The attic of the Institute was dim. Two skylights were built into the roof, but Uncle Arthur had covered them with butcher paper when he had first moved his books and papers into this room, saying that he was worried the sunlight would damage the delicate instruments of his studies.
Arthur and his brother, Julian’s father Andrew, had been brought up by parents obsessed with the classical period: with Ancient Greek and Latin, with the lays of heroes, the mythology and history of Greece and Rome.
Julian had grown up knowing the stories of the Iliad and the Odyssey, of the Argonauts and the Aeneid, of men and monsters, gods and heroes. But while Andrew had retained only a fondness for the classics (one that extended, admittedly, to naming his children after emperors and queens—Julian was still grateful to his mother for the fact that he was a Julian and not a Julius, which was what his father had wanted), Arthur was obsessed.
He had brought hundreds of books with him from England, and in the years since, the room had become stuffed with hundreds more. They were arranged according to a filing system only Arthur understood— Sophocles’s Antigone tipping over onto Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, scattered monographs, and books with their bindings ripped, the individual pages spread carefully across various surfaces. There were probably at least six desks in the room: When one became too overwhelmed with papers and bits of broken pottery and statuary, Uncle Arthur simply purchased another.
He was sitting at one near the west side of the room. Through a tear in the butcher paper covering the window beside it, Julian could see a flash of blue ocean. The sleeves of Arthur’s old sweater were rolled up. Under the hems of his frayed khakis, his feet were stuffed into ratty bedroom slippers. His cane, which he rarely used, was propped against a wall.
“Achilles had a phorminx,” he was muttering, “with a crossbar of silver; Hercules was taught to play the cithara. Both instruments have been translated as ‘lyre,’ but are they the same instrument? If they are, why the different words to describe them?”
“Hello, Uncle,” Julian said. He hefted the tray he was carrying, on which he’d placed a hastily assembled dinner. “We’ve come back.”
Arthur turned slowly, like an old dog cocking its head warily at the sound of a shout. “Andrew, good to see you,” he said. “I was pondering the Greek ideals of love. Agape, of course, the highest love, the love that Gods feel. Then eros, romantic love; and philia, the love of friends; and storge, the love of family.
Which would you say it is that our parabatai feel? Is it closer to philia or to agape—eros, of course,
being forbidden? And if so, are we gifted with something, as Nephilim, that mundanes can never understand—and so how did the Greeks know of it? A paradox, Andrew . . .”
Julian exhaled. The last thing he wanted to talk about was the kind of love parabatai felt for each other. And he did not want to be called by his dead father’s name. He wished he were somewhere, anywhere else, but he came forward anyway into where the light was stronger, where his uncle could see his face. “It’s Julian. I said that we’re back. All of us. Tavvy, Dru, the twins . . .”
Arthur stared at him with uncomprehending blue-green eyes, and Julian fought against the sinking of his heart. He hadn’t wanted to come up here at all; he’d wanted to go with Emma. But he could tell from the last fire-message he’d gotten from Diana that a trip to the attic would be necessary the moment he got back.
It had always been his job. It always would be.
He set the tray on the desk, careful to avoid the piles of paper. There was a stack of outgoing mail and scrawled patrol notes beside Arthur’s elbow. Not enormous, but not as diminished as Julian had hoped it would be. “I brought you dinner.”
Arthur gazed at the tray of food as if it were a distant object barely seen through fog, his brows crinkling. It was a bowl of soup, quickly heated in the kitchen, now cooling in the chilly attic air. Julian had carefully wrapped the cutlery in napkins and placed a basket of bread on the tray, though he knew that when he returned in the morning to collect the remains, the food would be nearly untouched.
“Do you think it’s a clue?” Uncle Arthur said. “Do I think what’s a clue?”
“The cithara and the phorminx. They fit into the pattern, but the pattern is so large. . . .” Uncle Arthur leaned back with a sigh, gazing up at the wall in front of him, where hundreds of pieces of paper covered in spidery handwriting had been glued or tacked. “Life is short, and wisdom long to learn,” he whispered. “Life’s not that short,” Julian said. “Or at least, it doesn’t have to be.” It had been for his parents, he
supposed. It often was for Shadowhunters. But what was likely to harm Arthur, hidden away in his cloistered attic? He’d probably outlive all of them.
