"Come now, Gideon." Henry rarely spoke sharply, and when he did, the effect was startling. "He’s covered in blood."
Gideon paled, and he reached for the sword that hung on a set of double pegs by his door. "I’m on my way."
Gabriel Lightwood leaned against the wall inside the Institute doors, his jacket gone, his shirt and trousers drenched in scarlet. Outside, through the open doors, Tessa could see the Lightwood carriage, with its flame blazon on the side, drawn up at the foot of the steps. Gabriel must have driven it here himself.
"Gabriel," Charlotte said soothingly, as if she were trying to gentle a wild horse. "Gabriel, tell us what happened, please."
Gabriel-tall and slender, brown hair sticky with blood-scrubbed at his face, wild-eyed. His hands were bloody too. "Where’s my brother? I have to talk to my brother."
"He’s coming down. I sent Henry to fetch him, and Cyril to ready the Institute’s carriage. Gabriel, are you injured? Do you need an iratze?" Charlotte sounded as motherly as if this boy had never faced her down from behind Benedict Lightwood’s chair, had never conspired with his father to take the Institute away from her.
"That is a great deal of blood," said Tessa, pushing forward. "Gabriel, it is not all yours, is it?"
Gabriel looked at her. It was the first time, Tessa thought, that she had seen him behave with no posturing at all. There was only stunned fear in his eyes, fear and-confusion. "No…. It’s theirs-"
"Theirs? Who are they?" It was Gideon, hurrying down the stairs, a sword in his right hand. Along with him came Henry, and Jem, and behind him, Will and Cecily. Jem paused on the steps in startlement, and Tessa realized that he had caught sight of her in her wedding dress. His eyes widened, but the others were already pushing by, and he was carried down the steps like a leaf in a current.
"Is Father hurt?" Gideon went on, coming to a stop before his brother. "Are you?" He put his hand up and took his brother’s face, his hand cupping Gabriel’s chin and turning it toward him. Though Gabriel was taller, the look of a younger sibling was clear in his face-relief that his brother was there, and a flicker of resentment at his peremptory tone.
"Father …," Gabriel began. "Father is a worm."
Will gave a short laugh. He was in gear as if he had just come from the practice room, and his hair curled damply against his temples. He was not looking at Tessa, but she had grown used to that. Will hardly ever looked at her unless he had to. "It’s good to see you’ve come round to our view of things, Gabriel, but this is an unusual way of announcing it."
Gideon shot Will a reproachful look before turning back to his brother. "What do you mean, Gabriel? What did Father do?"
Gabriel shook his head. "He’s a worm," he said again, tonelessly.
"I know. He has brought shame on the name of Lightwood, and lied to both of us. He shamed and destroyed our mother. But we need not be like him."
Gabriel pulled away from his brother’s grip, his teeth suddenly flashing in an angry scowl. "You’re not listening to me," he said. "He’s a worm. A worm. A bloody great serpentlike thing. Since Mortmain stopped sending the medicine, he’s been getting worse. Changing. Those sores upon his arms, they started to cover him. His hands, his neck, h-his face …" Gabriel’s green eyes sought Will. "It was the pox, wasn’t it? You know all about it, don’t you? Aren’t you some sort of expert?"
"Well, you needn’t act as if I invented it," said Will. "Just because I believed it existed. There are accounts of it-old stories in the library-"
"Demon pox?" said Cecily, her face screwed up in confusion. "Will, what is he talking about?"
Will opened his mouth, and flushed faintly across his cheekbones. Tessa hid a smile. It had been weeks since Cecily had come to the Institute, and still her presence bothered and upset Will. He did not seem to know how to behave around this younger sister, who was not the child he remembered, and whose presence he insisted was unwelcome. And yet Tessa had seen him follow Cecily around a room with his eyes, with the same protective love in his gaze that he sometimes bent on Jem. Certainly the existence of demon pox, and how one acquired it, was the last thing he would want to explain to Cecily. "Nothing you need know about," he muttered.
