I slid two daggers and a seraph blade into my weapons belt before bending over to slip a small knife in my boot. When I straightened, Magnus was still pacing the armory restlessly. He stopped midstride when he noticed me staring.
"Aren't you taking anything?" I queried.
Magnus waggled his fingers. "I'm covered."
I pulled on a pair of black leather gloves, cut off at the knuckles. "Do we have time to renew my runes?"
I twisted my body, testing the flexibility of my gear. "You're right. Better we didn't. We ought to give those bastards a fighting chance."
"We're not going in to fight," Magnus said heatedly, unamused. "As soon as we have Alec, we're gone."
"I don't think I can leave any of those sons of bitches behind unscathed. Every one of them deserves to die."
"Well tough," Magnus said as he strode by me, pushing me aside with his arm. "I'll need to bring Alec back here pronto so I can heal him."
I watched as Magnus reached out his hand and began uttering an incantation. Blue sparks burst forth from his fingertips as a portal began to form in front of us. I bounced up and down on the balls of my feet, my heart pounding in my chest. Every minute that passed was torture; the thought of Alec being just on the other side set my adrenaline ablaze.
Magnus turned to me as he finished the spell, his cat eyes fierce. "You'll have to cover your own ass for a while. Between carrying Alec and reopening the portal, I won't be able to help you."
I grabbed the lapels of the warlock's leather jacket and pulled him towards me, my face deadpan. "Magnus, if you have to leave me behind to save Alec, don't you dare think twice about it."
Magnus searched my face before reluctantly nodding. He straightened as I released him. "Are you ready?"
I swallowed hard. "You're sure this will take us to Alec?"
Magnus hesitated, sending a shiver down my spine. Without looking at me, he whispered, "I hope so."
The warlock tightly gripped my hand in his and bolted forward into the portal. Wind whipped at my hair and shrieked in my ears. My stomach did a flip at the dizzying sensation. I clamped my fingers tighter around Magnus's hand as his skin began to slip...
Our feet suddenly slammed against solid ground. I opened my eyes and exhaled a breath I had absently been holding. Magnus released my hand and spun around, searching for any unwanted presences.
We were in a circular room made of stone lit by a single flickering light bulb swinging from the ceiling. There was a solid wall at our backs, the only exit an archway that led into a dim hall.
"Where the hell are we?" I whispered.
"This is the right place," Magnus replied, his voice hushed. "I saw similar images of rooms like this when I was tracking Alec."
I scratched my head. "It feels like we're underground. How does Sebastian get cell reception in here?"
Magnus cuffed me on the back of my head and raised a finger to his lips. Wincing and rubbing the tender spot, I pulled out my witchlight and seraph blade. We crept forward, cautiously peering into the shadows before making out way down the hall. I lowered the glowing witchlight in my left hand, illuminating the path at our feet. The hall stretched out endlessly until we finally came upon a room on our right.
I sidled along the cold wall before peering around the corner and into the room. The room was vacant. My blood boiled as I caught sight of a fire iron laying discarded on the floor. The soft snapping of the still-burning fire charred my ears. Alec's screams echoed in my mind as I stared at the bloodstains on the floor.
I turned as Magnus shifted beside me. He pressed his palm to the stones before his face and whispered a quick incantation. When he removed his hand, a strange symbol, glowing with electric blue light, remained. As quickly as it had appeared, the symbol began to fade until it disappeared completely.
"What are you doing?"
"These are symbols only warlocks can see," Magnus murmured. "I'm marking a path for us."
We pressed on in silence, checking every room that we stumbled upon. The contents lining the walls in a few of the smaller cells made me cringe. Every minute that passed accelerated my heart beat. Every second brought us closer to Sebastian's return, and for every of those seconds that ticked away, Alec's life dwindled.
We suddenly came to a fork in the shadows. I looked at Magnus and shrugged my shoulders. He looked left and right, squinting into the darkness. After a moment he stepped in front of me, his body angled towards the right tunnel. He pressed his hand to the wall and inhaled deeply.
"This way. I can feel him."
I blinked. Alec was my parabatai and I couldn't sense him at all. How was Magnus able to perceive Alec's location when I couldn't? Why couldn't I feel him? We were brothers, parabatai, bound to each other. Was it possible that Magnus's love for Alec was stronger than mine?
"Jace." Magnus tilted his head, indicating for me to follow.
The tunnels turned us in every direction, drawing us deeper into the labyrinth shadows. Magnus rhythmically placed his symbols as we continued our search. Before long I could feel my pulse hammering in my throat. Sweat beaded on the back of my neck. I inwardly cursed myself for not bringing a watch.
A large room appeared on the left. I stepped into the open archway warily and scouted the room. There were no Shadowhunters, but a large box sat in the center of the floor. My soft breathing cut through the eerie silence like a knife. I retraced my steps back into the hall, but Magnus grabbed my arm. I narrowed my eyes at him questioningly.
The warlock's eyes were wide, focused on the box. "Alec," he breathed.
My witchlight pulsed as the flames in my blood froze over. "He's in there?"
Magnus rushed forward. He stared at the side of the container, confused, before hurrying around to the other side. I followed him, my breaths coming shallow and rapid. Three locks sealed the container shut. Without a moment's hesitation, Magnus set to work on unlocking them, starting on the left. Blue sparks burst like fireworks from his fingertips. His brow furrowed in concentration. I glanced up and checked the entryway as the first lock fell free.
