Chain of Gold Page 3

“It’s been ages since we’ve even seen a demon in London,” said James. “We may not have been as swift with our reaction time as we ought.”

“I reckon they’re all too scared to show their faces,” said Polly companionably, turning away to fetch a glass of gin for Pickles, the resident kelpie.

“Scared?” James echoed, pausing. “Scared of what?”

Polly started. “Oh, nothing, nothing,” she said, and hurried away to the other end of the bar. With a frown, James made his way upstairs. The ways of Downworlders were sometimes mysterious.

Two flights of creaking steps led to a wooden door on which a line had been carved years ago: It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. S.J.

James shouldered the door open and found Matthew and Thomas already sprawled around a circular table in the middle of a wood-paneled room. Several windows, their glass bumpy and pocked with age, looked out upon Fleet Street, lit by intermittent streetlamps, and the Royal Courts of Justice across the way, dimly sketched against the cloudy night.

The room was a fond and familiar place, with worn walls, a collection of ragged furniture, and a low fire burning in the grate. Over the fireplace was a marble bust of Apollo, his nose chipped off long ago. The walls were lined with occult books written by mundane magicians: the library at the Institute didn’t allow such things, but James collected them. He was fascinated by the idea of those who had not been born to the world of magic and shadows and yet yearned for them so strongly that they had learned how to pry open the gates.

Both Thomas and Matthew were free of ichor, wearing wrinkled but clean clothes, their hair—Thomas’s sandy brown and Matthew’s dark gold—still damp. “James!” Matthew cheered upon seeing his friend. His eyes were suspiciously bright; there was already a half-drunk bottle of brandy on the table. “Is that a bottle of cheap spirits I see before me?”

James set the wine down on the table just as Christopher emerged from the small bedroom at the far end of the attic space. The bedroom had been there before they had taken over the space: there was still a bed in it, but none of the Merry Thieves used it for anything besides washing up and storing weapons and changes of clothes.

“James,” Christopher said, looking pleased. “I thought you’d gone home.”

“Why on earth would I go home?” James took a seat beside Matthew and tossed Polly’s dish towels onto the table.

“No idea,” said Christopher cheerfully, pulling up a chair. “But you might have. People do odd things all the time. We had a cook who went to do the shopping and was found two weeks later in Regent’s Park. She’d become a zookeeper.”

Thomas raised his eyebrows. James and the rest of the group were never sure whether to entirely believe Christopher’s stories. Not that he was a liar, but when it came to anything that wasn’t beakers and test tubes, he tended to be paying only a fraction of attention.

Christopher was the son of James’s aunt Cecily and uncle Gabriel. He had the fine bone structure of his parents, dark brown hair, and eyes that could only be described as the color of lilacs. “Wasted on a boy!” Cecily said often, with a martyred sigh. Christopher ought to have been popular with girls, but the thick spectacles he wore obscured most of his face, and he had gunpowder perpetually embedded under his fingernails. Most Shadowhunters regarded mundane guns with suspicion or disinterest—the application of runes to metal or bullets prevented gunpowder from igniting, and non-runed weapons were useless against demons. Christopher, however, was obsessed with the idea that he could adapt incendiary weapons to Nephilim purposes. James had to admit that the idea of mounting a cannon on the roof of the Institute had a certain appeal.

“Your hand,” Matthew said suddenly, leaning forward and fixing his green eyes on James. “What happened?”

“Just a cut,” James said, opening his hand. The wound was a long diagonal slice across his palm. As Matthew took James’s hand, the silver bracelet that James always wore on his right wrist clinked against the hock bottle on the table. “You should have told me,” Matthew said, reaching into his waistcoat for his stele. “I would have fixed you up in the alley.”

“I forgot,” James said.

Thomas, who was running his finger around the rim of his own glass without drinking, said, “Did something happen?”

Thomas was annoyingly perceptive. “It was very quick,” James said, with some reluctance.

“Many things that are ‘very quick’ are also very bad,” said Matthew, setting the point of his stele to James’s skin. “Guillotines come down very quickly, for instance. When Christopher’s experiments explode, they often explode very quickly.”

“Clearly, I have neither exploded nor been guillotined,” said James. “I—went into the shadow realm.”

