Alec tapped his red pen irritably on the armrest of his chair, glancing up from his marking to look at the clock on the wall. He'd been sitting here for more than two hours now, and he was probably going to be late for Max's birthday party, but he knew Magnus would cover for him for a while. It was just that he also had an errand to run, something to pick up, and he'd been thinking about it all day since he'd received the call from the shop.
The receptionist was surreptitiously trying to pack her bag, getting ready to leave, and flashed an apologetic smile at him when she caught his eye. Alec tried to smile back. It wasn't her fault that her boss was making him wait, he knew that. In fact, he'd been trying to talk to the guy for a year now - he'd seen a couple of receptionists come and go, noticed the chairs in the waiting area getting saggier and more worn-out, and practically watched generations of potted plants wilting until they'd given up and replaced them with plastic plants. If the state of the waiting room and the office in general was anything to go by, it looked like the TV production company might be on its last legs, and ordinarily this would have given Alec great satisfaction, if he wasn't worried that the producer would disappear if the company went belly-up.
Alec sighed and started putting his students' papers back in his briefcase, prepared to write today off as another unsuccessful attempt to catch the guy, when someone in a sharp suit walked out into the waiting room and stopped short. He stared at Alec, then shot a venomous look at the receptionist, who smiled beatifically at her boss and placed an envelope on the counter.
"I'm handing in my notice," she said brightly, then turned to Alec and winked. "And Mr Aldertree will see you now, Mr Lightwood. Sorry for the wait."
Victor Aldertree plastered on a smile as fake as the potted plants in the waiting room, and beckoned Alec towards his office.
Alec stood up quickly and grinned at the receptionist. "Thanks, uh...?"
"It's Helen," she replied cheerfully, slinging a small backpack over one shoulder. "Good luck," she said, flashing him an impish smile, and waved goodbye as Alec hurried after Aldertree.
The blinds were drawn over the windows in Aldertree's office, which struck Alec as a little ominous - but then again, Alec would freely admit to being more jumpy and suspicious than any normal person. Being trapped in a haunted house for three days with murderous ghosts and a primordial evil would do that to a person. It had been a year and a half since Alec and his siblings has first stepped into the cursed grounds of Blackthorn House to participate in a reality-TV programme, but Alec still had the habit of googling the history of places he was going to - everything from restaurants to field trip locations for his school kids - and he always took note of where all the doors and emergency exits were when he went to a new place, even though he knew that it wouldn't necessarily help if he was up against anything supernatural. He also had a couple of cast iron pokers in the trunk of his car and a plastic bottle of holy water that he wasn't even sure would work for him but he put in his car anyway, just in case. This was despite the fact that all six of them - him, Magnus, Jace, Izzy, Clary, and Simon - had not come into contact with anything supernatural since the events at Blackthorn House.
Some days, it was easy to wonder if they'd imagined everything; if maybe there'd been hallucinogens in the food or in the air, or maybe the eerie atmosphere of the whole place had somehow been powerful enough to give them some sort of shared delirium. As far as Alec’s siblings and their partners were concerned, Blackthorn House was a nightmare best forgotten, and nobody spoke about it, even though being on the show was what had brought all of them together in the first place. But Magnus hadn't been able to stomach the idea of the House claiming all those lives over the centuries and continuing to cause the deaths of more people, when he might have been able to do something about it, so Alec and Magnus had started researching quietly, digging through old newspapers for suspicious happenings related to Blackthorn House, and together they'd amassed a few folders worth of clippings about accidental deaths and mysterious disappearances. Magnus' best friend Ragnor had insisted on helping with their project, but even then they'd hit a dead-end. Eventually, they'd decided to try to find more recent information about who currently owned Blackthorn House and why they had allowed the TV production company to use the place for the programme, which was when Alec had taken it upon himself to hound the executive producer, Victor Aldertree.
Alec stepped into Aldertree's office warily and closed the door behind him. The office was extremely neat even by Alec's standards, not a single stray piece of paper lying around - which Alec cynically thought was because Aldertree seemed like the kind of man with too many dirty secrets to afford to be careless. The executive producer placed his briefcase on his table pointedly and sat down. He didn't invite Alec to take a seat, but Alec sat down anyway.
"I'm a very busy man, Mr Lightwood. I have somewhere I need to be," he said curtly.
"What do you know, so do I. So why don't you just answer my questions so that we can all get on with our lives?" Alec replied, with a smile as fake as Aldertree's.
"What do you want, Mr Lightwood? We've already paid you and all the surviving participants the prize money as promised, even though none of you stayed inside the house until sunrise as was stipulated in the rules, and the show didn't even make it to air in the end," the executive producer said, leaning back in his swivel chair with his arms crossed.
"I want answers," Alec bit out.
"And what kind of answers might that be? That ghosts exist?" Aldertree asked, his lips curled in a derisive sneer. "I'm sure your school board will be very interested to hear your theories on that."
"You must admit that something went terribly wrong on the show, and your crew did nothing to stop the filming even when they must have noticed people going missing, or odd things happening-" Alec began, but Aldertree simply brushed him off.
"I'll admit that it was disappointing that none of the crew tried to rectify the obvious technical issues that gave us less than ideal footage, but other than startling incompetence, nothing unusual happened. Yes, some of the crew just up and left, but TV production is tough - long hours, heavy equipment - not everyone is cut out for it."
"'Nothing unusual happened'?" Alec repeated incredulously. "Even if you somehow think crew members disappearing is par for the course, the six of us nearly died in there for your stupid TV show. Four people did die."
"According to you, and the participants that stayed till the end," Aldertree countered smoothly. "You claim that Edward Longford and Milo Keytower died, but the police think it's more likely that they ran away on the first night - they both had troubled relationships with their families and had just eloped and gotten married in Las Vegas the weekend before filming started. The only corpse that was found was that of Elliot Nourse, and then of course his wife Dorothea Nourse vanished into thin air, and you should know that she's the prime suspect in his murder."
"Dot didn't murder Elliot," Alec said through gritted teeth.
"So you've said. But the cameras showed her walking to the cemetery with him, and that's the last footage we had of either of them," Aldertree said complacently. "In fact, given the relationships between the six of you, you should be thankful that the hidden cameras provided alibis for all of you at the time that all the other four participants were last spotted on the hidden cameras, as well as at Elliott Nourse's estimated time of death. And believe me, the coverage was intensive. There was at least one camera in every room, except in the basement, as per the request of the owner of the property, and cameras in the pool house and greenhouse."
"I'm surprised that the police accepted the hidden camera footage as evidence - especially since according to you they had a habit of bursting into static randomly and dropping the feed at inopportune moments," Alec said sarcastically. "In fact, all the cameras stopped working towards the end of the last night, didn't they?"
"That's because the power went out - knocked out by the storm. The crew tried to open the gate which was the only way in and out of the estate-"
Alec let out a skeptical snort at that, remembering the hidden tunnel that the six of them had used to escape the creature in the basement. None of them had mentioned it to the police or the TV crew, claiming that they'd vaulted over the high wall at the back of the estate instead in their desperation to get out.
"-but with the power out the electronic lock was stuck, so they went to get help. Whatever footage we did have was checked by forensic experts. Some time was lost here and there, but time stamps were clearly indicated, and they agreed that there was no tampering," Aldertree replied with a shrug. "The crew later told me that they had been having intermittent problems with electronic disturbance even before filming started - faulty wiring in an old house, no doubt." He smirked at Alec. "And I wouldn't say the feed was that unreliable. It did after all capture some very interesting on-goings in the room you shared with Mr Bane. That's what this is really about, isn't it?"
Alec scowled and crossed his arms. "No, believe it or not, it's not about that. All I want is to see that footage for myself. Think of it as closure - we all became friends during the course of the filming, including the participants who went missing or turned up dead. I just want to know what happened."
Aldertree shook his head. "Are you trying to imply that somehow you'll spot something that the poli-" His gaze flickered down to his drawer and he stopped short and frowned, then pulled open the drawer and started rummaging inside. His cool, smug attitude disappeared immediately, replaced by panic and agitation when he apparently didn't manage to find what he had been looking for. He leapt to his feet, almost lunging across his desk at Alec. "You stole it?!"
"Stole what?" Alec asked in confusion.
"Don't play dumb with me. The memory stick, of course!" Aldertree snarled.
"What memory stick? You don't mean - you had all the footage from the hidden cameras on a memory stick, and now it's gone?" Alec asked.
"I'm calling the police," Aldertree hissed, already reaching for his phone.
"If I'd stolen it, I'd hardly be still here in your office, would I? Besides, I've been sitting outside in the waiting room all this time, everyone from the janitor to the receptionist saw me," Alec pointed out, rolling his eyes. "You're welcome to search me."
Aldertree paused, hand hovering over the phone and taking in Alec's unamused expression, then drew his hand back and ran it through his hair. "Fuck," he muttered to himself.
Something in his reaction made Alec think that there was more to this than just a memory stick gone missing - after all, the videos were essentially useless to the production company since they couldn't air them, and as far as he knew the police already had their own copy. "There was something in the videos that you didn't show the police - something you were using as blackmail," Alec guessed.
Aldertree laughed, a sharp, brittle sound. "Hardly. I've watched all the footage, and if I had irrefutable proof, exclusive footage, that the supernatural existed, don't you think I would want to use that to my advantage? There is nothing extraordinary on them. It's true that someone wants the footage as badly as you do, but not because there's anything incriminating on it. I believe he wants it for much the same reason that you do - he thinks he might spot a ghost in those videos."
"Then you were extorting money from him," Alec said.
"That's a serious accusation to throw around, Mr Lightwood. I prefer to think of it as striking a better bargain," Aldertree replied smugly. "You must know that producing a show, any show, costs a lot of money - so sponsors are a vital part of any production. And since the show never made it to air, some of our sponsors weren't very happy about it. The truth is, there are hundreds of so-called haunted houses out there, but we used Blackthorn House on special request of our biggest sponsor, so it's only fair that since it didn't work out, he should reimburse us for the costs of producing this shit show."
"Who is he?" Alec demanded.
Aldertree snorted. "We're not obliged to tell you anything. And you've all signed non-disclosure agreements, so you can't threaten to go to the media with your story."
"I'm not planning to go to the media. But you know Magnus is a famous author, and he's writing a new book. Who's to say what might inspire him? The non-disclosure agreement doesn't allow us to talk about what happened at Blackthorn House, but it says nothing about uncovering the unscrupulous behaviour of production companies who ran a show with no regard for health and safety of its crew or participants. Without mentioning any names, of course, but maybe just enough coincidences for people to jump to their own conclusions..." Alec trailed off meaningfully, keeping his face impassive. "I promise that this information will stay between us. Well, us and probably the other five participants. Just tell me, and I'll never bother you again."
Aldertree sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Fine," he spat out. "The sponsor is also the present owner of the Blackthorn estate. He claims that he's a distant relative of the young man who had that ill-fated love affair with Annabel Blackthorn."
"A name, Aldertree."
"Malcom Fade. The man you're looking for is Malcolm Fade."
By the time Alec arrived at the Lightwood family home, the party was already in full swing. Alec's mother, who was recently widowed, and his youngest brother lived in a three-storey brownstone townhouse in the Upper East Side that had belonged to the Lightwoods since it had been built in the 19th century. Izzy still lived in the apartment on the second floor with Simon, but both Jace and Alec had moved out despite their mother's protests, leaving the apartment at the first level open for tenants. This apartment was currently being rented out to Clary's family friend, a detective with the NYPD named Luke. The Lightwood family house didn't have any ghosts, as far Alec knew, but it was haunted by memories, not all of them good ones, and he had wanted a fresh start with Magnus. Jace had wanted a place closer to Clary's art school in Brooklyn, so they'd gotten an apartment two blocks away from Alec and Magnus, and so Alec still had his brother close by.
The level of noise in the apartment made Alec wince - the place was full of people and everyone was laughing and talking at the top of their voices so they could be heard over the music that was blasting over the speakers. He glanced around the room trying to spot Magnus so he could slip right next to him and pretend that he'd been there all this time, but when he turned, he found himself face to face with Izzy instead.
"Iz! Shouldn't you be sitting down?" he asked, pecking her on the cheek.
"I'm pregnant, not invalid," she huffed when he tried to herd her to the couch with one arm curved protectively around her belly in case any of these damned teenagers who weren't watching where they were going bumped into her.
Alec ignored her and glared a couple of Max's friends off the couch to make room for Izzy. Izzy rolled her eyes, but when she sat down heavily, Alec could tell she was glad to be off her swollen feet.
"Do you want anything? Water? Crackers? I know you said you've been having a craving for marmite and crackers, let me just-" He was already turning to head to the kitchen, but she grabbed his arm and stopped him in his tracks.
"I'm fine," she said in fond exasperation. "Honestly, between Simon, you, and Jace hovering around me, I can hardly breathe sometimes."
"Where is Simon?" Alec said with a frown. Izzy was due any day now, and although she'd finally given up her usual five-inch heels for sensible flats, he couldn't help feeling torn between wonder and horror at the swell of her very pregnant belly, which seemed to take up half of her tiny frame. Simon should never have left her side. Simon's silver medallion with the Star of David caught his eye, stark against her dark blue cashmere sweater.
"He's allowed to leave me alone for fifteen minutes to let the birthday boy thrash him at Mario Kart, big brother," she said with a laugh, reading his mind. "Now, you tell me - why were you late? Where have you been?"
"Lost track of time marking papers," he replied.
She looked skeptical, but didn't get a chance to interrogate him further because Jace came up behind him just then, slapping him on the back. "Hey, bro, what's up? Magnus is in the kitchen helping Mom with the refreshments, in case you were wondering."
Alec nodded in acknowledgement but Jace didn't seem to be paying attention.
"Lots of people turned up, huh? For a nerd our Maxie's popular," Jace commented.
"Just because he's on the academic decathlon team doesn't mean he can't be popular. I was on the academic decathlon team," Izzy protested.
"There's no way he's one of the cool kids, man. I mean, kid invited his school teachers to his birthday party, he's definitely lost a few points," Jace scoffed. "We should save Max from social suicide and do something that will be the talk of the school, like prank his teachers."
"Ah. Now I know what this is about," Izzy said with a knowing smile. "You've been in a mood to fight Sebastian all evening."
"Who's Sebastian?" Alec asked in confusion.
"He's one of the teachers-in-charge of the academic decathlon team Max is on," Izzy explained. "Max invited his whole team, including his teachers. The other teacher-in-charge Aline is here as well," Izzy replied, and lifted her chin to indicate two people in a corner sipping their drinks, who did seem a little out of place as the only adult guests amongst all the 15-year-olds. "Apparently they're cousins by marriage."
"What's the deal with this Sebastian guy?" Alec asked.
"His surname is Verlac, so that makes me dislike him on principle," Jace said, and Alec had to fight to keep his expression blank - Verlac had been the surname of the asylum director, back when Blackthorn House had served as a penitentiary for the criminally insane. "Also, I don't like his face," Jace added sullenly.
"He didn't know that Clary already had a boyfriend and tried to chat her up," Izzy explained, grinning. "Clary set the record straight, and he was embarrassed but he backed off immediately."
"He's been sneaking glances at Clary the whole night!" Jace grumbled.
"So? Your girlfriend is hot, live with it," Izzy teased. "It's not like he's being creepy about it, and I don't think he's trying to make Clary uncomfortable. You're the only one who's noticing it because you've been watching him. Just leave the poor guy alone to his pining, Jace. Let's go and find the birthday boy, shall we?"
The three of them squeezed across the crowded apartment, Alec and Jace flanking an exasperated Izzy, making their way to the huge flatscreen TV in the entertainment room where people were watching Max beat everyone at Mario Kart. Simon had surrendered the controls and was sitting next to Magnus and Clary, cheering Max on as he played against a girl with wavy brown hair.
"Hey," Alec greeted Magnus, kissing him briefly.
"How did it go?" Magnus asked him in an undertone.
"Yeah, I've got something," Alec replied tersely.
Magnus smiled. "That's good."
The volume of the yelling and cheering around them was rising, erupting in a blast of cheers when Max won the Cup again.
"Yes! Ladies and gentlemen, you are in the presence of greatness - the undefeated Mario Kart champion of the Upper East Side, and some say the whole of New York City," Max announced, to a mixture of laughter and good-natured ribbing from his classmates. "Good show, Liv," Max said, holding his hand out to his opponent for a handshake.
