgenstern anywhere close to his mind again to participate in the lesson – not even after reminding himself that Azazel had done what he had done in retaliation for his summons.

Alec hadn't tried to convince him otherwise, but merely accepted his decision and asked if he would still come along as a guard.

Azazel didn't grace Alec's question with a reply.

"I don't know if I can teach the Wolf," he said instead. "I've never tried that before."

"She has a name," Simon growled, a hint of fang showing.

"I'm sure she has," Azazel all but snapped. "But I don't know it. It's not like you bothered to introduce yourselves."

"Her name is Maia," Alec hurried to say. "And the vampire is Simon." He quickly gave the rest of the names the demon couldn't possibly be familiar with. Magnus thought he could hear a hint of annoyance in his boyfriend's voice – at himself, probably, for not remembering to take care of proper introductions.

Azazel nodded curtly before turning back to Simon. "Have you mastered mind control, vam—Simon?"

Simon blinked. "Mind control?"

"He means the Encanto," Magnus clarified.

"Oh. Yeah." Simon allowed himself a grin while concealing his teeth. "I have. Thanks to Magnus and his inventions."

"No one said you had to touch that," Magnus pointed out darkly. "But it did work out to the best for you."

Not for Camille, though, but he wasn't going to think of Camille now. In fact, if he could help it, he would never think of Camille again.

"I'll need you to stand in as the attacker then," Azazel declared. "It will preserve my own strength and should make at least some of your friends feel better about the exercise."

"Alec?" Simon asked. "Is that okay?"

Alec barely thought about it. "Yeah. Actually, I'd rather have you try to Encanto me than him. Just don't try to make any of us do anything dangerous."

"Spoilsport," Jack quipped.

Azazel sighed. If he hadn't understood before that he was in for a very long afternoon, he was at least rapidly finding out.

"Alright," he said, unwilling to delay any longer. "Let us begin. You are familiar with the concept of meditation to clear your minds?"

 

Alicante

Even though her children no longer dropped by periodically to carry away the things she put aside for them to be sold in the Gales' junk shop, Maryse had gone back to sorting the collected leftovers of several generations of Lightwoods and Truebloods stored away in the attic. She needed something to keep her busy after all.

Focused fully on her work, she started at the sound of the bell.

She rose, the motion already feeling more awkward than usual, and dusted off her hands on her thighs. For someone who was supposed to be shunned by the society of Alicante right now, she was certainly seeing a lot of surprise visitors these last few days.

Her bet would have been on Imogen, followed closely by Elizabeth Redwood returning to continue their talk from the day before.

Maryse surreptitiously touched one of three blades she wore concealed on her body. Old habits died hard, and some habits weren't meant to be broken. Much as she would have liked to tell herself that she had no reason to go about armed in her own home, she wasn’t going to rely on anything.

While she didn't seriously believe that either her ex-husband or any of his lot would be sending some sort of assassin or another after her – or even try to get rid of her on their own – she didn't have the least doubt that Lydia Branwell's trial and subsequent excessive punishment had been nothing more than a setup to catch the younger Lightwoods and Clary in the act of trying to rescue their friend. With Max clearly under the protection of Imogen Herondale, she was the logical next bait.

Right now, her thoughts were more on the potential scenario of Elizabeth and Anestis talking about their discussion of the last day, and coming to the conclusion that she now knew too much. It wasn't likely, she told herself.

She almost believed it, but she couldn't shake that deadly look she'd spotted in the older woman's face.

It wasn't Elizabeth.

"Do you have a spare room?" Tatyana asked the moment Maryse opened the door. "I need a place to stay."

After all these months, understanding her slurred speech, stemming from the loss of part of her tongue under torture, barely required any effort on Maryse' part.

"This is hardly the right place," she pointed out, though she did move aside to let the younger woman enter. They weren't going to discuss this while standing in the open door.

Tatyana carried a duffel bag over her shoulder, which she didn’t put down as she pushed the door shut behind her. "I can't stay there anymore," she elaborated. "My aunt and uncle – they came to talk to me today. They told me everything."

When Maryse didn't answer immediately, she continued: "They were meant to be my jailors, not my protectors. I am alive because I didn't want to burden them with my knowledge. If I'd told then, they would have killed me for it." She gave Maryse an intense look that seemed just a little off because there was only one eye under the glamor she wore to conceal the other marks left on her body. "They say things have changed – but I cannot stay there anymore. I wouldn't feel safe. I don't even know who they are anymore. I will not spend another night under their roof."

"I understand all of that," Maryse said slowly. "But you know how things stand. I'm one step up from a traitor. I don't know what will happen, but this place isn't exactly safe."

Tatyana crossed her arms before her chest, wavering for a moment. Then her resolve hardened. "If you want me to leave, I'll go. But I won't go back. I'll… I'll go to Imogen and ask if she can find me something. But I will not go back."

That, Maryse thought, would probably require her to tell Imogen at least why she was leaving her supposed protectors with no advance warning, and that in turn would lead to more questions. Giving the High Inquisitor all the details they had probably wasn't wise. In the best case, it would throw Imogen into a conflict of interests. In the worst case, it would prompt her to do something that might prove disastrous for either her or all of them in the long run.

"I can cover my own expenses," Tatyana said, trying to forestall further objections. "I'm still on active duty pay and I've barely ever touched that money."

Not taking her off the duty roster and keeping up her salary had been the inquisition's way of making up for the severe damage she had suffered in the line of duty. Of course, it hadn't even begun to compensate her for what had happened to her, but the fact that she also retained her database and network access had proven helpful in the past.

The thought also sparked another idea.

"And I can always say I convinced you to let me stay so I could keep an eye on you and report any misbehavior because I want to prove I am actually ready to go back on duty sometime soon."

"I didn't know that was your goal," Maryse noted.

Tatyana grimaced. "It isn't. I'm better, but there's no way I could handle duty. But they don't know that, do they?

Maryse allowed herself a small sigh. "We'll have to move the things Jace and Clary left behind in the guest room upstairs. And you need to let your aunt and uncle know where you are. Even if you don't want to talk to them – This is probably the first place they'll go looking for you if they start to worry, and having two annoyed Special Forces at my doorstep demanding I release their niece is very low on my list of enjoyable pastimes."

For a moment, the younger woman seemed about to object. Then she nodded once, curtly. "I'll write a fire message. And I'll help with the work. Just tell me what to do."

Chapter Text

June 22nd, 2017

"Are you looking for something or just stretching your legs?"

Maia and Simon turned, together, arms still linked. Lilith was moving silently in her home, but not silently enough for the ears and noses of a vampire and a werewolf, even in human shape. Her approach had not remained unnoticed.

The demon queen was dressed more casually than they had seen her before today, her attire not very different from the loose tunic and trousers they were starting to suspect was the demon counterpart to jeans and t-shirts. She wore a simple, black coat over them, though. Either she didn't mind the heat, or she'd been out in the icy night and just returned home.

"Just out for a walk," Maia said.

"The others are doing some charms practice," Simon added. "We don't do charms, so we're taking the opportunity for some alone time."

He didn't mention what kind of charms work the others were practicing. He wasn't sure what Lilith would think about the fact that Jace and Clary were sharing the wisdoms Ithuriel had imparted on them. Or, for that matter, that they had gone to the angel for lessons in the first place.

Her eyebrows went up as she tilted her head to one side to study the two. "You weren't interested in joining them?"

"We don't do charms," he said. "We don't have the knack for it."

"We can't feel or see or use the power," Maia elaborated.

Lilith hesitated a moment. "No one will be able to teach you the first two," she said eventually. "But with enough confidence, you can learn the latter if you wish."

They exchanged a brief look. True, the Gales had pointed out before that some mundanes learned to get limited use out of charms in spite of being unable to perceive the power they used. It had sounded more like a rare curiosity, though, than a skill to be usefully learned.

"Do we need it?" Simon asked. "We have our own skills and abilities to use after all."

"Do you need it?" Lilith repeated. "Probably not. Would you be able to use it?" She shrugged. "At some point, surely. Any skill has its uses."

"Maybe," Simon allowed. "But who would teach us?"

A smile pulled at the corners of Lilith's mouth. "I have no commitments right now."

She chuckled when they stared at her.

"Are you doubting my teaching skills?" she asked. "Back when your world was young – younger than it is now even – and our blood hadn't mixed with your ancestors' yet and eventually brought about people with the ability to see power… and others… we already taught some of them to use it. They were our priests, our shamans. Those wielding our power in our absence, and focusing and channeling the power the people gave to us. And later, when our war had been carried to your world, and most of our followers displaced already by theirs? We would still share the knowledge, and our students would share it on. Those were the people you called witches. The real thing, of course. Not the sorry lot tortured and killed for nothing."

"Nothing?" Maia fixed Lilith with a penetrating look. "I'm sure their deaths produced plenty of energy." She may not have known a great many details about the witch hunts that had gone on in some parts of their world, other than that they had happened and been a terrible, gory mess at times, but with the knowledge they had acquired about demons – and angels – in the last days, it wasn't hard to guess that the sacrifices hadn’t been too unwelcome.

Lilith raised her hands in lieu of a shrug. "I'm sure they did. But it didn't go to us. Now… do you want to learn?"

Simon's voice held audible suspicion when he spoke. "Why would you do that? What are you getting out of it?"

The demon queen's face sobered. "You are friends of my son," she said. "I have an interest in knowing he has the best backup he can ever wish for, no matter what quandary he gets himself into. He's the wonder I thought was never going to happen again, and I lost him the first time already. I'll teach you because one day, it might make a difference."

 

 

Calgary

Hodge hoped that he was looking more confident than he felt.

It wasn't just that he was sorely out of practice, and hadn't had a lot of opportunity to get used to being back on active duty – and regular duty. He'd never trained for this particular sort of work. Oh, sure, there'd always been some sneaking and blending in involved, but this task was of an entirely different caliber.

He wasn't sure that living among Gales for a few months had actually prepared him for passing as a mundane with little knowledge of the Shadow World.

Not wearing his magic-enhanced hand was strange already. He'd briefly considered going without entirely, but settled on the regular prosthetic, fully charged to prevent uncomfortable mishaps from empty batteries. It felt strange on his arm, with even the small amount of feedback the Gale variety gave him gone. The servos hummed audibly every time he moved those fingers, reminding him of just how much he was actually using his left hand again.

His choice of clothes for the day was casually mundane, and thus hardly any different from what he usually preferred.  He'd kept the combat boots, though, and he hoped that Sunshine person didn't have a metal detector installed wherever the group met. He had a small arsenal concealed on his person.

Nadine was waiting for him where Aline had said she would be. She seemed nervous, looking around and scanning the streets in all directions, unable to guess from which branch of the crossroad he'd approach.

Recognizing her easily from the photo his boss had on her phone, he walked up to her and cleared his throat.

She started at the sound, whirled and stared at him. "Are you Aline's friend?"

Her voice was almost a squeak. If just waiting for him to introduce him to her accomplices had her so on edge, he dreaded to imagine what she must have looked like trying to prepare her burglary the day before. He silently commended Aline and Helen on both keeping a straight face and their tempers under control.

"I am," he confirmed. "My name is Hodge." He'd decided there wasn't a point in choosing a fake name. This wasn't supposed to be an elaborate campaign, and while his name wasn't the most common to be found, there were a few who shared it, and anyone trying to find him by going through the phone book would be busy for a while without actually having a chance at success, since he wasn’t listed.

He felt an amused smile creep up on him as he watched her, and he let it. "Anything wrong?"

"What? No!" She tore her gaze away from his face. Katie had sat down with him that morning and gone over his cheek with some make-up, emphasizing the scars to make them look more recent.

She'd probably tried to decide if they were disfiguring or dashing.

A moment later her face froze, a small "Oh" on her lips. Her eyes had found his hand.

"Yeah," he said, his tone neutral. "I'll tell you how I got all of that once we get there. Don't want to go over it twice."

She nodded, sympathetic with his unwillingness to recount what must have been a traumatic experience. The tension in her body had changed, though.

He could almost see the speculation running through her mind. What sort of creature would have wounded him so? He didn't care if it was giving her second thoughts about the entire campaign. If she decided to get out before she suffered something worse than a lost lover, that was fine with him – as long as she delivered him to where he needed to go right now first.

*

Sunshine, it turned out, was a woman in her thirties, her hair a glaring red that looked artificial and her eyes a sparkling mix of teal and gold that had to be contacts. She was dressed in an elaborate set of robes that should have tripped her on a regular basis. That they didn't suggested that she'd actually practiced moving in them. They were as red as her hair, and decorated with signs he refused to call runes. They surely were supposed to be just that, but they had sprung from the imagination of some mundane and were so far from anything recognizable that they would have done more good if the lines had followed Calgary's subway map. Then at least she could have navigated by them.

She studied him coolly, her face expressionless.

There were almost a dozen mundanes in attendance. Most of them looked ready to go to school or work after their meeting, though a small group was trying to emulate their leader with more imaginative attire and styles.

"This is Hodge," Nadine spoke up after a moment. "He has reason to join us."

"I see." Sunshine's voice was low, with a dreamy quality to it. She might have been aiming for a mysterious effect, but Hodge found that the combination of hair, eyes, clothing and speech was just a bit too much. "Is that so, Hodge?"

"Yes," he said, glad to hear himself sound quite sincere. "I've heard you aim to banish them. I can't wait for a little payback for this." He lifted his left arm, making sure that everyone present could see his hand.

"What sort of creature took your arm?" Sunshine enquired. "It wasn't a werewolf, was it? If so, we'd have to ask you to let us observe you to make sure you haven't turned. And the next full moon isn't until next month."

Hodge shook his head. "No need to worry. It was a dragon, not a wolf."

Murmurs ran through the audience. Dragons were a new concept for them.

Sunshine gave a small laugh. "A dragon," she repeated. "There are no dragons."

"There actually are dragons," Hodge insisted, catching her eyes and holding them. "And one of them took my hand, scratched my face and almost gutted me before leaving me to die." He pulled up his t-shirt briefly with his right hand at the last words, exposing the long scar that ran across his abdomen for a second.

"I don't doubt that you ran into something," she admitted. "But a dragon? That is ridiculous."

Fishing out his phone, Hodge pulled up a picture and held the device out to her.

Aline had pressed Viktor into service for providing an evidence photograph. Though he initially claimed to have forgotten how to shift shapes to begin with, he had relented eventually. Placing him so that the lack of his wing wasn't noticeable had been easier than they'd expected.

"It woke up a moment later," Hodge informed her.

"Where was this?" Sunshine wanted to know. She was studying the picture as if something in the rocky backdrop of a cave near the dragon's actual lair could give her any clue as to the location.

"Down in the Rockies. We went hiking and I was off exploring by myself. You can imagine my surprise when I found that. If I hadn't used the flash to take a picture of it, I might still have my hand."

"You didn't tell anyone?" Sunshine asked. "That story would have made the news for sure."

"Right." Hodge gave a scornful laugh. "A dragon. Who'd believe that? You know how people are. They would have made up all kinds of reasons why that wasn't actually a dragon. I had enough to do not dying, and then getting the hang of this." He opened and closed his hand as he spoke. "I really didn't need someone giving me some bullshit about trauma and the mind making up things to cope."

"Dragons," Sunshine repeated. "Well… you know that our rule is that you must complete an assignment before you can become a full member. Will that be a problem with your hand?"

His voice was cool when he answered, his eyes hard as steel. "No. Just give me an address and I'll do it."

 

Pandemonium

Jace was sitting in their living room, alone. Clary had decided that it was time for some art, and while he liked to watch her work with her paints and pens, he didn't think he had the calm for it right now. His constant fiddling with whatever he could get his hands on broke her focus.

At this moment, the thing he had in his hands was one of Charlie's guitars that she'd left leaning against the sofa. It was an entertainment only instrument. He was sure of that, or he wouldn't have touched it. The more powerful ones that she used for actual workings of magic beyond a random beer spill drying charm were brimming with so much raw power that getting close to them made his skin tingle. It was one situation where he didn't need Alec's magic vision to perceive the power.

Of course, Charlie would never have left one of those instruments unsupervised in the open in the first place. She had two with her, and they were either right where she was, or locked safely in her and Jack's room, behind a good set of warding charms.

He didn't even remember how old he had been when Valentine had first made him sit by the piano to supplement his martial education with some culture in the form of music lessons. He had never felt the urge to take up another instrument, but he did enjoy the music enough to not dwell on the less pleasant memories connected to playing.

Now, he focused on not wanting a piano there. The house might just morph and supply him with the one it had removed from their bedroom during his nightmares. It wouldn't be able to do so without rearranging everything else in the living room around it and making Alec go through the process of familiarizing himself with the room all over again.

Instead, he put his hands to the strings, trying to copy how he remembered Charlie and Simon holding the instrument. It couldn't be that hard to figure out.

He didn't know where most of the others were, but they seemed to be too busy to come and tell him to stop torturing the instrument. He didn't need them to tell him that he wasn't doing as good a job at figuring out the guitar from the player's end as he could have. It was an effort not to wince, both mentally and physically, every time the sounds he produced weren't quite right, or worse, completely discordant. Had Valentine been near, he would have had a dozen broken and iratze'd fingers within the first ten minutes.

Forcing the thought from his mind, he continued his self-appointed task.

"What exactly are you aiming for?" a voice interrupted him a short time later.

He looked up, an unhappy expression accompanying the realization that Simon, out of all their companions, had just caught him failing.

He shrugged. "Just playing around while I don't have anything else to do." The casual, unconcerned tone of his voice sounded pretty convincing. At least he thought so until Simon's forehead crinkled in a deep frown.

"Charlie would have shown you how it works if you'd asked her," the vampire noted.

"She wasn't around," Jace returned, a frown of his own appearing on his face. "Where are you coming from just now anyway? You and Maia were out forever."

"We were doing Witches 101 with Lilith." Simon pushed off from the doorframe he had been leaning against and came over to flop in the armchair on the side that was closer to Jace. "You could have called us if you'd needed us."

"Nah, it was all good." Without thinking about it, he ran his hand over the strings again while his other one randomly pressed down on some of them.

Simon shook his head. "My vampire ears don't like that."

"My Shadowhunter ears don't like it much either," Jace admitted. A small gleam shone in his eyes as he looked at his companion. "You could Encanto me into knowing how to play."

"One," Simon said, "that's cheating. And two: you're not supposed to allow me to Encanto you."

They'd found the day before that both perceiving and resisting the mental invasion was harder than they had expected.

Alec had turned out to be reasonably good at it quickly. Whether that was because he already had the knack of seeing magical power and somehow was tuned to other forms of energy as well, or because his temporary blindness had made him that much more open to what his other senses perceived, they hadn't been able to figure out.

To their general surprise, Maia was the second to pick up the skill of detecting intrusion. When she'd suggested that it might be due to her reacting to Simon's presence, rather than the perceived attack, Azazel had taken a turn, and confirmed the previous result. She was just that much better at it than anyone else in their group.

Izzy, Sebastian and Clary all had managed to get the knack of it in the course of the afternoon, though they'd only started on the defense part of the exercise.

Jace and Christopher, to their own disappointment, had come out at the bottom of their group. It seemed that they had found out one more thing that they had in common: They were both so tense and primed to expect attacks that they tried to shield, evade or push back at the smallest hint that something was going on – and more often than not reacting to false alarms. They just didn't know how anyone could sit and relax and wait for the thing to occur when they knew that an attack was imminent…

"So what is Witches 101 about?" Jace asked, distracting from the Encanto issue.

"The basics of using charms without sensing magic. No, absolutely not." His hand shot out at his last words, holding down the strings before Jace could pluck at them again.

"She's teaching you charms?" Jace's voice hung somewhere between incredulous and horrified.

"Trying to," Simon replied. "Not sure we're that great as students. Put your hand there. Like this." He reached out to push the other man's fingers where they should go on the strings.

Caught by surprise, Jace allowed it.

"Are you sure this is right?" The position of his hand felt weird and unnatural.

Simon nodded. "Pluck the strings one by one. If it doesn't sound right, you're not pushing down hard enough. Take your hand off and put it back. Try again." His orders came as quickly as Jace obeyed, though it took him several attempts to get it right.

He noticed that he had tensed. Simon was a vampire. He had both the speed and the strength to break his hand if he wanted to. The realization sent an icy shudder through him

But he wouldn't do that, he told himself. Not because he was a vampire, and a vampire attacking a Shadowhunter would face consequences, but also because they were … maybe not exactly friends, but at least allies. Randomly hurting your allies wasn't a thing you did.

It wouldn't be random, a small voice in his mind said. It would be in reaction to his failings.

He told that voice to shut up, with all the firmness he could muster. No one other than Valentine though that approach a particularly effective way of teaching. Not even Maryse and Robert, with a stronger interest than most in having their children and their foster son turn out particularly well back then, had resorted to that method.

His hand had kept moving while he'd been in his thoughts, and he found to his surprise that he had hit the right spots the last time around.

"Level up?" he asked.

Simon grinned, showing the barest hint of pointed teeth. "You're turning into a proper Gale there. And certainly."

*

Izzy did a double-take when she walked past the living room door, spotting what looked as if Simon, of all people, was giving Jace a music lesson.

They both seemed content enough, however, and rather than to disturb them, she moved on silently. She and Chris had just come back from another run through the streets, followed by a short sparring session. They'd both needed the physical exercise. The power they had channeled earlier while going through the advice Ithuriel had given Clary and Jace had left her body almost vibrating with energy.

Exercising together had been quite pleasant. The only thing that could have improved the experience would have been a change of the weather. Chris was good company. He may have stayed silent much of the time, but what he did say was well-considered and always worth listening to.

Sparring with her brothers was always fun, but having an opponent she hadn't trained with for a decade or more added an entirely different sort of spice to the experience.

The last hours had also hardened the resolve to do what she'd been thinking about for a few days now.

Now seemed to be an outstanding opportunity for that. If both Jace and Simon were in the living room, and Clary was not, she stood a good chance of finding her friend alone.

The door to Clary and Jace's bedroom stood half-open, offering a view of the red-head moving her brush over a canvas. She didn't look up or give any other indication that she'd noticed someone approach.

Izzy tapped her knuckles against the door frame to announce her presence.

"Come in," Clary said. "I'm almost finished."

Doing as she was told, Izzy pulled the door shut behind her and went to sit on the edge of the bed to wait. She studied Clary's most recent painting, as always amazed by the vibrant quality and the details.

It wasn't one of the huge canvasses she used at home to produce her portal pictures. This was a decorative piece without further use, a recreation of the lush forests from Asmodeus' memory.

"What do you think?" she asked as she stepped back from it to clear Izzy's view.

"Beautiful," came the reply. "People will marvel at your imagination." The leaves and flowers looked more surreal now than they had when seen through Asmodeus' eyes, where they had had his perception of what was normal to guide them. They were still exquisitely beautiful, but in a strange, exotic, way. The hint of tall buildings in the distance, mere suggestions against the sky, added to the overall effect of the picture.

Clary carefully placed her brush in a cup with liquid to keep the hairs from sticking together with caked and dried paint. "Is it time to leave for Azazel's training already?" She reached for her phone, put aside to avoid splashing it with paint, to check the time.

"Not yet," Izzy told her before she could do so.

"So, what did you want to talk about?" Clary asked as she started to tidy up around herself.

Izzy's brief look of surprise didn't remain unnoticed. Her friend chuckled. "You come here, alone, and close the door even though we haven't really bothered with that since we met the Gales. So what is it?"

"It's Christopher."

She could see Clary tense at the name.

"I've been running and training with him a few times since we've been here, and it's made me realize just how much he's still separate from us back home. And he shouldn't be. Yes, he's from another timeline, his history is different from ours, but we've been through a few things together, and he should be as much one of us as Aline or Helen are."

