Tessa simply looked at her blankly.
“Perhaps,” Charlotte said, “it would be better if I explained to you what we are—and what we do.”
“Nephilim,” said Tessa. “That’s what the Dark Sisters called Mr. Herondale.” She pointed at the dark markings on Charlotte’s hand. “You’re one as well, aren’t you? Is that why you have those—those markings?”
Charlotte nodded. “I am one of the Nephilim—the Shadowhunters. We are … a race, if you will, of people, people with special abilities. We are stronger and swifter than most humans. We are able to conceal ourselves with magics called glamours. And we are especially skilled at killing demons.”
“Demons. You mean—like Satan?”
“Demons are evil creatures. They travel great distances to come to this world and feed upon it. They would ravage it into ashes and destroy its inhabitants if we did not prevent it.” Her voice was intent. “As it is the job of the human police to protect the citizenry of this city from one another, it is our job to protect them from demons and other supernatural dangers. When there are crimes that affect the Shadow World, when the Law of our world is broken, we must investigate. We are bound by the Law, in fact, to make inquiries even into the rumor of Covenant Law being contravened. Will told you about the dead girl he found in the alley; she was the only body, but there have been other disappearances, dark rumors of mundane boys and girls vanishing off the city’s poorer streets. Using magic to murder human beings is against the Law, and therefore a matter for our jurisdiction.”
“Mr. Herondale seems awfully young to be a sort of policeman.”
“Shadowhunters grow up quickly, and Will did not investigate alone.” Charlotte didn’t sound as if she wished to elaborate. “That is not all we do. We safeguard the Covenant Law and uphold the Accords—the laws that govern peace among Downworlders.”
Will had used that word as well. “Downworld? Is that a place?”
“A Downworlder is a being—a person—who is part supernatural in origin. Vampires, werewolves, faeries, warlocks—they are all Downworlders.”
Tessa stared. Faeries were a children’s tale, and vampires the stuff of penny dreadfuls. “Those creatures exist?”
“You are a Downworlder,” Charlotte said. “Brother Enoch confirmed it. We simply don’t know of what sort. You see, the kind of magic you can do—your ability—it isn’t something an ordinary human being could do. Neither is it something one of us, a Shadowhunter, could do. Will thought you were most likely a warlock, which is what I would have guessed myself, but all warlocks have some attribute that marks them as warlocks. Wings, or hooves, or webbed toes, or, as you saw in the case of Mrs. Black, taloned hands. But you, you’re completely human in appearance. And it is clear from your letters that you know, or believe, both of your parents to be human.”
“Human?” Tessa stared. “Why wouldn’t they have been human?”
Before Charlotte could answer, the door opened, and a slender, dark-haired girl in a white cap and apron came in, carrying a tea tray, which she set down on the table between them. “Sophie,” Charlotte said, sounding relieved to see the girl. “Thank you. This is Miss Gray. She will be a guest of ours this evening.”
Sophie straightened, turned to Tessa, and bobbed a curtsy. “Miss,” she said, but the novelty of being curtsied to was lost on Tessa as Sophie raised her head and her full face became visible. She ought to have been very pretty—her eyes were a luminous dark hazel, her skin smooth, her lips soft and delicately shaped—but a thick, silvery ridged scar slashed from the left corner of her mouth to her temple, pulling her face sideways and distorting her features into a twisted mask. Tessa tried to hide the shock on her own face, but she could see as Sophie’s eyes darkened that it hadn’t worked.
“Sophie,” Charlotte said, “did you bring in that dark red dress earlier, as I asked? Can you have it brushed and sponged for Tessa?” She turned back to Tessa as the maid nodded and went to the wardrobe. “I took the liberty of having one of our Jessamine’s old dresses made over for you. The clothes you were wearing were ruined.”
“Much obliged,” Tessa said stiffly. She hated having to be grateful. The Sisters had pretended they were doing her favors, and look how that had turned out.
“Miss Gray.” Charlotte looked at her earnestly. “Shadowhunters and Downworlders are not enemies. Our accord may be an uneasy one, but it is my belief that Downworlders are to be trusted—that, indeed, they hold the key to our eventual success against the demon realms. Is there something I can do to show you that we do not plan to take advantage of you?”
“I …” Tessa took a deep breath. “When the Dark Sisters first told me about my power, I thought they were mad,” she said. “I told them such things didn’t exist. Then I thought I was trapped in some sort of nightmare where they did. But then Mr. Herondale came, and he knew of magic, and had that glowing stone, and I thought, Here is someone who might help me.” She looked up at Charlotte. “But you do not seem to know why I am the way I am, or even what I am. And if even you do not …”
“It can be … difficult to learn how the world truly is, to see it in its true shape and form,” Charlotte said. “Most human beings never do. Most could not bear it. But I have read your letters. And I know that you are strong, Miss Gray. You have withstood what might have killed another young girl, Downworlder or not.”
“I didn’t have a choice. I did it for my brother. They would have murdered him.”
“Some people,” Charlotte said, “would have let that happen. But I know from reading your own words that you never even considered that.” She leaned forward. “Have you any idea where your brother is? Do you think he is most likely dead?”
Tessa sucked in a breath.
“Mrs. Branwell!” Sophie, who had been attending to the hem of a wine-red dress with a brush, looked up and spoke with a reproachful tone that surprised Tessa. It was not the place of servants to correct their employers; the books she’d read had made that very clear.
But Charlotte only looked rueful. “Sophie is my good angel,” she said. “I tend to be a little too blunt. I thought there might be something you knew, something that wasn’t in your letters, that might give us knowledge of his whereabouts.”