He thought of Emma, the risks she took, the scars on her body that he saw when they swam or practiced. She had that in her, the blood of Shadowhunters who had risked their lives down through the generations, who lived off the oxygen of adrenaline and fighting. But he pushed away the thought of her dying as her parents had; it was not a thought he could bear.
“No man under the sky lives twice,” Arthur murmured, probably quoting something. He usually was. He was looking down at the desk again, and seemed lost in thought. Julian remembered years ago and the floor of the attic covered in Arthur’s bloody handprints. That was the night he had first called on Malcolm Fade.
“If you have everything you need, Uncle,” Julian said, starting to move away.
Arthur’s head snapped up. For a moment his gaze was clear and focused. “You’re a good boy,” he said to Julian. “But it won’t help you, in the end.”
Julian froze. “What?”
But Arthur had already gone back to his papers.
Julian turned and went down the attic steps. They creaked familiarly under his weight. The Los Angeles Institute wasn’t particularly old, certainly not as old as other Institutes, but something about the attic felt ancient and dusty and cut off from the rest of the place.
He reached the door at the foot of the stairs. He leaned for a moment against the wall, in the dimness and silence.
Silence was something he had rarely, unless he was going to sleep. He was usually surrounded by the constant chatter of his siblings. He had them around him always, wanting his attention, needing his help.
He thought too of the cottage in England, the quiet buzzing of the bees in the garden, the hush under the
trees. Everything green and blue, so different from the desert and its dry browns and sere golds. He hadn’t wanted to leave Emma, but at the same time he’d thought it would help. Like an addict getting away from the source of his addiction.
Enough. There were some things there was no point thinking about. In the dark and the shadows where secrets lived, that was where Julian survived. It was how he had managed for years. Taking a deep breath, he went back out into the hallway.
Emma was standing on the beach. There was no one else there; it was entirely deserted. Vast tracts of sand spread out on either side of her, dully sparkling with shards of mica underneath a clouded sun.
The ocean was before her. It was as beautiful and deadly as the creatures who lived inside it; the great white sharks with their rough, pale sides, the killer whales striped in black and white like an Edwardian garden chaise. Emma looked at the ocean and felt what she always felt: a mixture of yearning and terror, a desire to throw herself into the green cold that was like the desire to drive too fast, jump too high, leap into battle unarmed.
Thanatos, Arthur would have called it. The heart’s desire for death.
The sea gave a great cry, like the cry of an animal, and began to draw back. It rushed away from her, leaving dying fish flopping in its wake, heaps of seaweed, the ruins of wrecked ships, the detritus of the bottom of the sea. Emma knew she should run, but she stood paralyzed as the water gathered itself up into a tower, a massive wall with clear sides—she could see helpless dolphins and flailing sharks caught in the boiling sides. She cried out and fell to her knees as she saw the bodies of her parents, prisoned in the rising water as if they were trapped in a massive coffin of glass, her mother limp and twitching, her father’s hand reaching out to her through the foam and boil of the waves—
Emma sat bolt upright, reaching for Cortana, which was laid across her bedside table. Her hand slipped, though, and the sword rattled to the floor. She reached for the bedside lamp and snapped it on.
Warm yellow light filled the room. She looked around, blinking. She had fallen asleep in her pajamas, on top of the covers.
She threw her legs over the side of the bed, rubbing at her eyes. She’d lain down on the bed to wait for Jules, her closet door open, the light on.
She’d wanted to show the new photos to Julian. She’d wanted to tell him everything, to hear his voice: soothing, familiar, loving. Hear him help her puzzle out what to do next.
But Julian hadn’t come.
She stood up, grabbing up a sweater from the back of a chair. A quick glance at the clock on the bedside table told her it was nearly three in the morning. She grimaced and slipped out into the hallway.
It was dark and silent. No bars of light under the doorways showed that anyone else was awake. She moved down the hall to Julian’s room, pushed the door open, and slipped inside.
She almost hadn’t expected him to be there. She’d thought he might have gone to his studio—surely he’d missed painting there—but he was sprawled on his bed, asleep.
The room was lighter than the hallway outside. The window faced the moon where it hung over the mountains, and the white illumination outlined everything in the room in silver. Julian’s curling hair was a dark spill against the pillow, his dark lashes entirely black. They lay against his cheekbones, fine and soft as dusted soot.