"Just you wait, I'll beat you yet," she retorted, but shook his hand. Beside her, a boy who looked startlingly similar to her - obviously a sibling - rolled his eyes at them. As someone who was used to working with kids with special needs, Alec couldn't help noticing that the boy was wearing a pair of headphones and had been doodling in a sketchbook while everyone around him was watching the game or talking to friends and taking selfies or whatever. He flinched when he noticed Alec looking at him, and practically dived back into his sketchbook. Maybe neurodivergent, then.
"Alec!" Max shouted when he spotted Alec, and came over to give him a hug.
"Happy birthday, kiddo." Alec handed his brother an envelope from his briefcase.
"Amazon gift card. Nice. Thanks, big bro," Max said with a grin.
"But you can't beat the pair of butterfly knives I gave him," Jace said.
"Coolest gift ever," Max agreed cheerfully.
Alec glared at his brother, who just shrugged. "Max can handle himself," Jace said.
"Babe, have you talked to Alec about the wedding invites?" Simon blurted out, always the peacemaker.
"Oh, right! Alec, could you help us proofread them before we send the design out for printing?" Izzy asked.
"Sure. Isn't it a bit early, though? Your wedding is in September and it's only April," Alec said.
"Yes, but we thought we'd do whatever we can in advance. Might be a little preoccupied when this little guy comes," Simon explained, resting a hand gently on Izzy's baby bump.
"Do you need any help with the wedding planning?" Magnus asked her.
"Nope! All settled. I've had lots of time, since they won't let me into my lab and I'm stuck with catching up on boring paperwork," Izzy replied, then winked. "But I'll be sure to lend you and my brother a hand when it's your turn."
"I'll be sure to take you up on that," Magnus replied, the seriousness of his expression spoiled by a wink. But Alec found it a little harder to laugh it off, considering he'd just come from a jewellers after picking up a ring - a ring he'd had custom-made for Magnus.
"I'm going to go help Mom bring out the birthday cake," Alec mumbled, and escaped into the kitchen.
The morning sun was just beginning to filter through the curtains when Magnus woke up. The weather was still chilly enough that Magnus was thankful for his own personal human furnace, and he sighed contentedly as he slipped his arms around Alec's waist and leaned against his back. Alec barely stirred. For someone who had no problem snapping awake with his alarm at the crack of dawn every morning to get ready to mould young minds and inspire future generations, Alec could be an incredibly heavy sleeper on the weekends, as if his body knew that this was its only opportunity to get more rest.
"Darling? We've got plans today," Magnus said softly, kissing the strip of skin at Alec's shoulder bared by the overstretched collar of his t-shirt, but didn't get a response. Magnus grinned as an idea crept into his head - he knew just the perfect way to wake Alec up.
Alec always slept like this, on his side and curled up like a shrimp. Magnus nudged him onto his back gently, then peeled Alec's boxer shorts off slowly, careful not to jolt him awake especially at the tricky part where he had to slide the waistband over his hips, but soon he had his boyfriend all laid out in front of him, long legs slightly splayed. Magnus pulled off his tank top and kicked off his own underwear, then got out the lube from the nightstand, popping the cap open as quietly as he could manage.
He nudged Alec's legs a little further apart before squeezing a generous amount of lube on his fingers, and got down onto one elbow. As he reached behind himself to spread the lube all around his own entrance, he carefully took Alec's cock into his mouth and began to suck it gently while teasing himself open, rubbing the sensitive rim and fucking himself shallowly with the tip of a finger. He spread his own knees wider as Alec's cock hardened in his mouth and pushed one slick finger all the way in, closing his eyes as he relished the burn of the stretch.
Alec's cock was almost fully hard now, and Alec was tossing his head in his sleep, brows furrowed and hips canting forward. Magnus breathed around the weight of Alec’s cock on his tongue as best as he could, then began to work his finger in and out of himself, intent on getting himself ready for Alec's cock before he woke up. His own cock was hanging heavy and neglected between his legs, and Magnus couldn't stop himself from moaning around Alec's cock when he slid a second finger into himself.
Alec startled awake, hips jerking slightly and looking down in confusion - but confusion soon became desire, and he spread his legs readily to give Magnus more space, eyes dark with want and groaning appreciatively when Magnus flicked his tongue at the head of his cock.
Magnus pulled off gently and slid his fingers out of himself before moving up to hover over Alec. "Have you been having sweet dreams about me?" Magnus teased.
A soft smile played on Alec's lips. "I'm pretty sure I'm still dreaming."
Magnus leaned down to kiss Alec's smile, and Alec kissed him back, moaning at the taste of himself on Magnus' tongue. "I've been awake for a while, thinking about you," Magnus whispered, guiding Alec's hand to his ass.
Alec, still half asleep, seemed a little out of it, but grabbed a handful of Magnus' ass almost instinctively and gave it a squeeze. "Yeah?" he asked, hands exploring Magnus' body until his fingers found Magnus' slick entrance. "Oh fuck-"
Alec rolled them over so fast that Magnus laughed, breathless from being thrown onto his back so abruptly; then Alec pressed two fingers inside him without warning, and his laugh became a moan.
Alec curled his fingers inside Magnus just right, and Magnus closed his eyes, gasping as Alec scissored his fingers inside him to make sure that Magnus was ready for him. He shuddered when Alec pulled his fingers out, his whole body humming with anticipation as Alec pulled his own shirt off, then manoeuvred a pillow under Magnus' hips. Alec quickly slicked himself up with more lube and pressed Magnus' knees up against his chest before covering Magnus' body with his own, then he kissed Magnus gently as he reached down to take himself in hand, and Magnus felt the tip of Alec's cock rubbing against his slick hole.
"Come on, darling," Magnus said, tilting his hips up in invitation, and felt Alec smile against his lips.
Magnus took a slow, measured breath as Alec began to push his cock into Magnus' body, trying to relax around the odd feeling of the blunt head sliding inside him. He let out an involuntary moan at the intimate stretch of his body being opened up by Alec’s cock, the hot, hard length of it slowly sinking deep into his body until Alec's hips were flush against the curve of his ass.
Alec leaned forward to kiss Magnus sweetly, already breathless from the pleasure of being buried inside Magnus' tight heat. "You're perfect," he murmured.
"Hardly," Magnus replied with a soft laugh, one hand running through the fine hair at Alec's nape.
"To me you are," Alec insisted.
Magnus pulled him closer for another kiss, feeling the joy soaring inside his chest like a physical thing, feeling so unbearably light that he might burst from it. "I love you, Alexander."
"I love you too," Alec said softly, kissing Magnus again and again - then he rocked his hips into Magnus, grinding deep, and Magnus gasped against his lips as Alec pulled out almost all the way, then eased himself back in.
Magnus ran his hands lightly down Alec's back, feeling Alec's muscles contracting and shifting under his skin, letting out breathy sounds of pleasure as Alec moved inside him, filling him and stretching him. Alec's beautiful hazel eyes never left his face, looking at him like he was trying to commit every moment of this to his memory. He was fucking Magnus so, so slowly, brows slightly furrowed in concentration as he turned that dedicated focus that he put behind everything he did to the sole purpose of giving Magnus pleasure - always so serious, his Alexander. Alec's lashes were gold-tipped in the morning light, and Magnus wanted to reach out a hand to smooth out that frown - then the head of Alec's cock pressed into his prostate, and Magnus' hands clenched in the sheets instead.
"Ah! Right there, god, Alexander-" Magnus cried out, throwing his head back as Alec began to fuck him in earnest, every snap of his hips sending a jolt of pleasure through Magnus as Alec aimed his thrusts to hit his prostate dead-on.
Alec crashed his lips into Magnus', panting against his lips in between searing open-mouthed kisses that left Magnus dizzy. Magnus' cock was trapped between their bodies, leaving trails of precome on their abs. Magnus reached down to give himself a few firm strokes before pressing his thumb to Alec's mouth, smearing his precome across his lower lip, and Alec flicked his tongue out eagerly to taste it before sucking Magnus' thumb into his mouth.
"Magnus," Alec moaned, his voice muffled by Magnus' thumb still inside his mouth. His breath was coming out in harsh gasps, his rhythm faltering, and his eyes fell shut when he pushed himself in as deep as he could go and came inside him, filling Magnus' body with hot spurts of his release, his lips still wrapped around Magnus' thumb.
Magnus' other hand went to his cock, but he'd barely gotten a few strokes in when Alec grabbed his wrist and pinned it to the bed. Alec slid his spent cock out of Magnus, but before Magnus could do more than make a sound of protest, Alec had pushed himself lower to settle in between Magnus' spread thighs and thrust three fingers right into Magnus' come-slick and stretched hole. Magnus gasped, arching up at the feeling of being filled again, and looked back down just in time to see Alec's mouth closing over the head of his leaking, swollen cock.
"Fuck! Alexander!" he cried out in surprise.
Magnus hooked his arms under his own knees to hold his legs spread for Alec, and Alec moaned around the cock in his mouth, hungrily sucking and bobbing his head up and down on Magnus' cock as he fucked Magnus with his fingers. And god, what a sight he made - plush lips stretched out around the girth of Magnus' cock, looking up at Magnus with lust-drunk eyes as his tongue flexed around the weight of Magnus' cock on it, struggling to take Magnus deeper into the wet heat of his throat as he pumped his fingers in and out of Magnus, caressing the tight knot of nerves inside him with every stroke. Then Alec's lips slid further down Magnus' cock until Magnus could feel himself bumping into the back of Alec's throat, and he came with a shout, shuddering under Alec as his throat worked around Magnus' cock, swallowing every drop of Magnus' release.
Alec eased his fingers out of Magnus, and Magnus shivered. "Oh darling," Magnus breathed out, and for a moment he could only lie there bonelessly, basking in the afterglow.
He was dimly aware of Alec getting off the bed, and couldn't help letting out a moan when Alec returned with a wet washcloth to clean him up. Then the mattress dipped as Alec settled beside him again and ducked under the covers. His arms went around Magnus, his entire body curling towards him, and Magnus pressed a kiss to Alec's forehead.
"Are you ready to wake up now?" Magnus asked.
"Five more minutes," Alec mumbled, pulling him closer and burying his face in the crook of Magnus' neck, and within seconds he was snoring gently.
"Well, that backfired spectacularly," Magnus murmured with a laugh, but wrapped his arms around Alec and went back to sleep as well, still smiling.
It was past lunch-time when they actually got out of bed. They'd been planning to try out a trendy new bistro in Hell's Kitchen, but Magnus couldn't say that he regretted missing their reservation very much. Wild boar ragu and wok-fried pasta had nothing on sitting in the kitchen in a robe and his underwear eating cornflakes for lunch when he had Alec right here, looking like that - hair sticking out at odd angles from Magnus tugging on it, fresh hickey peeking out from the edge of the collar of a faded and overstretched but incredibly soft t-shirt from Magnus' college days that both of them were always playfully fighting over, and cheeks still a little flushed from their second round of morning "exercise". Alec caught Magnus looking at him and leaned over to steal a kiss.
"What was that for?" Magnus asked, but Alec just shrugged, flashing Magnus a lop-sided grin.
"You're going over to Ragnor's today?" Alec asked.
"Yup. Do you want to come along?"
Alec shook his head. "You know how Jace's shop gets on the weekends, especially since he started doing muffins and stuff as well. I thought I'd go over and help out."
Magnus' eyes lit up. "Oh! Do you think you could persuade your brother to-"
"-make some of those poppy seed lemon cake bars that you're addicted to?" Alec filled in, grinning. "He started a batch as soon as I told him I was going over."
"I'll drop by after I'm done at Ragnor's," Magnus said happily.
They munched on their cornflakes in silence, then did the dishes - Alec washing and Magnus drying - and settled at the table with their coffee. They had been living together in this apartment for more than a year now, although Alec's mother had been a little worried when they'd moved in together after dating for only a few months, but Magnus thought that it had all felt right. Magnus had been desperately looking for a new place because his old place had a balcony and he couldn't stand living in a place with one after a ghost had shoved him off one in Blackthorn House, but this new place he'd found was too big for one person, and he'd complained to Alec about jumping at shadows and finding the silence unnerving - so Alec had started coming over more often. His new place was so close to Alec's school that Alec had found it easier to just stay over on weekdays, then on weekends as well, and they'd only realised that they'd basically moved in with each other after a month, when Simon had innocently asked whether Alec needed help moving the rest of his stuff over.
"So, uh, Max's teacher - what were the chances of him being a Verlac, huh?" Alec said.
"I spoke to him, and I don't think he's even heard of Blackthorn House," Magnus said. "But we got home so late yesterday that you didn't get a chance to tell me what you learnt from Aldertree. Did he tell you the name of the current owner of Blackthorn House?"
Alec took a deep breath. "Malcolm Fade."
Magnus' eyes widened. "Wasn't that the name of Annabel Blackthorn's lover?"
"According to Aldertree, he's the descendant of that guy - who apparently didn't die in Blackthorn House after all."
"Well, you did only see Annabel's ghost. And people do get named after their ancestors," Magnus conceded. "It's just that it seems like too much of a coincidence, doesn't it?"
Alec chewed on his lower lip. "Speaking of coincidences, the footage Aldertree had from the hidden cameras was stolen when I was there yesterday."
"What? That... please tell me it wasn't you, darling."
"No! I mean, I really want to know what's on it, but I'm not that crazy," Alec huffed. "Besides, Aldertree swears there was nothing odd on it. It doesn't make sense. Maybe ghosts can walk through walls or the urban legend that the camera doesn't lie and can capture images of spirits isn't true after all, but how did Dot, Elliot, Milo, and Edward get moved to the places where they were found without the cameras picking it up?"
"Well, perhaps the spirits didn't show up as humanoid on camera. I've seen some images taken by paranormal investigators, and they seem to think that spirits show up as glowing orbs, which could easily have been mistaken for a lens flare or reflection," Magnus suggested. "As for moving the physical bodies around... do you think that perhaps the spirits were able to possess them and move them around that way?"
"They didn't try to possess any of us, though," Alec pointed out.
"So what are we thinking? Secret passageways? Like the one in the library?" Magnus asked.
"Or perhaps some conditions have to be met for a possession to happen," Alec suggested.
"I'll see if Ragnor has anything on that," Magnus said.
"And I'll see if I can find out more about this Malcolm Fade guy," Alec said, and they moved on to other topics - last-minute additions to the nursery for Izzy's baby, meeting Jem and Tessa for dinner since they were back in town for the week, Max going to California for the upcoming national academic decathlon championship, and whether Maryse's new tenant Luke's helpful offers to fix faulty lights and leaking pipes was considered flirting.
As Magnus was getting in his car on the way to Ragnor's place, he wondered if they would ever actually go back to Blackthorn House. The problem was, everyone else had moved on and life was good - and when everything seemed to be going so well, there was so much more at stake now, so much more to lose.
They had known that researching the history of Blackthorn House would be like opening a can of worms, but neither of them had been prepared for the extent of the horror - gruesome and increasingly deranged journals from the doctors in the asylum, far too many missing people reports from the towns around the House, mangled bodies of animals found in the woods behind. And perhaps the clear awareness of how dangerous it was had led to them postponing a trip back to the House - "some day" had become six months, then a year, then a year and a half. They just didn't feel ready enough, and honestly how did one get ready to face a primordial evil that claimed to be almost as old as God?
He let himself in to Ragnor's place with the spare key, put the food he'd bought for Ragnor on the dining table, and headed for the study. He'd always teased Ragnor about being absent-minded, since Ragnor had always had a bad habit of forgetting to eat when he was engrossed in something, but the joke had turned sour after Ragnor's diagnosis. Sure enough, he found Ragnor poring over a book - freshly delivered from Amazon, if the box on the floor was anything to go by.
"Magnus! I... Why are you here today?" Ragnor asked, frowning.
"It's Saturday. I always come on Saturdays," Magnus replied, a pang going through his chest.
"Oh. Is it already Saturday? I could have sworn it was Friday," Ragnor said mildly. He glanced at the clock, and Magnus noticed his shoulders tense slightly. "And I could have sworn it was still morning, too. I suppose time really flies when you're having fun."
"I bought you food," Magnus said. "Just something from the Indian restaurant round the corner, I'm afraid. I was going to get you something different from the new place I was going to for lunch, but I ended up staying in."
Ragnor frowned, and Magnus rolled his eyes.
"No, it's not because I was 'brooding', as you call it. Alec and I just got... distracted."
