"We will want guarantees that no Downworlder whose hands are clean of mundane blood will be slaughtered. We want a law that states that any Shadowhunter who does strike down an innocent Downworlder will be punished." Ralf bore the outbreak of protest, and shouted it down. "You people live by laws! They are all you understand!"
"Yes, our laws, passed down to us by the Angel!" thundered Fairchild.
"Not rules that demon scum try to impose on us," sneered Starkweather.
"Is it too much to ask, to have laws to defend us as well as laws to defend the mundanes and the Nephilim?" Ralf demanded. "My parents were slain by Shadowhunters because of a terrible misunderstanding, because my parents were in the wrong place at the wrong time and presumed guilty because they were werewolves. I am raising my young brother alone. I want my people to be protected, to be strong, and not to be driven into corners until they either become killers or are killed!"
Magnus looked over to Camille, to share the spark of sympathy and indignation for Ralf Scott, so terribly young and terribly hurt and terribly in love with her. Camille’s face was untouched, more like a porcelain doll’s face than a person’s, her skin porcelain that could not redden or pale, her eyes cold glass.
He felt a qualm and dismissed it out of hand. It was a vampire’s face, that was all-no renoindentection of how she actually felt. There were many who could not read anything but evil in Magnus’s own eyes.
"What a terrible shame," said Starkweather. "I would have thought you might have more siblings to share the burden. You people generally have litters, do you not?"
Ralf Scott jumped up and hit the table with an open palm. His fingers grew claws and scored the surface of the table.
"I think we need scones!" exclaimed Amalia Morgenstern.
"How dare you?" bellowed Granville Fairchild.
"That was mahogany!" cried Roderick Morgenstern, looking appalled.
"I would very much like a scone," said Arabella the mermaid. "Also possibly some cucumber sandwiches."
"I like egg and cress," contributed Rachel Branwell.
"I will not stand to be so insulted!" said a Shadowhunter called Waybread, or some such thing.
"You will not be insulted, and yet you will insist on murdering us," Camille remarked, her cool voice cutting the air. Magnus felt almost unbearably proud of her, and Ralf threw her a passionately grateful look. "It seems hardly fair."
"Do you know that, last time, they threw away the plates that our very touch had profaned, once we were gone?" Magnus asked softly. "We can come to an agreement only if we begin at a position of some mutual respect."
Starkweather barked a laugh. Magnus actually did not hate Starkweather; at least he was no hypocrite. No matter how foul, Magnus did appreciate honesty.
"Then we won’t come to an agreement."
"I fear I must agree," Magnus murmured. He pressed a hand over his heart and his new peacock-blue waistcoat. "I strive to find some respect in my heart for you, but alas! It seems an impossible quest."
"Damned insolent magical libertine!"
Magnus inclined his head. "Just so."
When the refreshments tray arrived, the pause in hurling insults in order to consume scones was so excruciatingly awkward that Magnus excused himself under the pretext that he had to use the conveniences.
There were only a few chambers in the Institute into which Downworlders were permitted to venture. Magnus had simply intended to creep off into a shadowed corner, and he was rather displeased to find that the first shadowed corner he came upon was occupied.
There was an armchair and a small table. Slumped on the tabletop that depicted filigree gold angels was a seated man, cradling a small box in his hands. Magnus recognized the shining hair and broad shoulders immediately.
"Mr. Herondale?" he inquired.
Edmund started badly. For a moment Magnus thought he might fall from his chair, but Shadowhunter grace saved him. He stared at Magnus with blurred, wounded surprise, like a child slapped from sleep. Magnus doubted he had been doing much sleeping; his face was marked with sleepless nights.
"Had a night of it, did we?" Magnus asked, a little more gently.
"I had a few glasses of wine with the duck a l’orange," Edmund said, with a pallid smile that vanished as soon as it was born. "I shall never eat duck again. I cannot believe I used to like duck. The duck betrayed me." He was silent, then admitted, "Perhaps more than a few glasses. I have not seen you in Eaton Square."
Magnus wondered why on earth Edmund had thought he would, and then he recalled. It was the beautiful young Welsh girl’s address.
"You went to Eaton Square?"
