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The Monstrophagus

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It begins with golden mist.  Golden mist and a yearning, a longing, tugging him silently but insistently forward.

The boy drifts, one foot in front of another, eagerness vibrating in his chest.  With each step the mist swirls up, beautiful glittering nebulas that catch the boy’s eye.  Until, that is, something else catches it—a figure, far in the distance, standing straight and tall.

The boy walks faster, disturbing the mist more and more as the eagerness grows inside him.  He’s excited, so excited, to finally reach the figure.  His silent footfalls guide him straight and true, and he soaks in every detail as it becomes clear.  Wide shoulders, long legs, simple black clothes.  It’s… a man, the boy finds.  He’s still, so still that he doesn’t even disturb the mist with his breath.  His hair is dark and his face is pale, skin whiter than any the boy has ever seen. 

He continues to walk, waiting to see the man’s face come into focus.  Only… it doesn’t.  The mist parts and the boy tilts his head to the side.  The man’s pale face, it’s a blur.  Indistinct, even as the boy comes closer and closer.  The boy raises his own brown hand, reaching up to touch, his heart beating faster and faster and faster.

Five inches away.  Three inches.  Two.  One, and…

The boy stops there, his hand trembling.  Something is wrong.  He stares, eyes wide wide wide as he watches the blurred face before him.  As his eyes scour it, a series of fine lines, seams, begin to creep from the center of the blur.  Like cracking ice the seams spread, splitting the distorted face into seven equal segments.  Slow, twitching between the beats of the boy’s fluttering heart, the segments begin to separate, yawning open like a flower.  But this is no flower—as the segments part, so achingly slow, the boy sees the true nature of the thing standing before him.  It is mottled pink-and-purple gums, a coiling pink tongue, the deep crevice of a black, black throat, all surrounded by rows and rows of vicious, gleaming white teeth.  Seven rows of seven teeth on each of the seven segmented jaws, to be exact.

The boy does not care to count them.  He cares not for the exact anatomical nature of the monster that looms before his outstretched hand.  He begins to draw back, his breath lancing through his lungs as the fear builds inside him, but before he can turn, before he can run, the monster lets out a roar.

It is unlike anything the boy has ever felt.  It is no ordinary animal sound—it is, instead, a sub-audible thrum that courses through every single one of the boy’s cells, freezing his blood solid as it goes.  The monster roars and roars and its mouth just keeps opening, wider and wider, teeth gnashing, and the hand the boy was holding out to touch is now the only thing shielding his face from the flecks of spittle flying from the monster’s tongue, and the sound, that awful awful sound just keeps pouring from the monster’s throat, getting louder and louder and louder until the boy thinks his eardrums are going to burst

And just like that, the nightmare ends.  The mist and the monster both disappear.

The boy, alone in his bed, wakes up screaming.

***

It was only a dream, Magnus.  It was only a dream.

Magnus Bane, now over four centuries old, slowly swallows down the dread, the terror, that is clawing up his throat.  He’s safe—he’s in his own bed in his own loft behind his very own safety wards. 

He’s had these dreams, these… night terrors, since he was barely five years old.  He still remembers the first one, vividly, the one that woke him screaming in his bed in Batavia, Dutch East Indies.  His mother came to comfort him in the middle of the night that night, singing soothing songs to him.  It was the last time she comforted him before his warlock mark came in and she hung herself in the barn.

Bzzzzzzzt!

Magnus startles, still jumpy.  That’s his doorbell, who could—oh.  Oh, no.  Is that really the time? 

Tumbling out of bed, Magnus snaps himself clean of the dream-sweat clinging to him and into a decently coordinated if spur-of-the-moment outfit, sweeping toward the door.  Usually he likes to do his make-up by hand, but he’s slept in and he’s an hour late to his lunch date with his friends.  Catarina and Ragnor are used to his shenanigans, but making them wait another half-hour while he complains about his eyeliner doesn’t seem kind.  He snaps again, inspecting his work in the mirror with a sigh.  Not perfect, but it’ll do.

“Magnus!” Ragnor calls from the downstairs landing. 

“Coming, coming—” Magnus says, distractedly hitting the button to let them up.  He’s forgetting something, what is he forgetting.  Sunglasses?  A belt?  His wallet? 

…He doesn’t use a wallet.  He groans, squishing his own cheeks as Catarina pops her glamoured head in.  Damn dream, always unsettling him.

“Something wrong?” Catarina asks, her face melting into a kind, if slightly worried, smile.  Ragnor is stoic as ever as he enters the loft behind her, dark eyes taking Magnus in head to toe.

“No,” Magnus says, pouting and looking around himself in a daze.

