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All Realms of Where and When Beyond

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Everybody in Edom had been invited to the feast, nobles and commoners alike. The best food and drink had been laid out for everyone in the grand hall: animals slaughtered and roasted by the dozens, mountains of jewelled pastries and sweet treats, succulent fruits from the castle's own orchards, and the best wine from the cellars. The celebration spilled out from the confines of the castle walls into the streets of the small town where the servants and guards lived with their families, bright streamers and lanterns adorning the shops and houses, and entertainers of all sorts - minstrels, actors, jugglers, fire-breathers, and sword-swallowers - had been paid good coin to thrill and delight everyone.

It was the most extravagant celebration in living memory, all the more excessive when one considered the decades of war between Edom and Idris, which had drained the kingdom's coffers and weakened its people with death and deprivation. But King Asmodeus had spared no expense in the wedding feast he was throwing in honour of the impending nuptials between Princess Lilith and the former Crown Prince of Idris - former, because he had been forced to abdicate the throne, and leave his country and people to become part of the royal family of Edom.

In a way, it was a justifiable expense. After all, the marriage would end the decades of bloodshed, and buy them the promise of peace - Edom and Idris, one family at last. But all Magnus saw was a grand spectacle intended to thoroughly humiliate their glorified prisoner-of-war in front of all the people of Edom, masquerading as a magnanimous offer of peace. Even a fool could see that. Idris had been at the point of total annihilation, the battle lost a decade ago, if not for their stubborn insistence not to surrender. For every warrior Edom lost, Idris had lost a few dozen. The people of both Edom and Idris had once had magic in their blood, thousands of years ago, but the way that it was told in Edom, the people of Idris had turned their backs on the things in life that gave the magic, and over time they had lost the gift almost entirely. They did not have vast resources of magic the way Edom's warriors did, and it had been their downfall. When the king of Idris had finally swallowed his pride enough to plead for mercy, Asmodeus had offered him a boon with a sting in it. Why else had he insisted that he would take no lesser than the heir apparent as a consort for his own child? Why else had he offered the hand of Princess Lilith, a mad, cruel creature who roamed the castle hallways screaming and laughing to herself? 

Magnus couldn't help pitying her intended; Lilith had a rather unfortunate habit of maiming her servants when in one of her violent temper tantrums. But as the youngest prince, there was little Magnus could do to help ease his new brother-in-law's situation even if he'd been inclined to do so - which thankfully he was not. Politics bored him, and his eldest brother Azazel had political aspirations enough for all of them combined.

Still, it did not sit well with him to have to watch another person be brought low like this, enemy or not. His father's insistence that they all sit at the royal dais for a better view of the wedding ceremony was only making it worse. Magnus wished this whole farce would be over soon, so that he might seek out the fair Lady Camille, the daughter of a minor noble who was spending her first season in court, and the current object of his affections.

Unfortunately, there was no end in sight to this torture. Lilith was fashionably late to her own wedding - not because she was getting primped up for her groom, but more likely because she was deep in the throes of one of her spells of madness, which meant that Catarina was busy tending to her. Asmodeus was in another of his constant arguments with Azazel about something undoubtedly tedious, and Ragnor had only been too glad to have been tasked with strengthening the wards around the castle so he had an excuse to miss the celebrations. It seemed Magnus was doomed to fall asleep in his chair before the party from Idris even arrived.

"You seem exhausted, my son," Asmodeus observed when Magnus stifled another yawn. 

"You know how it is, Father - parties and revelry are pleasurable but tiring even for someone with my constitution. I know you enjoyed your fair share of such festivities in the past," Magnus replied with a false smile. 

"The responsibilities of the Crown may one day rest on your shoulders. Perhaps it is time that you started to behave in a way more befitting of your status, and took interest in more serious matters of the state," Asmodeus said in a low voice, out of Azazel's ear-shot. "You are not some lower noble of lesser blood, free to waste your time on pleasures of the flesh. You are my son." 

"I'm afraid I must beg to differ. You forced yourself on my mother, and you forced her to bear a child, but I am and will always be my mother's son - not yours," Magnus bit out. "I have no interest in being king, and nothing will change my mind. You had better set your hopes on someone else." 

Asmodeus' eyes glittered coldly. "There must come a time, Magnus, when we must all set aside the distractions of our youth, and follow in the path that honours our fathers."

"Then I hope that when that time comes, I will be dead and buried so that I will not inadvertently lead Edom to ruin," Magnus replied with an ironic toast to his father, and pointedly emptied his goblet of wine in one gulp. 

Asmodeus shook his head. "I have indulged you too much. I admit that part of it was my guilt at your mother's passing, and the circumstances under which she came to be one of my consorts. But if I let you waste your talent and potential, it would be a poor tribute to her memory. She would have been disappointed in the way you pass your days."

"Don't presume to know anything of her wishes. You're not fit to even speak about her," Magnus seethed, but Asmodeus ignored his outburst and calmly returned to his conversation with Azazel. 

 

 

Magnus clenched his fist, prepared to leave the table and bear the consequences of his father's wrath some other time, when the herald ran in, announcing the arrival of the wedding party from Idris. Despite himself, Magnus had to admit that he was curious. While Asmodeus himself often led troops into battle, none of his children had ever been to the front lines, and Magnus had made himself scarce on the occasions that the soldiers returned victorious and paraded the dismembered heads of their enemies in the square. Everything he knew about their enemy he only knew from stories whispered amongst the common folk and Ragnor's persistent attempts to teach him something about history and politics. 

Heaving a sigh that he made sure was audible to Asmodeus, he leaned back in his chair again. Just as the gathered guests were beginning to squirm restlessly in their seats, a few dozen guards marched in, flanking a small group of strangers, all men. Magnus feigned disinterest, while watching the wedding party closely from the corner of his eye. 

The people of Idris were warriors, brutes, and it showed in the rigid way they carried themselves and the weather-beaten state of their clothes and bodies. With little magic at their disposal, they had been forced to resort to increasingly savage weaponry, and all of them were armed with blades of cold iron and adamas, a metal which supposedly held magical properties, and one of them also had a bow and a quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder.

Physically, there was little that set the archer apart from the rest. There were others as tall as him in the group, and he wasn't the only one with dark hair, although in Magnus' completely biased opinion he was definitely the most attractive of them. But it was the look in his eyes that told Magnus who he was - the hopelessness in them, tempered with fierce pride. It was the look of a man who had accepted that he was going to die a miserable death, but who was determined to meet his fate with his head still held high, and Magnus knew at once that this was the prince - his people's sacrifice.

He was a broad man, perhaps slightly taller than Magnus, and his shoulder-length dark hair was tied back in a rough warrior's tail. Magnus had expected a prince to be better dressed, but he wore the same crude full-body leather armour as his small entourage, although his cloak was perhaps cut from slightly better cloth. He wore no adornments - no gold, silver, or gems, save for a carved wooden pin on his cloak. As was the custom of his people, his skin was marred with harsh designs that looked like they had been branded into his skin, which Magnus had heard were supposed to help the warriors of Idris call upon the weak dregs of magic that flowed sluggishly in their veins. The prince was by far the most scarred of them, although the blond man at his right hand also had more scars than the rest of the group - some sort of personal guard then, Magnus decided. 

"Prince Alexander Lightwood of Idris!" the herald announced, but nobody was listening, because nobody cared about his name. Like Magnus, many of the nobles had never seen their enemy up close, or at least not alive and in one piece. Already the titters were starting up about their coarse dress and mutilated skin.

"Your Majesty," the prince said, with a curt bow to Asmodeus. His voice was flat but strong, carrying easily over the hundreds of whispered conversations the hall. 

"Everyone, please join me in welcoming our guests from Idris, enemies no longer. After tonight, we will be one big happy family," Asmodeus said, flashing his teeth in a too-wide smile. "And yet, you have come into my home bearing weapons. Did you think that you had anything to fear in my court?"

The prince replied with almost no hesitation, "We beg your pardon, Your Highness. We meant no offence, but the journey here took us past the border of the Drowned Lands, and it would have been foolhardy to travel unarmed."

"Then set aside your weapons before you join in the feast. Perhaps things are done differently in Idris, but in Edom, nobody bears arms at a wedding," Asmodeus said, and the crowd laughed in amusement - for the people of Edom bore their weapons in their veins. 

The prince's entourage turned as one to their prince to await his decision, and Magnus immediately saw that all of them would have laid down their lives and their weapons for him. That, at least was one thing that the foreign prince had in advantage over Azazel - only in his dreams would Azazel command such loyalty from any of Edom's soldiers, even his own personal guard. Magnus wondered if his father intended to murder the entire wedding party and do away with this farce of a ceremony altogether, and evidently the same thought crossed the prince's mind. 

"We thank you for your hospitality, but I am afraid that my guard and my sworn brother are merely here to bear witness to the ceremony. They will not be partaking in the feast, as they must leave for home immediately, to convey the glad tidings to my family and the people of Idris," he replied quickly, handing his bow and quiver to the blond man to his right. 

"Alec!" his sworn brother hissed in protest. 

"You promised, Jace," the prince replied, in a hard voice that brooked no argument. He removed the sword from his belt and handed it to him as well. 

Magnus had to admit that the courage that the prince was showing in the face of his circumstances was starting to win his sympathy. Perhaps he could be persuaded to care enough about his new brother-in-law to slip him a short dagger with which to end his own misery.

Then one of the prince's guard, a blond man with curls in his hair, removed his sword as well, handing it to the man next to him. "My liege, I will remain in Edom with you," he said softly. 

The entire hall went quiet. The prince swallowed hard, nodded in acknowledgement, then turned back to face Asmodeus with renewed fire in his eyes. Magnus sighed inwardly - it had been a noble gesture from the prince's guardsman, but a foolish one. He knew that it would only drive Asmodeus to greater cruelty, and now two lives would be lost instead of one, all for no reason other than his father's pettiness. Some movement of his must have caught the prince's eye, and for a few seconds, they held each other's gaze. Magnus hoped he managed to convey his sympathy in the small smile he sent the prince's way. 

It was only after, that with dread Magnus realised that his father had noticed the little moment he had shared with the prince.

"Since your sworn brother and your guard are in such a hurry to return to Idris, let us commence with the ceremony," Asmodeus said with the air of one granting a great boon. "There is just one small problem. My daughter is indisposed, and could not join us tonight. Since you cannot wait, you will wed my youngest son instead."

Magnus froze. A low murmur started up in the hall, and after a moment of stunned silence, the prince's sworn brother blurted out, "But they are both men!"

"In Edom, marital unions do not have to be between a man and a woman, as long as both parties are compatible," Asmodeus said with a shrug.

The prince's entourage looked outraged and disgusted, but Magnus couldn't help but notice that the prince's sworn brother wore a strange expression on his face, almost like relief. The prince himself did not let any emotion show, his gaze fixed firmly forward on Asmodeus. But Magnus was in no mind to puzzle out where the prince's inclinations lay, not when he was being dragged into this mess against his will.

"What do you hope to gain from this, except my eternal hatred for you?" Magnus snarled at his father in a low voice. 

Asmodeus smiled indulgently at him. "You are indeed your mother's son, too naive about the harsh realities of the world. Perhaps being forced to spend some time with our enemy will show you why war is sometimes necessary." 

"I'd sooner you exiled me to the Drowned Lands and left me to die," Magnus snapped.

"Don't behave like a child, Magnus. You are a prince, and a prince does not get to marry for love - he marries for duty, to secure alliances for his kingdom," Asmodeus said in a slightly louder voice, obviously intending to shame Magnus into complying.

"I know my son will have no quarrel with marrying a man - but do you? Will you honour the promise of peace your father made?" Asmodeus asked, smiling cruelly and daring any of the prince's entourage to speak up. 

"I will honour my promise to marry, even if I was promised someone else," the prince replied calmly. 

Asmodeus' face hardened at the prince's audacity, but he didn't drop his smile. "Then let us begin."

  

 

Wedding ceremonies in Edom were usually simple, with more emphasis on the feasting and celebrations that came after. A goblet and silver knife was brought in, and the prince ascended the dais to stand in front of Asmodeus. Magnus remained fuming at his seat, desperately wishing Ragnor was here to help him think of a way out, until everything was ready and there was no other choice but to stand up and join his newly betrothed on the dais with as much dignity as he could muster. 

"Congratulations, little brother," Azazel sneered as he walked past, and with the flick of his fingers, Magnus made his brother's goblet of wine flow over and spill on his foppish new brocade coat out of spite.

Magnus took his place at his father's right hand, and already nothing about this was how he had imagined marrying someone would be like - as the youngest prince, he had hoped that he would be able to marry someone of his own choosing, or at least someone who didn't look like he was awaiting his turn at the gallows. Asmodeus said a few empty words about how happy he was that their two kingdoms would no longer be at odds with each other, then handed Magnus the silver knife. 

Magnus gritted his teeth, rolled up his left sleeve and ran the blade across the inside of his arm, as he had seen it done before, and let some of the blood welling up from the cut drip into the goblet, then handed the knife back to his father and healed the cut in a flash of sudden blue magic that made the prince flinch. The prince accepted the knife and mimicked Magnus' motions, letting his blood mingle with Magnus' in the goblet, then relinquished the blade and gripped his own arm tightly in an effort to stem the bleeding. 

"Both of you shall now drink from the cup - and henceforth you shall be of the same blood," Asmodeus announced, handing the goblet to Magnus first. 

Magnus wrinkled his nose and took the tiniest sip possible, trying not to gag. Then it was the prince's turn, and he made a similar grimace of revulsion as he wiped his lips with the back of his hand, his stoic mask failing him for once. The crowd cheered and clapped, and even as his heart sank that he had now gained a husband that he hadn't bargained for, Magnus had to admit that he was relieved that the brief ceremony was over. 

But his relief was short-lived; Asmodeus raised a hand for silence. "This is after all, a union between two different kingdoms - and so we should respect the customs of Idris as well as our own," Asmodeus announced. "In the custom of your people, there is a special rune that the happy couple mark each other with, is there not?" Asmodeus asked the prince pleasantly. 

From the reactions from the prince's entourage, Magnus guessed that they had not expected Asmodeus to know this. There was anger on their faces, and sorrow for their prince; for whatever reason, this mark was sacred to their people, now twisted by Asmodeus as another way to humiliate the prince. Magnus pointedly refused to look at his father, so that Asmodeus wouldn't see how the thought of being subjected to some strange foreign tradition and having to burn a mark into his skin affected him. 

"We do," the prince agreed, already steeling himself for the blow. 

"Then we must honour your traditions as well!" Asmodeus declared with false heartiness. "I know there is a wand of adamas on your person. It is not our way to mark our skin in any way, but it is yours. So teach Magnus the mark that must be drawn for you, so that this union is recognised in the eyes of your people."

Magnus thought he understood then - perhaps the party from Idris had been hoping that without the marking ceremony, the marriage would not be binding by their own customs. But Asmodeus had not led Edom to victory by luck, and much as Magnus hated to admit it, his father was a master strategist.

There was a slight tremor in the prince's hand when he extracted the wand from his belt, a hidden weapon he must have hoped to smuggle into the court for some nefarious purpose. It glowed pale blue when he held it more firmly, and with an unsteady hand he drew a symbol in the air, where it remained suspended. Without meeting Magnus' eyes, he offered Magnus his left arm, palm up, and the wand. 

Magnus took the wand gingerly; it was warm, and turned red at his touch, drawing sharp gasps of surprise from the prince's entourage. Magnus' fingertips grazed the back of the prince's hand to steady it - the first actual physical contact between the two of them, Magnus observed sadly - and he brought the glowing red wand down onto the tender skin of the prince's wrist.

It was exactly as horrific as Magnus had expected. The stench of burning hair and skin filled his nose, and the prince clenched his hand into a tight fist, fingernails biting into his palm as Magnus tried to replicate the symbol as quickly and accurately as he could. When it was over, they took a few steps away from each other on instinct, the prince keeping his head low to hide his face.

Asmodeus held out a hand to Magnus for the wand, and Magnus was only too glad to have it taken out of his hands. The prince looked up, eyes red but dry, just in time to see Asmodeus snapping the wand in two. The sharp crack of it seemed to echo throughout the grand hall, and one of the prince's guards couldn't hold in a cry of shock. But the only sign the prince gave that the breaking of his adamas wand had hurt him at all was how carefully expressionless his face remained.

"And now it is done," Asmodeus said in satisfaction, then raising his voice so all gathered could hear him, said, "Please, join me in a toast - for Prince Magnus and his new consort!"

 

 

The music, dancing, eating, and drinking went on and on, past the depths of the night and into the shallows of the morning, but for once Magnus retired to his room long before the festivities had ended. He had eaten very little after the ceremony, heart and head aching for both himself and his new husband. The poor man hadn't even been allowed any measure of privacy when bidding farewell to his brother and his guards, and had remained silent for the rest of the evening, only picking at his food at the gentle urging of the loyal guardsman who had volunteered to stay by his side. 

The servants had opened the windows to let in the balmy night air, and given very different circumstances, Magnus would have been out tonight, enjoying the first warm days of summer and the company of beautiful people. Now, all he wanted is do was to throw himself onto the bed and sleep this nightmare away, but he didn't even have the luxury of that - because at that moment, someone knocked on the door.

Magnus sighed and waved the door open. His new husband had been escorted to his chambers by half a dozen guards, as if one unarmed man was going to be any threat to them. Magnus dismissed the lingering guards to find his husband standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, warily looking around at the chests that held Magnus' things, and beyond the doorway that led to the bedchamber. It suddenly occurred to him that the prince had come to Edom with nothing but the clothes on his back; he would probably have to see to getting clothes fitted for him. 

He glanced at the prince's arm, which was still bleeding, and healed the cut with a wave of his hand, although there was little he could do for the terrible brand that he had been forced to place on his left wrist. The prince's hand dropped to his belt immediately for the blade that was no longer there, and Magnus tried not to roll his eyes. Their circumstances were both miserable, but Magnus could admit that at least he hadn't just been ripped away from everything and everyone he knew and loved.

"None of this was of my choosing either," Magnus pointed out, with as much patience as he could manage. "I think we both agree that this arrangement would suit us both best if we stayed out of each other's way."

The prince frowned. "You truly have no expectations of me?" he asked Magnus.

"What could we possibly have to offer each other? I have no lack of willing bedfellows," Magnus said with a shrug. "And as long as you are discreet, I will not begrudge you the company of your guardsman to fulfil whatever needs you may have."

The prince stiffened. "What do you mean by that?" 

"Since we are wedded in name, it would not do for either of us to be seen with someone else - you more so than me, I expect. But here in Edom, nobody will judge you if you wish to take a man to your bed," Magnus told him with what he thought was kindness, but this seemed to incense the prince. 

"Yes, I see that things are indeed done very differently in Edom. In Idris, we would not think to treat our faithful liegemen as whores, nor do wedded couples share their beds with any other than the person they are married to," he bit out. "Perhaps you feel that you do not have to honour a marriage that you were forced into, but I have more honour than that." 

Magnus' mouth fell open in surprise at the venom in his voice, but anger caught up quickly enough. Who did he think he was, this barbarian prince from some vanquished kingdom, throwing accusations and lectures on morality at Magnus like this? In that moment, Magnus was sorely tempted to call for every single whore in the kingdom, man and woman, and avail himself of their services for the conceivable future, right in front of his husband, and in the bed they were supposed to share.

Looking upon the cold defiance he saw on his new husband's face, Magnus found that for once he was lost for words. He was now bound by duty and law to the enemy, someone who would probably slit his throat at the first opportunity he had, and it was all his father's fault. With one last furious glare at the prince, he stomped out of his room, slamming the door behind him and leaving his husband all alone in his chambers - a fitting mockery of a wedding night for a mockery of a wedding. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Alec slept fitfully that night. When it seemed like the Edomite prince would not be returning, Alec had barricaded the door with a heavy chest before stealing a blanket off the bed to place on the hearthstones in front of the dying fire, and had lain there with his full armour on, trying to get some much-needed rest. He knew that barricading the door would do little to stop anyone from coming in, not when they could just move the chest out of the way by magic, but at least it would provide him some warning. 

He woke up before sunrise, feeling heartsick and ill-rested, the pain in his left wrist a stark reminder of everything that had happened the night before. Wincing, he forced himself to get up and check that the door was still firmly barricaded, made use of the privy room, then went through his morning routine of stretches and exercises until he could no longer resist the siren call of the morning sun turning everything as far as the eye could see to gold.

Sunlight was a luxury in Idris. The kingdom had been decimated by the constant magical attacks from Edom, and few of their people would have survived at all if Alec's great-grandfather hadn't discovered the labyrinthine of caves in the mountain ranges of Idris. Their people had been forced to move into the caves, where they had by pure chance stumbled upon the veins of adamas in the rock and the way that it warded against the magical attacks from Edom - and so the endless winding miles of dark caves had become home. 

It wasn't as wretched an existence as it sounded. There were lakes and flowing rivers of ice-cold water, so clear that one could see all the way through to the bottom, and these provided the people of Idris with their main source of food in the way of fish and other odd shelled creatures that did not look appetising but didn't taste half-bad when lightly cooked. There were other creatures that lurked in the dark as well, ranging from small vicious rodents to huge fell beasts that hadn't been seen since the time of Angels, but these feared fire and the burning touch of adamas, and soon learnt to leave the underground city of Idris alone, although there were always those foolish enough to wander into the dark alone, never to be seen again. There were edible moss and fungi in the caves, and glow worms that gave light, and while the stone walls and floors meant the caves were never really warm, one eventually got used to the slight chill. 

Soldiers guarded the entrances to the underground city and patrolled the surface, where the ruins of the city that once was still stood. The poor lived closest to the surface, where falling rock and cave-ins were common occurrences, while the richer echelons of Idris society lived deep within the mountains, where the subterranean rivers had carved out gigantic caverns and halls fit for kings.

Alec had lived his whole life underground, until he turned 18 and joined the men that would one day be under his command above the ground - and then life in the safety of the caves became unbearable. Riding out against the enemy with Jace at his right hand and his arrows whistling through the air, he could forget everything but the balance of the bow and the tension of the string, forget the looming spectre of his father's growing displeasure at his refusal to take a wife, and the burden of the secret he had only shared with Izzy and Jace. Every time his father called him back into the underground city after a too-brief sojourn above the ground, Alec had felt half-blind, suffocated, doomed to never see the sun again. He had started finding excuses to go out with Jace - additional patrol, picking flowers and herbs for his mother and Izzy to brighten their rooms, and then even more plants for Izzy when she started finding ways to turn them into healing salves and deadly poisons.

Standing here at the window of one of the castle's high towers, where he could see the sun rising over the lush forests and distant hills, he wondered if this might not be a greater torment - to be able to see the sun, but never feel it on his face again, trapped within the stone of Edom's castle walls until his fate found him.

 

 

By midmorning, Alec's worry for his guardsman Underhill finally drove him to leave the room and venture out in a cautious exploration of the castle. Underhill had been forcibly removed from his side the night before, with the leering Edomite guards making crude jokes about dogs not being welcome on their master's wedding night. Alec had expected to have to fight his way through the castle, but most of the people he met along the way, servants and guards alike, merely gave him a wide berth, although whispered conversations followed in his wake. 

Alec had to admit that he had been surprised to notice that some of the guards were women, which would have been unthinkable in Idris. The womenfolk in Idris were regarded as the weaker sex, although Alec thought that nobody who had been on the other end of his mother or Izzy's wrath would ever think that again. As such, they were usually given duties like cooking, sewing, gathering food, and minding the children - all necessary and important, but not exalted the way that a warrior's achievements on the battlefield were. Equally unthinkable were the able-bodied male servants that Alec saw carrying soiled clothes away for washing, or bearing trays of food. 

As he wandered the castle hallways, Alec soon became aware that he had gained a shadow. She was obviously one of the guards, but there was a small black cat embroidered on her livery, over her heart. He slowed down to let her pass, but she kept her distance, and in fact didn't seem to care that he had noticed her. 

Quickening his pace, Alec kept an eye on her as he made his way outdoors, and still nobody made any move to stop him. He wondered if that was Asmodeus' plan - to tempt him to run, so that he would be branded a coward, his family shamed, and Edom could break the treaty and destroy what was left of Idris. He followed his gut and his nose to several sturdy wooden stables and kennels, where the horses, hounds, and hunting falcons were kept. Sure enough, he found Underhill in one of the kennels, bloodied and bruised, half-strangled by a leash someone had put around his neck - a dog, they had called him, so they had beaten him like a dog that belonged to a man they weren't allowed to take their frustrations out on.

Alec cast about for something sharp to cut Underhill free, but after a brief fruitless search, was forced to struggle with the knots in the leather, which were slippery with blood. He had only just managed to untie the leash when he became aware of several men looming behind him, and turned to confront the small group of sneering guardsmen blocking his way. These men, he noticed, had a black serpent on their livery.

"Move out of my way," Alec said evenly. 

"You can't bring him in. Dogs stay in the doghouse," one of them drawled, and the rest laughed. 

They had probably assumed that he was no threat - one unarmed man, burdened by a fallen comrade, when all of them had magic at their fingertips. Alec thought that perhaps the only thing that had held them back from beating him bloody as well the night before was the possibility of incurring the wrath of their prince - who had left his room in a rage on their wedding night. If Edom thrived on gossip as much as Idris did, Alec had no doubt that everybody in the castle already knew. But Alec took in the complacent slouch of their postures, the softness in their bellies and arms, and knew that he could move fast enough to knock half of them down before they even thought to use their magic to defend themselves or retaliate. 

Alec was already bracing himself to lunge at the nearest guard when someone cleared her throat very pointedly from behind the group of hostile guardsmen. The guardswoman who had been shadowing Alec raised an eyebrow at them, a hint of bright green flashing in her eyes, and they cowered from her and shuffled away from Alec as all the hounds in the kennels began to howl and snarl threateningly at the men. Alec eyed her warily, then pulled one of Underhill's arms over his shoulders and hefted the deadweight of his unconscious liegeman, moving towards the castle; she did not seem inclined to help, but didn't move to stop him either. It was a long way back up to the prince's room, and for a moment Alec hesitated, wondering if there was any point returning there. 

Then from behind him, he heard the guardswoman say, "Prince Magnus will hear of this. And keep your hands off his consort's servant as well."

Satisfied that it would still be a safe space for now, at least for him to attempt to tend to Underhill's wounds, Alec began the arduous trek upwards to the prince's room in the tower.

 

 

Healing had never been Alec's domain, and after he managed to carry Underhill all the way up to the prince's chambers, he came to the sickening realisation that he might have merely brought his liegeman to a quiet place to die. Underhill's eyes had swollen shut, his lips were split, and they had broken one of his legs and all his fingers. But from the strange whistling sound in his chest when he breathed and the blood in his mouth, Alec was sure something inside his body was broken as well. 

Rummaging through the chests of clothes, Alec found a shirt flimsy enough to tear up with his teeth and bare hands to make bandages for the open wounds lest they began to fester, but there was little else he could do for his liegeman. Alec's thoughts turned to the wooden pin that had been fastened on his cloak, which he had later transferred to a hidden pocket in his belt where he had previously kept his adamas wand. His sister had carved it specially for him as a wedding present; it was hollow, and the top could be pried open to reveal a small measure of powder inside.

Painless, traceless, something for if things ever became unbearable, Izzy had whispered to him while she fixed the pin to his cloak, trying to hold back her tears. Ingesting it would be like falling into a deep, dreamless sleep he would never have to wake up from, and it would just seem like his heart had given out, as it was known to happen. Alec didn't think it was a path that he would have ever chosen - not for his own sake, at least, only if Edom ever tried to use him against the interests of Idris - and in fact he had considered slipping it in Asmodeus' food or drink. But he knew how much it had cost his sister to concoct this particular poison with him in mind, how much love she had put into it. As much as it felt like he was being ungrateful, he knew she would understand if he used her gift to put an end to his faithful liegeman's suffering instead. 

Alec already had the pin in his hand when there was a knock on the door, and Alec realised with alarm that he had neglected to bar the door when it swung open easily. He tensed; a woman entered the room, not the guardswoman from before, but perhaps some sort of noblewoman, judging from her fine clothing.

"I am the court physician, Catarina," she introduced herself.

She had a soothing manner and warm smile, and Alec found the tension draining out of him. He let her approach without challenge, feeling oddly calm. She knew what she was doing, and he had nothing to worry about. She was someone he could trust... but she had given him no reason to trust her, so why did he?

Magic.

As his fear returned, he found that he could feel the grip of her magic on his mind, holding him down much the same way that one might restrain a cat by the scruff of its neck.

"Don't fight me. I mean you no harm," she said patiently; it just made Alec push back harder, but the force of her will was like an iron fist in a velvet glove. 

There was nothing he could do to stop her as she moved to examine Underhill, the pin with the poison clutched uselessly in his hand. Her lips pursed unhappily as her hands passed over Underhill's prone form, and Underhill stirred, groaning in pain. 

"They cracked his ribs, and it pierced his lungs - I can heal him, but he will need rest to truly recover," she told Alec. 

Waves of blue mist flowed out from her hands and settled over Underhill, fixing broken bones and healing cuts and bruises right before Alec's eyes, and gradually even Alec could tell that Underhill's breathing sounded normal again. When she was done, she released her hold on Alec as well, then quickly stepped out of his reach even though Alec hadn't moved - as if he was a feral beast that might bite the hand that fed it. 

"Thank you, Lady Catarina," he told her sincerely, and that seemed to please her.

"Just call me Catarina," she said warmly, although her smile faltered a little when she saw the rune branded on his wrist. "I know magic does not work on wounds inflicted by adamas, but is there anything I can do for that?"  

Alec shook his head mutely; Izzy had concocted a cooling salve which countered the pain a little, but Alec did not know the ingredients. 

Just then, someone else came in through the door - the guardswoman from earlier, bearing a tray heavily laden with food and drink. Like the dinner from the night before, most of the food looked foreign to Alec, but just the smell of it was making Alec's mouth water and stomach growl in protest. How long had it been since he had last eaten properly? A day? Two? Certainly not since the farewell feast at Idris, where Alec had forced himself to eat so much he had felt sick later, only because his mother had made all his favourite things and he had wanted to see her smile at least one last time before he left.

"This is Maia - she is the head of Magnus' personal guard, and it was she who came to find me when she noticed that your servant was injured," Catarina explained. 

Maia tapped the image of the black cat on her chest. "All of us who wear Prince Magnus' insignia will make sure that you come to no harm in the castle, but perhaps it would be safer if you stayed in the prince's chambers. I will see that someone trustworthy brings food up for you."

Alec didn't answer; he could already feel the stone walls closing in on him.

"I have other duties to see to, but I will be back to check on your servant tomorrow," Catarina told him. 

"And I must make my report to my prince," Maia agreed, already heading for the door. 

Alec wondered if Maia had been sent to keep an eye out for him, or if it had just been coincidence that she had noticed him wandering around the castle. Catarina must have seen something in his expression, or perhaps part of her magic was the ability to read minds.

"Magnus' anger is directed at his father, not you," she told him gently. "It may not seem like it, but Magnus has his reasons for the things he does. When he has decided on what to do with you, he will return." On that slightly ominous note, the two women took their leave.

 

 

Underhill woke up just after sunset when Maia came by with more food, this time borne by a man dressed in servant's garb, whom she introduced as her cousin Bat. Alec helped Underhill sit up to drink some broth to build his strength, but his liegeman was so discomfited by having his prince play nursemaid to him that when night fell, Alec retreated into the bedchamber to save them both the awkwardness. 

Looking around at the carved chests and wardrobes disgorging garments everywhere, a dressing table littered with jewellery and unidentifiable fragrant potions, and the immense bed fat with down pillows, Alec was tempted to go back out to the main chamber, for it was not uncommon for men-at-arms to sleep around the same fire while on the battlefield, despite the difference in their stations. He felt like an intruder in someone else's private space, even if this was a space he was expected to share with his husband.

And wasn't that a strange thought - that after a whole life of being resigned to the eventuality that he would be forced to marry and attempt to bed a woman so that there would be an heir for Idris, he was now wedded to a man, all expectations lifted off his shoulders. Even if his husband was out gallivanting with the many bedfellows he had boasted of, being left alone was preferable than the alternative, and Alec convinced himself that his current circumstances were the best he could ever have hoped for.

He rested a little better that night, even though he still refused to sleep in the bed, and by the next morning Underhill was well enough to feed himself. Catarina came by as promised and was delighted with his progress, and by the next day declared her patient mostly recovered.

After that, Underhill seemed doubly determined to repay Alec for his care when he had been ill. Unfortunately, while Underhill was a brave soldier and excellent swordsman, he was no servant and had little idea of how to go about being one, which made Alec thankful that he had always been self-sufficient. Still, Underhill was eager to learn the ropes from Bat, who seemed friendly enough and didn't seem to mind that they had once been the enemy, even going so far as to procure spare servant's clothes to replace their bloodied garments. 

Alec found his days falling into a dreary pattern. Underhill would rise before the sun was up to collect a breakfast tray from the kitchens, decorated with a flower - probably something Bat had taught Underhill was custom in Edom. It did not escape Alec's notice that they were never provided any utensils sharper than a wooden spoon. The two would spar in hand-to-hand combat as best as they could in a space they had cleared in the room, then Underhill would draw water for Alec to wash, and collect their midday meal - and another flower. Alec had instructed Underhill to report on anything he managed to overhear, but Underhill told him conversations amongst the servants tended to die abruptly when he was around. He also reported that the other guardsmen and servants mostly left him alone, only daring to plague him with small cruelties such as making him trip and drop the things he was carrying. Every time Alec tried to venture out of the room, Maia would eventually appear to herd him back into the prince's chambers, so Alec was effectively a prisoner, with even less freedom than his liegeman. Alec tried to find relief from his restlessness with exercise and by reading the various scrolls in the room, most of them beautifully illustrated treatises on the plants and animals native to Edom. At sunset there was another flower and another meal, for all the people of Edom seemed to do was eat. Then Alec would retire to the bedchamber to lie awake on the cold stone floor, hoping that his family was safe and did not still grieve for him, and wondering why he had been allowed this relative peace. 

 

 

Five days after his wedding, Alec was admiring the delicate paintings in a scroll on the songbirds of Edom, where it almost seemed like every feather had been individually painted and the birds might fly right off the page, when the door flew open. Alec looked up, startled, as his husband swept into the room, accompanied by a small entourage.

The only person he recognised other than the prince was Maia. There was an older nobleman wearing emerald-green robes, a soldier of some high rank, and a handful of people carrying various swathes of cloth. 

The prince took in Alec's days-old servant's garments, the bandage over the rune on his wrist, and the altered state of his rooms with a frown, eyes lingering on the blanket in front of the fire where Underhill slept and the flowers Underhill had collected in a vase. Then he noticed what Alec had been studying, and something in the sudden blankness of his expression made Alec feel that he might have blundered into something private. Alec rolled up the scroll quickly and carefully and put it back where he had found it, and by the time he turned back, the brilliant, hard smile was back in place on the prince's face. 

"My consort is in need of new clothes. His servant as well," the prince declared imperiously, and the small group of tailors descended on Alec and Underhill. 

Alec still wore his armour out of habit, even though he spent all day in the room, and being forced to remove it so that the tailors could work made him feel naked. They began turning him around and rearranging his limbs as if he were a ragdoll, and measuring everything from the width of his shoulders to the distance between his crotch and his ankles with no regard for his dignity. When that was done, bolt after bolt of material was held up against him - silk in jewelled tones, cloth embroidered with gold and silver thread - and his husband made all the decisions about what he was to wear, conversing with the tailors about skin tone and the cut of his clothes as if Alec wasn't standing right there.

"How soon will they be ready?" the prince asked the tailors.

"We should have them all ready for you by tomorrow morning, Your Highness. Tonight, if we can." 

"Perfect timing! You will be paid well for your trouble, of course," he said, beaming, and dismissed them. 

When he was sure they were gone, he cast some sort of spell on the door and gracefully flung himself on one of the many cushioned chairs Alec and Underhill had moved to the side to clear a space for sparring. Alec had to admit that the prince was a very beautiful man, and it was no wonder that he had plenty of admirers, probably all more sophisticated and attractive than Alec. When he had flashed Alec that small smile from the royal dais on the night of the wedding, and Asmodeus had changed his mind about who Alec was to marry, for a fleeting moment Alec had thought, maybe... but there was no point thinking about that now. The artifice in the prince's current poise and expression just left Alec cold.

Alec was itching to put his armour back on, but he restrained himself. "Why do I need new clothes tomorrow?"

"Because my father is holding a council with his generals before noon tomorrow to discuss strategy in Edom's continuing war against Idris, and you will be attending it with me," the prince replied cheerfully. 

Alec stared at him. Was Edom was so secure in their victory that they would flaunt their plans in front of him, and force him to listen to the ways they planned to massacre his family and his people?

"Magnus, when I told you about the council, it was not so you could invite him to it," said the dour-faced soldier, who was apparently one of Edom's generals despite his youth.

"I want to stop my father as much as you do, Raphael," the prince reminded him. "If I distract my father from his war council with family politics, it will give us more time to plot."

The nobleman in the green robe sighed and said, "You do realise that this is only going to anger your father?"

"Nonsense. My father forced me into this arrangement hoping that it would make me more interested in matters of the state, and now he shall get his wish - he should be delighted," the prince said with vicious glee.

"Why would he even allow me to attend such a council?" Alec asked.

"Alexander, you are my consort - you're family now," the prince replied sweetly, and it made Alec’s hackles rise to have him assume familiarity with him enough to use his name. "It is only right that I have you by my side."

"And you expect him to believe that we are even on speaking terms when you have paid no attention to me since you left on our wedding night?" Alec scoffed. 

The prince looked affronted. "Paid no attention to you? Where do you think these flowers came from?" he demanded, gesturing at the flowers in the vase. 

"I - they were from you?" Alec asked, bewildered. 

"I instructed the servants to put them on the trays that were being sent to you. You see, I have spent the last few days wooing you with simple gifts as an apology for my inexcusable behaviour, while giving you space by staying with Edom's Scrollmaster and my best friend, Ragnor," he said, indicating the nobleman, who had a long-suffering expression on his face. "Or at least, that is the story I spread around so that everybody would leave us alone."

Alec was silent as he digested this information. He was eager to be involved in these plans to stop Asmodeus, but... "You want us to pretend to be in love?" Alec asked doubtfully.

"Not in love, no. My father is no fool. But we could pretend to trust and respect each other," the prince said sardonically.

"I thought you said that your father was no fool," Alec said flatly, and the prince let out a sharp bark of mirthless laughter. 

"Perhaps in Idris you are used to settling all your problems with your fists and not your brains," he began, which made Alec bristle, "but we cannot challenge my father head-on. If it is beyond your abilities to play this role and play it to the hilt, it would be better that you spoke up now."

"Why do you care about stopping the war? Edom would emerge victorious anyway," Alec said bitterly. 

"Oh, Alexander. Surely you're not that naive," the prince said pityingly. "The war has never ended, and my father never had the intention of letting any of your people survive. He will not stop until Idris is a scorched hole in the ground." 

Cold fear settled in Alec's gut. He had been wary of Asmodeus' offer of peace, but to have his true intentions stated so plainly by his own son had made Alec's nebulous suspicions real - and here he was, so far from his family and kingdom, with no way to warn them of Asmodeus' treachery. "But you would let us live?" Alec asked, gritting his teeth. 

"Idris has already admitted defeat, the spirit of its people broken. I see no point in wasting more lives, both of your people and mine, in this senseless endeavour. How many more years of suffering will this take before it truly ends? And isn't it a king's duty to see that his people live well, instead of pursuing a victory out of spite?" the prince replied, then as if embarrassed to admit that he had given this some thought, quickly added, "Of course, I have no intention of ever being king. But I have quite enjoyed the festivities and parties since the peace treaty was signed, and would much rather that they continue. War is such a tedious business, in comparison."

Ragnor turned his eyes to the heavens at that, muttering a prayer for patience.

Alec had a feeling that the prince's rebellion was going to have unpleasant consequences for them all, but he couldn't bear to sit by and wait, kept in the dark. He nodded curtly. "I will be ready for the council in the morning." 

"I look forward to the pleasure of your charming company," the prince said drily, and swept out of the room as suddenly as he had come. 

When they had all left, Alec quickly put his armour back on, pulling the straps tight. His gaze landed on the vase of bright flowers on the table, and he frowned.

"Did you know that they were from him?" he asked Underhill. 

"No. Neither Bat nor the other servants said anything," Underhill replied, looking uncomfortable. "I only kept them because Bat said they would brighten up the room. Do you want me to throw them out, my lord?"

"No, leave them. It's all just pretend, anyway," Alec said quietly, and retreated into the refuge of the bedchamber. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

  

 

"May I remind you that I am not your servant?" 

Magnus jerked awake at hearing a voice so close by, eyes flying open to see Ragnor setting a basin of steaming wash water on the nightstand, a scattering of fragrant lemon balm leaves floating on the surface. He relaxed into the bedclothes again, then yawned and stretched out until some of Ragnor's fussy, ugly woven throws fell off the bed, much to his friend's annoyance. Sitting up, he plunged his hands into the water, splashing water on his face until he felt more aware of the world. It wasn't that Magnus was not used to waking up early; on the contrary, he tended to be an early riser unless he had stayed up late drinking and dancing the night away, or had sneaked out into the woods to admire the night-blooming flowers and the fireflies and forgotten the time. Unfortunately, he had been occupied with a less pleasant activity the night before - futilely trying to second-guess his father's plans. 

"Has Elias brought breakfast up? I'm starving," Magnus said as he got out of bed.

"Elias is my servant, not yours," Ragnor reminded him grumpily. "How long do you intend to stay in my guest room?" 

"It's only been a week. Are you weary of my illustrious presence already?" Magnus said as he padded over to the table to peer at the dishes Ragnor's servant had brought up from the kitchens. 

"I know you've cultivated a bit of a reputation for yourself, but I have never known you to spend so much time away from your own bed," Ragnor said.

"Ah, but unfortunately it is no longer my own, is it?" Magnus muttered.

"This cannot go on, Magnus. Even if I allow you to stay here indefinitely, your father is certain to see through your excuses," Ragnor said as he began to set out their meal. "I suspect your marriage was hardly the end of the torment your father has planned for Alexander Lightwood." 

"Being married to me is a torment? How you wound me," Magnus said, then at Ragnor's unamused glare, sighed and said, "I will cross that bridge when I come to it. Don't you think we have more important things to worry about right now?" 

"Yes, of course - your impossible plan to make your father give up his war," Ragnor said wryly as he started on his breakfast. 

That gave Magnus pause. "Ragnor, be honest with me - I know that we risk my father's wrath, and that is no small threat," Magnus said, suddenly unsure. "Do you really think that it is impossible to stop this war?" 

Ragnor chewed contemplatively for a while. "Your father is a stubborn man, and I see his point - he thinks it better to eliminate the enemy completely, so that they cannot return to seek revenge at some later time. And yet..." 

Magnus cocked his head at Ragnor. "And yet?" 

"If he had merely wanted to humiliate Idris by forcing their once-future king to marry a man in violation of their customs, your father could have just as easily have given him over to Azazel, who would have had no qualms ripping the poor boy into shreds. And yet, he picked you." 

"I told you, I angered him that night. He sought to punish me as well," Magnus said.  

"I know you think your father is a tyrant, but while he can be ruthless towards our enemies, he loves the people of Edom in his own way," Ragnor said, choosing his words carefully, and Magnus knew what was coming even before Ragnor continued. "He is too proud, too set in his ways. The only way to truly stop this war is if different decisions were made - by a new king." 

"We have had this conversation a hundred times, Ragnor," Magnus huffed. 

"You know he favours you over Azazel. I was given the additional duty of tutoring you on the pretense that you had not had a proper education in history and politics the way that your half-siblings had. And while I do not begrudge the circumstances that made us friends, you must see why your father did this." 

"I am not interested," Magnus said through gritted teeth. 

"Asmodeus may wear his age well, but he is no longer a young man, and the long years of war have taken its toll on him. When he passes, would you rather that Azazel became king? Or Lilith?" Ragnor asked Magnus pointedly. 

"I want nothing to do with him - not his throne, not his favour. I refuse," Magnus snapped. "He is not my father, not in the ways that matter."

"Yes, you are your mother's son. And that is why you would make the better king - you would bear the burden of the crown not because you crave power, the way that Azazel does, but out of your love for the people of Edom," Ragnor told him gently. "Think about it - right now it may seem like another cruel humiliation for Idris, but this marriage is a blade that could just as easily be wielded for peace. If you truly became king, would not the people of Idris be mollified as well, with their prince ruling by your side? Would not your vision of the future, with the two kingdoms truly at peace with each other, become an easier goal to attain? Your father has thought of all the possible paths the future may take, my friend. He does not make decisions on a petty whim."

"If that is indeed his plan, then it is doomed to fail. Alexander hates me," Magnus said.

"And that is entirely your own fault - for insulting him by implying that he might want to bed his liegeman, then telling him your apology was just for show," Ragnor scolded. 

"It was for show," Magnus protested. "Besides, you are very much mistaken if you think those are the only obstacles to a loving marriage between me and Alexander. My father forced me to put that mark on his wrist, Ragnor. And every time I use magic around him, he jumps like a startled hare."

"Even if it never grows into a loving marriage, I am sure you could at least manage to be cordial to each other with time. I think you will find that as king, ruling a peaceful and prosperous kingdom will be more satisfying than marrying for love," Ragnor said reasonably, sipping his tea.

The pragmatism of Ragnor's words felt like a heavy lump of rock in Magnus' gut - that lifelong loneliness should be something he was expected to get used to. "Which is precisely why I am not going to be king," Magnus replied firmly. 

"Even if you do not wish to be king, you are already bound by marriage to Alexander Lightwood," Ragnor pointed out. 

"A marriage can be dissolved by mutual agreement in Edom. Surely it is the same in Idris," Magnus said, waving a hand dismissively. "But enough of that. I need to think of a way to convince my father that continued war with Idris will be a greater evil than some far-off threat of retaliation."

Ragnor sighed, but allowed Magnus to change the topic, although Magnus knew that this was hardly the last he would be hearing of it. "It would help to know more of his plans. But I do not think your father will change his mind."

Magnus hummed. "Then I shall have to convince his generals and nobles instead. Raphael is already on our side, and I recall that Lucian's wife and daughter were originally of Idris stock, which may or may not play in our favour."

"Yes, she sought sanctuary here because her baby was showing signs of magic," Ragnor agreed. "But Lorenzo is Azazel's man, and I know nothing of Meliorn's allegiances."

Magnus tamped down a sigh of frustration. This was exactly the conundrum that had kept him awake the night before - there were just too many things he didn't know, and for once he regretted not having paid better attention to the politics of Edom. 

"But time flies by us. The council will begin soon, and your breakfast has gone cold," Ragnor chided, waving a hand in the direction of Magnus' plate, warming his food again with a simple charm.

Magnus nodded his thanks and started eating - only to choke on his food when Ragnor added, "And don't think I didn't notice that the flowers you gave the boy were wild flowers from the deep forest, not flowers from the gardens that the servants might have picked on your behalf." 

Still coughing, Magnus looked up with watering eyes to see Ragnor shaking his head at him in exasperation. "I advise you to put aside your stubborn pride for once, Magnus. Maybe you cannot marry for love, but you could learn to love the man you've married - and give him a chance to love you." 

"Hold your tongue, you meddlesome old goat," Magnus wheezed out crossly, but Ragnor just chuckled, and started clearing away the empty dishes.

 

 

For his attendance at the war council, Magnus had chosen the most formal outfit he had from a chest of spare clothes he kept in Ragnor's guest room. First, he put on a spider-silk shirt with its sleeves rolled up to his elbows, so starkly black it almost seemed like it swallowed the light, although he chose to leave most of the many spherical gold buttons undone so that his shirt was left open almost to his navel. There was a pair of matching flowy trousers with a gilded hem, and over that he wore a sleeveless vest of pale gold with a high collar and tails that almost reached the floor, the thick material heavy with intricate embroidery done in silver and gold thread and thousands of tiny crystal beads, and the cut of it accentuating his broad shoulders. A shimmering gold sash was tied around his trim waist, the ends of it cascading down in front of his left hip, and he wore a scattering of necklaces around his neck, jewels in his earlobes, thick bands of gold on his wrists, and heavy rings on his fingers. He painted his eyelids black and gold, and added a dusting of gold powder to accentuate his cheekbones. Then he put on the last piece of his outfit - a gold filigree circlet crown that he only wore when he had to, marking him as prince of the realm.

He made his way to his rooms in the tower with Ragnor and a small entourage of personal guards and rapped smartly on the door, the irony of having to knock on the door of his own rooms not lost on him. The door was opened by Alexander's servant, and when Magnus saw Alexander coming out of the bedchamber, he stopped so suddenly that Ragnor walked into him from behind.

Alexander was clean-shaven now, probably courtesy of Bat, and dressed in a similar fashion to Magnus, except that he had done all his many, many buttons up all the way to his throat and pulled his sleeves down to his wrists, and he had tucked the loose ends of his sash in neatly. The colours he had chosen were also much more subdued - his shirt was a rich cobalt blue and his vest was black, with jet-black beads that seemed almost invisible unless he moved and they caught the light. There was a thin edging of silver at his cuffs and collar, and thin threads of silver ran through the black sash at his waist, but otherwise he seemed to have managed to pick out the darkest colours from the wide array of clothing Magnus had ordered for him - the kind of colours that would allow him to melt into the shadows. 

And yet, Magnus had no doubt that every head would turn as Alexander walked past. He was a vision - fashionable, attractive, every inch a noble prince worthy of Edom's royal court. The long sleeves, high collar, and ankle-length trousers covered all his rune marks, his long hair looked perfectly presentable when neatly tied back with a length of ribbon, and without the scruff on his face he looked like an entirely different person. But Magnus decided that he rather missed the scruff and the leather armour. Something about Alexander reminded Magnus of riding out on the hunt with Raphael, of running barefoot through the small town outside the castle walls in that other life before his mother had been summoned, of the quiet woods and the heady smell of raw earth. Magnus had only been a boy when Asmodeus had claimed him as his son, and had gradually learnt to bear many things, but Alexander was never meant to be confined in silk shirts and beaded vests with too many buttons.

Alexander had been fidgeting with his cuffs and glaring down at himself like he dearly wanted to brutally murder his clothes, but when he noticed their presence his head snapped up immediately and he froze. 

Magnus wished he had Catarina's gift for soothing. Instead, he stepped a little closer and pulled Alexander's wrists towards himself, adjusting his cuffs for him. When he looked up, Alexander's eyes met his only briefly before they widened in surprise and fear, and Magnus hated that he was suddenly made self-conscious of his cat-like eyes, their odd reflectiveness and slit pupils more obvious up close. He dropped Alexander's wrists abruptly and took a step back.

Why had he let Ragnor's talk go to his head? It was impossible - there was no way that love could grow in the chasm of difference between him and Alexander.

Magnus disappeared into his bedchamber to steal a few moments to collect himself, and returned with a simple silver ring with a large onyx set in it. He held it out to Alexander, who just stared at it until Magnus huffed impatiently and slipped it onto one of the fingers on Alexander's left hand.

"It would reflect poorly on me if my consort turned up without a single adornment on his person," Magnus said by way of explanation, and Alexander nodded in reluctant acceptance. 

"That ring belonged to his grandfather, on his mother's side," Ragnor supplied helpfully, blithely ignoring Magnus' glare. 

It made Magnus feel spiteful enough to say, "I didn't say I was giving it to him, he'll have to give it back. Now let us go, or we will be late for the council." 

 

 

War councils were usually held in a room behind the throne room, which was in the main building of the castle. There were a number of special doorways in the castle that could bring its inhabitants to any of the other doors within the castle instantaneously, no matter the distance, but the nearest such door was too far away. With a wave of his hand, Magnus ripped through the castle's wards to open up a doorway of his own - a great swirling circle of light, big enough for two men to walk through side by side. It was only when he noticed Alexander instinctively backing away that he realised that it might not have been a good idea, but the guard standing right behind Alexander had already nudged him none too gently forward through the portal.

Magnus followed him through the portal immediately, and to his horror, saw Alexander pinned against the wall - by his mad sister. 

"Lilith, let go of him," he said warningly, one hand already raised to use all the power he could summon against her if necessary. 

Lilith might have been a raving lunatic, but she was easily the most powerful of Asmodeus' children. She alternated between spells of mild-mannered delirium and violent madness, and when she was in one of her thralls, it usually took the combined effort of Catarina and all of Lilith's guards - who also doubled as her nursemaids and gaolers - to subdue her completely. But on days when she seemed docile enough, she would be allowed to roam the castle, and it was just their luck that she had happened to be wandering down this particular hallway. 

"So pretty. How did you come to wander within Edom's high walls?" Lilith murmured, ignoring Magnus, tilting her head to one side as she stroked Alexander's cheek with one of her taloned fingers. "One of Raziel's chosen."

"My lady, he is Prince Magnus' consort," one of Lilith's guardswoman told her, gently pulling Lilith away from Alexander.

The rest of Magnus' entourage had stepped through the portal by now, and were watching the scene before them in trepidation. Lilith seemed puzzled, but allowed herself to be led away from Alexander. 

"Who is Magnus? Where is Azazel?" Magnus heard her ask, as they guided her down the hallway.

Magnus heaved a sigh of relief. He looked over Alexander quickly, but other than looking a little shaken, he seemed unharmed. He touched his husband's arm lightly, and tried not to show his disappointment when Alexander flinched away from his touch.

"A lowly Scrollmaster has no place at the council. This is where I must leave you," Ragnor said, and Magnus nodded tightly. 

Carefully to keep a distance away from Alexander, Magnus led the way into the throne room, ignoring the surprised protests of the guards that he was not expected at the council, and swept past all of them into the meeting room. Asmodeus and his four generals were already seated at a table covered with maps and various scrolls, and Magnus was greatly displeased but not surprised to see that Azazel was in attendance as well. 

"What a pleasant surprise to see you here, little brother, but did you perhaps make a wrong turn on the way to someone else's bed?" Azazel asked snidely.

"I'm a married man now. I've turned over a new leaf," Magnus replied. 

"Indeed. I see I must thank my new son-in-law for Magnus' sudden interest in Edom's politics," Asmodeus said evenly, and gestured to two seats at the other end of the table. "Please, take a seat." 

Magnus pulled out a chair for Alexander with a solicitous air, pretending that he hadn't noticed the deadly silence around the table caused by Alexander's presence, or his father’s eagle-eyed scrutiny of Alexander's outfit and manner.

"Do continue," Magnus said, sweeping an arm with great magnanimity. "I would very much like to know what plans Edom has to strengthen its relationship with my husband's kingdom, now that there is finally peace between us."

"Of course - let us throw a grand party in celebration, and you can be in charge. In fact, there is so much to plan that you should really run along and get started, while we speak of the other tedious details that will be of very little interest to you," Azazel said. The general named Lorenzo, a slimy man who Magnus thought was always trying to ingratiate himself with Azazel because he assumed that Azazel would one day be king, laughed loudly and didn't even bother trying to hide his contempt for Magnus. 

"Actually, I thought we could consider renewing trade between our kingdoms, and work together to strengthen our defences against the monsters that sometimes creep out of the Drowned Lands," Magnus said pleasantly. "After all, Idris does have a boundless supply of adamas. Now that there is no need to employ it against us, surely we could put it to better use, for the benefit of both our kingdoms."

Azazel's mouth fell open in surprise, and Lorenzo stopped laughing immediately. 

"I am pleased to hear that you have been giving this some serious thought," Asmodeus said, smiling. 

"Oh, but how could I not? You told me the responsibilities of the crown might one day rest on my shoulders, after all," Magnus said, and was pleased to see rage flash across Azazel's features.

Asmodeus narrowed his eyes at Magnus, his earlier smile vanishing. He leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. "But what of your responsibilities as a husband? I hear that you have not been sleeping in your own rooms this past week." 

Alexander remained silent, his face expressionless, but Magnus could see the tension in his shoulders, much more obvious without the stiff armour to hide behind. 

"There is nothing to worry about, Father. Alexander and I are perfectly happy with each other," Magnus said with a tight-lipped smile.

"And yet you have not consummated your marriage," Asmodeus observed.

"What goes on between me and my husband in our bedchamber is none of your business, and not up for discussion at this council," Magnus bit out. 

"On the contrary - you are a prince, and the state of your marriage affects the peace between the two kingdoms," Asmodeus said.

"In case it slipped your notice, Father, neither of us are capable of bearing Edom an heir, so it would make little difference whether the marriage was consummated or not. Besides, I have always put great stock in the willingness of those who share my bed," Magnus said pointedly, the accusations that he had often hurled at his father hanging unsaid between them. 

"But I would not want you to force yourself to be with someone who does not appreciate you or satisfy you. I only want happiness for you, my son," Asmodeus said smoothly. "Did you know that there is an old law in Idris, that if a marriage remains unconsummated within seven days of the wedding, the groom or his family may demand that the bride's family provide him with a different bride? Perhaps if your husband is not to your tastes, you might prefer his sister instead - I hear she is comparable in beauty, and she would be able to bear Edom an heir." 

Magnus could see Alexander's fists clenched tightly under the table, and wished that he could put his hand over Alexander's to offer some comfort, but he was almost certain that he would simply get a fist in his face for his trouble.

"Unfortunately, he would be disgraced and could never marry again, but I am sure he will agree that it is a small price to pay for his sister's happiness," Asmodeus continued.

Disgraced? Never marry again? Magnus had a sudden inkling that he might have made some erroneous assumptions about how marriage worked in Idris.  

"I assure you, Father, your worries are needless," Magnus said quickly.

Asmodeus' lips curled back into a menacing smile. "We shall have to see about that."

  

 

By the time the council finally concluded, it was almost evening. Magnus was exhausted from it all - of having to argue with his father on every single point he raised, of his brother and his brother's lackey constantly trying to undermine him, and of having his head stuffed full of all the information he had gathered to further his plans. He desperately needed Ragnor's counsel to make better sense of it all, but for now he would settle for food and sleep - mostly sleep. He was so tired that he only realised that his feet had brought him back to his own chambers by force of habit when he sank down in one of his own cushioned chairs and noticed that it was not in its usual position. 

"Leave us," he heard Alexander tell his servant, and looked up in bleary-eyed confusion when Alexander shut the door firmly in the face of his anxious servant.