Ragnor held up a hand quickly. "That's more than I ever wanted to know," he said wryly.
Magnus knew where Ragnor was coming from. When Ragnor had first been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Magnus had fallen into a funk. His mind had just gone blank when he tried to sit down to write, and he'd stopped going out - no more hunting down the newest food fad at a summer street fair, no more dancing at clubs until the wee hours of the morning. He hadn't even been able to bring himself to leave the house to watch Simon's band play or support Clary's latest art exhibition. While he was definitely getting back to all of that now that he had Alec, writing was still a bit of a struggle some times. Ragnor had been right there with Magnus when his first novel had been a crappy first draft, and the thought of not having his best friend with him not just for the rest of his writing career but the rest of his life had filled him with a debilitating panic. Ragnor was about twenty years older than Magnus, but he should still have had a couple of decades more before even having to think about death and other morbid things. The worst of it had been watching Ragnor struggle to find the words he couldn't remember anymore in the middle of conversations - considering how important words and the precision of language had been to Ragnor all his life.
"What are you reading?" Magnus asked, peering over Ragnor's shoulder; Ragnor flipped the book shut briefly so that Magnus could see the cover, and Magnus' his heart lurched sickeningly in his chest, missed a beat, and sped up to double time to make up for it when he recognised it - Le Dragon Rouge, that horrible spellbook they'd found in the Blackthorn library. "What the fuck? How the hell did you get that?"
"Let's see... it cost me $5,004.96, plus shipping, off Amazon, and came highly recommended by the user 'Wizard Baphomet'," Ragnor said cheerfully, reading off the receipt, which was clipped to a notepad he kept next to him to keep track of important things.
"Ragnor, have you lost your mind?" Magnus demanded.
"Not all of it, not yet - but slowly and surely," Ragnor replied sardonically.
Magnus took a deep breath, closed his eyes and counted to ten, then let it out slowly. "It's not funny," he said, trying to keep his voice even.
"It's a choice between laughing or crying about it," Ragnor said with a shrug. "Besides, do you honestly think that a spellbook I could buy off Amazon could pose any real danger?"
"So it's a fake? Then what did you buy it for?" Magnus asked.
"I didn't say it was a fake, but there have been many editions published over the years, and perhaps some parts were left out in the mass-produced copies. And you know as well as I do that most of these were made up to cash in on the nineteenth-century fascination with the... what's that word?"
"Yes, thank you - occult. Publishers would spread rumours that the Church had attempted to destroy these grimoires to entice the gullible."
"But we know this one works. The thing in Blackthorn House is proof of that," Magnus said.
"Then all the more reason to examine this closely. There's a banishing ritual as well as a summoning and binding ritual," Ragnor replied, going back to his reading.
Magnus sighed. "No, go eat your food before it gets cold. I'll take over. Where did you stop?"
Magnus gave up on Ragnor's depressingly jumbled notes pretty quickly, then lasted another fifteen minutes before he was overcome by an overwhelming urge to throw the expensive vintage book violently across the room and had to leave the study, only to find Ragnor pottering about the kitchen, making toast.
"Was something wrong with the chicken tikka masala? I thought that was your favourite," Magnus said with a frown.
Ragnor stopped short in the middle of fishing a plate out of his cupboard. "Ah. I thought I smelled something. But they don't make chicken tikka masala on Fridays."
"Of course. It must be a Saturday, because you're here."
Magnus swallowed past the lump in his throat and helped Ragnor bring the plates and utensils out to the dining table. They shared out the food, including the toast, but Magnus could only bring himself to pick at his share. Ragnor was still doing fine aside from the occasional memory lapses, he told himself, and between Catarina, Raphael, and Alec, they were trying to keep an eye on Ragnor's condition without intruding on his need for privacy.
"Did you manage to finish the first part of the book?" Ragnor asked.
"Yes. I'm assuming the banishing ritual is nonsense, because it boils down to 'ask the demon if it could leave, pretty please with a cherry on top'," Magnus replied.
Ragnor nodded. "I think the key to banishing the entity may be in the binding ritual, which was supposed to make the spirit obey the summoner."
"Felix Blackthorn really did all that, didn't he?" Magnus asked quietly. "The first sacrifice was burning the skin and fat of a human child, so he must have actually skinned one of his own children, one of the twins, after he drowned them. The second was the eye of a child dead by water, and the third was heart of a child dead by air - I assume that was the hanging of Annabel Blackthorn. And all that for what? To bring his dead wife back? And it didn't even work, did it?"
Ragnor shrugged. "People do desperate things in the name of love. I'm guessing the ritual didn't work because the ritual called for children and virgin sacrifices, and perhaps Annabel was no longer a virgin. Maybe that's why Felix Blackthorn killed her lover as well."
"No, Malcolm survived. Alec found out that the current owner is a descendant."
"Hmmm. Well, that certainly complicates things," Ragnor murmured. "You see, there was something required as an anchor in the rituals, uh..."
"Yes, that. It's another name for heliotrope or bloodstone, but I suspect that the translation is wrong, and it doesn't mean the mineral. For a spell that literally called for the caster to surrender body, mind, and soul, don't you think a piece of rock as an anchor seems rather tame? I think it actually means blood as the stone, as the anchor - that the rituals are anchored to a bloodline."
"To the Blackthorns, assuming Felix Blackthorn was the one who completed the summoning," Magnus mused. "Or do you think that Malcolm Fade was the one whose bloodline the summoning is tied to?"
"It is possible, if he was the one who recited the final incantation. Since his descendant has returned to take ownership of the property, it would seem that he is drawn to the place," Ragnor pointed out. "As far as we know, the line of the Blackthorns ended with the family that died in the House, so he seems like the most plausible candidate."
"Except that he would have required a third person to sacrifice, and as far as we know, the only other death was that of Felix Blackthorn," Magnus said, frowning.
"Or, for all we know, the binding could have been only truly completed during the House's asylum days," Ragnor suggested.
"Funny you should say that. We actually happened to meet someone who might be a descendant of the asylum director last night - he's Max's teacher."
"Max? Who's Max?"
"Alec's little brother. You've met him."
"Of course," Ragnor replied lightly. Magnus doubted he remembered Max at all.
Magnus sighed. "Ragnor, why are you even helping us with this? Instead of studying all these macabre old books, you could be doing... I don't know, travelling the world. Doing something you've always wanted to do."
"Making my way through my bucket list? Spending more time with the people I love before I forget their names?" Ragnor asked drily.
Ragnor smiled. "It's quite alright, old friend. After all, I am spending more time with you while we work on this little project, am I not? And I know that the rest of you are checking in on me - I believe I have seen more of Raphael in this past few months than I have in all the years I have known him."
"It's not fair," Magnus said quietly.
"Life isn't 'fair', it just is. That's why we escape into worlds of fiction, where good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. Real life seldom has the good grace to follow a proper narrative structure," Ragnor said. He cleared his throat. "I have given this some thought, and I think I would like to make a difference in this world while I still can."
"What do you mean you're not making a difference in the world? You're editing my literary masterpieces," Magnus joked half-heartedly.
"Even if you decide in the end that the price of putting an end to the evil that has possessed Blackthorn House is too great, promise me that you will put this information we have found somewhere safe, where someone else may be able to find it," Ragnor said seriously.
"We will go back to finish this job," Magnus promised. "I don't think either Alec or I could rest easy if we don't."
Ragnor sighed. "But you are finally happy. You've even got a ring ready to propose to Alec. I am being perfectly serious when I tell you that I would understand if you can't go through with it, not when it may involve the murder of one or more innocent persons."
"Murder? Ragnor, what are you talking about?"
Ragnor met Magnus' eyes squarely, his expression sombre. "Because I think the only way to send that thing back to hell is to destroy the 'ematille' - to kill the person whose lifeforce this summoning is bound to."
"I knew you could do it!" Izzy yelled at the phone screen, and Max beamed at her, mirroring her thumbs-up gesture.
"Congratulations, kiddo!" Jace chimed in.
Max's voice was slightly muffled, and someone behind him squealed in excitement. Alec strained to hear his brother's voice over the noise of hundreds of students in the background laughing and talking after the competition. Max's team had just won a bronze at the academic decathlon and Max himself had won an individual silver medal, plus since it was spring break, Max's teachers were bringing them on a road trip on the way back to New York to reward the team for all the hard work they'd put in, and Max was so excited that he was babbling at a million miles per hour.
"Hey, stay safe, alright?" Alec said. "Stick with your group, and don't go wandering off-"
Max rolled his eyes and shot back a snarky response.
"Just because you won a silver medal doesn't mean you can talk to your brother like that," Maryse scolded, then added quickly, "We're all very proud of you, of course."
Max stuck out his tongue at Alec and Alec did the same back at his little brother, and they all laughed. Then Max had to say goodbye because his team was going off, and cut the call.
"Alright, break's over! Back to work!" Jace announced, and there was some joking about slave-drivers as Alec, Simon, and Clary went back to their positions behind the counters and in the kitchen of Jace's coffee shop.
Magnus dropped by after visiting Ragnor as he usually did if Alec was helping out, chatting with Izzy and Maryse until they went home, then spent the rest of the evening in a corner table of the shop that was reserved for him, writing his new novel in one of his endless notebooks until Alec was done helping Jace sweep up. They walked home together after that, hand in hand, and Alec could hardly believe that this was all his to have: his family happy and content, a home with the man he loved, and a man like Magnus to love and who loved him back.
On Sunday they didn't go over to the coffee shop because Alec wanted to prepare his class materials for when school reopened. He and Magnus were in the study working in companionable silence, and Alec was so focused on his lesson plans that he jumped when his phone rang.
"Izzy? Is it the baby? Is Simon still at the coffee shop?" he yelped, already out of his seat.
"No. Turn on the news," Izzy said over the phone. He walked out to the living room immediately and turned on the TV.
"Alexander, what is it?" Magnus asked, taking off his reading glasses and following him out of the room.
"Freak storm," Alec replied, scanning the words that were scrolling at the bottom of the screen. Each phrase caused his worry to ratchet up a notch: hurricane-force winds, multiple tornadoes, poor visibility on the roads. He turned to Magnus. "That's where Max is supposed to be right now, according to the itinerary."
Jace had closed his shop immediately once he'd heard about the storm, and all of them gathered in the Lightwood family home, glued to the TV and anxiously waiting for more news. None of them had been able to reach Max or his teachers, not unexpected with the ferocity of the storm that was wrecking havoc in multiple states, and nobody got much sleep that night.
It was the next morning when they finally received a call - an unknown number on Maryse's phone.
"Max? Oh thank goodness," Maryse said, her shoulders slumping in relief. She put the call on speaker mode so that they could all hear, but the connection was bad, and they were immediately blasted with a burst of static.
"Where are you? Are you ok?" she asked when the static died down.
"I'm fine. We tried to make a detour but the storm was so bad that we had to stop," Max replied, his voice tinny and only just audible over the tenuous connection, but he sounded cheerful enough.
"So you're calling from the hotel?" Alec asked.
"Yeah, and I've gotta hang up, there's only one working phone and there're still some people waiting to call home," Max said.
"What's the name of the hotel?" Izzy asked, already grabbing a notepad.
Max laughed. "It's kind of a funny coincidence, but remember that TV show you guys were on that never aired?"
"Blackthorn House?" Clary asked, her voice barely above a whisper - as if speaking the name out loud might summon the thing here, somehow.
"Yeah! It's super cool! Ok, I've really gotta go - love y'all!"
"Wait, Max!" Izzy cried out, but he'd already put down the phone. But right before the line went dead, for a split second they all heard it - a low, deep chuckle that raised all the hairs at the back of Alec's neck.
"What was that? Did anybody else hear that?" Maryse asked, frowning.
Alec swallowed hard. "Must have been the wind," he said.
"So this thing in Blackthorn House can cause storms too?" Clary asked in a low voice, hugging herself tightly, shivering even with Jace's arm around her.
"Maybe the storm was a coincidence, and Max and his schoolmates just happened to be nearby," Simon suggested nervously.
Alec exchanged a look with Magnus - there had been too many coincidences already. They had all escaped to Simon and Izzy's apartment downstairs to regroup so their mother wouldn't overhear them, and while all of them were understandably shaken, Alec was already planning the quickest route to Blackthorn House.
"But why would it want Max? To get back at us?" Jace demanded, running his hand through his hair in frustration. "It's been almost two years, and we left it alone, didn't we?"
Simon and Clary looked distinctively shifty, but Izzy lifted her chin defiantly.
"Oh god. You've been researching Blackthorn House too?" Alec asked.
"We were just trying to find out who owns the place. I thought if I got their permission I could ask Rabbi Abromowitz to do an exorcism or something," Simon said quickly, but Izzy raised an eyebrow at him and asked shrewdly, "'Too'?"
"Wait. Who's been researching? You three?" Jace asked, looking towards Izzy, Clary, and Simon.
"All of us, apparently," Magnus said.
"Nope, not me - because even I knew better than to mess around with that thing," Jace fumed. "And now that thing has taken Max!"
"We're just going to have to get him back," Izzy replied. "It's a 16-hour drive, maybe a bit longer if conditions are bad. We could take two cars-"
"No, not you," Alec told her firmly. "And not Simon either. You're about to have a baby!"
"But the medallion..." Simon protested.
All of their gazes went to the silver Star of David that Izzy wore, the one thing that had kept all the ghosts and demons at bay when they had been in Blackthorn House, and a symbol of Simon's faith that only seemed to work for him. They'd barely made it out the last time, largely thanks to the medallion, but if Simon came with them and anything happened to him...
"Simon should be here for you and the baby. Besides, Ragnor has some ideas, and we've got a plan this time. We'll be fine," Magnus lied.
"Ragnor is in on it too?" Jace muttered. "Is he our Van Helsing?"
Izzy hesitated, her hand going to soothe the swell of her belly instinctively, then reached up to unclasp the chain around her throat and offered the medallion to Alec. "Then at least take this with you."
"Clary, why don't you wear it? I mean, you're Simon's best friend. The thing might work better for you? I don't know," Alec said, shrugging helplessly.
Clary nodded and put it on. "You'd think that after all the things we'd seen at the House, we'd all have converted to some kind of religion," she observed.
"Hey, I get it. It's easier to believe in the existence of evil, because you see it all around you every day, than it is to believe in God, especially when bad things happen to good people and the world doesn't make sense," Simon said with a shrug. "I'll go get out our maps so we can plan the route."
"So are you coming with us?" Alec asked Jace.
Jace glared at him. "Do you even need to ask?"
"Ok. We'll take my car, ok? I've got stuff in the trunk," Alec said.
The four of them were packed and ready to go in half an hour. Other than the pokers and holy water in the trunk of Alec's car, they'd also brought along a couple of crowbars. Ragnor had also sent Magnus photos of all the pages of the spellbook with the various incantations, namely those for the banishing, binding, and summoning, but the truth was that they were not much better prepared to deal with whatever it was that lurked in Blackthorn House than they had been six months ago, or even a year ago.
"I'll be thinking of you guys and praying. Distance shouldn't make a difference, right?" Simon said bracingly.
Izzy gave all of them hugs before they left, as tightly as she could with her belly in the way, then she and Simon stood there in the doorway with their arms around each other, watching them drive off.
Magnus took the wheel first, with Alec taking over after a late dinner, and as they drew closer to the storm, the rain grew heavier. There were traffic cones all along the road now, reflective red and white in the grey fog in front of them, and Alec was forced to slow to a crawl as the rain thundered on the roof of the car. He could see nothing of the car in front of him other than its red taillights, and occasionally some impatient asshole would overtake them and send a blinding flood of water over their windshield.
It had been dark before with the storm overhead, but as night fell the way ahead was almost completely black. The streetlights, traffic lights and traffic cones became pinpricks in the darkness, and Alec was thankful that there were still a couple of cars on the road, little bobbing red lights ahead that helped him to convince himself that they weren't completely insane to be driving through a freak storm in the endless darkness. Jace and Clary weren't talking much, and Magnus was sound asleep; the car radio wasn't working and Alec wasn't really one for music. The only sound in the car was the rain, drumming away in an erratic rhythm of its own that seemed to echo and fill the tiny space, and the tornado warnings beeping on their phones, dying off as their connection with the world outside was lost in the storm.
They were less than an hour away from Blackthorn House, and the rain was pelting the windshield like bullets now, driven by winds so strong that he could feel it buffeting the car. The headlights of their car bounced off the trees that were growing denser on either side of them, and they could see the trees swaying violently in the force of the gale. But instead of heading directly for the House, Alec took a turn a couple of miles away that took him in a wide circle around to the hill at the back of the House, where the hidden exit and tunnel that led straight to the basement of the House was.