The smallest wince went through the other woman at the mention of Aline. Clary was as well aware as Izzy that Aline and Sebastian had slid into a comfortable relationship as cousins, in spite of both of them having known the other's counterpart in their own world, and understanding the differences between them better than anyone else.

"How often have you talked to Chris since we came home?"

Clary didn't answer. Instead, she shook her head ever so slightly. She'd kept their interaction to the unavoidable professional level, never allowing anything personal to sneak into it.

"Exactly," Izzy said. "He is your brother, Clary."

"My brother," her friend repeated. She wasn’t looking at Izzy now, but had turned her gaze towards the window. The words sounded as if they were entirely foreign to her.

"You have the same parents. Literally, not just philosophically. The timelines didn't split until the Uprising. He'd been born by then and you conceived." She paused, taking a breath before she continued. "I know his past is very different from yours. The parents he grew up with were different from the ones you had." But the same would have been true of Jace, had he turned out to actually be her brother, as they had been told at one point. And she would have accepted him in that role. Izzy didn't want to point that out, but she was willing to do so if she needed to.

When Clary looked at her, she could see that she was thinking along similar lines. She waited, letting the other woman sort her thoughts into words.

"It's not that I don't accept him as my brother," Clary said eventually. She paused again, reaching up to pull out the tie that held her hair in a ponytail and finger-combing the red strands before tying them back again. "It's more…" her voice trailed off.

Izzy folded her hands, waiting and wondering what Clary might be getting at. She'd thought the answer would be quite straightforward: A matter of being stuck on the image of Jonathan, and not wanting to associate herself with the person who'd shown that capacity for evil – though all evidence suggested that Chris, raised entirely differently, didn't even have that.

Clary let herself drop on the chair that went with the desk their room had provided and swiveled it to face her friend.

"You've always had brothers. I've always wanted to not be an only child. Then I learned that I wasn't. That I could have grown up with a brother. I was told he was Jace. That was a blow. I was told he was evil. I knew Jace wasn't evil, but hearing my mother think that, seeing her memory of Jonathan – it wasn't good. We found out it wasn't Jace. That my actual brother was still somewhere out there. And I was happy that Jace and I weren't related, but I was also – afraid, that my mother had had the right of it after all. That my brother would show up and be evil."

The words came out in a rush, only stopping when she needed to breathe, and then only for the barest moment necessary for the purpose.

"And then, Jonathan as our Sebastian. And all we learned and all he did. I wanted him to be good at heart and just … just terribly misguided and reacting to all the bad things that had happened to him and not knowing any better. I wanted him to be redeemable. I wanted my brother, even when I knew we had to destroy him."

Izzy let her talk, listening attentively but not interrupting. She waited as Clary took another shuddering breath.

"I wanted my brother even when he was dead – or we thought he was – and I didn't have a brother anymore. And then we went to the other plane, and suddenly there was another one. And now I have a brother again, and – Oh Izzy, I still want my brother. I want him to be my brother. But what if it just leads to more grief, more disappointment? More hurt? I don’t want to go through all of that a third time. I can't."

During the last rush of words, Izzy had come to her feet. Now she crossed the distance between them, pulling her friend into a tight embrace. They should have talked all this through earlier, she realized. One more Shadowhunter habit they had to work to get out of, and become closer to Gales. It was healthier for sure, from all she could tell – but also hard, after a lifetime of keeping most things that went beyond duty bottled up inside, never scratching at anything that might cause oneself – or another – to expose a weakness.

"I understand," she whispered as Clary leaned in, relaxing slightly against her. "I understand it feels like a huge risk to take. But if you don't take it? You'll be forever wondering what you missed out on. And you will miss out on having that brother. Give him the chance to be that, Clary. And if you find out you're not compatible as siblings, it'll still be better than forever wondering what might have been."

She said what felt right to her that moment, what she thought Allie would have said, or Charlie, or even Jack. But those last words came with a strange dread she couldn't quite place. Clary and Chris finding out that they couldn't stand each other after all suddenly felt like one of the most terrible things that could possibly happen.

She frowned inwardly at the thought. Why did it feel as if that development – unlikely as it seemed to her – would be a personal disaster for her?

 

 

Chapter Text

June 23rd, 2017

"Do you think she could have possibly given us any less warning?" Simon asked, a tone of slight exasperation in his words.

Maia gave him a one-sided grin. "Maybe, if she'd tried really, really hard?"

That morning, their group's breakfast had been spiced up with a fire message from their hostess. Lilith, apparently realizing that they were not going to spend a lot more time in her home, was throwing a party in their honor.

More than that: she had announced a grand ball, which meant that she was either the world's fastest organizer, or she'd had this plan for a while and not found it necessary to share it with her invitees. A small voice at the back of Maia's mind reminded her that they hadn't exactly gone out of their way to cross her path.

A brief complaint from Magnus about not having brought anything fit to wear for a ball, echoed by a few of the others, had led to a long-suffering sigh from Jack, followed by the promise that he'd donate his sorcery skills and make them whatever they needed – or wanted.

Izzy and Magnus had dominated the discussion that followed, and Simon and Maia had slipped out before either of them could be made the next target of party outfitting. Maia had a rough idea of what she wanted to wear, and she was certain that the last details would come to her much better if she wasn't juggling a dozen suggestions at the same time.

Besides, they needed some time to practice what Lilith had shown them the day before. Like Azazel, she had made sure they had understood the theory and gotten the basics down, but left the refinement and practice to them.

They'd asked their friends about the closest power node. They needed to know there was enough non-bound energy nearby to tell that a charm not working wasn't working because they were doing it wrong, rather than simply because there wasn't anything near that it could draw from. They couldn't deliberately channel the flows, but had to rely on excess to catch and shape.

She never found out if Simon had an answer to her comment.

"I didn't want to believe it when I heard," a voice said at their backs. "Lilith actually has a Wolf among her guests."

They stopped, turning. Maia's body was tense, ready to jump or flee at need. Simon by her side had turned stony. She knew without looking at him that he was either showing a bit of tooth already, or just one hair's breadth away from it.

The speaker was a man they had just passed. He wasn't particularly tall, his auburn hair cut short. The stubble on his cheeks looked fashionable rather than lazy. His eyes were grey, the way they were set in his face immediately reminding Maia of a pair of acquaintances she had made earlier that year.

Her eyes went to his hands, and it took her only a second to spot the familiar shape: square, short-fingered, with callus visible as he held them out openly to them in a gesture meant to prove he was unarmed. As if any creature here needed physical weapons to cause trouble…

His upper body was bare beneath a knee-length coat that he wore open. What looked like track pants, held with a cord around the waist, was tucked into the most old-fashioned boots she had ever seen: soft leather fitted closely around his feet, held in shape with two leather straps criss-crossing up his calf. She suspected that, like the pants, they'd come off at a single tug at the end of that strap.

He moved from where he had been leaning against a wall. His nostrils flared as he took in a scent.

Her scent, Maia suspected. Or, more precisely, the scent of the wolf on her. She didn't doubt that if she'd changed, she would smell the same on him. Actually, if she focused on it, she thought she could detect a hint of it even now.

"I thought you were all dead," he said slowly, wonder in his voice. "But you've changed since the last time I met your kind."

Though his voice was mild, Maia had to focus on resisting the urge to bare her throat and submit, even in human shape. The man before her was a wolf, there could be no doubt about that. One more dominant and powerful than she had ever met before, with his mere presence trying to override her human nature and going straight at the wolf inside.

"I'm not the sort of wolf you take me for," she said, forcing her voice to remain steady. "My kind is different."

"How is that?" the stranger asked.

Maia almost launched into a long and detailed explanation of how a Shadowhunter experiment long in the past had caused the death of two of those other werewolves he resembled, and the creation of the contagious variety of lycanthropy she herself had.

She bit down on the urge.

"We spread our condition through scratches or bites, not genetically," she said instead. "I was born human – mundane – and infected." She pointed at the thick scars on the side of her neck.

He frowned, but it was in confusion more than disapproval. "I can smell my blood on you, though."

She closed her eyes for the shortest moment to collect herself. The pressure to answer quickly and in detail felt like a vise on her head. "The … virus that causes my condition was derived from – congenital werewolves, for lack of a better world. Probably the ones you are thinking of."

"So they do still exist?"

Instead of replying, Maia forced herself to look into his face. "Stop that," she ground out.

His eyes narrowed. He looked genuinely uncertain of what she was referring to.

She made a vague gesture by the side of her head. "Whatever you're doing to try to make me tell you everything. I don't like it, and it's not necessary anyway."

He stood for a moment with one elbow braced on his other hand before his body, his thumb resting thoughtfully against his upper lip.

"I'm not doing anything," he said eventually. "What you feel is the presence of a Wolf so old and dominant that it seeps through even though we both wear human skins and you are, indeed, changed." A small smile appeared in his eyes, while his lips never moved to expose teeth. "I am quite impressed. I'll be sorely disappointed in my own judgement if I don't some day come to see you and find you leading your own pack."

"I'm quite happy with my pack leader," Maia told him.

Her words were acknowledged with a small nod. "But you are also young. Some day, you'll want more." The smile in his eyes deepened, his lips curving slightly, though still carefully not exposing any white that might be seen as a threat or challenge. "You may be changed, but you are still one of mine. Should anyone, on this plane or another, challenge your right to call yourself a daughter of Fenrir, they can take it up with me."

She thought she'd heard that name before somewhere, though she couldn't place it for the moment.

"They call themselves Diana's Chosen," she told him instead. "The … other werewolves. Your kind."

He looked away, his features shifting between amused and appalled for a few moments.

"Let's not tell Diana about that, shall we?" he offered eventually. "Or I'll never hear the end of that. I fear that I did leave them without guidance or leadership. The only thing I can say in my defense is that I didn't know any of them escaped. And I should doubt that Diana had anything to do with that."

"What are you?" Simon asked, joining the discussion.

"The son of a god and a mortal," the man – Fenrir, she assumed – said. "Back before the blast, the offspring of our ultimate ancestors were as immortal and powerful as they are now, and also fertile. The blood and its effects diluted with every subsequent generation. My father shifts into many shapes. My brother into two that aren't human. I have the Wolf. My sons do not age and die, but my grandchildren did both."

Three generations of immortals sounded quite impressive to Maia's ears.

"Sometimes, though, a trait would breed true. The Wolf was one of them. And when those you call angels – if you still do that – came to conquer the parts of the world that our ancestors had given to us to rule, and took our followers away from us and turned them against us, they pursued those changed mortals relentlessly. We were powerful, but so were they. And they were many, and they brought armies that we didn't have. We fled." His eyes were unfocused now, looking into the distance. "Nothing to be proud of, but we'd lost. Our children dead, our followers dead or forced to swear allegiance to creatures that hadn't ever done a thing for them. We came here to keep our lives." A small, mirthless laugh escaped him. "Though I'm sure you know by now what living here for an extended period means."

Maia nodded, and saw out of the corner of her eye that Simon did the same.

"Unless there was a lot of inbreeding involved, your Wolves have changed, too," she said. "They only procreate with their own kind now. I don't actually know how many of them there are, or where. I've only met two of them, once."

"Stands to reason," he said. "Even the traits that are stable aren't static over the course of well over a millennium. Not in people with such notoriously short lives as those of humans. Or wolves."

"The Gales," Simon said. "They're one of the powers that bred true, too?"

The wolf's lips thinned for a moment. "Your Gales are quite unique. A paradox. They're their own beginning and end, slung into a circle. There's maybe a little of our blood in them, but no more than in any sighted mundane." He shrugged. "Not my story to tell, in any case."

Maia made a mental note to ask Charlie or Jack if they had any idea what he meant at all.

"Will you do me a favor, daughter-of-sorts?" the wolf asked when neither of them responded immediately.

"My name is Maia," she said. Knowing what the pressure on her mind was did help her power through it, though it still wasn't pleasant.

"Maia," he repeated. "While you are here – will you run with me in the fur?"

The impulse to concede to his wish and change right then was stronger than the one to answer him had been. She surprised herself both with the speed and the vehemence of her answer. "No!"

"No?" If he'd had wolf ears right now, they would have drooped. As would his tail.

An alpha wolf shouldn't ever look crestfallen, she thought. And yet, she couldn't change that answer.

"I didn't mean for you to leave your partner behind and take off with me right now," he offered.

She shook her head. "It's not that. And it's not you. It's not even that I was trained to suppress the wolf and never change just for the fun of it, or to enjoy the wolf, or to use it lightly, in order to preserve my humanity to the fullest."

He was watching her intently, waiting for the end of her explanation.

She could only hope that he wouldn't take offense.

"It's this place. I don't mean to be rude, but it reeks, of rot and decay and destruction. I smell it even so. I don't even want to think what it'll be like to a wolf nose."

For a moment, he looked perplexed. Then disgusted. At least he didn't seem angry.

"You'd be surprised at what one can get used to and learn to ignore," he said slowly. "Until some youngster comes up and reminds you of it." He chuckled. "I take back my request. But we will meet again, elsewhere, and then I'll renew it."

"And then my answer may well be different." Maia didn't promise, but she had a suspicion that if Fenrir followed her to her own world, she'd put up less of an effort to refuse that particular request. She did want to know what the ancestor of all werewolves – if that was truly what he was – looked like when changed.

 

Calgary

It wasn’t the sort of neighborhood where most people would think twice about someone lurking and looking as if they might consider breaking into one of the buildings. Of course, it wasn't the sort of neighborhood where burglary would usually pay off.

Hodge wondered if Sunshine had chosen his target deliberately, sending him into a part of town where the risk that he would be accosted in the street by someone out for no good was the greatest, to see just how much his missing hand hampered him.

His size and build would be some sort of protection from that, he hoped.

The entire last night felt surreal to him. He had talked to Aline. Then they had called the deputy high warlock.

Luckily, she had indeed been able to help them out, and his target had called him not an hour later.

It felt strange, working with Downworlders like this. It felt wrong, for all that he knew that it was right. He'd reminded himself many times during that brief call and thereafter that he wasn’t, strictly speaking a Shadowhunter anymore – or at least not the kind that would have followed Valentine.

Choosing Katie had, for all intents and purposes, made him a Gale. Choosing to work with the Lightwoods' group meant that he had to re-educate himself, just as they were working on changing their own attitudes.

Maybe, he thought, he should seek out some of the Downworlder hideouts in Calgary, associate with them, get to know some of them as people.

That felt wrong, too, though strangely it did so mostly when he was on his own, as if somehow Valentine's mark on him was still there, lingering at the back of his mind and ready to raise its ugly head when he didn't have anything to drown it out.

Maybe he should start by reliably calling them Shadowworlders instead of Downworlders.

He'd been trying to, with different degrees of success.

For now, he rounded the building that contained the lair of Boris the Minotaur.

He's a friend of the Gales, he reminded himself as he slid into the space between two buildings. He won't have booby-trapped anything for you.

Maybe he would have felt better about this if he'd ever met Boris in person before. He wasn't just any minotaur, however: he was a shy one, and had yet to agree to meet any of their group.

As he had promised on the phone, a window that wasn't visible from the front had been left open.

Hodge pushed at it, wincing ever so slightly at the squeak. Then, reaching up with his good hand, he grabbed the ledge and hoisted himself up and over.

The apartment was surprisingly neat inside. It was the sort of place one could easily show to a potential mother in law. Of course, that wouldn't be any concern of a minotaur to begin with. They weren't out to marry, or even for one-on-one relationships. As far as he knew, they were notoriously promiscuous. He wondered how that worked with Boris' shy attitude.

Or maybe it didn't have to, because it was just one more prejudice they'd been fed and never questioned.

From the kitchen, he walked into a cosy living room, the floor thickly carpeted to dampen the sounds of hooves. A number of items were laid out on a small end table, a card set up behind them saying "Take your pick".

Hodge frowned.

In a nod to stereotypes, Boris had laid out a box of condoms and several sex toys, supplementing the setup with a plushie and a polaroid photograph.

He hesitated. In his persona of the dragon-damaged hater of all things non-human, he should have probably gone for one of the toys, for much the same reason that Boris had put them there: they were typical minotaur objects.

Everything inside him balked at the idea of picking one of those up, however, let alone carrying it around and handing it over.

A moment later, as his gaze swept the choice offered again, he realized that they were unused. The boxes were stuffed into a paper basket underneath the table.

Grinning to himself, he took one. The Sunshine woman hadn't realized many of her objects had absolutely no personal essence attached to them before. She probably wouldn't notice this time either.

Just in case, he slipped the photograph into his pocket as well. The face made him do a double-take. He might not have known the person it showed, but he certainly knew what family she was from. He was going to be careful with that, using it only as a very last resort. Boris had offered him not only a picture of a Gale woman, but of a Gale Auntie – and one he didn't know. That made her either one of the Darsden East group, or Allie's own grandmother Catherine, banished from Calgary until further notice. He had an idea that using that picture in any kind of ritual might lead to some interesting side effects.

Pandemonium

Somehow, Magnus had managed to make even his blindfold look like a stylish fashion accessory, Alec thought as he regarded himself through Jace's eyes.

He had taken it off earlier, hoping that his eyes had recovered enough to endure the artificial light indoors without causing him too much pain and letting him see what was going on around him.

He'd had to admit defeat quickly.

The pain was no longer the searing, all-consuming agony of the first days, but it was bad enough for him to know that it would be a constant distraction. He didn't need that in a room full of demons.

No, scratch that: he didn't need that in a room full of strangers. As it was, he wouldn't be able to see them, but he could have his full focus on his other senses and his magic sight, with the occasional glimpse through his parabatai's eyes to make sure he didn’t miss anything relevant. Apart from that, he'd stay close to Magnus anyway.

Jack had conjured up outfits for them that were stylish and met even Magnus' approval, yet comfortable enough to wear. Alec's was in any case. He wasn't sure about the ball gowns Clary and Izzy had on. They'd taken the opportunity to order the things they had wanted for the last New Year's Ball, and not had the time to have made.

Alec wasn't sure if he would have felt comfortable in clothes that looked so impractical in a fight.

"Alec wonders if you can beat up a demon in that dress, Iz," Jace relayed his thoughts.

Raising an eyebrow their way, their sister took one step away from the group, then spun in place, kicking at an invisible opponent and landing perfectly balanced and with her whip in hand.

"Jack made them great for free movement," she declared.

Jack inclined his head, acknowledging the compliment. The Dragon Prince had left his glamor off, showing his dragon eyes and features. He had dressed himself in forest green, trousers tailored to his body shape and tucked into supple yet elegant boots, combined with a coat that screamed "Seelie style". The high collar touched his hair at the back of his head and merged into narrow lapels edged in a gold trim at the front. He wore no shirt underneath, showing scale in the V exposed by the garment.

His posture and attitude, usually more reminiscent of the careless slouch of a young human adult with not a care in the world, had turned regal. He needed no insignia or lavish decoration to convey his position if he wished to.

Charlie wore a dark blue suit, choosing trousers over a skirt. It took a very close look to realize that the minute differences in shading were flower designs embroidered in the same color as the fabric. Her hair was the natural Gale dark blonde, pulled back in a simple style. She wore strategically placed flowers in it, though – the same ones that were repeated on her jacket. Her guitar leaned against the wall by her side. She wasn't going to go without.

Meliorn was dressed Seelie-style as well. He, too, had left the choice of his attire to Jack, and ended up with a good deal more decoration than the dragon had chosen for himself. Wild roses had been a foreseeable choice.

Alec returned his attention to himself. His outfitter for today had been Magnus, and Magnus had chosen to dress him in a dark red suit and pristine white shirt. The strip of cloth that covered his eyes was of the same color as the suit. He'd only been able to catch a very fragmentary look at Jace, but as far as he could tell, his parabatai wore the same suit in a dark blue.

Apparently happy enough with the design, Magnus had picked it for himself as well. A golden metallic sheen that looked almost alive where the light hit it made his suit special.

Chris and Sebastian had planned to join them in their simple elegance, until Izzy had pointed out that his position as Lilith's 'son' probably required attire appropriate for the position for at least one of them.

On Magnus' recommendation, Chris had ended up in a far more elaborate coat over a white shirt and black dress pants. The black base was broken up by blues and silver, helping to make him look a little less pallid in spite of his light complexion and white-blond hair. Sebastian had agreed to a more restrained version of his costume, sharing his parabatai's plight of clothing too likely to draw attention for either man's taste.

Maia and Simon, finally, looked absolutely stunning in their choice of ball clothes. A brief consultation with Magnus and Jack had brought about Maia's desired dress, inspired by 19th century novels she enjoyed, but adjusted for freedom of movement. Simon had chosen to wear a formal suit that sat perfectly on his frame.

"We look good," Alec declared, returning into his own body. "In fact, I would say that we look absolutely gorgeous. Let's go and see what our hostess has to say about this."

*

When they descended the stairs, they found themselves in the largest gathering of demons they had seen so far.

Jace noticed Alec stepping closer to Magnus almost immediately. If each of the people present showed up in his magic vision, Jace suspected that Alec was just walking into a sea of lights, with too many individual energy cores to make sense of. If half the jewelry that he could see also served to store magic…

We're definitely not overdressed, he told Alec silently.

He didn't think that he had ever seen so many styles in one place – or so much glitter. Somehow, he imagined that this was what it had to look like if Magnus' wardrobe and make-up table exploded, scattering their contents everywhere. He thought that he briefly spotted one of their demon friends, before the crowd shifted and he lost sight of her.

Led by Alec and Magnus, their group walked through a large double door, both wings standing wide open, and into a room where there was a little more space to breathe.

Lilith and Asmodeus were there, sitting at one of several small, round tables set up along the walls. They had two others with them and were talking animatedly. As if feeling their approach, Lilith looked up the moment Chris entered the room, smiling and giving them the slightest wave.

Jace relayed the information to Alec, who sent back their mental equivalent of a nod and leaned towards Magnus for a whispered instruction.

Their group shifted, moving towards the two demons. Magnus had tensed. He still didn't enjoy any sort of interaction with his father.

As if following a wordless request, Chris sped up his steps until he was on Alec's other side.

They stopped a respectful distance from Lilith, leaving it to her to acknowledge them.

"Alexander," she said, apparently not feeling the need to be formal. Then again, none of the demons seemed to use more than one name. Maybe the concept of last names was simply not in common use here. Maybe they should have spent more time simply familiarizing themselves with the local situation and habits. Jace made a mental note. They weren't planning to spend more than another few days, depending mostly on Alec's eyes. He could ask their demon friends a few questions until then, though.

Of course, they also still needed someone to tell them how to get to the Angel stronghold. Finding someone who could help them get into it was probably a bit too much to ask.

"Please, feel free to mingle," Lilith was just telling Alec. "We thought that you might prefer not having full introductions to the entire assembly, so we decided to keep this as informal as we could."

Jace could feel Alec's relief through their bond. It was an emotion he certainly shared. Meliorn had suggested earlier that they might have to walk down an aisle or carpet one by one, to be announced and introduced, and to pay their respects to Lilith – and probably Asmodeus – first thing after arriving. That was apparently how Seelie balls worked. They'd hoped that demon ones were different.

With only half an ear on the conversation between Alec and Lilith, Jace turned his head to take in some of the assembled guests. Many were watching them, though more were simply engaged in their own conversations.

He spotted Sal and Arr again, standing with a demon of their own kind, though much more lavishly adorned. A parent, maybe.

A flash of silver drew his attention, and he caught Ithuriel, wearing robes so white they seemed to sparkle, but the darkest scowl he had seen on the angel so far, just ducking out of the room.

The corner of Jace's mouth twitched upwards. So no matter how much he didn’t feel he belonged with these people – he hadn't had it in him to decline a ball invitation from Lilith.