Ragnor and Catarina exchange knowing looks.  “Ah,” Catarina says.  “The dream.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Magnus says back.  “Where are we going, the Thai place?  I’d really prefer to go to the Thai place than the Indonesian place—”

Ragnor puffs out a sigh but doesn’t interrupt.  Magnus’s friends let him talk, about everything and nothing, as he walks past them out the loft and onto the streets of Brooklyn.

***

They get to the restaurant just after two.  It’s an atmospheric place, full of both mundanes and downworlders, and Magnus finds himself distracted by the people almost immediately, losing himself in his thoughts.  The conversation takes a few turns before he zones back in, and by the time he does his companions are talking about soulmates, as they tend to do.

“They are not,” Ragnor is arguing, lips pressed together in a thin line.  He’s looking discretely across the restaurant at a pair of young lovers who are, frankly, making a scene of themselves.

“Oh, but they’re so sweet together,” Catarina rebuts, her eyes sparkling.  She’s mostly doing this to rile up their green friend—she and Ragnor are platonic soulmates, having seen each other in their souldreams when they were young.  Magnus sometimes feels like he’s third-wheeling them, except for the fact that it’s very much fun to team up against Ragnor.  Just not when Raphael is around, because Raphael can and will rip them all to pieces with approximately two well-placed looks.

“I’m not having this conversation,” Ragnor says, as Catarina shakes with laughter. 

“Fine, fine.  I’ll let you off the hook,” she says.  Then she turns to Magnus.  “So, have you had any souldreams yet?”

Ah.  This again.  Magnus rolls his eyes, rocking back in his chair and picking a hair off his silk shirt.  “It’s a bit late to be having souldreams for the first time.  If it hasn’t happened yet it likely never will.”

Her face softens, again giving him that kind, worried smile.  “You never know.  You’re immortal—perhaps you haven’t reached the end of the beginning of your life yet.”

Magnus continues to pick at his shirt.  He doesn’t want to talk about this.  Even less than he wants to talk about—

“Perhaps your nightmares have something to do with your soulmate.”

“Ragnor!” Catarina hisses, kicking him under the table.

Magnus lets out a tight laugh, hoping that no one can see the tension in his jaw.  It’s nothing that hasn’t come up before, he just… he really would rather not talk about it.  Not today.  Not with the memory of that terror still seeping from his bones. 

Thankfully, the universe seems to understand his desire to avoid the topic and takes pity on him, and his phone begins to buzz in his pocket.  He holds a finger up to the other warlocks, flicking it out.

Who dares call upon the High Warlock of Brooklyn?” he demands of the unknown number.

“Magnus, thank god, you’ve got to come we need your help—”

“Maia?” Magnus asks, deflating a little.  “Whoa, whoa, slow down.  What’s going on?”

She tries, taking a deep, shaky breath.  “A warlock.  She came to the Hunter’s Moon and rented one of the rooms in the back for a few days.  This morning we started to smell sulfur.  The door is sealed and Gabriel is here but he’s not going to be able to hold it for much longer and—”

Magnus stands, slinging his jacket over his shoulder.  “I’ll be right there.  Call the Clave and—”

“No, no no no, it’s not that bad we just—”

“Maia.  We are bound by the laws of the accords to summon the Nephilim for any suspected demonic activity—”

“—Magnus, Magnus please—”

“I will be there, I will—”

“But—”

Call the Clave, Maia,” Magnus says, brooking no argument.  He gives Catarina and Ragnor’s stricken looks a grim smile before opening a glamoured portal right there in the restaurant.  So much for the universe being on his side today.  “Call the Clave and then evacuate everyone who can be evacuated.  You don’t want to be there when they arrive.”

And then, in a whirl of blue sparks, he steps through the portal. 

He enters into chaos.

***

The scene at the Hunter’s Moon is worse than Magnus had previously hoped.  It’s not just sulfur—it’s clear demonic light and incredible bursts of dark magic, streaming like smoke through the cracks around the door.  The warlock very clearly tried—and botched—a demonic summoning, and if the sound of screaming coming from within is anything to go by they aren’t going to last long.

Gabriel, standing at the doorway with a grim expression on his face, looks over as Magnus strides over.  “I hope you know what you’re doing letting those beasts come in here.”

Magnus restrains himself from rolling his eyes.  “We’re bound by the accords to—”

“I know what the accords say.  But if those things eat one of my pack members it’s on your head, Bane.”

“If you insist, darling,” Magnus says, and whips the door open.

The scene inside is gruesome.  Four warlocks total, all young—two are already dead, one is in the demon’s claws, and one is cowering, crying, in the corner by the door.  Magnus sweeps in, his magic humming through his fingers.  “Unhand her!” he booms, projecting his voice over the screams.

The demon laughs.  “Or what?” it asks, voice like mud splattering over stone.  It pulls one claw delicately back, dragging along a string of entrails.  The screams rise louder.