Gabriel’s eyes went to Cecily, and his lips parted in surprise. Tessa could see him taking Cecily in. Will’s parents must both have been very beautiful, Tessa thought, for Cecily was as pretty as Will was handsome, and with the same gleaming black hair and startling dark blue eyes. Cecily gazed boldly back at him, her expression curious; she must have been wondering who this boy was, who seemed to so dislike her brother.
"Is Father dead?" Gideon demanded, his voice rising. "Has the demon pox killed him?"
"Not killed," said Gabriel. "Changed. It has changed him. Some weeks ago he moved our household to Chiswick. He would not say why. Then a few days ago he locked himself in his study. He wouldn’t come out, not even to eat. This morning I went to the study to try to rouse him. The door had been torn off its hinges. There was a … a trail of some slimy stuff leading down the hall. I followed it downstairs and into the gardens." He looked around the now silent entryway. "He has become a worm. That is what I am telling you."
"I don’t suppose it would be possible," said Henry into the silence, "to, er, step on him?"
Gabriel looked at him in disgust. "I searched around the gardens. I found some of the servants. And when I say ‘I found’ some of them, I mean exactly what I say. They had been torn into-into pieces." He swallowed and looked down at his bloody clothes. "I heard a sound-a high-pitched howling noise. I turned and saw it coming toward me. A great blind worm like a dragon out of a legend. Its mouth was open wide, lined with dagger teeth. I turned and ran for the stables. It slithered after me, but I leaped upon the carriage and drove it out through the gates. The creature-Father-did not follow. I think it fears to be seen by the general populace."
"Ah," said Henry. "Too big to be stepped on, then."
"I shouldn’t have run," said Gabriel, looking at his brother. "I should have stood and fought the creature. Maybe it could be reasoned with. Maybe Father is in there somewhere."
"And maybe it would have bitten you in half," said Will. "What you are describing, the transformation into a demon, is the last stage of the pox."
"Will!" Charlotte threw up her hands. "Why didn’t you say so?"
"You know, the books on demon pox are in the library," Will said with an injured tone. "I wasn’t preventing anyone from reading them."
"Yes, but if Benedict was going to turn into an enormous serpent, you’d think you could at least have mentioned it," said Charlotte. "As a matter of general interest."
"First," said Will, "I didn’t know he was going to turn into a gigantic worm. The end stage of demon pox is turning into a demon. It could have been any sort. Second, it takes weeks for the transformation process to occur. I would have thought even a certified idiot like Gabriel here would have taken account of it and notified someone."
"Notified who?" asked Jem, not unreasonably. He had moved closer to Tessa as the conversation had continued. As they stood side by side, the backs of their hands brushed.
"The Clave. The postman. Us. Anyone," said Will, shooting an irritated look at Gabriel, who was starting to get some color back and looked furious.
"I am not a certified idiot-"
"Lack of certification hardly proves intelligence," Will muttered.
"And as I told you, Father locked himself in his study for the past week-"
"And you didn’t think to take any special notice of that?" said Will.
"You don’t know our father," said Gideon in the flat tone of voice he used sometimes when conversation about his family was inescapable. He turned back to his brother and put his hands on Gabriel’s shoulders, speaking quietly, in measured tones none of them could hear.
Jem, beside Tessa, hooked his smallest finger through hers. It was a habitual affectionate gesture, one that Tessa had grown used to over the past months, enough that she sometimes put out her hand without thinking when he was standing by her. "Is that your wedding dress?" he asked under his breath.
Tessa was saved answering by the appearance of Bridget, carrying gear, and Gideon suddenly turning to the rest of them and saying, "Chiswick. We must go. Gabriel and I, if no one else."
"Go alone?" Tessa said, startled enough to speak out of turn. "But why would you not call upon others to come with you-"
"The Clave," said Will, his blue eyes keen. "He doesn’t want the Clave to know about his father."
"Would you?" said Gabriel hotly. "If it were your family?" His lip curled. "Never mind. It’s not as if you know the meaning of loyalty-"
"Gabriel." Gideon’s voice was a reprimand. "Do not speak to Will in that manner."
Gabriel looked surprised, and Tessa could hardly blame him. Gideon knew of Will’s curse, of the belief that had caused his hostility and his abrupt manners, as all in the Institute did, but the story was private to them, and none outside had been told of it.