Before the council, they had agreed that it would be better if Alexander did not speak unless he was spoken to, his sole purpose to unsettle everyone with his presence and distract them from talk of war, so that Magnus would have ample opportunity to talk of peace. He had been quiet throughout the council, following the discussion with a keen focus and ignoring Azazel's occasional pointed barbs, but Magnus could tell that Asmodeus' earlier threats to make Alexander's sister take his place weighed heavy on his mind.

"I must speak to you about our arrangement," Alexander said firmly.

"Can't this wait?" Magnus sighed. 

"It has been six days since our wedding." 

Magnus rubbed his temples and glared at Alexander. "That is an appalling law. The women of Idris deserve better." 

"They do," Alexander had the grace to agree. "But even if any man were foolish enough to exercise that law on my sister, I think she would have preferred it to being sent here to take my place." 

"And what would you have me do, Alexander?" Magnus asked him wearily. "Do you expect me to force myself on you?" 

"You wouldn't have to." Alexander took a deep breath, and began to untie the sash around his waist. 

"Alexander, what are you doing?" Magnus whispered, horrified, as Alexander carefully placed his sash on the back of a chair and began to undo the buttons of his vest with his jaws clenched and his eyes firmly fixed downwards. "Stop. Stop." 

Alexander's hands stilled and fell to his sides, his vest hanging half open. Magnus had already leapt to his feet, but he made no move to approach Alexander. 

"I am not that kind of man, even though I may have given you the impression otherwise," Magnus said firmly. "I only take willing bedfellows." 

"I am willing," Alexander insisted, refusing to meet Magnus' eyes. 

"No, Alexander, you are willing to do whatever it takes to keep your sister safe. That is not the same thing at all." Magnus removed the circlet from his head and ran one hand through his hair. "I sympathise, truly, but do not ask this of me."

"My family has been through enough. I cannot let Asmodeus ruin my sister's life as well," Alexander said fiercely. "I would do anything. I don't care about what happens to me-" 

"And what about how I feel?" Magnus snapped, and a bottle of ink on the table next to him exploded in a shower of glass.

They glared at each other from across the room, but it was Alexander who looked away first.

"You don't know what you're asking of me, Alexander," Magnus finally said.

"We could lie to your father, but I am sure he has ways of finding out..." Alexander muttered. 

Magnus snorted. "My father can be cruel, but he is not a vulgar man. He would hardly insist on something crass, like examining the bedclothes. No, I'm sure there is another way."

"How?" Alexander asked. 

"Rumour and gossip has always served me well," Magnus said with a shrug, an idea forming in his head as he approached Alexander cautiously. "Do you trust me in this?"  

Alexander hesitated, then nodded.

Magnus instructed Alexander to undo the first few buttons on his shirt, then with a wave of his hand, bruises began to bloom on Alexander's neck, from his collarbone to his jawline, exactly the right size and shape to have been made by Magnus' mouth. While Alexander removed his vest, Magnus removed his own outer layers, then ripped his own shirt open the rest of the way by brute force, so that it was obviously ruined. Glancing around the room, he swept his arm in a wide circle; Alexander startled as the room began to rearrange and wreck itself, overturning furniture, artfully scattering clothing, and breaking fragile things until it looked like they had just been engaged in a wrestling match - or a bout of rather violent sex. As a final touch, Magnus sent a missive to the kitchens in a burst of flame, requesting enough food and wash water that they would soon have an audience of at least half a dozen servants.

Magnus perched himself on the arm of a chair and patted the seat, indicating that Alexander should sit. He pulled the ribbon out of Alexander's hair, letting it fall loose over his shoulders, then brushed his thumb over his lower lip to give it a hint of red. With his shirt pulled open to show off the false marks on his neck, Alexander did look quite delectably debauched, and even though it was a sham, Magnus would have been lying if he said he wasn't affected. 

Taking a deep, fortifying breath, Magnus lowered himself into Alexander's lap, and at least the sharp gasp of surprise and the colour that rose in Alexander's cheeks were real. Magnus took one of Alexander's hands and placed it in a suggestive position high on his inner thigh, and Alexander let out a strangled sound. Their faces were so close that all either of them had to do was lean forward a little to make the lie of kiss-swollen lips a truth - but neither made a move to close the distance. 

There was a knock on the door.

"Ready?" he asked Alexander. 

Alexander swallowed hard and nodded, looking directly into Magnus' eyes, but this time without fear. Magnus waved the door open and feigned like he was just pulling away from a kiss as the servants walked in.

"Just leave them anywhere," Magnus said, gesturing vaguely and pretending that he hadn't noticed the look of shock on the face of Alexander's servant.

He leaned in close to Alexander's ear, whispering the filthiest things he could think of and promising to do them all to Alexander, speaking just loud enough for the servants to hear every word. Alexander bit on his lower lip and squeezed his eyes shut, cheeks burning redder with every word, and eventually to resorted hiding his face in Magnus' shoulder out of embarrassment.

As the servants began to file out of the room, Magnus called out, "Bat? Tell Maia to see to it that nobody disturbs us." 

"Yes, my lord," Bat replied and hurriedly shut the door behind him. 

Once Magnus was sure that the coast was clear, he eased himself off Alexander's lap shakily. They had both been affected by their act, the thin flowy material of their loose trousers of no help in hiding the clear evidence of that, but that was all it had been - an act.

Magnus turned away from Alexander to give them both some space to gather themselves, and concentrated on setting his rooms right instead, fixing broken things and putting furniture back in place. When he turned back, Alexander's face was still flushed, but his breathing had evened out.

"With luck, the gossip will reach my father's ears soon enough. I know that one of the servants who was here spies on me for him, and Maia will have understood my message as instructions to feed the rumours and keep them going. But it might be prudent for me to spend my nights here for some time," Magnus warned Alexander. The arousal still coursing through him made him feel restless, but right now even the thought of touching himself was repulsive, and he longed for the solitude of the woods to sort out his jumbled emotions. "I'm going to turn in for the night. You can have the bed." 

Alexander didn't speak, but shook his head vehemently.

"As you wish," Magnus said with a shrug. He did not much fancy sleeping on a blanket on the cold stone floor anyway, but he had noticed that both Alexander and his servant seemed to prefer that - perhaps it was just how things were in Idris.

"Magnus?"

Magnus turned in surprise - Alexander had never called him by name before. But Alexander remained silent after that, throat working around words he couldn't seem to say just yet.

"Good night, Alexander," Magnus said gently, giving him a small smile before he shut the door between them. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

  

 

Back in Idris, whenever Alec felt the stirrings of desire and was unable to steal a moment of privacy for himself - which was often, for a prince's time belonged to the men under his command - he had taught himself to think of the most gruesome things he had seen on the battlefield to keep his feelings at bay. (And there had been a lot of it - he had seen men turned inside-out in an instant, their guts still steaming as it spilled out of their corpses, and those had been the lucky ones. He had seen good men driven out of their minds by enchantment, no longer able to tell illusion from reality, and seen proud warriors waste away after being plagued by some foul magical disease that caused their bodies to feed on itself until all that was left after weeks of torment was a shrunken skeleton that could not die and began to hunger for more human flesh. For death by magic was often undignified and unnatural, limited only by the twisted imagination of the enemy.)

Alec had always taken pride in the control he had over his own needs and desires, but the events of the evening had pushed him to the brink, and part of that he supposed had to do with his limited experience in such matters. For the first time in his life, he'd had the warm weight of a very attractive man in his lap, had touched another man in a way that skirted the boundaries of propriety. He was keenly aware that all the things they had done and all the things Magnus had whispered in his ear were only meant to be part of an act. Magnus had made it abundantly clear that he had been forced into this situation as much as Alec himself had been, and Alec had been ashamed to realise that he had been the one who had almost tried to force himself on Magnus instead of the other way around. 

But El and Elat help him, he had wanted.  

He should have been wary of Magnus, for nothing good came from magic and dalliances with those who wielded it, and even if Magnus' plans to stop the war were beneficial to Idris, he was still a prince from an enemy kingdom. But the first time Alec had looked into those extraordinarily expressive golden eyes - really, properly looked - he had been bespelled, caught by the wistfulness in them. Then later he had watched those same golden eyes dilating with want, seen the evidence of how their charade had affected Magnus as well, and Alec had started to wonder if, despite his reservations about Alec and their marriage, Magnus was not completely unmoved by Alec. 

Alec closed his eyes and tried to empty his mind of the confusing thoughts that plagued him, but his blood was singing in his veins like he had just stepped off the battlefield, and his skin felt too tight, too hot against the slight chill seeping through the thick blankets. The thin silk shirt seemed to stick to his clammy skin, its collars and sleeves too confining. Every time he closed his eyes he could remember the flex of firm muscle under his hand and the shifting weight of Magnus in his lap, feel the phantom brush of Magnus' breath on his cheek as surely as he could still hear those whispered words ringing in his head - and just the things Magnus had promised to do with his tongue alone would probably haunt Alec for weeks.

Rolling up his sleeves to his elbows in a futile effort to get comfortable, the bandage he had wrapped around his left wrist caught his eye. Alec unwound the thin silk binding, running a thumb over the healed, smooth scar of the wedded union rune on his wrist in the dark, the mark which bound him to the man who was his and yet wasn't, a husband only in name. There was no point pretending that he would be getting any sleep tonight. He gave himself a shake and replaced the bandage, then rose and sought to drown the clamouring in his head with exercise, pushing himself until his head spun and his body ached.

When the sky was beginning to lighten, he availed himself of some of the wash water the servants had brought up, kept at a comfortable temperature by magic. He emerged feeling slightly more like himself despite having had to contend with what felt like a hundred minuscule pearl buttons on his shirt - only to be greeted by a sight that sent his heart racing and blood stirring all over again.

Magnus was awake and in the middle of his morning exercise, shirt abandoned on the back of a chair as he balanced an orb of magic at the tips of his fingers. There was a slight sheen of sweat on Magnus' skin, his brows furrowed in concentration and muscles shifting under his skin as he passed the glowing blue orb from one hand to the other, letting it travel down the length of his arm and over his broad shoulders. Then he must have caught sight of Alec from the corner of his eye, and was startled into sending the orb of magic flying halfway across the room and into a shelf, sweeping a stack of scrolls to the floor. 

"Alexander! I didn't expect you to be out so quickly," he said, sounding a little embarrassed as he waved the scrolls back in place. He reached out for his shirt and gestured at the table, still laden with the food that the servants had brought up the night before. "The cooks placed a stasis spell on the food at my request last night. Please, help yourself."

He excused himself to wash, and while he was gone Alec served himself from the various dishes. There were three types of bread, heavy with seeds; fruit swimming in cream; rich stew made from some meat Alec couldn't identify, since he was used to fish; some sort of fowl, seasoned with spices and roasted whole; and a dazzling array of dainty pastries slathered generously with jam and honey. He ate quickly out of habit, and was almost done when Magnus stepped out of the bathroom. He turned, and was just in time to see Magnus do up half the buttons on his shirt with an absent wave of his hand - which explained why annoyingly tiny buttons were used in such abundance in Edom, Alec thought a little sourly.

Magnus joined him at the table and they both sat in awkward silence, Magnus obviously taking more care with his food than was strictly necessary, until Alec could bear it no longer. 

"I was too quick to judge you when I first arrived. You are a man of honour, and I am sorry for thinking otherwise," Alec said quietly.  

Magnus inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement. "You are already forgiven," he replied, then adjusted the silver cuff on the shell of his ear and cleared his throat before adding, "I must apologise as well, for my ill-considered remarks about your relationship with your liegeman."

Alec nodded his acceptance of the apology, and when Magnus smiled at him over the rim of his teacup, his heart felt a little lighter as well - then Magnus' smile grew teasing. 

"Are there any other Idris laws on marriage that I should know about? Perhaps it would be better if you told me everything, so that my father cannot use them to blindside us again," he said.  

Alec considered this seriously. "I do not really know where to begin, not knowing how they differ from the laws of Edom."

"That's fair," Magnus agreed. "Well, you already know that in Edom, anybody may marry another, regardless of sex. A couple may also chose to dissolve their marriage at any time, and may choose to marry again, but infidelity is frowned upon. Some people choose to live together and have children without going through the hassle of getting married at all." He paused, worrying his lower lip, then continued in a nonchalant tone, "Bastard children like me - born out of wedlock, with no father - are common enough that nobody thought to question my mother until they realised that my eyes were exactly like my father's."

Magnus' shoulders were suddenly tense again, and Alec frowned, recalling Magnus' pointed remarks to his father about only taking willing bedfellows. "Was your mother not the queen?" 

"Not when I was conceived, no. My mother was a lowly servant girl in the castle who caught the eye of my father. And how would she have dared to refuse her king?" Magnus said bitterly. "She left the castle when her belly began to swell with child, but when he learnt of my existence, he summoned her back and forced her to marry him so that he could claim me legitimately. His first wife - the mother of my half-siblings - was dead by then. My mother lived in constant shame and fear from being forced to marry her tormentor, and died a year after he married her." 

"I'm sorry for your loss," Alec said, although he knew they were empty words in the face of such a horrific tale.  

"I think she rather preferred it," Magnus said with a shrug, then with false brightness abruptly turned the conversation back around. "Now, tell me more about marriage in Idris."  

"Our customs are very different, it seems. In Idris, marriage can only happen between a man and a woman, and we are only allowed to marry once, even if one is widowed at their prime," Alec said, and he saw Magnus glance at the bandage on his wrist. "The law about demanding a different bride you already know. And..." Alec took a deep breath before saying in a rush, "one is expected to remain chaste until the wedding night, although I suspect this is more strictly enforced for those of noble blood than amongst the common people." 

Magnus' eyes widened. "So you have never...?"

"I have always known that I could never have what I wanted, and at least now I am not expected to go against my nature and try to produce an heir. As long as Idris prospers and its people thrive, what I want doesn't matter. I made my peace with it a long time ago," Alec said, staring down at the remains of his breakfast. 

Magnus was quiet for a long while after that, but finally said, "Alexander, I would like for us to be friends. Would that please you?" 

"Yes, of course," Alec replied, the words bittersweet on his tongue. 

He looked up, and was surprised to see an expression of fury on Magnus' face and a ball of brilliant blue magic gathered in his hand. Alec backed away instinctively, ready to use his own chair as a weapon or a shield for what little good it might do against a head-on magical attack, but Magnus directed the blast over Alec's shoulder and at the window instead. He smiled in satisfaction, then he noticed Alec's reaction and his face fell.

"There was a snake," he explained quickly.

Alec glanced warily at the spot under the window, and sure enough, he saw a thin, charred body on the floor, and immediately felt embarrassed by his reaction. 

"I'm sorry, I-" 

"Don't be." Magnus shrugged Alec's apology off and turned away to drop the dead snake out of the window with a wave of his hand, but Alec saw that he had hurt Magnus' feelings with his continued mistrust of him. "I am usually fond of snakes, but if you see any snakes in the castle - even a harmless little grass snake - kill it," he advised. "They are Azazel's eyes and ears in the castle, for he has an affinity with them. You would be doing the poor creatures a favour anyway, Azazel drives them to their deaths without giving them food and rest."

"So the guards who wear the insignia of a serpent are his?" Alec guessed. 

"Yes, the guards who attacked your liegeman are Azazel's. I had Maia looking out for you, but I was a little... preoccupied, and I didn't think of him," Magnus said.

"And Lilith's guards wear a screech owl," Alec said, remembering the insignia on the livery of her guardswoman. 

"It is family tradition to choose our own insignia at the age of 13. Most people choose grand or exotic creatures - my father's guards, for example, wear a dragon. He was greatly displeased when I told him that I had decided that mine would be a common house cat," Magnus said, smiling in fond reminisce of the occasion.

"Your sister does not look like she has the presence of mind to make any decisions," Alec said. 

"She wasn't always like that, according to Ragnor," Magnus said. "And speaking of - I should visit Ragnor to discuss the war council with him while the details are still fresh in my mind. Would you like to join us? I am sure your insights will be valuable to our plans. It's just that..." Magnus hesitated. "Ragnor will be in the library, and while we do not need to keep up the pretense in front of him, anybody may walk in. If we want to lend credence to our story, for a time we may have to behave a little differently with each other as long as there is a chance that we might be seen." 

Alec nodded, the thought of having an excuse to escape the confines of the room as alluring as being involved in the discussion. "Tell me what you need me to do." 

 

 

Magnus' hand, placed proprietarily on his lower back, was an oddly comforting anchor as they stepped through the alarming whirlwind of the magic portal Magnus had made, and into a large, dusty room with no windows. Alec caught a glimpse of many scroll-laden shelves in the glow of the fading portal before they were plunged into complete darkness; but for only an instant, because Magnus immediately conjured up a ball of light that floated high above them and made the room as bright as day. 

"Sunlight causes the scrolls to fade, and some of them are resistant to preservation spells," Magnus explained as Alec blinked in the sudden light, and dropped his hand when he was sure they were alone.

"Magnus? Is that you?" a voice called out, and in a few moments the Scrollmaster emerged from amongst the shelves. He seemed pleased and surprised to see Alec, although his brows furrowed a little when he noticed the way Alec's collar had been artfully turned back to show off the bruises on his neck, and beckoned them to follow him into a workroom at the back.

"This was where I taught Magnus his lessons," Ragnor said as he ushered them in. 

Unlike the dark library, this room was filled with plenty of natural light from large windows that opened out to a view of the hills. It was a pleasant room that smelled faintly of ink, parchment, and something floral. There was a large work table in the centre of the room, and on it were scraps of drying parchment, brushes, pens, and bottles of ink; and inexplicably, bowls of what looked like coloured water, stained mortars and pestles, and scattered flowers and herbs. 

Alec watched in bewilderment as Magnus examined the pieces of parchment and scowled. "All of them have dried brown, Ragnor," he complained. 

"That one on the right does have a nice touch of red," Ragnor pointed out. 

"I was hoping for something a little brighter," Magnus murmured distractedly.

Noticing Alec's confusion, Ragnor smiled at him reassuringly. "They are inks. Magnus and I make them for our own amusement, from the plants and fungi Magnus finds in the woods."

"Could you not just turn them red with magic?" Alec asked. 

"Where's the fun in that?" Magnus exclaimed, laughing lightly. "But we have more important things to discuss."

Between Ragnor and Magnus, they cleared the table of their experiments, and Ragnor brought out a large map and spread it out on the table. It was quite detailed, showing not just the terrain and individual territories that owed fealty to Edom, but also the ruins of the grand city that had once been the capital of Idris, and the extent of the mountain ranges that now covered the underground city, although of course they did not know the exact shape of Idris as it was now. North of Idris was the Frozen Sea and endless uncharted hostile, icy lands; south of Edom lay The Barrens (marked as 'Tophet' on the map), an equally hostile place of deserts, rocky plains, and steep mountains that spewed molten rock, split by rivers of fire, and said to be inhabited by vaguely humanoid creatures. Between Edom and Idris lay the Drowned Lands, a vast stretch of treacherous marshland that yearly ate away at the strip of no man's land that lay between the two kingdoms like a spreading blight on the land. From the songs passed down through the generations by the bards of Idris, Alec was aware that an ocean lay beyond the Drowned Lands, but this map also indicated that there was land beyond that, with no indication of terrain or possible civilisation, marked 'Araboth'.

But Magnus and Ragnor had already begun talking about plotting feasible trade routes, seeking his opinion on the safest paths through the mountains and the type of goods that might interest their respective peoples, and Alec was forced to set his curiosity aside for the time being. 

  

 

 

Two hours later, Alec found himself standing at opposite ends of the table from Magnus, glaring at him, and Magnus was glaring right back with equal stubbornness. 

"You were there at the council, Alexander. You saw their reservations about renewing trade with no concrete plans to navigate the mountains," Magnus said impatiently. 

"If I tell you the route through the mountain passes, what will stop your father from using that knowledge to further his war instead?" Alec shot back.

"We do not have to present them in their entirety at the council now, but no merchant will make the trip without guarantee of safety - it is inevitable that Edom's army will have to set up guardposts along the way. I understand your worries-"

"Do you really? The secret of the way through the mountains is the last thing protecting Idris from the full force of your father's power. Sharing it with you could mean the end of my people!" 

"And if you refuse to help me, and I cannot convince my father's generals to stop this war, it will be the end of your people anyway!" 

Ragnor shook his head at them like they were recalcitrant children who refused to play nice with each other, rolling up the map carefully. "Perhaps we should take a break. I'll get Elias to send some food up." 

Magnus sat down with a sigh, and with a snap of his fingers, summoned enough food for all of them. 

"Cook is going to be upset with you again," Ragnor said with a frown.

Magnus just waved a hand dismissively and reached for a goblet of wine to take a fortifying gulp, then heaved a deep sigh. "Edom and Idris have lived in relative peace for centuries, despite our differences. Does anyone even remember why we were at war?" Magnus asked idly. At the incredulous stares from Ragnor and Alec, he amended impatiently, "The real reason. Not fairytales about imaginary primeval beings."

That wasn't a response Alec had been expecting. "We woke up to find ourselves at war for no reason at all, thinking that Edom was simply greedy for our land and resources. Explain yourselves - what are these fairytales you speak of, and what bearing do they have on the war?" Alec demanded icily. 

Magnus arched an eyebrow at his commanding tone of voice, but gestured at Ragnor and said sarcastically, "Ragnor will have us believe that Edom engaged in a pointless war with Idris for decades to stop the people of Idris from summoning an Angel."

Alec frowned. "Summoning a what?"  

"Aha! Alexander doesn't know either!" Magnus said triumphantly. "He was to be king. If there were any truth in the tale, he would have known."  

"The number of scrolls in the library and the old tapestries hanging in the castle would suggest that the Angels did not merely exist in the imagination," Ragnor said delicately. 

"You are starting to sound like Lilith," Magnus said, rolling his eyes.

"Lilith wasn't always like this. I remember her as a perfectly normal, intelligent girl, if a little self-centred and prone to day-dreams," Ragnor said contemplatively.

"Until she wandered into one of the rooms in the east tower, and fell asleep in front of the tapestry of the Seven Angels," Magnus recited, bored. To Alec, he explained, "It is a castle legend, like a ghost story told to the servants' children, likely so that they'll not wander where they're not wanted." 

"But the tapestry does exist; in fact, I traced this map from it," Ragnor said, indicating the map they had been poring over. "Surely you have stories about the Angels in Idris, Alexander?" 

Alec nodded. "El and Elat came together, and from their joining Elat birthed the world and seven children, called the Angels. But the Angels were cruel and destructive, so El spat on the ground and moulded warriors out of the mud in his own image to drive his children from the land, and as a reward for their courage, the warriors were made flesh and blood, and were given dominion over the world they had saved."

"That is largely the same as our version of the tale, except that in ours Elat was the one who created mankind," Ragnor observed. 

"Our bards also tell of an Angel who did not agree with his brethren, who offered to return in a time of great need. The warriors who accepted his offer lost their magic, and became the people of Idris. But surely that is only a story," Alec insisted. "I have always thought that these stories of good defeating evil are told to give men hope, and find an explanation for the inexplicable."

"In that, at least we are in accord," Magnus murmured. 

"There is always a possibility that the story is allegorical," Ragnor conceded. "But the way it is told in Edom, our queen had the gift of prophecy. She saw that the king of Idris had grown jealous of our magic, and that in his quest to become equal in power to the people of Edom, he would start something that threatened to destroy our entire world - and so Edom waged war on Idris." 

"Clearly whatever scheme the mad king dreamt up is long forgotten, to be replaced with a very real grudge and decades of bad blood," Magnus sighed, then looked Alec straight in the eye. "Alexander, I know that I have given you no reason to trust me, but-"  

He was interrupted by a loud banging on the door.

"Scrollmaster!" a haughty voice called from the other side. 

"It's Azazel's head of guard," Magnus said quietly, quickly getting up from his seat to move to the one closest to Alec, and placed his hand on Alec's thigh with a murmured apology. 

Ragnor made sure that all evidence of their discussion was properly hidden, then waved the door open, and Azazel barged into the room without further leave from Ragnor. He took in the food on the table and Alec and Magnus' postures, and his lips curled into a sneer. 

"Oh, surely there's no need to pretend around me either, little brother?" he asked. Alec tried not to react, although he had a sinking suspicion that there might have been more than one snake lurking around Magnus' rooms. 

"I have no idea what you are talking about, Azazel. I have never found a need for pretense in front of you - that would presume that I care about what you think," Magnus said. 

"I am sure Father would be interested to know what I think of your little gathering here. Why are you here, Magnus? Does your husband need to be taught his letters?" Azazel asked mockingly. 

"I was introducing my husband to Ragnor. My friendship with Ragnor is no secret," Magnus replied easily. 

"Ah, yes... friendship. Such a beautiful thing," Azazel said slyly. "I hope your blossoming friendship survives his sister being sent here to take his place."

"Not that it's any business of yours, but that will not be necessary," Magnus said smugly, his hand sliding higher up Alec's thigh meaningfully. The tips of Alec's ears burned red, but he schooled himself to remain still. 

"You don't fool me. I know you are up to something," Azazel hissed. 

"I would be careful about speaking without proof, my dear brother," Magnus replied, smiling pleasantly at Azazel. 

Ragnor cleared his throat pointedly. "Were you looking for me or for Prince Magnus, my lord?"  

Azazel's gaze flickered between the three of them. "I have need of your services, Scrollmaster. I think I would like to refresh my memory of the punishments due to traitors to the crown," he said, smiling viciously at Magnus before he left the room. 

 

 

There was no point trying to continue their discussion after that, not with Azazel so blatantly watching them. Magnus took Alec on a meandering tour of the castle as if that was how he had intended to spend the day all along, guiding Alec around the gardens with his hand on Alec's back, then bringing Alec to all of the special doorways that allowed quick access to different parts of the castle on the pretext of showing him the tapestries.

When they finally returned to Magnus' rooms in the tower in the evening, the first thing Magnus did was to flush out any snakes that might still be hiding in his rooms - with a broad sweeping gesture, a wave of blue light crashed across the room, and sure enough, a scarlet milksnake fell out from behind a shelf, already dead. Next, Magnus went around to every entrance - doorways, windows, even the drain in the privy room, and cast some sort of complicated spell work on them all.

"I am afraid that I am not nearly as proficient at wards as Ragnor is. And while Azazel and I are evenly matched, he is a skillful opponent, and there is only so much I can do to repel his snakes, which are too well-suited for slipping into nooks and crannies unnoticed," Magnus said in frustration. 

They exchanged a look. They would have to be even more careful now, both of what they said and what they did. 

"Come to bed, Alexander," Magnus suggested. 

Alec swallowed hard and nodded, but didn't make a move towards the bedchamber. Magnus left him to gather his thoughts and feelings, and Alec was thankful for a few moments respite to get a hold of the nervousness coiling inside him. His focus should have been on how they were going to further their plans for peace between the two kingdoms when they were being watched and listened in on at every turn, and yet the prospect of sharing the bedchamber with Magnus, even if nothing would happen between them, dominated his thoughts.

There was a clatter of bird talons, and Alec looked up in surprise, already preparing to defend himself against some creature - possibly a screech owl. Instead, he found a large crow sitting on the window ledge. It cocked its head, as if taking a closer look at Alec, then flapped its wings and made a strange clicking noise in its throat. It was then that Alec noticed that there was something bound to one of its legs with a strip of leather.

A few months ago, Jace had found a crow with a broken wing. He had smuggled it into the underground city, slowly nursing it back to health with Izzy's help, before releasing it back into the sunlit world. But the bird must have grown used to easy food, and often came to perch on Jace's shoulder when he rode out with Alec, stealing scraps of the salt-dried fish Jace was so fond of. Alec had no way of knowing it was the same bird, but it seemed like too much of a coincidence.

The bird made the odd clicking noise again, then warily hopped a little closer. Alec glanced backwards at the bedchamber, making sure that Magnus was not lingering in the doorway, before reaching for the bird. It stood still only long enough for Alec to relieve it of its burden before taking off into the skies.

The bird's mysterious gift turned out to be a tight roll of paper-thin bark, which Alec quickly unfurled with shaky hands. There was a crudely drawn picture of a burning tree on it - the Lightwood family crest - and a single word written in Izzy's hasty scrawl: Soon

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Why was Alexander Lightwood different? 

While Magnus had certainly encouraged the exaggerated rumours of his fondness for wine and beautiful people, like the best lies, there was a grain of truth in them. Magnus had enjoyed the company of scores of men and women no less attractive than Alexander, shared pleasure with more than a few, and in some cases been the one to introduce the pleasures of the flesh to an inexperienced bedfellow. But was it the fact that Alexander was truly bound to him by marriage, that had made Magnus feel as nervous as a groom awaiting a glimpse of his bride at the dais on that first night - and every night thereafter - as he waited for Alexander to come into the bedchamber? Oh, Magnus admired Alexander's mind for strategy and his love for his people as much as he admired the lovely shade of Alexander's eyes when they caught the sun, but that did not explain the way his heart sped up every time he felt his mattress dip with the weight of Alexander gingerly settling into his bed, nor did it explain the way his senses seemed to strain against the confines of his skin, longing to breach the scant inches between them as they lay side by side every night, pretending that they didn't know that the other lay wide awake as well. 

Why was Alexander Lightwood different? Magnus had kissed lips sweet as honey and intoxicating as wine; but it was the memory of Alexander's lips, curved into rare, uncertain smiles, that made him smile to himself like fool when he was alone. He had run his hands through hair like fine silk and tangled his fingers in his lovers' hair in the throes of passion; but it was the stray locks falling over Alexander's face that he longed to gently brush aside. Magnus been embraced by graceful limbs and pressed himself into willing, lithe bodies, even touched Alexander in suggestive ways when they knew they were being watched; but it was their fingers accidentally brushing as they shuffled through maps and scrolls that made Magnus' breath catch in his throat. 

When had the stubborn man who challenged all of Magnus' plans at every turn, and who still flinched when Magnus used his magic, gained such power over Magnus? It had crept up on him in the weeks they had spent together in the secluded, heavily-warded room in the east tower Ragnor had found for their meetings, trying to work out a compromise in the trade routes before the next war council, while the cursed tapestry of the Seven Angels loomed behind them because Ragnor had a terrible sense of humour. Alexander had settled unobtrusively into the empty spaces of Magnus' rooms, and Magnus had woken up one morning to find that he couldn't recall what else had ever been in the corner where Alexander had stacked his armour neatly on the chest that contained his meagre belongings, or how he had ever arranged his tables and chairs before Alexander had moved them out of the way for his morning exercise.

He wasn't blind to Alexander's reciprocal attraction to him, but he had also found the ring he had gifted Alexander before the first war council placed on his dressing table. As long as Alexander kept his distance, Magnus could not - would not - be the one to push the matter. Even if this amounted to nothing in the end, even if Alexander eventually decided that the differences between them were unsurmountable, he had promised Alexander friendship, and he would keep his word.

Besides, for once the affairs of the heart were a distraction Magnus could not afford. Even with Ragnor surreptitiously helping him strengthen the wards on his rooms, Magnus could feel Azazel's growing influence everywhere in the castle. Maia had reported more altercations with Azazel's guards, and both Bat and Alexander's servant had been subjected to threats of violence. 

Magnus had no doubt that Asmodeus was aware of it all, for nothing went on in the castle that he did not know about, but he was watching and waiting to see which of his sons would emerge victorious. And Magnus knew he had played right into his father's hand, for whoever survived the subtleties of cutthroat castle politics would then be king, and would have to keep playing the politics that allowed him to remain king if he liked having his head attached to his neck. 

"I hope you are pleased with yourself," Magnus told Ragnor as he tried unsuccessfully for the umpteenth time to master the warding spell Ragnor had been trying to teach him for the past hour. 

"For vexing you with my spell? You are merely distracted. You have a natural talent for wards, except that you always think in loopholes, and prefer to find out the shape of them and rip them apart," Ragnor said wryly. 

"Not for the spell. For the fact that I have spent three weeks preparing for my father's next war council," Magnus said, brows furrowed as he focussed his magic into the pattern he was meant to cast, an intricate net designed to catch a formless threat, then hurled it outwards from the centre of his body. It settled on the wall in front of him; all Magnus could see were the places where the pattern would unravel with a single sharp thrust.

"It was your birthright from the moment you were claimed by Asmodeus," Ragnor said patiently as Magnus tore his own wards into shreds. "Did you truly think that making yourself out to be a profligate would spare you from politics? You might as well have decided that the skies would never rain on you."  

"I am sure I could make up a charm for that..." Magnus said musingly. 

"Some men are born for great things. In all honesty, I am relieved for the future of Edom, now that you have finally decided to take on the mantle of the crown."

"Careful, Ragnor. All that talk of greatness might go to my head."

"I only wish your heart would truly believe it," Ragnor replied with a snort, but mercifully let the topic go. "How goes Raphael's efforts to gain the support of the other generals?"

"Last I heard, Lucian was inclined to throw in his lot with us, but Meliorn would wait for my father's decision," Magnus said. "I have been expecting word from Raphael, but although I have noticed the same crow breaching my wards thrice now, the bird leaves before I can intercept it." 

"Raphael would not be careless enough to entrust his missives to a badly-trained bird. I suppose we will just have to trust that he has nothing new to report," Ragnor said. 

Magnus sighed. "The council is in five days' time, and Azazel grows restless from not being able to figure out our plans. I fear that he may do some evil to Alexander to thwart us, and we have all worked too hard on this to fail at the last minute."

"Yes, of course you are only worried about how it will affect our plans, because Elat forbid that you should have any genuine feelings for the boy," Ragnor said wryly. Magnus pretended not to hear him. "Speaking of which, where is he?" Ragnor asked. 

Magnus sighed. "You know how he is around magic. I left him in our rooms, with Maia on guard." 

With no magic at his disposal, no matter how great a warrior Alexander was, he would always be at a disadvantage in Edom. He knew that it chafed for a man like Alexander to have to rely on Magnus' guards for his own safety, but there was little Magnus could do about it. Unless... 

"I'm going into the town, Ragnor. If anything happens, you know how to find me," Magnus said, already drawing up a portal. 

 

 

Magnus often ventured out into the town by himself with no accompanying guards, despite his status. He did not remember many details of the childhood he had spent running wild with the other children, but the older folk still remembered him and his youthful shenanigans fondly, and it had been easy to slip back amongst them. These were his people, not in the sense that he might one day rule over them, but in the way they welcomed him to their hearths and invited him to partake of their food and drink without guile. And while there were some who inevitably sought to ingratiate themselves with him, those were few and far between, and soon learnt that their obsequious behaviour had little effect on him.

Ordinarily, Magnus enjoyed lingering in the town, wandering amongst the shops and spending time with old friends. It was a lively place: full of street vendors hawking their wares; minstrels practicing their songs and tuning their instruments; packs of stray dogs attempting to pilfer food from unsuspecting shop owners and barking as they fled the wrathful magical blasts from the rightful owners; sudden explosions from the apothecary from a potion gone wrong; horse carts rattling down the street and their drivers cussing at children dashing in front of them without warning; and the gleam and shine of curios and knick-knacks, both magical and not, displayed on thick blankets laid out on the ground and watched by the sharp eyes of travelling merchants. Trade was picking up again, especially now that the war was over, or at least seemed to be over, for Magnus noticed shellfish and mermaid's hair and scales amongst the wares sold in the shops, which must have come from the towns bordering the West Sea, and the strange smooth black rock from The Barrens which could be used to start fires, which must have come from the towns closer to the deserts. 

Magnus hadn't been to the town in the month since his wedding to Alexander, and when the townspeople saw him, everyone wanted to speak to him, to offer congratulations and to satisfy their curiosity about the prince from Idris. But some also sought to ask after him, worried that he might be unhappy in his sudden marriage to the foreign prince. He had not expected such a reaction and was moved by their concern, then pleasantly surprised that when he assured them that he and Alexander were happily married, he was plied with all sorts of gifts for Alexander - an amulet that would make the wearer less prone to bad temper, potions that he was promised would help Alexander amplify whatever little magic he had, tapers scented with night-blooming jessamine to help ease homesickness, lotions that would help old scars fade, and so on. He had to turn down countless offers for celebratory drinks and promise to pass on everybody's well wishes to Alexander before he managed to get away. 

The house he was planning to visit belonged to Lucian's wife, the woman who had fled Idris for the sake of her baby. She was hardly the only refugee from Idris. Most of them were treated with suspicion, which meant that they often inhabited the poorer quarter of the town and formed their own small community, but she had been lucky enough to catch the eye of a high-ranking soldier, and so both she and her child lived in relative comfort. Still, Magnus knew that she was not popular with the townspeople; most of them seemed to see her as manipulative and untrustworthy. 

He knocked on the door on the house, which lay on the outskirts of town, and she answered the door herself, which was unusual in itself - most families of their status should have had servants. Magnus noticed that she wore her blouse with the sleeves long and collar turned high, much like Alexander himself did, despite the heat of the late summer afternoon - to hide her runes scars, he thought. She was surprised to see him, and immediately wary. 

"Your Highness," she murmured, giving him a curtsey. "My husband is in Moonstone, and does not return until tomorrow."

"Actually, I'm here to see you, Lady Jocelyn," Magnus replied. "May I come in?" 

She stepped aside with some reluctance, but invited him into a sun-drenched sitting area and served him refreshments herself. Again, Magnus was struck by the lack of servants; in fact, the whole house seemed unnaturally quiet, as if the lady of the house lived alone when her husband was away.  

"Where is your daughter?" he asked. 

"She has a shop in the town, making trinkets and baubles," she replied. Magnus had the feeling she did not approve. "My daughter is spoken for, she is engaged to her childhood sweetheart," she added quickly. 

"Peace, my lady. I was just trying to make conversation," Magnus replied, and cleared his throat. "I am sure you know that my new consort was the former Crown Prince of Idris. I would like to get him a gift, and since my father broke his adamas wand, I thought, if I could persuade you to part with yours..."

She looked at him curiously. "My adamas wand would mean little to him. They are given to us by our fathers when we come of age."

"Ah," Magnus said, seeing Alexander's reaction when his wand had been broken in new light. He had not considered that it might have had sentimental value to Alexander. "But what of the runes you mark on your skin? Would another's wand not work as well as your own?" 

Understanding seemed to dawn on her face, and her expression softened a little. "Your Highness, I hope you will pardon me for speaking bluntly, but your people have long misunderstood the purpose of our rune marks. To earn the honour of drawing a rune is no simple matter." She rolled up one sleeve to show him a rune on her forearm. "This rune of stamina was given to me after I birthed Clary. For best effect, it is said that the rune has to be drawn at the height of emotion, to capture the spirit of the warrior's experience, so that he will be able to call on it again when he most needs it - a reminder that if he had been capable of it once before, he was capable of greatness again."

"Then there is no real magic in the runes," Magnus said in disappointment. Lady Jocelyn rolled down her sleeve, and Magnus noticed the wedded union rune on her wrist. "My lady, if the runes are meant to be badges of honour, what does that rune signify?"

She hesitated, then replied, "Some of our runes are prayers for blessings from El. The wedded union rune is an offering of his life for yours; and a prayer that if you should die before him, then with El's blessing, Death's wings would find him swiftly as well - by his own hand, if necessary."

"What?" Magnus gasped. Why would he ever wish that on someone he loved? 

Seeing his horror, she quickly added, "It is an old tradition, rarely taken up now." 

Except that Alexander was a man for which tradition was important - enough for him to remain chaste all his life, and to accept the law about exchanging brides as a reality.

"If you wish to offer Prince Alexander a gift, I might have something else more appropriate," she said, then excused herself from his presence, leaving him to brood over the terrible meaning behind the rune he had been forced to inflict on Alexander. 

When she returned, she held a bundle wrapped in silk. It contained a small collection of knives, their blades made of adamas and dipped in steel, the largest no longer than Magnus' palm. Weapons of adamas were feared in Edom - their presence impeded magic, such that even the wounds made by a blade of adamas could not be healed by magical means. This small stash of illegal blades explained the lack of servants, for the presence of this much adamas would surely have been felt by even the weakest wielder of magic. She had taken a gamble in showing these to him.

She offered one to him, and seemed amused by his doubtful expression. "It does not take much to slit a man's throat or sever a man's spine," she reminded him. 

Magnus took the proffered blade, which had a hilt so small he could only grasp it between his finger and thumb, and the adamas that peeked through the runes etched into the sides of the blades glinted red. A blade this small could be more easily concealed in a belt or in the sole of a boot; Magnus decided that it would do. 

"Name your price," he offered.  

"I have no want of gold or jewels, but I am heartened that you would want to gift such a blade to your consort, even though you know that owning just one of them could be trouble, even for a prince." In her tone of voice, Magnus heard the veiled threat for what it was: let slip the existence of the forbidden blades, and she would make sure that it was known that Alexander possessed one as well. "I only ask that my daughter will always have your favour, even though she is Idris-born."

Magnus nodded. "Consider it done."

 

 

The shadows were growing long when Magnus finally made his way back to the castle, having been delayed by well-wishers for longer than he would have liked. He had sent all of the gifts to Ragnor's rooms instead of his own, lest their sudden appearance startled Alexander, but the knife he kept in his belt, for the adamas resisted the pull of his magic, and he dared not send the forbidden item ahead of him. He did not want to risk using a portal either, in case the adamas caused the spell to go awry, and at this time of the year, with the harvest festival slightly more than a week away, the side gate would be crowded with delivery carts and merchants - far easier to slip back into the castle unnoticed in the chaos. Magnus was walking briskly up the steep cobbled alleyway that was a shortcut to the side gate when he heard horses coming up behind him. 

He stepped to one side, and cursed his luck when he saw that it was Azazel, Lorenzo, and a handful of their guards. From the fresh bear pelt and the bloody elk antlers they had brought back, Magnus guessed that they had been out hunting for sport, and gritted his teeth. 

"I thought I saw you slinking in here. Sneaking back after an afternoon of whoring in the town? I should have known that you would grow bored of your consort within the month," Azazel said with a smirk. 

"I was visiting friends, but I wouldn't expect you to understand. The concept of someone enjoying your company for the sake of it must be foreign to you," Magnus replied sweetly. 

But Azazel did not rise to the bait. "I would keep a closer eye on your consort if I were you, little brother. He may have let you take him to bed, but it was probably so he could murder you in your sleep, and we all know what a terrible loss that would be for Edom."

"How touching, Azazel. I never knew you cared," Magnus said. 

"Don't say I didn't warn you - your little caged bird may one day peck your eyes out, for in his heart of hearts you will always be the enemy," Azazel said. "Why don't you ask him about the crow that weekly flies to him from Idris?" 

From Idris? Magnus was sure he hadn't let his surprise show, but Azazel flashed a knowing smile at him anyway, giving the reins of his mount a vicious jerk to wheel it around, before leading his little entourage back to the main gate so that he could make a showy entrance with his spoils, leaving Magnus to his troubled thoughts. 

  

 

He knew Azazel was trying to sow discord between him and Alexander, but that did not mean that Azazel's words did not hold truth in them. Did he trust Alexander? Knowing what Azazel was capable of meant that he had constantly been on guard, not even daring to speak plainly within his own rooms, but Magnus had not put up any protective spells against Alexander as he slept next to him. He tried to think if there was anything in Alexander's behaviour that had seemed suspicious, and came up with nothing. They spent a large portion of their waking hours together, and Magnus was not a heavy sleeper, so he was sure he would have noticed if Alexander had left the bedchamber at any point in the middle of the night. But if Alexander was intent on plotting against him, he was sure that he was clever enough to find a way. 

When he returned to his rooms, he found Alexander perusing one of Ragnor's scrolls, which traced the lineage of Edom's royal family. He seemed pleased to see him, setting his reading aside instantly and standing up to greet Magnus. 

"Is everything alright? Ragnor came by an hour ago with these," he said, gesturing to the gifts from the townspeople. And thank Elat, Magnus noticed Ragnor had not sent along the more offensive gifts, like the lotions to help scars fade. "He seemed to think that you should have been back already." 

Did it sound like Alexander had been worried about him, or was it just wishful thinking?

Magnus forced out a smile. "I merely lost track of time. The townspeople send their regards and welcome."

Alexander nodded his acknowledgement, although he seemed skeptical, and began to tidy up the scrolls he had been reading. 

"I have been expecting word from the merchant from Sanguine," Magnus said, using the code they used for Raphael. "Have you by any chance seen a messenger bird?"

Alexander's hands stilled for a split second before he resumed his task. "No, I have not seen a messenger bird." 

Magnus' heart sank, but he had barely started to think of how to react to the turn of events when Alexander suddenly added, "At least, I have not seen a bird from Sanguine." 

"Oh?" Magnus asked, keeping his voice even. 

"Jace and Izzy have been sending me messages, borne by a crow that they tamed," he admitted. He looked up and met Magnus' gaze squarely. "There is nothing in their messages that you need to worry about, I swear."

"They must miss you very much. And you, them," Magnus said, and he was sure that he had been unable to keep the relief out of his expression.  

Alexander's eyes narrowed. "You knew," he said flatly. "Was this a test of my trustworthiness?" 

"I had known about the crow, but did not know where it came from. Azazel cornered me to warn me against you just now," Magnus said. 

"Azazel knows?" Alexander said, the fear evident in his voice. 

"I would warn them to exercise caution for a while," Magnus agreed. 

"You presume too much to think that they even know the meaning of the word," Alexander muttered, then in a colder voice, asked, "Did I pass your test?" 

"Oh, Alexander. I..." Deciding that his actions would speak louder than his words, Magnus removed the adamas blade from his belt and stepped closer to slip it into Alexander's hand. "I went into the town to procure this for you, as a gift. I have had little personal experience with this material, and will need some time to find out how it affects my magic so that I can take you through portals safely as I normally do, but it is yours if you will accept it."

Alexander glanced down at the blade in his hand, running his thumb along the flat side of the blade disbelievingly. The adamas sparked blue under his touch. 

"Thank you," he said softly, and there it was - that tentative but genuine smile that immediately made Magnus' heart lighter, and Magnus felt a smile rising to his own face in response. 

And in that moment, with the setting sun flooding the room with golden light, and the man he was helplessly falling in love with smiling back at him, there was no more need for words. 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

Alec hid the adamas blade Magnus gifted him inside the sole of his boot, and it was strange what a difference it made. It wasn't just that Alec now had a fighting chance against powerful foes like Azazel. The greater gift had been the proof that Magnus truly trusted him, although that trust in turn weighed heavy on Alec's conscience, for he had not told Magnus the whole truth about the missives he had been receiving from his siblings. 

It was true that Alec did not think Magnus needed to worry about what Jace and Izzy were planning, but that was because he refused to aid them in their foolhardy plans; the burden of worrying about his siblings was Alec's alone to bear. The second time the crow came, it had carried a small vial, and a letter explaining that the vial contained a poison that was the sister of the one in Alec's wooden pin - weaker, and with an antidote that if administered within two days, could allow the victim to recover with few ill effects. Alec had quickly gathered that they intended for him to swallow the poison and make everyone believe that he was dead, so that they could steal him from his grave and bring him home to Idris. 

The crow had lingered only long enough for Alec to scribble a brief refusal in reply, but they had sent another insistent letter indicating that they would soon be making the journey towards Edom in secret, with hopes of reaching during the harvest moon. This third letter had driven Alec to distraction; he did not know how to make them understand that he didn't need or want to be rescued, but tiny scraps of bark and parchment were hardly sufficient for such a lengthy conversation, and it was too unwise to put down all the myriad reasons why in writing anyway.

Alec's place was here, and he saw now that his abdication and marriage had in some ways been a blessing in disguise. Although he was a soldier at heart, and preferred the clean and honest conflict of blade against blade and fist against fist, he would have been king one day, and knew that sometimes the subtle knife of diplomacy was a far more useful weapon. Magnus and Ragnor respected his opinion, and with Ragnor's vast knowledge of Edom's history and law, and half the war council on Magnus' side, as Magnus' consort Alec could help shape the future of their two kingdoms better than he could have as a warrior, or even as a powerless king of his own country.

What use would he be to Idris even if they succeeded in getting him out of Edom? He could never go home to Idris. He would be a fugitive of both Edom and Idris, forever doomed to hide in the wilderness and no man's land between the two kingdoms, and if the ruse were ever to be discovered or they were caught, he was certain that Jace and Izzy would be executed along with him for high treason.

Besides, too many things were waiting to go wrong in Jace and Izzy's plan. To the people of Idris, a corpse was just an empty vessel, the warrior's spirit having long moved on to El's glorious fields of the next world. Good lumber was too precious to be used for a funeral pyre, and the ground in the mountains was too hard and rocky for burial, so they left their dead on the highest mountain peak, exposed to the sky - a gift to the birds and scavengers, and placed at the mercy of the elements, so that flesh and bone would return to the embrace of Elat and her circle of life and death. Alec did not know how Edom honoured those who had passed, but it was possible that they burned their dead - in which case, he would be burned alive, and there would only be ashes left for Jace and Izzy - or he might be buried in the ground to suffocate, both miserable deaths. There was also the possibility that his siblings might not reach him in time, and he would then die from the poison anyway.

Perhaps they had assumed that he would have preferred death to his current situation, but that could not be further from the truth. He was not a free man, that was true, but what prince or king was ever truly free? A crown was just a shackle in a different shape. And yet, for once, Alec could see a vision of the future that did not make him feel hollowed out - one where Edom and Idris were so intertwined by trade that peace suited them both better than war, and where Alec himself could find a measure of peace in his own life, married to a good man with whom he could find companionship - and dare he hope it - something a little more than friendship.

Yes, Magnus was as quick tempered as he was quick witted, and although any suggestions he put forth in their discussions were always to the benefit of Edom first, and Idris second, he was not an unreasonable man. At first, Alec had struggled with his feelings, confused and unsure if what he felt for Magnus was simply a mixture of blind lust and a formless gratitude for the kindness Magnus had shown him. But in the weeks they had spent together, even knowing the highs and lows of Magnus' sometimes capricious moods and despite the wariness of magic that Alec could not shake off, the heat of desire in Alec's veins had not cooled, every night spent lying close to Magnus but not daring to even touch him was a torment, and the growing strength of his own feelings had frightened Alec a little. Maybe after they had secured peace for both their kingdoms, and Alec had averted the danger his siblings were running headlong into, he would finally allow himself some time to think of how to form the words to tell Magnus how he felt. 

 

 

On the morning of the war council, Alec was getting dressed - in lighter shades of gold and cream, at Magnus' insistence that he needed to be more visible and not attempt to fade into the shadows - when there was a knock on the door of the bedchamber. He opened the door to let Magnus in. They had worked out a rhythm to their mornings, navigating around each other to get dressed and complete their morning rituals, with Magnus coming into the room after Alec was dressed to put the finishing touches to his outfit.

Magnus pulled Alec's wrists towards himself to adjust his cuffs, as he had the morning before the previous war council, and stilled when he noticed that Alec had left off the strip of silk that usually covered the wedded union rune. He looked up at Alec in surprise. 

"I have not been wearing it for some time now," Alec admitted.  

"Oh."

Magnus seemed greatly affected, but not in the way Alec had expected. He had thought Magnus would be pleased that Alec was no longer hiding his rune from sight, now that it no longer brought him sorrow to be reminded that he had been forced into this marriage, but instead Magnus looked troubled. 

"The woman who sold me the blade told me the meaning of the rune," he said quietly. "I think it is easy to promise die for someone. It is much harder to promise to spend your life with them, despite all their annoying eccentricities. Wouldn't you agree?"

"It is an old tradition, from when Idris was prosperous and the city above the ground still stood in all its glory," Alec protested. "Taking one's own life because of the death of another, even a beloved one, would be wasteful. The rune is just a mark of promise now, part of the ceremony."

Magnus hummed, then shook his head and went to his vanity table. Alec knew he wanted to say more, but they had a war council to attend, and Azazel had been suspiciously quiet after cornering Magnus, giving them reason to suspect that Azazel might try to stop them from attending the council at the last moment. It was a conversation that would have to wait.

Magnus returned with a handful of rings both gold and silver, as well as his grandfather's ring. "You should keep these. It would be far easier for you to remember what I have given you, and I have no lack of these baubles," Magnus said lightly as he slipped them onto Alec's fingers. 

"I cannot possibly accept this one. It was your grandfather's ring," Alec said.

Magnus turned back to his vanity table, speaking without looking at Alec, "But you must, for it is only proper. Of the gifts exchanged to mark a betrothal, it is customary to include an heirloom from our mother's family, but any gifts you received would have been from Lilith's mother, not mine."

When he turned back around, he had a length of gold chain in his hands, and from it dangled a medallion with a single large ruby set in it. Magnus placed the chain around Alec's neck; the ruby was the exact shade of Magnus' vest. 

"Sanguine is well-known for its flawless rubies," Magnus said, the corner of his mouth quirked up in a mischievous smile. "Why else would I be in correspondence with one of its merchants, but to purchase a gift worthy of my consort?"

Alec swallowed hard, pride stung by the sudden realisation that while Magnus had given him many things, he had nothing to give Magnus in return. "Thank you."

If Magnus noticed his discomfort, he did not draw attention to it, only acknowledging Alec's thanks with a nod. "Come, Alexander. The council awaits."

 

 

The first time Alec had attended the war council, his presence had been greeted with hostility, and Magnus had only fared a little better after he began to speak and had shown the council that there was more to him than they'd assumed. This time, it was clear that most of them were prepared to listen, even Asmodeus, and Alec thought he knew why.

Magnus had always been free with his coin, and had used his easy relationship with the various merchant nobles to regal them with stories of rare gems and ores of precious metal deep in the mountains of Idris on the pretext of seeking out items for purchase. Alec had found their interest bewildering, since gold and silver were too soft to work into tools and weapons, and pretty stones had no use other than being pretty to look at, but evidently Magnus' stories had been enough to nudge them to seek audience with Asmodeus and show their interest in the trade routes. Raphael and Lucian had also spoken up in support of Magnus' plan, and as Magnus spoke, Alec could see Meliorn nodding along in agreement as well. 

"So you would have us help them rebuild their city? That's your big plan?" Azazel sneered when Magnus had finished speaking, gaze flicking to Alec. "Your consort must have pleased you very well indeed. You seem to have forgotten where your loyalties lie."

Alec could feel his face growing hot at Azazel's insinuations, but held his tongue - as always, his position at the council was to be seen but not heard. Instead, he lifted his chin and glared back disdainfully. 

"If you had been listening, Azazel, you would have heard me suggest that we build a marketplace where the old city of Idris stood, a place that is already marked out in our own maps, together with a few well-worn paths that were used by our own traders in the old days before the war," Magnus said with the air of someone explaining something to a simpleton. He turned to address the rest of the council, "If we want lasting peace, we will have to stop thinking of each other as the enemy, but as neighbour and kin. There will be other things that need to be done - setting up guard posts against bandits, manned by soldiers from both Edom and Idris, for example - and the trade terms will be to Edom's favour, of course."

"And who will negotiate these terms? Who will travel to Idris to build these relationships you speak of, and receive the nobles from Idris?" Asmodeus asked. 

Magnus took a deep breath beside him, and let it out softly. Alec knew all too well that feeling - of accepting his place in the yoke of kingship.  

"I will, Father."

Asmodeus smiled in satisfaction. "Very well. I accept. Send word to Idris to set these wheels in motion. But if you are to go forth in the interests of Edom, then you will need to go with the full weight of Edom's crown behind you."

Magnus must have known that this would happen, but perhaps not so quickly nor this easily, and looked startled. "Father, you don't mean..."

"What has he done to earn that glory?" Azazel protested furiously. 

"While you were out on leisurely hunts with your many admirers and setting your snakes to spy on everyone in the castle, Magnus has been rallying support for himself and his cause," Asmodeus said in stern rebuke. "You assumed that because of the order of your birth, the crown would fall to you with no contest."

"But-" 

Asmodeus turned away from Azazel in clear dismissal, then announced to the rest of the council, "When Magnus sets out for Idris, he will go not as Edom's youngest prince, but as King-in-Waiting."

Azazel's expression was thunderous, but as he caught Alec's eye, to Alec's great disquiet Azazel seemed to relax, and smiled at him - and Alec knew then that the battle was far from over. 

 

  

Asmodeus' decision had coincided nicely with the harvest festival that was to occur in a few days, and as such a celebratory feast in honour of Magnus' new appointment was held together with the festivities. It was not a happy festival in Idris, for the harvest moon marked the start of the cold weather and lean months where the only food they had was whatever they could find in the caves, and the monsters in the deep shadows grew restless. In Edom, however, they had put out food that should have been saved for the winter in great excess, and the mood seemed to be of joy and merriment, and Alec simply didn't understand. Coupled with the supposed arrival of his siblings any day now, Azazel's suspicious silence, and the fact that Alec had not seen the crow again, he was in no mood to celebrate, but made the effort for Magnus' sake. 

Magnus, on the other hand, had reverted to one of his fey moods, and bickered endlessly with Ragnor over the missives to be sent out to Idris. Alec thought Magnus was trying to enjoy the last vestiges of his freedom, determined to make the most of the festivities held in his honour before the demands of the crown weighed him down. The best food and drink had been laid out in the grand hall much like it had on their wedding night, free for commoners and nobles alike to partake, and minstrels were playing lively tunes for the dancers swirling in the middle of the room. But Magnus seemed restive and bored, especially since they were confined to the royal dais, sitting on Asmodeus' right hand, while Azazel glowered at them on the left, and Lilith's seat remained conspicuously empty, the princess having gone into another one of her violent spells. 

"This is tedious," Magnus complained to Alec, lowering his voice so that his father would not overhear. 

"I would not mind if you wanted to dance a measure with someone else," Alec told him, only too aware that he could not dance. 

"Ah, but I only want to dance with you," Magnus replied with a slightly sad smile, but recovered quickly. "I'll show you how the harvest festival is celebrated tonight," Magnus told him meaningfully and winked, and Alec felt a blush creeping up on him, unsure of whether Magnus was teasing him in earnest or still playing his part in their pretence. 

The moment Asmodeus excused himself from the royal dais, Magnus seized Alec by the hand and led him away from the table, but they were only halfway to Magnus' chambers when Magnus opened a portal and leapt through with Alec. Alec stumbled as they landed on the other side, having not expected the uneven surface of the cobbled alleyway. 

"Where are we?" he asked Magnus in surprise, but Magnus was already dragging him out of the shadow of the narrow alleyway and into the bright lights of the town, and Alec immediately understood why Magnus had been so disappointed in the festivities at the castle.  