His arm was stretched behind his head, pulling his T-shirt up. She glanced away from the bare skin revealed under the hem and clambered onto the bed, reaching out for his shoulder.
“Julian,” she said softly. “Jules.”
He stirred, eyes opening slowly. In the moonlight they looked silvery-gray, like Ty’s. “Emma,” he said, his voice sounding blurry with sleep.
I thought you were going to come to my room, she wanted to say, but she couldn’t: He looked so tired,
it melted her heart. She reached out to brush his hair out of his eyes, paused, and put her hand on his shoulder instead. He had rolled onto his side; she recognized the worn T-shirt and sweatpants he wore.
His eyes were starting to flutter closed again. “Jules,” she said impulsively. “Can I stay?”
It was their code, the short version of the longer request: Stay and make me forget my nightmares. Stay and sleep next to me. Stay and chase the bad dreams away, the memories of blood, of dead parents, of Endarkened warriors with eyes like dead black coals.
It was a request they’d both made, more than once. Since they were little kids, they’d crawled into each other’s beds to sleep. Emma had once imagined their dreams mingling as they’d let go of consciousness together, sharing bits and pieces of each other’s sleeping worlds. It was one of the things about being parabatai that made it a magic toward which she had yearned: In a way, it meant you were never alone. Waking and sleeping, in battle and out of it, you had someone twinned by your side, bound to your life and hopes and happiness, a near-perfect support.
He moved aside, his eyes half-open, his voice muffled. “Stay.”
She crawled in under the covers beside him. He made room for her, his long body folding and unfolding, giving her space. In the depression his body had made, the sheets were warm and smelled like cloves and soap.
She was still shivering. She moved an inch closer to him, feeling the heat radiating off his body. He slept on his back, one arm folded behind his head, his other hand flat against his stomach. His bracelets gleamed in the moonlight. He looked at her—she knew he’d seen her move toward him—and then his eyes flashed as he shut them deliberately, dark lashes sweeping down over his cheeks.
His breathing began to even out almost immediately. He was asleep, but Emma lay awake, looking at him, at the way his chest rose and fell, a steady metronome.
They didn’t touch. They rarely did touch, sleeping in bed together. As kids they’d fought over the blankets, stacked books between them sometimes to settle arguments about who was encroaching on whose side of the bed. Now they’d learned to sleep in the same space, but they kept the distance of the books between them, a shared memory.
She could hear the ocean pounding in the distance; she could see the green wall of water rising behind her eyelids in her dream. But it all seemed distant, the terrifying crash of waves drowned out by the soft breathing of her parabatai.
One day she and Julian would both be married, to other people. There would be no crawling into each other’s beds. There would be no exchanging of secrets at midnight. Their closeness wouldn’t break, but it would bend and stretch into a new shape. She would have to learn to live with that.
One day. But not quite yet.
When Emma woke, Julian was gone.
She sat up groggily. It was midmorning, later than she usually rose, and the room was lit with a pinkish-gold tinge. Julian’s navy-blue sheets and blanket were tangled down at the foot of the bed. When Emma put her hand against his pillow, it was still warm—he must have just left.
She pushed down her feeling of uneasiness that he’d gone without saying anything. He probably just hadn’t wanted to wake her; Julian had always been an uneasy sleeper, and the time difference couldn’t be helping. Telling herself it was no big deal, she went back to her room and changed into leggings and a T-shirt, and slid her feet into flip-flops.
Normally she would have checked Julian’s studio first, but she could see from a glance out the window that it was a bright, brilliant summer day. The sky was filled with the light brushstrokes of white cloud. The sea glimmered, the surface dancing with flecks of gold. In the distance Emma could see the black dots of surfers bobbing on the surface.
She knew he’d missed the ocean—knew it from the few brief, infrequent texts and fire-messages he’d sent her while he was in England. She made her way through the Institute and down the path that led to the highway, then darted across it, dodging surfers’ vans and luxury convertibles on their way to Nobu.
He was exactly where she’d thought he’d be when she reached the beach: facing the water and the sun, the salt air lifting his hair and rippling the cloth of his T-shirt. She wondered how long he’d been standing there, hands in the pockets of his jeans.
She took a hesitant step onto the damp sand. “Jules?”