Magnus had filled Jace and Clary in on Ragnor's theory on the drive here, but they had no idea where to find Malcolm Fade, and anyway they'd all agreed that the idea of murdering someone over this, especially when they had no proof that it would actually work, was just pure madness. In the end, they'd decided that they would try to sneak up on the thing through the hidden entrance and try the banishing ritual first. If that failed, they could distract it with iron like Dot had, and hopefully that would buy them enough time to get Max and his classmates out, and they could come back another day to finish the job once and for all. It was not much of a plan, and none of them brought up the fact that Dot had died distracting the thing so that they could all escape. Alec privately suspected that if the thing was powerful enough to cause a state-wide storm, there was no way they would be able to surprise it - and yet they had to try. They trudged up the hill in raincoats and armed with flashlights, crowbars, and iron pokers, slipping and sliding on the wet grass and mud as the wind howled around them. Alec had a sudden dreadful feeling that they were being watched, and tightened his grip on his crowbar, all his senses on alert for something that might jump out at them from the dark and the rain. But nothing happened even when they reached the entrance to the tunnel, which was hidden behind a pile of rocks - or at least, it had been, when they left it.
"The fuck? Someone sealed it up," Jace said, just loud enough to be heard over the roar of the storm. He rapped his knuckles on the solid wall of concrete. There was no way they were getting through that.
"It's smart, it knew we'd be back this way," Magnus said. And now they also knew that the thing definitely had a human accomplice, someone corporeal enough to seal up the passageway.
They tried the banishing ritual from where they were anyway, and none of them were surprised when absolutely nothing happened. Alec ran his hand over his face, futilely trying to wipe the rain out of his eyes. They'd been so concerned about being prepared to face the thing in Blackthorn House that they hadn't considered that it was capable of making plans of its own - that it was getting ready to deal with them. From where they stood, they could see that some of the lights were on in the main building and West wing, but the East wing and the rest of the estate was completely dark. The cemetery and grove of trees in behind the House was shrouded in thick grey fog, and Alec shivered when he remembered what was in it.
And all around them, they could feel it - the House was watching, and waiting.
"What do you think are the chances that Malcolm Fade is in there right now?" Magnus asked quietly.
"It's gotta be him running the place as a hotel, nobody else would be crazy enough to do it," Jace replied grimly. "Well, if he's behind this, I'll fucking kill him with my bare hands if I have to."
"It's not going to let us go a second time. Once we go in there, I don't think we're getting out of there unless we send it back to wherever it came from," Clary said.
"We don't have a choice, we have to go in even if it's a trap. Max is in there," Alec said.
"Yeah. Let's go," Jace said gruffly.
The short drive to the front gates of the House was tense, all of them soaked to the bone despite their raincoats. Jace and Clary got out of the backseat first, but Magnus lingered behind, and just as well. Alec hadn't meant to do this here, with the looming spectre of the House in view - he hadn't really gotten round to planning anything, but he'd thought perhaps a quiet picnic in Central Park, or the privacy of their home would be the best place to pop the question - but he couldn't go into the House without asking Magnus first, not when he knew that there was a chance they might not survive a second encounter with the thing in the House.
"Magnus. I know this isn't exactly the place to ask. I just... I need you to know that I love you, I love you so much, and although I don't have the ring with me right now, if we get out of this, I..." He took a deep breath. "Magnus, will you marry me?"
Magnus' eyes widened in surprise, then he let out a huff of laughter. "Oh, Alexander. Yes, of course it's a 'yes'."
Magnus leaned him to kiss him, his lips cold from the rain, but Alec felt a warmth spreading all the way to his toes. He felt Magnus smile against his lips, and break off with a chuckle.
"You beat me to it. I bought a ring for you, too," Magnus said softly.
It took a while for Alec to wrap his mind around the words. "A what now?"
Magnus smiled, his eyes shining in the dark. "I guess the pressure's off now that I already know the answer, but I think I should still ask you properly. Alexander, will you marry me?"
"I- Yes. Jesus fucking Christ, yes," Alec replied in a rush, putting a hand at Magnus' nape to draw him closer for another reverent kiss.
"We'd better go, Jace and Clary have been waiting in the rain for a while," Magnus whispered, stealing another quick kiss.
And when they got out of the car, even though nothing had really changed, Alec suddenly felt a lot more determined to beat the thing that lurked in the House. They walked towards Jace and Clary, who were wrapped up in each other's arms and having their own whispered conversation under the meagre shelter of a tree, and as the four of them approached the forbidding wrought iron gates, without any of them touching anything, the gates swung open slowly.
"Fucking hell," Jace muttered.
Magnus reached out to squeeze Alec's hand and they walked through the gates and into the dark garden together, and didn't look back when the gates clanged shut. The front garden was still as much of a mess as Alec recalled, unkempt and unloved, even if it was looking slightly less dead now that the days were getting warmer and sunnier. They steered clear of the hedge maze, although they weren't really expecting it to try to trap them since they were willingly walking towards the House. Even then, Alec's steps faltered when they drew nearer to the House - because someone had painted the main door a vivid shade of red, like the door in the basement had been.
It made Alec's skin crawl to have to touch the knocker on the door, but he forced himself to do it anyway. It was only after they heard the boom of it echoing inside the House that Alec realised that it was way past midnight, and everyone was probably asleep. Still, it was supposed to be a hotel after all, and they didn't have long to wait before someone came to the door.
The door was opened by a young man, possibly younger than Alec, but his hair was completely white - probably bleached, since Alec was vaguely aware that that seemed to be the fashion at the moment. He was dressed in an expensive-looking sweater and well-fitting jeans, and there was a maniac energy about him, but he did smile at them, even though he did look a little puzzled.
"Hi! How did you get through the gates?" he asked. He had an accent of some sort - British, Alec thought.
"They were open," Magnus replied evenly.
"Oh dear. They must be faulty. I'm so sorry, a lot of the things in this place seem to be falling apart," he said with a frown, then seemed startled to realise that they were still standing out in the storm. "Crumbs, sorry, where are my manners? Come on in!"
Jace let out a derisive snort, but crossed the threshold of the House with the rest of them. The polished wooden floor of the foyer had been newly covered with wall-to-wall carpeting, which was currently getting pretty soggy from all of them dripping on it. The chandelier hanging from the middle of the foyer was on, but the light from it didn't quite reach the shadows behind the grand staircase. Alec tried not to look too hard into the darkness, steeling himself not to react when the temperature around them dropped a notch. And was it just his imagination, or could he hear whispering, unintelligible words spoken by at least a dozen voices, just audible despite the rain and wind outside?
"Hell of a storm, isn't it?" their host continued conversationally as he closed the door behind them, not seeming to notice the sudden chill. "We're not actually open for business yet, the East wing is still under renovation, and there was an unfortunate accident a couple of days ago with one of the workers, so they had to stop. But a group that was on a school trip also came here to take shelter, so you're not the only ones! And don't worry, we've definitely got enough rooms for all of you."
"We're actually here to pick up one of the students here. We don't need rooms," Jace said brusquely, and Clary frowned and elbowed him. Alec had to agree with her - even if the House would let them, they couldn't just leave the rest of Max's schoolmates and his teachers behind.
"Oh!" Their host seemed disappointed and flustered. "You're going to drive back out in this storm?" As if to punctuate his statement, there was a flash of lightning through the windows, and a deafening clap of thunder. "At least stay until morning - if it's about the price, don't worry about it, there's no charge. It's the least I could do to help the people affected by this bloody storm."
Magnus glanced at Alec. Alec didn't trust this guy one bit, and he was almost sure this was Malcolm Fade, but maybe it would be safer to play along for now.
"Alright then. That's very generous of you, uh... I'm sorry, we didn't catch your name," Magnus said.
"Malcolm Fade, pleased to meet you," he said, confirming Alec's suspicions. He stuck out his hand to shake Magnus'. "And you are?"
Malcolm gasped in delight. "I thought I recognised you! I love your books! You were one of the participants on the TV show that was filming in here, right?"
"We all were," Clary said.
"Really? Oh my god, I've been dying to meet all of you! Let me guess, you must be Clary, Alec, and... Simon?"
"Jace," Jace said through gritted teeth.
"Sorry, right. It's just that none of you look related, so I just assumed... Anyway, then you know the House, and the House already knows you," he said, beaming. They stared at him, and he seemed to have realised that he'd said something odd. "Sorry, you must think it strange, but I've always fancied that a house as old as this one takes on a bit of a personality - almost like a living thing. Grand old place, isn't it? I couldn't believe it when I found out that I'd inherited it!"
"Could we please see our brother? Just to make sure he's ok?" Alec interrupted.
"Of course, of course. His name?" Malcolm asked, moving to the front desk to pick up a tablet.
Malcolm tapped out a search and nodded. "Got it. I'm sure he won't mind being woken up. He's very lucky, you must love him very much to come all the way here in the storm. I'm an only child myself - wish I'd had siblings, it gets so lonely sometimes," Malcolm said a little wistfully. "I'll prepare the rooms for you, in the meantime. Um... Four rooms? One for each of you?"
"That would be too much trouble for you, we can share. Two rooms will be fine," Magnus said.
Malcolm took a moment, but finally caught on. "Oh my goodness, did you end up dating each other because of the show? That's amazing!" he said with a too-wide grin. "In that case, perhaps I could put one pair of you in the master bedroom. It has a balcony with a lovely view of the whole estate-"
"No!" Alec blurted out, and when Malcolm looked at him in surprise, Magnus quickly covered with, "I mean, it's probably better that we all stick together, including the kids. In case the storm gets worse and there's an emergency."
"Of course, you're right, I wasn't thinking. The view is really quite romantic, although perhaps not in this weather," Malcolm said with an awkward laugh. "Now if you'll just come with me-"
All of them jumped when a loud boom echoed throughout the foyer, and they spun to face the main door. They'd just managed to squeeze their crowbars and iron pokers inside their backpacks, but it would be pretty suspicious if they whipped them out now.
"Oh dear, must be someone else trapped in this horrible storm," Malcolm murmured, and went to open the door.
There were two people at the door, both bedraggled from being out in the storm, and when the light fell on them, Alec was surprised to realise that he recognised them - the boy with the headphones who had been at Max's birthday party, and Aldertree's former receptionist, Helen. She seemed surprised to see him as well, but it was the boy who spoke first.
"Is Liv here? Is she alright?" he asked agitatedly.
"Liv? Who?" Malcolm asked, bewildered.
"Sorry, Ty gets like that. Liv is his twin sister," Helen said.
"Oh, not a problem, I understand," Malcolm said soothingly. "If you could give me her full name...?"
"Livia Blackthorn," Ty replied. Alec froze, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Clary grab Jace's hand.
"Wow, what a coincidence! 'Blackthorn' must be a more common name than I thought. I haven't really looked closely at the register after the kids filled it up, to be honest, it's been quite the day," Malcolm said, starting to tap on the tablet, then paused and looked up at Helen. "Sorry, but I've just realised that I probably shouldn't be releasing this information to just anybody. Who are you?"
"Her name is Helen Blackthorn and she's our sister, can you just keep searching and tell us if Liv is here?" Ty blurted out.
A look of frustration flashed across Helen's face, quickly smoothed out. "Yes, I'm their sister."
"Alright, we have Livia right here, just follow me," Malcolm said, walking towards the main staircase. When he was halfway up, he stopped suddenly, turning only enough for Alec to see that he was smiling to himself. "And by the way... welcome to Blackthorn House."
"I can't believe you guys, it's just a little bit of rain! What the actual fuck?" Max hissed, and slammed the door in their faces.
Alec sighed and ran a hand through his damp hair, exchanging an exasperated look with Jace. Magnus couldn't say he'd expected this to go any better - what 15-year-old boy would appreciate having his older brothers driving all the way from New York like anxious mother hens to fetch him home?
"At least we know Max's ok," Clary said, rubbing Jace's arm soothingly.
"Teenagers, huh?" Malcolm said with a nervous laugh. "You know what, I'm going to get your rooms ready. If you will excuse me..."
He brisk-walked down the hall and down the stairs, leaving the four of them standing awkwardly in front of Max's door, trying to pretend that they weren't all on edge. All along the hallway, Max's teammates were peeking curiously out of their rooms at them, although Max was lucky that their attention was divided because the Blackthorns were having a far more dramatic and interesting reunion a few doors down. Ty Blackthorn looked like he was on the verge of a breakdown even though his twin sister and elder sister were holding his hands, and he was whispering urgently and trying to tug them both down the hallway. Magnus wasn't trying to eavesdrop but he definitely caught the words "leave now" and "red door". Max's teachers had also been woken up, and were hovering nearby, careful not to get too close in case it freaked Ty out more, but close enough to jump in if necessary.
Everyone in Max's group was on the third floor of the West wing, taking up all the rooms on that floor - the nine kids were sharing, two of them to a room except for the odd man out, and the teachers each had their own room. Max's room was right next to the room that had been Dot's and was all the way at the other end of the hallway from the room that had been Milo and Edward's, and Magnus couldn't decide which was worst - knowing that Max wasn't at risk of being buried alive or being beheaded in his sleep, but not knowing what kind of ghost did haunt his room.
Ty had begun to calm down a little, and from the conversation Magnus was definitely not eavesdropping upon, he figured out that it was because they'd assured Ty that they were leaving first thing in the morning, and they would change the sleeping arrangements so that Ty would be sharing a room with his twin, and Helen would be right next door sharing with Aline. Crisis averted, Sebastian walked towards them, and Magnus noticed that he flashed a small smile at Clary.
"Is everything ok?" he asked them.
"Peachy," Jace replied acidly.
"Are you sure? I mean... New York is a long way to come. You really have nothing to worry about, Max is very mature for his age, and sensible - he's very calm under pressure. And we're in 'tornado alley' as they call it, and it is tornado season."
"Maybe we overreacted a little, with him being the baby of the family and all," Magnus said with a tight smile.
Sebastian nodded, still looking a little skeptical, then dropped his voice a little, almost conspiratorially. "And everyone at home is ok? I know your sister Izzy is expecting the baby to arrive soon, Max has been really excited about meeting his nephew."
"Yes, everything is fine," Alec said evenly.
"Are you sure?" Sebastian asked.
"What, why wouldn't Izzy be ok?" Jace asked suspiciously.
"No, I didn't mean that. I just wanted to see if I could be of any help," Sebastian replied quickly, taking a step back.
Magnus glanced at his watch. It was almost four in the morning, and in their experience, the supernatural activity in the House had seemed a little less aggressive during daylight hours. Daybreak was only a few hours away, which hopefully meant that they would have a whole day to strategise while the House's influence was dampened, provided they didn't have any human foes to deal with. Beside him, Jace was jabbing at his phone in frustration, but of course there was no cell signal for them to try to get in touch with Izzy or Simon.
"Uh... I should probably be getting back to my kids. The storm should blow over soon, maybe it'll be over by the time we wake up. It was good to see all of you again." Sebastian smiled uncertainly at them, then walked back to Aline. Poor guy probably thought they were all crazy.
Just then, Malcolm came back to announce that their rooms were ready, and they followed him warily downstairs to the second floor. The four of them had been allocated two adjoining rooms that had once been one big operating theatre, renovated and refurnished by the previous owner, and redone again very recently, judging from the faint smell of varnish and wallpaper paste. Their rooms were the nearest to the main building, and if they looked across the landing of the grand staircase, they could see the corridor of the East wing like a tunnel into deep darkness. There was a chair sitting in the middle of the entrance to the corridor with a handwritten sign taped to it, declaring the East wing as out of bounds because of maintenance works - nothing that would've actually kept curious teenagers out. As Magnus looked around at the room, he couldn't help feeling that there was something odd about the room other than the overwrought fleur-de-lis wallpaper and fussy furniture, which had all obviously been newly made, and looked like what someone had imagined Victorian furniture should look like, with no regard for good taste. The dark wood had been marred by overly-complicated flowery carvings, and heavy fabrics embroidered with tacky gold thread had been used for everything from the curtains to the cushions of the old-fashioned chaise lounge.
"I'm in the old servants quarters in the main building, if you need me," Malcolm told them. "I was planning to open the dining room from 7.30 to 10.30 for breakfast, but if you need more sleep and miss breakfast, just let me know and I'll open the dining room for you. Anything else?"