Edmund looked at him as if Magnus were dull-witted.
"Pardon me," said Magnus. "I simply find it hard to imagine one of the mundanes’ glorious invisible protectors paying a social call."
This time Edmund’s grin was the old one, brilliant and engaging, even though it did not last. "Well, they did ask me for a card, and I had not the faintest idea what they meant by that. I was turned away with vast contempt by her butler."
"I take it you did not give the matter up there."
"No indeed," said Edmund. "I simply lay in wait, and after a mere few days had the opportunity to follow Li-Miss Owens, and caught up with her riding in Rotten Row. I have seen her every day since then."
"’Follow’ her? I wonder that the lady did not alert a constable."
The glow returned to Edmund’s face, rendering him in gold and blue and pearl again. "Linette says I am fortunate she did not." He added, a little shyly, "We are engaged to be married."
That was news indeed. The Nephilim generally married among themselves, an aristocracy based on their belief in their own sanctity. Any prospective mundane bride or bridegroom would be expected to drink from the Mortal Cup and be transformed through dangerous alchemy into one of the Angel’s own. It was not a transformation that all survived.
"Congratulations," said Magnus, and he kept his concerns locked in his own bosom. "I presume Miss Owens will soon Ascend?"
Edmund took a deep breath. "No," he said. "She will not."
"Oh," said Magnus, understanding at last.
Edmund looked down at the box he held in his hands. It was a simple wooden affair, with the symbol for infinity drawn upon the side in what looked like burned match. "This is a Pyxis," he said. "It holds within it the spirit of the first demon I ever slew. I was fourteen years old, and it was the day when I knew what I was born to do, what I was born to be-a Shadowhunter."
Magnus looked at Edmund’s bowed head, his scarred warrior’s hands clenched on the small box, and could not help the sympathy kindling within him.
Edmund spoke, in a confessional stream to his own soul and to the only person he knew who might listen and not think Edmund’s love was blasphemy. "Linette thinks it her duty and her calling to care for the people on her estate. She does not wish to be a Shadowhunter. And I-I would not wish it, or ask it of her. Men and women perish in attempts to Ascend. She is brave and beautiful and unwavering, and if the Law says she is not worthy exactly as she is, then the Law is a lie. I cannot believe the unfairness of it, that I have found the one woman in all the world whom I could love, and what does the Law say to this feeling that I know is sacred? In order to be with her, either I am meant to ask my dearest love to risk her life, a life that is worth more to me than my own. Or I am meant to cut away the other part of my soul-burn away my life’s purpose and all the gifts the Angel gave me."
Magnus remembered how Edmund had looked in that gorgeous leap to attack the demon, how his whole body had changed from restless energy to absolute purpose when he saw a demon: when he threw himself into the fray with the simple, natural joy of one who was doing what he was made for.
"Did you ever want to be anything else?"
"No," said Edmund. He stood and put a hand against the wall and raked the other hand through his hair, an angel brought to his knees, wild and bewildered by pain.
"But what of your dim view of marriage?" Magnus demanded. "What of having only one bonbon when you could have the box?"
"I was very stupid," Edmund said, almost violently. "I thought of love as a game. It is not a game. It is more serious than death. Without Linette, I might as well be dead."
"You speak of giving up your Shadowhunter nature," said Magnus softly. "One can give up many things for love, but one should not give up oneself."
"Is that so, Bane?" Edmund whirled on him. "I was born to be a warrior, and I was born to be with her. Tell me how to reconcile the two, because I cannot!"
Magnus made no answer. He was looking at Edmund and remembering when he had drunkenly thought of the Shadowhunter as a lovely ship, that might sail straight out to sea or wreck itself upon the rocks. He could see the rocks now, dark and jagged on the horizon. He saw Edmund’s future without Shadowhunting, how he would yearn for the danger and the risk. How he would find it at the gaming tables. How fragile he would always be once his sense of purpose was gone.
And then there was Linette, who had fallen in love with a golden Shadowhunter, an avenging angel. What would she think of him when he was just another Welsh farmer, all his glory stripped away?
