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“Some people value sentiment over diamonds, Jessamine.” It was Charlotte, standing in the doorway. She looked troubled. “There is someone here who wants to speak with you, Tessa.”
“With me?” Tessa demanded, the clockwork angel forgotten for the moment.
“Well, who is it?” Will said. “Must you keep us all in suspense?”
Charlotte sighed. “It’s Lady Belcourt. She’s downstairs. In the Sanctuary Room.”
“Now?” Will frowned. “Did something happen?”
“I contacted her,” said Charlotte. “About de Quincey. Just before supper. I hoped she would have some information, and she does, but she insists on seeing Tessa first. It seems that despite all our precautions, rumors about Tessa have leaked into Downworld, and Lady Belcourt is … interested.”
Tessa set her fork down with a clatter. “Interested in what?” She looked around the table, realizing that four pairs of eyes were now fixed on her. “Who is Lady Belcourt?” When no one replied, she turned to Jem as the likeliest to give her an answer. “Is she a Shadowhunter?”
“She’s a vampire,” Jem said. “A vampire informant, actually. She gives information to Charlotte and keeps us apprised of what’s going on in the Night community.”
“You needn’t speak to her if you don’t want to, Tessa,” Charlotte said. “I can send her away.”
“No.” Tessa pushed her plate away. “If she’s well informed about de Quincey, perhaps she knows something about Nate as well. I can’t risk her being sent off if she might have information. I’ll go.”
“Don’t you even want to know what she wants from you?” Will asked.
Tessa looked at him measuredly. The witchlight made his skin paler, his eyes more intently blue. They were the color of the water of the North Atlantic, where the ice drifted on its blue-black surface like snow clinging to the dark glass pane of a window. “Aside from the Dark Sisters, I’ve never really met another Downworlder,” she said. “I think—that I would like to.”
“Tessa—,” Jem began, but she was already on her feet. Not looking back at anyone at the table, she hurried out of the room after Charlotte.
Fruits fail and love dies and time ranges;
Thou art fed with perpetual breath,
And alive after infinite changes,
And fresh from the kisses of death;
Of langours rekindled and rallied,
Of barren delights and unclean,
Things monstrous and fruitless, a pallid
And poisonous queen.
—Algernon Charles Swinburne, “Dolores”
Tessa was only halfway down the corridor when they caught up to her—Will and Jem, walking on either side of her. “You didn’t really think we weren’t going to come along, did you?” Will asked, raising his hand and letting the witchlight flare up between his fingers, lighting the corridor to daylight brightness. Charlotte, hurrying along ahead of them, turned and frowned, but said nothing.
“I know you can’t leave anything well enough alone,” Tessa replied, looking straight ahead. “But I thought better of Jem.”
“Where Will goes, I go,” Jem said good-naturedly. “And besides, I’m as curious as he is.”
“That hardly seems a subject for boasting. Where are we going?” Tessa added, startled, as they reached the end of the corridor and turned left. The next hall stretched away behind them into unprepossessing shadow. “Have we turned the wrong way?”
“Patience is a virtue, Miss Gray,” said Will. They had reached a long corridor that sloped precipitously downward. The walls were bare of tapestries or torches, and the dimness made Tessa realize why Will had carried his witchlight stone.
“This corridor leads to our Sanctuary,” said Charlotte. “It is the only part of the Institute that is not on hallowed ground. It is where we meet with those who, for whatever reason, cannot enter hallowed ground: those who are cursed, vampires, and the like. It is also often a place we choose to shelter Downworlders who are in danger from demons or other denizens of the Shadow World. For that reason, there are many protections placed on the doors, and it is difficult to enter or exit the room without possessing either a stele or the key.”
“Is it a curse? Being a vampire?” Tessa asked.
Charlotte shook her head. “No. We think it is a sort of demon disease. Most diseases that affect demons are not transmissible to human beings, but in some cases, usually through a bite or a scratch, the disease can be passed on. Vampirism. Lycanthropy—”
“Demon pox,” said Will.
“Will, there’s no such thing as demon pox, and you know it,” Charlotte said. “Now, where was I?”
“Being a vampire isn’t a curse. It’s a disease,” Tessa filled in. “But they still can’t enter hallowed ground, then? Does that mean they’re damned?”
“That depends on what you believe,” said Jem. “And whether you even believe in damnation at all.”
“But you hunt demons. You must believe in damnation!”
“I believe in good and evil,” said Jem. “And I believe the soul is eternal. But I don’t believe in the fiery pit, the pitchforks, or endless torment. I do not believe you can threaten people into goodness.”
Tessa looked at Will. “What about you? What do you believe?”
“Pulvis et umbra sumus,” said Will, not looking at her as he spoke. “I believe we are dust and shadows. What else is there?”