The decorations in the castle had been pretty, dainty pink lanterns barely bigger than Alec's palm hanging from the ceiling of every hallway; but out here, the lanterns that had been hung across the streets were in every size, shape and colour imaginable. Some of them threw out flowery scents as they spun; some were in the shape of animals and actually moved, so huge that they had to be set on the ground; some of them had stories drawn on their panels, drawing crowds of children who had gathered to watch the painted figures play out the stories. And it wasn't just the decorations, but the infectious joy of the townspeople; they were singing and dancing in the streets to a confusing cacophony of tunes from various different minstrels, and sharing out sweet cakes with anybody who walked past, friends and strangers alike. Instead of the proper and formal greetings and congratulations Magnus had endured all evening from the nobles, the townspeople had shown their delight at seeing Magnus and Alec with exuberant cheers and heartfelt words. They were both plied with food and drink far simpler than what had been served at the castle, but offered so generously that it seemed churlish to refuse. 

Bewildered as he was by the attention, Alec could not help but notice that Magnus put no airs about despite his status, talking and laughing easily as if they were all his equals. People would come up to speak to Magnus and he would address them by name, and he sneaked sweet treats to the children when their parents pushed them forward to greet their new king-in-waiting. Alec didn't say it, because he didn't want to spoil Magnus' mood by reminding him, but Alec couldn't help thinking this: Asmodeus was right. When the time came, Magnus would be a king beloved of his people. 

While Magnus was otherwise occupied by conversation, a girl came up to Alec. She was about his age, with hair like fire, and smiled reassuringly when Alec pulled away from her as she tried to draw him away from Magnus and the crowd surrounding him. 

"I am Sir Lucian's daughter, Clary," she said. 

"The girl from Idris who had magic," Alec recalled.

She nodded and smiled. "I want to give you something, and you can have your pick. My shop is just over there - not out of the Prince's sight."

She had painted many lanterns specially for the harvest festival, all folded flat, waiting to be assembled and lit. Alec noticed that there was a shimmer to her paintings that had nothing to do with the actual paint. "Is there magic in them?" he asked.

"They are wishing lanterns," she explained. "At midnight, we light a fire under them, and let them fly off into the sky in hopes that El will hear our wishes and make them true. Mine have a little charm on them to make them fly higher and brighter."

Alec accepted one of them, and had just tucked it into his vest when Magnus came up to him.

"There you are," he said, relieved, and took Alec's hand. "Come. I have something to show you."

Magnus opened a portal, and just before the doorway closed behind Alec, he thought he heard someone call out his name, but it could just as easily have been someone else in the crowd.

 

  

They stepped into darkness. Alec closed his eyes, trusting that Magnus would not have led him to a place of danger, letting the brightness of the town fade from his vision before he opened his eyes. They were in the middle of a forest, so far away from the town and the castle that there was no light at all save for the unearthly glow of fireflies blinking in the bushes, and the light from the harvest moon hanging low in the sky, peeking between the branches and leaves above their head. He could still feel Magnus' hand in his, and as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he found that he could see the vague shape of Magnus' features, enough to see that he was smiling at Alec.

"It is almost midnight. This is the best place to watch the wishing lanterns," Magnus explained. 

Alec felt a little like he was reliving his boyhood as they climbed up to the topmost branches of what Magnus claimed was the tallest oak tree in the forest. The branches should have been too thin to take both of them, but then again many things were possible with a bit of magic.

"Did you know, that in Edom, the harvest moon is also called the lover's moon? A child conceived tonight is considered a good omen for the family," Magnus told him, then added with a smirk, "The festivities tonight will continue well into the morning."

"I confess, I do not understand your people's enthusiasm in celebrating the turning of the season from autumn to winter. Is not winter the season where all things die?" 

"But with no death, there is no life - that is Elat's way. Yes, winter will bring the death of many things, but first we must give thanks to the bountiful harvest Elat has blessed us with, and what better way to do that than in a celebration of what makes living worthwhile?" Magnus countered.

Alec shook his head. "We breathe the same air, walk on the same ground, and yet Idris and Edom could be two different worlds. Even before the war, I doubt we ever thought to celebrate the harvest moon in this way." 

"You said the people of Idris claim that they lost their magic because it was sacrificed to an Angel, but the way it is told here, your people lost your magic because you were so busy surviving that you forgot how to live," Magnus said teasingly. 

"And maybe Edom's telling of the story is right," Alec admitted softly.

A movement in the sky caught his eye, and he turned to see the first of the wishing lanterns drifting into the night sky towards the moon; a few scattered spots of light at first, then little clouds of them, groups of lanterns that had been released at the same time, possibly by a group of friends or a family. 

"I should have thought to bring one for you," Magnus said regretfully.

"Well..." Alec brought out the lantern Clary had given him, and Magnus' eyes lit up with child-like delight.

"It's been years since I have lit one," Magnus confessed.

Magnus unfolded the delicate paper lantern with deft fingers and snapped his fingers to set the wick in it alight. The painting on it was exquisite, the light shining through the paper mimicking the sunlight on the surface of the ocean in the picture perfectly, and the schools of odd fishes looked like they might come to life and start swimming. Magnus seemed entranced by the lantern, but Alec only had eyes for Magnus.

"Make a wish," Magnus urged him. "Anything your heart desires."

You, Alec thought. The thing that my heart most desires is you. But he dutifully closed his eyes and pretended to make a wish, and let the lantern drift off into the sky to join its brethren. 

As they watched it go, Alec said into the quiet of the night forest, "Magnus... I want you to know that I am happy here."

"I am glad to hear that," Magnus replied. He turned away from the lantern to look at Alec, and Alec wanted to kiss him. 

Alec shifted his weight, moving a little closer, fully expecting Magnus to move away, but Magnus stayed completely still, his eyes wide. Magnus was waiting for him to make the first move, and Alec came to the startled realisation that it had always been so. He leaned forward a little more, but there was a sudden deafening clap of thunder, and they sprang apart. Birds roosting in the trees nearby startled and flew away, and a bolt of lightning flashed across the cloudless sky.

"It's my father," Magnus said grimly, already throwing out an arm to open a portal. "We must go back to the castle - I fear that something terrible has happened."

Magnus portalled them directly to the entrance of Asmodeus' rooms, alarming quite a few guards at their sudden appearance, but Magnus had no time or patience for their questions. 

"Where is my father?" he demanded.

"Magnus!" Alec said sharply, noticing a commotion in the courtyard downstairs.

They hurried down together, only to see Asmodeus storming down the steps from a different wing of the castle, presumably also drawn to the noise. 

"Father! I thought-" Magnus began.

"Lilith has disappeared, and all her guards are dead," Asmodeus replied, his face lined with grief and anger. 

The three of them made their way down the steps that led from the main doorway of the castle into the courtyard, followed by a throng of guardsmen, and found Azazel at the heart of the mayhem, looking unbearably smug.

"Look at what vermin I have found crawling about in our town," he announced, and had his guards bring forth two prisoners. 

Alec recognised them immediately, his heart plummeting, but he knew better than to let his distress show, for that was exactly what Azazel was counting on. 

"That's enough," Alec said evenly. "Let my brother and sister go."

 

 

Chapter Text

  

 

 

Magnus had recognised the fair-haired prisoner as Alexander's sworn brother, for he had been part of the entourage that had accompanied Alexander to Edom to bear witness to his wedding, but even without Alexander's declaration, Magnus would have guessed that the girl Azazel had caught was of Alexander's blood. She had dark hair like him, though her eyes were a shade darker than his, and she had the same strong brows, sharp nose, and a stubborn set to her jaw that reminded him irresistibly of his Alexander. 

It came as no surprise that Azazel's guards paid Alexander no heed, and from the way Alexander's brother suddenly gritted his teeth, Magnus guessed that the man who was holding onto him had wrenched the hands held behind his back to try to make him cry out. 

"I suspected that some treachery might befall our new king-in-waiting on the glorious occasion of his appointment, and took it upon myself to patrol the town with my guards," Azazel with false diffidence. "And behold, such betrayal from his own consort - not just two Idris spies, as I had initially assumed, but his own close kin, no doubt summoned for some nefarious purpose. They had on them not only various blades of adamas, but also a vial of some poison."

"There is indeed treachery afoot, but it is not Magnus who has fallen victim to it," Asmodeus said coldly, "What have you done to my daughter, and where is she?"

Magnus glanced at his father in surprise. He had always thought of his father cold and unfeeling, seeing his children as pawns to be used and discarded whenever it served his own ends, but Asmodeus was clearly distraught. But it seemed like Asmodeus would be getting no answers to the fate of Lilith from Alexander's siblings or even Azazel, for all of them merely looked confused.

Azazel was the first to recover, rearranging his expression to something like concern. "Has something happened to my dear sister?" 

If the situation had not been so dire for Alexander's siblings, Magnus would have had some pithy remark to make about Azazel's sudden interest in his sister's well-being. Instead, he quickly interrupted, "Alexander's siblings are here on my invitation."

Azazel turned to look at him in gleeful astonishment. "Are you admitting that you were a part of this plot against Lilith?"

"No - I meant that their presence here was expected, and Lilith's disappearance tonight merely coincidence. After all, the harvest festival is a time for family and reunions. I meant to surprise Alexander, and invite his siblings to join us in our celebrations, but with winter coming, the mountain passes are unreliable and I was not sure when they would be arriving," Magnus replied calmly. 

Magnus could feel Alexander's eyes on him but didn't turn to look for fear of what he might see in them, the sting of betrayal like a blade through his heart, for he knew now that there must have been more to the messages Alexander had been receiving than simple words of comfort and love between the three siblings. Instead, he kept his gaze steady on his father, braced to bear the full force of Asmodeus' fury. 

"You brought them in? You let the enemy into our home?" Asmodeus snarled, the power in his veins crackling in the air, and overhead thunder rumbled. 

"Father, our families are bound together by my marriage to Alexander. His blood is my blood, and Idris is not the enemy, not anymore," Magnus reminded him. "I brought Alexander out into the town to meet them, and it was just our misfortune that we must have missed each other, and Azazel simply misunderstood their intentions."

"Such a likely story," Azazel sneered. "They have no magic and few weapons. The only way they would have been able to sneak into the castle and into Lilith's chambers, then overpowered all her guards and Lilith herself, was if they had someone to aid them. Since you have claimed them as kin, then it is only too obvious who helped them." 

"What would they gain from hurting Lilith, except the full wrath of Edom on their doorstep?" Magnus demanded, and turned to Asmodeus. "Why would Idris risk their princess and a noble leader of their troops on a plan so foolhardy? Father, you must see this. They only want to see their brother."

"And what about this?" Azazel asked, retrieving a small vial of something from his belt. 

"The vial is full, Azazel. It is obvious that whatever it is has not been used on Lilith," Magnus pointed out. 

"But that does not mean that it was not intended to cause harm," Azazel countered. 

"It is a restorative," Alexander's sister explained quickly. "The journey here has been arduous, and I prepared this in case either of us had need of it."

"Father, Catarina has a special gift in the art of potions as well. Let her examine it, and she will be able to prove that Princess Isabelle is telling the truth," Magnus said. 

Asmodeus clenched his jaw. "The good Lady Catarina was attending to Lilith tonight."

Magnus felt his stomach drop. "Is she...?" 

"She is the only one who survived the attack, but I fear that she is gravely hurt. She is being attended to by Lady Dorothea and Ragnor."

"Then we will simply have to have someone drink this," Azazel said slyly. He glanced at the two prisoners. "But not these two - for even if this is poison, it may have been made with the intent to work on someone who wields magic, and may not hurt them." He held the vial out to Magnus. "You claim that they are here on your invitation, so you must trust them. Prove it." 

Beside him, Alexander tensed, which did not bode well for Magnus. His sister, though, caught Magnus' eye and nodded almost imperceptibly. Magnus took the tiny vial from Azazel, and stared defiantly at him, then poured it all down his throat before he could think better of it. The potion was cloyingly sweet and smelled of something floral. 

Magnus waited for the poison to twist in his gut and drop him to his knees, but instead he only felt a little warm and perhaps slightly more wakeful. "See?" He held his arms out, and heard Alexander let out the breath he had been holding in.

By now, a small crowd of nobles and servants had gathered to watch the scene unfold, but they parted to let the four generals of Edom through. Out of the corner of his eye, Magnus also saw Ragnor hurrying down the steps of the main entrance. 

"Sire, we have searched the whole castle, including the grounds. There is no sign of Princess Lilith," Raphael reported. 

"If I may, Your Majesty," Ragnor interjected. "I have examined Lady Catarina's injuries, and the circumstances are similar to the events that led to her mother Queen Eve's untimely death. Could it be that the princess lost control of her powers during her violent fit and fled the castle when she saw what she had done?" 

"If we start extending our search now, we might find her yet - before she does some harm to herself or others," Lucian suggested. 

"But the prisoners-" Azazel said in a petulant whine, his plans to wreck havoc on Magnus' life falling apart before his eyes. Of course, he did not know that Magnus' heart had already been broken. 

"Those are not prisoners. They are my honoured guests from Idris that you have insulted and mistreated," Magnus said sharply, drawing his shoulders back and straightening to his full height. At a glare from Magnus, Azazel's guards let go of Alexander's siblings, and suddenly looked fearful. 

"Wait," Asmodeus said, fixing his piercing gaze on Alexander's siblings, his brows furrowed. "Give Magnus' guests rooms in one of the west towers, and set guards at the door - for their own protection, of course."

"I will send word to my head of guard right away," Magnus said immediately, but his father cut him off. 

"No, they shall be put under the watch of my guard. And I'm sure your lovely consort is eager to spend some time in the company of his kin," Asmodeus said, voice hard, and Azazel's expression turned triumphant. 

"But, Father-" Magnus began. 

"Your Majesty, allow me to see to Magnus' guests in your absence, for they must be hungry and thirsty after their long journey," Ragnor suggested, and Magnus breathed a sigh of relief when Asmodeus gave him a curt nod. 

"Magnus," Alexander said softly but evenly - his stoic prince, always too much in control of his emotions to let them give him away.

Unable to avoid Alexander's gaze any longer, he looked up, and from the silent apology in his eyes, Magnus knew for certain that his guess had been right, and that Alexander had lied to him. "I will be back as soon as we find out what happened to Lilith," Magnus murmured, hoping that the terrible ache in his heart didn't show in his voice.

Despite everything, Magnus could not stop himself from lifting Alexander's hand to his lips and pressing a kiss to his knuckles before following in his father’s wake to the stables, fighting not to look back as Alexander and his siblings were led away by Asmodeus' guards. 

 

 

They rode out swiftly, their way lit by moonlight and will-o'-the-wisps that marked the paths ahead of them with a creeping glow. There was no telling how near or far Lilith could be, and they did not wanting to startle her with sudden bursts of magic, so they split up into small groups on horseback to scour every inch of Edom. Asmodeus rode with Meliorn to the west, Azazel with Lorenzo to the south, and Magnus with Lucian to the east, each of them travelling with a few dozen guards, and Raphael was tasked with searching the area closest to the capital; they would venture into the Drowned Lands only if there was no other choice. 

Magnus' horse was a proud grey stallion, restless with their easy pace and eager to pull ahead. Normally he would have given it free rein, but keeping his horse in check as they picked their way through the sinuous trail through the forest and keeping an eye out for low-hanging branches that might sweep him off his horse was proving to be a welcome distraction from heartache.

Alexander had told him he was happy, and had wanted to kiss him, and yet he was almost certain that Alexander's siblings had risked everything to sneak past the high walls of Edom with the intent of helping Alexander escape. There could be many reasons why Alexander wanted to leave, of course, even if he did have feelings for Magnus. Perhaps a loved one was gravely ill, or the torment of being trapped in Edom had been too much to bear in the end, and whatever fledgling feelings he had for Magnus had simply not been enough to convince him to stay. Magnus only hoped that the time spent looking for Lilith would give him the distance he needed to summon up enough fortitude to let Alexander go with grace.

He had not spent much time in the company of Lucian before this, and even then only to speak of the peace treaty with Idris, but right now he appreciated that Lucian was not a man who found a need to fill the silence with idle chatter. Overhead and underfoot, Magnus could hear the creatures of the forest scampering, slithering, and winging away from them, but there was nothing big enough to be human, and certainly nothing giving off the signs of the kind of power Lilith possessed. Tiny swarms of stinging insects buzzed in his ear despite their brisk pace, and Magnus repelled them absently from his men and their horses. 

The path they were taking led them deeper into denser forests, and Magnus knew that they rode towards Moonstone, which was Lucian's domain, and Edom's main source of lumber. The people of Moonstone tended to have a talent for beast magic: some could speak to and command animals; some could shift their shape or borrow the body of another creature, riding like a passenger or parasite in the animal's mind; and some possessed the qualities and marks of certain creatures, such as a bat's ability to use echos to "see", or the very versatile tail of a monkey. Magnus knew Lucian had an extraordinary sense of smell and a talent for tracking, and coupled with Magnus' ability to see perfectly in the dark, and Lucian's right-hand man running alongside with them, shifted into his wolf form, they covered the acres of dark forest quickly and efficiently. 

As morning greyed, they emerged on a windswept hill that overlooked the city. Magnus had never been to Moonstone, and had never seen the ocean in his life, but from here he could smell the salt tang and fishy odour of it in the cool breeze, much like the smell that wafted from seafood and mermaid hair in the market in the town - except that there was also something foul and rotten in it. 

"I did not realise the city walls of Moonstone lay so close to the ocean," Magnus commented to Lucian. 

"It's not just the ocean, my lord," Lucian said grimly. "Not only do the Drowned Lands eat away at the no man's land between us and Idris; it also pushes into the ocean, and drives it higher. Over the last twenty years, the tides have started reaching further than they ever used to, covering places that used to be beaches, and have also grown stronger, cutting into the cliffs until the edges of the land fall into the ocean. And sometimes the waves bring a foul slime from the Drowned Lands which causes blisters where they touch bare skin, and eats holes into shoes and boats." 

"And this is part of the reason why you want peace with Idris. You think their adamas might drive back the Drowned Lands as well?" Magnus asked shrewdly. 

"We have long observed that the Drowned Lands move faster into Edom than it does the mountains of Idris. It may be the adamas, or it may be not," Lucian said with a shrug. "Whatever it is, we have travelled far from the castle, and I do not think Princess Lilith came this way." 

"No, I do not think she travelled here either. Let us not waste our time," Magnus agreed. He drew up a portal, and spurred his horse through the doorway, and one by one they leapt through until the hilltop was empty of man and horse. 

 

 

Magnus and Lucian were the first to return to the capital. Raphael reported that he had found no signs of Lilith near the castle either, and Magnus had a feeling that Asmodeus and Azazel would also return empty-handed.  

The horses were led away to be fed and watered, and the men and women who had returned settled in the grand hall for a brief respite before they had to ride out again, and were served with the rich pastries and meat left over from the feast the night before. Despite the long and emotionally harrowing night, Magnus found that he felt surprisingly energetic still, and wondered if it was due to the potion Alexander's sister had concocted. The grand hall was still decorated for the harvest festival the night before, and the sight of the dainty lanterns caused a pang in his heart. He was sorely tempted to barge into the room in the west tower where Alexander and his siblings were being held while he waited for father's return, only holding himself back because he knew it would increase his father's wrath and show Azazel how affected he was, thus giving him more incentive to hurt Alexander and his siblings.

He had little appetite, and picked listlessly at the food that had been set in front of him, waiting impatiently for his father's return. Ragnor came up to sit quietly next to him, and whispered in his ear, "Alexander and his siblings are well. I made sure that they were served food prepared by Bat and Underhill, and the men your father have ordered to serve as guards are straightforward men and women, loyal only to him."

Magnus nodded his thanks, breathing a little easier. "How is Catarina?"  

"She has many broken bones that we have already healed, including a cracked skull. There is nothing we can do now but hope that she will wake soon. We brought her to her room, and her wife Dorothea watches over her," Ragnor said heavily. Catarina was Ragnor's oldest friend, so by association Catarina had also become Magnus' friend, except that she was too often busy tending to Lilith of late for Magnus to spend much time with her.

"You said that the circumstances of Lilith's disappearance were similar to the events that led to the death of Lilith's mother?" Magnus prompted.

"Remember that 'castle ghost story', as you put it, where Lilith fell asleep in front of the tapestry of the Seven Angels and went mad?" Ragnor asked. "They could not rouse her at first when they found her in the room, but the first thing she did when she awoke in her own bed was to brutally murder every single person who had been in her room, including her own mother. Some she threw against the walls with such force that their bones broke - which was what happened to Catarina. Others were not so lucky, for she dug their eyes out and tore their heads off their shoulders with her bare hands. She had just turned thirteen then. And when she realised what she had done - that was when her mind snapped." 

"Elat save us," Magnus murmured, horrified. "And you made us meet in that room almost every day for weeks!" 

"Ghost stories do have the benefit of keeping people away. And I myself spent weeks in that room, copying the map on the tapestry, with no ill effects," Ragnor pointed out. "No, I do not think it was solely the tapestry that caused this tragedy. Lilith had always had her head in the clouds, and I do not think it was a coincidence that the night she wandered into that room was the night of the harvest moon, and nobody took notice of her because they were all distracted by the harvest festival."

Just then, Magnus heard the sounds of horses in the courtyard, and knew that his father and brother had returned. He hurried down the steps to where his horse was already waiting, and was shocked when he saw his father.

It was as if Asmodeus had turned into an old man overnight. Ragnor had always insisted that Asmodeus was older than he looked, and now it seemed all the years had come crashing down on him all at once. How had Magnus never noticed the white in his father's hair, the harsh lines of worry and fury etched deep in his face, the dark circles under his eyes, and spots of age on his hands, which trembled from having ridden too swiftly throughout the night? His lips were so pale they were almost turning grey, and even though Magnus held little love for him, he immediately called for someone to bring a water-skin filled with brandy for his father, who was already spurring his horse back out of the gate. 

 

 

For a company of a few dozen men and women, the assembled guards that followed Asmodeus, Azazel, Magnus, and Lucian past the boundaries of Edom and into no man's land were unnaturally quiet. Nobody talked; the only sound was the hooves of the horses hitting the dirt as they rode forth in an easy canter. There was no need to gallop to the rescue, for it had been hours since Lilith had gone missing, and all knew that if the princess had indeed wandered into the Drowned Lands in her madness, then all hope was lost. 

The sun had already risen by the time they reached the edge of the Drowned Lands, and yet, looking out over the marshland sent chills down Magnus' spine. A thick fog drifted on the surface of the water-logged land, obscuring the way ahead - a solid wall of shifting and swirling grey that blocked out the sun almost completely. Magnus saw the looming silhouettes of skeletal trees a few yards into the fog and fancied that he saw wispy tendrils moving in the impenetrable gloom, like tentacles. That smell of rotten things that Magnus had caught on the ocean breeze in Moonstone was intensified a hundred times here, and a few of the guards could not stop themselves from coughing and retching. Given Lucian's heightened sense of smell, this place must have been pure torture for him. But the worst of all was the silence. Not a single insect buzzed or bird chirped in the vast stretch of marshland ahead, and even the pools of water Magnus could see - pitch black and opaque, so that there was no way of seeing the bottom - were deadly still, their surfaces smooth as obsidian and uninterrupted by ripples or any sign of living things.

Asmodeus got off his horse, almost stumbling, and Lucian dismounted to stand next to him. 

"Do you see anything, Lucian?" Asmodeus asked quietly.  

Magnus's horse, a normally fearless beast, refused to go any closer, so Magnus leapt off his horse and treaded gingerly towards the edge of the marshland, and found that Lucian's warning had been right, for he could feel the bite of the foul water eating through the soles of his boots, and the little bit of magic he sent to protect his feet seemed to have little effect. Electing to ignore the small discomfort for now, he squinted into the fog, but it was hard to make out anything other than blackened plants in black water.

"There," Magnus finally said, sending a burst of magic through the fog. It moved sluggishly, but lighted on the shiny bauble Magnus had spotted, and eventually made its way back into the palm of his hand. It was a single gold earring, a little bit of blood smeared on it, looking like it might have been torn off its owner's ear. Magnus held it out to his father, and Asmodeus closed his eyes in grief as he took it from Magnus.

"It is her blood," Asmodeus said. Magnus had never heard his father sound so devastated.

Between Lucian and Magnus, they managed to get Asmodeus back on his horse, to begin the slow and somber journey home. Only Azazel looked like he could barely contain his glee, now that he was finally rid of his embarrassment of a sister, and Magnus knew he was already trying to think of ways to twist it and pin it all on Alexander and his siblings. Asmodeus' back was bowed by the pain of losing his child, but by the time he was in sight of the guard posts that marked the boundaries of Edom, Magnus watched him straighten up in his saddle by sheer force of will, chin held high and every inch a king again. 

Somehow his father managed to make it all the way through the main gate of the castle and get off the horse without aid from anyone. When he reached the top of the steps, Asmodeus turned around to address everyone who was gathered in the courtyard. "All of you gathered here now, attend me well," he said, his voice firm and clear. "A month and a day of mourning for Princess Lilith begins today, and since we have no body to honour with a pyre, all her loyal guards who passed in her service will be accorded that honour in her stead."

Magnus had expected that his father would want to retire to his chambers to grieve in privacy, but instead he turned to Magnus, eyes glittering coldly. "Come, Magnus. Let us see what your consort and his siblings have to say for themselves."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

All of Alec's senses were on alert as he climbed up to the room in the west tower with his siblings. They were escorted by a dozen guards wearing the emblem of Asmodeus' black dragon on their chests, and Alec had never seen any of them or paid much attention to Asmodeus' guards before this. In all honesty, he had assumed that perhaps Asmodeus' instructions had been a secret code for executing all three of them once they were out of Magnus' sight, and was mildly surprised that they were put in what seemed like just an ordinary room.

Once the guards had locked the door behind them, Alec did a thorough search of the room just in case. They were right at the top of the tower, and the window looked out over the town just outside the castle walls, a sheer drop a few hundred feet straight down. The room itself was completely bare except for a heavy table and a fireplace, which was currently empty and cold. On a hunch, he peered up into the gloom behind the grate, and sure enough he spotted something moving. With one swift movement, he darted his hand in to grab the sinuous body of the little viper and threw it on the floor before it could sink its fangs into his arm, then stomped on it hard with the boot that contained the adamas blade, and he heard its fragile bones snap under his heel.

"The snakes in the castle belong to Magnus' brother. Be wary of them," he told his wide-eyed siblings. 

It had been less than two months since he had seen them last, but it was strange seeing them here, especially since he had resigned himself to never being able to see them again when he had been forced to say goodbye to them. Izzy seemed more care-worn, and was thinner than Alec would have liked. Both of them were dressed in rough clothes for travelling, and Jace had a huge purpling bruise covering half of his face, likely from resisting Azazel's guards. For a few seconds, none of them spoke; then Izzy flung herself into his arms, and it was like no time had passed at all. He hugged her fiercely, squeezing his eyes shut against the tears that threatened to fall. After a long time, Izzy finally let go of him, and Jace came forward to embrace Alec briefly as well. Izzy was staring at Alec avidly with damp eyes, taking in his fine clothes, the rings on his fingers, and the large ruby around his neck in bewilderment. Then she saw the rune on his wrist, and her expression grew sorrowful. 

"Oh, brother," she whispered. 

"I am well. I told you so in the letter," he assured them, then added truthfully, "I have missed you both greatly, but you should not have come."

"But it was you who pleaded for us to come into the town during the harvest festival to rescue you!" Jace exclaimed. 

"What? I sent no such letter," Alec said with a frown. 

"A door was left open for us in the far end of the town, near the forest, and it was empty of guards just as you said it would be," Izzy said. "We thought that perhaps Underhill had managed to get free and was aiding you, but..."

"It was a trap," Alec fumed as understanding dawned. "Azazel must have intercepted the crow you sent and forged a letter in my hand. That's how he knew where and when to expect you."

Then the lock in the door clicked, and all three of them turned warily, but it was just Ragnor, Bat, and Underhill. 

"Underhill!" Jace cried out in surprise. 

"Princess Isabelle. Lord Jonathan," Underhill greeted them, bowing as best as he could with the heavy tray of food and drink in his hands. "I wish we could have met again in more fortunate circumstances."

Jace looked horrified as Underhill and Bat set the trays down on the table. "They made you do women's work?" 

But before Alec had a chance to chide Jace, his attention was diverted by Ragnor muttering a warding spell under his breath. 

"I have bought you some time to speak plainly to your siblings. You have until Asmodeus and Azazel return - they will find the wardings suspicious, so I must remove them before they see them," Ragnor told him in an undertone. 

"Thank you," Alec replied. "I promise to use the time well. Has Magnus already ridden out?" 

"He has, with Lucian by his side," Ragnor replied stiffly, then added, "I must say I'm disappointed. You must know that what you have done will jeopardise all the plans we have made."

Alec sighed. "I told them not to come. They were fooled by Azazel."

Ragnor's expression softened a little. "I take it that you did not tell Magnus that this might happen."

"No, I did not. I foolishly thought that I would be able to advert this situation on my own," Alec replied guiltily. 

Ragnor nodded. "I hope we may still be able to turn this around, but I must leave now, before the guards grow suspicious. And I beg you, Alexander - please be careful with Magnus' heart."

Alec nodded, swallowing thickly. Ragnor snapped his fingers, and Bat and Underhill followed him out. 

"Who was that?" Izzy asked. 

"Ragnor. He is Scrollmaster of Edom, and maintains all the wards in the castle. He is also Magnus' best friend and advisor. He has put some spells in place so we cannot be listened in on - we must speak quickly."

"Why would he do that for you?" Jace asked. "If he is loyal to the Edomite prince, why would he help you escape?" 

Alec took a deep breath. "I cannot leave with you. We need to get our stories straight for when Asmodeus returns to question us, and then you must return to Idris."

"Not without you," Izzy said quickly, but Alec shook his head firmly. 

"Your plan to have me take the poison will not work now. I'm assuming that potion that Magnus drank to prove your innocence was the antidote to it, and even if you still had it, I wish to remain here. I meant what I said in the missive - I am happy here. I will miss you, more than you can imagine, but Edom is where I belong now, and maybe when things have settled down and Magnus is properly king, I may be able to see you again."

"Alec, you can't be serious! You're renouncing Idris?" Jace gasped. 

"The interests of Idris would be better served if I stayed here. You don't know anything that has happened-" 

"Oh, but we do know. That's why we had to come," Jace said, looking pained. "Alec, you do not have to be ashamed or question the welcome you would receive if you returned to Idris. Even if the Edomite prince has forced you to lie with him, we do not think less of you. What happened to you is not your fault, brother. What matters is that you are still alive."

"What? What makes you think that Magnus forced himself on me?" Alec asked, heat rising in his cheeks in both embarrassment and anger. "Magnus is a man of honour. Nothing inappropriate has happened between us."

His siblings stared at him in surprise. 

"A week after your wedding, a gift of a dozen slaughtered hogs was sent to the foot of the mountains, with a missive congratulating Father on the consummation of your marriage," Izzy explained, watching his reaction as if she was worried that she might accidentally upset him. "We were told that it had been a public spectacle, and the missive described it in such detail that Father had a fit of anger so violent that he collapsed."

"In fact, that was why we were in such a hurry to get you out tonight - in the missive we received, the one that we thought was from you, you said that as part of the fertility rites held in honour of the harvest moon, something similar would be happening again, and that you would rather die than bear the humiliation of it," Jace added. 

"That is a lie! Nothing like that has happened!" Alec said in shock. "Magnus came up with a ruse to make it seem like we had lain with each other, so that Asmodeus could not invoke the old law and send for Izzy to take my place here, and I share his bedchamber to keep up appearances, but that is all."

Jace and Izzy were silent as they digested this. 

"Brother, are you sure you are not under some sort of enchantment that makes you believe that you are being treated well here?" Jace asked. "How sure are you that what you remember is real? The missive that we received where you begged us to come was definitely written in your hand - I could have sworn that it was so."

"And you think that as I speak to you now, I speak as someone under an enchantment?" Alec demanded. 

"If you were under an enchantment, you wouldn't know, would you?" Jace countered. "Think of all the men we have seen fall victim to magic. Magic is a dirty, low thing, and surely no man who uses it can be said to be honourable."

"That is what I used to think, but having seen what I have, I do not think so anymore. Magic is no different from any blade. It can be wielded for good as well as evil," Alec said, willing them to understand. "I promise you, Magnus is a good man." 

"I wondered, when he drank the potion and jumped to your defence. Those did not seem like the actions of a man who would misuse you," Izzy admitted reluctantly. She looked at him consideringly. "We saw you in the town, before you vanished with him through a doorway of some sort, and I had never seen you smile at anyone the way you smiled at him even though he wasn't looking. Brother... Do you love him?"

Alec knew his answer was clear on his face - he had never been able to hide much from Izzy - and she gasped. 

"Oh, Alec," she said in wonder. "And he loves you too? He risked his father's wrath for you, he must!"

"We have not spoken of it, but I think it is possible," Alec mumbled.

"El and Elat in a tangle! Of all the people to fall in love with, Alec," Jace lamented.

"We are married, Jace. Why would my feelings for him be unwise?" Alec said defensively. "All these weeks, he has been trying to convince his father to build lasting peace with Idris by renewing the trade routes. I understand now that you were misled into thinking that I was miserable here, but I fear your presence here has undone all our efforts."

"Oh, Alec. Things in Idris have changed since you left," Izzy said sadly. "Even if, as you say, the Edomite prince wishes to build peace with us, I doubt very much that his attempts to come to an understanding would be successful. You see, after we received the letter from Edom filled with lies about how you had been treated, Father fell ill and never properly recovered. And without you, Idris has no heir to the throne."

"All the nobles have been fighting at the king's sickbed, and no wonder that he doesn't seem to be getting any better," Jace muttered.

"How long does he have left?" Alec asked, mind racing.

When Edom had made its demands and Alec had been forced to abdicate, Alec's father had been adamant that Alec would eventually return, confident that Alec would somehow be able to escape from the clutches of Edom on his own and in denial that his only son was to be bartered away to the enemy. Alec, on the other hand, had resigned himself to death of some form, had pleaded with his father to see reason and make plans for the future, but all his arguments had fallen on deaf ears. Izzy was the only other Lightwood child who had survived to adulthood, and the most reasonable solution would have been for her to take a husband who was willing to be king in name only and cede control of all matters of the state to Izzy. Alec had urged his father to announce a betrothal to any of the warriors from Alec's personal guard, any of whom Alec trusted to treat Izzy well, but evidently his father had not done so. 

"I do not think Father will survive this winter cold," Izzy admitted. "In the meantime, I have had to fend off the attentions of Lord Aldertree and Lord Starkweather, both of whom seem to think the answer is to resume the war during the winter, when Edom's forces tend to be at their least aggressive."

"That is madness! The mountain is unforgiving to all men, whether they are from Edom or Idris. All of them would perish!" Alec exclaimed in horror.

"Which is why we need you to come back, Alec. There might not be anything left of Idris otherwise," Jace said. 

"I know it's not fair to ask this of you, if you have truly found love and happiness here," Izzy said hesitantly.  

"No, you are right," Alec said with a heavy heart. If his father's death was eminent, then time was running out. There was still a chance of salvaging Magnus' plan - their plan - for peace, but that would require a willing ruler on the throne of Idris. "I will return to Idris with you - but first, we must think of how to deal with Asmodeus."

 

  

It was hours later before anything happened. There was no other furniture in the room, so all three siblings had been dozing fitfully while seated leaning against the wall, Izzy with her head on Alec's shoulder, when there was a sudden whoosh of magic, and Alec knew that Ragnor had removed the wards - which could only mean that Asmodeus had returned. Alec and his siblings rose hastily, and after a while Asmodeus and Magnus entered the room. 

Alec was relieved that Magnus did not seem hurt in any way, but noted that Asmodeus looked odd - his eyes too bright and steps too vigorous, like a last rallying burst of energy before he collapsed, and Alec knew then that the search for Lilith had not gone well. Too much depended on him convincing Asmodeus to let him return to Idris, but it was Ragnor's words to him that rang in his head - be careful with Magnus' heart.

"Your Majesty," he greeted Asmodeus with a bow. Izzy gave Asmodeus a curtsey, and Jace grudgingly followed suit.

Asmodeus barely acknowledged them, his gaze flickering over the trays that had been sent up for them as he walked around them to look out of the window. An oppressive silence filled the room as they waited for Asmodeus to speak.

"My daughter is dead," Asmodeus finally said. 

"I am sorry for your loss," Alec replied, trying to keep his voice even as fear for his siblings spiked. There was no way they could have been responsible for Lilith's death, but grief for a child's death could make even the most stone-hearted man unreasonable.

Then Asmodeus surprised him by saying, "I know that your siblings had nothing to do with her death, but you do not fool me for one moment that they were here on Magnus' invitation." Asmodeus turned around and pinned him with a look so venomous that Alec took a step backwards. "Has my son not shown you kindness, far more than you deserve? Is this how you intend to repay him for his trust, by going behind his back to plot against him? Oh, I think I know why they are here - you plan to flee with them, and return to Idris."

"Your Majesty - it is true that my siblings wish for me to return to Idris, but it is not what you think," Alec said quickly. "My father is gravely ill, and some of the nobles have grown ambitious. They seek to wage war on Edom, a war that I know Idris will lose." 

"Then I should raze Idris to the ground as I originally intended, should I not?" Asmodeus said coldly, and turned to address Magnus. "You see, my son, I was right - war is sometimes necessary. You wished to show them mercy, and they saw your kindness for weakness." 

"Your Majesty, I told you this in good faith. Please let me return to Idris and see that a worthy king is put on the throne, one who shares our vision for peace," Alec pleaded, more to Magnus than to Asmodeus, but Magnus would not look at him. "I swear I will return to Edom once the task is done, I-"

But he didn't get to finish what he was saying; a searing pain shot through his chest, and he fell to his knees, gasping. He felt Izzy's arms around him, and heard a yell from Jace, but it hurt too much for him to do more than clutch uselessly at his chest as the king sought to tear his heart out by magic. 

"What kind of fool do you take me for?" Asmodeus thundered, twisting his clenched fist, and Alec's eyes watered from a fresh surge of pain. "I have already let one of my children down today, and I will not make the same mistake twice. There is only one fate for a faithless creature like you."

"Father, stop!" Magnus cried out, then the squeezing pressure in his chest vanished abruptly. 

Alec collapsed into Izzy's arms, struggling to breathe, and he heard Magnus say, "Let him go, Father. Even when he becomes King of Idris, I know Alexander will not move against me, and that is enough. Ragnor's counsel was true: ruling a peaceful and prosperous kingdom will be more satisfying than pining for love." By the time he managed to raise his head, Magnus and Asmodeus were gone, the door slamming shut behind them.

 

 

Alec did not know how much time passed after that, only that it was pure agony. The injuries Asmodeus had dealt him were excruciating, and he could do little but curl up on the floor in pain with his head pillowed in Izzy's lap, but equally torturous was the fact that he had not had a chance to speak with Magnus at all, to make him understand. 

When the door opened again, it was to admit a noblewoman Alec vaguely recognised as Catarina's wife. She clucked unhappily when she saw the state he was in, and swiftly set to healing him with wisps of blue magic under the watchful eyes of Asmodeus' guards. When she was done, she stood up to leave, and Alec grabbed her wrist.

"Please, I must speak to Magnus. I cannot let it end between us like this, him and I," Alec croaked out.  

She hesitated, frowning. "The king has decreed that the three of you, together with your manservant, will be banished from Edom before sunrise tomorrow, and Magnus has announced that he does not want to be disturbed by anyone until then. But I will see what I can do for you," she replied in a low voice, mindful of the guards listening in, then quickly departed.

How had things turned so quickly? Only last night he had been sitting in a tree in the moonlight, wishing on a lantern, filled with hope for a future that now lay in tattered shreds. Underhill was sent up and locked in with them, and Izzy made Alec drink some of the meat broth left over from the only meal that had been sent up to them, with Alec only giving in because both she and Jace looked so worried. Time was slipping through his fingers; already the sun was setting, and still there was no word from Magnus.

By nightfall, Alec had given up hope. It was clear that Magnus did not want to see him, and Alec could hardly blame him. The four of them turned in for the night in preparation for a long and arduous journey ahead, with no food, water, or weapons on them. Underhill slept by the door to serve as a guard, and the rest of them huddled in a corner. From where they were sitting, Alec could see the moon, still mostly full, and could not help but feel a pang in his chest that had nothing to do with the injuries he had suffered earlier that day.

He squeezed his eyes shut in an effort to steal some rest, listening to his siblings' breathing even out as they dropped off to sleep, when there was a flash of light in the dark room. He opened his eyes in surprise, and saw that it was a portal - and that Magnus stood just beyond it. His siblings and Underhill had startled awake at the sudden glow from the portal, and their mouths fell open in surprise - but Alec was already on his feet lest Magnus changed his mind, stepping through the portal and into the familiarity of Magnus' rooms.

"Magnus," he greeted him, a small hope flaring to life that he had a chance to make things right between him and Magnus. The portal was already winking shut behind him.

"It took me the whole day to gather these quietly, but I have prepared rations, water-skins, clothes, and weapons for you and your siblings - but just plain steel, I'm afraid," Magnus told him, indicating several carefully wrapped packages on his desk and studiously avoiding Alec's gaze. "I know your siblings must still be exhausted from their journey here, but it was all I could do to convince my father not to throw you out before sunset."

"Magnus, I am sorry," Alec said quietly. "I never meant to cause you pain."

"Well. What we intend to do and the consequences of our actions are sometimes two very different things," Magnus said lightly. "You should go back before the guards realise you are gone. Besides, you will need your rest."

Alec shook his head, needing Magnus to understand. "I did not intend to leave with my siblings at first, Magnus, and if I could I would stay. I meant what I said - I will return, after arranging a suitable husband for Izzy and ensuring that Idris is in good hands."

"It's too late, Alexander," Magnus said quietly. "My father will never let you back into Edom, and besides why would you want to return? I know you are a man of honour, but we are married only in name. You do not need to leave your home just to fulfil some duty you think is expected of you." 

"But I don't want us to be married just in name," Alec said softly. He rolled his sleeve up to expose the wedded union rune on his wrist. "When I was first marked with this, it grieved me to see it because I didn't want it to be real, and so I kept it covered. But now..." 

"Oh, Alexander," Magnus said, voice husky with emotion, looking up at him with wide eyes.

Time slipping through his fingers made him bold, and Alec found himself crossing the distance between them with purpose to cup Magnus' face in his hands, then leaning down to meet Magnus' lips. 

He must have imagined kissing Magnus a hundred times, but it was like trying to imagine the colour gold without having ever seen it, or the taste of honey without knowing what it was - nothing his mind could dream up would ever have done it justice. He kissed Magnus until his head was spinning, but the need for air was secondary to the need to feel Magnus' lips against his own, and it was only when Magnus placed a hand on his cheek to gently break the kiss that he realised that his cheeks were wet. 

"I don't know how long it will be before I can see you again, or be with you like this again," he whispered against Magnus' lips. 

"Hush, my beloved, don't think about that now. Remember that I was to lead the merchant nobles to Idris when the weather in the mountains turn milder in spring? I have hopes that my father's anger will have cooled enough by then for us to do as we planned," Magnus replied, wiping Alec's tears away, his own cheeks wet with tears. "Two seasons will pass in the blink of an eye, and I will think of you every day and every night until then."

Two seasons was an eternity, and too many things could happen between now and then to thwart their meeting, but Alec nodded, accepting the lie. "Magnus... Can we spend this night together? One night of being properly married, before I must leave," Alec asked him a little shyly, and was gratified when Magnus simply smiled brightly and answered him with a kiss. 

They undressed each other slowly, as if there was all the time in the world, and it was with giddy delight that Alec found out that being with Magnus was the easiest thing he had ever experienced in his life. His ignorance did not matter, and there was no space for hesitation or fear in the understanding between them. He pulled Magnus down eagerly for fevered kisses, let Magnus trace the shapes of his runes with fingers and lips until he was shivering, and when he guided Magnus' hand to where he wanted to be touched, although he could feel his own heart racing, a frantic bird battering against his ribs, what he felt was the furthest thing from fear when Magnus carefully pushed a finger into his body.

It was nothing at all like what he had expected. There was no pain. Magnus' magic was warm and slick, taking away all discomfort and smoothing the way, and Magnus was being so very gentle with him that his heart felt like it might burst. He closed his eyes and let the feeling sweep over him, heat pooling in his gut as Magnus added another finger, then another; then finally Magnus took himself in hand and pressed himself into Alec. 

The first breach of his body drew a sharp inhale from them both; then Alec yielded to Magnus, and came a sweet aching feeling radiating outwards from where they were joined. Alec buried his face in Magnus' shoulder to stifle his moans, trying to think only of his breathing as he adjusted to the intrusion, and inch by inch he welcomed Magnus slowly into his body until there was no more left to take. 

"Magnus, please," he whispered, not knowing what he asked for, overcome with emotion, but Magnus just hushed him with a kiss, swallowing Alec's cries as he began to rock into him. 

The gentle waves of pleasure washing over Alec began to rise and swell into a roiling tempest. They were joined so deeply that Magnus' magic was sparking blue all over Alec, his pleasure feeding Magnus' and Magnus' pleasure pushing back into him, both of them completely lost in each other. Alec threw his head back against the pillow, crying out Magnus' name as he let Magnus fill him over and over again, until the crest of pleasure broke inside them both, and they both came whole to the night.

 

 

Too soon, the sky began to lighten.  

Neither his siblings nor his liegeman made any comment that he had only returned to them in the wee hours of the morning, arms laden with travelling supplies and face streaked with fresh tears.

Before the sun had properly risen, the door to their prison was flung open to find the four of them already ready for the journey, all of Magnus' gifts carefully tucked away into bags that Magnus had assured Alec the guards would not be able to see. They were escorted all the way to the gate by Lucian and Meliorn, as well as a small host of Asmodeus' guards, and Alec did not look backwards when the tall gates of Edom were shut behind them.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

For the first time since he could remember, Magnus rejoiced when the faint chill of autumn gave way to the bitter cold of winter, for it marked the passing of time and the end of another season. And what a winter it was - a cold snap wiped out all the plants in the castle gardens overnight despite the protective charms placed by the gardeners, and the stone walls of the castle were so cold that they burned at a touch. 

It was no coincidence that the unnatural weather reflected Asmodeus' mood. Lilith's death had made him ill-tempered and even more unpleasant than usual, stalking the corridors with a mindless fury at the world, and woe betide anybody who dared to look as if they weren't completely devastated by the princess's untimely death, even long after the official period of mourning had passed. Asmodeus seemed to have forgotten that he had two living children still, and the brief protectiveness of Magnus he had shown when he had assumed that Alexander and his siblings planned to harm Magnus had soured under Magnus' insistence that Alexander be allowed to return to Idris to curb the rising rebellion. With their father in such a state, even Azazel knew better than to rile him and made himself scarce, and the responsibilities of the day-to-day running of the kingdom fell to Magnus.

And so Magnus's days were filled with merchants from the Spiral City complaining about the rising price of metalwork from Sanguine, countered by Sanguine's claims that they were often paid tardily; Meliorn's claims on behalf of the Seelie realms that the watchtowers of Spiral City were not being properly manned; Lucian's sobering missives that the tides were rising again and the Drowned Lands were expanding more rapidly; and more secret meetings with Ragnor and Raphael as they made concrete plans for their journey to Idris in the spring. Although Ragnor's advice and insight were invaluable, Magnus missed Alexander's presence in all of this, for the fact that Alexander was an outsider to Edom politics meant that he was not hindered by age-old prejudices, such as the one that the people of Seelie always shifted the blame, or that the beast magics of Moonstone made the people brutal. Alexander would have been blunt and objective, and seen the facts for what they were. Alexander would have let Magnus know with a subtle look or a touch when he wanted to offer a different opinion, or when he wanted to lend support to Magnus' decisions.  

The truth was, Magnus missed Alexander in every aspect of his life. Magnus' chambers were too big for one person, his bed too cold. Magnus took to breakfasting with Ragnor so that he wouldn't have to look at Alexander's empty chair opposite him. Alexander's chest of things, still mostly full, was a squat monster haunting Magnus' room that he couldn't bear to exorcise. And although the sweetness of their first night would always be the dearest possession of his soul, he could not help feeling bitter that they had come to an understanding with each other so late - and that the various actions of Asmodeus and Azazel had led to their parting in the first place.

Magnus had no way of receiving letters from Alexander, now that they knew that the crow Jace had painstakingly tamed had been bespelled and confused by Azazel, but the one missive Magnus had sent in an official capacity as king-in-waiting had not returned, so Magnus hoped that it had found its recipient, who should be safe and sound in the stronghold of Idris under the mountains. Now all that remained for Magnus to do was to wait for the thaw - and so he waited, with great impatience.

 

 

But one good thing did happen, at least. A few days before the midwinter solstice - an occasion usually marked with a quiet meal with family and loved ones, which made Magnus even more melancholy on all fronts - Catarina finally woke up.  

"I'm sorry I could not come to visit you immediately," Magnus said when he went to see her. 

"You needn't have come, Magnus. I know you must have many concerns that demand your time," Catarina said warmly. 

"And is not making sure that my royal physician is on the road to recovery part of my duties?" Magnus asked her with a smile, helping her to sit up and arranging her pillows. He sat down and clasped one of her hands briefly. "I cannot tell you how relieved I am that you are awake. The midwinter feast will not be as grand as it usually is this year, as my father is still in mourning over Lilith, but it would be much more sombre without you."

Catarina shook her head. "Asmodeus came to see me once he heard that I was awake, but I am afraid there was little I could tell him about what happened to Lilith that night. Her violent fits are not unusual, but I recall that she went very quiet suddenly, and smiled before speaking a name that I did not recognise, and before I could react, I was thrown into a wall."

"A name?" Magnus repeated curiously.

"Samael. But I know of nobody of that name, not her guards or even the servants, and Lilith has been isolated from everybody else since she took ill when she was thirteen."

Magnus looked towards Ragnor, but Ragnor only shrugged. "The name is not familiar to me either. I have never come across it in my study of the old scrolls."

"Magnus, I must urge you to be cautious," Catarina said, patting his hand to get his attention. "I know your father loved Lilith dearly, but I fear that there is something strange in his behaviour. It is too violent a reaction, and I have never known your father to neglect his duties as king to wallow in his personal sorrows."

"You suspect foul play? A poison, or some magic that addled his brain?" Magnus asked, frowning. 

"I do not think you remember this, because you were still only a boy when your mother died," Catarina said carefully, "but after Asmodeus' visit, I had Ragnor retrieve the old records kept by the physician before me, and he noted that in the weeks before your mother's passing, she showed unnatural signs of sadness and anger as well. Azazel would have been about fifteen by then, and everyone knew he thought Asmodeus had disrespected his mother's memory by taking another wife so soon after his mother's passing..."

"You don't mean to say-" Magnus began to say in shock and fury, but both Ragnor and Catarina quickly hushed him. 

"It would be dangerous to speak that plainly without proof," Ragnor cautioned him. "Even though Azazel has lost his serpentine spies in the castle now that the cold makes his pet snakes too sluggish, there may still be unfriendly eyes and ears about."

"Why should I exercise caution? Why not just go straight to my father and expose Azazel for the scoundrel that he is?" Magnus snarled, barely in control of his anger.  

"You may have Asmodeus' favour, but I do not think he will believe that his own son would poison him. With no proof, he will assume that this is merely a squabble between the two of you," Ragnor said. "Remember, you are not king yet. The position you hold does not give you power over Azazel." 

"Please be careful, Magnus. Only consume food and drink that has been prepared by someone you trust. You too, Ragnor." Catarina said. "And in the meantime, make sure that Asmodeus does not eat any more tainted food without either he or Azazel becoming suspicious, and I believe that the king will recover on his own with time."

Magnus held his tongue, and kept his own counsel. Since he had been claimed by Asmodeus as a boy, he had protected himself by staying out of court politics and intrigue, and had always had a healthy fear of Azazel, who was older and more ruthless than Magnus himself could ever bear to be - but no more. Whatever Azazel was doing to Asmodeus sickened him, and the trap Azazel had set for Alexander's siblings infuriated him, but he could not sit back and do nothing now that he knew that Azazel might have had a hand in his mother's death.

He went to seek audience with his father at the first opportune moment, and found his father at his desk, although it looked like he should have been in bed. Asmodeus had not bothered getting dressed, still in a sleep shirt with a thick coat pulled over it, and he had lost so much weight that his fingers seemed almost skeletal. 

"What is it you want?" he asked Magnus in a harsh rasp. "If you have come to whine to me about Idris, you will get no sympathy from me - you will simply have to sleep in the bed you have made."

"It is not about Idris. Father, it's about Azazel," Magnus said, but to his surprise, Asmodeus simply let out a bitter laugh. 

"Have you come to tell me that your brother is trying to poison me? Oh, I already know," he said wearily. "Azazel is ambitious and ruthless, and has always been so. He has as much love for me as you do." He shook his head. "It is not Azazel's poison working on me, Magnus. I am an old man who feels death in his bones. All these long years of war and serving my country, and what has that gotten me? Two sons who hate me, my only sweet child cursed to madness and a horrible death all alone on the Drowned Lands, and the only woman I ever loved could never love me back because she felt that I had done her a great wrong."

Magnus stared at his father with wide eyes, rendered speechless. 

"Go away, Magnus. Azazel is a problem that you will have to deal with on your own, for I will not take sides against either of you. I only hope that I will not live long enough to have to watch you murder each other," Asmodeus sighed, and gently repelled Magnus with a wave of his hand, forcing Magnus to stumble backwards out of his father's chambers, and watch the door slam shut in his face.

 

 

Asmodeus was not wrong - Magnus did not have any love for the man who had sired him, but still the thought that Asmodeus was not long for this world left him reeling. He was not ready to be king, not so soon. He had expected his father to be around for years yet, to have time to brace himself for the responsibilities and burdens of kingship and slowly learn the ropes. This was knowledge that he did not dare to discuss with anyone else, even Ragnor, and he wondered how it would affect the plans he had made. If Asmodeus died before the spring, it was unlikely that Magnus would be able to make the journey to Idris together with Raphael as he had hoped. On the other hand, if Asmodeus was dead, then there would be nothing stopping Alexander from returning to Edom if he so wished...

Magnus slept fitfully, his head aching with troubled thoughts of a future riddled with unknowns, only to be rudely awakened by panicked screams and yells. His first thought was that perhaps his father was truly dead, except that that would hardly incite this sort of panic. He got dressed in a snap of his fingers, and with another gesture he opened up a portal and stepped out into the main courtyard of the castle. The townspeople who were either too young or too old to fight were being herded into the castle, while every able-bodied man and woman was out forming a protective circle around the castle. 

"What is happening?" he demanded of the nearest guard on hand, someone wearing Asmodeus' insignia. 

"The sentries at the main gate said they saw a gigantic beast emerge from the Drowned Lands, and it is heading towards Edom," the frazzled man reported. 

Magnus let go of him, frowning, and sent a fire message to Raphael commanding him to stay to guard the castle, and called the other three generals to him with separate messages, before heading to the stables to get his own horse. By the time he was saddled and ready to head out, all of his own guard had joined him, and seemed greatly relieved that they had caught him before he left. He rode out with his guards, their horses swift despite the opposing tide of people seeking refuge in the castle, and when he reached the main gates he could feel the earth trembling as something very large came towards them. Lucian and his guards joined them shortly, then Meliorn.

"Where is Lorenzo?" Magnus demanded. 

"Last I saw, he and Azazel were running for Sanguine with their tails between their legs," Meliorn replied snidely. 

Magnus' mouth thinned, but he made no comment, eyes fixed on the darkness ahead; then suddenly he saw rows of green lights headed towards them, at least a dozen of them, and high up. The rotting smell from the Drowned Lands grew stronger on the freezing wind, and Magnus thought he heard the heavy breathing of the thing as it plodded towards them. There should have been a full moon, but the dark clouds obscured the sky completely, and they could see nothing until Meliorn summoned a swarm of fireflies that lit the way as they flew towards the approaching thing.

Magnus had never seen the monsters from the Drowned Lands, but this monster was more terrifying than anything in the wildest stories sung by the minstrels. Whatever it was, the creature was huge, the size of a small mountain, and the lights Magnus had seen were its eyes, multiple rows of them, like a spider's. The shape of the creature was similar to that of a lion, four-legged with some sort of mane, but with five long tusks jutting upwards from its lower jaw. Several of Lucian's men stepped forward to form a defensive line and put their hands out in front of them, as if trying to control the creature with their magic, but that seemed to have no effect on it. 

"I have never seen anything like that," Lucian said uneasily. "No creature that lives is completely immune to beast magic, and we have turned back other monsters from the Drowned Land before this."

"Perhaps that's because it's not a living thing," Magnus replied as his eyes adjusted to the gloom. "It looks like it is made out of rock."

Just then, they felt rather than saw something enormous fly above them. Magnus reacted without thinking, sending a blast of magic its way, but while the creature let out an unearthly shriek when the blow struck its side to reveal a scaly exterior, it refused to be dissuaded from its path - towards the castle. 

"The other one was distraction," Magnus cursed in realisation. 

"Was... was that a dragon?" Maia asked fearfully. 

"I am returning to the castle. The rest of you will use all your force to stop that stone lion," Magnus commanded, turning his horse around. 

But even before he arrived, Magnus heard a woman's voice calling out, her voice amplified a thousand times such that Magnus could feel his ears ringing with the force of it: "Where is he? The man who is one of Raziel's chosen?

Raziel's chosen? Wasn't that what Lilith had once called Alexander?  

Magnus felt a chill run down his spine, and his horse reared as he tried to spur it forward, refusing to go any further, although Magnus could hardly blame it. He dismounted quickly and drew up a portal that took him to the courtyard of the castle, which was full of the dead and gravely injured. Magnus hoped that meant that the survivors were sequestered inside the safety of the castle walls and Ragnor's wards, but before he had time to find out, to his great surprise, he saw his father emerge from a portal, looking just as fragile as when Magnus had seen him last a few hours ago. 

"Lilith?" Asmodeus said in wonderment, looking up in search of the creature.

Magnus looked up as well, and saw that the monstrous flying thing was climbing the towers, sniffing at windows and licking the stone as if looking for something, and wrecking the roof in the process. Magnus feared that it was only a matter of time before the roof collapsed under the weight of the creature, crushing everyone inside. Up close, Magnus saw that it also had feathers, and what he had taken to be scales was merely rock carved to look like scales. The creature did not look so much like a dragon as a gigantic, bedraggled vulture with four taloned claws, a long spiked tail, and a humanoid face, half of which was taken up by a yawning mouth filled with rows of jagged teeth. And on its back, clinging tenuously to the sparse feathers of the creature, was a woman - Lilith.  

"I am the one you seek!" Magnus shouted, trying to draw it away from its destructive exploration of the castle, and Lilith glanced down at the sound of his voice.

