Ever since the unfortunate events of the French Revolution, Magnus had nursed a slight prejudice against vampires. The undead were always killing one's servants and endangering one's pet monkey. The vampire clan in Paris was still sending Magnus rude messages about their small misunderstanding. Vampires bore a grudge longer than any technically living creatures, and whenever they were in a bad temper, they expressed themselves through murder. Magnus generally wished his companions to be somewhat less-no pun intended-bloodthirsty.
There was also the fact that sometimes vampires committed crimes worse than murder. They committed crimes against fashion. When one was immortal, one tended to forget the passing of time. Still, that was no excuse for wearing a bonnet last fashionable in the era of Napoleon I.
Magnus was beginning, however, to feel as if he might have been a trinoindente hasty in dismissing all vampires.
Lady Camille Belcourt was a terribly charming woman. She was also attired in the absolute height of fashion. Her dress had a darling hoop skirt, and the fall of blue taffeta in seven narrow noindentounces about her chair made it appear as if she were rising from a cascade of gleaming blue water. There was not very much material at all around her bosom, which was as pale and curved as a pearl. All that broke the perfect pallor of the curve of bosom and the column of neck was a black velvet ribbon and the thick shining ringlets clustered about her face. One gold ringlet was long enough so that it rested in the delicate curve of her collarbone, which led Magnus's eyes back once again to-
Really, all roads led back to Lady Camille's bosom.
It was a wonderfully designed dress. It was also a wonderfully designed bosom.
Lady Camille, as observant as she was beautiful, noticed Magnus noticing, and smiled.
"The marvelous thing about being a creature of the night," she confided in a low voice, "is that one need never wear anything but evening clothes."
"I had never considered that point before," said Magnus, much struck.
"Of course I adore variety, so I do seize any opportunity to change costumes. I find there are many occasions during an adventurous night for a lady to divest herself of her garments." She leaned forward, one pale, smooth elbow resting against the Shadowhunters' mahogany table. "Something tells me that you are a man who knows something about adventurous nights."
"My lady, with me, every night is an adventure. Pray continue your discourse on fashion," Magnus urged her. "It is one of my favorite subjects."
Lady Camille smiled.
Magnus lowered his voice discreetly. "Or if you choose, pray continue your discourse on disrobing. I believe that is my most favorite subject of all."
They sat side by side at a long table in the Shadowhunters' London Institute. The Consul, a dreary Nephilim heading up the proceedings, was droning on about all the spells they wished warlocks to make available to them at cut-rate prices, and about their notions of proper behavior for vampires and werewolves. Magnus had not heard a single way in which these "Accords" could conceivably benefit Downworlders, but he could certainly see why the Shadowhunters had developed a passionate desire to ratify them.
He began regretting his agreement to make the voyage to London and its Institute so that the Shadowhunters could waste his valuable time. The Consul, who Magnus believed was called Morgwhatsit, seemed passionately in love with his own voice.
Though, actually he had stopped talking.
Magnus glanced away from Camille to find the far less pleasant sight of the Consul-his disapproval writ across his face, as stark as the runes on his skin-staring at him. "If you and the-the vampire woman could cease your noindentirtation for a moment," he said in acid tones.
"noindentirting? We were merely indulging in a little risque conversation," Magnus said, offended. "When I begin to noindentirt, I assure you the entire room will know. My noindentirtations cause sensations."
Camille laughed. "What a clever rhyme."
Magnus's joke seemed to liberate the restless discontent of all Downworlders at the table.
"What else are we to do but talk amongst ourselves?" asked a werewolf stripling, still young but with the intense green eyes of a fanatic and the thin determined face of a fanatic who was actually competent. His name was Ralf Scott. "We have been here for three hours and have not been given the chance to speak at all. You Nephilim have done all the talking."
"I cannot believe," put in Arabella, a charming mermaid with charmingly placed seashells, "that I swam up the Thames, and consented to be hauled out by pulleys and put in a large glass aquarium, for this."
She spoke quite loudly.
Even Morgwhatsit looked taken aback. Why, Magnus wanted to know, were Shadowhunter names so long, when warlocks gave themselves elegant family names of one syllable? The long names were sheer self-importance.
