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The Devil Calls This Play

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'Cause the devil has a smile,
And the devil has a smile.
And it's thorny and it's wild,
And it grows from deep inside.
And you try to swim away,
But the devil calls this play.
Deep blue sea, deep blue sea, deep blue sea.

The sound of waves was the first thing Annabel was aware of. The steady rhythm of the water crashing against the shore, over and over again in a familiar lullaby. 

She tried to open her eyes, but nothing happened. Panic seized her and she tried to thrash, tried to scream, but she couldn’t move at all. She wanted to take deep breaths, to try to calm herself, but she had no control over that either. Even the tiniest motions were beyond her control.

She forced herself to listen to the waves, to imagine she was breathing in time to them, to let the melody of the sea calm her mind like she had always done. She wasn’t sure how long she laid there and listened to the ocean. Every now and then she would try to move something, just a finger or a toe or her eyelids, but she remained completely immobile, and every time she failed, the panic threatened to overtake her again. 

All she could do was listen to the sea, alone in the dark. 

Hours passed. Or days. She had no way to know. But eventually she heard a voice.

A dear voice. A voice she loved. A voice that had hurt her. 

Malcolm. 

What had he done to hurt her? She couldn’t quite remember. Was he here to save her now?

“It didn’t work, my love,” Malcolm’s voice said, from somewhere near her. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t get the spell quite right. But don’t worry, I understand where I went wrong. Next time, it will be perfect. You’ll be whole and perfect in my arms again soon, I promise. Just be patient.”

He continued talking, as if to himself, but he moved too far away for her to hear what he was saying. She let her mind drift with the waves again. 

Hurt. She remembered being hurt. Again and again, blinding pain. Malcolm had escaped the Silent City and left her to face the torture alone. 

But he was here now. He had come back. How long had it been? Was he trying to heal her now? Is that why she couldn’t move?

No. 

She remembered going home after the Inquisitor was finished with her. She remembered her father’s rage. She remembered her parents locking her away in the dark. How she had screamed until her throat was raw, but there had been no water for her to sooth it with. She had been locked away in the dark to die alone, with no food or water or air. Just the sound of the sea, walled away, out of reach to her. 

She didn’t remember dying. But she had died. She was sure in that knowledge. She remembered enough of what her family had done to her to know she couldn’t have survived it. But if she had died, why wasn’t her soul free? Why was she still trapped in the dark? And why was Malcolm with her?

She learned the truth in bits and pieces. Malcolm would come to talk to her, but she could never quite tell if he knew that she could hear him, or if he was talking to her like most people talked to the dead when they visited their graves, only hoping that their spirits were listening from somewhere. He told her he had the Black Volume, that he had figured out the spell to bring her back, that he just needed time. 

She wanted to scream. She wanted to tell him not to do it, to just let her die. But she was trapped in the shell of her body, unable to do anything. 

He apologized to her, voice thick with tears, for not realizing what had happened to her. She thought she felt water drip on her face, but she couldn’t be sure. She wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

He hadn’t left her willingly, he insisted, but by the time he was able to return for her, she had been gone. He had been told that she had left him to become an Iron Sister in order to repent for her sin of loving him. For a century he had thought her safe, but that she had rejected him to rejoin her people, which he had accepted with a heavy heart because he thought it had been her choice. He hadn’t known her corpse was rotting in the tomb her parents had thrown her in, never to see the light of day again.

He talked about the future. Their future. He reminded her of the cottage in Cornwall, promised her that he had kept it in perfect condition for her, and that it was ready for them as soon as she woke up. That’s always how he referred to it. As her waking up, like she was Sleeping Beauty awaiting the end to her curse, not a corpse who had been unwillingly dragged back from the eternity of peace and rest that she deserved.

When he left her in the silence after that, she let her mind drift to happier memories, desperate to feel anything other than the suffocating panic of this existence. She and Malcolm had been happy together in that cottage. It had been for such a short time before it all went wrong, but for that time, they had been happy. 

She wanted to remember happiness.

She remembered the night her father had first thrown her out. He had discovered the true nature of her relationship with Malcolm and had been so enraged over it, all he had been able to do was roar at her was to get out while he decided how to punish her without alerting the Clave to her crime and bringing shame onto their family. Malcolm had found her crying on the beach, numb with shock and grief, and taken her home to his cottage. 

He had taken her to bed and kissed away her tears, gentle and loving and everything she had needed then. He had promised that she was safe with him, and that he would always keep her safe, no matter what. 

That night hadn’t been the first time they had made love, but every time before had been rushed and hurried, their passion overshadowed by the fear of getting caught. And she had never been able to stay with him for long after. But that night, for the first time, she had fallen asleep in his arms and stayed there until the sun woke her.

Her heart may have been torn apart by the rejection of her family, but she could remember the happiness she had felt waking up that first morning next to him so clearly. She could picture every detail like it was a painting, how his white hair had been endearingly mussed from the pillow, and how he had blinked sleepy violet eyes at her like he wasn’t sure if he was dreaming, and how he had smiled so softly and so lovingly at her that she thought her heart might burst with the joy of being there with him. Then he had drawn her back into his arms and kissed her in the pale light of the dawn.

The little cottage by the sea was as safe as he could make it, with the strongest wards and glamours he could muster, but it was a cage, and they could both feel it. They had no way of knowing if her father had told the Clave about her relationship with Malcolm, or if anyone was looking for her, so it wasn’t safe for them to leave the confines of the spells protecting the cottage.

But they were still happy, for a while. They were in love, and they were together, and for a while that was all they had needed. They knew they could overcome the hardship as long as they had each other.