He turned to look at her. For a moment he looked dazzled, as if he were looking into the sun, though it was above them—Emma could feel its warmth, bright and hot on her back.
He smiled. A wave of relief went through her. It was Julian’s familiar smile, the one that lit up his face. She jogged down to the waterline: The tide was coming in, sliding up the beach to reach the tips of Julian’s shoes. “You woke up early,” she said, splashing through the shallows toward him. The water made silvery inroads into the sand.
“It’s almost noon,” he said. His voice sounded ordinary, but he still looked different to Emma, strangely different: the shape of his face, his shoulders under his T-shirt. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
“What?” Emma was caught temporarily off guard, both by the difference in him and the sudden question.
“Last night,” he said. “You said you wanted to talk to me. How about now?”
“Okay.” Emma looked up at the gulls wheeling overhead. “Let’s go sit down. I don’t want to get washed away when the tide comes in.”
They settled in farther up the beach, where the sand was warm from the sunlight. Emma kicked her shoes off to dig her toes in, exulting in the grainy feeling. Julian laughed.
She looked at him sideways. “What is it?”
“You and the beach,” he said. “You love the sand, but you hate the water.” “I know,” she said, widening her eyes at him. “Isn’t it ironic?”
“It’s not ironic. Irony is the unexpected outcome of an expected situation. This is just one of your quirks.”
“You shock me,” Emma said, pulling out her phone. “I am shocked.”
“Sarcasm noted,” he said, turning the phone over in his right hand. Cristina’s photos from the previous night had loaded. As he ran his eyes over them, she explained how she’d followed the tip from Johnny Rook to the Sepulchre, the way she’d found the body, and Diana’s scolding following Rook’s visit to the Institute. As she spoke, she relaxed, her odd new awareness of Julian fading. This was normal, this was them the way they always were: talking, listening, working as parabatai. “I know these are the same markings,” she finished. “I’m not out of my mind, am I?”
Julian looked up at her. “No,” he said. “But Diana thinks that if you look into this, it’ll compromise the Clave’s willingness to let Helen come home?”
“Yeah.” Emma hesitated, then reached out and took his hand. The sea-glass bracelet on his left wrist clinked musically. She felt his calluses against her fingers, as familiar to her as a map of her own bedroom. “I would never do anything to hurt Helen, or Mark, or you,” she said. “If you think Diana’s right, I won’t—” She swallowed. “I’ll leave it alone.”
Julian glanced down at their entwined fingers. He was still, but a pulse had started up at the base of his throat; she could see it beating, hard. It must have been the mention of his sister.
“It’s been five years,” he said, and drew his hand back. He didn’t yank it out of her grip or anything like that, just drew it back as he turned toward the water. A completely natural movement that nevertheless left her feeling awkward. “The Clave hasn’t budged on letting Helen come home. They haven’t budged on looking for Mark. And they haven’t budged on considering that maybe your parents weren’t killed by Sebastian either. It seems wrong to sacrifice finding out what happened to your family for a doomed
“Don’t say it’s doomed, Jules—”
“There’s another way of thinking about this too,” he said, and she could practically see the gears turning in his quick brain. “If you actually solved this, if we solved this, the Clave would owe us. I believe you that whoever killed your parents, it wasn’t Sebastian Morgenstern. We’re looking at a demon or some other force that has the power to murder Shadowhunters and get away with it. If we defeated something like that . . .”
Emma’s head was starting to ache. Her ponytail holder was twisted hard into her hair; she reached up to loosen it. “Then they’d give us special treatment, you mean? Because everyone would be watching?”
“They’d have to,” Julian said. “If everyone knew what we did. And we could make sure everyone knew.” He hesitated. “We do have connections.”
“You don’t mean Jem, do you?” asked Emma. “Because I don’t know how to reach him.” “Not Jem and Tessa.”
“So Jace and Clary,” Emma said. Jace Herondale and Clary Fairchild ran the New York Institute. They were some of the youngest Shadowhunters ever to hold such a senior position. Emma had been friends with Clary since she was twelve, when Clary had first followed her out of the Council Hall in Idris, the only person among all the Clave, it seemed, to care that she had lost her parents.