"You wretches should be honored to be in the London Institute," snarled a silver-haired Shadowhunter by the name of Starkweather. "I wouldn't allow any of you in my Institute, unless I was carrying one of your filthy heads on a pike. Silence, and let your betters speak for you."
An extremely awkward pause ensued. Starkweather glared around, and his eyes dwelled on Camille, not as if she were a beautiful woman but as if she might be a fine trophy for his wall. Camille's eyes went to her leader and friend, the pale-haired vampire Alexei de Quincey, but he did not respond to her mute appeal. Magnus put out his hand and took hers.
Her skin was cool, but her fingers fit his very neatly. He saw Ralf Scott glance over at them and blanch. He was even younger than Magnus had thought. His eyes were huge and glass green, transparent enough for all his emotions to shine through, in his thin face. They were fixed on Camille.
Interesting, Magnus thought, and filed the observation away.
"These are meant to be peace accords," Scott said, deliberately slowly. "Which means we are all meant to have a chance to have our voices heard. I have heard how peace will benefit Shadowhunters. I wish now to discuss how it will benefit Downworlders. Will we be given seats on the Council?"
Starkweather began to choke. One of the Shadowhunter women stood up hastily. "Gracious, I think my husband was so excited by the chance to deliver a speech that he did not offer refreshments," she said loudly. "I am Amalia Morgenstern." Oh, that's it, Magnus thought. Morgenstern. Awful name. "And is there anything I can offer you?" the woman continued. "I will ring for the maid in a trice."
"No raw meat for the dog, mind," Starkweather said, and sniggered. Magnus saw another Shadowhunter woman titter silently behind her hand. Ralf Scott sat, pale and still. He had been the moving force behind assembling Downworlders here today, and had been the only werewolf willing to come. Even his own young brother, Woolsey, had stayed away, parting from Ralf on the front steps of the Institute with an insouciant toss of his blond head and a wink at Magnus. (Magnus had thought, Interesting, about that, too.)
The faeries had noindentatly refused to attend, the queen having set herself against the idea. Magnus was the only warlock who had come, and Ralf had been forced to hunt him down, knowing his connections to the Silent Brothers. Magnus himself had not had high hopes about this attempt to forge a peace with Shadowhunters, but it was a shame to see the boy's airy dreams come to this.
"We are in England, are we not?" asked Magnus, and he bent a charming smile on Amalia Morgenstern, who looked rather noindentustered. "I would be delighted if we could have some scones."
"Oh, certainly," said Amalia. "With clotted cream, of course."
Magnus gazed upon Camille. "Some of my fondest memories include lashings of cream and beautiful women."
Magnus was enjoying scandalizing the Shadowhunters. Camille rather looked as if she were enjoying it too. Her green eyes were heavy-lidded for a moment with amused satisfaction, as if she were a cat who had already had her fill of cream.
Amalia rang the bell. "While we wait for scones, we can hear the rest of dear Roderick's speech!"
There was an appalled silence, and in the stillness the mutter outside the door rang out, loud and clear.
"Merciful Angel, give me strength to endure. . . ."
Roderick Morgenstern, who Magnus thought truly deserved to have a name that sounded like a goat chewing gravel, stood up happily to continue his speech. Amalia attempted to rise unobtrusively from her seat-Magnus could have told her that hoop skirts and stealth together were a lost cause-and made her way to the door, which she threw open.
Several young Shadowhunters tumbled into the room like puppies falling over one another. Amalia's eyes rounded in comic surprise. "What on earth-"
Despite Shadowhunters having the swiftness of angels, only one managed to land with grace. It was a boy, or rather a young man, who ended his fall on one knee before Amalia, like Romeo proposing to Juliet.
He had hair the color of a coin that was pure gold, no base metal, and the lines of his face were as clean and elegant as a profile etched on one of those princely coins. His shirt had become disarranged at some point during the eavesdropping, the collar pulled open to reveal the edge of a rune drawn on his white skin.
The most remarkable thing about him were his eyes. They were laughing eyes, at once both joyous and tender: they were the radiant pale blue of a sky slipping toward evening in Heaven, when angels who had been sweet all day found themselves tempted to sin.