Yet love was not something to be thrown aside lightly. It came so rarely, only a few times in a mortal life. Sometimes it came but once. Magnus could not say Edmund Herondale was wrong to seize love when he had found it.
He could think Nephilim Law was wrong for making him choose.
Edmund exhaled. He looked drained. "I beg your pardon, Bane," he said. "I am simply being a child, screaming and kicking against fate, and it is time to stop being a stupid boy. Why struggle against a choice that is already made? If I were asked to choose between sacrificing my life or sacrificing Linette’s every day for the rest of eternity, I would sacrifice my own every time."
Magnus looked away, so as not to see the wreckage. "I wish you luck," he said. "Luck and love."
Edmund made a small bow. "I bid you good day. I think we will not meet again."
He walked away, into the inner reaches of the Institute. A few feet away, he wavered and paused, light from one of the narrow church windows turning his hair rich gold, and Magnus thought he would turn. But Edmund Herondale never looked back.
Magnus returned with a heavy heart to the room where the Shadowhunters and Downworlders were still fighting a war of words. Neither side seemed inclined to give way. Magnus was inclined to give the matter up as hopeless.
Through the stained-glass windows the curtains of night began to show the signs of drawing down to reveal the day, and the vampires had to leave.
"It seems to me," said Camille, drawing on her scarlet gloves, "that another meeting will prove just as futile as these have been."
"If Downworlders continue to be insolent wretches," said Starkweather.
"If Shadowhunters continue to be sanctimonious murderers," snapped Scott. Magnus could not quite look at his face, not after Edmund Herondale’s. He did not want to watch as another boy’s dreams died.
"Enough!" said Granville Fairchild. "Madam, do not ask me to believe that you have never harmed a human soul. I am not a fool. And what kills Shadowhunters have made, they have made in the cause of justice and in the defense of the helpless."
Camille smiled a slow, sweet smile. "If you believe that," she murmured, "then you are a fool."
Cue another dreary, wearying burst of outrage from the assembled Shadowhunters. It warmed Magnus to see Camille defending the boy. She was fond of Ralf Scott, he thought. Perhaps more than fond. Magnus might hope that she would choose him, but he found he could not begrudge Scott her affection. He offered her his arm as they left the room, and she took it. They went out into the street together.
And there on the very doorstep of the Institute, the demons descended. Achaieral demons, their teeth razors and their wide wings scorched-black leather like the aprons of blacksmiths. They blanketed the night, blotting out the moon and wiping away the stars, and Camille shuddered at Magnus’s side, her fangs out. At the sign of Camille’s fear, Ralf Scott lunged at the enemy, transforming as he went, and brought one down in a bloody tangle onto the cobbles.
The Shadowhunters rushed out too, weapons sliding out of sheaths and garments alike. Amalia Morgenstern, it emerged, had been hiding a small tasteful axe under her hoop skirt. Roderick Morgenstern ran out into the street and stabbed the demon Ralf Scott was wrestling with.
From the small cart that contained her aquarium, Arabella gave a scream of real fear, and ducked down to the bottom of her woefully inadequate tank.
"To me, Josiah!" thundered Fairchild, and Josiah Waybread-no, Magnus thought it was Wayland, actually-joined him. They ranged themselves in front of Arabella’s cart and stood to defend her, letting no demon past the bright line of their blades.
Silas Pangborn and Eloisa Ravenscar moved to the street, fighting back-to-back, their weapons bright blurs in their hands and their movements in perfect synchronization, as if the pair of them had melded into a single fierce creature. De Quincey followed and fought with them.
The presence at Magnus’s side was gone suddenly. Camille left him and went running to help Ralf Scott. One demon leaped onto her from behind and seized her up in its bladelike talons. Ralf howled despair and grief. Magnus blasted the demon out of the sky. Camille went tumbling onto the ground, and Magnus knelt and gathered her, shaking, into his arms. He was amazed to see the gleam of tears in her green eyes, was amazed at how fragile she felt.
"I beg your pardon. I am not generally so easily overset. A mundane fortune-teller once told me that death would come to me as a surprise," Camille said, her voice trembling. "A foolish superstition, is it not? Yet I always wish to be warned. I fear nothing, if only I am told that danger is coming."