The monstrous bird launched itself into the air, off the tower it was climbing up, breaking the tower in two with the force of the push, and swept half of the castle's outer walls into rubble when it landed in front of them. It snapped at Magnus, but Magnus and Asmodeus both sent a blast of magic to repel it, and it hissed in pain. 

"Creature, release your hold on my daughter!" Asmodeus commanded. 

"Its name is not 'creature' - it is the Angel Gadreel, Father, and you have it wrong - it is I who have a hold over it," Lilith laughed. "I have already risen two of the Angels, and when I have awoken all five, they will help me wake my beloved Samael, and together we will rule all the realms, now and forever. But first, hand over the one I seek, and perhaps I will let all of you live." She smiled at Magnus, and Magnus repressed a shudder. "You are not him, but I remember you. You are Magnus, are you not? Where is your consort?" 

Magnus ignored her question. "Who is Samael?" 

"Oh, he is only the most beautiful of all the Angels. He came to me when I was dreaming, and told me such grand stories of when he and I would rule the world..." she said a little dreamily.

Out of the corner of his eye, Magnus saw that his father was getting ready to unleash the full strength of his power on the monster, and tried to keep Lilith occupied. "And what exactly happens to us when the two of you rule the world? Besides, I am not sure you will find it all that enjoyable - it seems to me that it simply means everyone expects you to have a miraculous solution to their problems."

Magnus had expected his father to strike Lilith down with the creature but Asmodeus wasted their benefit of surprise by attempting to lift Lilith off the monster first. As Lilith screamed, the monster thrashed its barbed tail at Asmodeus; one of the spikes appeared to impale Asmodeus, and with another sweep of its tail, it flung Asmodeus into the air like a ragdoll, but Magnus didn't have time to spare to check on his father. Guessing that the monster's feathery parts would be more vulnerable, he aimed a surge of magic at a balding patch of feathers at the hollow of its throat while it was trying to finish off its kill. The monster - Angel, according to Lilith - let out another deafening shriek and Magnus winced when it crushed the skulls and bones of a few corpses underfoot as it stumbled around blindly, but still the monster closed in on Magnus, forcing him to send blast after blast of magic at it just to keep it at bay.

It was hopeless - there was no way one man alone could defeat this thing, and when Lilith joined the fray, all it took was one lucky blow catching Magnus off-guard to send him crashing into the snow, which had turned red from the blood of the fallen. He rolled to avoid the next attack and managed to summon up enough strength to deflect another one, but he felt drained in a way he had never felt before, his veins aching as if they had been emptied out, and with horror, Magnus found out that it was possible to expend so much magic that he had none left. 

Magnus staggered to his feet, vision swimming. He might not have magic left, but he still had his fists; in desperation, he launched himself at Lilith, shocking her by using his advantage of weight and strength to pin her down. He brought his fist down, intending to crush her throat, but she sent him flying with a wave of his hand and he skidded a dozen feet in the bloody slush. He was struggling to get up again, the shadow of the monster looming over him and its foul breath somehow holding no warmth, as if it was not truly alive, when his vision exploded with blinding light as the skies opened up and a bolt of lightning struck the monster.

Father, Magnus thought, then the world went black and Magnus knew no more.

 

  

When Magnus woke up, he found himself somewhere cold, dark, and damp. There were few places in the castle that he had never been in before, but he guessed that he was in the dungeons, for his wrists and ankles had been shackled to the stone floor in a manner that forced his head down and locked him in the humiliating position of prostrating himself to all and sundry. There was no point making things harder for himself by fighting the restraints, so he relaxed into them, not caring that his forehead was touching the dirty, freezing floor. His body ached with more than the bruises he had sustained in the fight against Lilith and the monster. He knew that the restraints in the dungeon were specially made to repress magic, but they could have saved themselves the trouble - he felt oddly hollow, and he knew that even if he tried he would not be able to summon so much as a spark. The people who had imprisoned him while he was unconscious had obviously dealt several blows to the back of his head to make sure that he would not wake up before they had him securely bound, and his throbbing head was making him nauseous. There was also a horrible metallic taste in his mouth, and when he coughed he felt the blood pooling in his mouth from a broken rib or two - probably the result of a few additional kicks he'd been given while he was unable to defend himself. 

Footsteps were drawing closer, possibly the sound that had awoken him in the first place, then he heard the sound of keys turning in a lock and a metal door clanging open, and although Magnus could not lift his head to see, he immediately recognised the voice that spoke. 

"Are you finally awake, little brother?"

"If I say 'no', will you go away?"  

Azazel tutted. "So little respect for your king."

Magnus snorted derisively. "Have you crowned yourself, then?" 

"I had little choice," Azazel replied with false diffidence. "Everyone heard Lilith say that she brought the Angels here because she wanted your precious consort, and our honourable father was killed in a futile effort to save you from the monsters you led to our doorstep. You and your consort must have done something terrible to summon these mystical creatures, and everybody knows that enchantments usually end with the death of the spell-caster. It is with great sorrow that I charge my own brother with high treason and black sorcery, which is of course punishable by death. Ragnor, as your accomplice, will also be sentenced to death."

Magnus' heart sank. "And I suppose you do not care that Ragnor is the only person with the talent and knowledge to maintain the castle's wards." 

"Nobody is irreplaceable," Azazel said dismissively. "At first light, Ragnor and your insolent head of guard will be hanged, but you will have the privilege of being drawn and quartered."

"How fortuitous. I had to get dressed in a hurry last night in my haste to defend my people, unlike you, and now although I am going to have to die in clothes that do not quite match, at least one can hope that it will not be that obvious if my body is in pieces," Magnus said mildly. 

"Always full of childish quips, even to the end," Azazel sneered. "Let's see how witty you are tomorrow morning when they are cutting off your limbs and pulling out your entrails - and I assure you, dear brother, I will make sure you stay awake long enough to feel it all."

Azazel aimed a swift kick at Magnus' already damaged ribs, and Magnus bit down hard on his own lips so that he wouldn't give Azazel the satisfaction of hearing him cry out in pain. But Azazel kept at it, sending vicious kicks at his abdomen, and in the end it was a blow to the side of his head that forced a pained gasp out of Magnus. Satisfied, Azazel laughed, then slammed the door of Magnus' cell shut and Magnus heard his footfalls moving away.

When Magnus was sure Azazel was gone, he spat out a mouthful of blood, then spoke into the quiet of the dungeons, "Ragnor, are you here?" 

"I am, my friend," Ragnor responded. "Do not worry - I went with them quietly, and I am not much hurt."

"Maia?"

"I am here, my lord." 

She sounded like her face was at the very least swollen. Magnus sighed. "Maia, you should have renounced me." 

"I told the rest of your guard that you would much rather they live than die to prove their loyalty to you, but nobody could bring themselves to sit back and watch you be so maligned," she replied, then added quietly, "They are all dead. Azazel kept me for the public execution to set an example. I do not think he liked it very much when I knocked out half his guard and kicked him in the groin." 

Magnus swallowed hard. "I do not know what I have done to deserve your loyalty, Maia, but I am forever grateful for it. I am sorry that it has come to this, and I wish your service to me could have offered you a brighter future."

He had little hope that he would be able to get himself out of this, and even less that he would be able to free Ragnor and Maia as well, and he would not leave them behind. And so this was it - he would die without ever seeing Alexander again. He only hoped that Azazel was too cowardly and lazy to start a war with Idris now that he no longer needed to impress their father. He spared a moment - not quite to grieve, but to try to think a little more kindly of Asmodeus, whose final act had surely been to save Magnus from Lilith and the Angel.

"At least tell me that we managed to kill the Angels," Magnus said, a wave of dizziness passing over him.

"No, we managed to drive them away, but they were very much alive when Lilith left with them," Ragnor answered him. 

"Then El and Elat help us all," Magnus mumbled, and drifted off into unconsciousness again. 

 

 

The next time Magnus woke up, someone was trying to get him onto his feet. He briefly considered struggling, but even with his arms and legs free of the shackles, his body was still empty of magic. Whoever it was who had come to lead him to the gallows was being far gentler with him than he would have expected, and he was grateful for that. 

"My liege, can you walk?" 

"Ah, Lucian. Have they sent you to escort me to the gallows personally?" Magnus mumbled.

"We have to leave quickly, before we are discovered," Lucian said. "If you could walk on your own, we could move more quickly."

Magnus' brows furrowed in confusion, but he tried his best to get his feet to obey him, all his muscles stiff and sore after hours of being forced into an uncomfortable crouch. With Lucian's help, he stumbled through a portal and into the fresh night air of the woods behind the castle. He looked around, bleary-eyed, to find that he was surrounded by faces he recognised - Catarina, some of the townspeople, notably those who had fled from Idris, and some servants from the castle. Ragnor and Maia had also been rescued, and he saw that some of them carried packs for travelling.

"Azazel is not going to let this go unpunished," Magnus protested as Catarina came forward to heal the worst of his injuries. "I cannot let all of you pay that price."

"There are more people involved in this than Azazel can punish, unless he wants to try putting the entire town and half the castle to death," Lucian replied. "Rest easy, my liege. We will make it seem like the people who were once from Idris and some of the servants - all the people who are fleeing with you anyway - are the only ones responsible. Even now, Asmodeus' own guard is leading Azazel and his men on a wild goose chase."

"I will be back. I will not abandon Edom to Azazel's cruelty," Magnus promised as Ragnor drew up a portal.

"We will await the return of Edom's rightful king," Lucian agreed solemnly. "Go safe, my lord, and may Elat's blessings be with you."

"And also with you," Magnus replied, clasping Lucian's hand briefly.

He waited for everyone to go through the portal before stepping through with Ragnor. The sky was dark and they did not dare risk much light, but it was his nose that told Magnus where they were - they must have been somewhere near the Drowned Lands. There was only one place they could go, and despite the circumstances that had forced Magnus on this path and the perils that no doubt lay ahead of them, he could not deny the anticipation at the thought of his intended destination.

"Come with me, and stay close. The journey to Idris will not be an easy one," Magnus said, and led the way.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"A dragon?" Alec frowned. "Are you certain that was what you saw?"

"My lord, there is no bird that could ever have been of such a size, although we only saw it from a distance, and it had a long tail behind it, like a lizard's," Underhill reported. 

"But there are no such things as dragons," Jace said uneasily from his place on Alec's right side on the low dais placed in front of the hearthstone of the Lightwood House.

Alec frowned. Yes, there were no such things as dragons, merely fanciful ideas and stories born from the discovery of odd bones of gigantic proportions, but monsters existed. While the mountains of Idris were the only source of adamas anywhere as far as they knew, the metal was not unlimited, and most of the exposed veins had already been harvested to make weapons in the decades of war against Edom. However, there were large pockets of adamas in the deeps that remained untouched and protected by order of the crown - to ward Idris against the monstrous creatures that dwelled far, far underground. Alec had never seen one of them with his own eyes, although one or two of the more popular tales sung by Idris' bards involved gory battles with these monsters, and the skull of one of these creatures served as the sleeping quarters for whichever warrior was on duty to guard the precious pockets of adamas; and whatever it was, the creature had too many eyes sockets and very sharp teeth.

Even before the peace treaty had been negotiated between Edom and Idris, Alec had been responsible for organising the troops that patrolled outside the city as well as those who guarded the large pockets of adamas in the deeps, thwarting the greedy and unscrupulous who might wish to secretly mine the precious metal for their own gain and thus leave the city vulnerable, and in the months that Alec had been absent from Idris, chaos had reigned. Some of the soldiers had been lured by promises of being paid more handsomely to switch loyalties to some of the more prominent nobles, neglecting their duties. Worried about an uncertain future without a king, the people had turned on each other in their desperation to make sure their own families and loved ones would have enough to survive the harsh winter, and crime rose in Idris. With King Robert on his deathbed, Jace had tried his best to fill Alec's shoes, but he was not of royal blood, and without the support of the king or prince, the nobles had been leery and dismissive of him, and there was only so much he and the men who remained loyal to Alec could do. Then Jace had deserted his post to journey to Edom with Izzy to rescue Alec, and things had only gotten worse. 

After being banished from Edom, Alec and his siblings had spent almost a week navigating the routes through the mountains only known to Idris' warriors, only for Alec to return to his home kingdom to find his troops in complete disarray, the city in a state of lawlessness, and his people miserable. In the two weeks that Jace had been gone, the reserves of adamas deep underground had been plundered to a point that the monsters of the deep had grown bold enough to attack the sentries and invade the homes of those who were not so poor that they had to risk living near the surface, but poor enough that they had to risk living within reach of monsters deep underground, and with many of the soldiers in the pockets of the rich and powerful, the common folk were left to fend for themselves.

As if that hadn't been enough to contend with, Alec's standing amongst some of the warriors and nobles had also changed. His parents, the warriors who had remained loyal to him, and most of the people of Idris had been overjoyed at his return, and it had taken him much effort to convince his father that there was no need to hold a feast in his honour, not with the lean months of winter on the way. But there were others who had been less pleased with his return, and not just because Idris once again had a true heir to the crown. Word of what had supposedly befallen Alec in Edom had spread, the rumours even worse than the lies that had been in the missive sent by Asmodeus, and there were some who thought him less of a man because of that.

It used to be that Idris was ruled by whichever House produced the strongest warriors, and any House could challenge another for the honour of being the ruling House, but Lightwood House had ruled Idris for generations and the old custom of determining a worthy bearer of the crown by fighting each other to the death had fallen by the wayside - and naturally, Alec wanted to ensure that it stayed that way. But it wasn't just Idris that had changed; Alec was not the same man he had been all those months ago. The man he had been before he left for Edom would have been more cautious of his behaviour and conduct, putting a distance between himself and any reminder that he had been forced to offer himself to Edom, but Alec refused to be ashamed of his marriage to Magnus. With the days growing colder, Alec dressed himself in thick woollen tunics and wrapped himself in bear and wolf pelts as everyone did, but made no special effort to hide or draw attention to the wedded union rune that stood out starkly on his wrist. As for the rest of it, a week after his return to Idris, Alec held a very public sparring session in the common training space shared by all the warriors of all the Houses, inviting any warrior to step up and practice with him - ostensibly to sharpen his rusty fighting skills, but mostly to show everyone that despite the months he'd spent coped up in Magnus' room dressed in fine silks and supposedly being forced to serve as a whore in Edom's royal harem, he was still capable of knocking any of them off their feet. Alec was out of practice enough that it took more effort than it should have, but as usual only Jace had any real chance of getting past his defences, and after that the men fell in line more readily - for as Magnus had once noted, the warriors of Idris tended to respond to fists more than wit.

Alec could not say that the three months that followed were easy, but they passed quickly enough when he was so exhausted by the end of every day that he was asleep the moment he laid down in the thick pallet of furs that served as his bed. Patrols had to be doubled for the caves that led deeper underground to keep the monsters at bay, groups of miners had to be organised to search for new veins of adamas to forge weapons and protective structures to replace the adamas that had been stolen, larger groups of men and women had to be sent out before winter truly set in to hunt and gather more food and lumber, and Alec had to figure out which of the nobles had ambitions that would threaten Idris' continued peace with Edom. He had not forgotten his intentions to help Izzy find a suitable husband so that he could hopefully return to Edom with Magnus in the spring, but King Robert's health had improved slightly with his son's return, enough to set in motion a decision that Alec acknowledged as necessary for the moment but vexing nonetheless.

When he woke up every morning, the first thing Alec did was to check that the brief letter he had received from Magnus was still safely rolled up in the hidden pocket in his belt together with his new adamas wand. Alec would allow himself a moment to hold Magnus' smiling face in his mind's eye, tamping down the dull ache in his chest before getting on with all the tasks he had set for himself that day - for as King of Idris, even a temporary one, his time was not his own.

Then ten days ago, the sentries had reported unusual activity from the Drowned Lands - something so large that they had felt the ground shake from its movement even in Idris had emerged from the cursed land and headed towards Edom, then returned and vanished into the Drowned Lands again as abruptly as it had appeared. Alec could not help but worry about Magnus, even though he thought his worries were probably needless since Edom had the advantage of magic. The monsters of the deep underground had always been more active during the lean months of winter, but they became almost restless after the creature from the Drowned Lands had trembled the earth; and now here was Underhill, whom Alec trusted with his life after the time they had both spent in Edom, coming to Alec with stories of dragons.

"Where was this creature seen?" Alec asked Underhill. 

"We were near to the ravine that leads out to the ruins of the old city, but the creature did not come close, vanishing behind the peak of Mount Beriah instead. Thrice now we have seen it, always in the early evening if there is no storm, and always following the same trajectory."

"I think I would like to try to see this creature for myself," Alec decided. "Perhaps it may be nesting behind the mountain."

"My lord, it does not seem wise to seek out the creature," Underhill said worriedly. 

"I must agree. Even I do not much like the sound of that plan, Alec," Jace said, wrinkling his nose. "Everyone knows Mount Beriah is treacherous even in the high summer, and the bottomless lake that lies in its crater has a siren call that has lured many a good warrior or foolish wanderer alike to his death."

"No, I do not mean to go too close to it. A creature of that size would require a lot of food to sustain itself. I would rather know exactly where it is and keep it in my sights, but I do not want it to become aware of the location of our city. On the other hand, if we accidentally cross paths with it we must be capable of showing it our strength, lest it thinks us easy prey, and to do so we must try to figure out its weaknesses," Alec said contemplatively. "From now on, patrol troops will have to be doubled in size but not venture beyond the ruins of the old city. And I still think it would be prudent for me to see it with my own eyes. Tomorrow if the day dawns clear, Jace and I will go out with the patrol at first light."

 

 

The next morning, Alec stepped out into fresh air and falling snow with a great sense of relief. He had not been out of the stifling underground caves since his return to Idris, and although he had on occasion been forced to stay within the city for even longer periods before his wedding to Magnus, he had grown used to at least being able to see the sun during his time in Edom. There were twelve men on the patrol, including Jace, Underhill, and himself, and they picked their way carefully through snow that came up their knees, for the snow was apt at covering uneven places in the treacherous path that led to the ruins of the old city and nobody wanted to break their legs from falling into hidden portholes.

It had been decades since the city had stood intact, and the path from the ruins to the new underground city had been intentionally kept hidden and made near impassable except for those who knew the trick of the way, in case the soldiers from Edom thought to search the old city for clues to the location of the new city. To get to the ruins from Idris, one first had to climb up to the peak of Grey Mountain, which housed the bulk of the underground city in its innards, and cross over the southern ridge and climb down an icefall before even reaching the halfway point. In the winter, one could then make their way down a ravine (although the same ravine would be flooded with melted snow and transformed into the channel for a roaring river in the summer), then travel through a dark winter-bare forest littered with booby traps, before reaching the outskirts of the city that once was. There was no real reason for anyone to undertake the journey lightly, although the patrols did cover parts of the route and maintained the rope guides that made the climbing easier; after all, there was little left of the city that had once been Idris, nothing left to plunder or salvage - just crumbling foundation stones that yearly crumbled more under the unforgiving weather of the mountains. 

They made good time, having all made the journey many times over the years, so much so that it had become almost instinct to find the well-worn footholds in sheer rock faces and sidestep the hidden levers that would trigger an often murderous trap. They stopped for a rest and some dry rations at the edge of the forest, and reached the ruins of the old city in the early afternoon. Alec and his men walked through the snow-covered ruins with their eyes on the sky, but here and there something would catch Alec's eye, reminding him of stories sung by the bards of the city that once was.

Unlike Edom, Idris had no written records of their history. Once, there might have been scroll libraries, but when the city had been destroyed, all that had been lost. The damp caves did not lend themselves well to the preservation of parchment, bark, or even animal skin, and anyway they had been too busy trying to survive - bark could be used to fill desperately hungry stomachs and animal skins were more useful as boots and clothes. Instead, they had come to rely on their bards as worthy custodians of their people's memories. And while tales of glorious battles and heroic exploits were definitely popular, the older bards had also favoured stories of the old city and the grand buildings that had once stood: the main dwellings of the thirteen prominent Houses, each with lofty towers and their own unique features; the shining temple dedicated to El, which had stood in the place of honour right in the centre of the city, and that had walls inlaid with gold and precious stones and the tallest tower of all; a majestic coliseum for competitions amongst the warriors, and so on.

Like many of the children his age, Alec had found these stories fascinating as a boy, and all of them had grown up knowing that the pillars with the carving of the flames on it had once been part of the grand halls of the Lightwood House, and the scorched skeleton of a gigantic tree was all that remained of the beautiful gardens of the Aldertree House. The underground city of Idris had been hastily constructed in times of war, and was a continually changing landscape honed towards efficiency and fortification, with little regard for decorative features. All the Houses occupied natural caverns of similar size, reinforced with wood and iron, and divided neatly into separate living quarters for the members of the household. After the time he had spent in Edom, Alec wondered if there would ever come a time when the people of Idris would make beautiful things just for the sake of beauty again.

The ruins of the city were deadly silent; something about the way Edom's magic had razed the city had left it somehow repellant to other forms of life. In all the years Alec had patrolled the ruins, he had never seen small wild creatures attempt to nest in the shelter of the foundation stones or birds roosting in whatever structures were left behind, and even weeds did not seem to thrive in the ruins. Walking past the stumps of the stone pillars that had once marked the entrance to the marketplace Alec had only ever seen on Ragnor's map, Alec was reminded of the plans he had made with Magnus, Ragnor, and Raphael, and was overcome by a feeling of melancholy - quickly replaced with alarm when something black dropped out of the sky and flew towards him.

"Peace, brother, it's just my crow," Jace said as he grabbed Alec's arm, which was already raised to strike. The bird settled on Jace's shoulder and let out a series of caws, then flapped its wings agitatedly.  

"I did not realise that you were still keeping that bird around," Alec said.

"What would you have me done then - break its neck?" Jace demanded. "It wasn't its fault that that bastard confused it with his magic."

"No, I suppose not," Alec agreed, frowning as the bird nipped Jace's ear none too gently and cawed again. "Are you sure that the magic has not addled its brains?"

"I think it's trying to lead us to something," Jace replied. He held his arm out straight, and the crow flew to his index finger. "Show me."

The bird took flight immediately, but landed after a few yards and stood there, waiting for them to follow. Alec was skeptical, but Jace was already taking off after his crow, and even though Alec did not trust the bird, he was not about to let his sworn brother wander off into danger alone. The bird led them through the ruins of the old city and out of it, towards one of the old passes that Alec knew had been marked as the easiest route from the old city to the foot of the mountain range on Ragnor's map. It was a narrow path that hugged the side of the mountain with a sheer drop to one side, only just broad enough for a two-horse cart if they were very careful, but otherwise a straightforward route with no confusing offshoots or sections that might make the journey difficult except for the very young or infirm. 

One look at the path showed Alec that what had been shown on the old map and the actual state of the path were very different. Decades of rain, snow, and wind had eroded the path, making it steeper and barely wide enough for one horse, and sections of the path seemed to have fallen away completely. He could see a group of around two dozen men and women of all ages trapped on the wrong side of a yawning gap in the path that was at least ten yards wide, slowly making their way across a shimmering blue bridge made solely out of magic, and his heart skipped a beat when he recognised the two people who were making the bridge - Ragnor and Magnus, with Magnus on the far side of the chasm.

As Alec led his men forward, he could see that although most of the group had already crossed the bridge safely, the glow of the bridge was growing dimmer, and Ragnor and Magnus seemed to be in pain, which did not bode well. The last people to cross were the redhead Alec recognised as Clary and an elderly man she was helping, and they had barely set foot on the solid ground on the other side of the chasm when the bridge disappeared entirely, and both Ragnor and Magnus crumpled to the ground. 

"Magnus!" Alec cried out as he made his way down the path as quickly as he could, and he saw Magnus' face light up despite his obvious exhaustion. He had grown thinner, his fine clothes all ruined, and it made Alec's heart ache to see him in such a state. Alec tore his gaze away from Magnus to look around at the tired faces of the half-frozen travellers and spotted several he recognised - Bat, Maia, Clary, Ragnor, Elias.

"What happened? Why are these people here?" Jace demanded as he caught up with Alec. 

"This is neither the time nor the place for explanations - that can come later. We need to get Magnus over," Alec said. "Can no one form another bridge?"

Maia shook her head. "We are all exhausted, my lord. The adamas in the mountain drains our magic, and we have expended much of it in trying to keep warm and hiding ourselves from predators and Azazel's men. Our food ran out a day ago, and some of us were recovering from fresh injuries when we fled Edom. Besides, you know that we are not all equal in strength when it comes to magic, and many of these Idris-born folk have only the faintest traces of magic skill." She said this last part with great irritation, then seemed to remember who she was talking to and quickly added, "No offence meant, my lord."

"None taken," Alec assured her. He could only imagine how frustrating it must be for them, when they were so used to having magic at their fingertips to solve their problems.

"His Highness and Lord Ragnor have been using much of their strength to keep us safe and warm. We would be long dead otherwise," Clary chimed in, and Maia snorted. 

"We will simply have to build a bridge without magic," Alec said, and without looking back at his men, called out, "Bring me lumber and rope!" A silence greeted his words. Alec turned around, frowning, to find most of his men looking belligerent, scowling at the people from Edom. "Did you not hear me?"

"But they are of Edom," one of them had the gall to respond.

"Would you defy your king? That man trapped on the other side of the chasm is his consort, rightfully wedded by law and custom, which makes him your prince," Jace snapped. 

There was some disgruntled murmuring then from both the folk from Edom and the warriors from Idris, but Alec's men eventually went off to do as they were told. Alec tasked Jace, Underhill, and a few other men that he trusted with the duty of leading the rest of the people from Edom back to the underground city for rest and food, for they would have to leave as soon as possible to arrive before nightfall. Maia, however, refused to leave, insisting on staying to watch the men constructing the bridge out of rope and lumber with a threatening glare, as if silently promising to tear their throats out if they dared to put Magnus in danger with careless work. Alec checked the knots and bindings himself, and soon they had constructed a sturdy little bridge. By now, Magnus had recovered enough to push himself into a sitting position, and was leaning against the safety of the solid rocky face of the mountain as they worked, but he did not look well enough to make his way across the bridge without help. And yet, Alec did not trust all the men here enough to leave this end of the bridge unattended - he knew that one or two of them had been tempted by Lord Aldertree and Lord Starkweather's offers.

"I'll get him over safely, my lord," Maia promised him, already testing her weight on the bridge.

Alec stood with his arms loose by his sides, bracing himself for a possible attack as he guarded the bridge, but his attention was torn as Maia made her way across as quickly as she could. Fortunately, they were sheltered from the worst of the wind because they were in the leeward side of the mountain, and Maia reached the other side of the chasm with no trouble. Alec had insisted that she fasten a length of rope around her body for her own safety, and she helped do the same for Magnus before getting her arm around him to help him up on his feet. Despite her smaller frame, she managed to get Magnus across the bridge slowly but surely, although Alec only dared to breathe again when Magnus was safely in his arms.

"Alexander," Magnus said weakly, leaning heavily on Alec. His body was frighteningly cold, and although he was smiling at Alec, he looked like he was a few moments away from collapsing in a dead faint.

Alec pulled his cloak tighter around them both. "I've got you," he murmured to Magnus, and kissed him gently on his forehead. "I'm here now."

"You are," Magnus agreed, his tone filled with wonder, before he went limp in Alec's arms.

 

Chapter Text

 

Magnus woke up to someone touching his forehead. The hand was cold, and when he moaned and turned his head away from it, someone made an unhappy sound. 

He tried to open his eyes; the room was dark save for a strange blue lantern, and he seemed to be swathed in furs. A figure was sitting by his bed, someone with a petite frame and long hair. "Catarina?" he mumbled.

"No, it's Izzy. Alec's sister." 

It took a while for Magnus to grasp that. "Alexander?" 

"He will be sorry to hear that he wasn't here when you woke, but he's been watching over you for two days and two nights now, so I made him go and get some rest."

Magnus nodded, or tried to nod - his body didn't seem to want to obey what he wanted it to do, his limbs oddly heavy. The hollow feeling deep in his bones told him that once again he had exhausted all his magic, which had only just begun to return to him when they had reached the foot of the mountains of Idris. 

"Here, drink this," Izzy said, and tried her best to hold his head up so that he could sip from the cup she pressed to his lips. The drink was hot but bitter, and Magnus grimaced. 

"It's willow bark tea, for your fever," she said, trying to coax him to drink a little more. Magnus only managed a few more sips before it was too much effort to even swallow, and his vision went dark. 

 

 

The next time he woke up, there was someone sitting by his bed still, but even in his state of delirium he immediately recognised the shadowy figure as Alexander. Alexander lifted a cloth off Magnus' forehead; there was a sound of water splashing, then the cloth was replaced, now ice-cold against Magnus' skin, and Magnus shivered. 

"He's burning up," Magnus heard Alexander tell someone. "Is there nothing we can do?"

"Look, I think he's awake now. Help him up so he can drink some broth," Izzy said.

Magnus felt Alexander's arms around him, helping him up to a sitting position and leaning him against what felt like a pile of fur. He forced his eyes open, and in the dim blue light, he saw that Alexander was bringing a spoon to his lips. The broth was rich and sweet, tasting mildly of fish but not in a way that made his stomach turn, and Alexander seemed heartened when Magnus finished most of the small bowl of broth. 

"Should we give him more willow bark tea?" Alexander asked his sister. 

"Perhaps just a little. I think the fever is a sign of something else that ails him. Lord Ragnor also has a fever, though he is not in such a bad state as Magnus."

Alexander raised a cup of the bitter drink to Magnus' lips, but after a few sips Magnus' stomach began to churn uncomfortably, and he refused the cup for fear of being sick. Alexander helped him to lie down again, and the world began to spin. Maybe the furs that covered him were too heavy, for Magnus felt like he was a being crushed by the air itself. 

"El help me, I've only just found him, I can't lose him now," Alexander said in despair. 

Magnus wanted to open his mouth to reassure Alexander that he wasn't going anywhere, not if he could help it, but the world slid sideways and went dark again. 

 

 

The third time that Magnus woke up, he was being carried in a movable bed that had curtains all around it, shielding the outside world from his view. The bed swayed nauseatingly from side to side, but thankfully stopped before Magnus could truly be sick. The curtains were parted and a couple of men shifted him onto a bed, and for a while Magnus drifted between vague wakefulness and bouts of drowsiness until he finally succumbed to sleep. 

When he awoke, however, he felt more rested than he had been since they had brought him into the underground city. Magnus looked around and saw that he was in a cave furnished with presumably all the comforts that Idris could provide. Someone had dressed him in a coarse but thick woollen tunic, and he was lying on a pallet of furs in the corner of the room. There were several of those strange blue lanterns in the corners, providing light but no heat; a small chest for his belongings by the bed, not that he had left Edom with much; and a large slab of rock in the middle of the room, like a low table. There was a screen in the furthest corner of the room, possibly hiding some sort of privy or space for washing up, and a number of thick rugs had been placed on the floor so that his feet would not have to touch the cold stone. There were no windows, of course, and there was a general feeling of damp and dark that reminded Magnus of Edom's dungeons, except that this cave was clean and someone had strewn some dried herbs on the floor that filled the room with a mild, sweet smell. Alexander was nowhere to be seen, but Izzy and Jace were discussing something in low tones. Izzy was the first to notice that he was awake and struggling to sit up. 

"Alec had to see to an attack in one of the tunnels," Jace explained as he helped Magnus up and clumsily attempted to rearrange the furs so Magnus could have something to lean on. "I am sure he will be here to see you as soon as he can."

"How are you feeling?" Izzy asked, coming forward to replace the cold cloth on his head and offer Magnus more of the bitter willow bark tea. Magnus made a face but obediently drank the tea. 

"I feel better already," he admitted. It felt like he could finally breathe properly again, and the fever that had wracked his body seemed to be drawing itself into his gut in a way that felt oddly reminiscent of the way it felt when he was summoning his magic, although he was certain that his magic still had not returned. 

"I thought you might," Izzy said with a sigh of relief. "I think it's the adamas. The rest of the refugees from Idris were settled in these caves nearer to the surface, and seemed to have recovered from their journey, but Lord Ragnor and you, who were both given rooms in Lightwood House, only seemed to be getting worse, although I understand that the both of you were also more severely exhausted."

"How long have I been unconscious?" Magnus asked. 

"Four days," Izzy replied.

Four days without much food or water - seven if he included the days he had subsisted mostly on snow so that there would be a little more of their meagre food supplies to go around, before his people had been rescued by Alexander and his men. It was no wonder that he felt so weak.

"And I take it that the rest of my people are safe and well here?" Magnus asked. 

Jace and Izzy hesitated, exchanging a glance, then evidently decided to be honest with him. 

"Some of Alec's men - only the ones we know are loyal to him - have been guarding the caves occupied by your people. The war against Edom was long and devastating, and everyone has lost someone dear in the war. But the threat of revenge is not our only worry," Jace confessed. "These caves were abandoned by even the poorest citizens of Idris once they had a chance to move to better places further below. In the years of war against Edom, the sides of the mountain have weakened and cave-ins are common."

"It would be a great irony indeed if these cave walls fell on us," Magnus said wryly.

"With the fell beasts of the deep getting bolder and more restless of late, I think these caves may be safer than the caves down below," Alexander said as he came in through curtains hung over the entrance of the cave, carrying a tray of food.

"Are you thinking of moving those who make their homes at the edges of the deep underground back up here?" Jace asked. 

"We may have no other choice," Alexander said, setting down the tray on the low rock table and settling himself on the edge of Magnus' bed. His brow was furrowed with thoughts of his duty to his people, but the moment he turned to Magnus, Magnus saw him visibly set his worries aside. "You seem better," he said with a relieved smile. 

Alexander's siblings took this as their cue to leave, and once they were gone, Alexander took one of Magnus' hands in his own and brought it to his lips to press a kiss to his knuckles. "For a while I feared that I would lose you," Alexander said quietly, looking down at their joined hands. 

Magnus smiled and placed a finger under Alexander's chin, coaxing him to look up at him. "You aren't getting rid of me that easily, my love," he replied.

Alexander huffed out a laugh. "You should eat before your food grows cold."

Alexander helped him to the privy, a humbling experience to find that he was so weak that he required assistance in the most basic of things, and then served out the food in bowls that Magnus now saw were actually huge, curved shells. The food Alexander had brought him was certainly... interesting. There was a stew, thick with fatty fish and sliced fungi, and a small loaf of coarse unleavened bread that Alexander explained had been made from arrowroot flour. There were also roasted squares of fishmeat cakes and bite-sized pieces of some sort of water-dwelling creature that Magnus found disturbingly chewy. Everything tasted like fish, and thankfully the food was still warm despite the chilly winter air of the caves, because Magnus was certain that none of it would have been improved by being cold.

"We usually have nuts and smoked wild game at this time of the year, but after I left for Edom, my father fell ill, and-" Alexander tried to explain.

"This is fine, Alexander," Magnus said gently, and forced himself to finish all the food without complaint. 

After that, Alexander had people bring heated water for Magnus to bathe, and sent someone else to summon Bat to help Magnus.

"Aren't you joining me?" Magnus teased.

"I wish I could stay a little longer, but duty calls," he told Magnus regretfully. 

"I understand. Your father is still unwell, and I presume that you have taken on the duties of kingship in his stead," Magnus said more seriously. 

Alexander shook his head. "Magnus, I... I am king of Idris. My father declared my coronation two weeks after my return to Idris."

"Oh," Magnus said quietly. If Alexander was king, then he was bound by duty to remain in Idris. Why would he want to give up his crown to be Magnus' consort? And even if Magnus was somehow able to find a way to bear living in this city of adamas, he could not, for he too had a duty to his own people, to return to Edom and reclaim the throne from Azazel. 

"Magnus, I didn't want this. It is only for a while," Alexander said, but in his eyes Magnus knew that Alexander could feel the demands of duty pulling them apart as well. Magnus had discovered this himself, in the recent months - what was meant to be a responsibility shouldered for only for a while would become something he found unable to put down as more and more people came to rely on him, and it became harder to find someone else who could do all the things that he was already doing.

Magnus forced out a smile. "I am only sorry that I missed your coronation, for surely it was a proud day for you, with all your loved ones there to see you crowned king."

"There wasn't much to miss," Alexander replied, "and not everyone I loved was there." Magnus smiled a little easier then, and held Alexander's hand close to his heart. 

"Your Highness? We've brought the water you wanted, and Lord Jonathan requests your presence urgently," someone called from outside the curtains. 

"We have much to speak of, for much has happened since we last saw each other, but it can wait a little longer," Magnus told Alexander. "Go to your duties, my love."

Alexander nodded reluctantly and kissed Magnus' hand again before getting up to admit Bat and several young women bearing heavy, steaming buckets of water. Once Alexander was out of sight, Magnus leaned against the furs and sighed, finally allowing himself to feel the weariness he had been trying to hide for Alexander's sake.

"Are you alright, my lord?" Bat asked.

Magnus closed his eyes and did not reply.

 

 

After he was moved to the caves near the surface, Magnus recovered his strength quickly. By the next morning, his fever had subsided enough that Izzy stopped trying to make him drink the dreadful willow bark tea, and his magic began to return to him even though it came in frustrating ebbs and flows. Like the rest of his people, he continued to be plagued by a lingering feeling of malaise that had little to do with the constant darkness and cold, or the overwhelming amount of oily fish and a distinct lack of anything green in their diet, although Magnus was careful not to let it show. 

Alexander's time was occupied with people who needed him to make decisions on this or that, as well as endless worries about underground monsters and backstabbing nobles. Since Magnus did not dare venture deeper into the underground city while he was still recovering, the only time he saw Alexander was during the evening meal, for Alexander always made an effort to dine with Magnus, although Magnus suspected it was the only meal Alexander actually ate in the day. Bit by bit they told each other of everything that had happened when they had been apart, but Magnus deliberately left the out most of what Azazel had done to him, for fear that Alexander would be so enraged that he would rally his warriors and declare war on Edom right there and then. 

In the meantime, once Magnus was able to move around without aid, he took it upon himself to explore the surface caves with one of the odd blue lanterns from his room. The first time he had attempted to venture out of his own cave, he found out that his cave was right at the end of a dark tunnel dotted with blue lanterns, and that the tunnel opened up to a small circular chamber, with more tunnels leading off from it into unknown darkness. Magnus was surprised to find three men sitting on the floor, guarding the various tunnel entrances, and was wary for a moment until he recognised Underhill. 

"My lord," Underhill greeted him as he scrambled to his feet, evidently having been tasked with guarding Magnus. "Where are you going? Is something wrong? Should I call for my sire?" 

"I just wanted to stretch my legs," Magnus assured him. 

"Then allow me to accompany you, my prince," Underhill said quickly, and since Magnus could think of no good reason to reject him, he nodded in agreement.  

It turned out to be fortunate that Underhill had offered to accompany him, for Magnus suspected that he might have gotten lost in the maze of winding tunnels on his own. Underhill brought him around to the caves that now housed the refugees from Edom, all of them guarded by Idris soldiers, and Magnus could not help but notice that although all these men were supposed to be loyal to Alexander, some of them regarded him with hostility and barely managed to be civil to him. Whether it was just because he was from Edom, or because they believed the lies and rumours that had been spread around about how he had treated Alexander in Edom, Magnus didn't know but thought it might be prudent to try and find out. As Jace had warned him, Magnus noticed some cracks in the cave walls ceilings here and there, and on occasion Underhill had to dissuade him from going down certain tunnels because they were known to be unsafe.

Within a day, he managed to memorise all the routes that led to his people, who had been spread out amongst the safer caves in the east side of the mountain. Ragnor and Maia had been placed in the caves closest to his, which certainly made it easier for him to discuss strategy with Ragnor. 

"What are your plans now?" Ragnor asked. 

"I will not allow Azazel to rule Edom without challenge, of course, but with Lucian, Raphael, and even Meliorn still there to rein Azazel in, I think I should try to stop Lilith first before even planning to get back my throne," Magnus replied.

"And what about you and Alexander, now that he is king?" Ragnor asked shrewdly.

"There is no use worrying about a hundred things that might or might not happen in the future, Ragnor - including worrying about my future with Alexander if we are truly to be bound by duty to different lands. All I can do is to take things one step at a time," Magnus said quietly. 

Ragnor nodded. "That is wise. If we do not stop Lilith and her Angels, there may be no Edom and Idris to speak of, anyway." 

"What did you think of the songs that Alexander had the old Idris bard sing for us?" Magnus asked. 

"Much of it we have already heard from Alexander, and the stories told here are greatly similar to our own. Although I did notice that one of the songs mentioned that the Angel Raziel, who accepted the offering of all the magic of the people of Idris in payment for the promise that it would return in a time of need, was supposed to have left for its home in the heavens from Mount Beriah," Ragnor said. 

"That's where the creature Underhill reported seeing was said to be nesting," Magnus said sharply. "I assumed that it was the Angel Lilith was controlling - Gadreel - and that it was looking for Alexander, but do you think it might be Raziel?" 

"Whatever Lilith has done has awakened the fell beasts of the deeps. Might it not have awoken a sleeping Angel?" Ragnor pointed out.

"I do not know which is worse, to have one of Lilith's monsters on the prowl for Alexander, or to have an Angel with unknown motivations lurking around," Magnus sighed. "What would Lilith and her monsters want with Alexander?" 

Ragnor hummed, deep in thought. "Presumably, she - or the creature called Samael - thinks that Alexander is capable of stopping their plans to rule the world." 

Magnus looked at Ragnor, startled, but he could not deny that Ragnor's reasoning made sense. "But how? Nothing we did to the creatures seemed to have any effect, save to enrage them further."

"Indeed," Ragnor agreed, as the curtains parted and Alexander slipped quietly into the room. "Even when Asmodeus used up all his magic with his last breath to blast Gadreel, the creature was still standing. I suspect that Lilith only commanded the creatures to leave because she is not invincible."

"Did the attacks have no effect on the creature because Lilith forced it to ignore the pain? Much like Azazel uses his snakes?" Alexander wondered. 

"It is possible, but Lucian observed that the beast magic that they use to repel monsters from the Drowned Lands had no effect on the creature," Magnus replied. "For my part, when I was battling the one called Gadreel, I noticed that its breath held no warmth. I suspect that the creatures cannot be killed because they are not truly alive."

"Then what could they be? Stone that Lilith enchanted to seem alive?" Alexander asked. 

"We have too little information at our disposal," Ragnor sighed. "If only I had access to Edom's libraries again..."

"I have some men patrolling the ruins of the old city and watching the skies for the creature, but we may simply have to wait for the weather to get warmer to risk a trip to Mount Beriah and see it for ourselves - perhaps even try to capture it, and see if it is possible for it to answer our questions," Alexander admitted.

"A desperate plan for desperate times," Magnus murmured. "But come, Alexander. The hour grows late and we are disturbing Ragnor's rest."

 

 

They walked back in uncharacteristic silence to Magnus' room, where dinner had already been laid out for them, and finished their meal in silence. Alexander was seldom so quiet, especially since their time together every day was limited, and Magnus knew that there was something on his mind.

"I overheard some of what you were saying to Ragnor," Alexander finally admitted, when all the food was gone and the dishes cleared. "Do you honestly think that I may be the key to stopping Lilith and the Angels?"

"I do not know. All we have now is idle speculation," Magnus reminded him gently. "But whatever it is, I promise you that you will not have to face it alone, my love."

Alexander took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "Tomorrow, I will set aside some time to think about possible suitors for my sister. It is a task long overdue anyway. Unfortunately, my time in Edom has shown me the true colours of many of the men I once trusted. Monteverde is already married, and Underhill..." 

"...Shares your proclivities," Magnus filled in, and Alexander nodded. "From what little I know of your sister, I doubt she will appreciate you making these decisions for her," Magnus observed. 

Alexander's shoulders slumped. "I know that, Magnus, of course I know that. I wish there was a way for me to spare her this, but we all have our duties and sacrifices we must make."

"I don't mean that, Alexander. I meant that you should let your sister have a say in the choosing of her own husband, for she seems like a sensible woman. As for the rest of it, all is not lost, and I am sure it is possible for her to find happiness and love - after all, I have," Magnus said.

"As have I," Alexander agreed with a smile, and leaned forward to kiss him, a sweet kiss that grew deeper until Alexander pulled away with great strength of will, leaving Magnus wanting. "I should go."

"You do not have to leave if you don't want to," Magnus said lightly. 

Alexander dropped his head and let out a sigh of frustration. "I wish you would not tempt me so. Barely a week ago you were so ill that you could not get out of bed on your own. You're not well yet." 

"I am well enough for this," Magnus murmured, and took his husband's hands in his to pull him closer. 

The first time they had been together, time had been running out for them, but now they came to each other like a greeting - heartfelt and warm, though no less ardent, a slow exploration of each other's bodies that they had not had the luxury of doing before. Magnus laid Alexander on his bed and kissed his mouth, his neck, his throat, trying to kiss away the months they had been forced to spend apart. There were runes scarred into the length of Alexander's arms, some scattered on his legs and abdomen, and if every scar was a mark of honour, then Magnus would worship every single one of them, learn the shapes of them with his fingers and lips, and then later have Alexander tell him the story behind each one of them, so that he might celebrate each victory with him. But the one rune that made Magnus' heart clench was the one on Alexander's wrist, the rune that linked him to Magnus, and as they moved together chasing each other's pleasure, Magnus pressed his lips to the wedded union rune, and under him Alexander gasped. Between them, magic sparked, and the rune seemed to glow. 

"Magnus, Magnus, I love you," Alexander chanted, then shuddered as the pleasure coursing through him reached its peak.

"And I love you," Magnus whispered back, his breath coming out in harsh gasps as found his own release inside Alexander.

After that, with their arms wrapped around each other, both of them slept better than they had for months, for they were finally home. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Even in his dreams, Alec had never imagined that he could have a life like this - by day, he did his best to fulfil his duties as king with Izzy and Jace steadfast by his side, and by night he returned to the warmth of Magnus' bed and the comfort of Magnus' arms. He half expected to wake up to find that it had all been some sort of fever dream or enchantment, and looking back later, he should have known that it was too good to last.

He noticed the turning of the tide almost immediately, once it became obvious that he was spending his nights in Magnus' bed. The rumours and whispers that he had quelled when he had first returned to Idris started up again, and the grumbling from those who had already been resentful of the Edomite refugees being granted sanctuary in the underground city grew louder. He had been expecting some dissent, for the grudge against Edom was decades-old and not unjustified, but it was only when he returned to his rooms to find Maryse Lightwood waiting for him that he knew that this would be a storm he could not try to weather until it blew over, but one that he would have to face head on.

"Mother," he greeted her. "Is something wrong?"

"Must there be something wrong for me to want to see my son?" Maryse asked lightly, looking over him from head to toe as if she expected to see Magnus' mark on him like a blight or corruption. "As occupied as you are these days with the many demands on your time, it feels like I hardly see you anymore."

Alec frowned. Maryse had always been strict but loving, impressing her children with the need to fulfil their royal duties but only because she believed that they had the strength and devotion within them to make any sacrifice that was asked of them for the sake of Idris. Even then, when Alec had been forced to offer himself to Edom, it had broken her heart that such a sacrifice had to be asked of him at all. Perhaps he was merely being overly defensive - it was true that he had spent very little time with his mother lately.

"We could breakfast together," he offered.

"I will ask the servants to bring us some food," she agreed with a smile. 

As they ate, Alec couldn't shake the feeling that his mother had more on her mind than spending time with him; he distrusted her stillness, the poise and elegance that came so naturally to her serving as a shield for her true thoughts and feelings. Sure enough, when the dishes had been cleared, Maryse fixed him with a piercing gaze.

"I hope the people of Edom have had no cause to find fault with our hospitality?" she asked

"No, Mother."

"And the man you were bound to?" 

"My husband recovers more with every day," Alec answered evenly. 

Maryse inhaled sharply at his choice of words. He knew that Izzy had tried to tell her that the letter that had caused his father's collapse had held nothing but lies, but he had never been able to figure out if his mother had believed her. 

"When you first returned to us, with the rune burned into your wrist by the enemy, there were some who saw the pride with which you wore the mark as a demonstration of courage, that you had been through hell and emerged with your head still held high," she said, choosing her words carefully. "It is easy to love a king who is seen as a man of integrity, who honours the marriage he was forced into out of duty. It is harder to love a king who seems to have become a stranger to his own people in his habits, and whose behaviour might be seen as favouring the enemy."

"And do I seem like a stranger to you, Mother?" Alec asked coolly. 

She regarded him frankly, then shook her head. "You have changed, but only in that a weight seems to have been lifted off your shoulders and you stand taller for it. When you returned to us I worried that the sorrow and dark mood that was your constant companion was a result of the torment you had been forced to bear, but anybody who knows you can see that you are happier now."

Alec stared at her in surprise, but she just smiled fondly at him. 

"Did you think that I wouldn't notice that no girl ever turned your head? Every girl had the prettiest smile for the future king, but you were always so careful not to encourage them, far beyond a young man's awkwardness," Maryse said with a soft laugh. "Oh, I prayed to El and Elat that it was not so, but only because I knew the path that lay ahead of you could only be a miserable one, and I would have given my own life to spare you such a half-life." She reached across the low table to take his hand in hers. "So often, a king's duty to his country leaves him with little choice in the life that he leads. You did not choose to be married to this prince from Edom, but you know it was a selfish choice to continue to honour your marriage to him, and the way ahead will be hard because of it. Is he worth it?"

"Yes," Alec replied without hesitation. 

She nodded in resignation. "Then you know that at best they will think you bespelled by your prince, and at worst they will brand you traitor to our ways and try to tear you down, to make you seem unfit to be king."

"Magnus and his people will be moving to the ruins of the old city. I protested, but he insisted, confessing that the adamas has made all his people feel ill for weeks," Alec said with a sigh. "Magnus has made several trips to the old city with a few of the youngest and strongest of his people, and they have built their shelters on the old foundation stones. In a few days, they will leave the underground city."

"It may help for a while, to mollify the people and make the presence of the Edomites less grating," Maryse agreed. "But the pyre has already been built, and all it will take is a spark to set it all ablaze. A challenge will come to both of you, I think sooner rather than later."

Alec squared his jaw and met his mother's gaze unflinchingly. "Then let them come."

 

 

On the day that Magnus and his people left the underground city for their new homes in the ruins of the city that once was, they were accompanied by Alec, Jace, Underhill, and a handful of guards, and Alec was surprised to notice that there was far more laughter and chatter than he had expected within the small group. Perhaps it was because most of the refugees from Edom had been Idris-born and had little magic anyway, or that the people of Edom could be admirably tenacious folk when they put their minds to it, but the refugees had adjusted to having their magic dampened by the adamas quickly enough to learn to do many things without magic, and that must have made them less intimidating and strange to the guards who spent long hours with them. Alec had been too busy to accompany them on their trips to the ruins, but according to Magnus, the ones who had only been tasked with showing them the way to the ruins had also been willing to help gather the lumber and rocks, then watched from a safe distance with a mixture of wariness and curiosity as Ragnor had first undone the forbidding aura that the offensive magic had burned into the ground and stones, and Magnus had almost single-handedly used his magic to build the shelters from the gathered material. 

Alec knew that the pull of the adamas underground was strong, but the moment Magnus stepped out into the fresh mountain air, Alec saw Magnus' shoulders start to relax. They climbed to the peak of Grey Mountain and crossed the southern ridge, moving far more slowly than Alec was used to since the people of Edom were not as sure-footed as those from Idris, but once they reached the ravine, Magnus waved his arm and drew up a shining portal. 

"Magnus," Alec said worriedly, putting a hand on Magnus' arm.  

"I know my own limits, Alexander," Magnus assured him. Alec thought it more likely that Magnus' couldn't bear seeing the children and aged members of the group struggling down the steep ravine, for surely using magic for something as complicated as a portal so close to the mountain ranges filled with adamas would cost Magnus dearly. 

Magnus' people went through the portal with obvious relief, but with the exception of Alec and Underhill, all the warriors from Idris, even Jace, took a few steps backwards and looked at the magical doorway nervously. To Alec's surprise, Underhill nodded gravely at Magnus, then squared his shoulders and dashed through the portal. Jace was next, flashing a cocky smile at Magnus before taking a deep breath, as if preparing to dive underwater, and ran through. One by one, Alec's men went through the portal, proving their mettle and trust in their king - Monteverde, Highwater, Keytower, Hawksquall, Lovelace. Finally, Magnus smiled and took Alec's hand in his, and they stepped through hand-in-hand. 

Alec had not seen the shelters Magnus had built for his people before now, but he was dumbfounded when he saw what they had managed to achieve in a matter of days. There were about a dozen sturdy little huts made of wood and stone sitting in a cluster, tight enough to keep out the last of the winter cold and the chill that would linger in the mountains in the spring. Magnus had chosen to place these huts near to the old marketplace, and Alec immediately recognised his foresight in this, for they would come in useful for traders when they eventually renewed the trade routes - the beginnings of a new town rising from the ashes. 

Magnus' people were already moving their paltry belongings into their huts with the help of Alec's men, and as they moved forward to lend a hand, a caw sounded out overhead and Jace's crow landed on Magnus' shoulder. Alec frowned as Jace and Magnus both cooed at the bird and Jace fed it some scraps of dried meat that he must have been saving just for the bird. It wasn't that Alec wasn't grateful that it had led him to Magnus, but shouldn't the crow have flown south for the winter with its brethren?

"I heard that it played an important part in our rescue. It has been keeping us company as we built the shelters, Jace and I," Magnus explained when he saw the look on Alec’s face.

"We think that perhaps it was separated from its family when it was hurt, but at least it has us now," Jace said, trying to offer it another scrap, but the crow flapped its wings in agitation and suddenly took off into the sky. 

"Someone is coming," Maia said sharply, and that was all the warning they had before balls of fiery magic descended on them all. 

Magnus threw his arm out quickly, casting his magic like a glowing net between them and the fireballs, but it wasn't quite large enough to cover the entire company, spread out as they were. Keytower tried to duck into one of the huts with the elderly couple he had been helping, only for all three of them to be crushed under the rubble when a fireball caused the whole hut to collapse, and Hawksquall and the young lady he had been flirting outrageously with were struck by fireballs and became screaming pillars of unnatural fire even before Alec could react.

"Everyone under the shield!" Alec bellowed, choking over the stench of charring flesh that was corrupting the pure winter air.

Behind him, Ragnor was opening a portal, but Alec could already see their assailants emerging from the shadows of the ruins - and making straight for Magnus. Alec scaled the nearest stone wall, putting his head and shoulders above the glowing blue dome of Magnus' shield. He grabbed a handful of adamas-tipped arrows from the quiver at his back and swung his bow in front of him, drawing the first arrow in one smooth motion, and let it find its mark in the nearest attacker, straight through the black serpent over his heart - but to his shock, the man dissipated in a puff of black smoke. 

"Jace, guard Ragnor! The rest of you, make sure everyone gets through the portal!" Alec commanded, ducking under the shelter of the dome to avoid an incoming fireball, then straightening up again to loose a few more arrows. But even though all of his arrows found their mark, not all of them resulted in a corpse. 

"Some of them are only illusions!" Magnus shouted. "Watch for the shadows!" 

Alec nodded and squinted as he took aim. The sun was directly above them, blinding on the snowy ground, but sure enough, he could see a faint shadow under only some of the enemy soldiers. This time, every arrow that struck home felled a soldier and banished the copies simultaneously, swiftly reducing what had seemed like an overwhelming army to a third of its strength. Unfortunately, the tide of the battle turned swiftly against them when a particularly powerful blast slammed into Magnus' shield, shattering it and throwing him to the ground. 

"Magnus!" Alec cried out in alarm, leaping down from his perch to avoid the sudden deluge of fireballs and hitting the ground running. 

Thankfully, Magnus seemed none the worse for wear and was already scrambling to his feet. From a distance, Alec thought he recognised the man who had cast the spell powerful enough to break Magnus' shield.

"Lorenzo," Magnus muttered through gritted teeth as he recast his protective barrier, and Alec could not help but notice that it was much smaller and seemed more translucent than before. "I cannot beat him as I am now, I am too exhausted." 

"Most of our people have already gone through the portal, we just have to hold out a little longer," Alec replied, bracing himself for if Magnus' shield should fail again and he had to drag Magnus to safety in a hurry. 

"Behold, our so-called rightful king, and how many of Edom's soldiers he has allowed his treacherous consort to murder," Lorenzo proclaimed, his voice magically amplified such that it was almost deafening, echoing and reverberating in the emptiness of the old city and in the mountains all around. 

"All I see is a coward who sent his soldiers ahead of him to die - a fitting lackey for an even bigger coward, who doesn't even dare fight his own battles," Magnus replied snidely, drawing on his reserves to keep his voice strong and steady. "Surely you did not expect me to simply roll over and let you kill me without attempting to put up any resistance."

"No, you are the coward. You fled your judgement and punishment for causing the death of your own father to hide under your consort's wings. Now those who thought you would save them have paid the price - they are all dead, bleeding out onto the snow, and we know how to find the rest of you," Lorenzo said with a cruel laugh, and a chill ran down Alec's spine at his words. "But King Azazel is a benevolent and magnanimous ruler, and he has decreed that as long as you and your consort surrender, he will spare the people of Idris. In return, as long as Idris learns its place, all its people will be left in peace." 

At that moment, Jace let out a shrill whistle, and Alec snapped out of his thoughts, grabbing onto Magnus' arm. With a push, Magnus turned his shield into a flying disc of magic a few yards wide, hurtling towards Lorenzo and his soldiers with deadly speed, and they used the distraction and panic it had caused to run towards Ragnor's portal, leaping through at the same time as Jace and Ragnor.

Behind them, they heard Lorenzo scream, "You can't escape your fate, Magnus!", before the portal winked shut, and they tumbled onto the deep snow at the bottom of the icefall.

"What did he mean, that those who thought Magnus would save them have paid the price, and that he knew how to find the rest of us?" Jace panted out as he struggled onto his feet.

Alec shook his head uneasily, noticing the deep tracks and the trails of blood in the snow that looked like they had been made by an army rather than their small party. 

"Look!" Ragnor said, pointing to a motionless shape halfway up the icefall. By the colours of her livery, Alec recognised her as a soldier of Edom - she must have slipped and fallen, and had had the misfortune of hitting a rocky outcrop on the way down.

The four of them exchanged troubled looks and climbed up the icefall as quickly as they could.  