One moment later, his focus was drawn by a man standing by his own. He wasn't particularly tall, but broad-shouldered and with the looks of someone who got plenty of physical exercise, even in the black velvet garments he was wearing. His skin was tanned, his hair cut close. He hadn't shaved for the event, and Jace almost regretted that he had. He rather liked the rakish look.

What he didn't like was the way those grey eyes were focused on their group – or, more specifically, on one of them.

Clary, following his gaze, set her face in a grim expression. She'd seen it, too.

Together, they shifted through their group to stand by Simon and Maia.

Their friends glanced at them before checking where they were looking.

A slight smile appeared on Maia's face, and she raised her hand in acknowledgement.

"You know him?" Clary asked her.

Maia turned away from the stranger and towards them. "He's the one we met this morning. The wolf. Fenrir."

"Right." It didn't do a lot to put him at ease. They had checked the name on their Gale phones after Maia and Simon had told of their encounter. It wasn’t a huge surprise to find the name matched a creature from ancient mythology. If anything, it was one more proof that all the legends were, in fact, true.

As far as the internet was concerned, however, he was someone to be handled with some caution. Hopefully, that was just a matter of angel propaganda.

Trying to decide if they should, as a group, walk over and confront the man as soon as Lilith was done with Alec, Magnus and Chris, all three of whom were now talking to her, Jace looked back at the wolf, to find that the decision had just been taken from him. The spot where he'd been standing a moment before was empty, the man nowhere to be seen.

 

Chapter Text

"Feel free to mingle, she says," Chris said, his voice pitched low enough that only his friends could hear. He didn't bother to hide his annoyance. "And then she keeps going on forever."

Alec favored him with a lopsided grin. "We're released until the grand dinner," he reminded the other man. "Where would you like to mingle?"

"In my room, with a good book or two," came the response. "I think I saw Ithuriel show up and disappear again earlier. Do you want to find him and see if he's willing to provide a map for us?"

Alec considered a moment. "As much as I'd love to get that out of the way, I don’t think it's quite the right time. I don't expect he'll be at his most forthcoming with so many people to potentially overhear… people he doesn't much like to boot."

Someone pushed past them, brushing against his arm. He moved closer to Magnus. "Do you see any place that has a bit more space? It feels like this room is filling up."

"That's because it is," his boyfriend replied. "Let's see how things are outside."

Alec swiveled his head slightly, trying to sort through the power cores he could see. "I wouldn't mind that. I need to tone down the sparkles if we stay here."

"I assume they will call us in for dinner," Magnus mused. Alec could feel by the way he was moving under his hand that he was gesturing to the rest of their group.

They fell into their loose formation again, none of them having any wish to stay behind.

"Too bad it'd probably be quite impolite to whip out my phone and take a few pictures," Simon noted as they stepped into the garden. "The range of demons in here is quite a sight."

"You wouldn't be able to do anything with them anyway," Clary told him.

The tone of her voice suggested that she was far less annoyed by the general situation than most of their group. From his last check of the room through Jace's mind, Alec knew that she had a hand on his parabatai's arm and her smile was just one notch below beaming.

He didn't begrudge her. He and his siblings had had their share of balls in Idris before, and the one time she had been along to one had been cut short. Jace had just started recovering from his injury then, too, and she'd been stuck with a rather sullen Max Lightwood for most of the time they'd been there.

"Let's hope the demons play music that works with our dances," he said in her direction, grinning slightly. "A ball without dancing isn't really a ball."

"Given who the guests of honor are, I would bet on it that Lilith will make sure the music is appropriate for you," a familiar voice said off to Alec's free side.

He turned and dipped his head in a slightly deeper than average nod towards the power core that went with the voice. "Lord Samael. It's nice to see you again."

Samael chuckled. "And how often, pray tell, have you seen me before, young Lightwood?"

"Rude," an unfamiliar voice said just to Samael's right. There was a tinkle of amusement in it, though, taking the edge off the rebuke.

Samael didn't miss a beat. "From anyone but me, it would be," he agreed.

"I borrow my parabatai's eyes at need," Alec replied smoothly, ignoring the exchange. "Were you going in, or out?"

"In." Samael hesitated a moment before turning to his companion. "Go pay your respects to Lilith, my dear – and mine. I'm of a mind to talk to these young people a bit more before I make my entrance."

*

Magnus watched Samael's companion disappear into the building. They looked to be the same sort of being as Lilith, Asmodeus and Samael himself were, but had chosen an androgynous look.

Samael had cocked his head ever so slightly to one side, as if listening to something.

"The news is that you are about to leave for the Gardens," he noted as he fell into step by their side, walking at the edge of the path.

"As soon as we can find a guide, or at least a map or something," Alec confirmed.

"Can't help you with that," the demon said. He sounded a little regretful. "I can ask around. Have you tried Ithuriel? It's been a while since he's been there, but he's still the one closest to it."

"I don't think he's all that interested in helping us," Jace told him, his voice hard.

Clary gave a confirming nod. "And if he's concerned he might be arrested and imprisoned again, he's not going to get near the place."

There were some groups of guests scattered across the grounds, standing in small clusters and talking or playing games they didn't know. One of them had chosen a crossing of two garden paths ahead of them as their base. Their conversation ceased as they watched the group approach.

Samael turned to face Alec, his expression twitching into a wry smile. "Have you noticed how often they fall silent when we get closer? As if they really want us to walk into something. The core lights are only so much help if you don't know what you have in front of you." He snapped his fingers a few times before deftly stepping into a gap left between Jace and Christopher, swerving around the group that was now scowling at them.

A frown had appeared on Alec's face, and Magnus felt it mirrored on his own. He shifted, making sure that Alec didn't brush any of the bystanders.

Once they were past, his boyfriend brought up his own hand. "What's the—" he snapped his fingers.

Samael gave a low chuckle. "You listen to the echo. It tells you where things are if they're large enough."

"And if they're not?" Alec snapped his fingers again, listening. Even with his charm-amplified hearing, he had some difficulty discerning an echo to begin with.

"If they're not, they either jump out of your way or smack you in the face," Samael told him helpfully. "You need to do more than one, especially if you're moving."

Following the advice, Alec thought he ended up with a hint of an idea that there was some sort of obstacle to their left. He pointed. "What's that? Is it large?"

"I'd say so," Magnus returned, sounding a little amused. "That's a wing of the palace."

"Huh." Alec thought for a moment. "It would have been neat to know about this back when we arrived, and not now that I'll be healed enough to use my eyes again any day. The snapping, I mean, not the palace. I could have learned this."

He turned to where he saw Samael's core, easily recognizable among the others, in spite of the sudden realization that it wouldn't matter to the demon one way or the other. "I agree that Ithuriel isn't likely to help us. Who might we ask instead?"

Samael hesitated. "Most of us haven't been there in a millennium. Things will have changed. There have been a few outcasts we took in during that time, but they are just as unlikely to go anywhere near that place."

"We'll work with old maps and old information if we have to, and figure out the changes when we get there," Alec said with a confidence he didn’t really feel.

"Do you really have to go there?" Samael sounded concerned. "If they catch you, it'll be your death. And you won't be able to move freely as you do here. That is, if you get in alive to begin with."

Jace gave a dry, mirthless laugh. "We'll just have to make sure they don't catch us."

"We need to see their end of things," Alec added. "If only so that we can say we've seen it with our own eyes and—" he broke off, suddenly uncertain of his choice of words.

Samael laughed. "You, of all your friends, should know that neither 'see' nor 'eyes' are bad words, young Lightwood."

"Just call me Alec." The response came fast, and a bit harsher than he had intended. "We're old enough to start a revolt against our people and everything we were brought up to believe."

"And young enough to have the flexibility to question truths you've been fed;" Samael added. "My apologies. I didn't mean offence."

Alec inclined his head, accepting the statement.

"Maybe Lilith or Asmodeus can put their foot down and order one of our more recent citizens to guide you. Even so, I'd be wary. They didn't leave by their own choice. They might think to curry favor by betraying you."

"That won't be necessary."

Magnus turned, looking for the speaker of those last words.

Maia's new acquaintance, it seemed, had been looking for them. In any case, he had approached their group and come close enough to listen without disturbing their conversation.

"Seriously?" Samael asked, his tone suggesting that he knew the man's solution and wasn't convinced of its merits.

Watching him, Magnus could see the wolf shining through in the way the man moved, much as it happened with the older werewolves who lived feral in the forests around Alicante. Even they, however, had a certain caution in their posture that this one was missing altogether. He was perfectly comfortable in his identity. Would that reflect in his other form as well? Were Maia's strange Canadian acquaintances like he?

Fenrir took another step forward, positioning himself so as to clearly address Alec. "I'll be your guide. I know the way. I've been in and out before, more than once. I can do it again, and get you in, too."

"But not out again?" Alec asked, his tone suggesting that his eyebrows were raised under the blindfold.

The other man chuckled. "Out again depends on what happens while we're there."

"Fair enough," their leader decided.

"If you'll forgive the question," Izzy threw in, "why are you offering? Is it just because of Maia?"

Maia, walking arm in arm with Simon, tensed. She surely didn't mind contributing to their cause, but she wasn't comfortable with being the main – or only – reason someone was willing to take the risk of helping them.

"I certainly don't mind getting to spend a bit more time with her," Fenrir admitted. "But, in fact – I have business in the Gardens."

Magnus involuntarily reached for his magic when he saw the man's expression change. For an instant, there had been a murderous light in his eyes.

"Business that requires a good amount of diversion to take care of. I trust your presence will be diversion aplenty."

"A mutually beneficial arrangement then," Alec said. "And one in which it's our own job not to get caught while you do what you came for." He nodded slowly. "We accept."

Samael looked as if he wanted to say something, but eventually decided to keep his peace. The others in their group didn't challenge their leader. They didn't know what to expect when they arrived at their final destination in this dimension, but they understood being responsible for their own safety. They hadn't been going to assign that task to someone else in the first place.

"When do we leave?"

"I need at least a day for some preparations," Fenrir told him. "You can't waltz in wearing your armor openly. Even sticking to the back alleys and shadows, you have to pass for one of them at least at a distance. I'll find what you need and let you know."

*

"So blind demons are a thing and Samael is one of them," Alec noted when the demon had excused himself to go and finally greet Lilith. "And no one thought it worth mentioning?"

"I didn’t realize!" Jace claimed. "His eyes look strange, but he's moving around as if he knows exactly where everything is. You've seen it." He paused. "Besides, I didn't know there was such a thing as a blind demon."

Alec couldn't argue that. The few times he had borrowed Jace's eyes to look around in Samael's presence, he'd been perfectly confident about finding his way around the building. Which had, of course, been his own workplace, with his own magical markers outlining the clear paths to be used.

Magnus made an amused sound, and he turned to his boyfriend, regretting a little that his expression was partially concealed.

"Would you like to share that with us?" he asked.

"That is literally what his name means," Magnus told him. "The one he shares with us, at least. One of a few possible meanings in any case."

"Right," Sebastian declared. "Next time we meet anyone here, we'll google them to make sure their names don't hold any surprises. We can—"

He was interrupted by the arrival of one of Lilith's shadow servants. Apparently, Lilith and Asmodeus were ready to dine with them.

*

They were led to the high table where Lilith and Asmodeus had settled, along with Samael and a few others.

Chris cast only the smallest wistful glance at the tables arranged in the hall for those more fortunate and not, by any definition of the word, related to the queen of Pandemonium, her co-ruler or having the bad fortune of being associated with someone who was.

He took his assigned place next to Lilith. That put him across the table from Izzy, who'd been assigned a seat next to Asmodeus. Magnus, who was placed by Asmodeus' other side, was doing a good job of not showing any distaste – though Chris knew his teacher well enough to see the tension in his posture. Across from him was Alec, with Jace next to him and Clary next to Magnus.

Chris' other neighbor was Sebastian, much to his relief. The young demon Ro facing him had apparently been deemed worthy of the high table by virtue of association with them as well, as had her two friends. The three at least seemed to enjoy themselves.

The rest of their group was arranged similarly, with a few, probably high-ranking, demons between them. Samael and his companion were eating with them. Ithuriel was not. Looking around, Chris spotted him in one of the rear-most groups. He had either been assigned or chosen a corner place, and pushed his chair so far to the side that he barely looked as if he was sitting at the table at all. Of course – he was putting some distance between him and the demons who were his dinner companions.

As his gaze continued to sweep the room, he found Azazel, too, pale and tired looking as always, sitting with the older demons they had seen with their friends earlier.

Busy taking in the room and its occupants, he only realized that Lilith had been speaking when she fell silent, waiting for a response.

"Apologies," he told her. "I was distracted. I've never been to a dinner this large."

She gave a small chuckle, a clear, tinkling sound that had nothing demonic to it. "I tried to recreate some of these dinners, back in Edom, with the Jonathan Valentine sent me." Her voice sounded more than a little wistful. She kept it low, just for those sitting closest to her to hear. "We invited some of the inhabitants of that plane, but they weren't exactly the best of dinner guests. They had no idea how to behave."

"The closest I have come to a meal like this are Sunday dinners with the Gales," Chris admitted. "And those don't really compare."

"What are they like?" Lilith inquired.

He shrugged. "A lot of people, a lot of kids, a lot of joking and random charms flying across the table. A dozen conversations going on at once. It's chaos, and it's beautiful at the same time." He hesitated on the next words, but settled on honesty. "I've never felt more at home than there."

"Maybe we can have a dinner like that, with family and friends only, before you leave," the demon queen suggested. "It sounds like fun."

"We're leaving as soon as Alec can stand light in his eyes," he reminded her. "A day or two from now, probably."

She nodded her head. "Plenty of time. What I was saying just now, though, was that I hope young Maia doesn't hold it against me that I didn't invite her ancestor to join us. I was not aware they had met, or that they got along so well."

"They met this morning," Chris quickly reassured her. "There wasn't exactly any time for a change of plan. I'm sure they both understand."

"She may," Lilith said. "But he will likely hold it against me that I'm depriving him of time with her."

"I don't know." A group of servants was entering the room, carrying covered platters and bowls and distributing them on the tables. Already, he could tell from the delicate patterns and ornaments of the tableware that whatever was put in front of them was likely to be pieces of culinary art.

It was only logical. The demons didn't fuel up by eating. To them, the experience was a purely sensual pastime, like paintings created in flavor and texture. It stood to reason that the visual aspect wouldn't be neglected either.

"He'll have plenty of opportunity," Chris assured the woman who considered herself his mother. The thought made him wince inwardly, but not as badly as it once had. His actual mother hadn't exactly stood out for her parenting qualities. Lilith's sense of propriety and morals might be incomprehensible to him, but at least she wasn't continually staring at his eyes, afraid they might go black as a sign that he was channeling demon powers. "He'll get us into the Angel stronghold."

Lilith had been about to signal to the servant closest to them. Her hand froze in mid-motion.

"You would do better to find someone else. He has his own agenda and he will use you for it without a second thought."

Chris heard a suppressed snort from Alec. Their leader had been listening to their conversation.

His own eyebrows went up as he studied Lilith. "Of course he will. Isn't that the custom here? You didn't seem to have any issues with the concept when it was you using people for your own end." That was maybe not the thing to say to your host at a formal dinner, but it was out faster than he could think.

She didn't take offence. "I mind now because it will put you in danger, my son."

Chris' lips thinned as he only barely kept from grinding his teeth. He didn't think he would ever be able to take that form of address graciously. "It's alright," he said when he knew that he had his voice under control. "We already knew. He never made a secret of it."

Lilith looked surprised for a moment, but she didn't object. She may not have agreed with their choice, but it had been made and she respected that.

Finishing the motion she had previously started, she commanded the servants to remove the covers from the platters and assist with serving.

As they had expected, the food provided was arranged for best visual effect, complementing the delicious smells wafting up from it.

Studying the unfamiliar shapes and colors under Lilith's reassurance that everything that was put on the table would be safe for them to eat, Chris' gaze caught on one particular element of the arrangement.

"Is that lobster?" he asked, confusion reflected both in his voice and on his face. "Out of all the possible foods from our own dimension, why did you pick lobster?"

Now both Lilith and Asmodeus were looking at him.

"You're mistaken," the latter said after a moment, the corners of his mouth lifting a little. "It's endemic here. Delicious, too."

"Then how did it get into our world's oceans?" Magnus inquired, carefully watching the servant fill his plate.

His father shrugged. "Someone took a snack and let it escape, I assume? Or several snacks, probably, since I've never heard they multiply by division or parthenogenesis. Humans really will eat anything they find, even if it's clearly not from their own world. How do they kill them anyway?"

"The general method is dropping them in hot water and boiling them alive until they're dead," Magnus informed him drily.

Asmodeus shook his head ever so slightly, his eyes on Alec across the table now. "And your people call ours cruel…"

*

The dinner had delivered all that they could have hoped for, and more. They hadn't lost their apprehension about eating anything that originated from the other dimension entirely, but the demon food didn't seem to have harmed them the first time around. There was no reason to expect anything different to happen this time – especially since one of the hosts had definitely enjoyed their pie.

They were glad to have gotten a brief respite outside before the dinner, since there was no way they could slip away afterwards.

As they rose from their seats, Lilith and Asmodeus invited them to accompany them to the final, main part of the evening.

Glancing at the orchestra assembled to play for the dancers, Clary found herself exchanging a doubtful look with Jace and then Magnus, who was walking closest to them with Alec on his arm. None of those instruments looked as if they would produce music even remotely recognizable to them.

Their worries quickly turned out to be unfounded.

As foreign as the instruments looked, the sound they produced was perfectly familiar. True to Samael's promise, so was the tune that started up at a brief hand signal from the Demon Queen.

The smallest of shudders went through Lilith, and the figure-hugging sparkly silver dress she had worn for the dinner changed into a ball gown in a rich blue. Her hair acquired the slightest wave, making her appearance a little younger and, Magnus thought, just a bit more carefree and out for entertainment.

She was perfectly poised as she reached out one hand to Asmodeus, a wordless request for him to open the dance with her.

He turned towards her, taking the offered hand as a ripple ran over him and his suit changed to match her color scheme and style.

Then they were off, whirling across the empty dancefloor, their movements so perfectly in synch with the music that Clary couldn't help but wonder if magic was involved in that.

"Good to know glamors are fair play," Izzy muttered nearby.

Quite a few of the other demons took their cue from their leaders, changing as well. The sight of several dozen couples adjusting glamors at the same time was a disorienting one.

For another few beats, Lilith and Asmodeus were alone on the dance floor. Then the music changed the smallest bit, and, taking that as their cue, a number of other couples stepped out from where they had been standing.

Among their group, Charlie and Jack were the first to join the dancers, moving so quickly that they were barely a heartbeat behind the local guests. Jace held out his hand to Clary.

"Shall we?" his voice was low, audible only to his girlfriend and those standing right by their sides. If she said no, none of the demons around them needed to know about it.

She smiled, meeting him half-way. "Let's hope I won't step on your feet. I lack practice."

"You were dancing beautifully at New Year's" Jace assured her.

"And I haven't had any practice since then," she reminded him. She didn't bother to point out that the particulars of that ball didn't even make it a very reliable testimony of her dancing skills. It wasn't that hard to look good next to a half-sulking teenager.

He pulled her closer and she followed, her free hand sliding into its assigned place.

With Jace not recovered from his injury at the time her friends had taught her ballroom dancing, Clary's partner for dancing practice had been Alec. She wasn't sure if it was because Jace was a little closer to her in size, or because of their familiarity with each other, but she found that the process took a lot less thought with Jace than it had with his parabatai.

Her boyfriend moved, and she moved with him, barely registering anything other than the slight pressure of his hand, telling her where to move.

*

Meliorn had come over, bowing slightly to Izzy in a wordless offer to take her out onto the dance floor.

She inclined her head with a smile, moving into his arms and twirling away with him a second later.

"Shall we then?" Magnus heard Maia say. From the corner of his eye, he saw Simon tense the smallest bit before the vampire took a deliberate breath and then a step back to extract them from the rest of their group.

Alec stood perfectly balanced, but with the slightly vacant air that Magnus had come to associate with him looking through his parabatai's eyes. The dancefloor was, it seemed, of some interest to him.

The first dance came to an end, and couples shifted. Asmodeus had changed the color of his suit again to go with the attire of his new dancing partner. Lilith exchanged a few words with Samael. Then, to Magnus' surprise, they slid into position for the next dance.

Their friend Sal was talking to Izzy and Meliorn. He couldn't hear their exchange, but the amused way in which Izzy gently pushed the Seelie towards the young demon, was clear enough.

A moment later, she was back with them, her eyes gleaming as she focused them on Christopher. "Dance?" she asked him.

"Yes, go dance!" Sebastian told him.

"What about you?" Chris returned.

The other man shrugged. "I'll find someone if I feel like some exercise. I might see if I can steal Ro for a round or two. No go, before your mother comes to demand your attention."

Chris' expression turned into one of slight alarm, but he let himself be pushed into Izzy's arms. "Word of warning," he said, his voice low. "It's a long time since I've danced."

"Just stay off of my feet and we'll be fine," she promised him.

Before he could scan the room again, Magnus felt the tension in Alec's body change. His partner was back with him.

"So what about us?" Alec asked, his expression hanging somewhere between hopeful and apprehensive. "Would you like to dance?"

Any other day, the answer to that would have been a clear and unambiguous yes. Today, Magnus hesitated. "We don't have to," he hurried to assure Alec. A quick glance at Samael and Lilith showed him that they were doing just fine. The queen was leading in this dance, but he wasn’t entirely sure that she hadn't with Asmodeus. She certainly seemed to enjoy being in control.

"Unless you were asking because you really want to, and not because you thought you should offer," he added.

"I want to," Alec said, his lips close to Magnus' ear. "I trust you won't let me crash into anything."

Chapter Text

June 24th, 2017

 

Magnus had his hand raised, poised to knock. Still, he hesitated.

He hardened his resolve, frowning inwardly at himself.

This was ridiculous. He had dealt with people he despised often enough in the past, and never batted and eye at it. If the cause was worth it, he'd just barge in and get whatever discussion or negotiation was at hand done with. This wasn't going to be any worse than having to stay civil while dealing with some of the less savory of his colleagues, or some of the more unpleasant Shadowhunters even.

It would have been easier, he mused, if Asmodeus had actually been unpleasant.

But no: he had been at his best around them – around him. He'd been nothing but polite and helpful, freely giving the information they needed but not pushing beyond what they were willing to give in return.

You're not afraid that this will be unpleasant, he chided himself mentally, too honest to accept his own subterfuge, even where no one else could hear him. You're afraid you might end up liking him.

For centuries, he had gone nurturing hate for the creature who had fathered him. The thing that had raped his mother in the disguise of her husband. She had killed herself eventually, unable to live with the knowledge that she had borne the child of a demon.

He could not, would not develop any sort of sympathy towards Asmodeus.

Still, he had resolved that there was one more thing he needed to acquire while in Pandemonium, and he would not deny his friends the advantage he could provide for their upcoming excursion – or beyond that. If Asmodeus was the source he had to go to for it, then so be it.

His hand came down, rapping sharply on the door.

"Come in!" a voice sounded from within so fast that it made him wince a little. Had Asmodeus known he was standing here, thinking and battling with himself?

The door folded away, revealing a sitting room furnished in simple elegance.

On second thoughts, maybe it was supposed to be a lounge. There certainly was no one sitting in it.

Asmodeus had made himself comfortable reclining on a cream-colored sofa, a manuscript of some sort in his hands.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you," Magnus noted stiffly, not walking more than two steps into the room.

"Never," Asmodeus assured him. "I see you're quite recovered from last night. Wish I could be that young again… to dance into the morning and still be up and ready to go halfway to lunch."