Annabel spent her days drawing and painting. She painted her new home in the cottage, and the home she had been driven from, that she missed so desperately. She drew Malcolm, sketching her love for him into every line, which always delighted him. 

She remembered thinking Malcolm was worth the price of everything she had lost. 

But the happy dreams always ended when she remembered Malcolm coming to her one night, after he had carefuly left the safety of their wards on a mission he hadn’t been able to tell her the details of, alight with excitement over his plan to keep them safe for good. All they had to do was steal a spellbook from the Institute and give it to someone who had promised them protection for the rest of their lives. They could truly marry, and live together without worry for the rest of their lives if they did this. They would be safe without being trapped in a cage.

And then her memories turned into a blurred nightmare of pain and betrayal. Being caught and imprisoned, and then told that Malcolm had escaped and abandoned her to her fate. The way the light shone off of each tool that Inquisitor Dearborn held up for her inspection before using on her. The sickening crunch of her fingers breaking over and over again, and the white hot agony that had accompanied each blow. Skin slowly peeled from her bones with sharp knives and pools of blood left behind.

Someone had taken away her family ring, saying that she had lost the right to the Blackthorn name when she had betrayed her Shadowhunter nature and whored herself out to a warlock. They had taken it by removing her entire finger. 

Alone in the dark, inside a motionless corpse, Annabel lost herself in the nightmares. No matter how tightly she tried to hold on to the memories of lying by the sea in Malcolm’s arms while they built castles in the air out of their dreams for the future, the memories of her torture crept in until everything was twisted together in her mind with no hope of escape.

She had no way to keep track of time in her strange tomb. The only thing she could track was the shift in Malcolm’s moods when he came to her. 

Sometimes he was excited, sure he was on the right track to bringing her back. Other times he despaired over how long it was taking. Sometimes he shouted and raged and threw things.

He told her about the Blackthorns alive in this time he had brought her back to, the descendants of the family that had murdered her. He spoke of them with such a mix of love and hatred, she realized that Malcolm had lost his grip on reality as badly as she had. 

He didn’t tell her about the spell from the Black Volume in detail, but she was able to piece together enough from the rants he would go off on when he was particularly frustrated. Whatever he was doing, people had died for it. More would die. 

There was nothing she could do to stop it. To stop him. 

Her mind shifted wildly from love to hatred and back again. Her memories of loving him were her only refuge from this darkness, but they had become so tainted, and her knowledge of what her Malcolm had become horrified her as strongly as she longed for the Malcolm of her memories.

She wanted to scream at him, she wanted him to wrap her in his arms and promise that everything would be alright again, she wanted him to kill her, she wanted to tear him apart with her bare hands. 

She was lost in the endless darkness with nothing but the sounds of the sea, the rantings of a madman, and her own nightmares. 

~*~

Eventually there was change. Malcolm had taken the youngest Blackthorn child, barely more than a baby, as a sacrifice for her, which he gleefully informed her of, like it was something he thought she would be pleased to hear, not something that made her mind shatter even farther in horror.

”It’s almost finished, my darling,” he said, the excitement in his voice like a knife to her gut. “Just a little longer and all will be well again.”

No no no Malcolm no, she howled uselessly in her mind as he left her. Let me die, let me die, just let me die.

Something happened. Something happened and she woke up a little more. She opened her eyes and looked at her tomb. She tried to wiggle a finger and it moved. She tried to speak, but only a low moan escaped. She was awake, but she was still a corpse. She could move, but barely. She was still trapped, and being able to see made this new hell even darker than the first one.

Malcolm returned some time later, and she saw him for the first time since they had been caught trying to steal the Black Volume and separated in the Silent City. 

She had been holding on to the memory of his face as her only light in the dark, with an artist’s attention to detail. The bright violet of his eyes, the pearly way his hair shone in the sun, the smile, so full of love, that spread across his face whenever he saw her. 

The face of that man vanished into smoke, and what replaced it made her wish again that she could scream. 

His body was broken and bloated, like something that had died in water, pieces of flesh peeled away down to the bone, an entire arm gone, patches of hair missing, the brilliant violet eyes she had loved so much turned milky and pale. 

She wondered if she was seeing reality, or if she had gone so mad, that she was seeing what his soul had turned into. 

“I promise I’ll finish, my love,” he said, his voice wretched and waterlogged. “All we need is the Blackthorn blood, and then we’ll both be made whole.”

She tried again and again to beg him not to. Please, Malcolm, no, just let me go. Let go and we’ll move on together. You didn’t kill the child, it may not be too late for you, she wanted to shriek. But nothing came out but another low moan of anguish. 

“Hush, my dearest Annabel, and rest for a little while longer,” he murmured gently, brushing the fingers of his remaining hand over her forehead, the sweetness of the motion a horrific contrast to his mutilated appearance and the atrocity he was planning to commit. 

He moved her to a new tomb and brought another Blackthorn, this one a grown man. And no matter how hard she tried to scream, she couldn’t stop Malcolm from slitting the man’s throat over her, showering both of them in a fountain of blood. 

She felt the change in her body as the dark magic moved through her. Her flesh filled out and became whole again. Her lungs filled with air properly for the first time since her mind had returned to this prison of bones and dried skin, and she wanted to sob out however many years of horror she had been put through, but there was no time for that yet.

She sat up and looked deep into the eyes of the man she loved. His face had returned to the Malcolm of her memories, the face that she had treasured so dearly, his eyes bright and shining with joy, like a star filled twilight, just for her.

Annabel stood, unsteady for a moment on her newly made feet, and did the only thing she could. 

She picked up the blood soaked blade Malcolm had used and drove it into his heart.