"Could we have the room keys?" Alec asked pointedly.
"Oh!" Malcolm startled, then chuckled. "Sorry, I'll lose my head next."
He handed them the room keys and beamed at them. "Good night! Watch out for ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties!"
Magnus smiled politely and closed the door. Barely a few seconds had gone by when there was a knock on the door.
"Yes?" Magnus asked Malcolm as he opened the door.
"Would you like a tour of the House tomorrow? I've made some big changes to the place, and I'd really like to know how you feel about it, since you've seen it in its original state," Malcolm said, fidgeting with the key in his hands, then quickly added, "If the storm dies down and you want to go home with your brother as soon as possible, I understand, of course."
Magnus looked at Alec, and Alec frowned but nodded. "Sure. Sounds great," Magnus said.
"Great! See you tomorrow, then," Malcolm said. Magnus closed the door as he went next door to pass Jace and Clary their keys, then they finally heard his footsteps moving away, back to the main building.
There was another knock on the door - this time, on the door that linked the two rooms together. Alec went to unlatch it and let Jace and Clary in while Magnus scanned their room again, trying to figure out what had struck him as odd on first impression.
"We should probably go down the basement now and try that banishing ritual again, right?" Clary asked, looking determined even though her face was very pale.
They stepped out to the hallway when they were sure the coast was clear. Malcolm had left the chandelier in the foyer on, and although some of the light from it was spilling into the part of the West wing where they were, the rest of their floor was dark despite the row of windows on their right. Then lightning flashed across the sky, and seven rectangles of light and an unexpected flare of green light a few yards away sliced through the darkness for a split second, startling Magnus until he remembered there was a chapel with green windows on their level. All the floors were carpeted now, which helped to muffle their footsteps as they made their way down the stairs. They braced themselves when they had to pass the nook under the stairs on the way to the basement, but there was no sign of any suits of armour, and Magnus didn't know whether to feel disappointed or relieved.
But even though the memory of what had been in the basement was making his heart pound in his chest, he could tell that they were on the wrong track even before they reached the bottom of the stairs. Where previously there had been an oppressive sense of malice and dread when they got near the door, being here now didn't feel any different from being anywhere else in the House. The door wasn't even as bright red as Magnus remembered, as if the paint had dulled somehow. Sure enough, the door opened easily to reveal electrical control panels, water heaters and pumps, air-conditioning units, and other machinery.
"Where did it go? In the pipes?" Jace muttered.
"Maybe. Like circulation throughout a body," Magnus murmured.
"Or, into a body," Alec suggested quietly.
Magnus could almost hear it laughing at them as they trudged back to their rooms. It couldn't be a coincidence that they had been trapped here by the storm with the descendants of all the people whose fate had become intertwined with the House over the centuries. What did the House want with all of them?
Once they were back in their rooms, Jace blurted out, "You know, we all thought that Malcolm is in league with the thing, but why haven't we considered Sebastian? He was obviously involved in the decision to bring all the kids here."
"Or it could be the Blackthorns," Clary said unhappily, wringing her hands. "I mean, the twins are named Liv and Ty and the dead twins were Lily and Tristan. There's got to be a connection. What are we going to do if the summoning is tied to them, and they don't even have anything to do with it? They're just kids."
"Look, we're tired, it's been a hell of a day, and we don't even know if Ragnor's theory is right," Alec said. "Let's just... try to get some sleep and talk about it in the morning, alright?"
"We should leave this door in the middle open, and at least one of us should stay awake to keep watch," Clary suggested.
"No fireplace!" Magnus exclaimed.
"What? What the fuck are you talking about, you nearly gave me a heart attack!" Jace complained.
"There was a boarded-up fireplace in our room the last time," Magnus explained.
"Yes, there was one in our room as well," Clary said. "And in the music room, remember? I think there was one in Simon's room as well. Was it always like this in the West wing? I wasn't paying attention the last time we were here."
"Or did Malcolm remove all the fireplaces when he was renovating, along with the iron pokers?" Jace muttered darkly.
"The wall looks intact. I think there are fireplaces in all the rooms in the East wing and main building - basically the older parts of the House. When the West wing was built, they probably had a gravity furnace in the basement and heated the whole wing through a system of ducts and vents," Magnus said.
"Why does this matter? There's air-conditioning and central heating now," Jace said, jerking his thumb at the thermostat on the wall.
"Just a hunch," Magnus said. Sure enough, he found the decorative bronze vent grate behind the wardrobe, but was disappointed to find that it was small, barely two handspans wide.
"None of the participants who were in the West wing went missing from their rooms. Milo and Edward probably didn't make it back to their rooms after dinner, and Aldertree said the cameras showed Dot and Elliot going to the cemetery, probably trying to get out by the back wall," Alec reminded him.
"I don't think we were dragged through the fireplace when the four of us were knocked out in our rooms though, we'd have noticed soot stains on our clothes," Clary pointed out.
"Yes, good point. That's a dud, then. Maybe we can snoop around while Malcolm is giving us the tour tomorrow," Magnus said.
"Well, as long as nothing's gonna snatch us or Maxie out of our beds while we're sleeping," Jace said.
"Did you say that this vent leads to the basement?" Alec suddenly said.
There was a tense silence as they all stared at the vent. Alec bent down to barricade the grate with his crowbar.
"Good idea, we'll do that too if there's one on our side. Wish we could do that for all the kids' rooms upstairs as well," Clary said.
"At least we're directly under Maxie's room, so if something fucky goes on upstairs, we'll be able to hear it. Now you guys go to sleep," Jace said.
Magnus was sure that he wouldn't be able to sleep in the House, but somehow he must have, because he startled awake to find the room still dark and Alec sleeping next to him. Why had he woken up? Alec wasn't even snoring. He frowned and hugged the blankets to himself, scooting closer to Alec. The room was freezing, cold enough for his breath to condense in a white cloud in front of him-
He sat up in alarm. The first thing he noticed was that the adjoining door was now closed, when he clearly remembered propping it open before they had gone to bed. The second was that there was someone standing in the far corner of the room right next to the main door - a woman, judging from the slight build and long hair. She was just standing there, not moving, and her face was shrouded in shadow, but from the odd angle of her neck and the mangled state of her limbs, Magnus knew she was a ghost. Something about her tickled his memory, but his brain was still hazy with sleep and he couldn't put his finger on it.
"Alexander, wake up," he said, shaking Alec, but Alec was sleeping like the dead.
Magnus could have sworn that he hadn't taken his eyes off the spectre, but maybe he'd blinked and somehow she'd abruptly moved a few feet forward towards them.
"Alexander," Magnus said a little louder, swallowing hard, but Alec didn't respond.
The ghost was between them and the main door, but there was still a chance of reaching the adjoining door - or the iron poker leaning against the nightstand. He'd only glanced down long enough to see that the poker was mysteriously gone, but when he looked up again, the ghost was right at the foot of the bed.
Then Alec grabbed him by the wrist, and when Magnus looked down, it wasn't Alec in the bed with him but one of those things that had blank holes for eyes and a yawning darkness in place of a mouth, and Magnus yelled in horror.
"Magnus! Magnus! Wake up!"
Magnus' eyes flew open to find Alec's face right in front of him, brows furrowed in concern. Magnus recoiled from him instinctively, and hurt flashed across Alec's face.
"Magnus, it was just a nightmare," Alec said soothingly, keeping a careful distance from Magnus and placing his hands out in front of him, palms up.
Magnus looked around the room - the adjoining door was open and he could see a flash of Clary's red hair as she moved around the room, and the poker was right there by the side of his bed. It was still pitch black outside, the storm rattling the windowpanes and showing no signs of easing up. Above their heads, a floorboard creaked, and they both glanced up warily, relaxing when they heard more clumping around, obviously made by the kids upstairs waking up.
He'd had similar dreams of his loved ones turning into demons in the weeks after they'd escaped from the House, but it had been ages since he'd had a dream like that. Magnus ran a hand over his face and took a deep breath, then placed his hands in Alec's. "Sorry."
"No, it's ok. I mean, we're actually back in this damned place, nightmares are probably a given. I didn't really sleep well either, I woke up a few times because I kept dreaming that there was something crawling on my face," Alec said, squirming at the memory. "Do you want to talk about it? Will it help?"
"I dreamt that there was a ghost coming towards us, and when I tried to wake you up, you turned out to be one of those shape-shifting things."
"Oh. But it was just a dream, Magnus. I'm right here," Alec said, and Magnus knew Alec meant well, but Alec didn't understand. He'd never actually come face to face with one of them, whereas Magnus had seen them twice, once with one of them actually mimicking Alec's shape, and Magnus didn't even know how to begin to describe the feeling of wrongness, how it filled him with both terror and guilt every time he had a moment of paranoia that this time Alec might not truly be Alec.
"I think the ghost was supposed to be Dot," Magnus said quietly. "We're right under her room, I noticed that last night." Alec gave his hands a gentle squeeze.
Clary rapped her knuckles on the door before popping her head through the doorway. She didn't look like she'd slept well either. "Breakfast?" she asked.
"Doesn't look like the storm is letting up any time soon. Might as well," Alec said.
They were careful to stick close to each other even on the short walk to the dining room. The storm was making it look so dark outside that it didn't seem like daytime at all, and with a sinking feeling Magnus wondered if that would affect the strength of the House's influence. Malcolm had installed new electric lights in the hallway leading to the dining room so that this hallway was also lit for once, and Magnus noticed that Malcolm had filled the blank walls with paintings - portraits of people who all seemed to be in agony, done in bright red paint.
The dining room was just as Magnus remembered, with its warm yellow lights, pale cream walls, a long table in the middle of the room, a large boarded-up dummy fireplace on the right (iron poker conspicuously missing), and a large bay window to the left. The curtains had been drawn to block the view of the storm raging outside, and with the room full of teenagers laughing and talking as they ate, and the smells of fresh coffee, bacon, and maple syrup in the air, Magnus couldn't help relaxing a little. Magnus noticed that Sebastian was gulping the scalding coffee as quickly as he could, and didn't look like he'd slept properly at all, and Aline, Helen, and the Blackthorn twins were not in the room. Max was still sulking and ignoring them, but there was no helping that.
"Pancakes?" Malcolm asked them cheerfully as he came in with a platter stacked high with them, wearing a bright yellow apron covered with frolicking kittens.
All of them took a plate to be polite, but only the kids seemed to have any appetite. Magnus had taken the seat next to Sebastian, and when he accidentally made eye contact with him, he decided that being friendly wouldn't hurt. After all, he had quite liked him from their brief conversation at Max's birthday party. "Couldn't sleep?" he asked with a sympathetic smile.
"Yeah," Sebastian hesitated, then added, "Did you hear anything last night?"
"No, but the storm was pretty loud, and we're in the rooms nearest to the main building," Magnus said.
"Ah. Mine's the room right at the other end, furthest from the main building," Sebastian replied, and Magnus felt the smile freeze on his face - that had been Milo and Edward's room.
"Old houses like this one are bound to feed the imagination," Magnus said lightly.
Sebastian shook his head, laughing a bit at himself. "Yeah, I know. It's just that I kept hearing clanking noises outside in the hallway, almost like someone was walking around in a suit of armour, and I popped out because I thought it was the kids messing about with the suit of armour outside my room, but there was nobody there."
"There's a suit of armour outside your room?" Magnus asked, a shiver going down his spine. Besides, he was pretty sure he'd have noticed seeing a suit of armour anywhere on the third level last night.
"That's the problem - this morning, the suit of armour was gone," Sebastian said quietly, and grimaced as he took another sip of his coffee.
Aline and the Blackthorns hadn't shown up when breakfast was over. Sebastian didn't seem too happy about it, but he squared his shoulders and put on a smile as he tried to herd his students to the old ballroom, which apparently had been converted into a recreation room.
"Hey Max. Want to come with us? I know you like this haunted house stuff," Jace called after their little brother, who soundly ignored them.
"You know what, why don't I go with Sebastian? He looks like he could use a hand," Clary said.
"What? Seriously?" Jace snapped.
"I'm trying to keep an eye on Max and the rest of the kids, what the hell is wrong with you?" Clary hissed under her breath.
"We'll both go," Alec interrupted. "Teacher too, remember?"
Alec gave Magnus a quick peck on the cheek, leaving Magnus to deal with Jace. "Are you sure you're ok?" Magnus asked him. "I notice you didn't wake us up to take over the watch."
"That's because I fell asleep," Jace admitted.
"And then you had a nightmare," Magnus guessed.
Jace nodded reluctantly. "Just the usual shit. Everybody dying because of this fucking house."
"Shall we?" Malcolm piped up cheerily from nowhere, making them jump.
Magnus forced out a smile, trying to calm his racing heart. "Lead the way," he said.
As it turned out, Malcolm needed very little encouragement to start talking. Before they were done touring the main building, they'd learnt that he was from Cornwall, had inherited the estate from an uncle he didn't even knew he had, and had flown over only a few days ago when the accident had happened during the renovations. Other than the one trip he had made more than a year ago because of the fiasco with the TV show, he'd been relying on agents to oversee his business in the States, but it'd been frustrating because the staff he hired kept bailing on him. This was the first time he was actually staying in the House.
He was a fan of all things occult, believed in ghosts, and told them all about plans to install dry ice machines and gadgets that would be triggered by movement sensors to play spooky music or project ghostly images in the House for when it was officially open as a horror-themed hotel. Malcolm was also a collector of supposedly cursed or haunted objects, and cheerily informed them that the paintings he'd hung in the hallway that led to the dining room had been painted by a serial killer using his victims' blood, because apparently Malcolm didn't know what dried blood looked like. He let them into the trophy room to show off his collection, and Magnus saw that the room was basically filled with junk. There was a badly-painted doll that looked like a knock-off of the one from that scary movie, off-key music boxes, costumes and props from the sets of various horror films, and even a skeleton which was obviously made of plastic.
"This is just temporary storage, of course," Malcolm said as he looked around at his collection fondly. "Once we're open for business, I plan to put at least one of these items in each room. And since every room already has at least one death or notorious occupant associated with it, that should be extra fun!"
"Super fun," Jace muttered.
"Did you know that you happen to share the same name as someone from the original family who lived here?" Magnus asked.
"Oh, I know, the boyfriend of the eldest Blackthorn child, right?" Malcolm said brightly. "He was my ancestor. According to family legend, the rope broke and he survived Felix Blackthorn's attempt to murder him, but when he tried to save Annabel she was already dead. So he fled brokenhearted to England, where he obviously fell in love again and had kids and a new life. I guess that's partly why I'm so drawn to this place, it's part of my family's history."
They backed out of the cluttered trophy room, and Malcolm locked the door behind him. Magnus noticed that he had been using the same key for all the rooms, which had a dark green stone dangling from the key ring - a skeleton key, then.
They stopped short where the House branched off into the East and West wings. "I didn't do much with the West wing, just furniture and stuff like that," Malcolm said.
"How about the East wing?" Magnus suggested.
Malcolm hesitated. "Well, it's still under construction. I had the workers take most of the walls and floors apart - there were all these chimneys and dumbwaiter shafts and hidden passageways, including one that led all the way out to the hills behind, and everything smelled like something had died in there. I think we might have rats, I keep hearing scratching sounds and things moving behind the walls."
"We'll tread carefully," Magnus promised with a winning smile.
"Alright, then," Malcolm replied reluctantly.
True to his word, Malcolm had almost torn the entire East wing apart. The library had been gutted of its books, the secret passageway behind the shelves had been sealed up with concrete, and the fireplaces had been bricked up. The games room and music room had been emptied out as well, and according to Malcolm, most of the things had been thrown away except for a couple of odd and ends that were still in good condition, which had then been moved to the new recreation room.
"There was really no point keeping mouldy books, you know?" Malcolm said.
Magnus couldn't imagine that the House and the ghosts had been fine with Malcolm ripping the place apart, and privately thought that the things Malcolm had thrown away were probably more haunted than the nonsense he'd actually bought from god knows where. "Have you experienced anything odd while you've been here?" he asked.
Malcolm laughed as he unlocked the first room they came across. "I wish! Well, one of the workers had a bad fall down the stairs when they were just starting work on the third floor, and we've had a lot of bad luck with accidents and things like that, but personally I haven't seen anything."
Magnus looked around the room they had just entered. It had been Annabel Blackthorn's room. There was a canopy bed with moth-eaten drapes, much like the one that had been in the master bedroom, a beautiful rosewood dressing table, and a full-length mirror hung on one wall.