Jace was probably one of the best Shadowhunters who had ever lived, purely in terms of fighting prowess. Clary had been born with a different talent: She could create runes. It was something no other Shadowhunter had ever been able to do. She had explained once to Emma that she couldn’t force the runes that came to her—either they did or they didn’t. Over the years she’d added several useful runes to the Gray Book—one for breathing underwater, another for running long distances, and a rather controversial one for birth control that had nevertheless quickly become the most often used rune in the lexicon.
Everyone knew Jace and Clary. That was how it went when you saved the world. They were heroes to most—to Emma they were people who had held her hands during the darkest part of her life.
“Yeah.” Julian reached around, rubbed the back of his neck. He looked tired. There was a faint sheen to the skin under his eyes, as if it was stretched thin with exhaustion. He worried at his lip with his teeth, as he always did when he was anxious or bothered. “I mean, they were made some of the youngest heads of an Institute ever. And look at what the Clave did for Simon, and for Magnus and Alec. When you’re a hero, they’ll do a lot for you.” Julian stood up, and Emma rose with him, pulling the band out of her ponytail. Her hair came free, tumbling in waves down her shoulders and her back. Julian looked at her quickly, and then away.
“Jules—” she began.
But he had already turned away, heading back toward the road.
She shoved her feet into her shoes and caught up with him where the sand rose up toward the pavement. “Is everything okay?”
“Of course. Here, sorry, I forgot to give you this back.” He handed Emma her phone. “Look, the Clave makes their rules. And they live by their rules. But that doesn’t mean that with the right pressure, the rules never change.”
“You’re being cryptic.”
He smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling.
“They don’t like letting Shadowhunters as young as we are get involved with serious issues. Never have. But Jace and Clary and Alec and Isabelle saved the world when they were our age. They were honored for it. Results—that’s what makes them change their minds.”
They had reached the highway. Emma looked up, toward the hills. The Institute was perched on a low bluff over the coast road.
“Julian Blackthorn,” she said as they crossed the highway. “You revolutionary, you.”
“So we’ll look into this, but do it quietly,” Julian said. “First move, compare the photos of the body you found to the photos of the bodies of your parents. Everyone will want to help. Don’t worry.”
They were halfway up the Institute road. Cars were backed up even now, mundanes commuting to work downtown. Sunlight sparked off their windshields.
“And if it turns out the markings are just gibberish, and it’s some random lunatic on a murder spree?” “Couldn’t be a spree. Sprees happen all at once, but in different locations. Like if you drive from place
to place shooting people, that’s a spree.” “So what’s this? A mass murder?”
“Mass murders also all take place at the same time, but are in the same location,” Julian said loftily, in the same tone he used when explaining to Tavvy why he couldn’t have Cheerios for breakfast. “This is definitely a serial killer. That’s when the murders are spaced out over time.”
“It’s disturbing that you know this,” Emma said. In front of the Institute, stretching to the edge of the bluff, was a sun-dried lawn, edged with sea grass and scrub brush. The family spent little time there: too close to the highway, unshaded, and overlaid with scratchy grass.
“Dru’s into true crime right now,” Jules said. They’d reached the Institute stairs. “You wouldn’t believe how much she told me about how to hide a body.”
Emma sprang past him, up three steps, and turned to look down. “I’m taller than you,” she announced. It was a game they’d played when they were little—Emma always swearing she’d grow up taller than he was, finally giving up when he’d turned fourteen and shot up five inches.
Julian looked up at her. The sun was shining directly into his eyes, overlaying the blue-green with gold, making them look like the patina that shone on the Roman glass Arthur collected. “Em,” he said. “However much we might joke about it, you know I take this seriously. It’s your parents. You deserve to know what happened.”
She felt a sudden lump in her throat. “This just feels different,” she whispered. “I know how many times I’ve thought I found out something and it was nothing, or I’ve followed a false lead, but this feels like something else, Jules. This feels real.”
Her phone rang. She looked away from Jules, fishing it out of her pocket. When she saw the name flash up on-screen she made a face and shoved it back. Jules raised an eyebrow, his expression neutral.
“Cameron Ashdown?” he said. “Why aren’t you picking up?”
“Just not in the mood.” The words came out almost to her surprise; she wondered why she wasn’t telling him. Cameron and I broke up.
The front door banged open. “Emma! Jules!”
It was Drusilla and Tavvy, both still in pajamas. Tavvy had a lollipop in one hand and was sucking on it industriously. When he saw Emma, his eyes lit up and he ran toward her. “Emma!” he said around the candy.