They heard the sounds of fighting before they saw the battle, and when Alec finally heaved himself up onto the tip of the southern ridge, he was greeted with a scene of carnage. There were soldiers from Edom here, far too close to the hidden entrance of the underground city for comfort, and they were battling Alec's men, including some warriors who must have been part of the regular patrol, and ruthlessly slaughtering the people who had followed Magnus from Edom. They had obviously been prepared that their magic would not work here, but given the milder climes of Edom and gentler terrain, it turned out that the thick snow and thin air was to be their downfall. There were bodies everywhere, and although most of them were Edom's soldiers, with a sinking heart Alec saw that only a handful of Magnus' people were left: Maia, swinging a battle axe with a savagery that made up for her unfamiliarity with the weapon; Clary, who was surprisingly skilful with a short sword, and was fighting alongside a friend who Alec knew was a minstrel; a pair of fair-haired siblings, one man and one woman, who fought well together and were shielding a mother with a young child; and Bat, who was trying his best with a long staff but would probably have been long dead if Underhill hadn't been right next to him, placing himself between Bat and their attackers. Of his own men, Underhill, Monteverde, and Lovelace were still standing, although there was a horrible gash on Lovelace's arm, and together with two or three other Idris warriors, they were facing more than thirty Edomite soldiers.

Alec and Jace drew their swords and joined the fray, and in a while Magnus joined them as well with a pair of daggers he must have stolen from one of the corpses, odd foot-long weapons with wavy blades that Alec had seen on the belts of Edom's nobles but that he had always assumed were merely ornamental. The snow on the mountain, already ruined with blood and trampled under the feet of dying men and women, became even more sodden and filthy, and by the time they had dispatched all the enemy soldiers, all of them were drenched with sweat despite the freezing cold and covered with blood that was not all their own, and the ground beneath their feet was red.

Alec was regrettably familiar with death, and of having another human being die under his blade or from his arrows, but he doubted that Magnus had ever killed a man before today, much less with bare hands and cold steel. Magnus was staring at his bloodied hands and the bodies all around him in a kind of shock, and Alec knew from experience that just because someone was capable of being fearless in battle, didn't mean that they wouldn't be sickened when confronted with the evidence of what they had done while fighting for their own survival. Both friend and foe had been Magnus' people, and while Alec had learned early on to look away when the fallen bore faces he recognised or if he saw a crumpled figure too small to be anything but a child, Magnus had not learned this yet. Magnus' breathing was quickening into harsh rasps as the many deaths he had been the cause of both directly and indirectly sank in, and Alec didn't blame Magnus when he stumbled a little away from the corpses and threw up onto the snow. He went forward to put an arm out to support him, but Magnus waved him away.

"What you must think of me," Magnus said in embarrassment, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

Alec shook his head. "It is not a bad thing, to care," he said, and drew Magnus into his arms. 

Magnus wasn't the only one who had been shaken by the battle, and everyone bore wounds from the battle, but thankfully they had suffered no further loses. Still the question remained: how had these soldiers from Edom managed to discover the way to Idris? Alec's first thought was that they must have a spy in their midst, someone who had pretended to be on Magnus' side but who had secretly sent word to Azazel when they had the chance, but knowing how much they had all seemed to love and respect Magnus, Alec had his doubts that any of them would betray him. 

Overhead, a crow cawed, and Alec narrowed his eyes at the small black speck in the cold blue sky.

  

 

"You can't be serious, Alec? You think my crow is a spy for Azazel?" Jace said indignantly as they stepped into the darkness of the underground city. "Why would it have led us to Magnus, then?"

"It may not be aware that Azazel is making use of it. You mentioned that Azazel had confused the bird before - it's possible that he still has a hold over it, or that he is merely riding in its mind, seeing through its eyes," Ragnor suggested. 

Alec scowled. "It is too late now to puzzle out the how and why of this enchantment that has been cast on the creature. Our only recourse now is to kill the bird so this will not happen again." 

Jace went silent, but it wasn't like Alec had any other choice. 

"I wish there were a way to erase the knowledge of the mountain passes from Azazel's memory, but since that cannot be done, we will simply have to seal this entrance," Alec continued, half to himself. "Underhill, gather some of the miners - we have to destroy this whole stretch of tunnels. If I recall, last year the men were told to stop mining at the spot nearest to the northern ridge for fear of breaking through to the surface - I think that may serve us well as a new entrance." 

"Yes, my liege," Underhill said, breaking off from his whispered conversation with Bat to hurry off into the winding darkness of the deep underground. 

"Lovelace, take yourself to the healers so they can dress that wound, and bring the rest of the injured with you. Monteverde-"

"Izzy's here," Jace said suddenly, and Alec turned to see his sister hurrying towards him - a rare sight, for their mother almost never allowed her to leave Lightwood House and the deep underground. 

"Our mother wants to see you," she said, glancing around at the survivors, but Alec frowned. There was no way his sister had been sent to meet him merely as his mother's messenger, when Maryse could just as easily have sent a servant. 

"I will take care of the rest," Jace assured him, and Alec reluctantly let go of Magnus to follow his sister.

Once they were alone, Izzy leaned closer so that only Alec could hear her, and said in a low voice, "We heard the voice of the man from Edom even here, Brother, and his demands that you and Magnus surrender yourselves. The heads of the Houses have convened and by common consensus deemed you unworthy of the crown for bringing war to our doorstep again, and invoked the old law of challenge. Already they have cleared the Kadeir and are drawing the binding runes for the ritual on its stone floor, and in an hour's time you are expected to submit yourself to the mercy of the law, so that all the Houses may each send a champion to challenge you."

Of the thirteen Houses of Idris, many had been exterminated in the long war against Edom. Some had left behind mere babes, which had then been adopted by the larger surviving Houses to be trained as warriors or groomed as suitable wives. Jace, for example, was the last remaining member of the once-great Herondale House, and Alec suspected that when they were children perhaps Robert and Maryse had hoped that Jace would make a suitable husband for Izzy, except that they had grown too close and too much like siblings. Only seven Houses now remained: Lightwood, Cartwright, Aldertree, Wayland, Blackwell, Pangborn, and Starkweather, which meant that Alec would have to fight off six challengers if he wanted to live, much less remain king - for all fights only ended when one party was dead. The other lords had probably been waiting for any excuse to force Alec off the throne, but it frustrated Alec that they would chose to do this now, when they were under siege from Edom's forces.

"Alec, I fear for you," Izzy whispered, her hand finding his in the dark.

"Don't be. I'm not going to let them win," Alec said firmly, giving her hand a squeeze.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It had gutted Magnus to leave his dead there in the snow on the southern ridge, to the mercy of the elements and whatever wild beasts roamed the winter mountains, but what else could he do? He tried to take a little bit of comfort in the fact that it was the way of Alexander's people to offer their dead to the skies, and at least all the bodies had not been left in crumpled heaps as they had fallen but laid out in rows, which was the best they had been able to do with the time they had dared to linger out in the open before returning to the safety of the underground city. 

While Alexander had been called away to meet his mother, Magnus had retreated into the sanctuary of his old room. It was bare of everything except the lanterns, which Magnus had eventually learned were more like cages of glow worms, and the slab of rock that served as a table - not even the pallet of furs. They had all moved their meagre belongings out to the new huts in the ruins of the old city, prepared to make a new life and a more permanent home until Magnus reclaimed the throne and it was safe to return to Edom, but all that was gone now. Magnus was exhausted and heartsick, the dreaded pull of the adamas crushing him again now that he was trapped in the darkness of the underground city, and the metallic stink of the blood on his clothes and hands made the bile rise to the back of his throat, but he could also feel the anger growing - dull at first, but burning brighter with each passing second until he could bear it no longer. With a roar of fury, he threw out a surge of magic towards the heavy slab of rock in front of him and sent it hurtling towards the stone wall of the cave with such force that it cracked the wall and split in two, then gasped in pain at the sudden emptiness in his core as his body fought against the adamas all around him to replace the magic he had just so wastefully expended.

"Oh, my friend," Ragnor sighed from the entrance of Magnus' room. 

Ragnor had procured a basin of water from somewhere, and now he set it on the floor next to Magnus. There was a washcloth floating like a dead fish in the water, and Magnus stared at it dully until Ragnor huffed in exasperation and took it upon himself to wring it out and wipe the blood off Magnus' face. Magnus winced; at some point in the frenzy of the battle someone must have hit him in the face, but he hadn't noticed until Ragnor wiped the ice-cold cloth over the tender spot on his cheekbone. The water turned bloody as Ragnor rinsed out the washcloth, but when he tried to clean Magnus' hands, Magnus stopped him and took the cloth from him. 

"You don't have to do this for me, Ragnor," Magnus said quietly.  

"Somebody must, if you won't take care of yourself," Ragnor scolded.

Magnus twisted the washcloth in his hand absently, teeth clenched. "Those were my people I killed today, Ragnor. That child that they murdered, the men and women who followed me all the way from Edom, hoping that I would be able to protect them, the soldiers that Azazel and Lorenzo sent after me. I felt every single death as if it was my child they had murdered, my brothers and sisters that lay bleeding and broken in the snow, and all their blood is on my hands now." 

"No, the soldiers were following the orders of a false king, who did not care how many of them perished as long as he could get his hands on you, and what can a soldier do except follow orders? If their blood is on anybody's hands, it is on Azazel's hands," Ragnor corrected him. "I told you once that you would be a better king, because you loved the people of Edom. Don't you dare give in to this dark mood and give up on your people now." 

Magnus shook his head. "I am not giving up, I promise you that. And of course you are right - their blood is on Azazel's hands too, and I will have his blood in return. With El and Elat as my witness, I will not rest until I have made him pay, every drop of his blood for theirs," he said fiercely.

"Good," Ragnor said with quiet satisfaction. 

The water was dark with blood by the time Magnus had finished washing the worst of the blood off, but there was nothing he could do about his clothes. He was getting more aware of other scrapes and aches now that the adrenaline of the battle had worn off and his rage had calmed into a steady, focused hum, but he counted himself lucky that his bruised shoulder when he had been thrown by Lorenzo's blast of magic was the worst of it. He was just about to venture out of his room to see if he could get them some food when Jace came in with a tray of food and a bottle of cloudy, honey-coloured liquid.

"Birch sap mead, made it myself," he told them, then glanced at the ruined table and wall. "I thought we could all use some." Magnus couldn't quite keep his skepticism off his face, but Jace didn't seem offended and just grinned knowingly. "I promise that at least it does not taste of fish."

Magnus huffed out a reluctant laugh and accepted the cup Jace poured for him, and found that it was surprisingly drinkable and far stronger than he'd expected. He emptied his cup, relishing the warmth that it brought, but restrained himself from accepting another cup; he would need a clear head for this. "Where is Alexander? It has been a while since he was called away."

Jace shrugged. "It depends on what the Queen wants with him, although I doubt that it is anything good. Izzy looked like she was halfway between wanting to cry and wanting to rip someone's face off."

"Let us think of how to deal with Lorenzo in the meantime," Ragnor suggested.

Magnus nodded. "Lorenzo and his soldiers should be feeling the effects of the adamas now. Knowing Lorenzo and his inability to put up with any sort of discomfort without complaint, it may be possible for us to wait until he gives up and goes back to Edom."

"That is not a permanent solution. Lorenzo may be willing to give up, but Azazel will not," Ragnor pointed out.

"I know," Magnus sighed. "And I cannot help but worry about what is going on in Edom. Surely Lucian, Raphael, and Meliorn would have dissuaded Azazel from such a wanton waste of Edom's troops."

"How bad are the effects of the adamas?" Jace asked curiously. "If they lingered here overnight, would they be ill enough that we could use our knowledge of the passes to take them by surprise and kill them all under the cover of darkness?"

Magnus hesitated, searching for the words. "It is like... your bones have been hollowed out, like a shadow sits heavy on your shoulders and everything takes ten times as much effort as it should. It feels worse when we have used too much magic, but even when rested it drags down upon your very soul." 

Jace finished his cup of mead in one gulp. "Have you told Alec this? Because if the adamas brings you so much misery, then clearly you cannot abide living in the mountains of Idris, much less in the underground city, and wherever you must go my brother will follow."

Magnus stared at Jace in surprise. "I cannot ask that of him. He is king of Idris, he has a duty to his people," Magnus said. 

"Then would you ask a man to live without his heart instead?" Jace countered. "You must know that that is what you are to him. Are you telling me that it is not the same for you?" 

"It is the same for me," Magnus admitted, and Jace nodded as if that meant everything was settled, as if everything was that simple. 

"Now, about this Lorenzo," Jace said, "What is stopping him from returning to Edom every night to nurse his wounds and return with reinforcements?"

"He can't - he's trapped here," Magnus said with satisfaction. "If using magic in these mountains was that easy, don't you think Edom would have won the war against Idris decades ago? I suspect he had his men open the portal when they were at the foot of the mountain range, but it is another matter to open a portal when you are surrounded by mountains full of adamas."

"Both of you did," Jace pointed out.

"Lorenzo wishes he had power like mine or Magnus'," Ragnor scoffed. "He is all bluff and bluster, a man who only rose in the ranks by knowing whom to flatter and whom to get rid of. If we hadn't both been exhausted for weeks, and he hadn't sent a veritable army to wear Magnus down first, he would not have stood a chance, and he knew that. It's possible that there are more men camped at the foot of the mountain, of course, but I doubt it - our losses might not have been as severe as Idris' but the war between our kingdoms was a long one, and if the other generals are fighting against Azazel as we hope, then Azazel will have even less soldiers to spare. No, I think if Lorenzo wants to go back to Edom, he will have to do so on foot." 

"If he is as cosseted as you say he is, where would he and his men make camp?" Jace asked. "I find it hard to imagine a man like that sleeping out in the open in this weather, or even in a tent - unless Edom's tents are very different from ours." 

"Perhaps Edom's tents would be very different from yours, if magic worked here," Magnus said wryly. "He has probably usurped the houses we built for ourselves. They are sturdily built and arranged such that they will be easy to defend."

"And surely what is good enough for the rightful king of Edom is good enough for him," Ragnor muttered.

"Remember the route we were considering to get to Mount Beriah in the spring? The cluster of huts do not have a blindside so to speak, but if Lorenzo is expecting us to come from the woods, we could approach the old city from the other side, the side closer to Mount Beriah," Magnus suggested to Jace.

"It might work," Jace agreed. "Before night falls, I will send some of my men across the northern ridge to scout out the enemy camp. Alec will probably argue against it for fear of meeting the beast that you think is an Angel, but-"

Just then, Underhill burst into the room without waiting for leave to enter, his face pinched and pale. "My prince, and Lord Jonathan - they have invoked the old law of challenge against King Alexander."

 

  

Magnus had been too ill to remember the first time he had been brought into the deep underground, but he remembered very little of his second trip as well, distracted as he was by his fear for Alexander. With Jace in the lead, they hurried through a maze of dark tunnels until they reached a steep spiralling staircase delving deep underground, just wide enough for three men to walk abreast. Now and then as they made their way down, a path would branch off from the staircase into another dark winding tunnel leading to parts unknown, but they met nobody else in on the way down. Magnus was vaguely aware that the ceiling seemed to get a little higher the deeper they went, the air a little colder, and the pull of the adamas began to get strong enough that even breathing took more effort than it should have, but he was too anxious about Alexander to care much about himself. Jace had been too distraught to speak, so it had fallen on Underhill to explain the law to him and Ragnor as best as he could.

According to Underhill, the law had not been invoked since Alec's great-great-grandfather had been king, and rightfully so, for it had been decided that it was a waste for the best warriors of each House to meet their ends at the hands of their own brothers-in-arms. But before Edom had declared war on Idris, the city had been prosperous and burgeoning with life and energy, and every House had wanted the honour and glory of ruling the kingdom. The challenge had been held every five years, with everyone in the kingdom so eager and excited for the bloody spectacle that minstrels still sang of the festivities that led up to the murderous show of brute strength and fighting prowess. Each of the thirteen Houses would send a champion to challenge the ruling House, and any House that abstained from participating would have been greatly shamed and ridiculed. The rules of the challenge were simple - only two men could be inside the ritual circle at any one time; no armour or weapons were allowed save what they had been born with; once a man stepped into the circle, he could not step out again until he had killed his challenger; and only one man could be left standing at the end. It was this last rule that sent a chill down Magnus' spine, for although he had no doubt that his Alexander was the best warrior amongst his people, they had just fought an exhausting and bloody battle on the southern ridge, and Alexander was only human. 

Magnus had seen the remains of what had once been a grand coliseum in the ruins of the city that once was, but now, in the absence of such a structure, the challenge was to be held in the Kadeir, which was the heart of the underground city. As Magnus understood it, the Kadeir was Idris' equivalent of a town square - most of the time it served as a bazaar or marketplace, but important occasions and festivals were also held in it since it was the largest cavern in the mountains. Alexander's coronation had been held there, and now it was where he would have to fight to keep his crown and his life. As they drew nearer to the Kadeir, the reason for the empty feeling in the rest of the city became obvious - everyone who had been able leave their duties or chores to watch the challenge was gathered here. Monstrously large as the cavern was, it could not have comfortably held the thousands of people in attendance, so the spectators had spilled out into the various tunnels that led into the Kadeir. Still, the people tried their best to make way for them when they saw Jace, and as Magnus walked past he could hear the whispers and muttering that followed in his wake - the seducer, they called him, the enemy prince who had corrupted their brave and upstanding young king and no doubt addled his mind with evil enchantments; but why was he covered in blood, as if he had just been in battle? 

Seven low platforms had been placed around a large ritual circle in the middle of the Kadeir, each bearing the family crest of their respective Houses. The ritual circle was about ten yards wide and looked like it had been scratched into the stone with adamas, and Magnus recognised some of the runes that had been drawn around the circle from the markings on Alexander's body - strength, courage, speed. Izzy was already seated next to a woman who had to be the queen and the matriarch of Lightwood House, and as Jace led them to the platform designated for the Lightwoods, she beckoned Magnus to her side. Her expression was inscrutable, but when Magnus sank on one knee and bowed his head low to her, he thought he saw the hint of a smile.

"My Queen," he greeted her, and she placed one hand on his shoulder in benediction. 

"Please rise. There is no need for such formalities between us, for the keeper of my son's heart is as dear to me as my own son," she said, loud and clear, such that those who were near the Lightwood platform could hear her. As Magnus got to his feet, she saw that he was looking at his appearance in appraisal, and seemed pleased by what she saw. 

Magnus was accorded a seat next to Izzy, and Ragnor next to him, and when they were settled Izzy leaned closer to tell him in a low voice, "This is good. The blood of our enemies on you proves that you are a warrior, a man who is not afraid of fighting his own battles with hand and blade." 

Not the blood of my enemy, but the blood of my people, Magnus thought, feeling a little sick. 

He glanced at the other six platforms; all of them seemed to be ready and waiting. Their champions were of course fresh-faced and well-rested, their clothes spotless and in a better state than Alexander's battle-worn clothing, save for two warriors Magnus recognised as the men who had been part of the regular patrol and who had fought alongside them on the southern ridge. One of them nodded at Magnus, and Magnus responded with a stiff nod, well aware that this would be one of men who would be fighting his husband to the death.

"Where is Alexander?" he asked Izzy. 

Izzy took a deep breath and let it out slowly in an attempt to calm her own nerves. "He should be here any moment now."

Sure enough, in a moment there was a ripple in the crowd, and the people parted for their king. Alexander entered the Kadeir with his clothes and armour still bloody from the battle and his hair tangled and matted with dried blood, fists clenched and jaws set in a hard line of cold fury. It was a fairly dramatic entrance for someone who was not inclined towards dramatics, and Magnus had an inkling that this was why Alexander's mother had called him aside - to strategise. Magnus had gotten to his feet without really meaning to when Alexander had walked in, and when he saw Magnus his expression softened. He made his way up the platform to his family and Magnus with long strides, and although Magnus could sense Alexander's fear behind his mask of anger, he took heart in the fact that Alexander's mood was not that of resignation but resolve. 

"Mother," Alexander greeted her with low bow. He kissed the back of his sister's hand and clasped his brother's hand in his own briefly, then nodded at Ragnor and rest of his men before turning to Magnus. 

Then, much to Magnus' surprise, Alexander gently cupped his face with one hand and kissed him in front of all his people. There were several shocked gasps from the crowd and from the nobles on the platforms, but neither of them cared - not when both of them knew that there was a very real chance that Alexander might not be the last man standing at the end of this barbaric ritual. 

Alexander touched his forehead to Magnus', and Magnus squeezed his eyes shut, his heart aching and filled with a terrible panic at the thought that this might be the last time he had Alexander alive and warm in his arms. There were so many things they hadn't said to each other, so many more years they should have had ahead of them. Alexander wasn't the type to comfort him with lies, and Magnus wasn't going to waste what little time they had left on platitudes. 

"I love you, Alexander," he whispered.

"And I love you," Alexander whispered back, voice cracking just a little, then wrenched himself away and flung himself down the steps of the platform, as if afraid that he would lose the courage he had mustered if he lingered any longer.

Magnus swallowed hard and fought to keep the tears from falling as he sat down, and Ragnor placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. Alexander kept his head down, busying himself with the straps of his armour, and by the time he looked up from throwing it onto the floor, he was radiating righteous fury again. 

An elderly lord seated at the platform that had the symbol of a lightning bolt stood up. "Alexander Lightwood. For bringing our enemies to our doorstep, and on suspicion of consorting with the enemy against the interests of Idris, the law of challenge has been invoked against you," he intoned. "Step into the circle and accept the challenge, or forever shame the House of Lightwood with your cowardice."

"Consorting with the enemy? Bringing war to our doorstep?" Alexander repeated incredulously. "Spare me your excuses and at least be honest about your reasons for invoking the law - you seek to destroy me because of who I love." 

"Are you refusing to accept the challenge?" another elderly lord asked with a sneer, the circular crest on his platform marking him as Lord Blackwell.

"I have served Idris as a soldier as soon as I was old enough to be considered a man, ridden out against Edom's army while you have sat here in the safety and the darkness," Alexander spat out. "Every sacrifice my kingdom has asked of me I have made willingly, even when I was bartered off like chattel to be married to some foreign princess for the sake of the promise of peace, even when it was only too clear that Asmodeus had merely wanted to humiliate us. It was pure, blind fortune that Asmodeus bound me to Magnus instead - for me as well as for Idris, for all this while Magnus has been fighting against his own father to secure peace for both our kingdoms, and all would have been well if not for the treachery of his brother and mad sister. If you truly had Idris' interests at heart, you would not have invoked the law now, to pit our warriors against each other when the soldiers of a power-hungry brat sit at our doorstep." He stopped to take a deep breath, and despite the thousands of people gathered in the Kadeir, the gigantic cavern was silent. "I am not under an enchantment, and I am still the same man you judged worthy of being your king not too long ago, but I am weary of having to hide away the parts of me that you do not approve. Who I love does not make me love Idris less, but if you must force me to prove my worth, then I will." 

Alexander stepped into the circle with his hands outstretched, and although his courage made Magnus unbearably proud, it also felt like a punch to the gut, for although Alexander had never really had any other choice than to accept the challenge, now there was no other way to get through this but to pray to all the gods above and spirits below that Alexander would emerge victorious.

"Step forth, then, those of you who would choose hate over love, and choose war over peace. Step forward and challenge me, so that all may mark your faces and remember," Alexander declared, his chin lifted defiantly. 

A wave of whispers and murmurs rose in the cavernous space, and more than one champion seemed to have lost their bravado at Alexander's speech. After a while, the man who had nodded at Magnus in greeting rose to his feet but did not make a move to approach the ritual circle. Magnus noticed that his platform bore the sign of a hammer, and was the only other one apart from the Lightwoods that had no elder lord in attendance, just the champion and his wife and mother.

"I fought alongside our king on the southern ridge not two hours ago, and I watched his consort slay the soldiers of Edom without mercy or hesitation to guard the hidden entrance to Idris," he said. "I am convinced that Prince Magnus serves the interests of Idris as if it were his own kingdom. The House of Wayland withdraws its challenge." 

The other man who had fought with them nodded and rose to his feet as well despite the feeble protests of the elderly lord beside him. "Prince Magnus has proven himself a worthy warrior, and I do not believe our king should be judged for who he loves. The House of Cartwright withdraws its challenge as well."

The response to this was a mixture of jeers and cheers from the crowd, and the whispering and chattering crescendoed around them. Still, Magnus' spirits rose a little - now there were only four Houses left. The champions of Pangborn, Blackwell, and Aldertree House looked deeply uneasy at the shifting mood of the people, and the champion of Starkweather House was studiously ignoring the glares of the elderly Lord Starkweather, who would of course not have to risk his own life in the challenge. Finally, the younger Lord Starkweather also got to his feet and quickly blurted out, "The House of Starkweather withdraws its challenge!", earning his father’s impotent wrath. 

But in the end, one champion did make his way into the circle - a rat-faced man from Blackwell House, who slinked into the confines of the circle in a shifty sort of way that made Magnus feel like he would try to win Alexander by trickery. Sure enough, he barely waited for the count of three to be over to launch himself at Alexander, but Alexander sidestepped him easily. Magnus observed that Alexander seemed to be taking a defensive stance, blocking the incoming blows with the backs of his forearms while he watched and learned his opponent's habits before striking - and when he did, his movements were swift and efficient. At the first weakness in his opponent's defence, he kicked Blackwell's feet out from under him and pinned him down with his larger frame, and before Blackwell had a chance to struggle, Alexander twisted his arm behind his back so viciously that his arm was wrenched out of its socket with an audible pop. Blackwell screamed in pain, but Alexander did not go for the kill. 

"Do you yield?" he asked, putting pressure on the man's injured shoulder. 

"Yes! Yes!" Blackwell yelled, and Alexander let him go.  

"Then that is enough," Alexander announced, and shoved his opponent out of the circle. 

"All fights are to the death! Those are the rules of the challenge!" the elderly Lord Starkweather protested. 

Alexander shook his head. "Then it is time for new rules. We may be at the brink of war, and we are no longer that strength that in the old days could afford such wanton waste of life. Idris will need every soldier, and I will not spill more blood today unless I have to."

Magnus thought Alexander's gallantry had been misplaced, for he was sure his challengers would not show him the same mercy. The next champion to step up was from Pangborn House, a man almost as large as Alexander, and he managed to get in a few forceful blows before Alexander sent him out of the circle with a broken leg, but by now it was clear that Alexander was exhausted. Blood was dripping from his nose, his arms were bruised, and his knuckles were raw and bleeding, but he was already down to his last challenger, and Magnus hoped that the mood of the people - cheering for him and shouting their encouragement, fully turned in his favour - would give Alexander the boost he needed. 

The last challenger was from Aldertree House, a man only slightly shorter than Alexander but broad and swift on his feet. His fists caught Alexander in the gut, then in the chin, and as Alexander staggered backwards, Aldertree showed that he had no qualms fighting dirty when he aimed a kick under the belt that Alexander only just managed to dodge. Alexander bared his bloodied teeth in a snarl and charged at his opponent, his shoulder ramming into his gut, before he lifted the man off his feet and slammed him onto the stone floor, knocking the breath out of his opponent. Unfortunately, Aldertree managed to roll out of the way of Alexander's fist and scramble to his feet quickly enough to aim a swift kick to Alexander's ribs, sending him sprawling onto his back. Aldertree's foot came down hard to stomp on Alexander's throat, but Alexander grabbed and twisted his ankle until Aldertree, too, was on the ground, and they grappled each other, throwing punches as they scuffled on the floor. Eventually, Alexander managed to pin his opponent to the floor, although it was clear that he was breathing oddly, and Magnus feared that he might have broken a rib or two. After a few futile attempts to throw Alexander off, Aldertree stopped struggling. 

"It's done," Alexander croaked out, and got to his feet shakily. 

Alexander's eyes met Magnus' from across the short distance that separated them, and Magnus could see the relief and joy in them despite Alexander's exhaustion - he'd done it, he'd beat the odds and won. His eyes still fixed on Magnus, he started to walk unsteadily towards him as if inexorably drawn to Magnus' side. The crowd was cheering, but as Aldertree sat up, a jolt of fear went through Magnus when he saw that there was something glinting in his hand.  

"Behind you!" Magnus shouted out in warning.  

Alexander started turning just as Aldertree leapt to his feet and drove the blade into Alexander's back. Alexander roared in pain, an edge of desolation in his voice; then he spun around fully, grabbed Aldertree's head in both hands and snapped his neck, before falling to his hands and knees, the blade still protruding from his back. 

"Alexander!" Magnus cried out and started to run towards him, but Izzy grabbed him by his shirt and held him back.  

"No! They have not declared the end of the challenge, you must not step into the circle," she reminded him anxiously. 

"Are you satisfied now? Has my son proven himself worthy?" Maryse Lightwood demanded of the crowd and the gathered nobles.  

"Alexander Lightwood has risen to the challenge and emerged victorious," the elderly Lord Starkweather agreed reluctantly. "He has proven himself worthy to be King of Idris."

"All hail King Alexander the Valiant!" the young Lord Wayland declared loudly, and as the call was picked up and shouted throughout the Kadeir by thousands upon thousands of voices, Magnus, Jace, and Izzy flew down the steps towards Alexander. 

When they reached him, Alexander was barely conscious and only still upright by sheer force of will, the blood from his nose and mouth pooling on the floor. His breathing was laboured, and his brows were furrowed in pain.

"Oh, my love, I am here, you are going to be alright," Magnus murmured, not knowing whether he was trying to comfort Alexander or convince himself, before turning to Izzy. "Bring him to the caves at the surface, so that Ragnor and I can try to use magic to heal him," Magnus suggested as both he and Jace guided Alexander's arms over their shoulders to hold him up, mindful of the blade still lodged in his back, and Izzy nodded and ran off to summon more help.  

They placed him in Ragnor's old room since Magnus had wrecked his, on a pallet of furs the servants had hastily thrown together. Healing was a delicate skill, magic as complicated as the sinews and muscles of the human body, but between Magnus and Ragnor they managed to heal the worst of Alexander's injuries - a broken nose, fractured fingers, and broken ribs that had pierced his lung. Unfortunately they could do nothing about the blade in Alexander's back because it was made of adamas, but Izzy assured him that since Aldertree's knife had only struck bone when it had gone in, this was an injury she and her small cluster of healers could easily handle on their own.

"Truthfully, this is El's blessing upon my brother that it had not been the blade that had pierced his lung, so you were able to heal that with magic. In the cold and damp of the underground city, such injuries are hard to recover from," she told them, before shooing all of them out so that she could attempt to extract the blade without Magnus and Jace distracting her by pacing around the room. 

Magnus heaved a sigh of frustration while he leaned against the wall outside the room. Jace was just as restless as he was, and had taken up his pacing in the hallway. Magnus hated this feeling of helplessness, and drained as he was, he could not bear the suspense of just standing here waiting. "Do you think there is still enough light for us to scout out Lorenzo's camp?" he asked Jace.

Jace's eyes lit up immediately at the prospect of having something useful to do. "Just barely, but if we move quickly..."

"Then let us not waste any more time," Magnus said, deciding that being out of the underground city would also help him recover his magic more quickly. "Ragnor, if Alexander awakens and asks where we have gone, do not tell him," Magnus told his friend, but Ragnor seemed lost in thought and did not seem to have heard him. "Ragnor?"

Ragnor startled, then nodded, his expression troubled. "Be careful, my friend."

"Aren't I always?" Magnus replied with a tight smile, and disappeared into the maze of dark tunnels with Jace.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Alec woke up to find himself lying on his front, in a room that he thought might have been Ragnor's. The room was cold, made colder by the fact that his shirt had been removed, and there was a strong herbal smell about his person, mostly emanating from something on his back. He tried to move, and the dull ache in his back flared into a bright spasm of pain. 

"Stop trying to get up, you'll pull your wound open," he heard someone say, and obediently relaxed into the soft bed.

"Ragnor. Where's Magnus?"

"Here, drink this," Ragnor said, and put a bowl of broth to his lips. Alec finished all of it as quickly as he could, surprised by how thirsty he felt, and immediately felt better for it.

"Do you think you could manage a little more? If you can, you should - you've lost quite a lot of blood," Ragnor said. 

Alec managed a slight nod, and Ragnor ladled out another bowl of warm broth for him from a covered pot. When it was all gone, Alec rested his head on the bed, closing his eyes. He was tired and battered, yes, but he had expected to feel much worse. "Where's Magnus?" he asked again. 

"It took your sister more than two hours to remove the blade from your back. I believe the tip of it has broken off and is still lodged in your bone, but she was worried that trying to force it out would do more harm than good. She has taken the blade with her to examine, as she fears it might haven been poisoned, but Elat willing, you should be back on your feet in a few weeks," Ragnor said.

Alec opened his eyes and narrowed them at Ragnor. "You have not answered my question." 

Ragnor's mouth twisted into a wry smile. "Magnus can be cautious when he needs to be. Perhaps you would feel better if you went back to sleep. He should be here when you wake up," he replied. 

"He's gone to deal with Lorenzo," Alec muttered in realisation, and tried to get up, except that the slightest movement made his back feel like it was on fire. Ragnor clucked his tongue and caught Alec by the shoulders, gently pushing him down.

"Would it help if I told you your brother is with him?"

"No."

"All you are going to do is make your injury worse. Asmodeus insisted on having his children learn how to fight without magic, and Magnus has been sparring with your brother of late. You saw how he fought on the ridge. Even with his magic dampened, Magnus can take care of himself," Ragnor said firmly.

Alec slumped down in resignation. Ragnor had a point - and even if he could get out of bed, what could he do? With his injury, he couldn't even use his bow or swing a blade. He would be completely useless in a fight, and with the enemy at their doorstep, this was the worst possible time for him to be injured.  

"Should I ask your sister if she has valerian root or something similar, to help you sleep?" Ragnor asked.  

"Maybe that would be for the best," Alec agreed reluctantly. 

While Ragnor was gone, Alec examined the scrapes and bruises on his hands and arms, feeling deeply unsettled that most of the other injuries that he thought he'd suffered during the challenge seemed to have faded away. Towards the end of the challenge, things had gotten a little hazy, and he couldn't help wondering if he had imagined it all, including his victory. When Ragnor returned with a cup of steaming tea, Alec couldn't help asking him, "Ragnor, did I win the challenge? Did I dream it?"

"You won, and your people hailed you king," Ragnor said, setting the cup down on the table. "That was very nicely done - the entrance, the speech, even the kiss."

Alec's eyes widened in horror. "Ragnor, I did not do that just for show, I swear-"

"No, of course not. I know your feelings for Magnus are true, and you are not that sort of man," Ragnor assured him quickly. "It was simply an observation that honour and logic is all well and good, but sometimes the way to change minds is through the heart. And a love story that involves their king makes him more human, and at the same time carries a bit of the fairytale with it - for if anybody is to have the sort of love that defies the odds and changes the world, surely the players must be extraordinary people. I have no doubt that what you did today will be sung about by the minstrels for centuries to come." 

"That was not my intention either," Alec said, a little embarrassed.

Ragnor nodded absently, looking troubled. "I noticed that the young Lord Wayland named you 'King Alexander the Valiant'. Was that always part of your title?"

"Yes. Some names are common - there are, for example, many named 'Jonathan' amongst my people - so it is tradition for the king to be bestowed with a new name at his coronation, chosen by his predecessor, and that was the name my father chose," Alec replied. 

"And this name is unique to you? Would there, for example, be likely to have been another King Valiant in the past?" Ragnor pressed. 

"No, our bards make sure that names of past kings are not chosen by accident," Alec replied with a frown. "Ragnor, is something wrong?" 

"I did not want to trouble you with this while you were recovering," Ragnor said hesitantly. "I only wanted to understand better, so that I could order my thoughts."

"Speak plainly with me, Ragnor. Please." 

Ragnor eyed him contemplatively. "Do you remember, that I once told you that Edom declared war on Idris all those decades ago because our queen had a vision that the king of Idris planned to raise an Angel and feared that if it came to pass it would destroy the world? But prophecies are tricky things - and sometimes they only make sense after the future they have foretold has already happened."

Alec had a strong sense of foreboding. "I would like to hear the prophecy that your queen made." 

Ragnor hummed. "I cannot tell you all the words exactly as she wrote them, but I remember the important parts. The queen's prophecy was a vision that came to her as she slept, and although she tried her best to write it down when she awoke, a lot of it was disjointed and made little sense. She wrote that she dreamt of flying past mountains and grand towers, then of landing by the edge of a dark blue lake, so deep that it went straight into the bowels of the earth. There was a dead tree with only two branches on it, and as she watched, the whole tree caught on fire. But then a crow came to perch on one branch, heedless of the fire, and it recited the following verses to her:
 

Here begins the end of days
Here begins the end of our ways
Both heart and magic of Edom's crown
By Idris' valiant king be stolen and to him bound
And the Angel's chosen shall from the Angel hear
The secret of the realm beyond now and here

One man's loss is another man's gain
Idris shall wield magic again 
Burn the future and burn the past
Burn until the evil's done at last
And as the world goes up in flame
Remember that love was to blame."


"The burning tree is the crest of my family, and that line about a valiant king... do you think that it refers to me?" Alec asked, cold fear settling like a stone in his gut. "But if the prophecy was about me, then why did Edom go to war with Idris all those years ago?" 

"As I said, prophecies are tricky things," Ragnor replied with a sigh. "I always found it strange that the supposed enemy king was described as 'valiant'."

"So all those years of war, all those deaths, were all for nothing," Alec said, and felt as if his own voice was coming from a great distance. There was a roaring sound rising in his head, the sound of an impending storm that only he could hear. 

"If Edom had not started this war against Idris, then you and Magnus would never have been forced to marry, and perhaps never even have met," Ragnor observed. "Maybe you are simply destined to fulfil this prophecy." 

"What does it all mean, Ragnor?" Alec asked despairingly. "Do not tell me that I have doomed the world because I fell in love Magnus, I could not bear that." 

"I think that it is a matter of perspective," Ragnor said placatingly. "It talks about the end of days and the end of a way of life, but whose days does it end, and whose ways? We always assumed that it was Edom that was under threat, especially when the prophecy spoke of stealing and binding the heart and magic of Edom's crown, but now I wonder... for would you not say that you have stolen Magnus' heart and bound it to yours? And is that truly a bad thing?"  

Alec felt his face flush. "But stealing his magic? Binding it to me?" he protested. "I would never do that to him."

"All of this is mere conjecture, and I think we should try not to jump to conclusions," Ragnor said, picking up the cup of tea. "Drink this and concentrate on getting better, and leave the worrying over old riddles to me." 

"Are you going to tell Magnus about this?" Alec asked.

"I will, when he returns. But Magnus has never believed in prophecies and such," Ragnor said, and held the cup insistently to Alec's lips. 

Alec had been sure that he would lie awake thinking about burning trees and cursed crows, but Izzy's medicine was strong, and in a few moments he was fast asleep.

 

 

When he awoke again, he had no idea how much time had passed, but his back felt no better and his whole body ached. Izzy and Ragnor were sitting by his bedside, and as he drifted back into full consciousness, he caught the tail end of Izzy telling Ragnor, "...if only we knew why the adamas repels magic so!" He dug his elbows under himself and grunted from the pain of trying to push himself up, drawing their attention.  

"Stop trying to get up on your own! I had forgotten what a terrible patient you make," Izzy exclaimed. 

"Have Magnus and Jace returned?" Alec demanded, and the expression on Ragnor and Izzy's faces told him everything he needed to know. "How long have they been gone?"  

"They've been gone for a night and a day," Izzy replied hesitantly. 

"What?" Alec struggled to get up again to his sister and Ragnor's protests.

The journey to the old city should have taken them at most half a day even without magic, but he doubted that they would have taken the usual route now that they knew that Lorenzo and Azazel's men knew of the path, and even Jace wasn't foolhardy enough to take on an entire army with just the two of them. It was more likely that they would have travelled to a point on the northern ridge that overlooked the old city to observe the enemy and make plans for later, but even though the route was more treacherous, it was a journey that only took a few hours.  

"Has anybody been sent after them? A small group, perhaps, so that they can sneak up on Lorenzo - maybe Underhill and Monteverde-" he began, but Ragnor shook his head and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"I suspect that they might have decided to linger close to the camp to better observe Lorenzo and his men. Lorenzo is the type of man who would trumpet his victory if he got hold of Magnus, and do not forget that Lorenzo demanded that both you and Magnus surrender - if he has Magnus, he will make sure you know of it, to lure you out. As long as we hear nothing, I think we can safely assume that all is still well," Ragnor said. 

"Besides, Jace raided my stores of poisons and herbs before they left, I'm sure he and Magnus have a plan," Izzy added. 

"Your sister and I were just discussing how we might try to get your wound to heal faster," Ragnor said, clearly trying to distract him from his worry for Magnus and Jace. "Wounds made by adamas cannot be healed by magic, even if the adamas has been removed, as it burns at a touch, and the scars that it forms that are immune to magic - much like your rune marks. But cutting through the scars just to get to untainted flesh seems like a risky proposition."

"I want to try it, if it means I might recover from this wound more quickly," Alec said immediately.

"Even if we dared to risk it, it would not work for you - remember, there is still a shard of adamas in your bone," Ragnor said.

"Just give it time, Brother. The wound is clean and not too deep, and there was no poison on the blade. In two weeks, you should be all healed up," Izzy said soothingly.

"But I don't have time," Alec said in frustration. He ran his thumb over the wedded union rune on his wrist as had become his habit in recent months, and frowned as an idea sparked in his head. "Ragnor, the prophecy... the part about Magnus' magic being bound to me. Could it be talking about this rune that he drew?"

"What prophecy?" Izzy asked curiously.

Ragnor quickly explained the gist of it to her before turning to Alec. "Why would you think that this rune is connected to the prophecy? Because it symbolises the connection between you and Magnus?" 

"During our wedding, when Asmodeus had Magnus mark me with this rune, the adamas glowed red in his hand, and in all my years I have never seen adamas react like that," Alec explained, then blushed a little as he added, "And when Magnus and I are... together, I have noticed that the mark glows. Perhaps it is his magic kindling in response to his presence - that somehow when he held the wand in his hand, it absorbed some of his magic and left it under my skin."

"I wonder... could it be the reason that being around adamas weakens your people?" Izzy pondered. "We always thought that adamas suppresses and repels magic, but maybe it absorbs it instead. You and Magnus have always been the worst affected because you are the most powerful amongst your people, and when you are surrounded by so much adamas, all your magic is dispersed inside mountains worth of it. But when it is concentrated inside something smaller, like a wand..."

"One man's loss is another man's gain, Idris shall wield magic again," Ragnor murmured. "May I borrow a wand?" 

Izzy handed Ragnor her wand, and as Ragnor held it in his hand, it began to glow bright red as it had for Magnus. Ragnor frowned rolling the wand between his fingers, then offered it to Izzy. As she took it back gingerly, it did not glow blue as it usually did, but remained red.

"It's warm! It usually burns so cold," Izzy said in surprise. 

Alec held out his arm to her. "Go ahead. Try it."

Izzy found a part on his knuckle where the skin had cracked open, and pointed the wand at it with her brows furrowed in concentration. There was a sudden whip of red light from the adamas, and the wound closed up, leaving behind nothing but unbroken skin - not even a scar. Izzy gasped and put the wand down to examine Alec's hand more closely, the adamas wand still glowing a very faintly red.  

"It worked!" she said delightedly. 

"Now let's try to heal that wound on Alexander's back," Ragnor suggested, his eyes alight with excitement and curiosity equal to Izzy's. 

He placed his palm flat on Alec's back, over the bandages, and Alec felt a pinpoint of heat deep inside the his back. He closed his eyes and tried his best to hold on to the feeling, coaxing it towards the pain of wound, and gasped at the strange sensation of his muscles and skin knitting back together, and a tingling as all feeling flooded back into the damaged flesh. Ragnor fell back, looking exhausted but pleased, and Alec didn't need Izzy to peel off the bandages to know that his wound had completely healed up. He sat up when she was done, stretching and flexing his arms and shoulders in amazement. He could not even feel the pull on skin and muscles if it had healed normally and there had been a scar.  

"By El and Elat... this will change everything," Izzy breathed as she examined the smooth skin of her brother's back. 

Alec could already see in Izzy's eyes the million ways she wanted to test out this new relationship between adamas and magic they had discovered, and he feared that in her excitement she would forget caution. "Izzy, nobody else must know," he told her urgently. "Our people fear magic for the destruction it has wrought on their lives, but if they knew there was a way they could have this power for themselves, I do not think they would fear to exploit it. If they found out what the adamas can do, all of Magnus' people will be in danger."

Izzy blinked and seemed to come back to herself. "You are right, of course. I think that we should pretend that you are still convalescing and you should take only a few trusted men when you sneak out to go after Jace and Magnus, so that people will not wonder how you recovered so quickly," she said, then shot him a wry look at his slightly guilty expression. Of course his sister knew that he would want to go after them the moment he could.

"Magnus and Jace spoke of approaching Lorenzo's camp by the northern ridge, from the direction of Mount Beriah. Do you know of this path?" Ragnor asked. 

Alec nodded. "Izzy, get Underhill to retrieve my armour and weapons for me. We leave right now."

 

 

They stepped out into the stillness of nighttime and starlight, the snow whirling around them gently. There was barely enough light to see by, but they were used to darkness in the deep underground, and together they carefully picked their way upwards in calf-deep snow to the peak of Grey Mountain - Alec, Underhill, and Maia, who had come around looking for Magnus and insisted on coming along when she'd heard about where he'd gone. From the peak, they crossed the northern ridge, which was bare of trees, steep, and rocky - there was no plateau of level ground like there was on the southern ridge, only ice-slippery rock inclined at varying angles. Alec and Underhill did their best to pick out a path that angled against the face of the ridge so that Maia could follow, but thankfully she was sure-footed and did not have much trouble keeping up with them.

The new snow had obscured Magnus and Jace's trail from a day ago, so Alec could only rely on guesswork and hope that he was right. Unfortunately, the usual guard post - the lee of a huge boulder that formed a meagre shelter from the wind and snow - yielded no sign of either of them, and so they pressed on. It was a roundabout route, for from the northern ridge of Grey Mountain, they then had to pass through a narrow gully of dreary rock that circled round the back of one of the mountain's lesser peaks before emerging on a narrow ledge only wide enough for one person, a path that had solid rock on one side and a sheer drop into the valley below on the other side. Alec was only too aware of the sky lightening as the sun began to rise; while Magnus and Jace had traversed this path under cover of darkness, dawn was soon approaching and the bare terrain of the northern ridge meant that his party had no place to hide. The only way to the city from where they were was a few thousand feet straight down a rock wall that was almost completely vertical, for this was where his ancestors had quarried the rock that made the foundations and buildings of the city, and they would be completely exposed on the climb down. He was also uncomfortably aware of the menacing shadow of Mount Beriah looming behind them, and given recent revelations about the prophecy, thoughts of Angels and the deep blue lake in the queen's dream that Alec was sure was the crater lake at the peak of Mount Beriah were foremost in his mind. They could see the old city clearly from this vantage point, and Alec could see a few campfires blazing blatantly around the huts near the marketplace and smoke rising from the little chimneys, and Alec knew a moment of pure fury at Lorenzo and his men for stealing the shelters Magnus had so painstakingly built for his own people. There were two soldiers moving around the campfires, probably on guard duty, but most of the camp still seemed to be asleep. 

"We shall have to risk the climb down - now, and hope that the sentries do not think to look this way," Alec decided as he glanced up at the sky.

The patrols from Idris almost never descended to the old city from the northern ridge when it was so much easier to use the path from the southern ridge, and as a result the rope guides here were less well maintained. Underhill went first, so that he could point out footholds and grips to Maia, and Alec brought up the rear. The wind curled around the side of the mountain in strong gusts that forced them to hug the rock face and froze their fingers numb as they scrabbled to find purchase in cracks and crevices. They managed to make it almost all the way to the cover of the thick groves of evergreen holly oak that grew at the foot of the ridge before Underhill stopped short.

"My liege, the rope..."

Alec glanced down and saw that Underhill was holding up a rotted and frayed stump of rope that was all that remained of the last hundred feet of the rope guide. The break was fresh - evidence that Magnus and Jace had also climbed down this way, and the rope had given way when they had tried to use it. Magnus and Jace were nowhere in sight of course, and the scree slope at the foot of the ridge - a hill of loose, jagged rock, the accumulation of a thousand rock falls caused by the weakening of the rock face by decades of rain and snow, freeze and thaw - was undisturbed, so Alec guessed that Magnus had gotten them both the rest of the way down with magic. Unfortunately for them, they did not have the luxury of that kind of magic - Maia had been a native of Moonstone, and her talents lay in beast magic. Without the rope guide, the descent was difficult but not impossible, although it did increase the risk of them falling and being badly hurt.

"Maia, can you get yourself down by magic?" Alec asked anyway. 

"I can make it easier for myself, but I don't think I can do anything to help you and Underhill," she replied.  

"Then go. Don't worry about us," Alec said.  

Underhill made his way down to the top of the scree slope first so that Maia could climb down, and the moment he landed on the pile of loose rock, everything began to shift under his weight. He crouched down, waiting for it to stop, but Alec feared that they were making more noise than was wise. When everything had settled, Maia made her way down, moving far more lightly on her feet than should have been possible, and even then the rock slid all around as she moved. When she finally reached the foot of the scree slope, Alec motioned that she should climb up one of the trees some distance away for her own safety, in case the whole hillside of sharp rock should come tumbling down like an avalanche, then had Underhill start to make his descent while Alec clung on to the rock face. A few times, entire sections of the slope started to cascade downhill, forcing Underhill to move on all fours, but at last he reached the safety of solid ground and scrambled up a tree.

When it was Alec's turn to make his way down, he knew that there was no way he was going to reach the bottom without causing a rockslide. Maia and Underhill going before him had already weakened the tenuous balance of the loose rock; every step triggered an exodus of rocks that bounced painfully against his ankles as they tumbled downwards and dislodged other rocks further below, and the ground felt like it was threatening to slip out from under his feet. The rattling and skittering of the loose rock seemed thunderous to him, echoing on and on through the mountains, and Alec was torn between the urge to sprint downhill so he would reach solid ground more quickly, and feeling like he should go more slowly to minimise the deterioration of the slope. 

It happened so quickly, but Alec saw it all as if the world had slowed down to a quarter of the speed - he took a step, and the entire scree slope lurched and broke away from the rocky face of the ridge. Alec managed to keep his balance for only a few seconds before he was swept off his feet and went tumbling, borne by a wave of sharp rock. Thankfully, he was not too far from the bottom of the slope, and the momentum of the rockslide only carried him a few dozen feet. Behind him, he could hear the sounds of Maia and Underhill coming down from their trees to rush to his aid, but he picked himself up before they could reach him.

"They'll definitely have heard that," he said briskly. "Quick, back up - before someone comes."

His tumble had sliced his palms into ribbons, and his scraped skin catching in the rough bark made climbing up a tree pure torture, but he gritted his teeth and managed to scramble into the lowest branches. Sure enough, a soldier in Edom's livery came into view in a few moments, treading carefully as he surveyed the scene. The soldier had the hood of his cloak pulled over his head, but something in the way he moved made Alec think that he knew him. Following his gut, Alec dropped down from the tree he was hiding, right behind the soldier. The soldier whirled around in a heartbeat, his hand moving before thought to hold a blade to Alec's throat, and familiar golden eyes widened in surprise and recognition. 

Alec smiled in relief. "Magnus."  

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"Alexander," Magnus said in shock. 

He removed the blade from where it was pressed to Alexander's throat and gripped his husband by his upper arm, taking him in. Alexander did not hold himself like his back was injured, but his poor hands were badly scraped. Magnus healed them with a wave of soothing magic, then embraced him, scarcely daring to believe that he had Alexander whole and well in his arms. 

"How did this happen? Did Ragnor somehow find a way to heal you even though you were hurt by an adamas blade?" Magnus asked him.

"It is a long story, and one I must tell you in private," Alec said in a low voice. Maia and Underhill were almost upon them, so Magnus nodded his understanding. "I see you've managed to infiltrate Lorenzo's camp," Alexander said in a normal voice, looking down at Magnus' clothes. "Where is Jace?" 

"Guarding the prisoners," Magnus replied.

Alexander narrowed his eyes. "You don't mean to say... you've captured the entire enemy camp? Just between the two of you?" At Magnus' nod, Alexander shook his head at Magnus. "I had thought that even Jace wouldn't be foolhardy enough to take on an entire army on his own," he said, looking like he was struggling between pride and exasperation. 

"Considering I was successful, you can hardly call me foolhardy," Magnus replied with a grin. "Unfortunately we have not been able to find Jace's crow, and we didn't want to tip our hand by having Azazel find out that his army has fallen to us, so it would be prudent to keep our disguise, such that nothing looks amiss from a distance. Let me get some uniforms for the three of you."

In a while, he returned with cloaks and uniforms that they put on over their clothes, and Magnus led the way back to the camp, bringing them in one by one to the shelter of the hut that would have been Ragnor's. Lorenzo must have stolen this one because it was the largest and warmest, set in the middle of the lot and sheltered from the wind by all the rest of the huts, for Ragnor was getting on in years and the cold hurt him more than it did Magnus. Jace had discovered some manacles that suppressed magic amongst the army's supplies, undoubtedly meant for Magnus himself, and even though only Lorenzo was restrained, Magnus was not overly worried - the dose of valerian root he had sneaked into the food had been a very strong one, and it would be some hours yet before the camp awoke. Between Jace and himself, they filled the rest in on how they had scouted the camp for several hours before they managed to knock out two of the guards and steal their uniforms, then gained access to the pots cooking over the fires with some well-placed confusion spells and natural charm to drug the whole camp with morning porridge laced with sleeping drought. 

"I thought we could bring Lorenzo into the underground city before everyone woke up and realised what had happened, and get information out of him to better figure out how to deal with Azazel," Jace said. "We could bind him in chains of adamas in the old dungeons at the edge of the deep underground."

"An army without its General would be far less of a threat," Alexander agreed. "But what would you do with him after? We cannot imprison him in the underground city forever."

"For an army to wake up to find its General brutally murdered would be a sufficient blow to morale, don't you think?" Magnus said quietly. 

"Magnus," Alexander murmured, and in his eyes Magnus saw worry.

"I am under no illusions, Alexander. This is war, and sometimes blood must be shed," Magnus replied, steeling himself.

"And how are we going to make him talk, my lord?" Maia asked.

"By any means necessary," Magnus said in a hard voice. He wasn't blind to the evident discomfiture on all their faces, but what other choice was there? 

"My prince, could you not use magic to search his mind for the answers we need?" Underhill asked hesitantly. 

"The mind is not neatly ordered shelves with all the memories and thoughts laid out in rows and columns. It is a web of things linked together, which may seem to have no order except to the person whose mind it is," Magnus explained. "Given the complexity of the human mind, memory extraction and manipulation is a complicated and rare talent. My father was a master in it, but I'm afraid none of us inherited his talent." 

"Alright. We will do whatever needs to be done," Alexander agreed solemnly. "We should start for the underground city if we are to return before the rest of the camp wakes up."

"I do not think it will be necessary to bring him all the way there. The route is treacherous, and we could do without a deadweight," Magnus said, the thought of bringing torture and cold-blooded murder into Alexander's home distasteful to the extreme, and wanting it to all be over and done with.

He rummaged through the small pouch of herbs and vials that Jace had taken from Izzy, which were all meticulously labelled, and picked out a few vials - one to revive Lorenzo, a poison, and after some hesitation, the antidote. Ignoring the sick churning in his gut, he tipped Lorenzo's head backwards and pinched his nose, then forced the vial of poison between his teeth and poured it into his mouth, followed quickly by the potion that would wake him up from his drugged sleep, and their prisoner sputtered and choked as he suddenly jerked awake. Lorenzo started to struggle against the manacles that bound him, still groggy from the effects of the valerian, then gasped sharply. 

"What have you done to me?" he choked out. 

"Slow acting poison. The antidote is here," Magnus raised his hand, the vial between his fingers. "If you speak quickly and tell us what we want to know, there is a chance that you may still live." 

"Do you think Azazel will let me live if he finds out that I have betrayed him?" Lorenzo said with a bitter laugh.

"But I will let you live if you cooperate with me now. Tell me what Azazel's plans are, and I will let you flee to whatever sanctuary you may find," Magnus said firmly. 

"I don't believe you," Lorenzo spat out, then lapsed into sullen silence.  

"You are wasting what little time you have left," Magnus warned him. "I would rather not cause more pain than necessary."

Lorenzo laughed mockingly. "You don't have it in you. I find it hard to believe that you would even have the guts to poison me. Of Asmodeus' children, you were always the most soft-hearted, with the weakness of your low-born mother in your veins, instead of the conviction and regal bearing of Aza-" Lorenzo began to cough, then choke, and when he spat out a mouthful of blood, his eyes widened in fear. 

"Perhaps I am more of my father's son than you expected," Magnus said evenly. "Now speak. What is going on in Edom? What are Azazel's plans?" 

"This is a trick," Lorenzo croaked out. 

"Don't fool yourself, Lorenzo, you feel it in your bones. By the time the poison reaches your heart it will be too late. Speak!" Magnus snapped. 

"Edom is tearing itself apart. Moonstone and Sanguine are loyal to you, but the Spiral City is Azazel's, and the Seelie Realms are undecided," Lorenzo stuttered out. "Azazel knows that as long as you live, hope will not die. That is all there is to it, please-"

"There must be more to Azazel's plans. Surely he does not think that I will surrender and hand over the crown to him for no reason," Magnus pressed on. 

Lorenzo shook his head. "I don't know," he gasped desperately, and might have tried to say something more except that the rest of his words were lost in a terrible gurgle as he began to drown in his own blood.

Magnus could smell the foul stench of Lorenzo soiling himself in his fear, or perhaps he had simply begun to lose control of his bodily functions, and as Lorenzo twisted with convulsions as the poison wracked his body, Magnus knew that if he wasn't administered the antidote right now, Lorenzo was a dead man. Making up his mind in a split second, Magnus uncapped the vial of antidote and tried to pour it down Lorenzo's throat, expending some of his precious reserves of magic to guide the liquid into Lorenzo's body against the tide of all the blood he was spewing out. He pushed in a little more of his magic to heal the worst of the damage the poison had caused, then pulled away.

Lorenzo shivered and spat out a mouthful of blood. "Why did you show me mercy?" he rasped out.  

"Because I refuse to see ruthlessness as a virtue. Perhaps it's a weakness in my blood from my low-born mother," Magnus replied sarcastically. He felt Alexander come up behind him, one hand resting on his lower back, and leaned into the comfort of the touch. "You are free to go, but never show your face in my presence again." He knew he ought to be careful with how he used his magic, but he could not bear to touch Lorenzo, so he unlocked the manacles with a snap of his fingers, and started to turn away. 

