Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)

Warlocks were the offspring of humans and demons: capable of using magic but not of bearing runes or using adamas, the clear crystalline metal from which steles and seraph blades were carved. They were one of the four branches of Downworlders, along with vampires, werewolves, and the fey. James’s mother, Tessa Herondale, was such a warlock, but her mother had been not just human but a Shadowhunter. Tessa herself had once possessed the power to shape-shift and take on the appearance of anyone, living or dead: a power no other warlock had. She was unusual in one other way as well: warlocks could not have children. Tessa was an exception. Everyone had wondered what this would mean for James and his sister, Lucie, the first-ever known grandchildren of a demon and a human being.

For many years, it appeared to have meant nothing. Both James and Lucie could bear Marks and seemed to have the abilities of any other Shadowhunter. They could both see ghosts—like the Institute’s chatty phantom-in-residence, Jessamine—but that was not uncommon in the Herondale family. It seemed they might both be blessedly normal, or at least as normal as a Shadowhunter could be. Even the Clave—the governing body of all Shadowhunters—had seemed to forget about them.

Then, when James was thirteen, he first traveled into the shadow realm. One moment he had been standing on green grass: the next, charred earth. A similarly scorched sky arced above him. Twisted trees emerged from the ground, ragged claws grasping at the air. He had seen such places in woodcuts in old books. He knew what he was looking at: a demon world. A Hell dimension.

Moments later he had been jerked back to earth, but his life had never been the same again. For years the fear had been there that he might at any moment hurtle back into shadow. It was as if an invisible rope connected him to a world of demons, and at any moment the rope could be pulled taut, snatching him out of his familiar environment and into a place of fire and ash.

For the last few years, with his uncle Jem’s help, he’d thought he had it under control. Though it had been only a few seconds, tonight had shaken him, and he was relieved when the Devil Tavern appeared before them.

The Devil made its home at No. 2 Fleet Street, next to a respectable-looking print shop. Unlike the shop, it was glamoured so that no mundanes could see it or hear the raucous noises of debauchery that poured from the windows and the open doors. It was half-timbered in the Tudor style, the old wood ratty and splintering, kept from falling down by warlocks’ spells. Behind the bar, werewolf owner Ernie pulled pints: the crowd was a mix of pixies and vampires and lycanthropes and warlocks.

The usual welcome for Shadowhunters in a place like this would have been a cold one, but the patrons of the Devil Tavern were used to the boys. They greeted James, Christopher, Matthew, and Thomas with yells of welcome and mockery. James stayed in the pub to collect drinks from Polly, the barmaid, while the others tramped upstairs to their rooms, shedding ichor on the steps as they went.

Polly was a werewolf, and had taken the boys under her wing when James had first rented out the attic rooms three years ago, wanting a private bolt-hole he and his friends could retreat to where their parents wouldn’t be hovering. She was the one who’d first taken to calling them the Merry Thieves, after Robin Hood and his men. James suspected he was Robin of Locksley and Matthew was Will Scarlett. Thomas was definitely Little John.

Polly chuckled. “Almost didn’t recognize the lot of you when you tramped in here covered in whatever-you-call-it.”

“Ichor,” said James, accepting a bottle of hock. “It’s demon blood.”

Polly wrinkled her nose, draping several worn-looking dishcloths over his shoulder. She handed him an extra one, which he pressed against the cut on his hand. It had stopped bleeding but still throbbed. “Blimey.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I forgot,” James said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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