Fury rises in Magnus’s gut.  He’s not the bravest man on this earth, and he knows he needs to be out of here before the Nephilim arrive, but he can’t stand demons and their callous joy for torture.  Call it an after-effect of meeting Asmodeus, his demonic sperm donor, but he can’t leave these warlocks to die.

“You,” he throws over his shoulder, voice carefully even, half turning to the warlock in the corner.  The warlock whimpers.  “Get out of here.  Run while you still can.”

“I can’t,” the warlock cries.  “My—my ankle, it’s broken—”

“Gabriel,” Magnus says, cutting him off.  “Grab him and get out, the both of you.”

“I ain’t goin’ in there,” Gabriel bites.  He’s still in the doorway, standing very clear of the binding circle on the floor.  He’ll fight if the demon gets beyond it, Magnus knows that much, but as long as the demon is trapped he won’t risk his life.  Not for a few warlocks, in any case.

Damn wolf.  Magnus curses under his breath, watching as the demon continues to play with its food.  That warlock isn’t going to survive for much longer.  Warlocks are hardy, being half-demonic and all, but a full demon is, well, a full demon.  Magnus grits his teeth, raises his hands before him, and

Thunder cracks overhead, making his eyes go wide.  He didn’t do that.  He can’t do that.  No warlock can.  There’s only two things in this universe that cause disturbances to the weather itself, and unless they have much bigger problems—like a prince of hell, for instance—on their hands, then the fury of the Clave has arrived.

“Oh, this’ll be good,” the demon hisses, the dripping muck of its face breaking into a liquid grin.

“We need to leave, now!” Gabriel shouts.

“I’m not going without that warlock!” Magnus shouts back.  He raises his hands again, fully intending to blast the demon back to Edom, but before he can the thunder cracks again.  The entire building shakes with the concussive boom, knocking them all sideways.  Gabriel, leader of the New York wolf pack and staunch if wary fighter, whimpers, turns tail, and runs.  The warlock in the corner cries.  The demon howls with laughter.  Magnus grits his teeth, dread crawling up the back of his throat.  The nightmare and now this, god, this is turning into a very bad day.

“Come here, little angels!” the demon crows, tossing the warlock aside.  Magnus jumps forward, dragging the limp body back, projecting a magical shield as he goes to protect the pair of them.  The demon, however, is fully enraptured by the two figures that are sauntering in.

They’re beautiful.  Magnus already knew they would be—he’s met up with enough of them throughout his centuries.  But looks can be deceiving, especially as the two young Nephilim—one blond with golden eyes, and one black-haired with blue—walk leisurely into the room, their pale skin laced with stark, black marks.

“About time you showed up,” the demon says, hunching forward like a brackish wave of silty water curling over itself.

“We weren’t sure it would be worth it,” the blond says dismissively, waving a hand.  “Still not, really.”

“No more talking.  Get this over with, Jace,” his companion says, sounding significantly less amused. 

“You don’t know how to have fun,” Jace pouts.  Still, he obeys, sizing the demon up as it huffs and puffs and grows larger and larger and larger in the confines of the circle.  The glowing paint on the floor is flickering, signifying that the binding circle is getting close to its full capacity.  It isn’t going to last much longer.  And the moment it goes, the moment the demon is free—

The cowering warlock whimpers, and Magnus clutches the wounded one closer, strengthening his shield until his magic starts to strain.  “Close your eyes,” he whispers frantically, pushing the cowering warlock further back into the sparse safety of the corner.  “And cover your ears.  Whatever you do, whatever happens, don’t listen.” 

He doesn’t look back to check and make sure the kid is following his orders—his eyes are locked on the Nephilim as Jace glances back toward him, amused.  He knows they’re too close.  Much, much too close, but there’s no time now to find cover, not now.  Not with the Nephilim standing, one smiling and one frowning, both still so unearthly beautiful, watching as they wait to strike like snakes in the grass.  The demon shrieks, its claws digging into the floor in anticipation.  Thunder rolls across the skies above the ceiling.  The circle flickers harder, faster.  Magnus shrinks back as far as he can go, and he grits his teeth and strains his magic to keep up his shield, and the cowering warlock shakes and shivers, and just when Magnus thinks he can’t possibly take any more the tension in the room snaps and

—the circle breaks—

—the demon strikes—

—thunder rolls—

—and the Nephilim—

—fully in sync, movements swift and graceful and so, so deadly—

—dart forward and become, like the angels of the old testament, the literal wrath of God.

Magnus can’t tear his eyes away.  He’s behind them as they advance on the demon, faster than the blink of an eye, their backs exploding outward in wings made of thick, ropey tentacles, mottled white and black and a deep, bruisey purple.  They surge forward toward the demon, the two Nephilim’s movements perfectly synchronous—one, the black-haired one, taking hold of the demons limbs while the other seizes its body. 