Lorenzo hung his head, breathing hard, then said, "I lied."

"There's a surprise," Maia muttered.

Magnus turned back to glare at Lorenzo. "So you do know Azazel's plans."

"Azazel expected you and your consort to flee into the safety of the mountains and stay in there while my army was here, and wait us out. Azazel did not care if the soldiers that were sent to climb the mountain above the underground city made it into the city at all, because even in death they will serve their purpose."

"And what purpose would that be?" Magnus asked warily.

Lorenzo took a shuddering breath. "Azazel found a plan for war amongst your father's things - everything was ready, except that Asmodeus did not know which mountain Idris was hidden under. There were instructions for concocting a powerful explosive potion, and every soldier who was sent out here bears a measure of that potion, although they were not told what it is. Any time now the potions will ignite and the force of the explosion should be enough to make the mountain collapse upon itself, thus burying the entire city and all the people of Idris, as well as the two of you. I alone was supposed to have left as Idris fell, but I did not expect the weight of the adamas pulling down on my strength, making it impossible to open a portal, and my king was too far away to be of any help to me. And so, I made a deal," Lorenzo admitted. 

"With whom?" Alexander asked sharply.

"Wherever Lilith is, fire messages can still reach her. I told her where to find you, and in return her Angel will bring me to safety," Lorenzo said, looking straight at Alexander.  

"You-!" Magnus snarled, but with a feeling of dread, he felt rather than saw something huge pass overhead - then he heard the unmistakeable screech of the Angel Gadreel.

Alexander was already moving towards the front door of the hut, but Magnus grabbed him by the arm. "You can't go out there, you're the one she's looking for!" 

"If she's heading for Idris, I cannot just stand by and watch!" Alexander bit out, tugging his arm out of Magnus' grasp and running out of the hut. 

Magnus wanted to go after his husband immediately, but was suddenly struck by a thought - in chaos of Lilith's arrival, they had almost forgotten that another threat existed. "How do the potions work? How do I stop them from igniting?" he demanded as he rounded on Lorenzo.  

Lorenzo backed away from Magnus, clearly afraid that Magnus was regretting his earlier act of mercy. "The ingredients are kept in stasis by a powerful spell. But as magic is dampened in Idris..." 

"-the spell will wear off sooner rather than later," Magnus filled in, his mind already whirling at a million miles per hour.

Magnus ran out of the hut to see everyone staring at the sky, transfixed by the sight of the monster that was soaring above them towards the highest peak of Grey Mountain. It looked exactly as Magnus remembered, a deformed vulture-looking thing; in an instant, he was brought back to the nightmare of seeing its almost-human face up close and feeling its putrid breath on his face, and Magnus shuddered at the memory. Alexander snapped out of his stupor and started to run towards the grove of trees.

"Wait! Alexander, I have a plan," Magnus called out, stopping Alexander in his tracks.

Magnus screwed his eyes shut, searching for the pinpoints of magic that he recognised as Azazel's particular brand of magic, scattered all around the camp, and tugged - and a few dozen palm-sized glass bottles began to fly towards him. He swept his cloak in front of him and caught them all, then beckoned the rest of the group towards him. 

"We must retrieve all the bottles of the potion from the dead soldiers that were abandoned on the way to the southern ridge, especially those close to Grey Mountain," he said briskly. "Maia, do you have strength enough for a gathering spell?" At her nod, Magnus continued, "Alexander, take Jace and Maia with you and search the woods and the ravine, you know the way best. Underhill, come with me - we will cover the ground closest to the underground city."

Gritting his teeth against the resistance of the adamas in the ground, Magnus opened a portal to a spot between the edge of the woods and the ravine. Alexander was off like a shot, but Magnus grabbed Jace by the shoulder before he could follow his brother. "Keep Alexander out of Lilith's sight," he whispered.  

Jace nodded curtly before going through the portal, and Magnus drew up another portal to take him and Underhill away. 

 

 

When they stepped out of the portal to the bottom of the ice fall, Lilith and her Angel had already landed at the top of the southern ridge. A shower of crusted snow landed on them as the creature's tail swung from side to side, and Magnus thought he could hear mad Lilith singing to the stone monster. Facing it once had taught him that he could not face the creature head-on and hope to survive the encounter, but he needed it to be out of the way so that he could retrieve the vials of potion from the bodies laid out on the snow above. 

Magnus gingerly handed Underhill the bundled up cloak, the bottles of potion clinking against each other in an unsettling way. "Once you have collected all the bottles you can possibly find, summon Ragnor from the underground city - it will take someone with power equal to mine to attach these to the monster while it is distracted." 

"What are you planning to do, my prince?" Underhill asked in alarm, but Magnus was already stepping through another portal that opened up to the top of the northern ridge.  

There was an ache in his bones that told him that his magic was dangerously low again - he had perhaps one last burst in him before he ran out of magic completely, and he had to make it count. As he appeared on the craggy surface of the northern ridge, Lilith and her monster both raised their heads, and despite the distance that separated them, their eyes locked onto Magnus - and the sight of the blank silvery-white orbs with no pupils that were the Angel's eyes sent a chill down Magnus' spine.

"Little brother. I see Azazel's lackey did not lie, for if you are here then your consort must be here as well. Where have you hidden him?" she called out. 

"What do you want with him?" Magnus demanded.

The Angel began to crawl towards him, its taloned claws clacking on the bare rock, and even though they were still a few hundred feet away, Magnus took a few steps back. Behind the powerful swishing tail, Magnus saw movement the edge of the ridge. 

"I want his death," Lilith replied simply. "And if you stand in my way, then I will have yours as well."

"We have done nothing to you. Why won't you leave us in peace?" Magnus asked. 

"It is not about what he has done, but what he will do - as long as he exists, he is a tiny piece of gravel getting under the wheel that may unseat us from the path to a glorious future," Lilith said, her voice dripping with hatred. "I have seen a hundred paths into the future, and in all the visions that end in fire, the only constant is him." She cocked her head at Magnus. "I know you think that I am mad, but I promise you, when Samael and I rule the realms, there will be no more sadness and no more pain - we will bring pure bliss upon on earth, and every day will dawn sunny and bright."

"And what a world that would be - with no bitter sorrow to make the happiness sweeter, and where we will all die parched under the constant heat of the sun. I think I have always preferred thunderstorms," Magnus said mildly. 

Lilith and the Angel faltered, as if her incomprehension and confusion were somehow felt by the Angel as well, but Magnus wasn't really paying attention - he was watching the figure of Underhill out of the corner of his eye as he stealthily slipped back down the ice fall with his fragile and dangerous burden. 

"Your consort will come for you, won't he?" Lilith said contemplatively. "Perhaps you will be more useful to me alive."

Magnus had expected this. He turned and started running across the top of the ridge, and behind him he could hear the Angel crawling after him. He hadn't been scaling mountains as soon as he'd been able to walk the way the Idris-born were, but he was agile enough on his feet that he could still move fairly quickly. The Angel, on the other hand, was a flying creature, clumsy and ungainly on limbs of unequal length, and even though its talons were strong enough to crack the rock it was digging into, its weight acted against it on the slippery rock. With a cry of frustration, the Angel finally took into the air. 

Magnus sprinted across the ridge as fast as his feet could carry him, lungs burning from the thin air and schooling himself not to waste precious energy flinching from the fragments of rock that hit him when the Angel's tail lobbed a boulder at him that missed and smashed into rock just a few feet behind him. If he thought too much about how easy it would be to slip and fall off the side of the mountain, or looked back to see how fast the Angel was gaining on him, he feared that he would freeze up and lose his nerve entirely.

"Why are you running, little brother? I want you alive. I promise that Gadreel will not hurt you... much," Lilith cackled. 

The huge boulder that served as a guard post for Idris soldiers was just up ahead, and although Magnus knew it was poor cover since the Angel could probably smash the boulder into smithereens with a swipe of its tail, the sight of it brought him a measure of relief. Jace had told him that the boulder marked the end of the usable tunnels that had been hollowed out by Alec's people deep underground, so if he could only get Lilith and her Angel beyond it before Ragnor sent the collected bundle of explosive potions at the Angel, hopefully they would be far enough that the explosion would not cause too much damage to the underground city. He dove behind the boulder to catch his breath for however long a respite he could steal, and in that instant he heard the Angel shriek in pain. Surprised, he peeked out - only to see a bright adamas-tipped arrow cutting through the air to embed itself in the flank of the Angel. 

"No," he whispered, cursing under his breath as he stepped out from his shelter, and sure enough, he spotted Alexander with his bow and arrow, making himself a clear target from where he was standing on top of the highest peak of Grey Mountain. 

Lilith turned around snarling, and now that she was close enough for Magnus to see her clearly, he saw that the months that had passed since he had last seen her had not been kind to Lilith. She might not have been in her right mind, but she had always been well cared for by her servants and Catarina, and she was by nature an attractive woman - but not anymore. Magnus did not know if it was because she did not know how to care for herself without her servants, but Lilith had deteriorated to skin and bones, her hair dull and unkempt, and skin a frightening shade of grey. In fact, she looked like someone had drained all the life out of her, leaving behind fever-bright dark eyes and a shell fuelled by pure insanity. 

Then with a start, Magnus spotted the two arrows Alexander had loosed, and was shocked to see that they had managed to penetrate the rocky exterior of the Angel - and that the Angel was bleeding silver. 

Lilith abandoned her pursuit of Magnus and spurred the Angel towards Alexander instead, and Magnus saw that Ragnor was standing at the ready with the bundled cloak full of explosive potions. He flung it into the air, aided by magic, and it speeded towards Lilith and the Angel with unnatural speed, but before she could swerve to avoid it, a third arrow flew from Alexander's bow to pierce through the cloth and pin the bundle to the Angel's side. Gadreel flailed in midair; Magnus had been prepared to use the last of his power to remove the stasis spell before the Angel had a chance to shake off the bundle, but instead his vision was filled with white light, and he saw the explosion before he heard it - a deafening boom that rattled the mountains and threw Magnus onto the ground. 

Bits of rock rained down on him, then some drops of scalding liquid that burned where it landed on Magnus' hands and the back of his neck, making him cry out in pain and surprise. The ground was trembling even though the Angel had been airborne - perhaps from the measures of potion that they had not been able to retrieve - but after a long, long time, the earth finally stopped shaking. Magnus pushed himself up to a sitting position, blinking - he had been the closest to the Angel when the potions had exploded, and his ears were still ringing. All around him were chunks of rock that Magnus only knew for sure had once been the Angel because of the tufts of wispy grey vegetation clinging on to it that Magnus had mistaken for feathers, their roots now visible where they had worked their way into the crevices. 

Alexander and the rest of them were running towards him, but Magnus' attention was drawn to the little puddles of liquid on the ground. They were cooling on the icy rock even as he watched them, and Magnus stared at the solidifying pebbles of the familiar silvery-white metal that was the scourge of his existence. With this, some things began to make more sense - the Angels' resistance to magic, and the way the potions had exploded almost instantaneously upon contact with the Angel.  

"It's adamas," Magnus muttered to himself. "The Angels bleed adamas."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

  

"So is Lilith dead?" Izzy asked with a frown.

"Wayland took some men with him to investigate, and although they found the remains of the Angel scattered all the way down the mountain, there was no sign of her body," Alec said. In fact, there had been more to that - he had sensed that there was something wrong when the men returned, and they had been reluctant to speak of it, but afterwards Wayland had come to him and told him in confidence that the shattered rock that had once been parts of the Angel felt oddly alive, and more than one man had thought he heard someone whispering in his ear. And it troubled Alec, for if the Angels were just figures of stone and adamas, could something that wasn't properly alive truly die? 

"As long as no body has been found, we shall have to assume that Lilith managed to escape the explosion somehow," Magnus said firmly. "Look what happened the last time we assumed that she was dead."

"Then we must also assume that Lilith will return for my brother because of this supposed prophecy," Jace said, wrinkling his nose.  

There were five of them in Ragnor's room, the only five who knew about the prophecy and what the adamas could do - Alec, Magnus, Ragnor, Izzy, and Jace. Outside, Maia, Underhill and Lovelace were standing guard, with little more than a thick woollen curtain at the door, and although Alec trusted that they would not try to eavesdrop, it made Alec uneasy to speak so plainly of it - he would trust any of them with his life, but Lovelace could get a little bit too talkative when he'd had too much to drink. 

"I always suspected that Lilith had the gift of prophecy, for these things run in the family," Ragnor said. "I wonder if she saw the same thing that her great-grandmother saw so long ago - or if she saw something more, a different perspective."

"Whatever the strength of her talent, that is what drew the Angel she calls Samael to her, and that is why he put her under his thrall," Magnus said unhappily. "She may have had Gadreel, and perhaps that other Angel that she used to attack Edom, at her command. But I suspect that all her years of inexplicable madness was merely Samael sinking his claws into her. You should have seen her, Ragnor - I don't know how she is even alive. Imagine the agony of sitting upon a creature made of pure adamas! Samael is like a parasite that has burrowed into her mind and hollowed it out until there is nothing left but his own will." 

"At least Edom's army is under our control. They were not pleased to wake up to find the huts chained with adamas, but until Magnus has had rest enough to deal with them, they can wait," Jace declared. 

"Lorenzo?" Magnus asked, but Jace shook his head. 

"He fled before we returned to the camp," Jace reported.

"As long as he hasn't gone crawling back to Azazel," Ragnor muttered darkly.  

Alec saw Magnus' shoulders tense under the weight of his self-doubt. He did not think Magnus regretted showing Lorenzo mercy, but he was certain that Magnus would blame himself for any consequences that resulted from it.  

Alec laid a comforting hand on Magnus' arm. "Let us all get some rest. We have much that needs to be done, and a dangerous trek ahead of us."  

"Perhaps if the soldiers from Edom do not cooperate, we could use our adamas wands to steal their magic and just portal to the top of Mount Beriah," Jace suggested, half joking and half wistful, and Izzy promptly smacked him over the back of his head. 

 

 

The servants had prepared a new room for Magnus, with fresh wash water and a meal laid out since they had both been too exhausted after battling Gadreel to have appetite for food. They availed themselves of both, washing up and eating in silence, and when they were clean and fed, Alec took Magnus' hands in his, examining the burns that he had received when the liquid adamas had rained down on him. 

"At least now I know how it feels like to be burned by adamas. It was more bearable than I expected," Magnus said.

"Why would you ever want to know how that feels like?" Alec asked in confusion, but Magnus just smiled and shook his head. "I could heal these, if I channelled your magic through the adamas," he told Magnus.

When Magnus nodded, Alec reached for the adamas wand in his belt, but Magnus laid his hand on his to stop him. "What about if you used the shard of adamas in your back?" he asked.

"I do not know if it works that way," Alec admitted. 

"Then let us find out. Aren't you curious to know how much power that little piece of adamas can hold, and what you can do with magic at your fingertips?" Magnus asked. He placed his hand on Alec's back, and Alec was immediately aware of the pinpoint of heat where the adamas was lodged in his bone. 

Alec closed his eyes, smoothing his thumb over one of the wounds on Magnus' hand, and tried to remember how it had felt like when the skin had been smooth and unblemished; then pushed the warmth in his back towards his own hands. There was a strange surge of heat from his fingertips, and when he opened his eyes and looked down, the wound was gone. A dull panic was rising in his gut, but he concentrated on healing Magnus' hands. When it was all done, Magnus removed his hand from his back, but the heat still lingered in the adamas. Alec stared down at his own hands, half expecting to see magic sparking from them still.  

"Magnus, this is too much. I don't want this."

"It might take some time to get used to, but you can learn how to use your newfound skill," Magnus said gently, taking his hands in his. 

Alec shook his head. "It's not just about the magic. It's the prophecy, about me setting the world on fire."

"There is too much that we don't know, Alexander. That is why we are going to Mount Beriah tomorrow, to seek the Angel," Magnus reminded him. 

"And that is a path laid down in the prophecy," Alec observed, troubled. "Magnus, I-" The words were lost on the way to his mouth. He wasn't a coward; but a nameless future that seemed to be beyond his choice or control was very different from a physical foe he could fight. 

"I know," Magnus said quietly. "I am afraid too, for you. For us. But you are not alone - you have your family, your people, Ragnor, and me. And I promise that I will not leave your side, no matter what happens." 

"But you did - you went to face Gadreel by yourself, and you told Jace to keep me out of Lilith's sight," Alec said, a little accusingly. 

Magnus smiled wryly. "That I did. I knew it was a long shot, but I had to try to keep you safe." 

"Do you know how it felt, for me to see you on the ridge being hounded by that monstrous thing?" Alec demanded. "Or for me to wake up and hear that you had gone to deal with Lorenzo and his army on your own?"

Magnus looked down at their joined hands. "Perhaps the weeks I have spent here, trapped and powerless, have made me less circumspect than I should have been," he admitted. 

"Magnus, we live in uncertain times, and much as we wish to, neither you or I can promise each other that we will never come to harm. Life and death are sometimes but the difference of a moment, and I know that you would never want me to follow you in death, but if I lose you..." Alec swallowed hard. "It goes both ways, Magnus. Swear to me that you will never knowingly go where I cannot follow." 

Magnus was looking at him with wide eyes. "Oh, Alexander. I am so sorry," he breathed, and drew him closer to kiss him. "I promise that whatever the future brings, we will face it together."

Alec closed his eyes and kissed Magnus back, and tried not to think about tomorrow.

 

 

They left the underground city at the crack of dawn to make their way to the enemy camp, and they has barely gone a few steps before their journey was marked by an ill omen - Jace's crow, swooping out of the sky to land on Jace's shoulder. Jace was startled, then visibly upset, and when he caught the half-tame bird firmly his hand, Alec knew a moment of sympathy for his brother, knowing what Jace had to do. Then he thought of the prophecy, and the crow untouched by the fire from the burning tree, and suddenly had the strangest feeling.

"Wait!" he told Jace, and turned to Magnus. "Is there a way to remove Azazel's hold on the bird's mind, instead of killing it?"

Magnus frowned, exchanging a look with Maia. "It might be possible. Why the sudden change of heart?" Magnus asked Alec, but Alec could only shake his head as if trying to rouse himself from a dream.

Jace was only too happy to hand over the bird to Magnus, and with Maia keeping it calm so Magnus could examine the creature. "The spell is all tangled up in its memories," Magnus finally declared. "The only way to remove it would be to wipe the creature's mind entirely." Magnus closed his eyes and gently stroked the crow's head with a thumb, from beak to nape, then opened his eyes and nodded at Maia. The moment she set it free, the crow flew off without a backward glance.

Jace let out a sigh of genuine relief, and Maia shot him an odd look. "El keep you," he murmured, eye turned skyward, then cleared his throat. "Let's go." 

In light of the presence of Edom's army and Azazel's ill intentions, Alec had decided to act on the assumption that they were at active war with Edom. Every able-bodied warrior had been given a duty. The patrol in the deep that guarded Idris against the monsters had to be given double duty and all other patrols had been diverted to the mountain passes known to Edom. What was left of Lorenzo's army had been guarded overnight by a rotation of a few dozen Idris soldiers, and when they reached the camp the tension was a storm waiting to erupt over their heads. The Edomite soldiers were sullen and suspicious, and Alec could not blame them. In all honesty, he did not see any other way than to kill them, for he did not think it would be possible to change their loyalties overnight, and yet he did not think Magnus could bear to have all of them killed. But as always, Magnus was full of surprises.

Magnus stood in the centre of the circle of huts and raised his voice to address all the prisoners. "I know your faces - you wear the serpent livery, but you are not Azazel's but Lorenzo's. I do not know if you serve Azazel out of loyalty to Lorenzo or fear of Azazel, but I do not wish to condemn you for having done no greater evil than to serve a different master," Magnus began in a firm, strong voice. "Consider this: I could have put something more deadly than sleeping drought in your food, but I did not. I could have left just one of Azazel's explosive potions here and let it do its dirty work, but I did not. I could have let Alexander's men slit your throats while you slept and saved myself the trouble, but I did not. Three times I have spared all of you when I had no need to." He paused to let his words sink in. "Now, I offer you a choice. You can flee to find your own sanctuary, the same as I offered Lorenzo, who left all of you behind to my mercy - or you can pledge your loyalty to me instead. I will give you a day and a night to make your choice." 

With that, Magnus turned and left in a clear dismissal. Jace followed in his wake, heading towards the end of the old city closest to northern ridge, where they would join Ragnor and Izzy before continuing the journey to Mount Beriah together. 

"See that the prisoners are treated fairly," Alec told Underhill and Maia, who he had placed in charge in his and Magnus' absence, and was just moving to follow Magnus when he was stopped by the young Lord Starkweather. 

"My king, are you sure that it's wise to journey to Mount Beriah? What is there to be found?" he asked. 

Alec frowned. Nobody else had been told about the plan to travel to Mount Beriah, although he supposed it was an easy leap to make from the direction they were heading. "You must have heard the rumours of the dragon. I am merely making sure that nothing else will catch us by surprise and threaten the safety of our people," he replied. 

"Of course, I did not mean to question your reasons," Starkweather said, then added a little slyly. "I am merely surprised at the speed of your recovery, my king - to be using your bow again and climbing mountains so quickly."

Alec tried keep his expression blank, but inwardly cursed himself for his carelessness. When he had seen that Magnus' life was in danger, in his panic he had neglected to hide the fact that the wound in his back had healed. He and drew his shoulders back and pretended to wince; he was acutely aware of the point of heat in his back where the adamas was, Magnus' magic from the night before still lingering in it. "The wound was far less serious than it seemed," he assured Starkweather. 

"Then you have El's blessings upon you, my king," Starkweather proclaimed, and stepped back to let Alec catch up with Magnus. 

 

 

Ragnor and Izzy were waiting for them on the tip of the northern ridge when they finally completed the harrowing climb to the top. Ragnor was looking quite winded, but brushed aside Magnus' suggestion that they portal directly to the peak of Mount Beriah, knowing how much magic that would take and how little they had at their disposal. It was already high noon, and from where they stood, to the right of them Alec saw ridge behind ridge going on beyond sight, all of them blinding white with snow, and leading far off towards the Frozen Sea; then straight ahead, the forbidding black rock of Mount Beriah, which was easily the tallest mountain in Idris. They shared a meal together since this was likely to be the last place where they could rest their feet in relative safety, and then they were on their way - Jace leading, Magnus supporting Ragnor, and Alec and Izzy last. 

They started out slow, and had to go slower still as Ragnor struggled to find his footing on the loose gravel and steep icy slopes even with Magnus' help and the aid of a walking stick. The path got narrower and narrower, until it was only wide enough for them to put one foot in front of the other, and every time Ragnor's feet twisted over a rock Alec feared that he would go tumbling straight down onto the jagged rocks, and Magnus would dive after him with no regard for his own safety. None of them had much presence of mind left for talking, but Alec could not help but notice that Magnus was starting to rub his temples, and sometimes the whole party would have to stop short when Ragnor suddenly stopped walking, seemingly lost in thought. Up ahead, Jace began to sing obnoxious and ribald ditties common amongst Idris' warriors, and Alec didn't have the heart to chide Jace for how inappropriate they were when Jace's singing drew laughter from Magnus and seemed to help Ragnor focus on the path.

Soon, they reached the lip of a chasm a few yards wide. It should have been formed by a stream or river, cutting through the rock over centuries, but it was completely dry and there was no sound of water travelling up from the darkness below. Alec had always thought that it looked more like a fissure, as if something enormous had slammed into the mountain and shattered the rock, perhaps in the process knocking the tip of the mountain off and leaving the gaping hole which had filled up with melted ice and snow to form the crater lake that was their destination. There had been a rickety bridge across the chasm - once. To Alec's dismay, there was nothing left of it but some tattered rope tied to a rotting post.

Ragnor eyed the sheer drop down. "How far more do we have to go?" 

"Just over that ridge," Jace replied. 

"This break is recent," Alec said sharply as he examined the rope.

"But who would have a reason to come this way?" Izzy asked uneasily.

"I suppose we shall just have to find out," Magnus said grimly. He gritted his teeth, and with a graceful wave of his hand, he cast a shining bridge of magic across the chasm. "Go, quickly! I can't hold this for long."

Everyone hurried across the bridge, leaving only Magnus on the other side, and Alec held his breath until Ragnor took up the connection and Magnus was safely over the bridge. 

"Do you hear it? I feel like someone is speaking to me, but I can't quite make out the words..." Jace said, frowning. 

"It has been plaguing Magnus and I for a while now. Don't listen to it and try to guard your mind," Ragnor cautioned. "The weight of the adamas is far stronger here, but it is more than that. There's something wrong with this place." 

"I feel it too," Alec agreed. There was an ache in his back, something pulling on the shard of adamas inside him.  

When they finally reached the top of the ridge, Alec had to admit that the view was breathtaking. The crater lake was easily the size of the old city of Idris, and a deep, deep blue - as if the night sky itself had been distilled into the form of a lake. The sun was low in the sky and hitting the water at an angle, making the surface of the whole lake shimmer with gold, but Alec imagined that he could see something under the water sparkling as well, like the constellations themselves had their counterparts in the lake, and took a step closer so he could see more clearly - then the cry of a crow rended the air, and all of them snapped back into the awareness that they had somehow wandered right to the edge of the ridge. One more step, and all five of them would have stepped into thin air.

"El's mercy," Izzy gasped in horror as she quickly took a step back. 

They looked to the sky for the crow, but it was just a black speck far away. Had it somehow remembered them despite Magnus wiping its mind, or was it just happenstance - or worse, destiny? Magnus slipped his hand in his, squeezing it lightly, and Alec tried to return Magnus' small smile even though his chest was a tight knot of dread. Then he looked down at the lake, and spotted the body floating face down near the shore. Even from this distance, Alec recognised the richness of the sodden clothing. 

"That's Lorenzo, isn't it?" Ragnor asked heavily. They were all quiet for a while, contemplating Lorenzo's fate - a fate they had all very nearly shared. 

"There must be something at the bottom of the lake calling us to it," Magnus finally said. He stretched his hand out towards the lake, and a ball of pure light shot out from his fingertips and flew into the lake. As it sank into the dark water, it illuminated the shining shards of silvery adamas that lined the sides of the lake - growing fainter as it went deeper, and deeper still, and it almost seemed like there was no bottom to the lake. But just before the light gave out, it gave out one last flare of illumination, and Alec's heart leapt to his throat when he caught the glimpse of a face at the bottom of the lake.

"What was that?" Jace muttered. 

They crept a little closer, mindful of the treacherous drop that awaited them if they misstepped, and Magnus cast a second, stronger spell of light into the lake. This time, it lasted long enough for them to see the features of the face at the bottom of the lake more clearly. It was human enough, except that it was of a monstrous size - the nose was the size of a small hill, its brows the length of some of the ridges they had just traversed. There was cruel set to its mouth, curled into a sneer of disdain, and to Alec's horror, just before the light died in the darkness of the lake, its eyes flew open - blank silvery orbs with no pupils, just like Gadreel's. 

"Magic," the Angel spoke, a voice that Alec heard in his head rather than through his ears. It was nothing more than a whisper, like the wind through the trees; a suggestion of words. But it seemed to work its way into the nooks and crannies of Alec's head and fill it completely, until he couldn't tell the difference between the Angel speaking and his own thoughts. "It has been a while since I've tasted magic so rich, and so pure."  

All five of them backed away from the edge of the ridge involuntarily. 

"You must be the Angel Raziel," Magnus said, and Alec felt a surge of admiration that his husband's voice barely wavered. "How did you come to be trapped at the bottom of a lake?" 

"Samael," Raziel spat out. It seemed like the surface of the lake should seethe from the force of the venom in the Angel's voice, but it remained deadly calm. "He wanted to rule all the realms of where and when beyond, but why should he? What made him more worthy than me? We battled across the land and the skies, and when he knew he was losing, with his last breath he pushed me into the ground and two of my other brothers rained mountains of rock upon me. My vessel shattered under the weight of the rock, and so now I am trapped."

Under the mountains? If the head of the Angel was half the size of a city, how big was the rest of its body? Alec came to a sudden horrible realisation - the entire mountain range was the Angel's body, and the adamas that filled it was the Angel's blood seeping into the rock, or perhaps they had been digging into the Angel's body itself. 

"For centuries I have suffered, my consciousness imprisoned in my ruined body. At least I can take comfort in that Samael has been destroyed," Raziel continued.

"But Samael still lives, and still aims to rule the realms," Magnus said. 

"What?

Everyone winced from the force of the Angel's fury in their minds. 

"He has possessed my sister, and she spoke of freeing him..."

Raziel was quiet for a long time after that. 

"Then his vessel lies whole in the realm beneath the waves, but he must be greatly weakened, to resort to possessing the mind of a human. For though we are stone we must feed, as I have fed on the people who live in bowels of the mountains," Raziel said.

"What do you mean 'feed'?" Izzy asked, aghast. "What do your kind eat?" 

"Ah. Are you one of mine?" Raziel asked, amused. "We feed on magic, of course, and I must thank you, for you and your blood have fed me well over the centuries. From when you were babes in your mothers' wombs and until you are withered and old, I drink your magic, and decade after decade it sustains me in this half-life." 

It made Alec's skin crawl just to think of it - this monstrous parasite, feeding on them in secret, and now that he knew this, he could not stand the thought of leaving his people here. They would have to move away somehow, abandon the mountains of Idris completely and leave this creature to starve. 

"What if we could free you from your prison? Would you help us defeat Samael?" Magnus asked. 

"My vessel is beyond repair; but I have grown weary of my prison, and long for rest," Raziel agreed, and then its voice grew harder. "If I cannot rule the realms, then Samael shall not either. There is only one solution to both - you must travel to Araboth, the domain of the Angels and the font of all magic. In the heart of Araboth there is a palace with seven halls, and in the seventh hall grows a jujube tree with seven branches, which holds the life-force of all the seven Angels. Kill this tree, and that shall be the end of it."

"The end of what exactly? The world?" Jace demanded. 

"I cannot tell you about a future I cannot see. You will simply have to find out for yourselves."

"And how do we get to this place?" Alec asked. 

Raziel laughed darkly. "I am sure the world has changed in the centuries that I have been imprisoned. That, too, is something you will have to find out for yourselves. Now go, and leave me to my misery - while I still allow it."

They didn't need to be told twice.

 

 

Despite Ragnor's protests, Magnus insisted on using a portal to return to the camp in the old city, and worried as he was about the amount of magic Magnus had already used today, Alec had to admit that it was the wisest course of action, for they were already tired and half-frozen from the journey to the crater lake, and campfires and warm food could only do them good. But when they stepped out of the portal, all they saw was chaos and carnage - all the prisoners had been dragged out of the huts, the chains of adamas that had been used to seal the huts used to bind them directly instead. It was obvious that some had tried to run, for many were bloodied up, and from the looks of it Alec feared that some were dead. Cries of agony filled the air, and they had barely had the chance to take it all in when a jet of magic flew towards them, deflected by a shield Magnus cast in front of them in the nick of time.

"What is this? What is going on?" Alec demanded. 

The young Lord Starkweather stepped forward, a smug smile on his face, and with a shock, Alec saw that the adamas wand in his hand was red. "You found a way for the people of Idris to wield magic, and yet you selfishly kept it to yourself! Some king you are," he said, pointing the wand at them. 

Alec scanned the faces for Underhill and Maia, but all he saw were his soldiers caught in the act of stabbing the Edomite army with their wands to steal their magic.

"How dare you," Magnus snarled.

"Of course I dare! For decades we have suffered in this war, but now with magic at our fingertips, it is Edom who will bow to us," Starkweather replied with a sneer. Some of the other soldiers had gathered behind him, also pointing their wands at them.

Jace had drawn his sword, and Izzy had a blade of her own. Ragnor was quietly observing the scene, and after a while he must have spotted Underhill and Maia, for after he spoke to Jace in a low voice, Jace started to move towards one of the clusters of prisoners.

"Wait till we show the people of Idris what we can do now," one of the soldiers said, punctuating his words by shooting a jolt of magic at one of the prisoners and laughing when the prisoner began to spew blood - only for his laughter to abruptly become screams when he caught on fire.

It happened too fast for Alec to have done anything. Beside him, Magnus roared in fury, and in an instant a wave of fire swept through the soldiers of Idris, turning them into ash on the spot. And still the fire spread, raging out of control - the huts began to burn, then the stone beneath their feet and all around them.

"Magnus!" Alec cried out, but Magnus seemed to have lost control of his magic completely.

"We can't save everyone," Ragnor called out, drawing up a portal. "Quick!"

Jace and Izzy made a beeline for Underhill and Maia, and as Alec grabbed Magnus around the waist to drag him through the portal, Magnus collapsed into his arms like a puppet whose strings had been cut. They stepped out onto the top of the northern ridge, but the clean air was tainted with the smell of smoke. While Jace and Izzy tended to Underhill and Maia, Alec tried to rouse Magnus, but Magnus was out cold. Down below, whatever was left of the old city was burning fiercely, and even from this distance Alec could feel the heat on his skin. But in the state that he was in, how had Magnus summoned enough magic to cause such destruction?

Beside him, Ragnor was shaking his head and muttering to himself. "Burn the future and burn the past. Oh, we were wrong, so very wrong." He looked up at Alec, lines of worry etched in his face. "You may be the valiant king of the prophecy, but I think you are not the only one with a part to play. I think the prophecy refers to the both of you - and you are not the one who sets the world on fire."

 

Chapter Text

 

 

When Magnus awoke, he found himself in a bed without any memory of having gotten there himself again, his body uncomfortably warm with the fever of magic exhaustion, an occurrence that he was getting heartily sick of. He groaned and sat up; and in a moment everything that had happened came back to him. 

"Ragnor," he croaked out. "Did it really happen? The fire?"

"I'm afraid so."

"And all the people...?"

Ragnor hesitated. "We managed to save Underhill and Maia." 

Magnus' shoulders slumped. Ragnor shook his head at Magnus, and came to the bed with a cup of tea. Magnus wrinkled his nose when the bitter smell of the willow bark reached him, but drank it anyway.  

"Where is Alexander?" Magnus asked. His heart had sunk heavy to his gut when he had seen only Ragnor at his bedside; Alexander had many demands upon his time of course, but after he had seen what Magnus was capable of, Magnus could hardly blame him if he decided that he could no longer be around Magnus. How could he, when Magnus hated himself for what he had done?

"He will be back soon, but he wanted to speak to Underhill and Maia to find out how Starkweather discovered how to use the adamas. Truly, a secret known by one may remain a secret, but a secret known by two is knowledge shouted out to the world. A silencing charm seemed like a waste of magic to keep up at the time, but it might have saved us a lot of trouble," Ragnor said with a sigh. He patted Magnus' arm comfortingly and added, "What you did saved our people. Those men had already drained all of Lorenzo's soldiers, and when they had used up the magic they had stolen, they would have turned their greedy eyes towards the rest of us, then towards Edom. Do not forget that."

"But at what cost, Ragnor?" Magnus asked miserably. "I killed them all, and would have killed all of you as well, if you hadn't brought us to safety. I did not even know how I managed to do that." Magnus could only remember being overwhelmed by a multitude of feelings - horror and sorrow that a person might be capable of doing that to another person, fear of what it meant for himself and his people, but mostly a blinding fury at what they had done, and it had all come flooding out of him. 

"This is the sort of thing your father was capable of in his prime, and how he struck fear into the hearts of our enemies," Ragnor said.

"I am not my father, Ragnor. I have never been as powerful as he was." 

Ragnor hummed. "When you were the youngest prince of Edom, there was no great demand on your magic other than getting past the castle's wards and making portals so you could sneak out into the town and into the woods for your own amusement. But in the last few months, you have been forced to push your own limits fighting Angels, building houses, and making portals despite the adamas draining you constantly, and it has made you stronger," he said. "Do you remember the first time you exhausted all your magic fighting Gadreel? We were only in the no man's land between Edom and Idris, and yet it took almost a week for your magic to return. Haven't you noticed how much faster you have been recovering, and how much more magic you have at your disposal despite the adamas?"

"I suppose so," Magnus said uncertainly. "It's hard to tell when the adamas drags down on me day and night."

"Before, you were almost equal to Azazel in strength, perhaps a shade weaker. But now, I think it is possible that you might be as powerful as your father. I think you would find that if you chose to go up against Azazel now, victory would not be impossible." 

Magnus frowned. "What are you suggesting? That I borrow the strength of Alexander's army and start a war against my own kingdom?" he demanded. 

"Magnus, Edom is already at war," Ragnor reminded him gently. "With every day that you do not return to Edom, Azazel's stolen position will be challenged not just by those who are loyal to you, but also by those who see Azazel for what he is - a spoilt brat who does not seem to understand that to be king means to be in service of his people and their well-being, not the other way around."

There were footsteps at the door. Alexander stepped into the room, causing ripples in the warding Ragnor had placed at the entrance of the room as the shard of adamas in Alexander's back and the various weapons of adamas he carried on his person strained the tenuous hold of Ragnor's spell. In a second, it shattered; Ragnor sighed wearily, and cast the spell again.

"Did you find out who it was?" Ragnor asked.

"It was Lovelace, not that he meant any harm," Alexander reported, his expression grave. "Too many people noticed that I had recovered overnight from the injury Aldertree dealt me, and Starkweather plied Lovelace with enough mead to loosen his tongue and spill what little he had overheard."

"And what has become of Lovelace?" Magnus asked.

"Dead. He was in the city when it burned," Alexander said. "And with the destruction of the old city, rumours are spreading like wildfire, some of them too close to the truth for my liking. Already I have heard several bards singing bloody retellings of past battles against Asmodeus, and of course all know that Magnus is his son."

He moved towards Magnus and took one hand in his own as he sat down at Magnus' bedside, and lifted it to his lips to press a kiss to Magnus' knuckles - as if it wasn't those same hands that had caused such destruction, and turned the warriors of Edom and Idris alike into ash.

"I know that separation will be hard on the both of you, but our people are no longer safe here. Magnus, we must bring them elsewhere," Ragnor said.

Before Magnus could speak, Alexander quickly said, "We will all leave, together. I intended to bring my people away from Idris anyway. Knowing what we know now, I refuse to let Raziel feed on my people's magic any longer." Ragnor opened his mouth to protest, but Alexander held up a hand to stop him. "We talked about this while Magnus was resting - my mother, Izzy, Jace, and I. It has already been decided. Besides, if we succeed in killing the Angels, who knows if Raziel's body underneath the mountains will still remain, or vanish into the ether?"

The reminder that an Angel slumbered in the ground beneath him now made Magnus' stomach turn, and he shuddered.

"I understand and I sympathise, but where would you bring them?" Ragnor asked. "The adamas drains you but it also protects you from Azazel's attacks. And even if you brought your people away from the shadow of the Angel's influence, it would not change the resentment they have towards our people, nor erase the suspicions they have about the adamas."

"I promised Alexander that I would stay by his side, come what may," Magnus interrupted. "Besides, much like wildfire, if you try to put a rumour out by stomping on it, you're more likely to get burnt. No, the way to deal with rumours is to divert them towards a direction that will cause the least harm, to work them to your advantage - to admit to enough of the truth that people will not question the lies. What we need is a diversion, a common enemy to unite both kingdoms." 

"The Angels," Alexander said, catching on. "When you speak of diverting these rumours, what do you have in mind?" 

"We will tell the people of Idris a fraction of the truth - that the Angel Raziel is to blame for the magic they have lost, that we have been gifted a prophecy that says that Edom and Idris must work together to free the land from the Angels' clutches," Magnus said.

"But we cannot tell them what the adamas truly is, or it would cause widespread panic," Alexander said. 

"No, we should, for it will teach them to be repulsed by it. We can tell them that it absorbs magic - but not that there is a way to use the magic that has been stolen," Magnus suggested.

Alexander nodded, brows furrowed in thought. "And the fire - we could tell them the old city was scorched by the Angel when Lorenzo disturbed its rest, to discourage any from risking the trip to Mount Beriah to learn the truth."

Ragnor was eyeing them both contemplatively as they plotted, and now he shook his head and said, "The Angels were right to mark this as the beginning of the end of their days."

Magnus arched an eyebrow at him. "What do you mean?"

Ragnor smiled. "Only that the two of you working together is a force to be reckoned with. I have given it some thought, and I believe that the future spelled out in the prophecy is not as dire as we think. For did Raziel not say that destroying the tree in Araboth would bring us into a future beyond what he could see?"

"So the part that speaks of burning the future, and the end of days... you think that the prophecy foretells not the end of the world, but merely the end of the Angels," Magnus murmured.

"I think the prophecy is not as simple as it seems. It is a vision of the events that would lead to the end of the Angels, yes - first the joining of the two kings, then Raziel revealing the secret of the tree in Araboth, then of the people of Idris wielding stolen magic, and of you burning down the ruins of the past. But I do not think our queen dreamt it by accident. I think it was deliberately sent to her to mislead her into starting the war, and in doing so keep the people of Edom and Idris apart so that the two of you would never meet," Ragnor said.  

Alexander held on to his hand a little tighter, and when Magnus looked into his eyes he found a measure of peace in the trust and resolve in Alexander's steady gaze. The prophecy had said that their love was to blame for setting the world on fire, but how could it be a bad thing when it was a love that felt as good and pure as this? If he was meant to burn the world down for Alexander's sake, Magnus could only hope that it was because something better was meant to rise from the ashes. 

Ragnor cleared his throat. "Before you embark on this quest to Araboth, both the people of Idris and Edom will need a safe place to call home. I would suggest Edom, except... well. I wonder what Azazel thought of the fire, for surely that would have been visible even from afar." 

"Azazel must be dealt with first, for he will give us no peace," Alexander agreed. "Even if he can no longer use Jace's crow to spy on us, we must assume that he has other ways - perhaps another bird, even if it may not be able to recognise our faces or come close. Now that Lorenzo and Lorenzo's men are dead, he will know his plans have fallen through. We have to strike before Azazel does." 

Both Alexander and Ragnor looked towards Magnus. They all knew that Azazel would not stop until Magnus was dead, unless of course Magnus killed him first, but still Alexander was looking to Magnus for his decision, knowing how Magnus felt about all the death and destruction that war would inevitably cause. Magnus closed his eyes, trying to get a feel of the magic inside him, but he no longer trusted what he thought he knew he was capable of. For a moment he thought he saw the hundreds of paths into the future as Lilith did, but unlike Lilith all he saw was the beginning of each path - for he stood at a crossroads, and the next step he took would define the course of their future. 

"How soon can your warriors be ready?" he asked Alexander. 

"Three days."

Magnus took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Then in three days we bring war to Edom."

 

 

How the tables had turned, Magnus thought, as he stood in front of Alexander on the evening before the battle, letting Alexander put on his armour for him, tightening straps and checking the fit of the metal and tough leather. As he had once guided Alexander through the rigours of court manners and dressing, Alexander was now preparing Magnus for a different kind of battle. Alexander stepped back with his brows furrowed in concentration, and had Magnus swing his arms and move around to make sure the armour did not restrict his movements, and when he was finally satisfied, he gave Magnus a reassuring smile. 

"And now I am a warrior worthy of you," Magnus said lightly, trying to ease his own nervousness. 

"You have always been a warrior - even if your preferred weapon is your words and your wit - and it is I who strive to be worthy of the honour of being your chosen," Alexander replied without guile.

Magnus shook his head. "Oh, my love. How could you ever think that?" He took Alexander's hands in his. "If we win this battle, and I have regained my throne, I should like for us to be properly married. Not that farce of a ceremony that my father forced upon us, but one of our own choosing, and as equals - a true celebration of our love according to the customs of both of our people."

Alexander's eyes widened. "You don't mean... the rune? You would bear my mark upon your wrist?" 

"Yes, the rune. And of course I would," Magnus replied, and the words were barely out of his mouth before his husband leaned in to kiss him soundly.

And what a kiss it was, the warmth of it sustaining him through the journey down the mountain under the cover of darkness, and carrying him forward despite nerves he was trying not to show. The warriors of Idris did not have the luxury of the bountiful stables of Edom, with only a handful of wiry mountain steeds reserved for the lords. That had not posed a problem in the past, for Idris had always taken up a defensive position in the war, but that would have to change now that Idris was to be the aggressor. They had left the safety of the underground city once the sun had set, and now it was midnight, and almost full dark, but that posed no problems for the warriors of Idris or for Magnus and Maia, who could both see perfectly well in the dark. There were ten thousand men marching at their back, and seven thousand more waiting in the city as reinforcements, the full weight of Alexander's army behind him, and Magnus could only hope that he was not leading them into slaughter.

When they reached the foot of the mountain, Magnus nodded to Ragnor. The mountains of Idris were still looming behind him, but already he could feel his magic singing in his veins, stronger than he had felt it for months. Ragnor must have felt it too, for his movements were swift and sure when he flung open a portal that cut through the wards around the heart of Edom's capital - his own wards, that it seemed Azazel hadn't even bothered to replace, so sure he was of his dominance.  

Magnus and Alexander rode through, followed by Maia and Jace, then wave after wave of Idris' soldiers on foot, as quietly as it was possible for an army of that size to move. The portal had brought them right to the gates of Edom, and the moment Magnus went through, he was hit by the full force of his magic filling up his body, now unfettered by the pull of the adamas. Its return was so sudden that Magnus reeled from the headiness of it, and as he struggled to get a hold of his magic a second sensation hit him - the overpowering stench of rotten things. 

He did not need to look around to discover the source of the smell. There was a heap of mangled bodies right outside the city walls and dead bodies in various states of decay hanging off the gate, and all along the city's walls were severed heads stuck on pikes. The heads should have been black with rot, but instead they had been perfectly preserved by magic so that all could see the agony and fear on their faces and recognise them - Alaric, who had been Lucian's right-hand man; the red-haired Lady Jocelyn; some of the townspeople who had been friendly with Magnus; and Raphael's sister, Rosa. 

Magnus had blasted the gate off its hinges and a sizeable hole in the city wall with it before he even knew what he was doing, his whole body shaking with rage. Most of these people had not even been soldiers, but Azazel had murdered them and desecrated their bodies just because he could. Edom's soldiers were swarming towards the gates now in defence of the city, and it was only Alexander calling his name urgently that stopped him from burning all of them into ash on the spot.

With a wave of his hand, Magnus put up a shield that blocked off the initial magical blasts by the guards, then spoke up in a voice that would carry all the way to the castle, "I am Magnus, son of Asmodeus, and the rightful King of Edom, come to reclaim my throne! If you would pledge your loyalty to me, flee to your houses and bar the doors, so that you may live; but if you chose to stand in my way and defend your false king I will show no mercy, for any man or woman who has seen the depth of Azazel's cruelty and still swears loyalty to him does not deserve my mercy."

"You heard your prince! Harm no child, and shed no blood of those who are willing to surrender," Alexander shouted out to his men, then met Magnus' eyes. "But of those who would oppose us - spare none."

Some of the Edomite guards began to back away, but others charged forward with their teeth bared, and Alexander's men surged forward through Magnus' shield to meet them with a mighty roar. Shouts and screams of pain filled the air immediately, blinding flashes of magic and clashing metal spreading through the throng as the two armies fought. Idris' warriors had always borne weapons and armour embedded with adamas, but now a group of men hand-picked by Alexander himself had been fitted with gauntlets shot through with adamas and tipped with adamas claws as well, and Edom's army floundered in confusion when the first wave of attackers grappled with them, although confusion soon became fear when the adamas did its work. Azazel had started sending reinforcements to the gate by means of glowing portals that ripped through the darkness of the night, but they were coming through too late and too few; and the forces of Idris advanced with their gauntlets glowing red like fire, leaving behind wrecked and shivering shells of the Edomite warriors who had temporarily been deprived of their magic, and any survivors were easily disposed of by the next wave of Idris' warriors. 

But the chaos around him was not Magnus' focus at the moment - all of it was but a distraction, and safely left in the capable hands of Lord Wayland and Lord Cartwright. Magnus, Alexander, Maia, and Jace tore away from the mayhem and spurred their horses towards the castle, followed closely by a smaller formation of about a thousand men. They had barely covered half the ground when black thorny vines erupted from the ground and shot up to the sky, ensnaring their horses, and balls of fire rained down on them from the ramparts of the castle while thousands upon thousands of soldiers poured out of the castle like a swarm of ants to set upon them. Unfortunately for Azazel, he had shown his hand when he had used the same trick in Idris - Magnus knew just how unlikely it was for Azazel to have an army of this size on hand when he was at war with both Moonstone and Sanguine, and had lost all if not most of Lorenzo's men in Idris. With an impatient sweep of his arm, Magnus sent all the fireballs flying back to their casters, and with another gesture he banished all the soldiers that had been mere illusions, leaving less than a quarter behind. Everyone leapt off their horses with blades drawn to slash and hack away at the vines and opposing soldiers alike.   

Given Azazel's tendency to turn tail in the face of danger, Magnus had figured out that all these were just obstacles put in their way to give Azazel time to escape, probably to the Spiral City where it would be harder to find him, and yet Magnus did not dare use his magic to raze the entire thicket of thorny vines in case his magic raged out of control again and he trapped them all inside here. It was hard to see anything clearly in the ever-growing forest of strangling vines that tripped and curled around anything that moved, be they friend or foe, and for what seemed like an age as they painstakingly cut a path towards the castle, all Magnus could hear were the screams of the frightened horses and clank of metal against metal; the stink of blood sat suffocating and heavy in his lungs, and when a second wave of fireballs rained down on them, Magnus threw up a glowing shield over the whole forest that shuddered and rippled above them as balls of fire slammed into it. With every minute that they were delayed here, the chances of catching Azazel dwindled, so Magnus focussed on getting to the castle, only caring that Alexander was still by his side, leaving the rest to follow if they could.

When the two of them finally reached the castle, Magnus didn't bother trying to make his way in to try to find Azazel in the hundreds of corridors and rooms, because he already knew where Azazel would be - and indeed, he found Azazel cursing as he struggled with an uncooperative horse that was weighed down with belongings, dragging it towards the side gate that led out to the little town, probably just hoping to get out of the boundaries of Ragnor's wards so that he could portal away. Azazel's personal guard took one look at Magnus' expression and fled, leaving Azazel all alone. 

But Azazel obviously wasn't ready to admit defeat, for he drew his own sword from his belt. "I see you had to use your consort's army to win you back your own throne after all, little brother," he sneered.

Magnus shrugged. "What is mine is his, and what is his is mine. If you thought that would hurt my pride, it's simply because you do not understand that."

"Very fair, seeing as you have nothing to your name," Azazel said, smiling contemptuously. 

"Not for long," Magnus replied, taking a step forward.

"Two of you against me? That seems unfair." 

"Do you really want to talk about fairness, after all the things you have done?" Magnus asked, his eyes flashing with anger.  

"You were the one who started it, stealing a crown that wasn't yours to take!" Azazel said petulantly, as if they were children squabbling over toys.  

"Father made me king because he thought that I was more worthy of it," Magnus replied incredulously. "It had nothing to do with-"

Azazel took advantage of his distraction to send a powerful blast of magic - not towards Magnus, but at Alexander. Alexander threw himself out of the way, but wasn't quite fast enough to avoid it completely, and grunted in pain when it grazed him and scorched his shoulder. Magnus snarled at Azazel and threw a blast at him, but Azazel had been expecting it and blocked it, although he staggered backwards from the force of it. Azazel's eyes widened in shock, and for a moment Magnus saw fear on his face - then Azazel took a risk and tried to force a portal through the wards to flee into parts unknown, but Magnus was having none of that. He threw a second warding spell around them both, trapping Azazel in a wide circle with him, and Azazel cried out in pain and surprise when his magic backfired on him.

"Didn't you say it was unfair for both of us to fight you at once? Then let's fight, just the two of us against each other, to the bitter end," Magnus said. 

He had been expecting Azazel to lash out in desperation like a cornered rat, but the attempted portal seemed to have used up the last vestiges of Azazel's power. "This isn't possible," Azazel snivelled as he backed away from Magnus. "My blood is finer than yours. You were just the bastard child our father got from a servant girl."

"Is that all you've got? Petty insults?" Magnus huffed out a laugh. He drew his twin blades. "No magic, then. On my honour."

Azazel promptly threw a spurt of magic at him, and Magnus shook his head as he avoided it neatly. "I would have preferred a proper fight, but I should have known that a coward like you would have no honour any more than you had courage."

Azazel hissed and swung his sword at Magnus, but Magnus side-stepped it almost carelessly, and drew his own blade across Azazel's throat.

Azazel fell to his knees, clutching his throat, and Magnus grimaced as he stepped back and dropped the bloodied dagger on the floor, kicking it aside - it was sullied with Azazel's blood now, and he didn't want it anymore. He banished the warding spell that had encircled them and turned his back on his dying brother to help Alexander up instead, healing the wound on his shoulder in an instant. They turned to look at Azazel thrashing on the floor, and as they watched, Azazel gurgled and drew a shuddering breath - then no more.

"To think I was afraid of this cowering, whining brat for most of my life," Magnus said. He thought he should have felt something after killing his own brother, but there was nothing - no horror or remorse, but no satisfaction either. If anything, he simply felt extremely exhausted. 

All at once, the rest of the world came rushing back in, and crowds of people came round from all sides, stopping short at the scene before them. 

"Azazel is dead," Maia whispered, as if she couldn't quite believe it, then in a louder voice she called out, "The false king is slain! All hail King Magnus!"

Her cry was picked up and carried by many voices, but it didn't seem to make it feel more real, until Alexander took his bloodied hands in his gravely to stop them from shaking. 

"Azazel is dead," Magnus repeated, staring at the blood on his hands, and suddenly the weight of that fact came crashing down on him. "I did it."

"That you did," Alexander agreed, then smiled and raised his voice to join the others, "All hail King Magnus, the true king of Edom!"

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The underground city was colder and darker than Alec had ever remembered as he made his way into the deep caves, where Lightwood House laid its hearthstone. For the last few weeks, most of his people had been steadily leaving Idris for Edom by means of powerful portals at the foot of the mountain that opened at intervals, but some people had insisted on remaining - soldiers, servants, and nobles alike. Most of these were of the older generation, still deeply skeptical of Magnus' intentions, and it was no wonder that the old Lords were amongst those that had been adamant on staying behind despite the risk of the monsters of the deep overrunning the abandoned city. Alec’s father, of course, had also chosen to stay behind, which meant that his mother was honour-bound to stay with him - and it was for this reason that Alec was making one last trip into the deep underground before the last portal closed.  

Alec had avoided being in his father's presence since Magnus' arrival in Idris months ago, easy enough since his father was bedridden and Alec had plenty of excuses to avoid his summons. It was not the way of Idris to waste healers on those who were dying of old age; harsh, perhaps, but necessary given the limited resources available for the living. There were servants to help make the last days as comfortable as possible, but that was all. Still, the old king had been clinging onto life with surprising tenacity. 

Robert Lightwood's room was dark and smelled foul, of sickness and death. He was in the middle of yelling at his servant for some minor offense when Alec entered the room, but stopped to squint at Alec from his bed of furs, frowning. 

"Leave us," Alec told the servant girl, who fled the room only too willingly. 

"How dare you show your face here! Get out of my room, begone!" Robert barked. 

"Father, I urge you to reconsider your decision to remain here," Alec said stiffly, ignoring his outburst. "Most of our people have left for Edom, safe from the influence of Raziel. Already the ship is being built and preparations are being made for the voyage to Araboth, and when Magnus and I succeed, I fear the mountains may collapse when Raziel is freed from his torment." 

"You lead our people to ruin!" Robert thundered. "When you returned to us, I made you king thinking that you had proved yourself worthy by outwitting Asmodeus - only to find out that you had merely been allowed to return because you had surrendered and degraded yourself. Would that your mother had birthed you stillborn, than you had lived to shame the Lightwood name!"

Alec gritted his teeth. "As you wish," he replied curtly, and turned to leave, deciding that he should try to convince his mother instead. He should have known that it was a mistake to speak to his father.

"At least one good thing will come of this cursed union of yours - it will spell the end of both our line and his," Robert spat out venomously. "I pray to El that this voyage ends in your deaths, and may doom also befall any foolish enough to follow you." 

Alec paused at the door but didn't respond, reminding himself that the ravings of a bigoted old man halfway to his grave should not affect him. After he had mastered himself, he walked out without looking back, only to come face to face with his mother, who had obviously caught the tail end of his conversation with his father. Her fury was a sight to behold, but Alec took her firmly by the arm and led her away from Robert's room. 

"Mother, I do not need or care for his blessings, but I do hope to have yours," Alec said.  

Maryse's expression softened visibly. "You are getting married tomorrow."

Alec nodded. "It would please both me and Magnus to have you as our witness. Please, leave with me and come to Edom."

Maryse smiled sadly at him. "You know what the wedded union rune means, and what promises have been made. I cannot leave, for I have vowed to live and die by your father's side."  

"But what about us? Izzy, Jace, and I? Your children need you too," Alec pressed on. "Mother, all you ever wanted for us was happiness, and we are happy in Edom. You should see Izzy now, how delighted she has been to be part of Edom's court and to learn and share her knowledge of herbs with Catarina and Dot. It is like seeing her come alive." 

Maryse shook her head wistfully. "I would like to see that," she admitted.  

"There is nothing but death left here now," Alec said softly. "Mother, please. For our sakes, if not your own. I cannot rest easy knowing that you remain here."

Maryse hesitated. "Very well - but only for the wedding, and until you return from your journey. Someone has to keep an eye on Isabelle, and make sure that she behaves appropriately in your absence." 

Alec smiled in relief. "Izzy and Jace will be glad to see you. And while it certainly sets my mind at ease that Izzy will not be alone in Edom while Jace and I journey to Araboth, I do not think you need to worry about Izzy. What trouble could she possibly get into?"

 

 

On the day of his wedding, Alec rose early and made his way to the stables to get his horse before riding out to meet Lord Lucian, who was to escort him to Moonstone to inspect the progress of the construction of the ship. It was a large, sturdy vessel made of smoked oak timber, simple and practical, but although the bulk of it had been completed by Edom's carpenters a week ago, it was the finishing touches that were taking a longer time to complete - for the hull of the ship was to be inlaid with adamas, so no magic could be used for it. This portion of the construction was being handled by blacksmiths from Idris, but the progress was warily observed by the Edomite carpenters, a situation that raised the hackles of the craftsmen from Idris, and as with many things in Edom these days, tensions were high.