She pulled him close and wrapped her arms around his round little-boy middle, squeezing until he giggled.
“Tavvy!” Julian said. “Don’t run with lollipops in your mouth. You could choke.”
Tavvy removed the lollipop and stared at it the way someone might stare at a loaded gun. “And die?” “Hideously,” Julian said. “Fatally, fatally die.” He turned to Drusilla, who had her hands on her hips.
Her black pajamas were decorated with cartoon drawings of chain saws and skeletons. “What’s up, Dru?”
“It’s Friday,” Drusilla said. “Pancake day? You remember? You promised?”
“Oh, right, I did.” Julian tugged affectionately on one of his little sister’s braids. “You go wake up Livvy and Ty, and I’ll—”
“They’re already awake,” Dru said. “They’re in the kitchen. Waiting.” She looked at him pointedly. Julian smiled. “Okay. I’ll be right there.” He picked Tavvy up and deposited him back in the entryway.
“You two scoot along to the kitchen and reassure the twins before they get desperate and start trying to do the cooking themselves.”
They scampered off, giggling. Julian turned back to Emma with a sigh. “I have been lollipoped,” he said, indicating where Tavvy had managed to leave a blue sugar circle at the collar of his shirt.
“Badge of honor.” Emma laughed. “See you in the kitchen. I need to shower.” She darted up the steps, pausing at the open front door to look down at him. Framed against the blue sea and blue sky, his eyes looked like bits of the landscape. “Jules—was there something you wanted to ask me?”
He glanced away, shaking his head. “No. Nothing at all.”
Someone was shaking Cristina by the shoulder. She woke up slowly, blinking. She’d been dreaming about home, about the heat of summer, the shade of the cool gardens of the Institute, the roses her mother cultivated in a climate not always friendly to the delicate flower. Yellow roses were preferred, because they had been the favorite flower of her most beloved writer, but roses of any color were necessary to illuminate the proud name of Rosales.
Cristina had been walking in a garden, about to turn a corner, when she heard the murmur of familiar voices. She sped up, a smile spreading over her face. Jaime and Diego . . . Her oldest friend and her first love. Surely they would be happy to see her.
She swung around the corner and stared. There was no one there. Just the echo of voices, the distant sound of a mocking laugh carried on the wind.
The shade and petals faded away and Cristina looked up to find Emma leaning over her, wearing one of her crazy flowered dresses. Her hair hung down around her shoulders in strands damp from the shower.
“¡Deja de molestarme, estoy despierta!” protested Cristina, batting Emma’s hands away. “Emma! Stop it! I’m awake!” She sat up and put her hands to her head. She prided herself on not ever mixing up her first language with English while she was in the U.S., but sometimes when she was tired or barely awake it slipped out.
“Come with me to breakfast,” Emma wheedled. “Or it might be brunch. It’s almost noon. But whatever —I want to introduce you to everyone. I want you to meet Julian—”
“I saw him last night from the top of the stairs,” said Cristina with a yawn. “He has nice hands.” “Great, you can tell him that in person.”
“No, thank you.”
“Get up,” Emma said. “Or I’ll sit on you.” Cristina threw a pillow at her. “Go wait outside.”
A few minutes later, Cristina—having dressed quickly in a pale pink sweater and pencil skirt—found herself being marched down the hall. She could hear voices, raised in chatter, coming from the kitchen. She touched the medallion at her throat, the way she always did when she needed a bit of extra bravery.
She’d heard so much about the Blackthorns, especially Julian, since she’d arrived at the Institute that they’d taken on an almost mythical status in her mind. She was dreading meeting them—not only were they the most important people in Emma’s life, but they were also the ones who could make the rest of her stay either pleasant or miserable.
The kitchen was a large room with painted walls and windows looking out over the blue-green ocean in the distance. A massive farmer’s table dominated the space, surrounded by bench seats and chairs. The counters and table were tiled in what looked like bright Spanish designs, but if you glanced more closely, they formed scenes from classical literature: Jason and the Argonauts, Achilles and Patroclus, Odysseus and the Sirens. Someone, once, had decorated this space with a loving hand—someone had picked out the copper cooking range, the porcelain double sinks, the exact shade of yellow on the walls.