"I could not bear to be parted from you a moment longer, dear, dearest Mrs. Morgenstern," said the young man, possessing himself of Amalia's hand. "I yearn for you."
He made play with his long golden eyelashes, and Amalia Morgenstern was forthwith reduced to blushes and smiles.
Magnus had always had a decided preference for black hair. It appeared as though fate were determined that he should broaden his horizons. Either that or the blonds of the world had formed some sort of conspiracy to be good-looking all of a sudden.
"Excuse me, Bane?" said Roderick Morgenstern. "Are you attending?"
"I'm so sorry," Magnus said politely. "Somebody incredibly attractive just came into the room, and I ceased to pay attention to a word you were saying."
It was perhaps an ill-judged remark. The Shadowhunter elders, representatives from the Clave, all appeared horrified and dismayed at any Downworlder expressing interest in one of their youths. The Nephilim also had very decided opinions on the subject of inverts and deviant behavior, since as a group their chief occupations were waving large weaponry about and judging everybody they met.
Camille, meanwhile, looked as if she found Magnus even more interesting than she had before. She looked back and forth between him and the young blond Shadowhunter boy, and covered her smile with a gloved hand.
"He is delightful," she murmured to Magnus.
Magnus was watching as Amalia shooed out the young Shadowhunters-the blond boy; an older young man with thick brown hair and significant eyebrows; and a dark-eyed, birdlike little girl, barely more than a toddler, who looked over her shoulder and said, "Papa?" in a clear questioning voice to the head of the London Institute, a grave dark man called Granville Fairchild.
"Go, Charlotte. You know your duty," said Fairchild. Duty before all; that was the warrior's way, Magnus renoindentected. Certainly duty before love.
Little Charlotte, already a dutiful Shadowhunter, trotted obediently away.
Camille's low voice recalled Magnus to attention. "I don't suppose you'd like to share him?"
Magnus smiled back at her. "Not as a meal, no. Was that what you meant?"
Camille laughed. Ralf Scott made an impatient noise, but was shushed by de Quincey, who muttered at him in annoyance; while over that noise rose the discontented grumblings of Roderick Morgenstern, a man who clearly wished to continue with his speech-and then finally the refreshments arrived, carried in on silver tea trays by a host of maids.
Arabella the mermaid lifted a hand, sloshing energetically in her aquarium.
"If you please," she said. "I would like a scone."
When Morgenstern's interminable speech was finally done, everybody had lost all will to converse and simply wished to go home. Magnus parted from Camille Belcourt with deep reluctance and from the Shadowhunters with deep relief.
It had been some time since Magnus was last in love, and he was beginning to feel the effects. He remembered the glow of love as brighter and the pain of loss as gentler than they had actually been. He found himself looking into many faces for potential love, and seeing many people as shining vessels of possibility. Perhaps this time there would be that indefinable something that sent hungry hearts roving, longing and searching for something, they knew not what, and yet could not give up the quest. Every time a face or a look or a gesture caught Magnus's eye these days, it woke to life a refrain in Magnus's breast, a song in persistent rhythm with his heartbeat. Perhaps this time, perhaps this one.
As he walked down Thames Street, he began to plot ways in which to see Camille again. He should pay a call upon the vampire clan in London. He knew de Quincey lived in Kensington.
It was only civil.
"After all," Magnus remarked aloud to himself, swinging his monkey-headed cane, "attractive and interesting persons do not simply drop out of the sky."
It was then that the fair-haired Shadowhunter that Magnus had spotted at the Institute somersaulted from the top of a wall and landed gracefully in the street before him.
"Devastating ensembles made on Bond Street with red brocade waistcoats do not simply drop out of the sky!" Magnus proclaimed experimentally to the Heavens.
The young man frowned. "I beg your pardon?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing at all," said Magnus. "May I help you? I do not believe I have had the pleasure of making your acquaintance."
The Nephilim stooped and picked up his hat, which had fallen onto the cobblestones when he'd made his leap. He then took it off in order to noindentourish it in Magnus's direction. The effect of the smile and the eyelashes together was like a small earthquake of attractiveness. Magnus could not blame Amalia Morgenstern for her giggling, even if the boy was far too young for her.
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