The demon roars, but even as it does the air begins to sing with the song of Angels—it vibrates through the spaces between every molecule of air, every molecule of liquid and solid and plasma, through the electrons and neutrons and protons, the quarks and leptons and gluons.  It is sub-atomic, a frequency that Magnus has seen tear downworlders apart, flesh from blood from bone, rising and rising and rising until Magnus can’t help but scream—eyes wide and locked on the monstrosities before him—body shuddering—blood frozen—heart squeezing in his chest—and it’s just like his nightmare, just like the creature that comes from the golden mist—only it’s real, real, real—and he’s going to be dead, dead, dead

And then, just like that, it’s over.  The thunder subsides. The winged ropes and strings of flesh retract into the Nephilim’s backs, into their angelic bodies, their beauty masking the terror beneath.  Magnus frantically looks into the broken circle on the floor—there is nothing left of the demon, not even a single drop of ichor.  It’s all disappeared into the maws of the monsters before him.

The room is silent for a long moment, the only sound the buzz of Magnus’s shield and the wheezing breath of the wounded warlock in front of him.  Then there’s a retch, and Magnus hears vomit splatter the floor behind him.

Jace looks back, his angelic face back in place and not a hair out of line, slapping his companion on the back.  “Be not afraid,” he intones, lips quirking up. 

***

The young warlock is still trembling long after the Nephilim have left and Magnus has healed his wounded friend.  The two warlocks are currently chained, one in the bed and one to the dresser, to await their trial and sentencing by the downworld council. 

Magnus sits beside them, trying to ignore the shake in his own hands.  “Still feeling sick?” he asks.  His voice, to his annoyance, is a little hoarse from screaming.

The cowering warlock, whose name is Shokah, shrugs uneasily, clearly not too eager to open his mouth.  His face is ashen, clammy.  This was his first encounter with a full-fledged Nephilim feeding, and he was much closer to the action than any downworlder would ever want to be.  The Nephilim, also known as the monstrophagi, or monster eaters, are unsettling to say the least.

Magnus sighs.  Then he claps Shokah on the shoulder, hauls himself to his feet, and straightens his shirt before nodding to Gabriel, the only wolf still hanging around, and heading for the door.  He needs some fresh air before he portals back home to drink himself into a stupor.

Only something stops him just outside the door.  Something tall and dark-haired, with a pale angelic face and dark runes and—

Magnus very nearly turns and walks right back into the Hunter’s Moon.  The wolves have the right idea, it’s time to bail.  He does not want to deal with this.  Nope, not the Nephilim, not today—

“Wait,” the Nephilim says, holding up a hand.  Magnus can’t help it—it’s instinct when he flinches back, hands up and magic crackling as if that’ll save him from the maw of a monstrophagus.

When he opens his eyes again, squinting over, the Nephilim is looking contrite but guarded.  This close his eyes are like cold shards of blue ice, and Magnus is ninety percent sure the guy is trying to give him frostbite with how intense his gaze is. 

“…Yes?” Magnus asks, after a long moment of strained silence.  “Can I help you?”

The Nephilim stares for a moment longer before averting his gaze.  He has a phone in his hands, Magnus realizes, and he’s twirling it around in what might have been a nervous twitch in a less powerful being.

The Nephilim don’t get nervous, though.  The Nephilim are the very top of the food chain—they are self-assured assholes that cannot be killed by any mortal means.  Magnus shakes his head.  “If you have something to say then say it, Nephilim,” he bites.  He’s taking his life in his hands speaking to a Nephilim this way, but he’s tired and, frankly, feeling a little cranky, so forgive him.

The Nephilim shrugs.  Then he reaches into his pocket and holds out his hand.  In it is a piece of paper.

“Just in case you need help with another demon,” he says.

Magnus snaps up the paper, taking care that their skin doesn't touch, before he can double guess himself.  He glances at it quickly, absorbing nothing, before asking, “Is that all you needed?”

The Nephilim looks vaguely stunned, but nods his head in the affirmative.  Magnus raises a hand in a short and awkward wave and then, his every molecule singing for him to put distance between himself and the monster, he sets off down the street. 

It isn’t until he’s nearly home that the scrawled handwriting on the paper in his sweaty hand comes together in his mind. 

It’s a number.  A phone number. 

Magnus pauses in his doorway, frowning.  The Nephilim… gave him a… phone… number?  Why?  Does he want Magnus to call him?  What the fuck for?

Screw that, Magnus decides, snapping his fingers.  The number disappears, hiding itself deep in his closet.  He knows better than to outright reject a gift from a Nephilim, but if he buries it deep enough he’ll never have to acknowledge it again.

It’s time for that drink now.  It’s been a very bad day indeed.