"How about you guys, did you see anything supernatural when you were all here for the show?" Malcolm asked. "I'll be honest, I tried to buy the surveillance footage. Had to do it on the sly since it's an active police case, but the deal with the production company fell through."
Magnus opened his mouth to answer, then he caught sight of his own reflection in the mirror, and saw that the mangled ghost from his dream this morning was just a few feet behind him. He spun around. There was nothing there, and when he turned back to the mirror the spectre was gone as well.
"Dude, what's wrong?" Jace asked sharply.
Then there was a clap of thunder, and the lights went out.
Next chapter will be quite late! I think I may switch to updating this fic once every two weeks instead ;)
Alec should have known that shutting a bunch of hyper-intelligent teenagers up in one place for more than a day, with no WiFi, was a sure recipe for disaster. All of them were restless; this wasn't the spring break road trip they'd been promised, and the novelty of staying in a large spooky mansion was wearing thin since they weren't allowed to explore it. They were much too old for arts and crafts with Clary, and although Sebastian had apparently gotten permission from Malcolm to use the projector to watch a movie, the promised projector was nowhere to be found. Alec overheard one of them complaining that they'd missed the Halloween episode of their TV show, although why that would be airing in April was beyond him.
"Hey Mr V, can we see what's in these boxes?" one of the kids asked Sebastian.
"Ah, I don't think we should..." Sebastian murmured.
"Maybe the projector is in one of them?" Clary suggested.
Sebastian hesitated, then nodded. "Alright, let's look through the boxes, but only to find the projector. There may be fragile things in there, so I want all of you to be very careful, ok?"
There were certainly a lot of huge boxes piled at the back of what used to be the ballroom. Malcolm had mentioned that they weren't open for business yet, so Alec supposed he hadn't had the time to sort out the things he'd bought for the recreation room, although he had removed the mirrors that had presumably cracked or shattered, leaving behind large rectangles of blank wall covered with spreading black patches of mildew. There were eleven of them in total - Alec, Clary, and Sebastian, and eight kids - and pretty soon they'd each claimed a box to sort through, a couple of them to each box.
Alec moved to share Max's box, and his schoolmates backed off quickly. "Hey."
Max rolled his eyes. "What now? You're worried that I'll get a fatal paper-cut from these books?"
"You slept ok?"
"No, we were all murdered in our sleep by a demonic axe murderer. You are speaking to my ghost now."
Alec gave up. It was no use trying to talk to Max when he got like that. Then he felt something ticklish on his arm, and yelped when he saw that it was a spider almost the size of his palm, which must have been hiding inside the box. He tried to fling it off a little desperately, but Max just calmly plucked it off and put it on the floor so it could scuttle away.
"It was just a wolf spider, it wasn't going to hurt you. Jesus," Max scoffed, but Alec's was too distracted with trying to stop his skin from crawling to care about Max's rudeness. Alec was not fond of spiders in general, but the nightmare from the night before was still too fresh.
"Hey, look what I found!" one of the kids exclaimed, lifting out a horribly familiar wooden board from one of the boxes. Clary gasped.
"Put that down!" Alec barked out.
The kid froze. Alec was already making a move towards him, but Clary was closer and got to him first. She tugged the ouija board out his hands firmly and quickly walked towards Alec, holding out the board as though it was a live bomb, but Alec honestly didn't know what to do with it other than burn the damned thing. How had the board even ended up in this room?
"What the fuck is wrong with you guys?" Max exploded.
Alec was suddenly aware that everyone else in the room was staring at them. "Um... The TV crew booby-trapped the board, it's not safe," he lied. "I'll take this outside, Malcolm probably doesn't know."
He stepped out into the foyer, and was halfway across it to the servant's quarters when he suddenly realised that he was all alone, with no iron on hand. He quickened his pace, hoping to just get there and back, but there it was again, like when they'd first entered the House last night - the sudden drop in temperature, then the whispering, like papery dead leaves swirling in the dark recesses of the House.
"Alec!" The door to the ballroom opened, with Clary standing in the doorway looking terrified.
Alec made a split-second decision to just wedge the board on top of the narrow ledge formed by the decorative wooden skirting that went all around the walls, a place high enough that even he had to stand on tip-toes to reach, then hurried back into the light and noise of the ballroom. The chatter in the room went quiet the moment he stepped in the room, and Alec noticed that some of the whispers and looks were also directed at Max, whose face was red from a mixture of fury and embarrassment. Well, it couldn't be helped - better than ending up dead and having your soul trapped in the House for all eternity.
In the end they did manage to find an old projector, together with a small collection of DVDs - all horror films, unfortunately. Between Sebastian and Alec, they managed to get everything set up, using a blank wall for a screen. There were no chairs, so everyone had to sit on the cold marble floor. But watching the movie meant that they had to turn off the lights, and Clary ended up huddling next to him in the dark, their backs to one of the mirrors, while creepy music played over the opening credits on the makeshift screen. The lights from the humming projector and the images on the screen were bouncing off all the remaining mirrors on the walls, a disturbing jumble of pale faces and moving reflections. Alec kept his eyes on the kids instead, because that was easier to deal with - then he started counting heads, and with a growing panic, realised that they were one short.
"What?" Clary whispered when he sat bolt upright.
"Max is gone."
"Are you sure you're going to be ok on your own?" Alec asked Clary, glancing around the dark room. On the screen, a character was currently watching a cursed video tape. Alec hoped it didn't give the House ideas.
"Yeah. I've got this," Clary said, indicating the water bottle filled with holy water that they'd smuggled into the House in their bags, and Simon's Star of David around her neck.
"But if there's someone human involved in this..."
Clary knew he was talking about Sebastian, but she shook her head. "He's a good person. You can see it from the way the kids are around him."
Alec nodded. "Ok, yeah. Anyway I'll be back as soon as I can."
He stepped out into the foyer, then ran up the main staircase two steps at a time - the less time he spent thinking about what could jump out of the shadows at him the better. He was thankful that his room was the first one along the corridor, and he felt a bit safer when he had a crowbar in his hands. Alec's plan had been to check on the Blackthorns first, because Clary suspected that Max had a crush on Liv, and if Max wasn't with them, he'd have to find Magnus and Jace to search the rest of the House. He made his way up to the third floor, and heaved a sigh of relief when he distinctly heard Max's voice.
Max was knocking on one of the doors, and scowled when he saw Alec. "Oh my god, what the fuck is your - wait, why are you holding a crowbar?"
The door that Max had been knocking on opened, temporarily saving Alec from having to explain himself. Aline peeked out, bleary eyed and confused. "Max? What... did something happen?"
"Are you alright, Miss Penhallow?" Max asked, obviously a bit taken aback by his teacher's dishevelled appearance.
"Yes, I... is it time for breakfast?" she asked.
"It's almost noon," Max replied.
"Oh, crap. Helen and I got talking and we must have stayed up later than we thought," Aline said, shaking her head to clear it. "Where's Mr Verlac?"
"Mr V is in the rec room with the rest of them, but Liv and Ty didn't come down with us, and I tried knocking their door but nobody's answering."
Helen pushed her way out of the room to knock on her siblings' door, her hair in a mess, also looking like she'd just rolled out of bed. "Liv? Ty?"
Alec was just about ready to use his crowbar to force open the door when the door flew open to reveal a very confused and panicky Liv. "Ty's gone!"
"What happened? Did you hear him leave the room?" Aline asked worriedly.
"No, I was sleeping- I... All his things are still here," Liv replied, looking like she was on the verge of tears.
Much to Alec's surprise, Helen immediately rounded on him. "What have you done to him? I swear, if you've hurt a single hair on his head-"
"What? I haven't even seen your brother all morning," Alec said, bewildered by her aggression.
"I know what happened here two years ago," Helen hissed. "The cameras were obviously tampered with, like, it showed that gay couple going into the bedroom with a huge mirror before it shorted out, and a few minutes later they were coming out of the ballroom. And you thought you'd created the perfect alibis for yourselves, but you messed up, because the cameras were always on you. The feed would drop when the other couples were alone, but it never happened to you. It was too perfect."
Always on him and Magnus? Alec felt his hair stand on end at the thought.
"Who are all these people you're talking about?" Aline asked.
"The participants who died on a TV show that never made it to air - or should I say, the participants who were murdered," Helen replied, with a pointed look at Alec. Aline gasped and shrank away from Alec.
"My brother is not a murderer!" Max cried out indignantly.
"You said it yourself, you watched the footage and I've done nothing wrong. So you're just going to accuse me based on, what, a vague suspicion?" Alec asked evenly. "Because if we're talking about suspicious behaviour, you got a job as Aldertree's receptionist just to steal the footage from Aldertree's office, and I don't believe Aldertree would have hired you if you'd given your name as Blackthorn, so you must have given him an assumed name when you applied for the job. Who the fuck does that?"
Helen shrugged. "Alright, so I haven't exactly been above the board. I'm a journalist with the New York Post, and I caught wind of this story through the grapevine. When I heard that it involved a place called Blackthorn House, I had to check it out."
"The New York Post. Great," Alec snorted. The Post was the trashiest tabloid in New York, and that was saying something.
"Everyone has to start somewhere," Helen said defensively.
"Stop arguing! Ty is in danger!" Liv interrupted them.
"No, c'mon, my big brother wouldn't hurt a fly," Max said.
"Not from him, from the thing in the House," Liv said fearfully. Alec stared.
"Oh, Liv. Not you too. There's no such thing as ghosts and demons," Helen scoffed.
"You believe me, right?" Liv looked at Alec pleadingly. "Ty has a... talent. He's been having nightmares about this place for weeks, but he didn't tell me because he thought I'd be worried, and then I stepped into the House and he just knew. Last night he showed me his sketches - we were supposed to take turns keeping watch so they wouldn't get us when we were sleeping."
Liv went back into the room and dug out a sketchbook from a backpack, holding it out to Alec. Alec flipped open the first page and his breath caught in his throat - it was one of those things that could take on the shape of other people, and this one looked like Alec. Ty had written a note at the side that he'd nicknamed them 'quicksilvers' because they came out of mirrors. The next page had a sketch of a bloody suit of armour, and the next was of a mangled female ghost, then a translucent figure on the balcony Magnus had fallen off, the dead twins holding hands and dripping wet, the copy of Le Dragon Rouge that they'd found in the library, and so on.
"Hey, that's this book," Max said, and nearly gave Alec a heart attack when he showed them the cover of the book in his hand. It seemed to throw Helen off as well, to see that something from her brother's nightmares was real.
"Where the hell did you get that?" Alec demanded.
"It was in the box we were just sorting through," Max said. Fuck, the box with the spider. Alec cursed and took the spellbook from Max. Luckily the book was quite small and he just managed to make it fit into the pocket of his jacket.
"Wait. So you're saying that this house is haunted?" Aline asked skeptically.
"I don't know if 'haunted' is the right word, but there is something very wrong with Blackthorn House," Alec said quietly. "The sooner we all get out of here, the better. Why don't you guys join the rest in the old ballroom, I'll go find Ty."
"I'm going with you," Helen said quickly.
"Uh... if these quicksilver things come from mirrors, shouldn't we move everyone out of the old ballroom?" Max pointed out.
Alec's eyes widened in horror. "Oh, fuck."
Alec was expecting the worst when they crashed into the ballroom, and when everyone in the room started screaming, it took a while for him to realise that he was the cause of it.
"Oh my god, sorry," Sebastian said with a laugh, when the ruckus had died down. "You caught us at the scary bit."
The rest of them were right behind Alec, still in their sleep clothes, and Sebastian frowned when they dashed in, all in a fluster. "What happened?" he asked Aline. "Where's Ty?"
Aline went up to him to whisper in his ear, while Helen clapped her hands together and said brightly, "Sorry, everyone, it's lunch time! We'll continue the movie later, alright?"
"Wait, are you serious?" Sebastian blurted out when Aline had finished telling him whatever, staring at Alec. "Is this some kind of joke?"
But Alec wasn't listening to him, because right at this moment on the screen, a ghost was crawling on the floor on all fours towards the camera, towards him, an image multiplied a dozen times on all the remaining mirrors around the room. One of these things is not like the other, Alec thought, though he couldn't put his finger on why, until the hand of the one nearest to Sebastian actually touched the floor. Alec swung the crowbar in his hand at it, and Sebastian's eyes widened in surprise, throwing himself around Aline as if he expected Alec to strike them. For a split second before Alec's crowbar made contact, the spectre lifted its head to reveal black blank holes instead of eyes and an abyss for a mouth, then it disappeared with a wail. The kids started screaming.
"Alec, there's another one!" Max cried out, but Clary got there first, sloshing her bottle of holy water at it.
Everyone had huddled in the middle of the room, the adults on the outside shielding the kids on the inside, but the movie was still playing on the screen, nightmare images both real and unreal jumping out at them on all sides. Alec gritted his teeth and swung his crowbar at the next oncoming apparition, accidentally hitting the mirror behind it, and as he flinched from the shower of broken glass, he was struck by a brainwave.
"Smash all the mirrors!" he called out.
Sebastian picked up the heavy wooden chessboard he must have unearthed from one of the boxes and flung it at the nearest mirror, while Alec swung his crowbar at the next nearest mirror, then another, little silvery shards of pulverised mirror and puddles of holy water glittering on the black marble floor as he and Sebastian quickly worked their way through all the surviving mirrors in the old ballroom. When they were done, they backed away from the wreckage, Sebastian's chessboard abandoned but Alec still clutching his crowbar in a white-knuckled grip, his hands already bleeding. Someone had finally turned off the projector, and the room was deadly quiet except for the harsh, rapid breathing from everyone in the room.
"What were those things?" Sebastian asked.
"I don't know. But the original owner of the House owned a spellbook that had instructions on making a deal with demons, amongst other things. Hell knows what else he summoned," Alec replied tersely.
"Is it over?" one of the kids asked.
There was a deafening clap of thunder, and the lights went out. A few people screamed, but then a light flared in the darkness - Max had turned on the flashlight function on his phone. Everyone scrambled to follow suit, and soon there were lights bouncing crazily off the shattered mirrors all around.
"Just keep calm. We're still in the middle of a storm, a power outage is completely normal," Aline said. Except that it was suddenly freezing in the room.
"Alec, look," Clary said in a hushed voice. The medallion at her neck was glowing - much fainter than Alec remembered, but still.
"Shhh. Do you hear that?" Max said.
Everybody quietened down and stopped moving, not even daring to breathe. Then they all heard it - the clank of something metallic moving outside.
"That wasn't very nice, breaking all those mirrors. This is private property, you know," a voice came from outside the door.
"Who's that?" Sebastian asked fearfully.
"Milo," Clary replied, exchanging a look with Alec.
"Wait, Milo as in Milo Keytower, the guy who went missing two years ago when you were here filming the show?" Helen asked.
"Yes, that's his ghost. The people who died in the House... the House owns them. The House will make them come after us," Clary explained.
"You can't hide inside there forever," Milo said.
But they could. Not indefinitely, but it seemed that Simon's medallion was keeping the spirits at bay, and the quicksilvers had no extra points of entry now that they'd destroyed all the mirrors. For now, this was the safest place to be until they thought of a way to get everyone out of the House, except that Magnus, Jace, Malcolm, and Ty were still somewhere out there. Unfortunately, the ballroom only had one door and Milo was standing right in front of it, the fireplace had been bricked up, and because of the wall-to-wall mirrors there were no windows - but there were two rows of stained glass panels right at the top bit of the wall, one at the front and one at the back of the room. The ones in front would lead to the garden with the hedge maze, but the ones at the back led to the courtyard, and as far as Alec remembered there hadn't been any odd things in there, even though it was a little too close to the cemetery for comfort.
"I'm going out to find the rest," Alec said.
Helen followed his gaze to the glass panels. "That's insane. We're going to break our necks."
"Nobody said you had to come with me," Alec bit out, already starting to move boxes under the panel to give him some leverage to climb up.
Alec broke the glass with his crowbar as quietly as he could, and tried his best to sweep the rest of the glass out of the frame. He handed the spellbook to Clary for safe-keeping, then threw his heavy denim jacket over the frame to protect himself from the remaining shards, and heaved himself awkwardly out of the opening with the crowbar still in one hand. Outside, the rain was still coming down in droves, making it hard to get a proper grip on anything, but he spotted a pipe within easy reach that he could use to help him get down to ground level, and he was already soaked to the bone by the time his feet hit the ground. The sky was so dark that it didn't seem like day time at all, but when he glanced at the cemetery everything seemed quiet.