"Demons don't age," Magnus returned, a little more harshly than he had intended. Looking at his father more closely, he did think he saw the signs of fatigue on his face.

"Maybe not." The manuscript went onto an end table as Asmodeus arranged himself into a more dignified position and indicated the rest of his furniture. "Sit wherever you like." He gestured, summoning a silver tray with two glasses and a jug that held orange liquid. "I feel the damage, though. I don't have the energy that I used to have. I'd rather pretend it's age than anything else."

Magnus made a carefully calculated decision. While he wanted to go for the armchair farthest from Asmodeus, needlessly flaunting his dislike would not help him with his request at all. He sat across from his father instead, with the low coffee table between them.

"You should try this," Asmodeus went on, pouring both glasses. "The juice is from one of our fruits. It won't harm you, I promise. I think you will find it delicious."

"I'm not thirsty," Magnus claimed. "I have… come to ask a boon."

Asmodeus' eyebrows rose, accompanying an amused twitch of his lips. "A boon? Is that how you talk to your Shadowhunter friends? Or your Gale friends? Or anyone who isn't me, really? Ask." He took a sip from his glass. Magnus' remained untouched.

"When Lilith came to our world to resurrect Jonathan, she stole some of my 'Shadowhunter friends'' things," Magnus explained. "She used one of those pieces to summon Alexander to her. I want to learn the spell."

"You know how to summon, surely."

"Of course." Magnus' lips thinned into a thin line as he swallowed his first and second responses. "I can summon a demon. With the right sort of object, I can summon a vampire. I had never before heard of summoning mortals."

"They aren't though, are they?" Asmodeus threw in. "Mortals, I mean. Your Shadowhunters."

Magnus allowed himself a small sigh. "They were mortals then, and I am sure they still can't be summoned with a demon-targeted spell, and they have no grave dirt for summoning either. But we're going into the Angel stronghold – the Gardens, as you call it – and the ability to call any or all of them out of danger would."

"You'd want to be careful with that. The spell you mean summons the person, and only the person. It will leave whoever had them with all their assets."

That was true. Alexander's things, down to his underwear, had been left behind that time as well. "Still preferable to  leaving them to perish," he insisted.

"I'm curious." Asmodeus put his glass away and leaned forward towards Magnus, his arms resting on his knees. "Why come to me? It was Lilith who used the spell before, and you are much more comfortable around her than around me."

In spite of her actively torturing Alexander for days. The thought hung in the air unspoken.

They'd understood that she had, from her own point of view, only done what she had to do to achieve her goal of saving her son. Even thinking that there had been no malice in the torment she put his boyfriend through made Magnus' head hurt from the way he had to twist his mind for that to ring true. Alec had decided that they should accept it as a given that Lilith did not mean them harm out of any sort of demonic wish to cause suffering, and merely keep in mind that any of the demons were likely to do whatever would further their own causes. If whoever they needed to use for that were unable to defend themselves, then as far as the demon was concerned, that was only their own problem.

"I actually did," Magnus admitted.

Asmodeus looked at him quizzically. "And?"  

"And she said to go and ask you, since she had a full schedule today." The next words were out faster than he could stop them. "I suspect it was more about getting me to talk to you than her not having the time."

"My dear Lilith," Asmodeus said. "Happy to have her son with her and trying hard to give me mine, too." He held up a hand, forestalling Magnus' response. "I know. You've made your stance on the matter abundantly clear. I will give you the knowledge you requested from one scholar to another, not from father to son."

"Thank you."

The words felt strangely inadequate. He should have been relieved at not having to pretend to get what he had come for.

Another gesture from Asmodeus, and a sheet of parchment appeared on the table, along with an inkwell and metal quill. Either he simply liked things antiquated, or someone could have made a fortune selling ballpoint pens in Pandemonium.

"Here's the design for your summoning circle."

Quick strokes of the quill put it on the parchment. It was complex, but far from the most complex Magnus had ever seen – or used. He would be able to commit it to memory with plenty time to spare. Ideally, they'd even have time for a test run or two.

As Asmodeus walked him through the gestures and the words, Magnus found that he could follow the spell quite well. The way it different from the other summonings he knew made a strange sort of sense, as if it was one puzzle piece that he'd been missing from a repertoire that should have formed a cohesive whole.

He blinked.

"The spells we have," he said slowly, the thoughts still forming along with is words. "They're just fragments, aren't they? With all the power that they give us, they're just glimpses of what we could do if we knew the entire picture. Making up new spells is hard work and prone to failure because we don't have enough knowledge to actually deduce the … the grammar of how they work."

"Your world doesn't have the magical power to use their full potential," Asmodeus claimed. "Your ley lines are too tame. The young gods – or, from your perspective, the old ones – had their power sources from us or drew on different dimensions for their energy. But you are right. A lot of knowledge has been lost to you since we no longer stay to teach our offspring."

"No," Magnus said, the bitter tone unavoidable. "Now you just drop by, leave some poor woman to carry your child and get the hell out of there, leaving her to deal with whatever the fallout of bearing a warlock child is."

Silence stretched between them for several long seconds.

Eventually, Asmodeus broke it.

"You are right."

Magnus looked up, his eyes narrowed.

His father met his gaze calmly, no anger evident in his face.

"We stay for no longer than we have to. We no longer woo mortal women, live a life with them, raise our children. And how could we? Do you think, they – do you think the Nephilim would suffer us to do so? If they found one of us, they would banish him on sight. And find us they would. Warlock births don't go unnoticed."

There was no accusation in his tone. He was reciting facts, and nothing else. Magnus would have liked to object, but found that he couldn't. The assessment was sound. Except in a setup like the one Iris Rouse had had – and that had been unspeakably vile – it would be impossible for a warlock birth to remain unnoticed for long. Maybe, if a parent put a glamor on their child, it could be concealed for a while. Once the magic started to manifest, however, things were bound to happen that would draw attention.

"Do you know how many warlock children are abandoned when their parents understand what they are? If they're lucky, one  of us takes them in. If they're not…"

"Do you think they would fare better with one of us around?" Asmodeus inquired. "Still, it is the only way for us to still reproduce. Would you deny us that?"

"I object to the method, not the principle," Magnus clarified.

"Your mother—"

Magnus clamped down on the surge of magic he felt rising inside him. His voice held an edge as he cut off whatever Asmodeus had been about to say.

"My mother killed herself because she couldn't bear the knowledge of having borne a demon child."

Another moment of silence followed.

"Says who?" Asmodeus finally offered.

"Said my stepfather. And it's the only thing that makes sense," Magnus felt the memories rise up with force again, and slammed down on them. They had never settled down entirely since that day under Imogen's torture. His mother, dead with a dagger in her body. Her husband – the man he thought of as his father at the time – entering, finding them, starting to lash out at him. A blast of magic burning him to ashes.

He shook himself, forcefully pulling himself out of the scene before it could overwhelm him again.

"Magnus." For once, Asmodeus' voice was welcome. It served as an anchor.

"It is true that I came to your mother disguised as her husband." The demon continued. "I thought it to be the thing fastest to get me what I wanted, and least disturbing to her. It's always better if the child is seen as a blessing, not a curse, by the mother."

Magnus head himself scoff. Some blessing warlock children were! It wasn't like their origins weren't obvious. "You forced yourself on her under a pretense."

Asmodeus took a sip from his juice and pushed the other glass closer to Magnus. "You must be aware of the situation at the time. Your stepfather was a rich merchant. He kept a native wife in addition to his actual family. Do you think she had a choice in that relationship? Do you think she loved him?"

He blinked. He'd been young, and his memory of his childhood was long buried under so many other things. Those were times he did not enjoy thinking back on, and what he did remember was often hazy. He'd been eight or nine years old at the time his mother killed herself. Who would have a clear memory of that time after centuries?

He'd been aware that his father wasn't living with them. He'd been aware he hadn't been a proper son. He'd assumed it was because of his eyes. And oh, his eyes surely had played a part in it. But had they been the only reason? He'd never given any thought to it that his father would have had a second – no: a first – family, either back home or wherever he went when he left them.

Had his mother been.. what? A trophy? A diversion for his stepfather to stave off boredom in a strange country? A jewel bought with money for a more comfortable life than she could otherwise have afforded? Or barely more than a slave?

Had the only difference between the night in which Asmodeus had come to her and all the other nights she had spent with her Dutch husband been the mind behind that face, and the resulting pregnancy?

And how had his stepfather reacted to that? Had he been happy? Had he been annoyed that there would be another child, someone he might have to spend resources on later? He didn't think it had ever come up. He'd been young. They might have discussed the details once he'd turned old enough to be apprenticed somewhere. He'd been orphaned before that.

The man had been strict. He'd demanded obedience from him. He remembered that much. He'd also brought sweets and the occasional toy. He'd expected good performance. He'd been quick to punish inadequacy. How had he treated his mother before Magnus had been around? How when he wasn't there, after they sent him elsewhere so they could have time together? And how much say had she had in that?

Realistically, given the time and the constellation, he had to admit that, most likely, it had been none. She would have been expected to do as her husband said, when he said it.

Maybe bearing a demon child wasn't the worst of it.

Maybe his father's last words had been less than honest. Maybe it really had been the only thing he could imagine causing his wife to take her own life. And maybe he had gone despising himself for the abomination that he was, at least on some level of his being, for centuries, for no good reason at all.

His thoughts were reeling. He needed to sort them, needed to make sense of them – and realized at the same time that he would be unable to do so here and now. He'd need time for that, a calm place, where he could safely let down his guard and allow himself to rifle through whatever shred of memory he could dig up.

The one that hovered too close to the surface rose again, faster than he could push it back.

"Magnus!"

Asmodeus' voice was harder than it had been. It was enough to jerk him out of the flashback moment.

"You're broadcasting." There was a tiny reprimand in that, but Magnus couldn't bring himself to care about it. If Asmodeus had just unintentionally witnessed what he saw when he closed his eyes without either Alexander or a Gale quilt in the bed with him, then so be it.

Pushing himself to his feet, he reached for the parchment. "Thank you for this," he said. "Truly, thank you. I … need some time to think about what you said. But right now, I have to get my head clear for our departure. I can't be distracted."

The demon nodded, if not understanding, then at least accepting the statement. "I'm just one door away if you have any more questions," he assured him.

"I appreciate it." The words still felt hollow, but they were less of a struggle to get out than they would have been half an hour ago.

Magnus had reached the door again when Asmodeus spoke once more.

"Why did she kill herself with an executioner's dagger?"

*

Sometimes, Charlie missed the times when she had been an itinerant musician and fledgling Wild Power, spending as much or more time away from the family and on her own than with the others. She still travelled, still counted as 'Wild', but she and Jack were Wild together now. The Aunties approved. Most of the time, so did they.

Now and then, however, she did need a moment to herself.

This morning, with her head still filled with music made by strange instruments and resonating in her in ways that she didn't yet know she liked, was definitely one of those moments.

Jack knew her well enough to recognize it in her posture and her tone. He hadn't offered to come along when she'd declared that she needed some fresh air before even having any more than a cup of coffee for breakfast.

She'd taken her guitar with her and wandered the park, eventually sitting on a low wall and doing nothing but absorb the Songs of the world around her.

The silence to her ears was heavenly, though she knew it wasn't natural. Even this world should have had wildlife, birds and insects aplenty to make a constant background noise. Barely anything of that remained, leaving a hole in the Song of nature that she heard with her Bardic sense. It would have felt painful if everything around her hadn't been too exhausted to care.

For the longest time she sat there in silence, her guitar soothing in her hands.

She felt the change at the arrival of her Fiddler, that strange presence that sometimes lived in her head and provided a soundtrack to her life. She'd learned to listen to his tunes. She wasn't a Seer like her Auntie Catherine, but the bits of music she got held hints of their own. Unfortunately, they often came only seconds before the thing they referred to, and if they didn't, they were rarely straightforward.

Then again, neither were Auntie Catherine's visions.

A tune started up at the back of her head, and although she knew from the first note that the song was not one she was familiar with, her hands found the strings and joined in. That was how music worked for her. It was an invaluable asset when she performed with a band and didn't have the time to rehearse before.

Right now, it was her only hope to getting a clue.

She allowed the song to fill her, abandoning conscious control and made herself an audience inside her own body. Her only hope in understanding what her Fiddler was trying to tell her was to listen to the words as she sang them, committing them to memory to analyze later.

As it turned out, the message was quite straightforward – or as straightforward as music ever was.

She completed the tune. It seemed the polite thing to do, and she really didn't want to piss off her Fiddler.

Besides, it was a nice song. She might want to perform it some day, and it would really help to know all of it then.

With the last notes floating away into the air before her, she slid off her perch and went to find Alec. They were running out of time, and their leader would probably want to know.

*

"My head's hurting," Jace complained, rubbing his temple with the heel of his hand.

"That's from where you walked into the wall," Chris told him.

Jace glared at him. "It's from the strain of all this exercise we've done this morning. I need a break."

The other man nodded. "To be honest, I could use one, too. If we're meeting Azazel again this afternoon, we probably shouldn't show up exhausted from practicing his last trick."

"Sorry, guys." Simon looked and sounded genuinely contrite. "I wish I was better at this."

"You are amazing at this," Chris assured him. "It's not your fault we fail at our part."

They'd have to start on the second skill Azazel was supposed to teach them today, or extend their stay. With none of them feeling comfortable with the idea of spending more time in this dimension than they had to, the former was far more likely to happen, unless Alec's eyes needed more time again.

The idea of having to confess that they had not made any progress on his first lesson at all didn't sit well with Jace or Chris. They had promptly commandeered their Daylighter for some extra practice.

Going for a walk while he randomly tried to Encanto them had been Simon's idea. It could have made it easier for them to not constantly make up attacks in their minds if it wasn't the only thing they did.

As it turned out, they had ended up paying a lot more attention to the expected mental assault than their surroundings.

"He's right," Jace conceded. "You're doing a great job. We're not."

Simon gave him a small smile. "You're getting there. You almost caught me the last time or two."

"If you're saying that to make me feel better, it's not working."

A small buzz from his pocket drew Simon's attention before he could respond. He fished out his phone and glanced at the screen. "We should head back. Maia and I have an appointment with Lilith soon."

"You go ahead," Jace said. "I think I'll catch some more fresh air without funny accidents."

The moment he said it, he realized that his words had had an echo, with Chris giving very nearly the same statement.

Simon chuckled. "I'm faster without you anyway."

"Show-off," Jace muttered when their companion turned on his heel and raced away at vampiric speed. Another memory pushed its way into his mind, and he turned to Chris. "Can you do that?"

The other man looked confused. "What?"

"The – whoosh!" He gestured, suggesting the dash Simon had just made. "Jonathan did it, too."

Chris gave an uncomfortable shrug. "Probably then. But I don't know how and I don’t think I want to know either. It's bad enough that—"

The sound of wings made him stop and look up.

Just a fraction behind him, Jace recognized the creature descending from the cloudless sky, landing elegantly before them. He tensed involuntarily. Chris had never liked his demon blood heritage, but he was quickly coming to resent his extra Angel blood as well – or, in any case, its unwilling donor.

"Ithuriel," he acknowledged.

"Jace," the Angel replied. "We need to talk."

"We are talking," Jace pointed out.

"Alone. Without …" the pause stretched to the point where it was clear that the word he settled for was not the one he wanted to use. "Him."

Jace glanced at Chris, who was shifting his weight, ready to turn and leave them.

"No," he said, not sure which of the two he was addressing. "Not alone. Whatever you have to say to me, you can say to Chris."

With a scoff, Ithuriel waved at Christopher, ignoring Jace's objection. "What I have to say is not for those of demon blood to hear."

"I'll tell everyone when I get back anyway," Jace insisted. "And it really is the same blood. Plus some adamas poisoning."

Ithuriel's expression froze at his last words.

"Alone," he repeated. His voice was icy now.

Jace shook his head. "He's basically my brother is law. Besides, we're a package deal - all of us."

"It's okay, Jace." Chris had reached out to rest the fingers of his left hand ever so slightly on Jace's arm to get his attention. "I can go ahead. Maybe I'll practice the whoosh."

He turned without waiting for a response, walking back the way they had come.

*

He didn't plan to do any such thing, but he had no desire to listen to that conversation go through another few loops on his account. He found himself appreciating Jace's last statement more than he cared to admit. Still, if Ithuriel had anything to share that would help them when they left, he didn't want to be the reason they didn't get that information.

He had barely rounded the next corner, when he heard footsteps behind him.

A moment later, Jace was by his side again.

"I hope you didn't mean the thing about the whoosh," he said. "Because I'd hate being left alone now."

"You should have listened to what he has to say," Chris returned evenly. "You could have told us otherwise. What if we need that information later?"

"His information is stale anyway," Jace reminded him. "And I'm not giving in to any of them without a good reason ever again. Angels or Demons. I'm not playing a part in their games anymore if I can help it."

"Alec will—"

"Alec will understand, and approve. And if he doesn't, he can send me back to find Ithuriel and ask forgiveness."

They walked in silence for a few blocks, their pace brisk but not hurried.

Turning down another street that ran vaguely in the direction of Lilith's palace, they found their path blocked once more.

Whether Ithuriel had put an extra glamor on or taken part of it off, they couldn't say. The angel looked taller than he had, more powerful, and decidedly angry.

"You will not walk away from me again," he hissed, a stare from eyes blazing gold piercing Jace.

Chris could sense his companion tense. Still, somehow the other man managed to keep his voice calm and controlled. "Watch me."

"I advise against harming my mother's guests," Chris added, silently praying that Ithuriel wouldn't decide to take his chances and mentally checking the location of every single blade he carried. Calling Lilith his mother made him deeply uncomfortable, but he decided that reminding Ithuriel just how much trouble he would be in if he harmed them was worth it.

He matched Jace's shift of direction, preparing to walk around the angel.

"Stop!" Ithuriel thundered.

They froze in their tracks, suddenly unable to move.

Just wonderful, a thought shot through Chris' mind. Now we could have used that skill.

"Listen." Something had happened to the angel's voice. It hurt in his ears. He scrambled to put up as much as a shield as he could. He'd heard the instructions. He'd gone through the steps in his mind many times. He never managed to shield against Simon, but Simon's Encantos were quick, there and gone again. Whatever influence the angel was trying to put on them, it worked more slowly and gave him time to adjust. He could only hope that Jace was doing the same.

"Adamas radiation is terrible, but it has a short half-life. If it hadn't, you would have killed yourself with your steles before you'd had the time to complete your training. The artefact that bundles and releases it is still active. When you enter the Gardens, I need you to find it – and destroy it.  They will replace it, no doubt – but it will buy me time to get away from here before I become one of them. Do you understand?"

He saw Jace nod his head once and found himself doing the same. A feeling of pressure settled on his skull, trying to drive the order deeply into his mind.

Putting his resolve into what shields he had, he hoped that it was enough to keep a compulsion from taking hold.

"Do not share this with anyone."

The invisible vise around his head tightened once more. Then it was gone.

So was Ithuriel, swiftly rising into the sky above Pandemonium.

*

Alec blinked to spread the drops Izzy had just put into his eyes. The room was darkened, though not as much as it had been the first days. He waited for his sight to clear and nodded at his sister.

"Let me leave it off a while. Maybe exposure is what I need to get used to more light again."

She didn't object. Instead, she folded up the blindfold and put it aside for him to take if he needed it, and started packing away her things.

Alec inspected the room. His vision was as sharp as ever, as he had found with great relief as soon as he had been able to force his eyes to stay open with even the smallest amount of light hitting them. "Can you let in a little more light?"

Izzy moved to comply, teasing open the heavy curtains the smallest amount.

He forced himself not to flinch. It wasn't searing agony. It felt rather as if someone had poured some sort of soap into his eyes. Still, he was resolved to ride it out for as long as he could.

A knock on the door caught his attention.

"Come in!" he called without thinking, only to recoil as the much brighter light from the hallway hit him.

"Alec!" Charlie chided as she pushed the door shut behind her as quickly as she could. "What did you do that for? I could have waited a moment."

Brushing tears of pain from his eyes, he shook his head. "I wasn't thinking. What did you need?"

"Are you trying to hurt yourself?" She looked pointedly at where the blindfold lay, untouched, then at him shielding his eyes with one hand and blinking carefully into his palm until the pain had settled to where he dared take his hand away.

"Practicing," he returned. "I need to get used to the light again. We don't want to wait forever to leave."

"Right," Charlie said, a sigh following the single word. "Leave. There is that."

She pulled up a chair and sat down across from him.

"I just had a visit from my Fiddler."

Alec perked up. They knew Charlie's mental Fiddler mostly from tales. He had rarely made an appearance during their shared adventures so far. They'd asked her if that meant that he disapproved of them, and she'd insisted that, if anything, it meant that he found they had things perfectly under control.

"What does he say?"

"He says we're running out of time. We need to start moving."

He'd just been trying to figure out a realistic timeframe until he'd be able to stand the light outside. They had to stop claiming 'a day or two' and come up with something more specific – and likely. Now it seemed that he could have spared himself that effort. They'd learned a few things from the Gales, about the Gales. They didn't question the family. He wasn't going to question Charlie's fiddler.

"Do you think we can wait until our guide is ready?"

Charlie seemed to listen inside herself, conferring with her Fiddler, or at least bouncing the thought off of him. She nodded slowly. "I think so."

"Then that is it," Alec determined. "My eyes will just have to get their act together. What did he say exactly?"

That drew a small chuckle from the Bard. "Pick up your load, run south to the road, turn to the setting sun. The sun's going down, got to cover some ground before everything comes undone. He doesn't object when I suggest making it sunset tomorrow, not today, though."

"I'd rather things did not come undone," Izzy remarked. "Or even more undone than they already are. I'll make sure everyone's packed and ready to leave as soon as we get word."

Alec nodded at his sister. "You do that. And I'll—"

Izzy had just reached out for the handle of the door when it was depressed from the outside. The door flew open, and it was only his sense of his quickly approaching parabatai that had Alec close his eyes in time to not get a second helping of undiluted light in ten minutes.

Jace stormed into the room, followed closely by Christopher.

He addressed the room in general the moment the door was closed again.

"We have a problem."

Chapter Text

"And now we know what Charlie's Fiddler was trying to warn against," Jace noted when they were alone again.

"No, we don't." Charlie was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, her eyes still on the door through which Asmodeus had just taken his leave. "He's not changed his attitude so far."

"Right." Jace glanced at Chris and hoped that he looked less exhausted than the other man did. Allowing a demon to dig into their minds to pry free Ithuriel's hold on them had been an effort he could have easily done without.

They'd both managed to shield just enough to stave off the full effect of the Angel's compulsion. He'd stormed into Alec's room and opened himself up to his parabatai entirely, so fast that no compulsion could jump in and force him to hold back that information, dropping everything that happened in the last days on Alec unsorted and undiluted, and trusting his brother to find what he needed to know and stay out of the things that really were none of his business.

He hadn't even realized Alec had abandoned his blindfold until after, when they'd discussed what to do about the issue.

Magnus had agreed to go and get Asmodeus to help surprisingly quickly. Something had happened between the two, but Jace didn't quite have it in him to ask about it right now. It wasn't that Magnus had suddenly slipped into a father-son relationship with the demon, or even relaxed a great deal, but the constant tension in him at the mere thought of Asmodeus had lessened.

"Maybe we should stay behind anyway," Chris said just as Clary came over from the kitchen and handed each of them a plate of pie to fuel them up.

Jace blinked. He'd been about to say the same, but still trying to get the energy together to actually do so.

"No way," Alec returned immediately. "We're not splitting up."

Instead of the blindfold, he was now wearing wraparound sunglasses. Jack had taken one look at the painful tension in his face and the way he was carefully squinting at everything when he'd come out into the living room with the others and conjured them up for him. They were so dark that it was impossible to make out Alec's eyes behind the lenses, but he was clearly able to see just fine the other way around.