My hands trembled as I slid my seraph blade back into my weapons belt and pocketed my witchlight. My pulse jumped as the second lock clattered against the floor. I fell to my knees on Magnus's right, positioning the heels of my palms under the lip of the lid. The final lock had not yet touched the ground before I pushed upwards and threw the lid open.
Magnus sucked in a sharp intake of breath just as my bottom jaw dropped. Neither of us could choke out a single word. We knelt there, speechless, gaping at the mortifying scene inside the box.
Alec was naked from the waist up, his skin stained red with blood from cuts snaking across his body. A blood soaked bandage had been taped to his shoulder, but all the other wounds remained exposed and trickling blood. As my eyes roamed over Alec's body I noticed two small puncture wounds, one in the crook of his elbow and another in the side of his neck. Spidery veins, dark red and blue in color, spread out from the small holes. I watched the tremors wracking Alec's body and cursed.
"They used demon blood."
Magnus was closely inspecting Alec's leg. "I think this bone might be broken. We need to get him back to the Institute. Now."
I reached down and lightly shook my parabatai's shoulder. Alec turned his head towards us and slowly opened his eyes, blinking rapidly. He moaned as his eyes focused on Magnus.
"Alec?" Magnus's eyes glittered.
Alec pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "You're not real."
Magnus gently pressed his fingers against Alec's wrist. "It's me. Jace is here, too."
"No, no, no." Alec shook his head furiously. "Leave me alone!"
"Magnus, what's wrong with him?" I demanded.
"He thinks he's hallucinating."
"Alec," I said soothingly, "we're here now. I told you on the phone we were coming to get you, remember? I told you to hang on--"
"Shut up!" Alec cried and began raking his nails over his closed eyes.
"Get out of the way!" Magnus shoved me aside and pressed his hand against Alec's forehead.
Alec's body went limp and his arms fell to his sides. Faint scratch marks stretched from his eyebrows, over his eye lids and down to the tops of his cheeks. Magnus reached down, bent awkwardly over the wall of the container, and slipped one arm under Alec's neck and the other under his knees. He lifted Alec out of the box and cradled him against his chest, adjusting him so Alec's head rested against his shoulder.
"What did you do to him?" I asked, my voice unsteady.
"I just sedated him." Magnus pressed his cheek to Alec's head. "He's burning up."
I nodded and whipped out my seraph blade and witchlight. "Let's go."
Magnus took the lead, his gaze darting left and right as he searched for the invisible symbols. I ran after him, constantly checking over my shoulder for anyone giving chase. The sound of our hurried footsteps bounced off the walls, following us as we dashed through the darkness.
"Almost there!" Magnus called back to me.
The familiar dead end came into view. We passed through the archway and came to a halt in the center of the room.
"Magnus, get the portal--"
My words broke off as I noticed two Shadowhunters watching us. The larger of the two, a bald beast of a man, had his arms crossed across his bulky chest, eyeing us with amusement. The other, a blonde with an ear full of silver hoops, was spinning a blade idly in his hand.
"Magnus," I growled as I stepped in front of the warlock, my blood thawing with rage, "get the portal open."
"Going so soon?" the beefy Shadowhunter taunted. "We haven't quite finished having fun with your friend."
"There's loads of fun to be had in the deepest pits of hell," I shot back. "I hear the weather there is very nice this time of year."
The Shadowhunter guffawed. "I'm going to enjoy killing you."
"Bring it on, bitch."
The Shadowhunter charged at me, unsheathing his seraph blade. I raced at him, dropping to the floor before we could make contact. I slid between his legs and sliced at his calf with my seraph blade. He roared as the flesh separated, but turned and slashed at me. I bent backwards and the blade passed over me with a whistle. I rolled out of the way and leapt to my feet.
The Shadowhunter was already on me. I barely raised my blade in time to block his blow. The ring of our blades filled the room as they clanged against each other. The Shadowhunter pushed downwards, inching his weapon closer to my neck. I glanced over his shoulder and saw the nearly reopened portal.
Grunting, I pushed upwards with my blade hard enough to break contact. With a yell, my enemy swung at me from the side. I dropped to my knees, and as the seraph blade sailed over my head, I plunged my weapon into the Shadowhunter's gut. He released a choked gasp as the blade sliced clean through his gear. I shoved him back, leaving my weapon protruding from his middle as he crashed to the floor.
"Jace! Watch out!"
I spun on my knees, reaching for the knife in my boot a second too late. When I came to a stop, the second Shadowhunter was leaning over me. His own blade was poised above his head, ready to plunge into me, and the corner of his mouth was curved into a small smile. But his blade never descended on me. He remained in the middle of his attack, frozen.
I looked over my shoulder, baffled. Magnus was standing by the portal, his hand extended, glints of blue emanating from his fingers. Alec was laying at his feet, still unconscious and shaking. I pushed myself to my feet and rushed at them, scooping my parabatai up into my arms.
"I thought I told you to leave me," I panted.
Magnus lowered his hand, but the Shadowhunter remained immobile. "He needs you." He looked at me, serious. "And so do I."
I studied the warlock's face, unsure of the hidden meaning behind his words. Finding no words of my own, I gave him a single nod. Together, we positioned Alec between us, each of us wrapping one of his arms around our shoulders. Magnus wrapped his left arm around Alec's waist. I reached my right arm around my parabatai's back, but instead of resting my hand on his hip, I closed my fingers around Magnus's wrist. I tightened my grip, hoping, praying, the connection would not be broken. As one, Magnus and I stepped forward into the portal, passing from one hell into another.