“Whatever you believe, please don’t suggest to Lady Belcourt that you think she’s damned,” said Charlotte. She had come to a halt where the corridor ended in a set of high iron doors, each carved with a curious symbol that looked like two pairs of back-to-back Cs. She turned and looked at her three companions. “She has very kindly offered to help us, and there’s no purpose in offering her such insults. That applies to you especially, Will. If you can’t be polite, I’ll send you out of the Sanctuary. Jem, I trust you to be your charming self. Tessa …” Charlotte turned her grave, kind eyes on Tessa. “Try not to be frightened.”
She drew an iron key from a pocket of her dress, and slid it into the lock of the door. The head of the key was in the shape of an angel with outspread wings; the wings gleamed out once, briefly, as Charlotte turned the key, and the door swung open.
The room beyond was like the vault of a treasure-house. There were no windows, and no doors save the one they had entered through. Enormous stone pillars held up a shadowed roof, illuminated by the light of a row of burning candelabras. The pillars were carved all around with loops and scrolls of runes, forming intricate patterns that teased the eye. Huge tapestries hung down from the walls, each one slashed with the figure of a single rune. There was a great gilt-framed mirror, too, making the place seem twice as large. A massive stone fountain rose in the middle of the room. It had a circular base, and in the center was the statue of an angel with folded wings. Rivers of tears poured from its eyes and plashed into the fountain below.
Beside the fountain, between two of the massive pillars, stood a group of chairs upholstered in black velvet. The woman who sat in the tallest of the chairs was slender and stately. A hat was tipped forward on her head, balancing a massive black plume at its top. Her dress was of rich red velvet, her icy white skin swelling gently over the fitted bodice, though her chest never rose or fell with a breath. A rope of rubies wound her throat like a scar. Her hair was thick and pale blond, clustered in delicate icy curls around her nape; her eyes were a luminous green that shone like a cat’s.
Tessa caught her breath. So Downworlders could be beautiful.
“Douse your witchlight, Will,” Charlotte said under her breath, before hurrying forward to greet her guest. “So good of you to wait for us, Baroness. I trust you have found the Sanctuary comfortable enough for your tastes?”
“As always, Charlotte.” Lady Belcourt sounded bored; she had a faint accent that Tessa couldn’t identify.
“Lady Belcourt. Please let me introduce you to Miss Theresa Gray.” Charlotte indicated Tessa, who, not knowing what else to do, inclined her head politely. She was trying to remember how one addressed baronesses. She rather thought it had something to do with whether they were married to barons or not, but she couldn’t exactly recall. “Beside her is Mr. James Carstairs, one of our young Shadowhunters, and with him is—”
But Lady Belcourt’s green eyes were already resting on Will. “William Herondale,” she said, and smiled. Tessa tensed, but the vampire’s teeth seemed absolutely normal; no sign of sharpened incisors. “Fancy you coming to greet me.”
“You know each other?” Charlotte looked astonished.
“William won twenty pounds from me at faro,” said Lady Belcourt, her green gaze lingering on Will in a way that made Tessa’s neck prickle. “A few weeks ago, in a Downworld gambling house run by the Pandemonium Club.”
“He did?” Charlotte looked at Will, who shrugged.
“It was part of the investigation. I was disguised as a foolish mundane who had come to the place to partake in vice,” explained Will. “It would have aroused suspicion had I refused to gamble.”
Charlotte set her chin. “Nevertheless, Will, that money you won was evidence. You should have given it to the Clave.”
“I spent it on gin.”
Will shrugged. “The spoils of vice are a burdensome responsibility.”
“Yet one you seem strangely able to bear,” observed Jem, with an amused flash of his silvery eyes.
Charlotte threw up her hands. “I will deal with you later, William. Lady Belcourt, am I to understand that you also are a member of the Pandemonium Club?”
Lady Belcourt made a dreadful face. “Certainly not. I was at the gambling house that night because a warlock friend of mine was hoping to win a little easy money at cards. The club’s events are open to most Downworlders. The members like us to appear there; it impresses the mundanes and opens their pocketbooks. I know there are Downworlders running the enterprise, but I would never become one of them. The entire business seems so déclassé.”
“De Quincey is a member,” said Charlotte, and behind her large brown eyes, Tessa could see the light of her fierce intelligence. “I have been told he is the head of the organization, in fact. Did you know that?”
Lady Belcourt shook her head, clearly uninterested in this piece of information. “De Quincey and I were close years ago, but no longer, and I have been direct with him about my lack of interest in the club. I suppose he could be the head of the club; it’s a ridiculous organization, if you ask me, but doubtless very lucrative.” She leaned forward, folding her slim gloved hands in her lap. There was something oddly fascinating about her movements, even the smallest ones. They had a strange animal grace. It was like watching a cat as it slunk through the shadows. “The first thing you must understand about de Quincey,” she said, “is that he is the most dangerous vampire in London. He has made his way to the top of the city’s most powerful clan. Any vampire living within London is subject to his whim.” Her scarlet lips thinned. “The second thing you must understand is that de Quincey is old—old even for one of the Night Children. He lived most of his life before the Accords, and he loathes them, and loathes living beneath the yoke of the Law. And most of all, he hates the Nephilim.”