"I have to agree with Chris," Jace said, his words slow and sounding a little subdued to his own ears.

"But you're free of the compulsion," Clary reminded him. She squeezed herself into the armchair with him, leaning into him and letting him relax against her.

"Are we?"

They had both spoken at the same time.

"You should have said so when Asmodeus was still here if you had any doubts." Clary was frowning at him, but didn't relent on the cuddling.

He shook his head. "I don't think it would have made a difference. What I'm thinking is this: doing what Ithuriel wanted us to do – that would benefit Asmodeus and the others just the same. They have everything to gain from leaving the compulsion in place and nothing to lose. We know they don't think twice about furthering their own ends. I know he did something, but I don't want to rely on it that it's all gone and we won't be overcome by a sudden urge to hop off and do something stupid as soon as we're there."

He looked at Alec, who was silent for a long moment.

"You're coming," he said  eventually. "We'll go through Ithuriel's instructions – the ones you remember and the ones I saw in your mind. We'll be able to keep you from running off on your own if we know to expect it. Simon can help out if necessary."

"You think he can out-encanto an angel?" Clary asked. "Aren't you asking a bit much of him?"

Alec shrugged. "It'll help in any case. We're not splitting up."

The last was said with all the determination of a final order. None of them objected.

Their leader's lips twitched, giving him a slightly scornful expression as he continued. "He could have just asked. Given everything we've learned, we would have at least made an effort if the opportunity had presented itself."

"It appears that angels don't ask," Magnus noted. "I'm still not certain about the magic in this place, but if you give me permission, I promise I'll catch you and hold you if I see you starting to run off on your own."

Jace's nod was immediate. Chris' came just a moment later.

"Anytime," Jace told him, just in case Magnus wanted his consent a bit more verbal. "If you feel it's sensible, don't hesitate. I trust you with my life and everyone else's."

It was true, and not just because he was his parabatai's partner, he realized.

It felt good to know he could trust their team without any question.

At the same time, it drove home once again how much things had changed in the last year. Putting his trust into a warlock over an angel without a second thought? It sent an icy chill through him. Where would they be when they were done with all they could glean from this dimension?

What would they end up doing once they returned to their home plane?

*

Samael was waiting for them at the entrance to the park at the end of their last session with Azazel.

"I hope your lesson was fruitful," he told them when they stopped to exchange greetings.

Alec's rueful smile was reflected in his voice. "I am afraid we mostly learned that walking the astral planes is immensely useless for most purposes. Still, it was worth the experience – and the knowledge on separating mind and body. Who knows what we'll use that for at some point." That really was all there was to say on the matter for the moment. He changed the topic. "Have you come to say goodbye? We're leaving in the morning."

"In a way," Samael said. "There is one last thing I would like you to see."

There was a strange tone in his voice that Alec couldn't quite place. He raised his eyebrows behind his sunglasses. "And what is that?"

"I'm afraid it is better seen than told. Words wouldn't do it justice."

They exchanged a look and a set of shrugs.

"Lead the way then," Alec decided. "I trust you're not leading us into a trap."

"I heard about Ithuriel's little stunt," Samael said as he turned to walk down the street. Shifting his vision, Alec could see that they were following one of the magic markers as the demon continued: "Maybe this is my way of doing the same… without the attempt at mind control."

"Yeah, no more mind control," Jace told him. "We'd appreciate that."

As they walked, they noticed that being out with Samael was quite different from walking the streets alone. When they were unaccompanied, they were mostly ignored by the citizens. Samael seemed to be the sort of person everyone in the vicinity knew and liked and wanted to exchange at least a few words with. It made for slow progress.

Eventually, they reached another park, laid out in a similar way as the one they had just come from. There was a single building at its center. It wasn't quite tall enough to be called a spire, but the design was close enough to the one Samael ran that it was unlikely to be coincidence.

Maia hesitated when they stepped through the gates, her expression darkening in a frown of disgust. The expression was mirrored on Simon's face.

"Something wrong?" Clary asked.

"This entire place – this entire dimension stinks of death and decay," Maia told her. "But this here?" She gestured, encompassing the park. "It's worse."

"Way worse," Simon confirmed.

"It's so thick in the air I feel it should be visible," the werewolf added.

"Lord Samael?" Alec asked, not moving any further.

The demon turned, his face calm and composed. "I'm afraid your companions are right," he admitted. "It is particularly bad here, and for good reason. It can't be helped. I promise you that it is not dangerous to you."

Alec let his gaze travel from one of his friends to the next, in a silent question of whether they wanted to continue. Magnus was focused, doubtlessly trying to determine whether there was anything waiting for them that they didn't want to encounter unprepared. Eventually, he nodded to Alec.

"Nothing I can see or feel," he declared.

Samael showed no displeasure. He merely waited for their decision.

"Let's go in," Alec told him.

There was a tension in his body now that hadn't been there before, though, and it was mirrored in every single member of his group. Hands had gone to weapon hilts, and all senses were on full alert. It was probably his imagination, but Alec felt that he could almost smell it, too, now that he was paying attention to it.

They passed a fountain with a set of benches arranged around it.

One of them was occupied, the figure on it hunched over and huddled in what seemed to be several blankets in spite of the day's heat. Snowy white hair was visible above them.

As the head turned, Alec almost missed a step. That hair color wasn't a fashion statement, and probably not even a mark of whatever species they were looking at. The face looked grey and wrinkled, the angles of those features too sharply pronounced to be healthy. This was an old person's face.

Samael veered off the path, walking over and stepping over the curb with practiced ease. He knew exactly where it was.

He dropped to one knee in front of the bench, exchanging a few soft words with the occupant while slowly extending one hand.

The hand that snaked from the blankets to meet him was unsteady. He took it the moment contact was made, adding his other on top. It was a comforting touch, and while he was speaking in a language no one had shared with their group, his tone of voice was unmistakable. Even though they knew that the idea of demons as evil, heartless and soulless creatures that they had grown up with was inaccurate, watching the scene play out before them forcefully cut another swath through the mental images they still held on some level.

Then Samael was back with their group and leading them towards the building.

The foyer looked closer to the one in the building for recovering returners than the one in the spire. There were several people in attendance, looking up at their entrance but returning to their work immediately after spotting their guide.

Two more of the old-looking demons were seated at a low, round table by a large window, playing at a board game they had never seen before. One laboriously climbed to his feet when he noticed their group.

"Samael."

His voice sounded as old as he looked, brittle and breaking.

Samael turned. Now that he was moving between unoccupied chairs and tables, he had one hand out slightly in front of him to avoid collisions. For a moment, Alec wondered if he had deliberately taken them only through places where his impairment wasn't going to be evident before.

On second thoughts, he didn't think so.

Samael beckoned to them, and they moved to join him.

"So their tools are learning to think," the ancient demon mused, switching to the language that seemed the most commonly spoken – the one their friends were providing them with use of through the Speak in Tongues.

"I hope so," Alec said. "I'm sorry if it's a stupid question, but what is this place?" And what is going on with these people? He added mentally, but refrained from speaking the words out loud. It felt like quite an impolite thing to say.

"You learned about the Blast?" The demon in front of them asked.

Alec nodded. "Asmodeus showed us his memories of the day."

The demon in front of him had started to sway. Samael, tipped off by something that escaped Alec's notice, put out a hand to steady him and guide him back down onto his chair.

"Not everyone chose to die that day."

With those words, he turned his head to look out the window, mirroring his companion who had done so since their group had drawn near, clearly indicating that neither of the two intend to speak to them for any longer.

Samael sent them back towards the open floor area with a gesture, then took them to a door and down a hallway. He left them to think about the statement without elaborating further.

"They're the luckier ones, if you can say that," he said eventually as they went up a set of stairs, then another, and down a different hallway. Like all the buildings they had been in so far, every inch of this was a piece of art.

By one of the doors, indistinguishable from the others for any of them, he stopped. His hand found a rectangle by its side and he stood for a moment, waiting. Then there was a small nod on his side, and the door opened to admit them.

Shadowhunters rarely grew old, and Alec had never had any dealings with anyone who truly deserved that description. The oldest people he knew were the sort of Imogen: still bright and fit, experienced but not worn out. He remembered that he had heard somewhere that age had a smell. Books he had read had mentioned a stink exuded by the very old, distinctive and unpleasant.

He thought he knew what it meant the moment he stopped through that door.

The room was furnished simply but with a friendly air. The plants scattered around it weren't strictly decorative, as they knew by now, but still seemed to have also been chosen for their aesthetic value.

The being that occupied the single bed looked like nothing Alec had ever laid eyes on before.

The three they had seen below had been old. Very old indeed.

Looked old, he corrected himself. He was sure that Samael, for all that he had the appearance of a man in his early thirties at best, was in fact quite old himself.

This one, however, had the looks of something that should have been dead for a few decades, if not more. Only a few stray wisps of bleached hair still clung to its scalp. Mottled skin was stretched taut over the bones of this one's hands and the parts of the arms visible to them. It looked as if there was no muscle tissue underneath at all, though that couldn't possibly be.

Samael had approached the bed, leaned down for a word of greeting and a gentle touch.

The demon before him struggled to look past him, and he shifted sideways, his hands moving to support and aid without blocking view of the group he had brought. Eyes squinted at them from that wizened face, so marked by the destruction of age that it was impossible anymore to tell if the demon they were looking at was male or female.

Lips moved, but they Alec couldn't make out the words.

Samael seemed to have no such issues.

"She says," he relayed, "that she hopes you will remember the cruelty of your masters, the way in which they struck against those that were once their own kin."

Alec swallowed, his tongue quickly darting to moisten his lips. He didn't want to stare, but neither did he think it polite to look away. He could feel the tension of his friends at his back. Maia, Simon and Meliorn had stopped just inside the door. The others were clustered around him.

"They're not our masters," he said, his voice surprisingly calm in his ears. "Not anymore. I do not know how yet, but we will spread the word somehow. If it is in our power, our people will learn the truth."

The sound she made might have been a laugh. It grated on Alec's ears, and he had to force himself not to flinch back.

She whispered again, and this time Samael did not offer a translation that was audible to them.

*

"What did she say?" Alec asked him when they were on their way back towards the stairs.

"Good luck with that, and enjoy your youth while it lasts." Samael's words held no emotion.

"They're the survivors of the Blast?" Izzy, walking at Alec's side, asked. "They didn't die in it and they declined the mercy killings Asmodeus dispensed?"

"Yes." Samael's hand found the handrail and he led their descent as he continued to speak. "Their minds are sharp but their bodies destroyed as you see them. There aren't many. Fewer now than there were at first. They don't die on their own, but some have asked to be ended in the centuries since. We don't age, normally. Existing like this?" he swiveled his head to address her more directly. "It holds a special horror for us. Those who don't have business here avoid this place. They don't want to be reminded of what might still happen to us if the damage progresses."

"But not you," Alec noted. "I just saw you with them – out in the park, downstairs, in there. You are…"

Samael made a sound somewhere between a sigh and a snort. "I oversee this place as well," he said. "It is my job. And while I could be keeping more of a distance…" This time it was a real sigh. "They are suffering enough. The last thing I have to do is make them feel worse because I hate what they make me think of. If I can brighten up their day at least a little now and then, then my own feelings about it have no place in how I act."

"Is there any way to help them?" Clary wanted to know. "Anything at all to … reverse… what happened?"

Their guide had reached the bottom of the stairs and stopped there. "Maybe they could regenerate. Over time. A lot of time. But not while there is more radiation released every day to keep us all as we are, and not while there is nothing living or growing in this world anymore to truly fuel us up the way it once did. As things stand now – this is how they are until the day they decide they've had enough of waiting."

 

Calgary

Someone was waiting for Hodge when he left the building after attending the latest meeting of the would-be Shadow World banishers.

Though he spotted the figure lurking in the shadow of a building the moment he stepped into the sunlight, he kept his eyes fixed ahead, his posture deliberately casual.

For the greatest part, these meetings were nothing but useless chatter, with Sunshine going on about the evil creatures she knew were hiding everywhere, waiting to jump at them and destroy them. This would be followed by her reassurances that she would soon be able to banish them all.

He'd done his best to show immense interest in her words. He'd asked questions whenever she gave the opportunity. How many pieces had she collected already? From what sort of creatures? What was there no risk that they would strike at them sooner or later, for taking their things? What if any of them were able to track their property? Wasn't there a way to protect them against discovery?

Sunshine answered patiently. She clearly liked hearing herself talk.

The rest of her congregation was less impressed. Some seemed to be there mostly to hear her sermons about the vices of the creatures she sought to destroy, reveling in the blood-thirstier stories that she dug out and laughing about the others. Some looked increasingly uneasy when he asked his more practical questions. The thought of an enraged werewolf or vampire showing up at their doorsteps, demanding their things back, was not appealing to them.

Sunshine either didn't notice, or didn’t care.

She had taken note of his interest, however, asking him to stay a little longer after she dismissed almost everyone else.

Only two others had stayed behind with them. She had told him that they were her closest and most trusted generals. He'd been worried for a moment that he might not have had sufficient control of his reaction, and that his amusement at the designation had given him away.

No one reacted, though, and she had already continued her monologue. Most of the others, she had told him, were just waiting to do what they were told. He, in contrast, was clearly a man of independent thought, who raised good questions and understood connections.

"Are you offering me a position on your council?" he had asked her, deciding against playing stupid.

"Maybe," the answer had come. "There is another test to pass before you can call yourself one of us. It will be more difficult than the first."

Now he'd have to talk to Aline about how to proceed with that.

First, though, he had to do something about the tail that he had acquired.

Still without any outward sign that he had noticed the man, he turned down another street and waited for him to catch up.

The man following him wasn't particularly subtle about it. In fact, he was either incredibly inept or not even trying.

The latter seemed to be the case. Seeing Hodge standing motionless and looking towards him the moment he turned the corner, he made eye contact and nodded an acknowledgement to him before closing the distance.

"Nathan, is it?" Hodge asked.

The other man nodded.  "Nate. Sarah likes us to use full names. Surprised she didn't make you disclose yours yet."

"Sarah is Sunshine?" Hodge asked. "If she googles 'Hodge', she'll find it's short for Roger. Not in my case, though. I don't have another name." He hadn't actually been aware of the origin of his name himself until the first time one of the Gale Aunties had been displeased with him.

Nate nodded. "Yeah. She's offered you a post on her board?"

Hodge confirmed with an inclination of his head.

"You going to accept?"

"Thinking about it." That wasn’t a decision he would be making on his own. Meeting her new task without actually doing it would require some more Shadow World cooperation, and this time he wasn't sure he'd be getting it – or that it would be worth the effort.

"You seemed sensible enough in there, with the questions you asked," Nate pointed out.

Hodge studied him for a moment. "Sensible enough to accept?"

"Sensible enough to decline." Nate allowed himself a small sigh. "Care for a beer?"

For a moment he was tempted to say no. What he wanted to do was to go home, swap his hand, wash off the make-up and find his commanding officer. Who would probably be less than happy to hear he had passed up on an opportunity to learn some more about their target. He pulled out his phone. "Sure. Let me just text my wife and tell her I'll be late."

A quick message went to both Katie and Aline. He didn't expect trouble he couldn't handle, but he was still on duty, and informing his commander seemed like a good idea.

*

Twenty minutes later, they were sitting in one of Calgary's pubs, each with a drink before them.

"So, how did you really lose your hand?" Nate asked once he had taken his first sip and determined the beverage to be palatable.

"What?" Hodge allowed himself a grin. "You don't believe in dragons – even in light of pictorial evidence?"

"I believe in PhotoShop," Nate returned. "And I believe a dragon would have eaten your phone with your hand."

Hodge took a moment to wonder what Viktor would say if he was photoshopped. Then again, he didn't think he needed to explain image processing software to a dragon. The only reason he wasn't entirely clueless as to what it was was that Katie was using it to process the pictures that went into her real estate portfolios.

"I am a soldier," Hodge relented after what he figured was long enough for some internal debate about whether or not to tell the truth. The statement wasn't even, strictly speaking, a lie. Let the man make up the rest of the story to suit him.

"Thought something like that." Nate sampled his drink some more, wiping away foam that clung to his lip. "It's in the way you move. I bet, hand or no hand, you're the most dangerous thing in that room… or this one  for that matter."

"I don't know about that." Looking around, Hodge couldn't spot anything that looked even remotely dangerous, so the man was probably right. It was too early for people to be violently drunk, and the area was a pretty good one to begin with.

"What, if not a dragon, brought you to that group?" Nate wanted to know.

Hodge didn't hesitate. "Boredom. Worse than dragons. You?"

"Sarah and I go back a way… all the way to college, actually. The group started out as a LARP sort of thing. Then some people got way too serious about it."

"Larp?" Hodge asked, frowning.

"Life-action roleplaying." When Hodge only gave him a confused frown, he elaborated: "You make up a character and a story, get dressed up in costume and act it out. It's more complicated than that, but that's the basic idea."

He felt his eyes narrow at the information. "It's a game turned serious?"

Nate shrugged. "To be honest, I'm not sure anymore. Might be that she just started the LARP group to find people who'd be willing to do that with her. I've been thinking about dropping out for a while."

"Why haven't you?"

"Curiosity, I guess. I sort of want to see where she's taking this. What's her special task for joining her triumvirate?"

He didn't bother to point out that it wasn't a triumvirate if the boss was a woman, and neither would it be one if he joined it. "Kill one of the invaders," he responded calmly. "And present evidence."

Nate visibly paled at the words. "You're not going to do that, are you?"

For a moment, Hodge wondered if this was a setup. Had Sunshine - Sarah - sent Nate after him to get a report on his reaction? His instinct said no.

Your instinct said to trust Valentine, a small voice at the back of his mind reminded him.

He told it to shut up.

"No," he informed the other man. "But I might photoshop myself some evidence."

 

Pandemonium

June 25th, 2017

They were packed and ready to leave, with every piece they owned safely stowed in their pocket universe messenger bags. Seelie cloaks were rolled up and fastened on top, easily accessible in case they needed to conceal themselves.

They had said farewell to Lilith and Asmodeus.

Now, they were waiting for their guide to show up, hoping to get going in time before the sun rose high enough to make hiking an unpleasant effort even with all the charms they could put on.

Their three young demon friends had come to see them off.

"Absolutely not," Alec was just telling Arr.

The three had shown up in clothes quite similar to their own combat gear, the words "Take us along with you" the first they had said.

"But why?" the demon demanded. "We can help! You could use some backup surely!"

"How often have you been to the Gardens before?" Alec asked sternly.

Arr studied the tips of his boots. "You've never been there before either," he muttered.

Izzy stepped forward to join them. "How often have you been out of Pandemonium?"

The demons exchanged a glance, their shoulders slumping a little.

"We're fast  learners," Sal tried.

"I have no doubt of that." Alec reached out to touch her arm in a reassuring gesture. "But what we're doing? There'll be no time for learning. Not even fast learning. We don't know what will happen, but it's quite possible that people's lives will depend on it that everyone knows what to do the moment they're required to do it. We may not have any time for re-tries – or explanations, for that matter."

Arr met their leader's eyes again. "We're young, but we're old enough to leave under our own responsibility. No one would hold it against you if anything happened to us."

Even if no one else would, they themselves would be another matter. Alec was still looking for a way to say that without sounding  too patronizing, when his sister jumped in with another unpleasant truth.

"It's not just that," she explained. "If – when – we get into a dangerous situation, each of us needs to be able to know what the others are likely to do. We need to adjust our own actions to that, to fit in with everyone else's. And we can do that because we know everyone has enough experience to judge a situation, and their own place in it. Taking someone who's new to this – you'd be a chaotic element. I'm sorry but this, today? It's not possible."

There were a few seconds of silence while her words sunk in.

Alec braced himself for the response. Denial, anger, promises – he wasn't sure what to expect, and tried to plan for them all.

To his immense relief, the young demon, though visibly hit by the thought, backed off.

"Will we meet again at least?" he asked, his voice low and subdued.

"I don't know." Alec wanted to reassure him, but their friends didn't deserve being lied to. "What we're doing is dangerous to us, too. Back home we are hunted by those we once called our own people. I don't know if there will be an opportunity."

Without warning, he found himself pulled into a tight embrace. "Take care," Arr said. "We do want to see you again. Don't get killed."

"We'll try very hard," Alec promised him, suddenly hit by the thought that he was hugging a demon and not feeling the least bit of revulsion or fear. He stepped down hard on the urge to laugh at how bizarre the situation would have seemed to him not too many weeks ago.

"If you're done saying your goodbyes."

The deep voice off to the side prompted Arr to draw back. Alec turned to the speaker, raising one hand to shield his eyes against the rising sun in spite of his sunglasses.

Their guide had arrived, but he hadn't come alone. Fenrir, dressed in loose pants held with a drawstring around his waist and a wrapped tunic, was flanked by two enormous wolves.

"My sons," he declared before Alec could ask. "Hati and Sköll." He indicated first the wolf to his right, slightly larger than his companion and with fur of an icy grey, then the other, with a brown tinge to his coat. "They will scout for us."

This time, Alec didn't object. He hadn't expected Fenrir's preparations to include the acquisition of some additional team members, but he was going to trust in their guide's judgement.

"We're ready to leave," he confirmed. "And grateful for the help your sons will provide."

He could hear his friends, some of whom had been sitting on the palace's front steps behind him, come to their feet.

As they joined them, one by one reassuring the three demons that they'd do their best to return in one piece, that they would see if fire messages could be sent between dimensions, that they would certainly not forget them, Fenrir took down the smallest of the bags he carried over his shoulder and approached Maia.

"I know you prefer not to change in our world," he said quietly enough that Alec thought that he was only hearing it because his ears were still primed to pick up anything they could to make up for the lack of sight. "But you might consider putting yourself in a situation where you can do it quickly if you need to."

She took the bag from him, glancing inside. "I'll give it a thought."

He didn't press beyond that, instead returning to Alec's side.

"We'll walk a way first," he said before Alec could ask question. "Call me paranoid, but I don't want to leave a portal trace where anyone looking for you would expect it."

Alec gave an approving nod. "We've decided a while ago that being paranoid is what will keep us alive.

"We'll portal to outside the Gardens' surveillance perimeter, and hike in from there," Fenrir continued. "It'd be a day's run on paws, but with you two-leggers I suspect we'll take more time than that. Once we're through the inner guard ring, we'll leave you to your business, but up until then you do what we say."

"Fair," Alec agreed. "And ready to leave, I think."

Simon was just clapping Arr on the back one last time, and Sebastian was stepping out of a double hug by the two others. Without further prompting, they fell into their usual loose formation.

The two wolves looked at them for another moment, then pivoted and loped off.

Their father gestured for Alec to walk with him. As he moved into place, with Magnus by his side and his siblings at his back, he felt a small jolt of excitement: an echo of the young Shadowhunter he had once been, joy at the prospect of seeing the place of origin of the Angel.

It lasted a fraction of a second and was gone, soured immediately by the knowledge they had acquired and the uncertainty of what they were still to find.

Chapter Text

Their guide was setting a brisk pace through the hills, not quite the way they had come at their arrival, but leading in a vaguely similar direction.

It was early enough in the day that walking was still enjoyable without plastering on layer upon layer of charms for protection. Chris and Sebastian were walking towards the end of their group, with Charlie bringing up the rear behind them. The Bard was picking a tune as she walked whenever the terrain allowed. Where the music settled, it washed away what essence they left behind. Anyone trying to track them out of Pandemonium would have a hard time doing so.

Jack stayed among them in human shape. A dragon in the sky would be as much of a giveaway about their location as the lingering power signature of a portal, except that it wouldn't require any magical skill to read. He was discussing something with Meliorn, gesturing and laughing.