"Where to now?" Helen asked as she slid down the pipe. Alec tried not to roll his eyes.
"Ty's your brother. Where would he be?" he asked, scanning the windows upstairs for signs of movement in hopes of figuring out where Magnus and Jace were. There was a light bobbing in a window on the third floor of the East wing, and he was willing to bet that that was where they were.
"I don't know, I don't know this place like you do. Ty likes to go up to high places when he's upset."
Alec sighed. "Ok, we'll go get Magnus and Jace, then maybe we can check out the attic," he said, already making his way towards the staircase at the end of the East wing. They walked in silence, but Alec couldn't help thinking of Ragnor's theory, that they would have to kill whoever it was that the thing in the House was bound to in order to end its hold on them. "So, is it just the three of you? No other siblings?" he asked Helen.
Helen hesitated. "Our parents are dead. I'm the oldest, and I have a brother named Mark. The others are actually our half-siblings - different mother. There are seven of us, but Julian is away, studying at the Parisian École des Beaux-Arts with his girlfriend. Tavvy is the youngest."
"Wow. Are you guys like, Mormons or something?" Alec mumbled, and Helen snorted. That was a lot of Blackthorns, and Alec found that he was actually relieved that murdering innocent children for the sake of destroying the evil in the House was completely out of the question now. "And does your family actually have any connection to the family who used to live here?"
"Apparently Felix Blackthorn was the cousin of our great-great-great-grandfather," Helen replied.
They stepped out of the rain and into the chilly gloom of the House. Alec and Helen got out their phones, hands slippery with rain, and turned on their flashlight apps, and their lights showed two sets of small wet footprints on the carpet - children's footprints.
"Crap," Alec muttered, a shiver going down his spine that had nothing to do with being out in the cold rain.
Then they heard singing, two high, sweet voices coming from the other end of the corridor.
"It's raining, it's pouring,
The whole house is waking,
Stay and play, and play all day,
You'll all be dead by morning."
Before Alec could stop her, Helen raised her arm so that the light from her phone shone all the way down the corridor, revealing the silhouettes of two little children dressed in flowy white nightgowns, a boy and a girl. They were holding hands, and they were both dripping wet - like that drawing in Ty's sketchbook. The girl's hair was covering most of her face, and anyway there wasn't enough light to see their faces clearly, but even from this distance, Alec could see that they were both smiling.
"What the-" Helen gasped.
The ghost children took a step forward, in unison.
Alec grabbed Helen by the hand. "Run!"
A light flared to life in the pitch black room, followed quickly by another. Magnus blinked in the sudden glare, the light from his and Jace's phones bouncing off the reflection in the mirror behind them, and then a third light joined theirs when a fumbling Malcolm finally got his phone app working.
"Shucks. The storm must have knocked the power out. I should go down to the room in the basement and check the generator, but I don't know the first thing about fixing things like that," Malcolm said, looking defeated. "Is it just me, or is it already getting a bit cold in here?"
"It's not just you," Jace said, exchanging a look with Magnus, their breath coming out in a cloud.
Magnus turned to face the mirror squarely. Dot had been a brave, beautiful soul, and she'd died trying to save them. He refused to believe that the evil in the House could ever have a hold over someone like that. The mirror was hung right opposite the bed and had a peeling gilded frame, with the decorative carving of a cherub's face right at the top, half-blackened with age. He had seen Dot's ghost in the corner, near the wardrobe, and he thought she had been sort of pointing at the wardrobe...
"Magnus, what are you doing?" Jace asked.
Magnus turned towards the wardrobe and flung open the door, and a skeleton fell on him.
Jace and Malcolm both shrieked in terror, and Magnus had a moment of panic trying to disentangle himself from the skeleton, before he realised that it was far too flimsy and light to be real bone and stopped struggling. "It's just plastic, I'm ok," he called out. "Can I get more light here? I think it's hooked onto my shirt."
"Jesus fucking Christ. It's that stupid skeleton the production team planted, the same one that fell on me. I can't believe they fucking left it behind," Jace muttered. He raised his hand to shine the light from his phone on Magnus, and Magnus managed to get the skeleton off him. "Why did you open this anyway? We should go find the rest."
"I think Dot is trying to help us. I saw her pointing at this," Magnus said, examining the interior of the wardrobe.
"Dot? Who's Dot?" Malcolm asked nervously, but they ignored him.
The wardrobe seemed to be empty except for the plastic skeleton. Magnus rapped his knuckles against back of the wardrobe, then the bottom - the latter sounded hollow. With some effort, Magnus managed to pry open the false bottom of the wardrobe and found a number of things hidden under it: a lock of dark hair bound by a ribbon, which disintegrated at a touch; a doll with a faded porcelain face and a rotting lace dress; and a leather-bound book.
"What's that?" Jace asked as Magnus flipped through the fragile pages carefully.
"It's Annabel Blackthorn's diary," Magnus replied, frowning. After a while, Magnus cursed under his breath. "Annabel was pregnant. That must have been the third sacrifice that bound the demon to the House - the heart of her unborn child. I don't think Felix Blackthorn completed the binding ritual in the end. Malcolm Fade - no, not you, the one from the 1880s - must have been the one who cut the child out of her body after she was murdered by her father. No one else knew about the baby."
"How do you know it's not him? That he made a deal for immortality or something?" Jace asked, jerking a thumb in Malcolm's direction.
"Annabel has a photo of her Malcolm in here," Magnus replied, showing it to Jace.
"What is going on? You're saying my ancestor cut- Oh my gosh, I'm going to be sick," Malcolm said, covering his mouth and dashing out of the room. He hadn't been gone for a few seconds before they heard a blood-curdling yell.
They dashed out of the room after to Malcolm to find him frozen in place, staring at something down the corridor. Lightning flashed, illuminating the figure of a teenager with headphones.
Magnus let out the breath he'd been holding in. "Ty? It's Ty, right?"
Ty cocked his head, as if he was listening to something, and nodded. "So you're Magnus. Dot says I can trust you."
"Who is this Dot?" Malcolm burst out in frustration.
"She's a ghost. She died in the House two years ago," Ty replied matter-of-factly.
"Great. Now we've got a kid who has the Shining," Jace muttered.
"How is she talking to you?" Magnus asked Ty, raising his voice a little to be heard over Malcolm sputtering and gibbering.
Ty tapped his headphones and gestured with the phone in his hand. "EVP. I've got a recorder app. She's been trying to talk to me all night, but it's hard. The thing in the House is trying to keep her away so that she can't tell us-"
"Tell us what?" Jace asked.
Ty's gaze flickered to Malcolm. "Never mind. Let's just find the rest and stick together," he said, and started walking.
"Wait, stairs are that way," Jace said.
"Nah, this is quicker," Ty said. He led them to the end of the hallway towards the twins' nursery, but instead of going in, he opened the door of what Magnus had assumed was a linen closet in the hallway, and climbed into it. Magnus quickened his pace to catch up and found Ty already halfway down a very narrow vertical passageway hidden at the back of the closet, with metal rungs in the walls that could serve as handholds and footholds. "Come on, then."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Malcolm said, backing away.
"Look, if you want to stay here alone in a dark corridor until the ghosts get you, be our guest," Jace said impatiently, climbing in after Ty.
"It'll be alright, Malcolm," Magnus said. "Why don't you go ahead of me, and I'll go last?"
Malcolm nodded shakily and took a step forward - then stopped short and looked down. There was a thin hand wrapped around his ankle, dead grey skin and long nails caked with black grave dirt. Malcolm didn't even have time to yell before he was yanked backwards and fell face-first. Malcolm stuck his hands out to break his fall but wasn't quick enough, and Magnus winced when he heard a sickening crunch as Malcolm's nose hit the floor. Malcolm cried out in pain and shock, reaching out for Magnus' outstretched hands in desperation as the ghostly woman behind dragged him towards her, and Magnus knew from the ugly purple bruises around her neck and the gruesome stain at the midsection of her white dress that this was Annabel. The ghost threw a rope noose around Malcolm's neck, choking off his scream of terror, and with no iron on hand Magnus was sure that Malcolm was a dead man, until Jace threw something at her face and she vanished with a wail.
"Fuck, I didn't think it would work, but now I'm all out," Jace said, dropping the empty glass container and cover on the floor, and Magnus recognised it as a salt shaker - probably swiped from the dining room this morning. Jace hauled Malcolm to his feet none too gently, tugged the noose off over his head, and shoved him towards the linen closet after Ty. "We'd better get out of here before she comes back. Go!"
The four of them did their best to squeeze down the narrow shaft, the small, dark space made even more claustrophobic with the overlapping sounds of their panicked breathing. Ty couldn't go very fast, Malcolm was coughing and choking through his bloody nose, and Magnus couldn't stop himself from glancing up every few seconds. He'd shut the door behind them, but it wasn't like that was going to stop any ghost or demon, and if anything came down after them they were sitting ducks.
"Come on, a little faster, buddy, you can do it!" Jace called down at Ty.
Magnus heard a sound like a door opening down below, then a similar noise echoed above him, and looked up to see the ghost of Annabel Blackthorn looking down at him, her hair hanging around her face in matted clumps. She looked at the metal rungs and seemed to hesitate, and Magnus felt a surge of hope - the rungs were made of iron, so she couldn't touch them. Then she tilted her head and smiled sweetly at him, then placed her hands flat on the wall and began to climb down head first like some sort of grotesque lizard, still smiling at him.
Magnus gulped but didn't dare to say a word, because it wouldn't help anybody if they all froze up with fear, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from the dead woman coming closer and closer. Her wild eyes and long-dead face were getting too close for comfort, the smell of dirt and rotten things was invading his nose, and her long hair was almost close enough to touch him now; then thankfully Jace finally stepped out of the door at the bottom, and Magnus scrambled after him and slammed the door behind him, only to go from one nightmare to another.
It was pitch black except for the light from their phones, just enough light for Magnus to take in the fact that they were in the foyer, and that there was a suit of armour standing just a few feet away from them.
Ty and Jace were both staring at it in terror, but Malcolm didn't know what it meant, didn't know to back away. Malcolm was still gawking at it in confusion when the suit of armour suddenly came alive and swung the sword in its hand at his head. Magnus pulled Malcolm out of the way just in time - the sword missed by inches and gouged a line across the wood panelling instead, and Malcolm screamed.
Somewhere in the darkness of the foyer Magnus could hear another set of armour clanking towards them, and with dread he heard the door they had just come through, really more of a loose panel in the wall, slowly creaking open. The suit of armour took another swing at Malcolm, and Magnus had the oddest feeling that it was trying to herd Malcolm away from all of them.
The door of the ballroom flew open, and someone called out, "In here!"
Magnus grabbed Malcolm by the shoulder and shoved him ahead of him, and the four of them dashed into the old ballroom - not quickly enough. An armoured arm reached in after them, and it took the combined strength of Magnus and Jace to hold the heavy wooden door shut on it until Clary brandished the medallion at the door and the arm withdrew.
"Holy shit. Simon's medallion is still working, thank fuck," Jace said, and quickly pulled Clary into a tight hug.
Ty's twin was also hugging him tightly, and Sebastian had offered Malcolm his handkerchief to stem his nosebleed. Magnus looked around the room at all the terrified faces, and his heart sank. "Where's Alexander?"
"He went out to find you guys, together with Helen," Clary replied.
"Fucking hell." Jace ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "I'm going to find him."
"No, stop," Sebastian said, putting a hand on Jace's shoulder. "If we keep running off and take turns going missing, this will never end!"
"We're not leaving Alec and Helen behind!" Clary protested as Jace shook Sebastian's hand off.
"I don't mean that, I just think we should plan-" Sebastian began, but was interrupted by Jace punching him in the face.
"I'm onto you. Since Malcolm doesn't have anything to do with the thing in the House, it's got to be you," Jace snarled, struggling against Clary and Magnus to get at Sebastian again.
"What are you talking about?!" Sebastian fumed, pinching his bleeding nose.
"You've had it in for Seb since the start, what is your problem?" Aline demanded, rounding on Jace.
"Someone is helping this thing in the House, keeping it here. That's what our friend Ragnor said," Jace snapped.
"No, Ragnor just said that the thing in the House might be bound to someone, not that they were intentionally keeping it here," Magnus corrected him.
"Oh, then you guys already know. I didn't know how to tell you," Ty said, looking relieved.
"Know what? What is going on?" Malcolm asked in miserable confusion.
"Dot says that the only way to get rid of him is to cut the connections that bind him here. Everybody who made a deal with him, their bloodlines are tied to him forever. The two of them are the only ones left of their line," Ty said, indicating Malcolm and Sebastian, and confirming Ragnor's theory.
"Me? What's it got to do with me?" Sebastian exclaimed.
"Your ancestor ran this place when it was a mental asylum," Clary explained.
Ty nodded. "His wife was sick, you see. Cancer. And they didn't have a cure back then, so he experimented on the inmates, and when he got desperate enough, he made a deal."
"But she found out what he'd done, and she killed herself anyway," Magnus murmured, remembering the card that had been in the master bedroom.
"Ok, that actually sounds familiar, but what do you mean cut the connection?" Sebastian asked.
Ty looked to Magnus for help, reluctant to be the one to break the bad news, and Magnus sighed. "The connection will only be broken when the two of you die."
"This is crazy!" Aline snapped.
"I don't want to die," Malcolm whimpered.
"Everybody calm down, let's take things one step at a time. We should find Alec and Helen first," Magnus suggested quickly.
"I agree. Get the kids out, this has nothing to do with them, and... we'll work the rest out later," Sebastian said bracingly, putting a comforting arm around Aline.
"Malcolm, did you clear out the tools in the greenhouse?" Magnus asked. Malcolm shook his head, still sniffling and crying. "Ok, here's what we're going to do. The front gate is out, the hedge maze will trap us, but I think we might actually have a chance with the back wall. We're all going to go to the dining room to grab all the salt and cast iron things in there, find Alec and Helen, then move on to the greenhouse to take all the iron gardening tools."
"There's a first aid kit in the dining room too," Malcolm added in a small voice.
Magnus nodded. "Ok, grab that too. Remember, stick together at all times, and no matter what you see, don't lose your head."
All the kids nodded their heads, frightened but determined.
"Dot? If you can hear me, could you tell us where to find Alec and Helen?" Magnus called out to the room at large, then looked expectantly at Ty, but Ty shook his head and shrugged.
"They're probably in the East wing," Clary said.
Magnus and Jace opened the door cautiously, Clary right beside them. Everything seemed quiet in the darkness of the foyer outside, but it was still freezing. Raising his phone above his head, Magnus shone a light ahead but there were no signs of ghosts, demons, or possessed armour.
"I don't like this. I think I prefer having my ghosts where I can see them," Jace muttered as they began to cross the foyer, then yelped and clapped a hand to his neck. "What the fuck was that?"
"You're just not looking in the right places, silly." The little ghost girl was sitting on the railing of the landing on the second floor, dripping wet and swinging her legs. She giggled at their expressions of horror, then said, "You're too late. He's one of us now."
Somewhere in the East wing, they heard Helen scream, "Help! Someone help!"
Alec and Helen made it halfway up the stairs to the second floor, only to find that their way already blocked by the little ghost boy. He looked perfectly normal, if a little pale, but in a second his skin peeled away before their eyes, leaving raw bloody flesh behind, and the ghost opened his mouth and screamed as he lunged towards them. Alec brought his crowbar up on instinct and swung it, but it was the boy's blue-green eyes, almost popping out of his head without the skin to hold it in, that would haunt Alec's nightmares - because what he saw in those eyes a split second before the ghost vanished at the touch of iron wasn't malice, but sorrow and pure terror.
"Don't just stand there!" Helen cried out, tugging on Alec’s arm.
They'd only just reached the second floor when Alec felt a hand close on his ankle and yank him down the steps with unnatural force. Helen yelped when he accidentally tugged her backwards with him, and both of them took a heart-stopping tumble down the stairs.
Alec groaned, his whole body feeling bruised and head spinning, and struggled to sit up. "Are you ok?" he asked Helen. She had a cut above her brow and looked a little dazed, but managed to get to her feet with Alec's help.
Alec had let go of the crowbar in favour of protecting his head and neck in his fall, and when he looked around to see where it had fallen, he saw that was right at the top step of the stairs - behind a figure standing on the steps.