Julian was standing over the stove, barefoot, a dish towel slung around his broad shoulders. The younger Blackthorns were crowded around the table. Emma came forward, pulling Cristina behind her.
“Everyone, this is Cristina,” she said. “She’s saved my life about sixteen times this summer, so be nice to her. Cristina, this is Julian—”
Julian looked over and smiled. The smile made him look like sunlight in human form. It didn’t hurt that the dish towel around his neck had kittens on it, and there was pancake batter on his calloused hands. “Thanks for not letting Emma get killed,” he said. “Contrary to whatever she might have told you, we need her around here.”
“I’m Livvy.” The pretty girl who was one half of the twins came forward to shake Cristina’s hand. “And that’s Ty.” She pointed to a boy with black hair who was curled up on a bench seat reading The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. “Dru has the braids, and Tavvy is the one with the lollipop.”
“Don’t run with a lollipop, Cristina,” said Tavvy. He looked around seven, with a thin, serious face. “I . . . won’t?” Cristina assured him, puzzled.
“Tavvy,” Julian groaned. He was pouring batter from a white ceramic pitcher into the frying pan on the stove. The room filled with the smell of butter and pancakes. “Get up and set the table, you useless layabouts—not you, Cristina,” he added, looking embarrassed. “You’re a guest.”
“I’ll be here for a year. I’m not really a guest,” Cristina said, and went with the rest of them to get cutlery and plates. There was a buzz of pleasant activity, and Cristina felt herself relax. If she had to admit it, she’d been dreading the Blackthorns descending, disrupting the pleasant rhythm of her life here with Emma and Diana. Now that the family was here, here and real, she felt guilty for having resented them.
“First pancakes are up,” Julian announced.
Ty put down his book and picked up a plate. Cristina, reaching into the refrigerator for more butter, heard him say to Julian, “I thought you forgot it was pancake day.” There was accusation in his voice, and something else besides—a slight edge of nervousness? She remembered Emma saying in passing that Ty got upset when his routine was interrupted.
“I didn’t forget, Ty,” Julian said gently. “I was distracted. But I didn’t forget.” Ty seemed to relax. “All right.”
He went back over to the table, and Tavvy bounded up after him. They were organized, the Blackthorns, in the unconscious way that only a family could be: knowing who got pancakes first (Ty), who wanted butter and syrup (Dru), who wanted just syrup (Livvy), and who wanted sugar (Emma).
Cristina ate hers plain. It was buttery and not too sweet, crisp around the edges. “These are good,” she said to Julian, who had finally sat down on a bench seat beside Emma. Up close she could see lines of tiredness at the edges of his eyes, lines that seemed out of place on the face of a boy so young.
“Practice.” He smiled at her. “I’ve been making them since I was twelve.”
Livvy gave a bounce in her seat. She was wearing a black tank dress and reminded Cristina of the stylish mundane girls in Mexico City, striding purposefully around Condesa and Roma in their sheath dresses and delicate strappy heels. Her brown hair was streaked liberally with gold where the sun had bleached it. “It’s so good to be back,” she said, licking syrup off her finger. “It just wasn’t the same at Great-Aunt Marjorie’s without you two looking after us.” She pointed at Emma and Julian. “I see why they say you shouldn’t separate parabatai, you just go together, like—”
“Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson,” said Ty, who had gone back to reading. “Chocolate and peanut butter,” said Tavvy.
“Captain Ahab and the whale,” said Dru, who was dreamily drawing patterns in the syrup on her empty plate.
Emma choked on her juice. “Dru, the whale and Captain Ahab were enemies.”
“True,” Julian agreed. “The whale without Ahab is just a whale. A whale with no problems. A stress-free whale.”
Dru looked mutinous. “I heard you guys talking,” she said to Emma and Julian. “I was out on the lawn, before I went back in to get Tavvy. About Emma finding a body?”
Ty looked up immediately. “Emma found a body?”
Emma glanced a little worriedly at Tavvy, but he appeared absorbed in his food. She said, “Well, while you guys were gone, there’ve been a series of murders—”
“Murders? How come you didn’t say anything to Julian or us about it?” Ty was bolt upright now, his book dangling from his hand. “You could have sent an e-mail or a fire-message or a postcard—”
“A murder postcard?” said Livvy, wrinkling up her nose.