They had known that it wouldn't be easy for the people of Edom and Idris to coexist in peace, of course. In the months that Azazel had ruled Edom, its people had suffered from great privation caused not only by the constant warring amongst the cities, but also caused by Azazel levying heavy taxes on basic necessities like food and fuel, and brutal punishments had been meted out for minor crimes whenever it suited his fancy and amusement. They had not taken well to having to suddenly share what they had with an influx of thousands of refugees from a former enemy kingdom, even when Magnus had freely shared everything in the royal stores. In the first few weeks, there had been plenty of fights and skirmishes, some of them incited by those who had benefited from Azazel's rule and resented Magnus' triumphant return, although these were thankfully in the minority. So while Magnus rounded up what was left of Azazel's supporters and dealt with the destruction and death wrought by Azazel's rule, Alec had been left to settle his people in new homes and roles, and to convince them to abandon their weapons of adamas for plain steel, and there had been little time for a wedding.

But finally the day had come, a celebration that was in honour of Magnus' official coronation as well as the renewing of their vows to each other, and Alec found that if he did not keep himself busy, he could think of little else.

Alec managed to use up almost half the day showing his encouragement to the craftsmen and mingling with the people of Moonstone, where some of the Idris folk had decided to settle. When he returned to the capital, Izzy and Jace were already waiting in the rooms that had been temporarily allocated to him - for it was common custom in both kingdoms that the couple should not be allowed to see each other for three days before the wedding.

"Why are you here?" he asked them, although he thought he already knew the answer.

"Helping you get ready for the evening ceremony, of course," Jace said with a grin.

"I have servants for that," Alec huffed.

Izzy sported a grin as wide as Jace's, and both of them looked at him like cats that had gotten the cream. "Are you nervous?" she asked. 

"No, of course not. I have been married to Magnus for a full year today. Why would I be nervous now?" Alec muttered. "Where's Mother?" 

"In the library with Ragnor, and stop changing the topic, big brother," Izzy said. 

Alec scowled darkly at them, but they were not cowed. "We can talk after you get dressed," Izzy said, grabbing him by the arms and pushing him to the inner chamber of his rooms, before thankfully leaving him to it.

He availed himself of the wash water, which had been so liberally littered with flowers he could barely scoop any water without also getting a handful of annoying petals, and found that his clothes had already been laid out for him. He did not wear most of the fancy clothes he had worn as Magnus' consort anymore, preferring the simple, thinner tunics he wore in the summer back in Idris, and his wedding finery was a more elaborate version of that. His pale blue tunic was beaded and embroidered with silver in Edom fashion, and made of a lighter silk fabric more suited to the warmer and milder weather away from the mountains, but it was still cut loose enough for him to wield a sword or use his bow without tearing the delicate material. His armour, however, was largely ceremonial - just a section of overlapping leather plates over his left shoulder, with a beaten circular medallion bearing the Lightwood crest in the intersection of the straps that went across his chest.

He came out to find Jace watching Izzy practicing lighting candles with magic - her own magic. Alec had never tried to use magic in the months that he had lived in Edom, not having realised that it was even something he could do, and now he couldn't tell if what he was able to do was born of his own ability or magic that had collected in the shard of adamas in his back. Jace had shown little interest in pushing himself to find out the extent of his abilities, preferring to wait and see if the magic presented itself. Izzy, on the other hand, had learnt from Magnus' experiences, and in the weeks since she had come to Edom, she had put herself through countless cycles of magic exhaustion, and now she had enough magic for simple things like moving small objects or lighting a candle. 

Ragnor had been blunt with them. He believed that even away from the influence of Raziel, the people of Idris might not have much magic left - that the centuries of disuse throughout the generations had caused the ability and aptitude for it amongst Alec's people to dwindle, and that even if they did regain their magic, they would struggle to hold on to the dregs of it. That much seemed evident from the other Idris-born folk who showed signs of magic, and it was rumoured that such children were likely to be the fruit of mixed unions, one Idris-born parent and one Edom-born parent. 

"You have gotten much stronger," he told his sister.

"But not nearly quickly enough, and definitely not powerful enough," Izzy said with a sigh. "My magic may never equal even the servants', much less that of someone like Magnus. And it will always be a point of conflict between our people."

"We don't know that yet," Jace protested, but Alec privately had to admit that the same worries had crossed his mind. 

Izzy gestured that Alec should come and sit on the chair she had recently vacated, and untied the ribbon in his hair so that it fell loose around his face.

"What are you doing?" Alec asked when she took out a short blade. 

"Catarina and Dot told me that it is traditional for both men and women to have their hair braided on their wedding day, with a lock of their intended's hair woven in - in hope that the couple may be strengthened by the intertwining of their bodies, minds, and souls."

She cut a lock of his hair, handing it to Jace for safe-keeping, then took out a lock of shorter hair from a pouch hanging on her sash - Magnus'. Alec made a disgruntled noise when Izzy tugged his hair a little too roughly as she tried to get hold of a few locks on the left side of his head. 

"You have nothing to be nervous about, brother. Your union was decreed by the gods themselves," Izzy told him as she worked. "Would that we could all be so lucky."

"If only there could be children, that would have been perfect," Jace said thoughtlessly, and yelped when Izzy stomped on his foot. 

Alec cleared his throat. "Izzy, Jace is not wrong. I cannot say I regret anything about marrying Magnus, but the duty of continuing our family line so that there will be an heir to the crown will fall to you, and I am sorry for that." 

"Blood is no indication of the ability to rule, and nor is it what makes a family, for is Jace not our brother as much as I am your sister?" Izzy scoffed. "Besides, coming to Edom has opened the eyes of our womenfolk. Here, a woman can be anything they want to be. Why would we need to be married to do any of it?" 

That gave Alec pause, and after a long while, he said, "You are right, of course. Many things can be changed, and we can make a different life for all our people. I am sorry not to have realised this sooner."

"Better late than never," Izzy teased, then added more seriously, "Did you not convene a council to rule in yours and Magnus' stead while you are away? You should keep it, if you are worried about our kingdoms being left without a leader."

"It was always our intention for the council to continue, but now I think I should include more womenfolk," Alec said. The council currently included Lucian, Ragnor, Raphael, Meliorn, Wayland, Cartwright, and Hypatia Vex, a noblewoman who had replaced Lorenzo as the representative of Spiral City. It seemed very much a war council still - they should also include more of the merchant lords, he decided. "I would like you and Mother to attend."

"Not for me, Alec, not if I can help it - you were always the one who was meant to wear the crown," she said, wrinkling her nose. "I would much rather go on the voyage to Araboth with you."

"No," Alec and Jace said immediately, in unison. 

"Are you going to try to forbid me from going?" she asked her brothers, steel in her tone. "Do not tell me that such a journey is not meant for a woman, for there are other women going - Maia, and some of Edom's female warriors. Catarina and Dot have many duties and cannot leave Edom, but you need a healer." 

"And you would leave our mother all alone here, while all her children go on a journey that we might not survive?" Alec demanded. 

Izzy lost a little of her fire at that. "Let us not talk of that right now," she finally said. "Today is your wedding day, and we should speak of happy things." Izzy had finished the braid now, and stepped back to examine her handiwork.

Jace took one look and snorted. "Whatever you want to be, Izzy, I hope it has nothing to do with braiding hair," he said, then had to dodge her foot again.

Just then, there was a knock on the door Jace went to open it, and Maryse stepped in. She shook her head in amusement when she saw Alec's hair and took over from Izzy, redoing the braid quickly and deftly. While she worked Jace went into the inner chamber to retrieve the ring that had been Magnus' grandfather's and the ruby necklace that Magnus had given Alec, as well as a heavy circlet of gold and diamonds made to look like a wreath of birch branches, that had been made for Alec in accordance to Edom's customs since it wasn't the way of Idris to have their king wear a crown. Alec kept very still while his mother put the ring and necklace on for him, and when she had placed the circlet on his head, he looked up to see that his mother was crying.

"Oh, my son," she whispered, and hugged him tightly. "I am so happy for you." 

Alec hugged her back, closing his eyes when he felt his siblings' arms go around them both as well, and his anxiousness about the evening's ceremony dissipated, for all was well in his life, for once.

 

  

Stepping into the grand hall with his brother and guards behind him, Alec was irresistibly reminded of walking in just like this a year ago, his gut heavy with dread and fear at the future that awaited him - so different from the soaring joy and anticipation he felt now. The hall was presently decorated with less extravagance, but with the addition of colourful hanging lanterns reminiscent of the ones he and Magnus had both enjoyed at the harvest festival. His family was seated at the dais, and there were his own people amongst the crowd, but most importantly, was Magnus standing there waiting for him - in hues of bronze and red, like he had decided to embrace his fire, and Alec's hair woven with his in a long braid that went across the top of his head down to a tail that reached his collar. He could see Magnus' face light up when he walked in, and felt his own lips curving into an answering smile because there was no hiding happiness like this. 

But before the wedding ceremony, there was something else that had to be done. Ragnor stepped forward with a heavy gold circlet that was almost a twin of Alec's, except that if one looked closer the branches were hemlock instead of birch, and Alec looked on with pride as Magnus formally accepted his title as King of Edom. And then, and only then, did he ascend the steps of the dais to stand in front of Magnus to face him as his equal. 

The wedding was a mixture of both their customs but Alec felt like he went through most of it in a daze. They mingled their blood in a cup and drank from it again, then there was the ceremonial sparring match where Jace had to issue a challenge to Magnus on behalf of Lightwood House to prove his fighting prowess, more play-fighting than any actual intent to hurt, which ended on a draw and with an exchanged gift of weapons. 

When it came to the time for Alec to mark Magnus' wrist with the wedded union rune, Magnus was obviously putting on a brave face, but he offered his hand to Alec without hesitation. Alec drew the rune quickly, then placed his palm over it, willing the pain away, and the people from Edom began to clap a little uncertainly. But those from Idris knew that there were vows to be spoken, words Magnus didn't know.

Looking into Magnus' golden eyes, Alec took a deep breath, before speaking loud enough for the whole hall to hear, "El and Elat as my witness, with this rune I give you my life and my death, both equally in your hands." 

Then Magnus surprised him by reciting the next verse, "As you have placed your seal upon my arm, so you have placed your seal upon my heart, and by your honour and mine, the binding is made."

"Hear, hear! El and Elat as their witness, the binding is made!" Jace shouted gleefully. "Idris and Edom, one family at last!" 

As the whole hall erupted in cheers and applause, Magnus held Alec's hand in his and raised them so that everyone could see the twin runes that now marked both their wrists. 

Although everyone was eager to propose a toast to the happy couple and offer their congratulations, Alec was surprised that they all backed off readily at midnight, and a cry started up amongst the guests that it was time for the newlyweds to retire to their chambers. Both he and Magnus were ushered out of the hall by a huge crowd, amidst some teasing and bawdy jokes, and by the time they finally reached their rooms, Alec knew that he was blushing. 

But when they were finally left alone, Alec's first concern was to examine Magnus' wrist, and the rune that had just been placed there. Alec had used magic to relief the pain but didn't dare to speed the healing in case it healed over completely with no mark, so the spot was still a little red and tender, and would likely remain so for a week or two.

"You didn't have to, you know," Alec said, cradling Magnus' wrist in his palms.

"Yes, but I know how much this rune means to you, and it was important to me for us to be properly married in the eyes of your people, as well as mine," Magnus replied, smiling. He indicated a package on a chair. "Jace brought me this together with the lock of your hair, and said that it was to be placed in our rooms. What is it?"

Alec unwrapped the cloth and showed the contents to Magnus. At Magnus' perplexed expression, Alec explained, "It is a piece of the hearthstone from Lightwood House. When my ancestors moved from the city that once was to the underground city, the only thing Lightwood House managed to salvage from the ruins was our hearthstone."

"We could always go back and bring it here," Magnus said gently.

Alec shook his head. "That won't be necessary, for I will make a new home with you here." He stood up to place the piece of hearthstone in front of the fire.

Magnus crouched down next to him and broke off a piece of the existing hearthstone by magic, then fixed the piece that had belonged to Lightwood House in its place. They smiled at each other, and Alec helped Magnus to his feet. 

It was only then that Alec noticed that food had been laid out on the table, far more than they needed right now - probably with a spell placed over it so it would remain fresh.  

"What's this for?"

"Newlyweds are not expected to leave their bedchamber for a few days," Magnus replied a little cheekily, and despite the number of times he'd already been with Magnus, Alec's face grew red again.  

Alec took refuge in examining the food that had been brought up for them, and was puzzled when he noticed an entire bowl full of honeycomb had been put in the place of honour in the middle of the whole display. 

"The wedding ceremony is not quite over, my love," Magnus said, taking the bowl from Alec and placing it back on the table but within easy reach. "We have vows of our own, but in Edom, the vows of marriage are exchanged on the wedding night, in private, for what goes on in a marriage is a couple's business, and nobody else's."

"Oh." Suddenly, Alec had the realisation that their first wedding ceremony had been as disappointing for Magnus as it had been for him, for they had not been in a position to do all the proper rituals, and was glad that they'd had the opportunity to do it all over again. "I do not know the words."

Magnus stepped closer, smiling. "Shall I teach them to you?"

"Of course."

"You shall not possess me, for I am my own person; but for as long as we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give." Magnus' tone became teasing as he continued, "Yours will be the eyes into which I smile in the cool of the morning, and the only name I cry aloud in the heat of the night."

Alec felt heat rising all the way from deep inside his body to his cheeks and his gaze as he caught Magnus' meaning.

"I will be your shield, your home, your fort, as you shall be mine." Magnus reached for the bowl of honeycomb, smearing honey on his fingers, and lifted his fingers to Alec's lips. "And the honeycomb will taste sweeter coming from my hand."

Alec parted his lips, and let Magnus push his fingers into his mouth, lapping at the honey with his tongue. He kept his eyes on Magnus' as he closed his lips around Magnus' fingers and sucked them clean, and Magnus' breath hitched. 

The tenderness between them when they were together had always been as natural as breathing, but this heat came easily as well. Magnus let his hand drop as Alec pulled him closer and claimed his mouth in a demanding kiss, their lips and tongues now both sticky sweet from the honey, and Magnus moaned as Alec slotted their bodies together and he became aware of how affected Alec was, his hands already flying to undo the buttons on Alec's tunic. 

Clothes were discarded everywhere in their haste, and they barely made it to the bed. Magnus broke away from touching and kissing Alec for a second to summon the bowl of honeycomb into their bedchamber, and Alec's chest ached with yearning as Magnus started trailing honey on his skin and tracing each path with his lips and tongue - on his lips, down his neck and in the hollow of his throat, on his chest and nipples, on the flat planes of his stomach to his navel, and then lower, and lower, until Alec was gasping and arching upwards into Magnus' mouth. It took only moments for Magnus to take Alec to his peak, and afterward, Alec let Magnus roll him onto his front. 

"Remember that I once promised to make you come undone with my tongue?" Magnus whispered into his ear, the evidence of his unsated arousal pressed against Alec and his weight pinning Alec to the bed. 

Alec nodded, his blood stirring again at the memory, and dug his knees under himself when he felt Magnus moving lower to spread him. He cried out in surprise at the sensation when Magnus' tongue delved into him, losing all sense of time as Magnus took him apart as he had promised, every lick and flick of his tongue making Alec's toes curl with pleasure. Magnus' fingers joined his tongue, and by the time he took himself in hand to breach Alec's body, Alec was already breathless from crying out Magnus' name. 

"My love," Magnus moaned, voice hoarse, when he finally filled Alec completely. "Oh my love, my Alexander."

Magnus was moving inside him, on top of him, the sweet ache of their joining both familiar and new, and Alec had never been more alive, feeling Magnus' heart beating in time with his. Magnus' magic enveloped them both like a warm tide, and in its ebb and flow they whispered words of love and promise, and then each other's names with increasing urgency, until they both surrendered to the overwhelming pleasure.

"I love you," Alec said, when he'd regained the ability to speak again.

"And I love you," Magnus replied, the simplest and truest wedding vow of all.

And that was how they fell asleep, with a long, slow kiss and a sigh, and a new day lightening the sky. 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Beloved as they both were of their people, for a period after the wedding, tensions between the people of Edom and Idris cooled a little, tempered by the celebratory mood and the fact that both sides could finally agree on two things - that their kings made a very handsome couple, and were obviously happily in love.

Magnus knew that the merging of their two kingdoms had been a major upheaval for both, but he was more optimistic than Alexander was about their people settling their differences. After all, in the months that had passed, some of the people of Idris had begun to find their own place in areas such as metal work, fishing, hunting, and mining, but most of all in the ranks of Edom's army, which had been depleted during Azazel's rule. He was also optimistic about the efficacy of the council he and Alexander had convened to make the necessary decisions when they were away. This was especially so after the addition of Maryse Lightwood and Lily, Raphael's lieutenant, as well as Tessa Gray, a merchant noblewoman and one of the more respected Idris-born Edom citizens, bringing their total number to twelve. This would leave them with ten council members when Magnus and Alexander left for Araboth, and they had already begun to involve the council in solutions to bridge the differences between their people.

Even with the council being involved in decisions and solutions, the world went on and there were always many demands on both Magnus' and Alexander's time; and yet, for ten golden days, Magnus was sorely tempted to forget about the rest of the world. He and Alexander were young men in the prime of their lives, newly married and in love, and even the weather seemed to indulge them with mild sunny days and warm breezy nights. They sneaked out into the castle gardens for stolen kisses, and exchanged smiles and looks when they happened to bump into each other while dealing with their separate duties that spoke so boldly of their affection for each other that it made the people around them smile. Magnus portalled Alexander to all his favourite quiet spots in the woods to admire night-blooming flowers and fireflies, and sometimes in the afternoons when they could bear it no longer, they would both excuse themselves on the pretext of needing to hold private counsel with each other and lose themselves in each other for a little while, a tease for the night's slow pleasure. 

"Your rune mark has healed well," Alexander noted one night, as they lay tangled under the bedclothes. 

"It has. I don't even feel it anymore - except when we are together like this," Magnus said teasingly, just to see his husband blush. It did still hurt, just a little, even with Izzy coming over with her special healing salve, but if he was honest, this small hurt was worth it for the look in Alexander's eyes every time he caught sight of it on Magnus' wrist - of wonder, and pure joy, and a quiet smile that he couldn't even begin to hide. Thinking of Izzy, though, reminded him of something else. 

"Your sister asked me when we were leaving for Araboth." 

Alexander frowned. "What did you tell her?"

"I can hardly answer a question we do not have the answer to yet," Magnus replied. 

"The ship is ready and loaded with supplies, those who have been selected to go on the voyage are awaiting our command. We can put it off no longer," Alexander said with a sigh, pulling Magnus closer.

"I know, my love," Magnus replied sombrely. "Lucian showed me the line of the coast when I was in Moonstone yesterday, and there is no denying that it has moved in significantly since I saw it last, only four days ago."

"Samael must suspect our plans, and is trying to cut us off from Araboth," Alexander said worriedly. "We must find time to speak to Ragnor tomorrow, and set a day for our departure."

"Let tomorrow's worries be tomorrow's," Magnus suggested, cupping his husband's face and kissing him gently. 

But tomorrow came in the blink of an eye, and the morning found them in the dusty recesses of the library. Ragnor had been most relieved to find all of his precious scrolls unmolested when they had returned to Edom, and had thrown himself into research on the prophecy and every possible legend on the Angels, as well as the mysterious land Raziel had called Araboth. Unfortunately, most of it was more of the same - the creation of humankind, the cruelty and destructive nature of the Angels, and the various accounts of the queen's prophecy were also more or less the same. The only thing they had that mentioned Araboth at all turned out to be the tapestry of the Seven Angels, the one Lilith had fallen asleep in front of as a child. Ragnor had rescued it from the room in the tower where it had been abandoned for years, made a few more detailed copies of the whole thing instead of just the map that had been on it, then sealed the tapestry in a box lined with adamas, since they did not know how Samael had managed to influence Lilith's mind through it. 

Ragnor was in his workroom, scribbling something on a parchment, and he smiled when they came in. "I had a feeling I would see the two of you today."

They rolled out Ragnor's newest copy of the map, adjusted to reflect the shifted coastline of Moonstone and new boundaries of the Drowned Lands as reported by their sentries. From what Raziel had said about Samael being trapped beneath the waves, they had figured out that he was the reason for the existence of the Drowned Lands; for the way it crept towards Edom instead of Idris, and for the poisonous nature of the water and soil from the place. This was why it was essential that adamas was being used in the construction of the ship that they would be using on their voyage, to mask the presence of the many magic users that would be on board the vessel. The ship had been constructed in Moonstone not just for the easy access to lumber, but also for its proximity to the ocean, and if the map was right, then they could sail around the Drowned Lands and reach Araboth by way of the longer route. The only problem was not knowing how long such a journey would take, or what other dangers might lurk in the uncharted waters.

"I have not been able to find any mention of Raziel, Samael, or even Gadreel in any of my scrolls. However, the tapestry is called the Seven Angels, and yet all that is on it is this map - until I noticed these," Ragnor said, running a finger along the decorative border. 

Magnus saw it immediately, now that Ragnor had pointed it out. There were seven creatures repeated in a motif around the tapestry, not all of them recognisable as common creatures of the air, land, or water, and a few stood out - some sort of bird of prey and a lion, the forms of the Angels that they had seen so far. They had no idea what form Raziel had taken since all that had been left of him in the lake had been his face, and neither Lilith nor Raziel had described Samael in any way, so it was impossible to know what he looked like. But the other five creatures in the motif were: a winged serpent, a creature somewhere between a lizard and a fish, a winged bull, a scorpion, and a toad-like creature. 

"Raziel said that he battled Samael across the land and skies, so they must be the only two winged creatures left," Alexander observed.

"Knowing what shape they take does not make me feel very much better about our chances of defeating them, especially since they are all immune to magic," Magnus said unhappily. "But putting it off will not make it any better, and I dread the havoc Samael could wreck on our hard-won and fragile peace. We should go while the people are still in a celebratory mood."

"I wish I could go with you, but I fear I would be more hindrance than help," Ragnor said with a sigh. 

Magnus smiled at Ragnor, and moved across the table to embrace him. "No, our people will need you and your wisdom. Remember, you are regent now, and you will make the final call on the council's decisions."

"A strange position for a lowly Scrollmaster to hold, to be sure," Ragnor huffed, then added quietly. "Go safe, old friend. And you as well, Alexander." 

"We will try," Magnus promised, and let go of Ragnor to smile at Alexander. "After all, we have much waiting here for us to return to."

 

 

They left two days later. The ship was a sight to behold - three masts standing tall and proud, a carving of a crow as the ship's figurehead, and with both Alexander's family crest of the burning tree and Magnus' insignia of the black cat on the flags and sails. Their journey had been painted as a joyous thing to their people - their kings sailing forth to slay a monster, to fulfil a glorious destiny that had already been written down in stone and where victory had been foretold. Those who were going with them knew a little better, of course. Besides Maia, Jace, and Underhill, all of Alexander's personal guard were going with them, as well as a mix of warriors from both Edom and Idris, a handful of servants, and two shifts of twenty crew each from Moonstone and Seelie who were confident of sailing the ship even without magic if necessary, captained by a seasoned sailor named Theo Monroe who had come highly recommended by Lucian and would be assisted by his daughter Gretel.

Lucian, Catarina, Dot, Raphael, and Ragnor had come to see them off, but Maryse and Izzy had preferred to say their farewells in private, although Magnus had honestly thought it strange that Izzy would choose to do that, given how close she was to her brothers and her general impatience with what was considered "proper" behaviour for a princess. It had taken a long time for the ship to cast off, for there had been many well-wishers and last minute cargo, and a chaos of people getting on and off the ship. But finally the tide began to go out and would not wait, and Magnus and Alexander stood at the deck of the ship, waving at the crowd that on the docks that had come to see them off until they were out of sight.

It took less than half a day for Magnus to get restless. They had made good time sailing with magical aid since they were far away enough from the Drowned Lands to risk it, but there was nothing to do on the ship other than to stare at the map and scrolls Ragnor had copied for them, trying in vain to find more information on the Angels and the land they were sailing to. He was also uneasy from the feeling of being surrounded by adamas again, not as bad as it had been in Idris - just a faint discomfort caused by the adamas in the hull and the sheer amount of adamas weapons on board, although it could just as well have been the waves slapping at the hull of the ship and the rocking motion of the vessel, for both Alexander and Jace seemed a little ill as well as they travelled further out into the open seas and rougher waters. 

"Let's go out to the decks, perhaps we'll all feel better with some fresh air," Magnus suggested. 

The cool wind did help a little, and the light spray of the sea on their faces as the ship zoomed forward was quite invigorating. They were far enough from Edom that the land was a vague shape in the distance, and all ahead was monotonous blue - the sea and the sky, stretching out with no end in sight. 

"This doesn't feel like the adventure I was expecting," Jace said, face twisted in a grimace and still a little green. 

And the waters only got more choppy as their journey progressed, the strength of the winds lending them great speed but also stirring up the surface of the ocean and sending their ship up and down waves that could occasionally be the size of hills. Neither Edom nor Idris had ever attempted a voyage so far out to sea in living memory, and Magnus now saw that their decision to include adamas in the construction of the ship had been pure blind luck, for it lent weight to the vessel and prevented their ship from getting completely overwhelmed. Some of the passengers on the ship, unaccustomed to sea travel, had gotten sick - Alexander and Jace included - and luckily someone in the kitchens had had a stroke of brilliance to hand out candied ginger root and ginger tea, and they made do until everyone found their sea legs.

The waters began to change. It had been blue before, bright and sparkling in the sun, with schools of flying fish and curious dolphins leaping in their wake, or filled with luminous jellyfish in the night; but gradually the waters turned darker and darker, and the dolphins and fish did not follow. Everyone was starting to grow weary from the tedium of the journey and the endless seascape, Magnus included, and yet the dark lifeless waters unnerved him, for they reminded him too much of the obsidian stagnant pools in the Drowned Lands despite Theo's assurances that they were still keeping their distance from the cursed land. 

Nine days into their journey, they all were awakened from their sleep when something jolted the ship. For some reason, the ship was no longer moving forward, and that movement had not felt like the rocking of the sea. Magnus was dressed and out of bed within minutes, and when he stepped out of the cabin looking for Theo, he heard a splash - then another, and another. He looked around in confusion, and was just in time to see two of the night crew let go of the ropes they were holding onto and fall into the water. 

"Stop!" Magnus cried out, but it was too late - something pale thrashed and flicked its tail against the side of the ship, and the two crew members vanished under the waves. 

Thankfully, his shout seemed to have caused the rest of the crew to snap out of their stupor, and there was a slight panic as the underwater monster surfaced briefly again, easily twice the size of their ship, its back like a pale island rising out of the dark water. Magnus caught sight of a dorsal fin, and the seaweed and barnacles clinging to its cracked, rocky exterior, but most of all he felt the pull of the adamas as the creature dived under the ship to come out at the other side.

"Come," it said, in that speech of the mind that the Angels had. "Come to Sachiel, for I hunger!

"Guard your minds! Don't listen to it!" Magnus called out. There were some side cannons on the ship even though their ship had been intended as simple transport rather than a warship, but Magnus doubted that they would be useful in such close quarters against the Angel. "We have to leave, right now!"  

The Angel slammed its tail against the ship again, as if hoping to shake its crew and passengers loose, and as the rest of the ship woke up, the decks began to swarm with people as everyone came out from the below decks to find out what was going on. In the chaos, Magnus finally spotted Gretel rallying what was left of the night crew to get the ship moving again despite the suddenly windless night, and Maia, Jace, and Underhill working together trying to calm everyone down and get everyone where they would be the most useful. Just as Magnus raised his hands to lend the crew a hand, Alexander appeared by his side with his bow and adamas-tipped arrows. He let one fly - and it must have found its mark, because the Angel screeched, and Magnus immediately took advantage of its distraction to summon a gale that caused the ship to lurch forward as the sails suddenly filled. 

The Angel swam in front of them to head them off, and when it raised its head out of the water with a hiss, they had the misfortune of getting a better look at it. It had a flat head like a lizard, its lower jaw more protruding than the top, but both were full of needle-like teeth, and Magnus saw its webbed front legs scrabble to grab onto the side of their ship as they swerved to avoid it. Alexander started to scale the main mast so he could see the Angel better and let loose another arrow before the creature could get a better grip on their ship, and a host of archers joined him on the decks as the rest of the crew pitched in to man the riggings. With Magnus' magic spurring the ship forward, they were almost able to stay ahead of it, but it caught hold of the rudder and began to drag the ship backwards. 

"It's taking cover under the ship!" Alexander called out in frustration. 

There was a sickening splintering sound, and for a moment they broke free of the Angel's hold - without their rudder. Magnus cursed but took advantage of their freedom to drive the ship forward, concentrating on putting as much distance as they could between them and the Angel. Even with their archers sending volley after volley of arrows at it, it continued to pursue them while repeating its siren call, and Magnus could see the crew - all Edom-born - begin to falter, and the Angel caught up with them again. This time, when it got under the ship it pushed upwards, causing the whole ship to tip forward as the Angel rose under it, and some people at the foredeck who had been unable to grab onto the railings in time fell overboard. Screams of terror began to fill the air as the incline of the ship grew sharper, and the ship screamed too as it was lifted out of the water, the planks creaking under the strain and the riggings groaning. There was nothing for it. Summoning all his magic, Magnus lifted the whole ship into the air. 

There were cries of surprise as their vessel flew, out of reach of the Angel in the water, and the Angel screeched in frustration. It snapped at the hull, and it was all Magnus could do to raise the ship high enough to be out of its reach, but he knew that it wasn't something he would be able to sustain for long. Then one of the servants rushed to the quarterdeck and threw a large jar overboard - the jar hit the Angel's back dead centre, and exploded with blinding force. 

Whatever Magnus had been expecting, it wasn't this. He was so shocked he almost lost control of the ship completely, and the vessel rocked precariously in the air. Beneath them, the Angel that had called itself Sachiel let out a high-pitched shriek as the force of the explosion cracked it into two, and it took all of Magnus' self-control not to let go of the ship and clutch his head from the pain of the sound ringing in his head. The black water turned silver with the adamas that bled out of the Angel, but horrifyingly the front half of the Angel still seemed to be capable of swimming around. The servant girl lobbed another jar of potion overboard, and even though she missed, just hitting the water close to the Angel seemed to be enough to trigger it, and the second explosion tore off one of Sachiel's remaining limbs. Defeated, it dove deep into the ocean and did not resurface, and the seething sea turned calm again.

Magnus heaved a sigh of relief and concentrated on landing their ship back in the water when it seemed like the coast was clear. Even in his distraction it hadn't taken him long to recognise the "servant girl", of course - she had covered her long black hair with a scarf in a way that hid part of her face, but the scarf had fallen off when she'd thrown the second jar, and the potion itself was a dead giveaway because it was Asmodeus' own concoction, the recipe to which had been given to Ragnor for safe-keeping. Izzy must have sneaked on board together with the servants, who had come on the ship first, not being recognisable enough to the Edom servants to raise any alarms. Alexander was marching across the deck in a fury towards his sister, and from across the deck he saw Jace moving towards them as well. 

"You were supposed to stay by our mother's side! You promised!" Alexander fumed. 

"I did no such thing," Izzy shot back. "I agreed to abide by our mother's decision, and she was the one who told me that she would be proud to see me following my heart. I had her blessings to go on this voyage."

"You've been on board this whole time? Where have you been?" Jace asked worriedly. 

"In the kitchens, with me," someone else piped up, and Magnus was horrified to see that Lord Lucian's daughter, his only surviving family, had apparently stowed herself away on their ship as well.  

"Anybody else who shouldn't have been on this ship?" Magnus finally asked wryly. 

"Me," a young man replied timidly. Magnus recognised him as Clary's minstrel friend, who had followed her faithfully all the way from Edom to Idris and back again. 

Alexander was speechless with fury, but Magnus knew it wasn't the time and place for this conversation, where all their crew and soldiers were watching what essentially amounted to a family squabble amongst the royal family. "Alexander, what is done is done, we can only go forward. A broken Angel may still return to cause us mischief, and we need to find out the extent of the damage to the ship and see how far off course we are," he reminded Alexander in an undertone. "Speak to your sister in private. I will take care of the rest."

Alexander took a deep breath, then nodded. He glared at his sister before stalking back to their cabin, and for a moment Magnus thought that Izzy might refuse to follow, but in the end her good sense won out, and Jace shook his head as he went after them both. Magnus eyed Clary and the minstrel, who at least had the good grace to look apologetic, and sighed in resignation. He had after all promised the late Lady Jocelyn that her daughter would always have his favour, and he supposed that boon was extended to the childhood sweetheart she was supposedly betrothed to. 

"I'll speak with you in a while, but I have more pressing matters to attend to at the moment," he told them, then hailed one of the other servants. "Prepare rooms for Princess Isabelle, Lady Clary and her betrothed."

"Oh! But we are not..." they protested in unison, and Magnus couldn't say he was surprised. 

"I am only a minstrel, I am perfectly happy below the decks with the rest of the servants," the young man insisted, and was only too glad to be dismissed. 

Once the stowaways were taken care of, Magnus sought out Theo and Gretel. Unfortunately, there was no good news to report - they had lost Theo and a handful of crew to the Angel, and the damage that the Angel had wrought tearing off the rudder and roughing up the ship meant that the hull had been severely weakened. 

"We have also drifted far closer to the Drowned Lands in the night," Gretel reported with her head bowed with sorrow at losing her father and trembling with fear at Magnus' possible wrath. "I'm sorry, my liege - we have been amiss in our duties and allowed ourselves to be misled by the Angel."

"It is not your fault, I know how powerful its call can be, and I am very sorry for your loss. But if you say that the ship will only be able to last another day or two without repairs, then we have no other choice," Magnus said with a frown. "Adjust our course - we sail towards the Drowned Lands."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

  

Alec had been a fool to think that Izzy would be turned aside from following them on their journey so easily, and more the fool to think that his resourceful sister wouldn't have managed to enlist the help of others to hoodwink him and Magnus. Izzy had strolled into the cabin he shared with Magnus with great dignity, as if to show that she was above Alec's anger, then perched herself delicately on one of the chairs and crossed her arms, meeting Alec's eyes with her chin held high. Alec scowled, but waited until Jace had closed the door behind him before he began to speak.

"What were you thinking?" he demanded.

"That you needed a healer, or at least someone who knew why Catarina had insisted on loading three barrels of candied ginger," Izzy replied pointedly. 

"Oh," Jace said as realisation dawned.

"But we did bring a healer recommended by Meliorn, someone named Kaelie," Alec said with a frown. 

"She found herself suddenly indisposed," Izzy replied smugly. 

Alec glared at her. "This isn't like sneaking out with us to go hunting, or slipping out into the woods for herbs when Mother's back is turned." 

"I know that, of course I know that. Do not treat me like I am a petulant child upset about being separated from her playmates," Izzy snapped.

"Isn't it what this is?" Alec countered. "You've chosen to leave Mother all alone in Edom, so that you wouldn't be left behind."

"Did you think it was easy for me to leave our mother behind? Besides, if you were so worried about Mother, why didn't you make Jace stay by Mother's side instead? Why me?" Izzy demanded. "The truth is, you may be willing to see women as your equals on a council, but you still think that because I am a woman, I need protecting, that I am weak. Do not insult us both by pretending otherwise."

"Izzy, you're one of the bravest and strongest people I know," Alec said quietly. "Don't you think that if I was brave enough to do this alone, and leave all of you behind in the safety of Edom - you, Jace, even Magnus, if he hadn't been part of the prophecy - that if I could, I would? But you see, if we don't come back from this journey, I thought that if any of us could survive it and go on, it would be you." 

Izzy looked up at him, stricken, and for a long while none of them could speak.

There was a knock on the door, and Jace stepped aside to let Magnus in. Magnus frowned when he sensed the mood in the room, but Alec nodded and indicated that he wasn't intruding on the conversation. 

"There has been a change of plans. The ship is too damaged to continue on the route we charted, so we must head to the Drowned Lands to dock," he told them, then turned to Izzy. "Izzy, please tell me you do not have more of those potions onboard."

"There is one jar left," she admitted. 

"Then we must get rid of it, right now," Magnus said firmly. "Ragnor would not have told you how to make them if he had known you were going to smuggle some onto the ship. Surely he must have told you how dangerous they are, how unpredictable and volatile they are, especially on a ship of adamas!"

"It is true that magic is required to keep the potion docile, but I am not that reckless," Izzy said defensively. "I made a few batches of potion weeks ago, and took note of how long the dampening spell lasted when surrounded by adamas. As long as it is fed some magic once a day to rejuvenate the spell, the potion is safe. After all, I have managed to keep the potions from exploding all throughout our voyage so far, haven't I?"

"But you haven't had the chance to check on the spell since we were attacked by Sachiel, which is twice the size of our ship and has pure adamas flowing through its veins," Magnus observed, frowning. Izzy's mouth fell open in horror, but thankfully Magnus had already managed to locate the jar of potion onboard. He summoned it to their cabin and quickly sent a forceful jolt of magic into the glowing jar, and they all let out a sigh of relief when the churning potion froze again. 

"Sweet El's mercy, that was too close for comfort," Jace said. 

"Yes, and no thanks to me," Izzy agreed, a little shame-faced. 

"In all fairness, the potion did work very well against the Angel - probably much more effective than arrows carrying soggy gunpowder, though we didn't get the chance to find out," Magnus said. "We could probably keep this one for emergencies, but we will have to keep a closer watch on it."

"What gunpowder? Aren't those your normal arrows?" Jace asked Alec in surprise. 

Alec huffed in exasperation. "I should have known that you weren't paying attention when you were attending the meetings. Magic doesn't work and adamas alone isn't enough, so we knew we needed something explosive, that would be strong enough to shatter stone," he explained. "We had suspected that there would probably be a water-dwelling Angel, but we had erroneously assumed that we would be able to avoid it completely if it was in the Drowned Lands."

"Unfortunately, we've neither been able to avoid that Angel, nor will we be able to avoid the Drowned Lands," Jace noted unhappily. "How do we cross the Drowned Lands to get to Araboth? The water is poison, and legend says there are monsters in the fog." 

"There are a few small boats in the hold meant for emergencies, which have also been fitted with adamas. Hopefully they will be enough to help us complete the journey. In the meantime, the ship's carpenters will do their best to repair the damage to the ship for the return journey," Magnus said. 

"But the boats are small. We will probably be able to take a dozen people with us at the most, in addition to supplies," Alec said musingly. Izzy looked at him beseechingly, as if he would even have the heart to leave her behind now that she was already here, and Alec sighed. "Go pack your things, Izzy, and pack light."

 

 

It took them a little over a day to reach the marshland. Nobody had known how land had mysteriously sprouted in the middle of the ocean, but now that they knew of the battle between Raziel and Samael, they could guess what must have happened; when Samael had fallen from the skies, he must have landed in the ocean with such force that he had been sucked down into the sea bed, and the displaced mud had been pushed out to the surface when the Angel had become at least partially buried. Ragnor had told them that there were scrolls in the library recounting past attempts to get a better view of the Drowned Lands by sending birds over the marshland and trying to see through their eyes, but they had all been thwarted by the thick fog that covered the land. The tide was high now, salt water rushing in and covering what they could see of the Drowned Lands. It could have been mistaken for a particularly dark section of the ocean, if not for the tangled mats of rotting vegetation that floated on the black waves, and the skeletons of trees looming in the fog. 

Gretel guided their ship as far inland as it could go, but it was a heavy vessel and the hull soon lodged itself in the sticky mud that was currently covered by the waves. They waited for the tide to recede, the pitch black water bubbling and frothing around the hull of the ship, and as it fell away from the marshland, it revealed more than just black mud: driftwood, rocks, rotting seaweed, but most of all bleached white bones of all shapes and sizes, human, animal, and monster. The receding tide also revealed a broad path of slightly deeper water cutting through the water-logged land, which could probably be called a river if one was feeling generous. 

The Drowned Lands had always emitted a foul stench, but here with the salt water of the ocean mixing in and diluting the black water of the marsh, the stench was more bearable. Alec, Magnus, Jace, Izzy, Maia, and Underhill gingerly climbed down from the ship by way of a rope ladder, their boots sinking and squelching in the mud and slime, and immediately Alec could feel the poisoned water eating into the soles of his boots.

"Are you sure the boats will hold?" he asked Magnus in an undertone as some of the other warriors began to climb off the ship to join them. 

"They won't, but there is little we can do about that," Magnus replied. "There is still some daylight left. I suggest we make the most of it and start our journey across the Drowned Lands as soon as we can, and the sooner we start the sooner we'll be done."

Any arrangements that had to be made were made quickly. The team of carpenters had assured them that they could work with the wood from the dead trees to patch up the ship, and Gretel was put in charge of overseeing the ship and everyone they had to leave behind. There were a total of three smaller flat-bottomed boats, each one capable of comfortably holding seven to eight people, but there were weapons and supplies to think of. In the end, it was decided that they would only take six other warriors with them, bringing the total number to twelve; Alec and Magnus in one boat, then Izzy with Jace, and finally Underhill with Maia, and the other six warriors distributed evenly between the three boats. Izzy had not been pleased, as she claimed that she had made a pact with Lord Lucian's daughter to help each other sneak onto the ship so they could be included on the voyage.

"Izzy, we do not have space for a girl with no particular talent and a minstrel looking for a song that will make his name," Alec said impatiently.

"But Clary does have a talent - she can make people forget that they have seen her, and has magic that makes her fade into the background. That's how we all managed to get onto the ship," Izzy said. "Think of how useful that could be if we are faced with a foe that we cannot defeat!"

"If you are friends, then leave her behind. She will be safer here, Izzy. And don't forget, magic doesn't work on the Angels - there is no guarantee that her talent will be of any use to us here," he told her firmly. 

They were ready to leave when the shadows were just starting to grow long, pushing off into the fog and into the unknown. The boats were propelled forward by magic, but all four passengers on each boat took turns wielding the long wooden poles meant for steering the boats. It was eerily quiet. There were no insects buzzing, bird calls, or any sounds that might indicate that there were other living things in the grey fog, just the gentle splashes made by their boats sliding sluggishly through the black water. Once, and only once, Alec saw a dark shape under their boat, some sort of water beetle grown to monstrous proportions - but it was repelled easily enough with a blast of magic from Magnus. Gradually the smell of the salt of the ocean faded, to be replaced entirely with the sickly, heavy smell of rotten things. They could not see where they were going, so they followed the river because it seemed reasonable to assume that the river had its source on higher ground, which surely had to be in Araboth, but Alec also feared that the river's path might bring them too close to the middle of the Drowned Lands where Samael was imprisoned. 

They stopped as night began to fall, unsure of whether they should continue their journey in the darkness. On one hand, the lack of sunlight made very little difference to visibility, and already the wooden poles were showing signs of damage from the water, which meant that the bottoms of their boats probably weren't faring much better. But on the other hand, perhaps it was just the animal instinct not to venture blindly into darkness that made all of them hesitate, even those of them from Idris, who were used to the dark underground - or it could be that they were held back by a more primal sense of self-preservation, a feeling that there was something hiding in the darkness ahead.

They remained stuck in a quandary, until they heard the screams.

It meant losing the few hours of progress they had made, but still they went back to the ship, only to find that they were far, far too late. Sachiel must have been following their ship, and it had finally caught up with them and pulled itself up onto the muddy bank where the ship had been anchored. The Angel was hanging onto the ship with its one remaining leg while its belly dragged in the mud, and scattered all around the muddy beach were the twisted bodies of what had remained of the crew and warriors who had come with them on their voyage - still intact, because what a stone Angel ate was not flesh and bone but magic. It was tearing the ship apart with its jaws, obviously trying to get at something, or someone. But when it sensed them approaching, it turned its gigantic head and those huge, blank silvery eyes towards them, and opened its mouth wide. 

"Come to Sachiel," it said as it turned away from the ship and began to slither and drag itself towards them, moving far more quickly than should have been possible for a stone creature missing most of its limbs and half its body. 

The shock of coming back to this carnage was wearing off, but what replaced it was not fear but rage. Alec had his bow out and three arrows nocked before the Angel could come near, and he shot them one after another right into the yawning mouth. A snap of Magnus' fingers was all it took to ignite the gunpowder on the last arrow just before it vanished into the body of the Angel. The Angel shrieked, then glowed briefly as the gunpowder went off and cracked it right through the middle lengthwise and split it into two. 

Terrifyingly, it continued to speak - "Come," it repeated, but Alec and Magnus barely spared it a glance, already running towards the wreckage of the ship. 

"Is anybody in there?" Magnus bellowed, flinging aside broken beams, and together they scaled the ruined ship, careful to avoid weakened planks and tangled ropes dangling from the teetering masts.

They followed the answering cries to the ship's galley, where they discovered a handful of servants, Clary, and her minstrel friend - all that remained of the fifty or so people they had left behind on the ship. Alec could see Magnus' sorrow and guilt in the slump of his shoulders, and wordlessly took his hand in his. Sachiel was only the first Angel they'd met on their journey, and already their losses had been severe. 

"We mustn't linger. We have to keep moving," he said. 

Magnus nodded wearily. "The sooner we get going, the sooner we'll be done."

 

 

This became almost a mantra in the days that followed. The boats lasted four days before they fell apart, and their shoes barely lasted one. They kept to the banks of the shallow river as best as they could, but when the tide came in everything was covered by at least a few inches of black water, and there was no choice but to grit their teeth against the pain and keep going. Every rocky outcrop was a relief, the temptation to linger so great that it took even Alec great force of will to move on, and they left a trail of discarded items behind them, things that had seemed essential then but felt frivolous now, just extra weight that needed to be carried - salt meat that just made them even thirstier, extra weapons, and blankets were discarded even though the nights were cold and they were constantly wet, in favour of simply piling on any extra clothing they had thought to bring. Izzy had been stubborn about her medicines and potions at first, but in the end even most of these were abandoned, leaving them with that one jar of explosive potion and all the healing salves she had brought. Magnus expended much of his magic trying to heal everyone every time they had a chance to rest, but magic and Izzy's salves could only do so much when they were almost constantly on the move, and their skin had no respite from the bite of the water. Alec had suffered all manner of injuries in his years as a soldier, but there was nothing as draining on the spirit as having to keep walking all day and night on feet covered in blisters and cracked, bleeding skin. Even after the pain had reached a point where Alec thought that surely his feet had gone numb and he should no longer be able to feel the pain anymore, the black marsh water would agitate the open wounds and unleash a fresh wave of torment.

But there was a silver lining - although they could not see the stars to navigate and only had the river's path to follow, as they went deeper into the Drowned Lands, Magnus only grew surer that they were on the right track. While even Alec could feel the pull of the adamas to their left, a pull as strong as the mountains of Idris themselves, Magnus could feel a second force ahead of them - something that called to his magic, that he said felt like being able to glimpse a refreshing lake of cool water from afar, and Alec was sure that without Magnus' optimism they would have never been able to keep going. 

There were a total of twenty-three people in their party now, and even though they were all following their kings without complaint, Alec could tell that the realities of the quest had sunken in, and some were beginning to regret ever coming. They couldn't move as quickly as they would have liked, for not all of them were accustomed to the physical demands of the journey, and yet they couldn't leave anyone behind.

So when the first three of their group vanished in the night, nobody thought too much of it. It was disheartening, of course, but any manner of things could have befallen them - they had all stopped to rest on a rocky outcrop and catch a few winks of sleep, and everyone was so exhausted that they could hardly be blamed for not noticing if the soldiers had slipped away to find their own fates, abandoning their quest. A fourth person had disappeared the next night, this time a servant, who had been lagging behind and weeping over the state of his feet, and there were some whispers that he had spoken about being so tired of mind and body that he didn't want to go on.

But on the third night, they were all awoken by a scream that hadn't been stifled in time, and jerked awake just in time to see something snatch three of the people from their group and drag them into the night. Magnus immediately cast a brilliant ball of light to hang above their heads, and although there was nothing to see but fog, they definitely heard something moving out there in the gloom.

They waited with bated breath, eyes straining to see movement in the darkness and the fog; then something shot out and wrapped itself around Maia and Jace, then dragged them out of sight.

Underhill had reached out to grab Jace on instinct and vanished as well, letting out a yell. Magnus sent his ball of light ahead and they all gave chase, but within moments the three of them emerged from the fog. 

"Run!" Maia cried. 

They took off as fast as they could, feet screaming in agony, and when Alec chanced a glance behind them he saw the indistinct shape of a huge creature the size of a house. He paused to fire off an arrow, igniting the gunpowder as it left his bow, and when the flaming arrow struck its stony exterior, it briefly provided enough light for Alec to see that they were being pursued by a toad made of stone, with a row of spikes down its back and only one huge silvery eye in the middle of its head - an Angel. It shot out its long tongue to grab him, and he almost stumbled into the dark river trying to avoid it. Jace reached out to steady him, and they kept running, looking over their shoulders occasionally to see that it was still pursuing them. Unlike the other Angels, this one couldn't or wouldn't speak, only darting out its tongue now and then to try to snag one of them, and although it didn't seem capable of moving very quickly, neither could they. 

Then, inevitably, the minstrel stumbled and fell. Clary turned back for him, and Izzy turned back for Clary, but his sister showed no fear as she faced the Angel head-on. She sent the jar of explosive potion hurtling towards the Angel, then helped Clary pull the minstrel to his feet and out of the way of the Angel's tongue just in time. Distracted with trying to catch them, the Angel didn't seem to notice the jar rolling towards it - until the jar hit its front leg and exploded right in its face. They all ducked down to avoid the shower of acidic mud and the blinding light, and when their eyes had adjusted back to the gloom, they were just in time to see the Angel melting silently into the fog, seeming to give up the chase - and part of its tongue broken off and lying limp a few feet away from them.

But they had been fooled once into complacency with Sachiel, and would not make the same mistake again. They kept on running throughout the night, helping each other every time their feet faltered, and perhaps it was wishful thinking but Alec thought the fog around them seemed to be growing thinner as the sun started to rise. Finally, they found a rocky surface large enough for all of them to rest, and Izzy handed out what was left of her healing salves while Magnus helped Maia and Jace with the adamas burns around their backs and waists where the Angel's tongue had coiled around them.

"They were still alive," Maia said suddenly, her expression sombre.

"What?" Magnus said with a frown.

"The people it caught tonight. It had us at its mouth when we stabbed it in the roof of its mouth with our adamas blades, and we could see right into its belly," Jace explained. 

They all spared the ones they had lost a moment of silence in mourning, and Alec stared out into the fog. The Angel had disappeared without a trace, although it might still come back for them when night fell again. Alec doubted they would be able to save the ones it had already taken, but he did wonder why it had decided to take them alive. It seemed like a terrible way to die - far better to die swift and clean, than to be imprisoned in the belly of a monster.

Then he felt Magnus' hand on his arm. "Alexander, look," Magnus said.

There was a handful of feathery-looking grey stalks in his hand, pulled from a patch growing not too far from him. They were very similar to the plants they had seen growing on the Angel Gadreel, and they weren't dead and rotting but alive, and for the first time Alec realised that the rock they were sitting on was dry.

The relief Alec felt was mirrored in Magnus' face. "We're almost there."

"Come, everyone," Magnus called out, getting to his feet with renewed fervour. "Araboth awaits."

 

Chapter Text

 

 

At first, Magnus had mistaken it for another Angel. 

He'd sensed it up ahead of them before they even reached dry land. It didn't feel as strong as Samael or Raziel, or even Sachiel, but Magnus didn't quite trust his senses anymore since the pull of Samael in the Drowned Lands easily overwhelmed any other presence, which was how he had failed to notice the toad-like Angel. The ground had been steadily getting less muddy and the banks of the river had been getting steeper as the river dug deeper into clay, then rock, the fog all around them had thinned considerably, and the wispy grey plants had been growing in larger clumps as they journeyed further upriver. Meanwhile, the presence grew stronger and stronger, until they finally spotted a few lumpy hillocks up ahead, all covered in the wispy grey plants - which could just as easily have been an Angel laying low.

They approached cautiously, but the hillocks did not come alive. Instead, they turned out to consist of the same type of stone that the Angels' vessels were made of, pale grey shot through with veins of silvery adamas. They were obviously the crumbling ruins of something, but didn't seem to have been in the shape of any recognisable animal. Magnus thought they may once have been part of a building, or a doorway. 

"Perhaps this used to be an arch like that one," Alexander suggested, squinting into the distance.

Magnus looked to where he was pointing, and immediately saw something that did look like a great stone arch suspended high in the hazy sky, with no visible means of support - like a rainbow made of stone. The fog lingering around them made it hard to be sure, but Magnus thought he saw another similar arch even further away, partially obscured by the clouds. From where they stood, they could see the black river winding through a flat, grey landscape of feathery plants that stretched out as far as the eye could see, where nothing moved except the wind caressing the plants and making them sway gently in the breeze. 

"Getting to that arch will take us at least two days," Maia observed, then frowned at looked around at the state that their little group was in. "Or maybe more."

Magnus frowned. Discarding the salt meat had been practical and necessary, and now all that they had left for food was dry ship's biscuits, but while unfortunately food wasn't one of the things he could use magic to make more of, there was still enough of it to last all sixteen of them maybe a couple of weeks. What worried Magnus was the shortage of water, for the black water of the river remained undrinkable despite all of Magnus' attempts to transform it, and they had not expected to travel so far by foot. 

Portalling without any prior knowledge of the destination was impossible, but now that the fog had cleared and they could see the way ahead, Magnus concentrated and drew up a portal that would take them as far as he could see, past the first arch. They should have been able to see the corresponding portal open in the distance, but although their view was unobstructed from their vantage point on top of the hillocks, nothing appeared. Alexander shook his head uneasily, and Magnus had to say he agreed - they couldn't risk it. 

"At least our feet are finally dry," Jace said bracingly.

It was definitely a relief to have the wounds on their feet properly tended to, and it was decided that they could spare the remaining daylight hours taking turns sleeping - the first real rest they'd had in far too long. It was a risk, of course - even with four of the Angels incapacitated, there were still three of them somewhere, their greatest worry being that the toad-like one would return under the cover of night. But they were only flesh and blood, and sleep would make the journey ahead more bearable.  

They fashioned crude sandals out of mats of woven stalks of the plants that grew all around them, strengthened by magic, and by sunset they were ready to continue their journey again. The river led to the arch in the sky, so it seemed reasonable to keep to its banks, especially since there were no other defining landmarks. Strangely enough, Magnus had to admit that he felt almost buoyant, tired and hungry as they were. Part of it was probably the fact that they had finally left the Drowned Lands behind after several torturous days, and he was glad to be able to walk with almost no pain, but there was something about the land that they now travelled that made the magic in his blood sing. The Angel Raziel had called Araboth the font of all magic, and Magnus thought he understood, because exhausted as he was, using magic here was as easy as breathing. When night had fallen, they had decided that it would be safer to travel with some light even if it did reveal their location to any foes, and when Magnus had tried to conjure a light for all of them, he had overdone it completely - the ball of light that sent floating above them was so bright that it felt like they walked in daylight.

And he wasn't the only one who felt it. They had all been looking and listening out for any signs of movement around them, and when the minstrel Simon had accidentally dropped the water-skin he had been drinking from, nobody was more surprised than Underhill when Underhill had instinctively reached out to stop the water-skin from falling to the ground and spilling precious water, and had accidentally arrested its fall by magic, his hands still inches away from the water-skin. Underhill had plucked the water-skin from where it was suspended in the air in a daze, handing it over to Simon, then stared down at his hands in wonder. Of what remained of their party, seven of them were Idris-born, and as these accidental displays of magic began to happen more frequently amongst them, there was no denying that the magic was waking up within them.  

 

 

They encountered no other Angels or living creatures, and they made good time, reaching the first arch in less than two days. Up close, the structure didn't look any less fantastical - an enormous arch that could have spanned Edom's capital, wide enough that Magnus wondered if it was intended to be some sort of bridge, just hanging from the sky. Now that they had left the fog of the Drowned Lands completely behind them, they had a clear view of the way ahead. Magnus had been right about there being another similar arch further ahead; in fact, there were four more arches behind this one, curving over the river. The river's winding path led to a mountain, and when the light hit just right, they could sometimes see the pearlescent white building nestled at the top of the mountain. 

They stopped right at the threshold of the arch and Alexander skipped a pebble under it to the other side. Nothing happened to the pebble. Alexander looked up at the arch with a frown, but it was too large, and Magnus had a feeling that they would not be able to skirt around it. 

"I fear that this is a trap. What is the purpose of this arch?" Alexander said.

"I don't know, but I think there is only one way to find out," Magnus replied. He held out his hand to his husband, and they crossed the threshold together. 

They stepped out of a world of grey and into a riot of life and colour. 

There was springy grass underneath their feet, the gentle scents of a thousand wild flowers, and beautiful towering trees all around them heavy with low-hanging fruit of every vibrant shade imaginable. But most surprising of all, was the butterflies and birdsong, and shimmering rainbow trout that had suddenly appeared in the crystal clear waters of the river. Magnus was so thrown that for a while he could only stand there taking it all in.

"What is this place?" Izzy gasped as the rest of them crossed the threshold as well. 

Magnus glanced behind him - the landscape of grey that they had just spent two days traversing was gone. In its place was more of this lovely greenery and life... or at least the illusion of it.  

"Be careful. I do not think everything here is all what it seems," Alexander commanded, having noticed the same thing. 

They explored the place with great wariness, and Magnus soon came to the realisation that there was indeed something strange. It was too neat, too orderly - all the trees carefully sculpted, the flowering shrubs too beautifully arranged, with none of the wild delight of nature's chaos. This was a garden, which meant that there had to be a gardener. Still, it did not change the fact that they had been subsisting on dry ship's biscuits for weeks, and that there were so many ripe fruits hanging within easy reach that their sweet scents were making all their mouths water.

In the end, it was Jace who finally caved. "Looks like an apple," he observed, pulling a particularly beautiful specimen off a branch, and sniffing it. "Smells like an apple."

"Jace," Alexander said warningly, but Jace had already bitten into it before Izzy could snatch it out of his hand. Jace let out a groan, then wolfed the whole thing down, core and all, then quickly reached out for another.

"Jace!" Izzy cried out, aghast, but Jace shook his head, his mouth too full to talk.

"It's just an apple, Iz," he finally said a little plaintively.  

When Jace showed no ill effects from eating half a dozen apples, other than the consequences of the imprudence of eating that many of them so quickly, the rest of them gave in. That day, they ate their fill from the array of fruits that grew in the garden, thirst finally slaked and hunger satisfied. The next day, they dared to taste the water, and attempted to catch the fish that swam in the river with a combination of bare hands and magic, and were duly rewarded for their efforts. They found a lake to wash in, the first time in what seemed like forever that Magnus had felt clean and refreshed. At first, they climbed up in the trees to sleep, but soon it became clear that there were no large predators in the garden, and they felt safe enough to move to the ground. They didn't even need a fire at night, for the weather in the garden was always mild and warm, and even if there was always only a sliver of a moon, there were also always fireflies in the bushes. Magnus still loved Alexander, of course he did - but that feeling had become muted, like an ever-present warmth on his back that he didn't think too much of but knew would always be there, and even touching each other or finding pleasure in each other seemed unnecessary, for just being here together like this was enough. 