Alec swallowed hard. "Elliot."
"Alec," the ghost greeted him with a smile. "It's very nice to see you again."
Helen grabbed Alec's arm and tugged on it. "Behind," she hissed.
Alec turned his head a little to look behind them, and saw the ghost boy just a few feet behind them, cornering them. They needed to get to that crowbar, and that meant getting past Elliot.
"You get the thing, I'll keep him talking," Alec muttered, and thankfully Helen nodded in understanding.
"You took my Dot away from me," Elliot said. "She died but the House doesn't have her."
"I'm sorry we didn't manage to save you as well," Alec said, and beside him Helen braced herself to sprint up the steps.
"Oh, it was too late for me. I had a heart attack, I was dead minutes after I was buried," Elliot chuckled, and took a step towards them. "It'll be quick for you too, I promise."
Alec didn't have time to react - in a split second Elliot was suddenly standing right in front of him, thrusting his hand right into Alec's chest. Alec gasped in shock, breath punched out of him by the sudden agonising icy pressure around his heart, and the last thing Alec heard before he blacked out was Helen screaming.
...sorry *runs and hides*
But I will be posting the last chapter as soon as I can, probably within the next week!
The little ghost girl laughed and leapt off the railing, flinging herself into the air, and Sebastian dashed forward on instinct to catch her but she had simply vanished. But Magnus didn't have the energy to care about disappearing ghosts; he was already halfway up the main staircase, Jace keeping pace with him. They took a sharp right turn at the landing, down the corridor of the East wing, and Magnus' gut twisted horribly when he heard Helen cry out for help again. They raced to the end of the dark corridor to the stairwell, and found Helen sitting at the bottom of the stairs next to an unconscious Alec, clutching a crowbar.
"What happened?" Magnus asked, checking Alec for breathing and a pulse - nothing.
"I was going for the crowbar but I wasn't quick enough. The ghost just reached his hand inside his chest, and Alec was gone," Helen replied miserably.
"Inside his chest?" Jace repeated in horror.
Helen nodded. "The ghost mentioned that he died of a heart attack?"
Magnus took a deep breath, past the hopelessness that was threatening to overwhelm him - people survived heart attacks all the time, Alec wasn't gone. He clenched his jaw, placed both hands on Alec's chest and began to press down on his heart, doing the work that Alec's heart had stopped doing, counting out the correct rhythm in his head. Helen jumped into action, massaging Alec's cold, limp hands in an effort to keep the circulation going.
"Jace, try to call an ambulance," Magnus said.
Jace shook his head but tried to get a signal anyway, then flung his phone away in frustration. "This is just like my dream this morning, I knew I shouldn't have let Alec out of my sight," he said helplessly, and punched a wall. "Come out from wherever you're hiding, you evil son-of-a-bitch!" Jace yelled at the House.
Magnus blew two hard breaths of oxygen into Alec's lungs and resumed chest compressions, ignoring Jace pacing around and the footfalls of the rest of the group somewhere in the distance. Magnus kept his eyes on Alec, willing his eyes to open, trying not to let the panic take over as the seconds ticked past in case he used too much force and cracked a rib. The House had gone dead quiet, no more ghosts or demons jumping out at them, and after all why did it need to? It had already gotten what it wanted.
"You know what you have to do to save him." The deep harsh voice seemed to come from everywhere around them, echoing oddly, and Magnus knew that he'd been right about the thing insinuating itself into the pipes and ventilation of the House. Helen went pale, but didn't stop massaging Alec's hands.
"What, make a deal with you and you'll bring him back to life?" Jace snarled.
"He is worth it, is he not? For blood and love are what keep me here - monstrous love, the madness that drives you to sacrifice the world for one person. All I need is for both of you to complete the binding ritual - both the brother and the lover, a suitable price I think for not minding your own business. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
Sure - nothing to lose except the ease of their conscience with the knowledge that for as long as they lived, and their descendants lived, the thing in the House would be free to keep spreading death and destruction, claiming more victims. Alec wouldn't want that, Magnus tried to convince himself. But how long had it been since Alec's heart had given out? His arms were starting to ache, and Magnus knew that CPR alone wasn't going to restart Alec's heart. If Alec died here, his ghost would belong to the House, forever doomed to wander the dark hallways.
"Alexander, you asked me to marry you, and you haven't given me my ring. Stay with me. Please," Magnus whispered, blinking back tears, refusing to give up his efforts on Alec's lifeless body.
Jace swallowed hard. "Magnus, is he... should we...?"
The footfalls grew louder as the rest of the group finally arrived. Max immediately tried to get to Alec's side, but Clary held him back to let Sebastian through. Magnus glanced up when Sebastian crouched next to him and felt his spirits lift when he recognised the red box in Sebastian's hands - it was a portable defibrillator. The thing that lurked in the House was powerful beyond the imagination, but the world had changed, and there was more than one way to bring people back from the brink of death.
"Shit, he's soaked," Sebastian murmured, already pulling off his own dry sweater, then tugging Alec's shirt up to wipe him off. "Stand back," Sebastian instructed when the pads were properly attached to Alec's skin, and the mechanical voice from the defibrillator began to speak its audio cues.
Magnus could almost feel the growing bewilderment from the thing in the House, but before it could react, the defibrillator had already done its work, sending an electric shock through Alec's heart that made his whole body jerk violently. It was horrible to watch and Magnus hardly dared to breathe, but he had only just started chest compressions again when Alec began to stir and sucked in a breath on his own.
"You're alright," Magnus gasped in relief when Alec's eyes fluttered open. "God, Alexander, don't scare me like that again."
"The guys working on the renovations kept collapsing from heart attacks, so I brought this on the way here. I just had a feeling," Malcolm said.
"Hey, we should keep that on until we get him to a hospital, in case he gets another heart attack," Sebastian protested when Magnus began to rip the adhesive pads off Alec, but Magnus ignored him - and was only just in time.
The thing in the House roared with anger at having Alec stolen from its clutches, and all of a sudden all the lights in the House flared with a surge of energy and exploded in a shower of sparks and glass, followed by every single window in the House, all their cellphones, and the defibrillator itself. Magnus threw himself over Alec to shield him, but even though they were closer to the defibrillator, it was Sebastian who got the brunt of the damage from the explosion.
"Seb! Are you ok?" Aline cried out, rushing forward.
"I'm fine," Sebastian answered, voice tight. There was a very nasty burn all up his right arm. "We need to get everybody out of here."
"Are you sure it's safe to move Alec?" Max asked worriedly.
"I don't think we have a choice," Magnus said grimly.
It was freezing now, as if they were out in the open the dead of winter, and it wasn't just because of the wind and rain howling in through the shattered windows. A cold fog was creeping in from under the door that led to the cemetery outside, and although the rest of the group had picked up several containers of salt and a few pots and pans, even with Simon's medallion offering some protection, those were meagre weapons if they wanted to cross the cemetery safely to the back wall. On the other hand, there were hordes of ghosts lying in wait for them inside the House, and the malice radiating from the walls just made Magnus want to turn and run - they had to get out of the House somehow.
"Which way do we go now?" Helen asked.
"Dot says we should go out by the front gate," Ty piped up.
"Really?" Jace said dubiously, no doubt remembering their previous experience with the hedge maze.
"Well, the ghost did say something like 'the House doesn't have her'?" Helen offered.
"So she's not under its control and we can trust her," Clary said.
Magnus got an arm under Alec and helped him to his feet, staggering a little because Alec was leaning so heavily on him, and eyed the dark corridor in front of them warily. Every one of his instincts was screaming at him to go the other way, but Dot probably knew something they didn't. "No time like the present. Let's go."
Broken glass crunched under their feet, and with all their cellphones destroyed there was barely enough ambient light coming in through the windows to see by, the gloom punctuated by occasional flashes of lightning. They couldn't move quickly because of Alec, who was barely conscious, and honestly all of them were so cold that their teeth were chattering and their muscles were freezing up, but nothing jumped out of the shadows at them, which only made Magnus more uneasy.
Helen and Aline were the first to reach the front door. They opened it, and a couple of the kids screamed - there were two suits of armour standing out in the storm, Milo with his grinning head in his arms. Aline flung the salt in her hand at them and the two of them slammed the door shut and latched it, but at the same time something hurtled out of nowhere at Sebastian and narrowly missed his head, drawing a grunt of pain from him when it struck his shoulder before landing on the floor with a heavy thud.
"Where the hell did that come from?" Jace asked, staring at the ouija board.
They all looked up to see three translucent silhouettes standing on the second floor landing - Annabel and the twins, one on each side of her, holding her hands. There were other figures materialising from the shadows, seeping out of the walls to surround them. They were keeping their distance because of Simon's medallion, but only just barely - it just wasn't the same as having Simon here and experiencing the fear and adrenaline firsthand with them, and from the way the glow was weakening, Magnus thought Simon would probably have to rest soon.
"Are we going to die?" one of the kids whispered. It was answered by a heavy silence.
"If Malcolm and I die, all this ends, right? All of you can get out of here and the thing gets sent back to hell where it can't hurt anybody again?" Sebastian finally asked. Aline and all his students began to protest immediately, but Sebastian smiled at all of them and pulled his cousin into a quick one-armed hug. "It's ok. Malcolm, you in?" he asked lightly, although his voice was trembling a little.
Malcolm looked terrified out of his mind, but gave Sebastian a tight nod. He fumbled to unhook the master key from his belt and almost dropped it trying to pass it to Clary.
"Just in case you need it," he stuttered out, before walking towards Sebastian.
Clary was staring at the key in her hand in shock, and looked up at Magnus. "I dreamt of this last night," she said.
A jumble of thoughts and images were forming an idea just out of his reach, and Magnus was still trying to process everything when he heard Ty say, "Yeah, Dot says she'll be there to help."
"Wait. All of our phones aren't working, and you said Dot was talking to you through an app," Magnus said. "Ty, I don't think that's Dot that you're talking to."
Ty stiffened, hands reaching up to remove his headphones, then suddenly relaxed and dropped his hands, and his face twisted into a vicious sneer. "Before the night is over, I will use the boy's hands to rip the skin and flesh off your bones," he said in a low, flat voice, and when he looked up, Magnus saw that Ty's eyes had rolled backwards into his head so that only the whites could be seen.
"Oh my god, Ty!" Liv whispered. Everyone backed away from Ty, but his twin tried to move towards him, only held back by Max catching her by her arms.
"With his talent left untrained, this boy was like a house with all the doors left open, so easy to take," the thing said.
"Let go of him, or-" Helen fumed.
"Or what? What can you do to something like me? Blackthorn blood binds me here, but the Blackthorns themselves never bound themselves to me. Maybe it is time it came full circle," the thing said, smiling coldly with Ty's face. "Do we have a deal, Helen and Livia Blackthorn?"
Think. Magnus thought about the way the ghosts had gone for Malcolm and Sebastian, about Ty's comment that they were the last of their bloodline. He thought about the way Dot had led them to the diary that proved Malcolm's innocence, and maybe tried to warn them with Jace's dream of Alec dying and now Clary's dream about the master key and that dark green stone hanging off the end of the key ring.
Sometimes the answer to the mystery was the simplest one, and a bloodstone was just a stone.
"Clary, smash the stone on the key ring!" Magnus barked out.
Clary threw the key ring on the floor and Helen brought the crowbar in her hand down on the piece of bloodstone with all her might. Ty let out a scream of fury, but Jace tackled him to the floor before he could hurt himself, and all the rest of them formed a circle and raised their weapons defiantly at the advancing ghosts.
"Malcolm and Sebastian, you two read the banishing spell, I think it'll only work if you say it," Magnus said quickly, then with horror, realised the flaw in his plan. "Shit! The spells were on my phone."
"I've got the book here," Clary said, passing it to them.
"What language is this? I can't understand this!" Malcolm mumbled, straining to see the page in the semi-darkness.
"Who cares what it means? Just read it out!" Jace yelled.
Haltingly, Malcolm and Sebastian read out the spell together, which wasn't in Latin like it had been in Ragnor's copy: "Joth, Agladabrach Elabiel anarchi enatiel amaz in sedomel gayes tol ma elias ischiro atgadatas y mas heli messias."
For a moment nothing happened; then like someone had hit the fast-forward button, everything went to hell in a split second. Ty let out a gasp, his body spasming like he was going into a fit. The book in Malcolm and Sebastian's hands crumbled away into dust, and at the same time, there was a strange pressure that made Magnus' ears pop, accompanied by a complete, overwhelming absence of sound, like the antithesis of a scream; then there was a smell like burning and sulphur, and the walls and floor began to radiate heat. All the ghosts had vanished.
"We've got to get out!" Aline cried out when flames began to curl out between the gaps in the wooden panels on the wall.
Jace scooped Ty up in his arms and Sebastian ran forward to help Magnus with Alec. Helen flung open the main door with her crowbar at the ready, but the two suits of armour were lying at the bottom of the stairs in pieces, obviously empty. Aline had just herded the last of her students out of the door when there was an ominous crack from the wooden floor under all that new carpeting, and a lick of bright orange flame sprouted out from the middle of the foyer, racing across the damp carpet in all directions. All of them ran pell-mell through the overgrown garden towards the front gates to find them already ajar, and it was only when they were all safely over the threshold of the grounds that they dared to look back at Blackthorn House being devoured by a fire that had spread far too quickly.
"Look! In the windows," Clary said softly.
There were dozens of figures in the windows, and they were all smiling and waving at them. They were partially obscured by smoke, but even from this distance Magnus thought he recognised Milo and Edward, and Dot with Elliot's arm around her shoulders, and Magnus felt a lump in his throat when Dot blew them a kiss. As they watched, the roof of the East wing caved in, taking the rest of the structure with it, and there was a crash that must have been the crystal chandelier in the foyer. It was only then that Magnus realised that it had stopped raining.
Alec woke up to the incessant beeping of a heart monitor and cold, medicinal-smelling sheets. He felt like he had been kicked in the chest by a horse, his throat hurt like hell, and he felt exhausted beyond belief, but at least he was safe and alive. He tried to move the hand that didn't have the IV and found that it was pinned under the covers by something warm and heavy, and forced his eyes open - Magnus was sleeping, half in one of those horrible plastic contour chairs, and half sprawled over Alec's hospital cot. He started to stir when Alec extracted his hand, and his face lit up when he saw that Alec was awake.
"Hey," Alec said, voice croaky from disuse.
"Let me get you some water," Magnus said, pressing the call button. "They sedated you for a couple of days when you were in the ICU, but the doctor said that there hasn't been any major damage to your heart muscles, so you should make a full recovery."
A doctor came by to check on Alec, declared that he should be able to make the trip home in a few days, and advised him to be more careful about playing DIY electrician, which Alec supposed was the excuse they had given for his condition. When they were alone again Magnus helped to arrange the pillows so Alec could sit up. Things had been a bit vague after Elliot had attacked him - Alec remembered Ty getting possessed and the House burning, but that was about it.
They had a private room - they could certainly afford it after the fiasco with the TV show - but Alec still kept his voice low when he asked Magnus, "How's everyone else?"
"Good. Ty was kept under observation in the hospital for a day, just in case, and Sebastian needed skin grafts for his burns, but otherwise everyone else managed to get out of the House relatively unscathed," Magnus replied, then added quietly, "The House is gone, it's just a hole in the ground now. The firefighters told Malcolm they'd never seen anything like that, with even the brick foundations burned to ashes."
"Then it's over. It's really over," Alec said in relief. "But where's everyone else?"
"Izzy's just had the baby. They went back to New York ahead of us once the doctors said you'd be ok," Magnus said with a grin, and dug out his brand new phone to show Alec the photos, perched at the side of Alec's bed as he scrolled through the already sizeable album of tiny hands and feet, and an adorable scrunched up face that reminded Alec of Izzy as a baby.
"I can't wait to get home," Alec grumbled after he'd finally relinquished the phone, trying futilely to find a comfortable position amongst the lumpy hospital pillows.
"Me too," Magnus said, leaning over to kiss Alec on the forehead, lingering.
"Hey. I'm going to be ok," Alec said softly, lacing his fingers with Magnus' and giving his hand a little squeeze. "We're going to be ok."
"I know," Magnus said, smiling at him and squeezing back just as tightly. "After all, we've got a wedding to plan."
Hope you enjoyed the thrills and scares from the series! :D You can come say hi on twitter @tethysea if that's your thing ;)
Until next time, XOXO