Still wondering about Jace? He heard his parabatai's mental voice silently in his head.

A little, he sent back. Not sure it matters.

It does matter.

He'd hoped for a chance to talk to Jace alone the last night, but he'd not been given any. After the episode with Ithuriel, his friends hadn’t left his side. It was what they did, Gale-taught: always keeping someone at hand for silent or not-so-silent reassurance, should the need arise.

Chris was very much aware that they would have done the same for him if he'd given any indication that it was welcome.

He was glad enough that they respected that he wasn't quite up to that much closeness. He needed to think things through and come to grips with them in his own mind before he could share with others. The one exception may have been Sebastian, but he didn't need to be in the same room with him to communicate since their bond had been changed by Gale magic.

It was impossible to miss that their closeness took the edge off of Jace's tension and worries, though, and he wouldn't begrudge the other man that – but neither was he going to ask him the things he wanted to ask while there were others around.

The last thing he had expected when Ithuriel had demanded to speak to Jace alone had been the vehement defense and insistence that he be allowed to stay. He would have expected that response if Jace's companion had been Izzy – that he wouldn't have sent Clary or Alec away went without saying.

He was still thinking about it when he noticed that Clary, who had been walking with Maia and Simon, was dropping back.

"Hey," she said when she was on one level with them, leaving no doubt that her change of position served a purpose.

"Hey," he responded, instantly alert.

"So we're off to see the angel place now." If her observation served any actual purpose, he couldn't see it.

He nodded wordlessly.

"I was wondering…" her words came slowly, making him wonder in turn why she was talking to him at all. He could count the number of conversations they had had one on one since their first meeting on one hand and still have fingers left. The others might not have sought him out, but neither did they deliberately avoid him. With Clary, he wasn't so sure.

Isabelle has been seeking you out quite a lot recently, a thought went through his mind. He pushed it firmly aside. Isabelle had needed a running and a sparring partner. He'd been at hand.

"Seeing that place… Pandemonium… Meeting the people there. Learning how they live, what happened here, what the Angels are doing – has it made you feel any better about having demon blood?"

He tensed at her words, not sure what she was getting at, but not liking the direction his thoughts were taking.

"Because it's certainly made me feel a lot more uneasy about having extra angel blood," she quickly continued. "And I'm – I wanted to tell you I'm sorry for … maybe … thinking a bit too much of the blood and too little of you."

"Maybe," Sebastian said, his tone cool and not a little scornful. "But just maybe."

"Peace," Chris said, targeted at his friend, before turning to Clary. "I'll withhold judgement until I've seen the angels' place."

"Alright." She hesitated, apparently not quite ready to leave them again just yet.

Chris felt impatience rise in him. He forced himself to keep up a friendly tone. "Was there anything else?"

Clary looked at him, her eyes shining with an insecurity that didn't seem much like her. "Well, yes." She walked another few steps before she continued. "Would you mind greatly if I were to draw you? I've done all the rest of my family so many times, but I've never – I want my big brother on my sketchpad, too, but not if you don't want me to."

He almost missed a step.

"What did you just say?"

"I'd like to have you as one of my motifs, but I won't do it without your consent," she repeated. She was worrying on her lip with her teeth now, waiting for his response.

He shook his head. "No, I got that. What did you just call me?"

"My big brother." Her voice was firm – more so than it had been before. "Maybe that's only very technically correct, but I don't care." The next words were just above a whisper. "I'm done being scared of losing another brother."

"I thought you wanted nothing more than to forget that our mothers were versions split off from the same original." Chris kept his tone carefully neutral.

"Not even," she corrected. "Our worlds didn't split until after I'd been conceived. We're brother and sister. It's more like we… like we were given away and adopted by different people, and grew up apart."

"I don't mind being in your sketchpad." He had to think about the rest some more before he could respond to it. That was, not so much the content of what she had said. He'd been aware of that already. That it was something that Clary considered in her attitude towards him was a different matter – and so was the implication of the other thing she'd said. Had she really been keeping her distance to avoid getting attached?

"I wouldn't mind being part of yours either," she ventured carefully.

"I don't draw much," he deflected. "Not as much as you do, anyway. Or as well. I didn't inherit your – my – our mother's skill the way you did."

Clary's hand moved in his direction, as if she'd been about to reach out for him and touch him, the way she would Jace, or Simon, or Izzy, or even Alec in the right sort of moment. She stopped with plenty of time to spare, remembering that in contrast to them, he hadn't taken over most Gale customs.

"Don't be so sure," she said instead. "What I saw of your sketches was quite good. If you had the same amount of practice that I have, we'd be right on par." The smile she regarded him with was just a little shaky. "Actually, if you have the time, I'd love to have some input from you on my work. I miss talking to someone who actually has experience with drawing."

*

They made camp in the shadow of an overhanging rock face to sit out the hottest hours of the day. It meant slowing their progress, but they agreed that it was preferable to having anyone end up with heatstroke again.

Afterwards, their course veered away from the plains on which they had arrived. Another few hours of brisk marching in the late afternoon and as long into the evening as there was still light to see by took them more deeply into the hills.

Fenrir called a halt when night had fallen to the point where they would have needed flashlights to continue safely. Most of their group had put on extra layers by then to keep warm.

Trying to leave behind as little indication of their presence as they could, they decided against building a fire. Nothing they could have safely maintained through the night would have been large enough to help against the chilly temperatures anyway, and it wasn't like they needed to cook. The Gale pennies supplied pie aplenty.

"Your penny," Maia had reminded Simon when they had prepared to take delivery. "You don't want pastry in your backpack!"

Her boyfriend had given her a sheepish grin. "It's not in my pocket."

She'd returned a frown. "Where is it then?" She was hoping for a straight answer. She wasn't feeling up to guessing games tonight. Being among three so dominant wolves was turning out more stressful than she had anticipated.

Luckily, Simon hadn't even tried. "I gave it to Arr before we left. They loved the pies so much, and they  seemed to do them good."

"Oh, Simon." Maia felt the warmth spreading in her at the thought. She didn't know what the Gales would think about it, or if they'd even keep supplying that penny, but the thought had to count for something. "You are hopeless, and sweet, and I love you. And you can share my pie."

The pie had been reduced to crumbs by now, and Maia had settled on a fallen log, watching her boyfriend affectionately from a little distance. Simon and Jace had borrowed one of Charlie's instruments, and the vampire was showing the Shadowhunter how to play. She wasn't sure what she found more fascinating right now: Simon's patience with the other man, or Jace's willingness to put up with a teacher.

The Bard herself was going over her other instruments. It was amazing how many of them she could carry, even when considering that Jack helped out with that.

Clary was sitting on the ground, watching as well, her pencil moving over paper without interruption. The scant moonlight seemed quite enough for her purposes, and the strange shadows caused by having multiple moons in the sky apparently weren't an issue for her work.

"May I sit?"

The deep voice, though pitched low, startled her.

She turned, finding herself looking up at a man she'd never seen before. Powerfully built, he was dressed like Fenrir. The family resemblance was evident in his face as well, and he had the same short-fingered hands and unusually set eyes that marked the other kind of werewolves. He must have masked his presence, and his dominance. There was no way he could have approached her unnoticed otherwise.

"Sure," she said, fully aware that he hadn't needed to ask.

"I apologize for the scare, little sister" he said as he lowered himself on the log next to her. "I saw we were making you uneasy earlier."

"You weren't," she hurried to assure him. "It's just that you're old and powerful and  half the time I want to roll over and show my throat." There was no point in denying it. He would be fully aware of the issue anyway.

"And that doesn’t make you uneasy?" the man said, his eyebrows raised. "It would make me uneasy."

Maia felt a small laugh rise in her. "I'm sure it's a long time since you felt that way about anyone."

"You'd be surprised." He extended a hand. "I am Hati. My brother's still out guarding. We'll alternate through the night."

She shook the offered hand, feeling the calluses on his palm and appreciating that his grip was firm but without veering into the vice-like pressure of someone trying to assert dominance.

"Father said you don't want to change because our world stinks of decay," he noted.

She gave him a half-nod, half-shrug.

"You would be less cold tonight with fur," Hati suggested, casting a pointed glance at Simon. "Your man cannot keep you warm."

He had a point. Without any life in the human definition of the word, Simon's body only ever grew as warm as its surroundings.

"We have quilts," she pointed out. "They keep us warm." She knew their Shadowhunter friends planned to sleep puppy-pile style, sharing body heat on top of the comfort of the quilts. She wasn't sure she was quite up to that, even if they would open their circle to a werewolf. "Can I ask you a question?"

Hati inclined his head. "Any question, anytime."

"Why are you here? Here as in this dimension, I mean, not as in this camp, tonight. You were born in our world. Staying there would have been safer for you."

He opened his mouth, then closed it again. Another few seconds passed before he finally spoke. "It wouldn't. At the time – We had a following, they ones you know as angels had a following. Theirs was growing. They had more power to lend them than we, or our parents, or their parents in turn. Their followers came as missionaries. To spread the true faith, they said. In reality, all they wanted to do was destroy all that would go to fuel our forefathers. We were unable to hold our home."

"Your home?" Maia asked. She had a suspicion after googling the legends that went with Fenrir.

"A pocket universe," Hati elaborated. "Filled with structures that could have rivalled the Gardens and the more ambitious buildings in Pandemonium at its height. But it took a lot of maintenance. We were using enough adamas to boost our powers to keep everything standing and working as it was that we would have fallen ill from the radiation even then. They'd been happy enough to let us have the cure while they were working on refining it and needed a population to test it on. We had no idea what it would eventually lead to."

There was a break that felt as if he wanted her confirmation that she believed him. She nodded.

"We kept going for a while longer, stealing the cure now and then as we could. But eventually, we had to admit defeat. They were turning our own followers against us. Some of us were killed. Many of our direct descendants were. Though,"  the smile that settled on his face made him look impossibly young, like a boy delighted at a particularly enjoyable present, "we now know that at least some of ours must have survived. We're in your debt for that information."

Maia knew better than to tell him to think nothing of it. Who knew when she'd actually need to call in that gratitude?

Not expecting any response from her, Hati continued: "Staying in that world would have been our death, sooner or later. So those of us close enough to the source of our skills to be free of natural aging came to the world of our parents or grandparents, to live among them.

"Have none of you ever gone back?"

"Into a world ruled by them?" He shook his head. "Why would we do that? If we'd had a death wish, we would have stayed."

As Maia thought about that, another connection clicked in her mind. "You just said you stole the adamas cure now and then. Your father said that he's been into and out of the Gardens before. Was that what he meant?"

Hati silently inclined is head in an affirmation.

"Is that what you're out for now? To steal more of it?"

There was a long pause. She could see conflicting thoughts flit across the other wolf's face. "No," he said eventually. "It's not much good once the effect has taken hold. Still, if we had the time and the opportunity, we would. We won't have either, though. Our purpose is of a more personal sort, and it won't leave us the time to do anything else."

He rose, straightening slowly and brushing bits of bark and something similar to moss from his pants. "I need to go relieve my brother. He'll want to rest a bit before taking his watch."

 

Calgary

Sunshine usually arrived before everyone else did. Hodge had made it to the meeting place even earlier, waiting for her.

A car pulled into a parking place just across the building where their gatherings took place. She was already in full costume as she emerged from it, looking around and straightening her robes.

She startled when Hodge, as silently as he could, stepped out of the nook he had been waiting in and cleared his throat.

"I've done as you asked," he said without preamble. "She never saw it coming."

The woman caught herself quickly, covering her surprise at his appearance and his statement with an indulgent look. "So fast?"

"I thought it was better done speedily." He handed her his phone, the picture gallery already open.

The warlock they had sent him after had been amused by their request, but quickly willing to play her role. She'd even taken care of decorations, to the point where Hodge had had to ask for a little restraint. There was only so much blood in one human-sized body. Katie and Graham had refined the pictures they had taken on the computer and copied them back onto Hodge's phone.

Sunshine's face twitched into an expression of disgust at the bloodbath before her. She quickly swiped through the close-ups of the body.

"You were quite … thorough," she noted, the look she gave him impossible to read.

"I wanted to be very sure the task was done," he declared. "That was what you wanted, wasn't it?"

"It was indeed." She snapped his phone shut and handed it back to him. "What did you do with the weapon?"

He shrugged nonchalantly. "I tossed it in the Bow River."

"Pity." Seeing his raised eyebrows, she elaborated: "We might have used the blood on it. No matter, though. You've done well. You will stand with us today in the meeting."

*

Hodge was surprised by how little heed she paid him in the meeting. If someone had just presented evidence of vicious, gruesome murder to him, he would have been far less easy having that person at his back – in spite of his Shadowhunter reflexes and martial arts training.

Sunshine seemed quite willing to believe that his murderous tendencies would be limited to Downworlders.

His promotion wasn't greeted with unanimous enthusiasm. He was new to the group. Others felt that they had a much better claim to the job than he. They had no idea of the task he'd been set, of course, until Sunshine announced his heroism in ridding Calgary of one of the evil wizards.

Nate fixed Hodge with a stare, and he allowed himself a wink. Concern dissolved in relief.

The meeting went much like the others after that afterwards.

After its closure, Hodge stayed behind as the others left, stopping Sunshine with his good hand on her arm before she could stalk out of the room with her minions.

"What comes next?" he asked, his tone demanding. "I can do another one, and bring you some blood…"

He didn't hold on when she pulled away.

"Not today," she said. "We need to find another suitable one first. We cannot rid the city of any of those who are better connected just yet. They must go all together with the spell I am preparing. Otherwise…"

"Otherwise what?" The voice, cool and scornful, came from the entrance.

She turned, her posture radiating impatience and displeasure at whoever had dared return again to challenge her. She froze as soon as she spotted the figure in the open doorway.

Hodge went into a fighting stance.

"This isn't possible!" He snarled. "I killed you!"

"It takes more than a mortal knife to kill the likes of me!" the warlock hissed. "Next time, cut of the head."

Hodge grimaced at her. There was a bit too much flamboyance in her statement to be entirely believable, and he thought he could hear suppressed laughter in her tone, too.

She stepped forward and sideways, clearing the way into the room.

One by one, silent figures filed in, spreading out along the wall. Hodge had seen a number of them in Allie's store. He recognized the minotaur from the picture hung there. Apparently, Boris felt sufficiently safe in the presence of all his fellow Shadow People here that he'd ventured out with them. They hadn't been sure of that even that morning.

Glamors dropped.

Sunshine froze.

"Lisa Michelle Millar," the warlock said slowly. "We'll have our things back now. Then you will dissolve your circle and leave our kind alone. Leave the city if you like, stay if you must, but be assured that we will have our eye on you."

She still made no move, staring at each of them in turn. No matter her usual conviction that she could banish the entire Shadow World of Calgary, faced with them in person, words failed her.

"First, though," the warlock continued, raising one had, "we'll see if that one is as easy to kill as he thought I was!"

The blast hit him in the chest, just hard enough to push him backwards.

Hodge let himself fall to the ground, careful not to hit his prosthetic hand on anything on the way down. He twitched once and lay still.

"Seems like it," the warlock said offhandedly. "Now. Our effects, please."

Glad that he was facing away from them, Hodge bit his lip. He'd have to caution her against quoting silly movies when he was supposed to be dead – or hit him hard enough to actually knock him out next time.

Sunshine was moving, walking away from him. Her steps sounded halting, as if she was either moving against her will or still trying to gain time.

"While we're at it," the warlock's voice cam again, "you can tell us how you found out about us and our homes. We don't need a recurrence of this."

Unable to see what was going on behind him, Hodge stayed motionless as their steps receded, not through the door outside, but through the one leading down into the basement.

He remained where he was, wondering if he dared arrange himself in a more comfortable position to wait for their return and departure.

New footsteps approached him. Someone hadn't left with the others.

"You can get up now," a deep voice said.

The first thing he saw when opening his eyes was a large hand held into his field of vision. He took it with his good one, rising to his feet fluidly.

"I don't do so well with stairs," Boris said apologetically as he proceeded to dust Hodge off with pats that were surprisingly gentle for someone easily approaching 6'9 and with the bulk of a professional body-builder. "Hooves, you know. So I take care of getting rid of the body."

Hodge gave him a small grin. "Right." His voice was low. He didn’t need Sunshine – Lisa – hearing him speak from below. "Let's get the body out of here."

Boris threw his glamor back on before they exited the building. He looked like an ordinary human now, all bovine features gone. His upper body remained unchanged, powerfully built and every muscle defined and sculpted under a tank top. His legs didn't quite match. In combination with his slightly awkward gait, they gave him the appearance of someone who was determined to overcome some sort of disability by excessively exercising the rest of his body.

"Oh," Hodge said when they turned down the sidewalk together, determined to get out of sight before the others re-emerged. "I still have something of yours."

He pulled his wallet out and opened it, the process one repeated so often that he had no trouble at all doing it one-handed. He teased out the polaroid, offering it between two fingers while the rest of his hand still clutched the walled.

Boris smiled as he took it. "She's a special one," he declared, dropping the picture into his breast pocket. "Though I can't say Calgary has suffered for the change of Gale. Except for when she's having another set of calves, I guess."

Hodge chuckled at that. "True." A thought came to him, and he acted on it before he could talk himself out of it, or let Shadowhunter training convince him otherwise. "What do you say Boris? Shall we dispose of the body in my and Katie's living room? I'm pretty sure there was some outstanding whiskey in the kitchen when I left. The first mission shared by the Shadow World and Nephilim in Calgary – that calls for celebration, doesn't it?"

 

June 26th, 2017

Outside the Gardens

The night had been calm and uneventful. They'd walked another hour in the morning before Fenrir had determined the location good for portaling.

They had no idea of the distances in this world, but their general surroundings looked much the same when they emerged: The ground rocky and clefted, with little earth covering the stone underneath and plants clinging on for dear life.

Alec glanced at the sun, noting that it had shifted its position considerably from where it had been. Far, then. They had travelled far, however many miles that converted to.

"Weapons out," Fenrir told them when they were all gathered again. "We're in enemy territory now. If we're caught, no one will ask questions before they try to get rid of us, and we won't be able to portal out. They've shielded a ring around the Gardens against portals to stay safe from sudden invasions."

They were walking single-file now, all conversation ceased and all senses alert.

Maia had chosen to dress in the clothes Fenrir had given her the day before that morning. She didn't want to change, but if they came into a situation in which teeth would be better to secure their survival than a handgun, she didn't want to spare the time to undress, or tear her clothing. Wearing something she could get out of with just a few quick moves would be an asset.

Using every bit of cover that they could find, their party progressed slowly but steadily. As the sun rose and their use of heat protection charms increased, their guide called a halt in the shelter of a shallow cave.

His sons didn't shift shape. Neither did they join them. They continued to roam the area, moving in an ever-repeating pattern away from their hideout and back again.

Fenrir gestured, throwing up a shield across the entrance.

"Time for you to become angels now," he declared, reaching into his pack and pulling out bundle after bundle. It would have impressed them more if they hadn't been carrying pocket universes of their own for the better part of a year.

Alec shook out what he was handed, finding himself holding robes in a light sand color.

The others' new garments looked identical.

"The attire of simple workers employed for manual labor with not much magic involved, if any," Fenrir elaborated. "The lowest of their castes, few privileges, kept short on rations but still a step above the other species sharing the Gardens. Allowed to procreate without permission as long as they don't desire more than two children per couple. Keep the hood up and most people will not give you any heed. You'll not be expected to address anyone unless spoken to first. If anyone gives you an order, nod, look subservient and just do it."

"Should we put them on out here?" Izzy asked. "Would the people wearing them come here?"

"They wouldn't," Fenrir admitted. "Not usually. But it's not inconceivable and there's at least a chance that anyone seeing you will shake their heads and huff a little but not do anything about it. If they spot you as yourselves, there's no chance of that."

"We have Seelie cloaks," Alec pointed out.

"Camouflage," Meliorn elaborated.

Their guide nodded. "Use them once in. There are spells around the perimeter that scan for active magic. You don't want to trip any of those."

In full agreement with that, Alec started pulling the robe over his head. It was behaving oddly. For a moment, he thought it was because he wasn't used to wearing anything of the sort. Only when he was trying to straighten the fabric on his body did he fully appreciate the ingenuous cut. From the shoulders to the hips, the back was made of three overlapping panels, fixed at the top and bottom but with a near-vertical slit on either side. The lower layer's edge was reinforced with something, keeping it straight and close to the skin. It didn't take him any effort to realize that the odd design was meant to accommodate wings.

Izzy, already wearing her robe, seized power to let her wings appear, and tried out the feel.

"We better avoid the wings," Jace noted. "They go right through the fabric instead of coming out the way they're meant to."

Fenrir was watching them. "You need to use more power to bring them over all the way. Didn't Ithuriel show you?"

"Ithuriel was unhappy that we had them in the first place," Clary informed him. She started feeling for the strands of power in the ley lines nearby.

"No experiments," Alec interrupted her. "It's the worst possible moment for anything to go wrong."

She dropped the power, settling instead on helping Jace tug his robes in place.

He let her, an amused smile on his face.

"Rest," Fenrir told them as he went around to shar the main language used in the place they were about to visit with each of them in turn. "Sleep if you can. I want to walk through the night. If all goes well, we'll be inside by daybreak."

No one objected. They had barely settled, though, when the brown wolf brother stuck his head through the shields, followed by the rest of his body, moving slowly as if walking against some sort of resistance.

Once all of him was inside, he rose onto his kind legs, changing shape in the same motion and coming to stand before them as a man, stark naked and not the least bit disturbed by it.

"Angel patrol," he said. "And not a happy one."

He crouched down, brushing dirt and small stones from a roughly circular section on the ground before sketching a design onto the cleared surface.

The rock rippled, seeming to turn liquid for a moment. When it settled again, they were looking through a circular window in the cave floor.

The angel patrol was made up of four of the creatures, all winged and wearing golden armor. The spears they carried shone silver. Alec's eyes darted to his bracelet, then to his sister's whip.

It wasn't a perfect image. The coloring was off, strangely washed out and reduced, and the perspective seemed strange. Only when the image shifted did Alec realize that they were sharing what the other wolf brother was seeing.

"It's one-way, so don't worry about noise," Skoll told them as he saw them. Alec relaxed muscles he hadn't realized he had tensed in an effort to remain silent and still.

"Now that was useless," one of the quartet was presently complaining, the words faint but still perfectly audible to wolf ears, and as a result for them. "We should have known when she swore she spotted them at a party, no less. There was no trace of them anywhere."

"It was worth investigating," one of his companions objected. "There might have been something to it. Her account was very detailed."

"Her account was mostly going on about how they almost walked into her in the park and Samael complained about the lack of noise," the first one returned. "I think she needs to be replaced. Living among them is getting to her."

"Hear hear," Fenrir muttered. "Lilith will be so happy to hear she has a spy in her quarter. Any chance any of you know who that would have been?"

They shook their heads.

"I remember where Samael complained about people shutting up the moment he approached," Magnus offered. "I can extract the memory. Maybe she can take it from here."

"Please do," the Wolf told him, before returning his attention to the squabbling angels.

"Something happened with Lilith's palace, though," one of the other two threw into the conversation. "I haven't seen it that vigorous in centuries."

"And how often have you been to Pandemonium?" the first shot back.

"Can they just walk in and demand to have a look around to find us?" Izzy asked. "I thought Pandemonium is warded against that."

Fenrir shrugged. "The truce has certain conditions. Our side had no choice but to accept them, and has no choice but to continue to honor them. One of them is that they can send minor parties in every so often if they feel someone's violating the terms to ascertain the truth of the matter."

"I doubt inviting us was part of the terms," Jace noted drily.