"We will come with you. Of course we will come with you," said Jem, releasing Tessa’s hand and stepping forward. "Gideon did us a service. We have not forgotten, have we, Charlotte?"
"Of course not," said Charlotte, turning. "Bridget, the gear-"
"I am conveniently already in gear," said Will as Henry shucked off his coat and traded it for a gear jacket and a weapons belt; Jem did the same, and suddenly the entryway was full of motion-Charlotte speaking quietly to Henry, her hand hovering just above her stomach. Tessa looked away from the private moment and saw a dark head bent with a fair one. Jem was at Will’s side with his stele drawn, tracing a rune on the side of Will’s throat. Cecily looked at her brother and scowled.
"I, too, am conveniently already in gear," she announced.
Will jerked his head up, causing Jem to make a sound of annoyed protest. "Cecily, absolutely not."
"You have no right to tell me yes or no." Her eyes flashed. "I am going."
Will jerked his head toward Henry, who shrugged apologetically. "She does have the right. She has trained for nearly two months-"
"She’s a little girl!"
"You were doing the same at fifteen," said Jem quietly, and Will spun back toward him. For a moment everyone seemed to hold their breath, even Gabriel. Jem’s gaze held Will’s, steadily, and not for the first time Tessa had the sense of unspoken words passing between them.
Will sighed and half-closed his eyes. "Tessa will be wanting to come next."
"Of course I am coming," Tessa said. "I may not be a Shadowhunter, but I too have trained. Jem is not going without me."
"You are in your wedding dress," Will protested.
"Well, now that you’ve all seen it, I can’t possibly wear it to be married in," said Tessa. "Bad luck, you know."
Will groaned something in Welsh-unintelligible, but clearly the tone of a man defeated. Across the room Jem cast Tessa a slight, worried smile. The Institute door swung open then, letting a blaze of autumn sunlight into the entryway. Cyril stood on the threshold, breathless.
"The second carriage is now ready," he said. "Who’ll be coming, then?"
To: Consul Josiah Wayland
From: The Council
As you are doubtless aware, your term of service as Consul, after ten years, is coming to an end. The time has come to appoint a successor.
As for ourselves, we are giving serious consideration to the appointment of Charlotte Branwell, nee Fairchild. She has done good work as the head of the London Institute, and we believe her to have your stamp of approval, as she was appointed by you after the death of her father.
As your opinion and esteem are to us of the highest value, we would appreciate any thoughts that you might have on the matter.
Yours with the highest regards,
Victor Whitelaw, Inquisitor, on behalf of the Council
Chapter 2 The Conqueror Worm
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
-Edgar Allan Poe, "The Conqueror Worm"
As the Institute’s carriage rolled through the gates of Lightwood House in Chiswick, Tessa was able to appreciate the place as she had not the first time she had been there, in the dead of night. A long gravel road flanked by trees led up to an immense white house with a circular drive in front of it. The house bore a strong resemblance to sketches she had seen of the classical temples of Greece and Rome with its strong, symmetrical lines and clean columns. There was a carriage drawn up before the steps, and gravel paths spread out through a network of gardens.
And lovely gardens they were. Even in October they were a riot of blooms-late-flowering red roses and chrysanthemums in bronze-orange, yellow, and dark gold bordered neat paths that wandered through the trees. As Henry drew their carriage to a stop, Tessa stepped out of the carriage, helped by Jem, and heard the sound of water: a stream, she suspected, diverted to run through the gardens. It was such a lovely place, she could hardly associate it in her mind with the same location where Benedict had held his devilish ball, though she could see the path that wound around the side of the house that she had taken that night. It led to a wing of the house that looked as if it had been recently added….
The Lightwood carriage rolled up behind them, driven by Gideon. Gabriel, Will, and Cecily spilled out. The Herondale siblings were still arguing with each other as Gideon climbed down, Will illustrating his points with bold sweeps of his arms. Cecily was scowling at him, the furious expression on her face making her look so much like her brother that it would, under other circumstances, have been amusing.
Gideon, even paler than before, turned in a circle, his blade unsheathed in his hand.