Sometimes, Magnus got the niggling feeling that he had forgotten something, something very important - but more often than not, the feeling would be dismissed almost as soon as it came upon him, for it all seemed trivial in the face of the contentment in their lives now. 

 

 

Then, one day, the earth shook with a violent earthquake. They had been asleep when it happened, and woke up in a confusion. Magnus couldn't remember something like this happening since... then things became a bit hazy, because it felt like they had always lived in the garden, but he also knew that that wasn't quite true. The ground had stopped shaking but the unease remained, and Magnus found himself frowning up at the crescent moon in the sky, wondering if he had ever seen it full before. It was like picking at a single loose thread in a tapestry, and it all unravelled in a rush of memories - the quest, the Angels, the prophecy, the duty he and Alexander had to their people - and with a growing panic he found that he didn't know how many days they had lost being trapped in the enchantment of the garden.  

"Magnus, what's wrong?" Alexander murmured, brows furrowed with worry at Magnus' distress.

"Alexander, we must leave."

"Leave? Why? To where?"

"Alexander, you have to remember. We were supposed to find the palace with seven halls, and the jujube tree that grows within it," Magnus said a little desperately, when Alexander continued to seem perplexed.

"Why do you seek the Tree?"

Dread clawed at Magnus' gut. The Angel's voice seemed to come from all around them, but he couldn't sense its presence anywhere. 

"Who wants to know?" Alexander called out, tone sharp and alert, and Magnus was relieved to see that at least the Angel's voice had broken its own enchantment.

"I am Shamsiel," the Angel replied. 

"Release us from your hold!" Jace demanded.

"My hold?" the Angel sounded puzzled. "You were always free to go. The garden is a place of rest, and peace, not a prison."

"You tricked us. There must be something in the food, or the water," Maia insisted. "We know your kind - you feed on us, on our magic."

The Angel Shamsiel laughed, not unkindly. "Why would I need to feed on the magic in your veins, when it beats like a living heart under the very ground we stand on? You are in the domain of the Angels now, where we were meant to live forever; it is only those who were banished or trapped in the world outside who need to resort to feeding on you. All I offer is a sanctuary, and it is your own mind and body that betrays you, your own weariness of the world that keeps you here. "

"There is always a price," Magnus said. 

"Indeed, that is true," the Angel conceded. "Those who choose to dwell in my garden will never grow old and die, but at the cost of the memories and feelings of that which bind you to the world beyond the garden - for that is the only way to know peace."

"Are you saying that if we stay here, we will live forever?" Izzy whispered in amazement.

"Nothing ever truly changes, not in my garden," Shamsiel agreed. "A hundred years from now, you will still be as you are now, feel exactly the same both in body and mind."

Magnus could see the temptation. The garden was a beautiful place, and he could admit that he had been content in the days they had spent here. But they all had other loved ones they had left behind - Ragnor, Catarina, Maryse, just to name a few - and promises to keep, a kingdom to lead. And if they stayed here, content as they were, they would be suspended from feeling, from interest, from life itself. Being content was not the same as knowing true joy, not at all.

"If you seek the Tree in hopes of gaining more magic for yourselves, I am afraid you have been misled by tall tales. The Tree can give you nothing that my garden already does," Shamsiel continued. "Why risk the perils of the other Angels' realms when you could stay here and be safe and content?

"We seek the Tree not for our own sakes, but at the behest of Raziel," Jace started to explain, before Alexander could stop him. 

"Oh? And what would Raziel need mortals to do for him?" Shamsiel asked, his voice taking on an edge. "Could it be that you are the ones that Ramiel dreamt of all those centuries ago, the ones who would burn everything to ash?

The ground beneath their feet rumbled, though not quite as violently as the earthquake that had woken them up, and from the bowels of the earth, Magnus felt the Angel climbing closer to them. They all took a few steps back, and after a while the ground heaved, and a silvery pincer the burst out of the soil, followed by another pincer, and then many legs and the armoured body of a scorpion the size of a horse, and finally two long tails both tipped with wicked barbs. Unlike the other Angels, Shamsiel wasn't rock filled with adamas - instead, its entire surface was iridescent with the metal under the moonlight, and Magnus thought it might have actually been made of solid adamas, since the pull of it was immense for its relatively smaller stature. It waved its tails threateningly at them, but Magnus noticed that Shamsiel's head was heavily scarred, and he was almost certain that it had been blinded.

"It is true that we are the ones from the prophecy," Magnus said quickly, "but it does not mean that we are forced to fulfil it. We merely seek to free Raziel and kill Samael - that's all. It would be a pity to destroy all of this." It was all a mix of truth and lies, but although Shamsiel was blind, it seemed its other senses were as keen as a knife's edge.

"Choice. What a strange concept. A part of you truly believes that this was your own choice, as if something as insignificant as one mortal man can stand in the way of Fate and hope to stop the wheel," the Angel observed.

This was something Magnus and Alexander had talked about while they lay in bed together before they'd set sail for Araboth - whether what they were about to do was fulfilling the prophecy simply because they were following a path that they thought had been set out for them, whether the voyage was really necessary. In the end, they had decided that prophecy or not, this was a journey they would have undertaken anyway simply because Lilith believed, and the Angels believed, and if they did not strike first, they would only risk luring the Angels and the destruction they wrought to Edom.

"I still remember when Samael convinced Ramiel to send his vision to your queen so that this future would never come to pass, and yet here you are anyway." Shamsiel cocked its great head in Magnus' direction, as if considering him. "You are strange creatures," it finally said. "I have never had the opportunity to observe any of you, and now that I have, you all seem so small, so young, and unfinished. And yet... and yet, because there is so much more you can grow to be, it sometimes feels like you all contain universes within yourselves. Maybe the time of the Angels is truly over."

"Does this mean that you will help us to get to the Tree?" Alexander asked.

Shamsiel settled down on the ground, tucking its legs under itself. "There are seven realms in Araboth, each belonging to an Angel. Bardiel the Bitter guards the first, the one closest to the mortal realm. When Raziel and Samael battled across the land and sky, they destroyed some of the doors that kept the realms apart, and Bardiel's realm spilled out into your world, poisoning the ocean. Gadreel the Empty guards the second, where nothing grows and nothing happens. I would not allow Raziel and Samael to destroy my garden, so I threw them out of Araboth, and Gadreel gored out my eyes on Samael's command. Behind my garden lies the domains of Ramiel the All-seeing, Samael the Fallen, Sachiel the Lost, and Raziel the Keeper. The Tree grows in Raziel's domain, and was his to guard - but now that Raziel is long-gone, perhaps you will find your quest a little easier."

The ground shook again, more violently this time, and it was clear that Shamsiel was not the cause of it. For a moment it felt like the world tipped sideways, then there was an explosion of magic so forceful that it knocked all of them off their feet, followed by a triumphant roar that reverberated in their minds until Magnus felt like his head would burst. 

"What in El's name was that?" Jace yelped, clutching his head.

"That would be Samael, breaking free of his watery prison," Shamsiel replied. It got to its feet, curling and uncurling its tails and snapping its pincers agitatedly. "I will hold him off as long as I can, but he is not alone. I suggest you start running."

 

 

They weren't very far from the next arch, and if one good thing had happened from the time they had been beguiled by Shamsiel's garden, they were all well-fed and well-rested. Whatever belongings they had that had survived the acid water of the Drowned Lands and the trek across the grey realm were long gone, lost in the garden - for none of them had been in the state of mind to care about material possessions. Still, they had a long journey ahead of them, and it would be plain foolishness to travel with no food or water. There was a frenzy to gather whatever they could in any receptacle they could find - water collected in hollowed-out gourds, fruit collected in bags hastily fashioned from torn clothing - and then they fled.

As they drew closer to the arch, Magnus had a strong sense of trepidation. Whatever the magic it contained that confined the different Angels' realms within their allotted spaces, he now recalled that it did not allow them to see what really lay on the other side of the threshold. Shamsiel had called it the realm of Ramiel the All-seeing, which Magnus guessed meant that it belonged to the gigantic lion-shaped Angel with many eyes, the first Angel he had ever seen, when Lilith had summoned it as a distraction while she rode Gadreel to the castle of Edom. What sort of place might such a creature live in?

He reached out to grab Alexander's hand, but he was a split second too late, and Alexander just a hair's breadth too far away - they stepped across the threshold, and Magnus almost stumbled when his bare feet hit the familiar cobbled streets of the little town outside the castle walls of Edom, streets he had walked all his life. The streets were full of people going about their daily business, but nobody seemed to have noticed the sudden appearance of their king in their midst. They milled around him without ever touching him despite the narrowness of the street and the sheer volume of people, and as Magnus took a few steps forward, they unconsciously shied from him and parted like water flowing around a rock in a river. The streets were full of people, but none of them were the ones who had gone on the quest with him, and none of these faces were familiar. 

"Alexander?" he called out, but not a single soul responded, not even to turn their heads to see what the commotion was about. "Alexander!" 

Magnus was all alone. 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The grand hall of Edom's castle had been decorated with enough extravagance for a royal wedding, but Alec didn't know whose wedding it was. It wasn't a memory from either of his own weddings, and he knew that it had to be some sort of vision or dream because just moments before he had been running through the stone archway that marked the boundaries between the Angels' domains. He was seated at the royal dais, the chair to his left was empty, and Jace was seated to his right - but this wasn't the Jace who had gone through the arch with him, for his face was more lined that it was now, and he was dressed in a fancy ceremonial tunic. He seemed to be chuckling at something that Alec had said even though Alec hadn't said a word. 

"You're right. Trust both of them to be late to their own wedding," Jace said in response to something that this vision's version of Alec had apparently said. Alec was startled to notice that Jace was wearing a wedding braid in his hair, dark locks intertwined with his long blonde hair.

"Don't speak ill of your sister on her wedding day," Maryse scolded from behind them, and Alec had a shock when he saw that his mother's hair had all gone white, and that she was walking with the aid of a cane now. 

Izzy? This was Izzy's wedding? Alec's mind was reeling. There were people all around him whose faces he recognised, but all of them had aged. Surely none of this was real. 

"Where is Magnus?" Alec blurted out, even though he knew they could not hear him, but apparently this version of Alec had voiced a similar sentiment.  

"Magnus would have loved to be here today. I am sure he would have been very happy for them both," Maryse said with a sad smile.  

Alec frowned at his mother's turn of phrase and Jace's suddenly sombre expression. Was Magnus...? But even in this dream world, Alec couldn't bear to complete the thought. He ran his thumb over the wedded union rune on his wrist. Whatever it was, Alec suspected that this dream world was probably designed to trap him, and he shouldn't linger to try to unravel the mystery. He stood up and walked away from his mother and brother, who were conversing with the chair he had just vacated as if he was still sitting there, and hurried out of the grand hall and almost bumped right into Raphael standing right outside the door, escorting Izzy into the grand hall.

Izzy was resplendent in her wedding finery, smiling so brightly that surely the sun itself was put to shame, and when Alec saw the wedding braid, he immediately knew who Izzy was marrying, for the hair that was intertwined with Izzy's black hair was a fiery red. Alec shook his head in confusion but continued on his way - there had to be something that could help him break out of the dream. He walked down the corridor through a door which should have led to the main entrance of the castle, but instead he found himself walking back into the grand hall, where Izzy was now ascending the dais to await the arrival of her betrothed. 

He tried to leave a few more times, but always found himself back in the grand hall, and resigned himself to having to witness the wedding play out. Since his mind was already fully aware that he wasn't in the real world, Alec thought that perhaps he needed a way to shock his body out of the state it was trapped in. His first thought was that pain might help, but he soon found out that while the people in the dream world would ignore him and move out of his way almost without conscious thought, he was not able to pick up or move objects, and when he tried to grip the blade of the dining knife on the table with his palm it did nothing to hurt him. 

He clenched his jaw in frustration, then his gaze landed on a man he didn't recognise, standing in the far corner of the hall. There was nothing remarkable about his clothes or appearance, and he could have passed off as either Edomite or Idris-born with his sleeves pulled to his wrists. Nobles and commoners alike were usually invited to joyous occasions such as weddings, and Alec could hardly be expected to remember every single person in his kingdom, but this man was looking straight at Alec with such an air of amusement that Alec knew that he was actually looking at Alec, not the dream version of him. He did not attempt to run away when Alec came towards him. 

"Ramiel," Alec bit out, and the man's eyes glowed silver as he inclined his head in acknowledgement. 

"Alexander Lightwood, the valiant King of Idris and Edom. I wish I could say it was a pleasure to finally meet you."

"Release me from your enchantment immediately," Alec snapped. 

Ramiel raised an eyebrow at him and smiled slyly. "Why? Are you not pleased with this vision of the future?"

Alec faltered, recalling that Shamsiel had said that the prophecy that had sent them on this quest in the first place had been one of Ramiel's visions. "This is a true vision? Is this really what lies in my future?" 

"What is the future but a series of decisions made by a multitude of people, and the consequences of those decisions cascading onwards through time? Have the right person make the right decision at the right time, and this future shall come to pass," Ramiel answered, gesturing at the scene around them.

"And if I am not pleased with this vision you have showed me, will you offer to show me another, and another, until you find the one that will ensnare me?" Alec asked in a hard voice.

Ramiel smiled. "Would that truly be a bad thing? You could live through a vision of a perfect future already knowing that it ends well. You would feel every sensation and every emotion, as soon as you stop holding yourself apart from it, and it would be as if you had truly lived it."

"The true future that you foretold will come to pass. You tried to keep Magnus and I apart, and it only served to bring us together," Alec growled.

"Foolish mortal. You presume to know anything about the workings of the future and prophecies when you are speaking to me?" the Angel said with a sneer. "How do you know that this vision I am showing you is not that true future that you speak of? Believe me, you will regret the path you are taking. I have selfish reasons for not wanting you to continue your quest, of course, but in doing so I am doing you a favour as well. Did you really think that you could destroy the Tree, and that such a heinous act would not come at a price? When the world burns, Alexander Lightwood, do you think that the fire will not touch you?"

"I don't believe you. You have tried to mislead us before," Alec replied, ignoring the dreadful fear that the Angel had planted in his heart, for although he and Magnus had always known that they might not survive this quest, he had not wanted to consider a future where he alone survived it.

"Very well. I thought that I would be merciful and offer you one last chance to turn back, but..." Ramiel shook his head mockingly. "With the help from that mortal girl and the magic from the people Bardiel captured, Samael has managed to break free after centuries of being trapped under the waves. We are coming. All I need to do is hold you here a little longer, and there is no way out of this vision, only to let it play out - and that will take a lifetime," he said smugly.

"Then I suppose I have nothing to lose by trying this," Alec said.

Ramiel's eyes widened in surprise as Alec seized his head firmly in his hands, and snapped his neck.

 

 

Alec woke up with a start, coughing and choking, for something had wrapped itself around his throat and face. His hands were bound as well, and it took a while for him to realise that he had gotten entangled in a monstrous spider web that stretched across the entire archway, and that the rest of the people who had been with him were in a similar predicament. A few feet away from him, Magnus gasped and woke up. 

"Magnus! Are you alright?" 

Magnus nodded, clearing his throat, and started to snap his fingers, then seemed to think better of it. "It probably wouldn't work anyway. It's adamas. This web must be the work of Ramiel," he said. 

"Strangely enough, that is preferable to the alternative," Alec muttered. He didn't like to imagine the size of the spiders that could spin a web this huge. "What vision did Ramiel show you?" 

Magnus opened his mouth to answer, then shut it again with a snap. "It doesn't matter. It wasn't real anyway," Magnus said firmly, and began tugging at the web.

It took some effort for Alec to free his right hand, but once that was free and he was able to reach the knife at his belt, things went a little quicker, and after he had freed himself he turned his efforts to help Magnus. Alec doubted that he had managed to kill Ramiel, but whatever he had done to the Angel in his dream state had weakened its hold on all of them, and almost everyone else eventually jerked into full consciousness, shaken or confused by whatever they had seen in their dreams but otherwise unharmed - save four. They cut everyone down from the web, including the ones that remained unconscious, but even freeing them did not help to wake them. Alec would have preferred not to leave anybody behind, but the deadweight of four unconscious people would slow them down, especially since Samael was on their tail, and from the vacant smiles on their faces, Alec had a sinking feeling that they had been too late, and they would not be waking up anymore. They were in the middle of a forest in night-time, and Alec didn't know what else lurked in the shadows, so they ended up propping the unconscious people against some trees, shielded by the strongest protective spells Magnus could manage, before continuing their way through the dark forest following the path of the river, whose waters were running black again.

From the glimpses of the next stone arch they managed to spot through the gaps in the canopy overhead, it was clear that Ramiel's domain was much smaller than the others they had encountered so far - although Alec supposed that an Angel who was capable of creating thousands upon thousands of worlds and realities inside their own mind had no need for physical space. They moved quickly, conscious that Samael and presumably Bardiel and Ramiel were fast approaching, but were careful to avoid similar webs that they found stretched between the trees, as well as the luminous fungi underfoot which gave off noxious fumes if they were accidentally stepped on, and made one feel dizzy. At some point they came across a huge clearing of trampled trees that would easily have accommodated the huge lion-shaped Angel, now abandoned. It probably took them less than a day to cross Ramiel's domain, although it was hard to know for sure because it was always night-time, and when they drew nearer to the next stone arch, Alec took Magnus' hand in his. This next domain was Samael's, and Alec was sure it would be unpleasant. 

They braced themselves, and stepped through the arch into blistering heat, from night to blinding daylight. 

The sun was high in the sky and shone mercilessly down on the land, not a single cloud in the burnt orange sky to provide shade. The ground was as red as blood and dry as bone, a powdery sand that shifted under their bare feet. There was nothing left of the river but a cracked riverbed that still marked the way ahead to the mountain looming in the distance and the white tower at its peak, through a vast stretch of barren red sand.

But the heat wasn't just from their surroundings. Alec felt the heat rise inside himself, blood pooling in his groin and making his cheeks flush, and the sudden desire to touch and be touched was so intense that it almost dropped him to his knees. He let go of Magnus' hand immediately and squeezed his eyes shut. 

Behind him, he heard Izzy gasp in shock. "What is this?" she panted out, in a tone he never wanted or needed to hear coming from his sister ever again.

"Another trap," Magnus said through gritted teeth. "Just keep moving."

Alec concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, shivering despite the heat of the sun on his back. They had used their growing magic to chill the water they had, but no amount of water he drank would quench his thirst, and he had no appetite for food. He could not even look at his own husband, because all that did was make him remember the taste of Magnus' skin and sounds that he made when they were together, and even if it wasn't obviously a trap that would probably kill them, he refused to let the curse of the Angel's domain leave any taint on what they shared. The trip across the red desert became a hundred times more excruciating when the first night fell and several of their party disappeared into the darkness to satisfy their desires, and never returned. The hot sand cut at their feet and hands, working its way into their clothes and hair and every crevice of the body. Sleep had been difficult but became impossible by the third night, and the heat of the sand and the effort it was taking to keep their urges under control was wearing everyone down. Even the minstrel, who was always humming to himself, had gone silent. Worse, the distant rumbles in the ground that heralded the approach of the Angels were getting stronger.  

There were only eight of them left now: Alec and Magnus, Alec's two siblings, Maia and Underhill, then Clary, and the minstrel. The next arch was easily two more days' journey away, maybe more, as they slowed down. Some of their travelling companions had proven to be more stubborn than Alec had expected, so he wasn't surprised that nobody was voicing out the reality of their situation - reaching the white tower where the Tree grew was rapidly becoming impossible.  

They had stopped to rest, each of them curled into solitary balls a few feet away from each other, when a voice rang out weakly in their heads: "I am sorry. He is coming."

"That was Shamsiel," the minstrel blurted out, looking towards Magnus as if he expected him to do something about it.  

If Samael had only taken four days to cross the first three realms when it had taken them ten days, even with Shamsiel trying to slow him down, he would be upon them in no time at all.  

"It is over. We failed," Jace said, shoulders slumping. 

"We're too close to give up now," Izzy said fiercely. 

Magnus said nothing. Instead, with the air of a man resigning himself to fate, he took a deep breath and dug his fingers into the burning sand. The ground began to tremble violently, then the earth itself rose from under them like a wave, and Alec found that they were all being borne on the crest of the towering wave of sand as if the desert had become an ocean. Since portals did not work, it appeared that Magnus had decided to move the very ground they stood on instead, and Alec could not even begin to imagine how much magic Magnus had to expend to achieve this. The wave of sand continued to rise until it was the height of a small hill; then Magnus urged it forward, and a few people cried out in alarm as they suddenly found themselves swooping downwards towards level ground again, where a second wave was already rising to carry them forward again. In this manner, a journey of two days became a matter of hours, and by the time they reached the stone archway, Alec had fully expected that Magnus would be exhausted to the point of collapse, and was greatly discomfited when Magnus simply strolled forward as if he had done nothing more strenuous than snap his fingers.  

Alec put a hand on Magnus' shoulder when he paused at the threshold of the archway, and to Alec's horror, when Magnus turned around, he could see that Magnus' eyes were glowing silver. 

"What is happening to you?" Alec whispered, remembering the vision Ramiel had showed him, and the cryptic warning.

"Let us speak after we have crossed the threshold of Samael's domain," Magnus suggested gently. 

 

 

It was a relief to step out from the never-ending heat and to feel back in control of his own body again, but their relief was almost tragically short-lived. Stepping through the arch brought them to a narrow ledge of black rock barely wide enough to stand on. In front of them was a thousand-foot drop straight in to the gorge of a roaring, foaming black river, and behind them where the realm of Samael should have been was a chasm of complete darkness, and Alec found that he did not trust that stepping backwards would bring them back into the red desert. Magnus cast out a ward immediately, and only just prevented some of the others from overbalancing when they came through the archway and falling to their deaths. His conversation with Magnus would have to wait a little while longer. 

Alec looked down at the churning water. Jagged pale rocks protruded from the water, and the surface of the river was littered with detritus, most of the items too small for him to make out what they were. But caught amongst the rocks, there were remnants of several ships and boats as well, some more wrecked than others, and Alec wondered if perhaps this was where all the things lost at sea finally came to an uneasy rest. There were many pale rocks embedded in the black rock of the exposed sides of the gorge, rounded like river pebbles and larger than Alec's hand. The gorge was at least a few hundred thousand yards across, but Alec had spotted a white bridge in the distance, possibly made of the same material as the pebbles, and the final stone arch they needed to cross was just on the other bank of the gorge.

They inched their way across the precarious ledge towards the white bridge, only to find that it was made, not out of any sort of rock, but of bone. Alec recognised humanoid thigh bones and arm bones, as well as bones that were too large or oddly-shaped to belong to humans, such as the forked wishbones of monstrous birds. It was then that Alec realised that the rounded white things in the exposed sides of the gorge were not pebbles, and that perhaps it wasn't just things lost at sea that ended up here in the realm of Sachiel the Lost. The bones in the bridge had been arranged in a complicated interlocking pattern to form the broad path across the gorge with no visible additional supports, and although Alec wondered if that meant that the entire bridge would collapse and fall into the black water below if one of the bones was knocked out of place, he reasoned that if it was supposed to take the weight of massive stone Angels, surely it would take theirs as well.

"I do not think this bridge is safe to cross at all," Maia said uneasily. "After all the trials we had to endure to cross the other domains, this seems too easy."

"Perhaps it was once more dangerous to cross this bridge, but I think the danger has since passed. Do not forget that Sachiel used to dwell in the waters below, but now lies shattered on the banks of the Drowned Lands," Jace reminded them. 

"Let us link hands before we cross, just in case," Izzy suggested.

There were no railings on either side of the bridge, and the bones ground and shifted against each other with a grating sound that made Alec's hair stand on end as they stepped on these relics of the long dead. They had bought themselves a little more time with Magnus' magic, but when they were only halfway across the bridge, the bones began to rattle with the tremors caused by the pursuing Angels.

Magnus quickened his pace. "Quick! We are almost- ah!" 

A freezing gale suddenly howled around them, almost pushing them off the bridge, and in the wind Alec heard voices that he immediately recognised. The loudest was his father's, repeating his disappointment and disgust with Alec in a rising crescendo, but there were other voices in the wind as well - all of the times he'd argued with his siblings or his mother, the accusations levelled at him by the heads of the Houses deeming him unworthy to be king, the whispers and rumours that had plagued him when he had chosen Magnus openly, angry words Magnus had said to him when they had not known each other well enough, and worst of all, the quiet words of grief and hurt when Alec had accidentally broken Magnus' heart once. Every time he had disappointed someone, every conversation he had regretted afterwards, every word that came back to haunt him when he was feeling at his lowest, the wind screamed into his ears, and there was no respite or forgiveness. 

But he had Magnus' hand in his left hand, and Izzy's in his right, bringing him back to the present. He squeezed their hands, and saw Magnus give himself a little shake, then smile at him. There was no way any of them could have made it across the bridge alone, but together all eight of them managed the journey with their hands tightly linked and heads bent against the onslaught of the wind.

Just before they all stepped across the threshold of the final archway, Magnus turned back and sent a blast of magic at the bone bridge that was more powerful than a lightning strike, raw magic like Alec had never seen Magnus wield. It struck the bridge dead centre, and Alec had one last glimpse of the white bones shattering and falling into the black water below before he found himself in a great golden hall that glowed with a soothing, warm light.

But he wasn't looking at place they were in - he was looking at Magnus, and his silver eyes. 

"Magnus, what is this place doing to you?" 

He could tell that it was on the tip of Magnus' tongue to deny everything, but in the end Magnus bowed his head in resignation. "You asked me what vision Ramiel gave me."

"Whatever it was, it was probably a lie," Alec said.

Magnus shook his head. "I was walking through the castle town, amongst our people. There was a celebration going on in the castle - a wedding." 

Everyone startled, the minstrel going as pale as a corpse, and Magnus smiled sadly at their reactions. "Ah. Did we all have the same vision?"

"It was my wedding. To Clary," Izzy said, and Clary nodded. 

"It was a wedding, but there were black and white candles all around the castle, like the kingdom was in mourning," Maia said.  

"I didn't make it up to the castle, I was distracted," Magnus admitted. "Some great change had happened to the town and the land all around. The no man's land between Idris and Edom had been flooded over by the ocean, and the mountains of Idris themselves were gone - collapsed into themselves. The Drowned Lands had been become clear blue ocean, and there was a dock, and ships... Our people were prosperous and thriving, and the threat of the Angels was gone. Once, Ragnor told me that as king, ruling a peaceful and prosperous kingdom would be more satisfying than marrying for love." He choked on his last word, as if he was trying not to cry. 

"And then?" Alec prompted him, reaching out for Magnus' hand to offer comfort, but Magnus pulled away.

"There was a large crowd in the town square gathered to hear Simon sing. It was a popular song, from the looks of it, often requested. He told the story of our quest to Araboth - about our painful journey through the poisoned lands, then the garden and Shamsiel, and how Samael pursued us through the three realms that tested our minds, bodies, and spirits. And then he sang of how we found the Tree and then-" Magnus let out a shuddering breath. "-and then he sang the tale of how I died." 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Magnus could tell that in Alexander's vision of the future, he too had seen something that had told him that Magnus was dead. The rest of them were in an uproar, but Alexander remained very quiet, just keeping his steady gaze on Magnus. 

"What happens? Why do you die?" Jace demanded, and when Magnus couldn't bring himself to answer, he cornered Simon instead. "You sang this song. You tell us, then."

"I don't know. I didn't know what words I was singing or the song I was playing," Simon insisted. 

"You're lying. I saw your face when Magnus said he heard you sing," Izzy insisted rounding on him as well. "Tell us, so that we can prevent this future from happening!"

"Minstrels performing in the town square usually use a charm to amplify their voices and instruments, and the sound bounces back," Maia said shrewdly. 

"Stop hounding Simon," Magnus said tiredly. "He's just afraid that if he tells you, you'll kill me yourselves right now."

"That is ridiculous!" Jace protested

"Samael will be upon us any minute now, so let us be quick," Magnus said flatly. They would see for themselves once he had told the tale. "Simon's song only had two verses on the matter, so there isn't much to tell. The rest of you kept the Angels and Lilith at bay while I was supposed to destroy the Tree, but as I gathered the magic needed to burn it to ash, the sheer force of the magic drove me out of my mind, and I turned on all of you instead. Alexander was forced to kill me, and the magic released upon my death was what eventually destroyed the Tree, and all of Araboth with it. The rest of you barely escaped."

For a moment they were all speechless with shock, then Alexander shook his head violently. "No. No, Magnus, that is a future that will not come to pass. I won't allow it - we won't allow it to. There must be something we can do to change it, a different choice that we can make-"

He made another attempt to reach out to Magnus, but Magnus couldn't allow himself the luxury of his husband's comfort. "And what if all the choices left are poor ones, and still we must choose?" Magnus asked softly. 

"That vision of the future must be a lie, a trick. I think my brother would cut out the minstrel's tongue rather than allow such a song to be sung about you. Besides, didn't Raziel say that he could not tell us about a future that he could not see?" Jace said. 

"Yes, but I doubt Ramiel is called 'All-seeing' for nothing. Raziel is 'the Keeper' - presumably of the Tree," Izzy pointed out worriedly.  

"The closer we get to the Tree, the more overwhelming the magic of the land feels. Perhaps the rest of you only feel the ease with which it comes to you, but for me, using magic now is like trying to drink from a storm-raged river," Magnus admitted. He took a deep breath before he spoke again. "I would never want to hurt any of you, and if my mind is gone then I am gone. Death would be a kindness. I only have one request: if it must be done, please, let it be someone else who deals the killing blow, not Alexander."

The harsh silence that greeted his words was broken by Alexander. "No. I'm not such a coward to let someone else make the hard choices for me," he said, his voice rough. 

"I never said that you were," Magnus replied with a wan smile.

Alexander's eyes were red-rimmed, but his voice was still steady. "If such a price has to be paid, I will bear it with you." 

"My life and my death, both equally in your hands," Magnus agreed, recalling his wedding vows. 

This time, when Alexander drew Magnus into his arms, and Magnus couldn't bring himself to fight it, for Alexander was in need of comfort as much as he was. After all that had happened, it felt like a million years since they had last held each other. He felt Alexander's crushing embrace all the way deep inside his bones, and as he allowed himself to sink into his husband's arms, the rest of them began to move deeper into the golden hall, allowing them a little privacy.  

"That future is a lie, it has to be," Alexander said in a low voice, and buried his face in Magnus' shoulder. Magnus heard the hitch in his breathing and felt the tears seeping into shirt as Alexander's iron-grip on his self-control finally broke. "You promised me that you would never knowingly go where I could not follow," Alexander choked out. 

"And what kind of man would I be if I didn't honour my word?" Magnus replied lightly. He cupped Alexander's cheek and kissed him, trying to memorise the feel of Alexander's lips against his, trying to draw the strength to keep fighting, keep hoping.

Magnus had never believed in the gods, and if possible traversing the land of the Angels had made him believe in them even less, but still he flung out a desperate prayer to any higher power that might be listening. Please don't let this be the last time that I hold him in my arms. Please.

 

 

The rest of them had nearly crossed the first hall of the white tower by the time they had both composed themselves enough to hurry after them. The hall was massive, and rightly so if it had been the domain of an Angel the size of an entire mountain range. The walls and floors of the hall were made of a pale stone much like the arches and the Angels and completely smooth, although Magnus did not feel any presence of adamas. There were no torches or windows, and yet the hall glowed with a soft light that turned everything to gold. Magnus had not paid much attention to the ceiling of the first hall, but when he entered the second hall through a set of enormous stone doors that swung open at a touch, it was impossible not to notice the massive mural that covered the entire domed ceiling, of two beings in the throes of a passionate joining, presumably a rendition of El and Elat creating the world. He glanced back at the pitch black ceiling of the first hall - that had to be the void before the creation of anything. The third hall contained a mural of the seven Angels, surrounded by what looked like every plant and creature that lived and breathed in the oceans, air, and land, even what looked like some sort of primitive human. There were too many creatures to fit on the ceiling of course, since everything from the tiniest wildflower to the gigantic fell beasts of the deeps had been depicted, so the mural spilled over to cover the walls and the floor. 

Clary stopped to brush her fingers curiously over a part of the wall, no doubt trying to find out how mere paint and pigment were capable of looking so alive, and gasped when she dislodged a tiny scroll no thicker than her little finger. She unrolled it carefully, and said with wonder, "It is a treatise on the bird I know as the long-tailed woodstar."

"Could it be that all the walls, even those of the halls before, aren't really solid stone, but shelves of scrolls?" Izzy wondered. "Perhaps Raziel is the Keeper of more than just the Tree."

But they did not have the luxury of lingering to explore the hidden wonders of the halls. They ran on to the next hall, which was decorated with a mural of the battle between Raziel and Samael, with some of the Angels taking sides. The battle had wrought great destruction on Araboth before Shamsiel had thrown them out into the mortal realm, and in the mural the river that ran through the land had risen because of the turmoil, flushing Sachiel out of its realm. The mural in the fifth hall was split into two - the first half showed the Angels retreating to Araboth and the flourishing of Edom and Idris, while the second half of the mural showed scenes of the devastating war between Edom and Idris.

But the mural on the ceiling of the sixth hall stopped Magnus in his tracks. There he was with Alexander at their first wedding ceremony, Magnus being forced to put the rune on Alexander's wrist; then sitting in the tree watching the wishing lanterns at the festival of the Harvest Moon; Alexander facing the challengers for his crown and getting stabbed; then their treacherous journey to Mount Beriah to see Raziel, and the fire that followed when Magnus had razed the ruins of the old city to ash. Unnervingly, there was a counterpoint to this mural as well: of Lilith as a child, falling asleep in front of the tapestry of the Seven Angels; then a confusing jumble of nightmare images, leading to Lilith crossing the Drowned Lands part of the way on her own before Bardiel swallowed her and brought her to Samael; then Lilith on the back of Gadreel, being brought into Araboth to absorb as much of the land's magic as she could, then brought back to Samael to feed him, over and over again. It was horrifying, and even though he had never had much to do with Lilith, it made Magnus sick to think that this was what she had been going through since she was barely more than a child, and that nobody had even realised.

"Elat have mercy. Is that what the Angel has been doing to the princess all this time?" Maia said, aghast.  

Alexander frowned at the mural. "We know that the Angels can control minds, but Samael's hold on Lilith seems extreme." 

"Perhaps Lilith was more susceptible to his influence than most. Ragnor did say that he thought she had a gift, inherited from her mother's side of the family," Magnus said. 

"Or Samael has power unlike anything we have faced yet," Izzy said.

"What if... what if the song that I sang in the vision didn't tell the truth?" Simon gulped. "Or it was a future in which we murdered our king in cold blood while under the influence of Samael, and went back to Edom pretending all was well, and all that peace and prosperity was just an illusion? What if it's not a future where Samael loses, but one where he wins?"

The ground trembled violently, and through the series of open doors they had left in their wake, Magnus turned just in time to see the head of a great stone serpent burst into the first hall, followed closely by the one-eyed toad and the lion. There was a figure sitting on the back of the serpent - Lilith. With a wave of his hands, Magnus sent all the heavy stone doors between them slamming shut, hoping to buy them as much time as he could, and for one wild dizzying moment the world spun out of his control, almost too far, almost too much.  

"Quick, to the Tree!" Alexander bellowed, already placing his palm on the last door, the door that led to the seventh hall.

They all started running through, only to double over in pain at Samael's piercing voice in their minds, "Did you really think that would stop me?"

There was bone-jarring crash as the first door fell.

The eight of them recovered and staggered through the doorway, and Magnus slammed the last door behind them. Even that little bit of magic was disorientating; Magnus blinked and looked blearily around the hall.

"Where's the Tree?" Underhill blurted out. "This hall is empty."

Alexander looked up at the mural on the ceiling, looking for a clue, and Magnus followed his gaze. The mural was split into seven panels, each showing their journey through the domains of the seven Angels, but the last one was blank. 

"What does that mean?" Jace asked. 

"It means the future is not set in stone," Alexander said firmly.

The ground trembled as the second door fell.

"Maybe there's something in the walls that will make the Tree appear," Clary suggested, already running her hands along the walls, and the rest joined her immediately. 

But even though Magnus couldn't see anything, he did feel something in the middle of the room. He walked to the middle of the room, feeling a bit like he was in a dream. The third door had fallen, and he was dimly aware that Alexander was calling his name. Magnus took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and gave in to the magic thrumming insistently around him, letting the current sweep him away.

 

 

It was peaceful here. 

He drifted. He was part of something infinite; there was no real sense of time passing, and there was no pain, no fear, no sadness, no joy. And yet, a part of him was holding him back from truly becoming subsumed, tethered to something - someone. They were tugging at the other end of the bond, and for reasons he couldn't quite remember, it was important that he went back to them, a promise he had to keep. He let the thread of the binding lead him, and in a moment he snapped back into awareness of who he was.

"Magnus!" 

"It's alright, Alexander," Magnus said, opening his eyes. The wedded union rune his husband had placed on his wrist, containing a little of Alexander's own magic, was glowing, as was the matching rune on Alexander's wrist that contained some of Magnus' magic. From the horror on everyone's faces, Magnus had an inkling that something was different about the way he looked. He smiled reassuringly at Alexander, who looked completely devastated and was frantically trying to throw his brother off to get to him. "No, don't come closer. But I am alright now - you keep me whole. I'm not going anywhere."

He turned back to the Tree. It was only Ramiel's vision that had made him afraid of giving in fully to the magic, but now that he was standing in front of the Tree, the source of all of the magic of Araboth, he couldn't imagine why he had ever been afraid. The Tree was the most majestic thing he had ever seen; its gnarled roots were digging deep into the floor, crumbling the rock as if it was soft clay, and its seven branches were thick with dark green leaves and reached up so high that it was brushing the middle of the mural on the ceiling. The entire tree was giving off a warm golden light, filling him with a sense of calm, and on each branch there was a single silvery jujube fruit. It would be a pity to burn it to ash, and Magnus' resolve wavered - if the Tree was the source of magic in Araboth, would destroying it also destroy all the magic in the world? 

Magnus was still hesitating when he heard an odd choking sound behind him. He turned back, and for a moment he forgot all about the Tree - the others in the room were standing stock still, eyes blank, and Jace had a struggling Alexander in a stranglehold, his blade pointed at Alexander's heart. The rune on Alexander's wrist was glowing like a talisman. As one, the rest of them drew their own weapons and held the blades to their own throats.

"Harm the Tree, and all of them die too."

The last door that stood between them and the Angels shattered, taking part of the wall with it. And there they were - the lion with a many-eyed visage, a flat-headed serpent with one eye gored out, and the spiked toad from the Drowned Lands, dwarfed by his brethren. Magnus couldn't help noticing that it looked like Samael had chosen to sacrifice part of his stone vessel in order to break free from his watery prison, for the back part of his body was jagged and incomplete. 

Magnus gritted his teeth but stood his ground. There was a time when facing off three Angels at the same time would have brought him to his knees, but now that he was here with the Tree at his back and connected to the source of Araboth's magic, their adamas had little effect on him. What truly horrified him was Lilith, seated on Samael's back. Magnus was not sure if she was actually alive or just a corpse hanging on to the stone serpent in the stiffness of death - her face was fixed in a vacant too-wide grin, eyes popping out of her head, and there was nothing left of her but skin stretched thin over bones, most of her dark hair fallen out until only a few wispy clumps were left in her scalp.

"I doubt that you ever intended to let any of us live," Magnus retorted, letting the magic build around him, the air itself beginning to seethe with the heat of the fire that he was about to unleash on the Tree. If he used all the power he could summon and burned the Tree quickly enough, surely he could free them from Samael's hold before they slit their own throats?

"What does it matter to me if some mortals live or die? The only death I want is yours, and since your consort will not yield to my control, he can have the honour of ending your life. All of them for one of you - it seems like a fair price to pay, is it not?" Samael said, his voice low, insidious. "Besides, if you destroy the Tree, you destroy all the magic in the world. Is that really what you want?"

His suspicions now confirmed, Magnus was in a dilemma. He had been forced to live without magic in the mountains of Idris, but he had known it was only a temporary situation. If destroying the Tree would take away the magic of his people forever, he did not know how long it would take for them to recover. The line from the prophecy about burning the future was making more sense now, and Magnus didn't like it at all. And of course it only made sense that Raziel had lied to them as well, and tried to lead them to catastrophe, because no Angel could be trusted except perhaps Shamsiel - Shamsiel, who had talked about choice, and possibilities.

Instead of throwing the magic he had gathered at the Tree, Magnus threw it at the ceiling above the three Angels. Samael hissed and reared in surprise as the ceiling caught fire and pieces of flaming rock began to rain down on them, and although Magnus doubted that would truly hurt the stone Angels, all he had needed was a distraction. Samael's hold on the people in the room faltered, and it gave Alexander the opportunity to break out from his brother's grasp and run towards Magnus. He turned back to fire an arrow at Samael, but Lilith came alive then, and dreamily blocked the arrow with no other reaction to the chaos around her. 

"There are seven fruits on the Tree, seven fruits for the seven Angels, but my magic is too strong here, and I fear that I will simply set the whole Tree on fire if I try to destroy them. I'll hold the Angels back, and you'll deal with the Tree," Magnus told Alexander as he threw up wards all around the rest of their group, freezing them in place so they would not be able to hurt themselves.

"I can't see the Tree," Alexander reminded him.

"Put your back to mine," Magnus suggested, and the moment Alexander's back was against his, he felt the shard of adamas in Alexander's back leeching his magic. Instead of fighting it, Magnus pushed, and Alexander gasped as Magnus' magic flooded into him.

"I see it," Alexander said, when he'd finally found his voice. Magnus felt Alexander manoeuvre himself awkwardly to draw his bow while still keeping his back flush against Magnus'.  

Alexander's first explosive arrow found its mark with a clean, sharp crack. Magnus took his eyes away from the Angels and glanced backwards just in time to see the fruit burn to nothing and the arrow fall to the ground, and by pure luck, the light in Ramiel's eyes went out and the stone lion moved no more, frozen with one paw in the air. 

"No!" Samael roared.

But their exhilaration from making the correct guess was short-lived. Alexander's next arrow went wide and hit the wall under the force of Samael's furious mental onslaught, and he fell to the floor with a grunt, breaking their connection. All of a sudden, Magnus was teetering at the brink of being swept away by the magic again, except that this time there was no peace to be had because the world had gone mad - up was down, Magnus' vision was bursting into flares of light and darkness, his head was filled with a high, insistent whine that drowned out all thought, the pressure Samael was putting on his mind making him feel like his skull was being crushed. Without the warmth of his husband at his back, Magnus felt very, very cold. But his Alexander was more stubborn than a stone Angel, and was groping blindly for Magnus' hand in spite of the pain. 

"I'm here," he croaked out, gripping Magnus' hand tightly. "I'm not going anywhere."

Together they pushed against the hold Samael was trying to get on their minds, and Samael let out an outraged hiss when they shook him off. But Samael's attack had caused Magnus to lose control of the protective boundaries that he had put around the rest of their group, and now they were all closing in on him and Alexander with their weapons held high, turned into Samael's puppets. Magnus and Alexander helped each other to their feet, then stood back to back once again, leaning against each other. Six more fruits to shoot down, and Magnus trusted that Alexander's aim would be true, just as Alexander trusted him to keep all of them safe from the Angels, his beloved siblings included. With one wave of his hand, Magnus froze their friends and family in place again, and with the next wave of his hand, he flooded the adamas in the now-empty vessel of Ramiel with his own will and his own magic. 

"Two can play at this game, Samael," Magnus said as he made the stone lion turn to face the enraged serpent.

"How dare you take an Angel's vessel!"

Samael hissed and lunged at them, but the massive form of the stone lion was more than wide enough to block him. Bardiel attempted to go round the other side, and Magnus took vindictive delight in crushing it under a paw, shattering the toad-like vessel on behalf of all the people it had taken. Samael took advantage of the diversion to ram what was left of his body into the stone lion, and it was only by grace of the damage to Samael's vessel that he didn't manage to knock the lion completely out of his way. While the lion's form was powerful it was also unwieldy, and despite his best efforts Magnus couldn't make it move as quickly as Samael was capable of moving, and the Angel almost slipped past him while he was trying to right himself. The ground shook as the vessels clashed against each other over and over again, the stone lion's claws scoring silver lines in the serpent's sides and the walls around them shuddering and fracturing as the vessels were thrown into them. At his back, Alexander was firing off arrows in quick succession, and although Magnus had lost count in the effort it was taking to control the stone lion, surely it was almost over.

Samael made another desperate attempt to stop them with a mental blast that almost knocked them off their feet again, but Magnus made the great jaws of the stone lion close on the flank of the serpent, and the shock of the attack broke Samael's concentration. Liquid adamas was dripping from Samael's wounded vessel, and although he spun around to sink his fangs into the lion's face, Magnus saw no need to let go, for he didn't feel the vessel's pain. Alexander shifted against his back, drawing his bow again.

Samael screamed shrilly. "Stop! The time of the Angels is not over, I refuse!"

There was a whistle from Alexander's bow just as Samael flung the stone lion off with all his might, and the lion broke into a dozen pieces.

Samael turned around in triumph, his one remaining eye blazing and jaws opened wide to show multiple rows of dagger-like teeth and a yawning darkness beyond. Magnus scrambled to gather his magic to form a shield, or muster enough for a blast, anything that would keep the Angel at bay, when he realised that Samael wasn't moving anymore - and Magnus heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the silvery glow in Samael's remaining eye fade, turning into dull stone. 

Magnus slumped against Alexander's back and felt Alexander lower his bow. In an instant, the rest of their group gasped and came back to themselves again, looking around in bewilderment at the shattered remains of Angels and Samael, forever frozen with his jaws wide and teeth bared. They rushed forward once Magnus released the wards around them, only to stop short a few feet away.

"Your eyes - both of you," Izzy whispered. "Oh, Alec."

For a moment Magnus' heart sank, but Alexander's huff of laughter eased his fears. "It's alright, Izzy."

Alexander's hand found his, and when Magnus turned to face him, he understood Izzy's shock. Alexander's eyes were glowing pure silver, unnervingly like Angel's eyes. "Can you let the magic go?" Alexander asked him gently.

Magnus nodded, and both he and Alexander took one last look at the Tree. As they stepped back from it, Magnus let the magic fall away from him, and the Tree vanished from their sight. Jace and Izzy came forward to embrace their brother, and Magnus stepped away with a smile, only for Izzy to drag him back to join their embrace.

"You frightened all of us," Izzy said tearfully. "I can't believe it's finally over."

Then Magnus heard an odd groan from the vicinity of Samael's empty vessel, and tensed. They ventured closer warily, and soon found the source of the noise - Lilith, still impossibly alive. She must have been thrown off Samael's back when Magnus had been using the stone lion to fight him, and the sight of her mangled and terribly misused body filled Magnus with sorrow and pity. She was beyond healing, her back broken in the fall; death would be a mercy. He cradled her head in his arms, and she stared at him, confused but not afraid.

"I'm sorry I couldn't save you," he said, steeling himself to put an end to her misery.

"You have Papa's eyes," she said faintly, the intonation of a child in a grown woman's voice.

Before Magnus could think of a response, Lilith's head lolled to the side - she was already dead. Magnus put her down as carefully as he could, and closed her eyes, but Magnus couldn't mourn her, not when he hadn't even had a chance to know her.

"We'll be in the hall with the scrolls," Izzy said quietly, placing a hand on his shoulder.

There was an ominous crack above their heads.

Magnus looked up to see a fissure cutting a stark line through the mural in the ceiling, then another, and another.

"The white tower is falling! Everybody get out!" Alexander shouted. 

 

  

It was the greatest irony, Magnus thought, that after all that, they had no idea if they had managed to save the Tree in the end. The last two halls had sustained the worst of the damage caused by his fight with Samael, but cracks were spreading through all the walls and ceilings, dust and pieces of stone raining down on them as they ran as quickly as they could through the golden halls.

They fled through the arch and into Sachiel's domain to find that the ground here was still rumbling, and Magnus remembered belatedly that unfortunately he had destroyed the bridge of bone to slow Samael down. Simon sat down hard on the black rock, too exhausted to go on, and Magnus couldn't blame him. It had been far too long since any of them had had proper food or rest, and Magnus suspected that they were all sustained largely by the pure magic of the land, which had kept Lilith alive even in her tortured state. 

"Home is too far," Jace said, slumping down next to Simon in defeat. "At least we managed to do what we came here to do."

Magnus peered down at the churning black water below, Alexander at his side. The water was clearly rising as the ground trembled from the destruction of the white tower, and with it the flotsam of lost things. 

"We could get out of here the same way that Sachiel escaped from this realm," Alexander suggested.

Magnus smiled at him. "Exactly what I was thinking."

Magnus managed to make one boat by forcing a few sturdier pieces of the wrecks together, and everyone clambered onto the flimsy vessel. The water had risen almost to the lip of the gorge now, with Magnus holding the boat together and in place with magic and a prayer.

"Hold on tight," Alexander told everyone, and nodded at Magnus.  

Magnus pushed off, and the river surged violently around them, carrying them over the edge of the chasm and straight down into darkness. Just as Magnus was sure they had made a mistake, they crashed into the red desert, black water spraying them with an acid mist. The swollen river had flooded through the dry river bed, and brought them swiftly past the heat and torment of Samael's land into Ramiel's domain of the eternal night. Magnus could feel his magic waning, and it became harder to keep the boat together as they got further from the Tree. Even with everyone contributing every ounce of magic they could, they started losing pieces of the boat as they were swept past the domains: Shamsiel's beautiful garden, completely destroyed by Samael; the endless grey of Gadreel's domain; then the poisonous marshland of Bardiel, and by then the water had slowed so much that Magnus was worried that they would be stranded in the Drowned Lands for days with only half a boat.  

The tide was in high when they reached the point where the Drowned Lands met the ocean, and their boat little more than loose timber. Away from the spell of the land, Magnus only felt terribly exhausted; they clung tiredly to what was left of the boat, borne on the ebb and flow of the frothing waves. The wreck of the ship they had sailed on was not far away, as were the empty remains of the Angel Sachiel. They had lost many good people in their journey, but they had done what they had set out to do, in the end.  

The sun was setting, the stars coming out. Magnus closed his eyes. He felt empty, and he didn't know if it was because he had used up all the magic he had now that they were no longer in Araboth, or because it simply wasn't coming back. Maybe the Tree was dying right now, and all the magic in the world with it. He had tried to make different choices, tried not to let it all end in fire, but maybe this was the end of world as he knew it anyway, just as the prophecy had foretold.

Then Alexander's hand found his, ice-cold from the biting water, and Magnus smiled a little as he squeezed back and opened his eyes to Alexander's hazel ones. Ah, he was wrong - maybe it was the end of something, but it wasn't the end of his world, and sometimes endings were also beginnings. 

"Let's go home," Alexander said.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

  

When Alec woke up, their bedchamber was dark, the sky still caught between night and day. The nights were longer now that the height of winter was upon them, but winters in Edom were nothing compared to winters in Idris, and Alec was just glad to be home. 

They had left for Araboth in the summer. But when Magnus had eventually recovered enough magic after their exhausting flight from Araboth to send a fire message to Edom, even though help had arrived within only a few days since they could now cross the Drowned Lands unhindered by the influence of the Angels, Alec and Magnus had returned to find that they had been gone for almost two seasons, and the people had started to fear that their kings were lost to them. They had missed the Harvest festival, but thankfully the midwinter feast would be in a few days' time - fittingly a time to reflect and let go of the past, give thanks, and make plans for the coming year with the people they loved - and Alec was glad that they would have a chance to celebrate it with their family and their people. 

Magnus was still asleep beside him. Alec brushed back a lock of hair from Magnus' forehead, heart full as he looked at his husband's peaceful sleeping face. They had all suffered from their journey across the Angels' domain, and although Magnus was still looking a little worn, they were all recovering.

Alec slipped out of bed quietly and made his way to the outer chamber. As he had seen Magnus do, Alec conjured up an orb of magic, concentrating on balancing it at the tip of his fingers, then made it travel up and down the length of his arms. All the Idris-born who had survived the journey to Araboth had been more diligent about practising their magic after they had returned to Edom, having since tasted what it was like to have magic at their fingertips, and it had come more easily, as if their bodies had finally remembered the pathways to the magic they had been born with.

"The control you have gained over your magic in such a short time is impressive. Truly, you are a man of many talents."

Alec was so surprised he nearly sent the ball of magic flying into a shelf, only pulling back just in time. He turned around to find Magnus leaning against the doorframe of their bedchamber, watching him with a sparkle in his eyes.

"Good morning."

"Good morning. I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

"Not at all," Magnus replied with a mischievous smile. "I'm only sorry that I didn't wake up earlier so I could admire more of the... view." 

Alec huffed out a laugh and crossed the room towards him. Magnus' hands found his waist, pulling him closer, and Alec leaned down to give him a slow lingering kiss. 

"Come back to bed," Magnus murmured.

Alec shook his head, smiling. "I have a better idea." 

 

 

The tub in the privy room was made of smooth stone, rectangular, and large enough for both of them to sit comfortably. The servants had already filled it with fresh wash water the night before, scented with a mixture of herbs and flowers, and the water was always kept at just the right temperature. They kept their eyes on each other as they undressed, smiling at each other but not touching just yet, and settled into opposite ends of the tub to avail themselves of the bowls of soft soap.  

"Could you help me with my back?" Magnus asked.

Magnus' back was smooth and unscarred unlike Alec's, every muscle beautifully defined. Alec kissed his shoulder when he was done rinsing off the soap and Magnus hummed contentedly. 

"Do you want me to help you with yours?" Magnus asked, turning around.

"Later," Alec said, crowding Magnus against the side of the tub and climbing into his lap, a thrill going through him as he watched Magnus' golden eyes dilate. 

Magnus smiled and tilted his head up for a kiss, hands roaming over Alec body and trailing lines of magic on Alec’s skin that gradually worked their way inside Alec's body, making him shiver and gasp. They rocked against each other as they shared increasingly heated, messy kisses, the water in the tub lapping at their skin. Alec reached behind to push a finger inside himself, moaning against Magnus' lips when Magnus' finger joined his. When he was ready, Alec lifted himself a little off Magnus' lap and guided Magnus into his body, keeping his eyes on Magnus' - a smooth slide down, as slowly as he could bear it, and a tease that Magnus had not expected judging by the heat in his gaze, and by the time they were fully joined both of them were already breathless. 

Alec took his time, hands braced on Magnus' thighs as he worked on finding the right rhythm, and Magnus settled his hands lightly on Alec's hips to steady him, letting him set the pace. When Alec finally found the right angle for Magnus to hit the spot inside him that sent shocks of pleasure through his body, Magnus tightened his grip on his hips and held Alec in place while he thrust up into him, hard, then harder, until Alec was crying out Magnus' name with each jolt of pure sensation. 

His magic was mixing with Magnus', heightening their pleasure and driving them both closer and closer to the edge, and when Magnus finally put a hand on him, all it took was a few strokes for him to start spilling his release into Magnus' fist. He writhed and clenched down uncontrollably on Magnus, loose-limbed in the wake of the pleasure coursing through him, and with a sharp gasp Magnus pulled him down so that he was buried inside Alec to the hilt. Magnus grasped his wrist and kissed the rune that bound them to each other, grinding deep in pursuit of his own pleasure, and in a few moments he found his climax inside Alec. 

 

 

After, they stood at the window watching the pale winter sun rise over the forests and distant hills. The land was bare and white with the snow now, but in the coming spring it would be green again, full of life. And although Alec could not see mountains of Idris or the Drowned Lands from here, unlike the vision that Ramiel had showed them, the mountains had not collapsed and the ocean had not washed out the poison of Bardiel's domain. There had been talk of using adamas to drive back the Drowned Lands from the ocean and reclaim the no man's land between so that their two kingdoms would finally be one, and Alec had to admit that he was looking forward to it. 

"Izzy came to me yesterday. She wants to return to Araboth some time in the near future to reinforce the white tower and make sure that the Tree will be safe, and perhaps salvage whatever scrolls she can from the halls," Alec told Magnus. "She also spoke of retrieving whatever is left of Lilith's body and bringing her bones home to her people."

"I think Lilith would like that. It is a worthy quest - she is very brave," Magnus said. "But a portal will not take her that far, and travelling by sea and land will not be easy even with the Angels all vanquished."

"No, she intends to fly there," Alec said, shaking his head at the memory of his sister's ingenuity. "Remember the Angel Gadreel? The pieces of its vessel are still in Idris. She is thinking of rebuilding what she can of it and controlling it the way you did Ramiel." 

"Isabelle is a clever woman indeed," Magnus said with a laugh. "This explains why Raphael came to me to ask if he could step back from the council and leave Lily as the representative from Sanguine. I suppose he plans to escort your sister, for controlling Gadreel will need more magic than what she is capable of at the moment." 

"Are you saying that Raphael has intentions of courting my sister?" Alec asked with a frown.  

"He is a good man." 

"I suppose. And Izzy knows her own mind," Alec allowed. "It is strange to think that perhaps nothing from that vision of the future that Ramiel showed us will ever come to pass."

"We live in a brave new world, with no visions or prophecies to govern the path ahead," Magnus agreed, then cleared his throat. "Even if Isabelle does end up marrying Raphael instead of Clary like she did in the vision, there might not be children from their union either. Raphael is... not like that," he said carefully. 

"I see. And you are the last of Asmodeus' children, as I am the last of my father's bloodline," Alec said.

"But family is more than that, is it not? Many people have died in the war, and there are children who have lost both their parents..." Magnus trailed off, looking away as if he didn't quite dare to see Alec's reaction.  

"Yes," Alec replied softly, smiling at Magnus. "I want all of that with you. A family, children to call our own." Alec took a deep breath. "You once told me that it is easy to promise to die for someone, but much harder to promise to spend your life with them. And so I promise you this: we will make a life together through the good and the bad and everything in between." 

"I would like that. I would like that very much indeed," Magnus said with a smile, his hand finding Alec's.  

Soon the world would come knocking on their door and it would be time to face the day and the myriad duties that fell to the kings of Edom and Idris, but for now they were just as they were - Alec and Magnus. And that was enough.