Matthew’s head jerked up, though his hand remained steady as the iratze, a healing rune, took shape on James’s skin. James could feel the pain in his hand begin to subside. “I thought all that business had stopped,” Matthew said. “I thought Jem had helped you.”

“He did help me. It’s been a year since the last time.” James shook his head. “I suppose it was too much to hope it was gone forever.”

“Doesn’t it usually happen when you’re upset?” said Thomas. “Was it the demon attacking?”

“No,” James said quickly. “No, I can’t imagine—no.” James had been almost looking forward to the fight. It had been a frustrating summer, the first one in over a decade that he hadn’t spent with his family in Idris.

Idris was located in central Europe. Warded all around, it was an unspoiled country, hidden from mundane eyes and mundane inventions: a place without railroads, factories, or coal smoke. James knew why his family couldn’t go this year, but he had his own reasons for wishing he were there instead of London. Patrolling had been one of his few distractions.

“Demons don’t bother our boy,” said Matthew, finishing the healing rune. This close to his parabatai, James could smell the familiar scent of Matthew’s soap mixed with alcohol. “It must have been something else.”

“You ought to talk to your uncle, then, Jamie,” said Thomas.

James shook his head. He didn’t want to bother Uncle Jem about what felt now like a moment-long flicker. “It was nothing. I was surprised by the demon; I grabbed at the blade by accident. I’m sure that’s what caused it.”

“Did you turn into a shadow?” said Matthew, putting his stele away. Sometimes, when James was pulled into the shadow realm, his friends reported that they could see him blurring around the edges. On some occasions, he’d turned entirely into a dark shadow—James-shaped, but transparent and incorporeal.

A few times—a very few times—he’d been able to turn himself into a shadow to pass through something solid. But he didn’t wish to speak about those times.

Christopher looked up from his notebook. “Speaking of the demon—”

“Which we weren’t,” Matthew pointed out.

“—what kind was it again?” Christopher asked, biting the end of his pen. He often wrote down details of their demon-fighting expeditions. He claimed it helped him in his research. “The one that exploded, I mean.”

“As opposed to the one that didn’t?” said James.

Thomas, who had an excellent memory for detail, said: “It was a Deumas, Christopher. Odd it was here; they’re not usually found in cities.”

“I saved some of its ichor,” said Christopher, producing from somewhere on his person a corked test tube full of a greenish substance. “I caution all of you not to drink any of it.”

“I can assure you we had no plans to do any such thing, you daft boot,” said Thomas.

Matthew shuddered. “Enough talk of ichor. Let’s toast again to Thomas being home!”

Thomas protested. James raised his glass and toasted with Matthew. Christopher was about to clink his test tube against James’s glass when Matthew, muttering imprecations, confiscated it and handed Christopher a glass of hock instead.

Thomas, despite his objections, looked pleased. Most Shadowhunters went on a sort of grand tour when they turned eighteen, leaving their home Institute for one abroad; Thomas had only just returned from nine months in Madrid a few weeks ago. The point of the travel was to learn new customs and broaden one’s horizons: Thomas had certainly broadened, though mostly in the physical sense.

Though the oldest of their group, Thomas had been slight in stature. When James, Matthew, and Christopher arrived at the dock to meet his ship from Spain, they combed through the crowds, nearly failing to recognize their friend in the muscular young man descending the gangplank. Thomas was the tallest of them now, tanned as if he’d grown up on a farm instead of in London. He could wield a broadsword in one hand, and in Spain he had adopted a new weapon, the bolas, made of stout ropes and weights that whirled over his head. Matthew often said it was like being comrades with a friendly giant.

“When you’re entirely done, I do have some news,” Thomas said, tipping his chair back. “You know that old manor in Chiswick that once belonged to my grandfather? Used to be called Lightwood House? It was given to my aunt Tatiana by the Clave some years ago, but she’s never used it—preferred to stay in Idris at the manor with my cousin, er…”

“Gertrude,” said Christopher helpfully.

“Grace,” James said. “Her name is Grace.”

She was Christopher’s cousin too, though James knew they had never met her.

“Yes, Grace,” agreed Thomas. “Aunt Tatiana’s always kept them both in splendid isolation in Idris—no visitors and all that—but apparently she’s decided to move back to London, so my parents are all in a dither about it.”

James’s heart gave a slow, hard thump. “Grace,” he began, and saw Matthew shoot him a quick sideways glance. “Grace—is moving to London?”

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