“I only found out about it the night before last,” Emma said, and explained quickly what had happened at the Sepulchre. “The body was covered in runes,” she finished. “The same kind of markings that were on my parents’ bodies when they were found.”
“No one’s ever been able to translate those, right?” Livvy said.
“No one.” Emma shook her head. “Everyone’s tried to decode them. Malcolm, Diana, even the Spiral Labyrinth,” she added, naming the underground headquarters of the world’s warlocks, where a great deal of arcane knowledge was hidden.
“Before, they were unique as far as we knew,” Ty said. His eyes were really a very startling gray, like the back of a silver spoon. A pair of headphones hung around his neck, the cord snaking down into his shirt. “Now there’s another example. If we compare them, we might learn something.”
“I made a list of everything I know about the body,” Emma said, producing a piece of paper and setting it on the table. Ty picked it up immediately. “Some is what I saw, some I heard from Johnny Rook and Diana. The fingertips were sanded down, teeth broken, wallet missing.”
“Someone trying to hide the identity of the victim,” said Ty.
“And probably not that uncommon,” said Emma. “But there was also the fact that the body was soaked in seawater and showed signs of burning, and was lying in a chalked ring of symbols. And was covered in writing. That seems unusual.”
“Like the sort of thing you could search for in back archives of mundane newspaper articles,” said Ty. His gray eyes glowed with excitement. “I’ll do it.”
“Thank you,” Emma said. “But—” She glanced toward Julian, and then around at the others, her brown eyes grave. “Diana can’t know, okay?”
“Why not?” asked Dru, frowning. Tavvy was paying no attention at all; he’d gotten down on the floor and was playing under the table with a set of toy trucks.
Emma sighed. “Several of the dead bodies were fey. And that puts this squarely out of any territory we should be messing with.” She glanced over at Cristina. “If you don’t want to do any of this, that’s fine. Faerie business is tricky and Diana doesn’t want us involved.”
“You know how I feel about the Cold Peace,” said Cristina. “Absolutely I will help.” There was a murmer of agreement.
“Told you not to worry,” Julian said, touching Emma’s shoulder lightly before standing up to start clearing the breakfast dishes. There was something about that touch—light and casual as it was, it sent a jolt through Cristina. “You’ve got today off from classes, Diana’s gone up to Ojai, so now’s a good time for us to do this. Especially since we’ve got Clave testing this weekend.”
There was a collective groan. Clave testing was a twice-yearly chore in which students were evaluated to see if their skills were up to par or if they needed to be sent to the Academy in Idris.
But Ty ignored Julian’s announcement. He was looking at Emma’s paper. “How many have died, exactly? People and faeries?”
“Twelve,” said Emma. “Twelve dead bodies.”
Tavvy emerged from under the table. “Were they all running with lollipops?”
Ty looked baffled, Emma guilty, Tavvy slightly lip-wobbly. “Maybe that’s enough for now,” Julian said, scooping up his smallest brother. “Let’s see what you find out, Tiberius, Livia?”
Ty murmured assent, rising to his feet. Emma said, “Cristina and I were going to practice, but we can
“No! Don’t cancel it!” Livvy bounced upright. “I need to practice! With another girl. Who isn’t reading,” she said, shooting a glare at Dru. “Or watching a horror movie.” She glanced over at her twin. “I’ll help Ty for half an hour,” she said. “Then I’ll come to train.”
He nodded and slipped his headphones on, making his way toward the door. Livvy went with him, chattering about how she’d missed training and her saber, and about how their great-aunt’s idea of a training room was her barn, which was full of spiders.
Cristina glanced back as she left the kitchen. The room was full of bright light, and it cast an odd halo over Emma and Julian, blurring out their features. Julian was holding Tavvy, and as Emma leaned in they made up an odd family picture. “You don’t have to do this for me,” Emma was saying, softly but earnestly, in a voice Cristina had never heard her use before.
“I think I do,” Julian said. “I think I remember making a vow to that effect.”
“‘Whither thou goest, I will go, whatever stupid thing you do, I shall do also’?” Emma said. “Was that the vow?”
Julian laughed. If there were more words between the two, Cristina didn’t hear them spoken. She let the door close behind her without looking back again. She had once thought she would have a parabatai herself; though it was a dream she had long put to bed, there was something about that sort of intimacy that was painful to overhear.