Grey wolf-eyes looked at him with an icy hardness  that hadn't previously been there. "I doubt that they care."

Chapter Text

They were treated to their first view of what everyone called the Gardens a while after they set out again.

Navigating through a narrow opening between two rock outcroppings, they found themselves standing at the top of a cliff, looking out over the landscape beneath them.

Far below, a broad stripe of land so flat it must have been artificially created, interrupted only by a few wayward bushes and copses of trees that looked stunted and ill, struggling to continue their existence. Their shadows looked like creatures of their own in the light of the low-hanging sun.

There was no shelter there, nothing to conceal a traveler from attentive eyes.

In the distance, the landscape changed. The vegetation looked healthier, brighter colors evident even in the hues added by dusk. They were far closer to what they had seen in Asmodeus' memory than anything else they had encountered during their stay so far. Between those, they could see suggestions of buildings, almost hidden in the growth.

Even farther away, higher structures rose into the sky, obscuring their view of what lay behind. They were bent in fantastic shapes, some shining with a light of their own, some standing out starkly in colors the setting sun either was unable to affect or somehow amplified, others blending with the sky so as to be almost invisible. Other shapes winding around these reminded them of plants they had seen in the shared memory, though at the distance it was impossible to tell if they were alive or merely ornamental decoration and part of the buildings underneath.

Sketching on a FarSight charm showed only more of the same, spanning as far as the enhancement would let them see. Off to the side, so far away that they couldn't make out details, there were some smaller interruptions of the surrounding plains.

"You thought Pandemonium is large?" their guide said quietly. "It would easily fit three or four times into the Gardens. And that's not counting the villages they have around them, where they allow those of other species who chose to live on their side of the war to live, as long as they follow their rules and live within the constraints they set, in return for a little more protection." He moved towards the edge of the cliff. "Let's get going. You won't want to climb that in full darkness and I don't fancy crossing the plains in full sunlight. So we want to be down there before the sun has fully set, and then the dark is going to give us some cover at least."

Following him, they found a path cut into the side of the mountain, just wide enough to walk in single file. The wolves skipped past them, making their way down swiftly and securely, their hops and jumps as they took shortcuts giving them the appearance of being at least part mountain goat.

"Is this man-made?" Alec asked, rubbing the thumb of the hand he had resting against the rock to his left across the surface to feel its smoothness. The cliff was weathered somewhat, as was the trail they walked on, but he thought that a mountain exposed to the elements for millennia and more should have looked and felt differently. His sunglasses were put away in his bag now. It was dim enough already.

"Angel-made is more like it," Fenrir noted without looking back. "Back when the war started, they made the ground shift, lowering the city and a stretch of land around it the way you see them now. Some say the entire world shook that day."

From behind, Alec could see a twitch under the robes he, too, was wearing now. It might have been a shrug. "I wouldn't know. We weren't here then. But the way this place is now, it's impossible to sneak up on it with an army without being spotted.  Keep your eyes on the ground."

It was sound advice. Alec wasn't sure how the others were faring, but he found that the robes around his legs were hampering him somewhat, even though the descent was far less precarious than their first impression from above had suggested. Having a bow slung across his back didn't help either.

*

The spoke little as they crossed the plains. Their pace was brisk, but not hurried. It wasn't just that they didn't want to exhaust anyone before they arrived. If they were spotted, they'd look better appearing as a group happy to be home soon, but not running from – or towards – something.

The closer they came, the more Alec found himself second-guessing their decision to come to this place. What were they going to do once there? There was no way they could have found their way around Pandemonium if they hadn't had their guides and their friends. What were they hoping to find here, where being seen for what they were would mean their death?

He could feel Jace move closer to him when his thoughts started to go in circles.

Gale Luck has guided us well so far, he sent. If there's anything for us to find, we will find it.

I've been thinking of Agnieszka's last answer, Alec returned silently. We were safe enough in the company we had so far.

Jace was walking so close to him that their shoulders were almost touching. She didn't know much more about this place than we did. I'm more concerned about Chris and me. Promise not to listen if we try to give you any advice in there?

Wordlessly, Alec reached out to touch the other man's arm.

He raised his head to glance towards their destination, flinching as the first rays of sun hit his eyes unexpectedly. "Dammit." The word was a his between his teeth.

"Still hurting?" Jace asked out loud, his tone concerned.

Alec wiped a hand across his face. "Nothing I can't handle. I was caught by surprise, is all. It's not that."

"I know." Fenrir turned his head to look at them over his shoulder. He didn't slow his steps. "We're late. We won't be able to slip in under cover of darkness."

He walked another few strides, then stopped and faced Alec. "What do you want to do? Keep going, or try to take cover somewhere and sit out another day?"

"Cover?" Simon asked from behind Alec. "Where would we take cover?"

"We could dig in in the shadow of some of those bushes and throw a glamor over us," Magnus suggested. "Mind you, I'm not saying it's a good idea. Jack or I could both do it, but the power use could be noticed."

Alec considered. "Tell us more about how we're getting in," he asked their guide.

Fenrir shrugged. "We're just walking in through one of the suburbs. People rarely challenge you if you look like you have every right to be where you are, and if you don't stand out to view. It's not like they have gates or sentries."

"And isn't that odd?" Clary had been right beside her best friend. "Isn't that incredibly stupid?"

"They won," the wolf said simply, as if that explained everything. When no one responded, he elaborated: "It's officially a truce, and no peace treaty was made or signed, and some insist the war is still on, but for all intents and purposes, they've won. They don't guard because they don't have to. They have their ring of plains to make sure they see a larger host approaching, and if they catch anyone inside who isn't supposed to be there, they'll make them pay for it dearly. But they also know we don't have the resources to invade them in force. Never had, by the way."

Alec felt his friends' eyes on him, no one volunteering an opinion without being asked. "In," he said after a brief consideration. "We're going in even if it's by light. Seems to me like it'll draw less attention then setting up a magic beacon by trying to hide a camp."

Fenrir inclined his head in a strange, half-sideways fashion. His lips were bent in a smile. "Glad to hear you trust my lead so much."

Alec's eyes were cool, his face unsmiling, as he replied. "I don't, actually. But you'll be right there with us, and you have an interest in getting into that city, too. So I believe you won't give us any options that are likely to fail."

The other man's face sobered. He came back a step to clap Alec on the shoulder in a conciliatory gesture. "I like you, Alec Lightwood. And your logic. I hope you'll survive this day. You'd be a formidable leader even against them, if only you had an army large enough."

Alec didn't move. "I don't need an army."

"You will."

With those words, their guide turned back towards their destination and started walking again.

Slowly exhaling a breath he didn't know he'd been holding, Alec fell into step behind him. He had half expected at least one of his group to challenge his decision.

Somewhere behind, he thought he heard a low humming.

A moment later, power condensed around them, raising the hair on his arms under the sleeves of his robes. This wasn't warlock magic. It was a power that went deeper, merging with the fabric of the world around them and yet invisible to his magic sight. He knew he wouldn't have felt it if he hadn't been standing so close to the source of the flow. He wouldn't have known what it was if he hadn't been in its presence before. He knew it would be gone without a lingering trace soon enough.

The hum turned into song, Charlie's voice sounding clear and strong, drowning out the sounds of their footsteps.

He had rarely heard her sing without her guitar to accompany her. Somehow, she sounded even more powerful for it. If she'd pitched her voice just right, she could have been heard far across the plains.

She was open to the power she channeled. Her eyes, when he turned to glance her, were black holes in her face.

The group's shadows, just visible on the grass underneath, were blotted out as a larger shadow fell, darkness billowing in to obscure the light source in the sky before it could grow any stronger.

"What did you do?" Sebastian asked when the last note had died down and Jack was moving to put more distance between him and his wife. Gales reacted to powerful workings, and this was neither the time nor the place for Charlie to give in to the reaction.

"I bought us another hour." She sounded a little breathless. "Or thereabouts. So move."

"You put out the sun with a song?" he asked, incredulous, though he did as he was told.

"Seb, I've sunk ships with a song by pulling out the bottom of the sea from under them. Covering up the sun for a bit is nothing. Less with the sort of power flying around here to be used."

"Remind me never to get on your bad side." The blond man pulled the hood of his robes more deeply into his face as if in sudden need to fend off a spell of cold, and shifted closer to his parabatai.

Alec turned away from them to focus on his path once more. He wondered at the look that had crossed Charlie's face like the briefest shadow. The comment might have been made as a joke, but she hadn't liked it.

 

June 27th, 2017

Alicante

Max stopped in the door to the training room, his expression darkening as he watched their house guest put away gear.

He hadn't been overjoyed to have her move in, but his mother hadn't asked his opinion. Imogen, when he had mentioned it to her, hadn't volunteered much. She had confirmed what he already knew – that she'd been wounded on duty and retired from actual service as a consequence, but that her work for the inquisition had been important enough that she'd kept her pay and her status. If he wanted to know any more, he had to ask her directly, she had said.

She'd promised she'd do her fair share of the work that came up around the house when she had moved in, and he couldn't claim that she hadn't done her best to live up to her promise. She was slow at most tasks, though, and the finer points of cooking or mending gear were beyond her. With her fingers unable to grip, she handled all things by either taking them between her palms or sticking them to adhesive runes drawn on gloves.

It wasn't hard to guess that she wore a glamor to cover up the visible traces of her injuries from all those years ago.

She tried to make up for it by finding other tasks. Most recently, she had cleared out everything from the training room cabinets, cleaned the shelves and sorted the equipment back in, finding several pieces that were never meant to be in that particular place at all, and at least making a separate heap with everything that needed mending. He didn't mind that.

What he minded were her secrets, leaving him perpetually uncertain if he could truly trust her – and her continued sparring matches with Maryse.

Either sensing his presence or responding to a sound he had made in his approach, she turned.

"Max."

He didn't like the way her slurred speech distorted his name, but forced himself to keep a neutral face. "Can we talk?" he asked, a jerk of his head indicating the bench at the side of the room.

Nodding, she closed the cabinet door with the heel of her hand and met him there.

"So," she said once they were seated. "What did you want?"

He caught her eyes and held them, trying for a hard stare, though he wasn't entirely sure that he had succeeded. "I want you to stop fencing with my mother."

"Come again?" She looked genuinely taken aback at his demand.

Max sighed.

"I want you to stop fencing with my mother," he repeated.

"And why would I do that?" Her voice was cautious. Her entire body had tensed. She couldn't be thinking about attacking him now, could she? He didn't think she even wore any weapons.

Because I say so didn’t seem to promise any great chance of success.

"Because I think she's pregnant." There. He had said it.

It was the first time he had spoken the words out loud. The first time he had admitted to anyone what his research had suggested, what further observation of his mother had confirmed.

"What makes you think that?" Her eyes had narrowed into a squint. Was she surprised at what he had said, or at the fact that he had said it.

He shrugged, deliberately nonchalantly. "I've been living with her all this time," he told her. "I've seen how things went.

"Did she have an opportunity to get that way?"

Max had spent quite a bit of time mulling that question over in his mind, too. It couldn't possibly have been Robert, and she'd never entertained any visitors other than Tatyana, Lydia and Imogen since before his siblings had disappeared.

"There was a time when she went on a mission for Inquisitor Herondale," he said. "She was gone three days. She must have met someone during that time."

"Alright," Tatyana acknowledged his words.

"Will you, then?" he asked.

Her expression darkened. "Refuse to continue sparring with her? No. You'll be aware she's been pregnant thrice before. She will know best what she should or shouldn't be doing."

Max pulled his shoulders back, trying to put some of the authority of the inquisitor's office into his bearing and his voice. Considering that he was just an intern, neither was bound to be particularly effective. "You should—"

"You should be taking about this to her, not me," Tatyana cut him off. "Now, if there's nothing else, I'll get back to work. I'm not done here."

"There is, actually," he said, deciding to let the topic of his mother go for the moment. At the same time, he realized that his approach may not have been the smartest one. If Tatyana decided to talk to Maryse about what he had just said…

"What is it?" she sounded impatient.

He crossed his arms, hiding the hand that would start trembling at the most inopportune moments. He'd been practicing postures where it wouldn't be obvious to the person he was talking to. "Have you heard from my siblings?" He had meant for it to be a demand. It came out sounding hopeful. He gave himself a mental glare for that.

She shook her head, rising and walking back to the cabinet she had worked on. "They know better than to give me knowledge I would betray when asked. I told them I wasn't going to risk questioning. If I'm asked, I will tell what I know."

"They accepted that?"

"They accepted that I know my own limits and they respected them." She wasn't looking back at him.

Max didn't point out that that wouldn't keep her safe from questioning. If someone in charge thought that she had knowledge to share, they would try to get at it. They wouldn't believe claims of ignorance.

"I don't understand how they could trust you." He rose, his weight on his reliable leg. He had practiced that, too. He wanted to let his remaining limitations be seen as little as possible. "We all know you don't even show us your real face."

She made an odd sound. Was that supposed to be a laugh? Frowning, he was still considering his response when she spoke.

"You could have just asked."

He saw her hands move, fiddling with something, though the precise nature of her motions was concealed by her body.

Still facing the cabinet, she straightened. "I take no responsibility for your nightmares."

As she turned, he was determined to stare her down while he was digging for a fitting response to the insult to his composure. Instead, he found himself simply staring.

It was hard to tell Tatyana's age without the glamor. Her features were too distorted by scarring. It pulled on the corner of her mouth, keeping her from properly closing her lips on that side. One of her eyes was gone, replaced by a mass of scar tissue. Someone had cut designs into her cheeks.

Runes, he realized a moment later. Those were the inquisition's questioning runes.

She raised her hands. It wasn't that her fingers didn't grip under the glamor. They were gone, her hands ending at the first knuckles. More scars disappeared under her sleeves.

"I trust you don't need me to undress so you can see the rest," she said acerbically. "I don't like to draw attention. This," she moved her hands up and down, indicating her appearance, "draws attention."

"What sort of demon did that?" That wasn't what he had meant to say at all. The words had come seemingly of their own accord.

He frowned as she laughed.

"Not a demon," she said eventually. "One of ours. He was quite insane. His name was Nicholas Nightshade. I'd say go and look him up, but his file has been purged. Imogen can confirm, though."

Purged? Why would someone purge the file of a monster capable of such atrocities? And also—"What happened to him?"

"He was still busy with me when they came. He was arrested, tried and sentenced. He was locked in the City of Bones, where he went madder than he was, and eventually died. That was last year." He thought she looked thoughtful as she paused, but the damage to her face rendered much of her features immobile, allowing little discernible expression. "Someone else took his body and is walking around in it, though."

A chill ran through him. "Tall, blond, enkeli runes all over?" he asked. Jace had told him to make sure he was never alone with the man he referred to, and to run if he ever wanted anything of him. They hadn't talked on the matter further, but he couldn't remember ever having seen his brother so intensely trying to get his point across. He'd had no doubt at the time that Jace was convinced that it was a matter of life and death to do as he said.

Tatyana nodded.

"Who's in it?"

She rolled her remaining eye briefly. "You don't want to know. It will only put you in—"

This time, he spoke over her. "Danger? You think I'm not in that already? I bet this has something to do with my siblings' disappearance – and the hunt for them. Don't you think I deserve to know?"

There was another moment's hesitation. Was she thinking about his age, considering that she had to protect him?

Her mouth opened, and she took a long, slow breath.

"Valentine Morgenstern."

The words hit him like a slap. His next reactions were entirely automatic. "We have to tell the inquisition!" He spun and started walking out of the room as fast as he could, not even caring for showing his limp more clearly than usual.

He had just made it to the door when Tatyana caught up with him, her mutilated hand on his arm stopping him as the sticky rune engaged on his shirt.

Turning back, he found himself inches from her face, unsure of where to look without seeming to stare. He let his anger at the interruption take over his expression as he tried to pull his arm away from her.

"You don't think they know?"

He blinked.

"Not Imogen. I don't think so. Clary said she was genuinely upset about Nightshade being free. But people higher up than she."

But how could they?

And if Tatyana was right, if they did – what did that mean for everything else. And what…

"Tatyana. Why are they hunting my siblings? What did they do?"

Her eye held his gaze. "I don't think they did anything. They just know things."

 

The Gardens

Fenrir's sons had joined them in human shape before they reached the first buildings. They were dressed like everyone else now, wearing the same hooded robes.

The streets in the suburb, as Alec chose to think of the part of the settlement that they had entered, following Fenrir's cue, were almost abandoned. It was probably too early in the day for a lot of people to be out.

The buildings here were neat, square little structures, each with thick, succulent plants winding up their facades. Some of them bore what looked like fruit, and only spotting it here made them realize they hadn't seen a single fruit on any of the trees in the parks and gardens of Pandemonium.

Following the streets, which were paved in a smooth material of a golden shade of cream, ran a sort of irrigation system, carrying a liquid to the individual lots. It had the same oily, unpleasant look to it as the river they had seen in the wild.

With Charlie's extension, they had made it into the town still under cover of darkness.

Alec anxiously listened to the few conversations that they passed. The accent sounded a little odd in comparison to the knowledge their guide had shared with them, but it was easily enough comprehensible. No one seemed to be overly concerned about having sunrise delayed. One of the locals, dressed just as they were, was griping about some of the higher orders playing with concoctions and spells again that unleashed enough smoke to extend their night.

He allowed himself a small smirk under the protection of his hood. Environmental pollution seemed to be a universal issue.

Fenrir had said that they would be on their own as soon as they entered the city. He made no move to tell them to scat, though, and they continued to walk with him and his sons, who strode towards the depths of the city in a determined, confident manner that suggested that they knew exactly where they were going.

Alec felt naked without his bow. He had taken it off his back before they had reached the outskirts, taking it apart far enough to stow it in his magically enlarged bag. His quiver had gone in as well. There was no reason for one of the minor angels they were impersonating to carry a Nephilim bow.

The city grew busier as they advanced, and busier still as the day brightened. Still, no one paid them any heed. They watched the passers-by they spotted in similar attire to their own, and took their cue from them, evading anyone dressed differently with a subservient air, their eyes never taken off the ground, heads always lowered.

The buildings grew larger, starting to show decorations. The irrigation canals broadened slowly, and the diversity of plants surrounding every individual building increased. Still, the overall appearance was still very consistent, each home perfectly replaceable with any other of its vicinity.

They sketched on nourishment charms as their stomachs reminded them that they hadn't had breakfast. Pulling out their provisions to eat surely would have drawn attention. Stamina came next, since the man they still followed didn't seem inclined to take a break, and they had already walked through the night.

With the need to yawn greatly reduced, Alec renewed his scrutiny of their surroundings.

The buildings had two floors now, then three. Vines and shrubberies and strange flowering plants were supplemented by trees – first one per block and then increasingly more until every garden had its own. These, too, were bearing fruit, and while most of it did not look appetizing to them, it confirmed that there had either been something wrong with the ones in Pandemonium, or they had travelled so far as to end up in a different season.

If that was the case, it made no difference for the way the sun was soon burning down on them, causing rivers of sweat to flow beneath their robes.

The canals had turned wide enough to be crossed by slabs of the same stone that was used for paving to make the properties on either side of the street more comfortable to reach. To their relief, the number of seemingly faceless creatures in sand-colored robes only increased as the day wore on and they moved more deeply into the Gardens, which had started to earn their name by the time they were halfway to noon. The abundance of color and smells exuded by the vegetation was almost nauseatingly overwhelming.

The ever-same buildings were interrupted by different features here, too: parks and squares, monuments and, seemingly randomly distributed, individual structures that didn't fit the pattern.

They spotted some creatures that weren’t angels toiling away at manual labor, replacing paving stones or carrying loads under the supervision of robed figures. Those had to be some of the demons Fenrir had mentioned, who had preferred to live under the angels' rule.

No, Alec corrected himself silently. Not demons. Non-angels. They were on the other side. For all that he could tell, they looked healthier than the people they had encountered before. Their chosen life seemed to have some benefits.

The ground on either side of the street fell away, dropping to a lower level surrounding a broad river with banks shored up with the brick walls just a few shades darker than the pavement. A narrow path wound down from the street they were on to join a cobblestone strip following the water's edge. The way the river was winding seemed natural, but given the improvements clearly placed there, Alec suspected that that was merely an impression raised by purpose, the meandering course chosen deliberately to make it seem like a natural feature.

Fenrir veered off the main street, following one of those smaller paths, and then ducked underneath the road where it bridged the river.

They followed, stopping when he did.

"Unless you plan to give us a hand in our project," he said, "this is where we part ways."

"Where are you going?" Maia asked.

Fenrir studied her silently for a few seconds. "To release a few people who are held against their will," he said eventually. "If you continue the way we've come, you'll surely find things of interest. Tall orange buildings with plants going crazy around them is where you want to be, probably. That's where they do their research and their projects."

"If you encounter any talking puppets," Skoll added, "don't engage them. They're mostly entertainment, or domestic servants for the simplest of tasks. Which is also entertainment in a way, I guess. They may look like people to you, but they have no will, no independent thought. They might talk to you as if, but don't be fooled."

Alec's eyes had narrowed as he listened. Now he nodded slowly. "We'll do our best."

"Don't get caught," Hati recommended. "I'd hate to hear we brought you here just for you to be killed. You wouldn't survive being at the center of their attention for long."

"Indeed not," Alec agreed. "We know what they do with prisoners."

The three wolves looked at him, half surprised, half disbelieving.

"What do you think they do with their prisoners?" Fenrir finally asked.

It was Jace who answered, quoting the section he had translated out of David's diary the year before.

"All that my eyes would see, all that my brain would understand, was the blood. It was pooling on the stone floor, seeping into every crevice in the rock. There was the creature, bound by marks I thought for sure must be demonic runes, barely recognizable as anything alive, still writhing in agony. I do not know what it was. I do not know what its face looked like. It no longer had anything worthy of that description. Dark pools of glistening wetness where its eyes must have been, the shapes of runes cut deeply into its features and obscuring anything it might once have been identified by." He inhaled deeply. "One of our ancestors witnessed that, and left an account. We weren't supposed to find it."

"But you did," Fenrir said slowly. "Well."

He looked at his sons, then out at the river, where the shadow of the bridge cast a slightly metallic sheen onto the thick surface. He didn't look back at them when he spoke again. "Do you understand what he saw? Do you know what they did?"

They were banishing a demon in the slowest, most torturous way possible, Alec wanted to say. They were making a demon sacrifice.

His sister was faster, her voice clear and cutting even though she was speaking barely above a whisper, like they all had since they had gathered down here.

"They drew as much pain and fear and desperation out of that demon as they could before losing it." She looked at Alec, her eyes reflecting more of the sadness that came with having their world-view destroyed. "They were having a snack."

Chapter Text

"Just so," Fenrir said. "Then, in keeping with your imagery: we're going to raid the pantry."

Alec bit his lips as he considered. They hadn't come here to fight the demons' battle. But could they turn their backs, knowing what people were likely suffering?

He tried to remind himself that, for all that they knew, the locals wouldn't even bat an eye at the principle of having people tortured for nutrition. Something told him that this was a very personal matter for the three wolves, rather than a question of general right and wrong. They didn't have to get involved…

"We were told you couldn't absorb each other or the damage would accumulate," Chris pointed out as he was still thinking.

"They're not taking their life force." Hati's voice was harsh, anger barely controlled in it. It wasn't directed at Chris. At least Alec didn't think so. "They're just taking the pain and the despair."

Alec came to a decision. "Do you want our help?" he asked. "You were talking about a diversion. You're three. We're twelve. Is there anything else you could use help with?"

"Wouldn't say no to a few extra hands," Fenrir allowed, just as Jace gave a low, but well-audible groan.

"What's wrong?" Alec frowned at his parabatai. Jace had his head in his hands, looking thoroughly unhappy.

"I was just thinking that blowing up that adamas machine would make for a grand diversion," Jace told him. "And we all know where that thought came from."

"It's not even a bad thought," the oldest wolf observed. "Getting in won't be much of an issue. We've done that before. Getting out in one piece, with people weakened and hurting and unable to sneak, that’s going to be the hard part."

"You've been in before?" Simon was staring at him, appalled. "And here I thought they were bad at self-preservation." He vaguely indicated the Nephilim.

*

Their new destination brought them closer to the city's center, though not on the direct route Fenrir had pointed them before. The distances were considerable, and it took them another few hours before they spotted the first orange building. So far, all they could see was its highest structure, pointing into the sky. The crowns of trees seemed to be competing with the walls, stretching as high as they could, sending smaller offshoots to climb even farther. None of them came even close to touching the delicate roof at the top, but 'plants going crazy' seemed about right.

They weren't going there now, though. Instead, they followed the paths they were on, staying to the side streets and moving mostly in parallel with the main avenues where their kind – the kind of angel they were impersonating – didn't seem too welcome.

Even here, the buildings were small palaces, and they spent almost as much time moving aside for those of higher rank as they did actually moving forward.

Then their destination rose before them. They barely needed the surreptitious indication their guides gave them: The building stood out like a sore thumb.

Though placed in the middle of the city, it was set apart, standing in its own little square of misery. None of them might be dependent on drawing life force from living things, but after the ever-growing density of the vegetation around the buildings here, after hours of feeling as if they were walking on a paved street cut through a jungle of organic shapes and color, standing before a naked, stripped square with a single, squat building inside, suddenly made them feel deprived.

The low wall around it seemed only an excuse. For one thing, it had no gate. For another, the area behind it was so utterly unappealing that no one who didn't have business there was likely to venture beyond it anyway.

"Where's the entrance?" Clary asked when they had moved around the walls once, studying the building from all sides.

"Right there." Fenrir pointed through the gap in the outer wall. The building beyond showed nothing but a smooth façade, with small windows set high. "It won't open for anyone not expected. You'll see: if someone comes to bring batteries or to take them out, the wall opens."

"Do we overpower them and take their place?" Simon wanted to know. He actually sounded a little excited at the prospect.

The wolf shook his head. "We'd still not have the signatures to match. We're going in through the ventilation system. Out through the front door would be  appreciated, though. I wouldn't rely on anyone's ability to climb."

"Right." Alec looked around, making sure that no one else was near enough to listen, or paying them any attention. "I'll take Magnus, Izzy, Clary and Jace to set up a diversion. We'll wait for a text message or call from you."

Jace shook his head. "I shouldn't be going with you. Not while I still have remnants of Ithuriel in my head. Taking me is stupid."

"Leaving us both in the same place is stupid," Chris objected. "It'll be easier if there's only one of us to overpower in each group if necessary. And splitting up the parabatai is stupid, because Alec can hold you back, and Sebastian me."

Seeing Jace's doubtful look, Alec nodded. "If you give me permission to go in and take over in an emergency, I think I can."

Jace reached out to clasp his brother's arm. "You got it. Do whatever it takes."

"I hate to say so," Magnus said, his voice low, "but I should probably stay here. I may not be able to heal here, but I can do a power transfer to boost someone. And you can produce wings if you're challenged. I can't. Your disguise will be safer without me."

Though he didn't like that particular suggestion, Alec nodded. He considered taking one of the others, but discarded each of them in turn. He wasn't at all sure that Jace's worries about Ithuriel's mind control were necessary, but he agreed with Chris about not having the two of them together, just in case. Charlie and Jack would have been an asset if they got into trouble, but either of them would make discovery more likely, rather than less. "Meliorn," he decided after another moment. "You're with us."

The Seelie knight nodded, shifting to stand closer to Alec. As long as they had plants around them, he wouldn't find it hard to virtually disappear into the scenery.

"We should leave someone out here to keep an eye on the surroundings," Skoll added. "We're enough people to afford that. We don't need to be caught in the act of cutting people loose because they're delivering new batteries just then."

"That'd be us." Simon indicated Maia and himself. "We'll be the least use in there."

Chris shot him a thankful look. He could have pointed out that leaving the two remaining Nephilim behind meant that Sebastian might have to abandon his post to prevent Chris from running off. Better to keep them both busy elsewhere, and not give whatever programming remained an opportunity to kick in.

"That's it then." Alec locked eyes with Magnus, in a deep look that said as much as the embrace they couldn't safely share just now. He indicated for his team to stand with him. "Give us a little time before you text us."

"Move a few blocks," Fenrir suggested. "Preferably, whatever you set up will be well out of view of this place."

*

"Whatever they use to keep themselves save from the effects," Meliorn muttered as they made their way down even the smallest side streets thy could find, "they must be feeding it to their plants, too."

It certainly seemed that way. Nowhere in Pandemonium had they seen growth so aggressively spreading. The major streets had been kept clear and neat, but here, in what they thought amounted to back alleys, bushes and vines spilled out of their allocated gardens. Something about the ground kept plants from taking root there. The paving stones remained smooth and shining, even the narrow joints between them impeccable and not at all like a similar street in their own world might look, with weeds sprouting in every bit of dirt accumulated in the recesses.

They almost shuddered to think of what they would be walking in if it had not been so. As it was, the pressure of plants from either side felt overwhelming anyway, smells both enticing and sickeningly strange mixing in the air, the colors making them feel almost as if they were caught in a strange dream.

If they had belonged in this world, they could have curbed the growth by taking away some of its life force, clearing their own way while keeping up their powers.

They turned a corner, and Alec barely suppressed a curse when a shape moving in the opposite direction made itself known too later to avoid collision, even with Nephilim reflexes.

He jerked back, turning a full-on impact into just a brush, and inwardly sighing with relief when he realized that he had not just walked into a higher-ranking angel. Actually, come to think of that, they had only spotted those at a distance so far, where connecting streets had allowed them a glance at the main avenues.

Behind him, he heard a suppressed sound of surprise from Izzy, a less skillfully concealed gasp from Clary.

Look at her, Jace urged him though their bond.

He had pulled his hood into his face as soon as he had realized there was another pedestrian, had tugged it even farther down when he had recoiled from the contact. So far, the only thing of the person standing in front of him that he had seen, or could see, were their – her – feet, clad in simple boots, and the lower end of soft trousers that lay closer to the skin than the ones their demon friends had favored.

Raising his head, he slowly took in the unmoving figure. Had she been staring him down to demand an apology or some groveling, the others surely would have reacted differently…

The angels they had seen had all been robed in some manner, some wearing hoods, others leaving their heads bare. On some, they had spotted coats rather than garments of the style they used as their disguise, but none of them had gone about in trousers and shirtsleeves.

But, he realized with a start, this wasn't an angel.

The black shirt she wore didn't seem to have any seams at all. It lay smoothly against her skin, following every curve of her body. The sleeves ended just above the elbows, exposing forearms marked with black lines he was only too familiar with.

A Voyance rune; on the back of the right hand; Enkeli above the wrist. Deflection and agility on the other side; the lower end of an iratze visible where the sleeve had slipped a little farther up. There were some lines of a Surefooted mark visible above her collar.

"Nephilim?" he asked. The word sounded as incredulous as he felt.

There was no answer.

He studied her face through narrowed eyes. She was a young woman – just a few years older than any of them, he thought. Chestnut hair cut short in a style he thought belonged in his grandparents' time framed features eerily devoid of expression. She wasn't, as he had thought at first, staring at him. She seemed to be looking right through him

Following his first impulse, he reached for her arm, pulling her with them into the alley they had come from.

"Guard," he said to no one in particular, and felt, rather than saw, Jace and Meliorn move into place on either side.

The woman had moved along with him, following his tug smoothly. Now, she was standing motionless again, waiting, not focusing on any of them.

He pushed his hood back far enough to let her see the features underneath were not an angle's. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" he asked, his voice low. With no way to tell what region she was from, he resorted to the angel tongue. If she was moving freely in this place, hopefully, she was familiar with the language.

The smallest shudder went through her, her head jerking sideways by the smallest amount as if she had suddenly remembered something.

"I belong to Azrael's household," she said, her voice clear but her inflection flat. She rattled off a string of sounds he couldn't place, though some vague sense connected to the borrowed language told him that it was an address. "I'm sent to—"

"But where are you from?" Clary interrupted her. "How did you get here? What are you doing in this dimension?"

Specifying the question didn't help a great deal.

"I belong to Azrael's household," the woman repeated, the words a perfect echo of the ones she had said before.

Alec looked at his friends as she continued to give her address again.

"What is wrong with her?" Jace hissed. He had gone tense, every muscle of his body ready to spring into action.

Wishing he'd known the answer to that, Alec let his eyes wander over every bit of exposed skin again, trying to spot a rune he didn't know. "Mind control?" he suggested eventually.

"Talking puppets," Meliorn and Izzy said as one. The Seelie Knight sounded almost amused, while Isabelle's voice dripped disgust as she continued. "That's what Fenrir said, wasn't it? They'd look like people to us."

Alec withdrew his hand as if the woman's skin had suddenly turned hot under this grasp.

She didn't move.

"Go," he told her. His voice sounded hoarse in his own ears. "Finish your errand."

She sprang into motion at his words, giving him a bow so deeply subservient it would have been comical in any other situation, then turned on her heel and strode away without another word.

Adjusting his hood again, Alec signaled to his friends to follow.

"I want to know what this is about," he whispered as they moved in. "If they're keeping some of our people under mind control here, we may need more than just a diversion."

*

"This is too easy," Sebastian muttered.

There were no guards. There were no security mechanisms anywhere near the building at all, as far as he could tell. The only reason they weren't walking in through the front door was that the front door wasn't going to let them in. The ventilation shafts spaced at intervals around the building were merely covered with force fields that disintegrated as their wolf guides pushed on two spots around the edge.

He squinted down into the dim space below them.

"How so?" Skoll asked. His brother crouched down at the edge of the opening and vaulted in lightly, a soft thump announcing his landing.

"They let just anyone sneak in like this?" Sebastian made no move to follow.

The wolf shrugged. "They can. It's not like you can get what's in there out that way. Also, we're in the middle of their homeland. Even if you got anyone out, you'd still have to get out of the Gardens. The grounds claimed by them are protected against shifting – portalling. You'd have to walk. I promise you, the entire city, including every single plant, will be after you if they give the command. Why waste resources? We've come to scout this place out before, and we got back out and left the people in there without doing anything because there was no way we or anyone would have made it out alive."

Jack, standing on the other side of the opening, shrugged and jumped down from a standing position. Charlie handed her guitar down and followed.

Magnus caught Sebastian's eyes. "We have a Bard and a Dragon. They can't expect either. And I for one—"

The sound that interrupted him came from below, a hollow, deep wail that has nothing human or even remotely familiar to it. Though faint, it cut through them, chilling them to the bone.

"What was that?" Chris' voice sounded flat. He was kneeling by the edge of the opening, peering down.

"Exactly what you think it was," Fenrir returned. "Are we going to continue this discussion, or are we going in?"

"In." Magnus let himself drop into the darkness, followed by the oldest of the wolves.

Skoll looked at the two remaining men.

With a shrug, Chris indicated the hole and jumped, followed closely by his parabatai

Sebastian landed in a crouch, springing up again immediately and moving aside just in time to clear the way for the last of the wolves.

They were standing in a chamber just large enough to hold them all without crowding them in.

Glancing up, he could see the opening above them. A powerful jump might have brought him into reach of the edge, but he could see that this was not a way to escape with anyone weakened or injured. Even with someone to hoist them up from below, it'd be difficult.

Getting to that chamber would be difficult, too, he realized as they started to move away from it, following what must have been maintenance routes. Twice, they had to go down vertical shafts, the only thing that served as a ladder of sorts a series of rods bent into a very flat U-shape protruding from the wall, and the only reason those were there in the first place probably that angel wings needed space to stretch out and no one would waste that sort of space on a maintenance route. Or maybe they'd actually send in some of their demon servants to do maintenance…

Something akin to witchlight in their guides' hands gave off just enough light to show them the way.

The wolves' postures had gone taut, and their own bodies had tensed in response. He and Chris both had their hands on knife hilts. Magnus and Jack were holding power, the energy making the air around them feel electrified. The intermittent agonized wails that made their way past them did nothing to make their progress more pleasant.

Fenrir, in the lead now, eventually raised a hand to stop them, then half-turned with a finger across his lips in the universal gesture for "silence".

As they snuck forward towards a rectangle that was offset from the wall around it. Though not exhibiting any sort of handle or knob, they had no doubt that it was a door.

The wolf cocked his head, listening.

Sebastian stood with his back pressed against the wall, slowly shifting closer and closer to the marked area. An amplification rune behind his ear brought him the sound of faint voices.

Raising his hand, Fenrir showed two fingers. "Don't kill," he mouthed at them.

Don't kill? Sebastian wondered. Why was he suddenly concerned about that?

It wasn't the right moment to ask. With everyone gathered around, Fenrir put his hand on a tile sunk into the wall, pushing down.

The rectangle disappeared, dissolving much like the force field above the ground-level opening.

They spilled into the room behind it, taking in as much of it as quickly as they could.

Though objectively dim, it felt almost festively lit after the darkness of the maintenance passages. It was lined with shelves and cabinets, the implements visible in them impossible to place at first glance.

Two humanoid creatures had been standing in front of one, looking at the contents behind opened doors, talking to each other. They wore robes of blue, rather than the sandy color of their own disguises. Their hoods were back, revealing faces of an otherworldly beauty as they spun in reaction to the sudden sound and motion behind them, their hands flying up and light condensing around them. Their eyes were dark holes in their faces, no whites or irises visible.

They were fast, but Magnus and Jack were faster.

Sheets and ropes of magic descended, pulling their arms against their sides, closing off their mouths to stifle any sounds they might make.

The younger wolves shot forward, hands clutching unadorned short swords lashing out to bring the round pommels down hard against the base of their chosen targets' skulls.

Apparently, that maneuver knocked out an angel just as well as it did anyone else.

They crumpled bonelessly to the floor, amidst the clatter of a rain of objects from the cabinet as one of them fell against the shelves.

Moments later, the unmoving figures were expertly trussed up and gagged.

"Death releases energy," Fenrir explained without being asked as they dragged the two into the passage behind the door. "The spike wouldn't go unnoticed."

Chris groaned "They're heavy for things that fly," he observed.

Jack, his magic still playing around his hands, shot him a look. "I'm a thing that flies and I'd like you to try and move unconscious me."

"You're a—" Chris gave his burden one last push and made sure the angel could breathe in the position he was in. She? It was impossible to tell. Unconscious, their relaxed features could have easily been either. "Dragon," he finished. "You're supposed to be heavy."

"And that's an angel, not a sparrow," Jack pointed out. "For all that they're wearing habits."

They fell silent again as they moved on, progressing in fits and starts from corner to corner, door to door, stopping to listen every time they were about to enter an area they couldn't view from where they were. The wails were louder now, and Sebastian thought he could discern at least three voices.

Once again they stood motionless as the wolves listened, and they strained their ears with a hearing charm. There was something ahead, he thought, but it wasn't talking. It was more of a feeling of a presence than a real sound.

Fenrir gave a nod, and they moved forward, half-crouched in a ready position, weapons and magic raised and placing their feet to make the least amount of sound they could with their steps.

The chamber they entered was bare save for what seemed to be a few rough benches. A solitary figure stood motionless, facing away from them, hands pressed against her forehead. Where the angels' hair had been silky locks cascading onto their shoulders, what they could see of this one's hair was dull and lusterless, a thin braid that was shoved down the back of her habit rather than hanging free.

The angels' garments had been brightly colored, the cloth woven to finely it seemed to have no structure. The latter was true of this one's dress as well, thought the color was an off-white. Where the angels' habits had been shaped to their bodies with sashes and belts, this one simply hung on her body.

Their leader's hand had gone up to stop them the moment he had spotted her. Now he crossed the room with a few quick steps, not heeding the noise he was making any more than she reacted to hearing it.

She had noticed the approach, though. Her body tensed a moment before he placed his hand on her shoulder, as if in expectation of something unpleasant.

His other hand went to her arm, and she dropped her own, spinning and staring.

Fenrir shook his head backwards, making the hood slide off and gather at the back of his neck.

The woman before him looked older than any of them, though part of that might have been the lines of deep fatigue etched into her features. Her eyes, too, were demon-black, though those pits somehow managed to convey emotion nevertheless as her expression went from resigned, to surprised, to incredulous and ending in a flash of relief just before her face was obscured as she reached out to pull the man into a tight embrace.

*

Simon and Maia had watched the group's exchange over the wall. The hearing of a werewolf and a vampire was enough to follow it even though the others were keeping their voices down to a whisper.

"How long do you figure they'll need?" Simon asked once the last of them had disappeared underground.

His girlfriend shrugged. "No idea. I guess we'll just wait for them to text."

"We shouldn’t  be standing here," Simon observed as he looked up and down the street. "No one else is loitering anywhere like this. Anyone catches us, they'll know something's up. And neither of us can actually pull off an angel."

She nodded. Simon might have a chance to get away at vampiric speed, but her own best chance of defense would be either the small gun she carried or shifting into wolf shape. Neither was a particularly good idea, and not least because the wolf would be hopelessly tangled in the robes of her disguise. She tugged at the edge of her hood to better obscure her face, then indicated for Simon to do the same.

As he obliged, he studied their surroundings. "What about that garden there?" He pointed. "Those bushes should hide us well enough, and we can still watch the entrance."

Maia made a face. The plants he meant were fragrant, in a way that felt almost acidic inside her sensitive nose.

He lowered his head, realizing her reaction. She knew he was sporting a slightly embarrassed smile under his hood. "I know," he whispered. "They stink. I smell it, too."

"Still," Maia admitted. "The plan is good." She started towards the garden, forcing herself to take shallow breaths through her mouth as she ducked under the low-hanging branches. Maybe they'd get used to the smell and stop perceiving it after a while. If not, it would give them all the more incentive to watch their surroundings closely, to distract themselves from the odor.

Not knowing how long they would be required to keep watch, they settled down, senses on full alert.

As the minutes passed, they found that passers-by were few and far between. Maybe it was the repelling nature of the place their friends had gone into. Maybe this simply wasn't a very highly frequented street. When the first angel passed through, leading or driving a group of working demons already of him, they tensed. He never paid them any attention, though, and neither did the creatures with him.

They breathed a small sigh of relief when he had passed them, and the stripped square, and moved out of sight again.

The next disturbance came in a flurry of motion, with four people in what looked like yoga pants and skin-tight tops chasing into the street. Each of them wielded a blade, oddly reminiscent of the swords their Shadowhunter friends used. They were chasing, not after some shared target, but after each other, weapons clashing as they moved back and forth, racing forward, walking backwards, blocking and attacking.

Maia and Simon exchanged a look. All four of them had the black lines of runes on their exposed skin. That wasn't the oddest thing about them, though. Their bodies moved, dashing her and there, whirling and spinning, attacking and parrying, but their faces remained impassive, expressions neutral and eyes never seeming to properly focus on anything even though the activity meant that they had to get the input from somewhere.

Two angels came walking down the street after them, their robes a different style and color from their disguises, and their hoods down. One of them clapped his hands and said a word. It must have been a command. All four ceased their fight, turning the momentum of their last movements into an impeccably executed backflip, and standing motionless once they landed, waiting.

"They'll do well enough in the pits," the other angel observed. "But have you tried them as a team?"

"Do I look like I would give anyone the opportunity to study my fighting team and their technique beforehand?" the other asked with a scornful laugh. "They'll do fine. I would say--" he broke off, his face distorting with displeasure.

Straining to listen, Maia and Simon knew exactly what it was that had interrupted them. Though faint, they could hear the echoes of one of those agonized wails rising from the depths of the building they watched.

The angel glanced at it in disgust. "One of the seals is leaking," he noted. "Let's get away from here."

He signaled, and the four fighters fell into step behind him, like his very own entourage of bodyguards, walking perfectly in sync with their hands on the hilts of their swords.

"Do you want to report that?" The other angel asked just before they drew out of earshot.

The first made a pained sound. "Certainly not. I have better things to do with my time than fill out a dozen forms for a leaking sound seal, and explain what I was doing back here to begin with. You know as well as I do that running them through their paces out here is highly irregular."

"Phew," Simon whispered when they were gone. "But what was that?"

Maia shook her head. "Damned if I know. Seemed like … slaves or something, with runes, training for – what? Fighting pits?"

"He did say pits. And he—" Simon broke off as he spotted new movement down the street.

More angels came through, these one robed red and with swords belted over their garments. They had hints of wings out and were passing a canteen around between them, talking and clearly enjoying themselves.

The two exchanged a look and stayed motionless, though not overly concerned. This group didn't look like they were paying any attention to anything. If she'd had to give them any sort of name, Maia might have called them soldiers off duty. She wouldn't have been surprised if the drink they shared was some angel equivalent to brandy.

As they passed just outside the garden they were hiding in, one of them stopped, raising his chin slightly and turning his head in a way that made him look utterly inhuman, even though his features were perfectly ordinary, his hair dark and cut close to his head, eyes deep-set but not even remotely in the range of remarkable. His movements were those of a predator, though, or maybe a snake scenting the air for a taste of its prey. His nostrils flared visibly as he took in whatever scent had caught his attention.

In their hiding spot, Maia and Simon both went rigid. Was the stink of the plants covering up their presence? They could only hope so.

The angel's companions had stopped, watching him just as they were.

"There." He said, one long finger pointing right at them. "Get them!"

Werewolves were fast. Vampires were faster.

Neither of them had even made it to their feet when hands grabbed for them, clamped around their arms like vises to drag them up.

Maia felt a spike of adrenalin shoot through her, fear swamping her for a moment, only to be drowned out by the anger that belonged to the wolf in her – or rather, a primal need to defend herself that her human self registered as such. She felt the change coming on, and fought it down with all she had. She couldn't change. Not here. Not now. The robes she wore would render her unable to move if they didn’t tear, and she had an idea that she wasn't going to survive a change now anyway.

Pressure on her mind, familiar from the lessons with Azazel, alerted her to something else, and she slid into the shields they'd been taught, grateful that they were both actually good at that.

They were pulled out of the shrubbery, stumbling along with their captors as they tried not to lose their footing, and held in front of the group's leader.

"Who are you?" he asked, his voice cold. "What were you doing in there?"

He reached out to pull back first Maia's hood, then Simon's.

"What are you?" he added. "And what are you doing in here?"

"We're lost," Simon claimed.

Maia could hear his voice waver ever so slightly, but like her, he was holding up under the pressure. If you had the technique down, it didn't really matter who assaulted you. A block was a block. What happened if they started deliberately peeling away from it would be another matter entirely.

"We were just resting. We'll be on our way again immediately. Promised!" he tried for a bow of the kind they had seen paid to the higher-ranking angels before, though to no avail. The hands on him didn't loosen their grip, and he didn't have the freedom of movement to complete the maneuver. He struggled in his captor's hold, but even his vampiric strength couldn't loosen those fingers.

The angel's eyes narrowed. He sniffed again. "You don't even belong in this world," he observed. "And yet you have the gall to lie to me?" He sounded flabbergasted at the idea. "You smell of mortal and infection," he noted, indicating Maia. "But you…" he stared at Simon, who somehow managed to meet his eyes and return the stare. "You do have some connection to us on you. How odd."

"It's not what you think!" Simon claimed.

Maia wondered if he had some sort of plan, briefly wishing that they had a mental connection like the parabatai that would allow them to coordinate silently.

"And what do I think?" the angel asked. "No, don't answer that." He looked over their shoulders at the angels standing at their backs, restraining them. "Bring them. We'll get to the bottom of this."