"Angels come to help and guide us in as many guises as there are people who need their assistance. Sometimes we see their ethereal, heavenly shadow, bright with light and radiance. Sometimes we only feel their nearness or hear their whisper. And sometimes they look no different from ourselves..." - Eileen Elias Freeman
The first thing Alec noticed about the forest was the stench. It smelled like gasoline and sulfur. The corner of his lips curled in disgust.
"Well, this was a brilliant idea," Jace bit down as he stepped into the swampy river. The water was surprisingly deep, sloshing above his knees. It was thick and cold like sludge. Slime coated the surface of the water.
Isabelle followed after him, bunching and rolling the folds of her skirt into her fists. She released a sigh. "I'll tell you one thing, this is the last time I get directions from Meliorn," she grimaced. "At this rate, we'll arrive at the Festival of Lights with our clothes sopping wet."
"That's if we get there," Jace said. "Choosing to follow directions from Meliorn was about as good of an idea as choosing to follow cooking directions from a water sprite."
"Hey!" Isabelle exclaimed. Though he stood behind her, Alec could tell by his sister's inflection the blood was rushing to her face. He couldn't help but smile, remembering her disastrous peanut-fish stew concoction. "You should be thanking me for the fact that I even decided to extend Meliorn's invitation. He didn't have to invite you."
"Don't flatter yourself." Jace said. "You should be honored to have two, plausible young men such as ourselves escorting you, isn't that right, Alec?"
Isabelle scoffed. "Funny."
"Leave it to the Fair Folk to decide to host the Festival of Lights in the middle of this place," Alec said.
"It's tradition. The Festival of Lights are always held outside the Seelie Court," Isabelle replied. "Usually in an enchanted forest like this one."
"An enchanted forest?" Jace replied. "For all we know we could've been walking in circles. Great. The magnificent Lightwoods destroy the evil-overlord only to be thwarted by directions from an insect."
Isabelle glowered. "Meliorn is a respectable knight of the Seelie Court."
"Stop it you two," Alec said. "The invitation he gave us was genuine. As long as one of us still holds on to the invitation, the forest won't have effect on us. We just have to accept the fact that we're lost."
"Or we could accept the fact that we were all invited for their entertainment. They could be laughing at us from behind those trees, for all we know," said Jace.
Isabelle shot back a response in return, but Alec wasn't paying attention. He thought it before, but now he was certain. There was something suspicious about this river they were crossing.
"Get out of the water," Alec said suddenly.
Jace turned around. "What is it?"
"There's something in the water."
Isabelle asked, "A demon?"
"If it was a demon, we all would've sensed it by now," Jace said. Nevertheless, he withdrew his stele.
"No," Alec said. Hesitantly, he pressed his palm against his shoulder. He felt a sudden, sharp pain like a hot needle had pricked him. The pain dug deeper. "It's not that," he grimaced.
"Are you hurt?" Isabelle asked.
"No," he said, though he didn't move his hand from his shoulder. It didn't take long before Alec remembered what was there. It was the Alliance rune. The same one that bound him to Magnus Bane. "Just get out of the water."
Jace and Isabelle watched him. Neither one moved.
"I said go!"
Jace grabbed Isabelle's wrist so she was the closer one to the edge of the bank. She forced herself to climb to shore. Gravel crunched beneath her boots.
Now it was only Jace in the river with him. "Alec, let's go." He had one knee raised above the bank when he turned around to see Alec was left standing in the river.
When Alec didn't move, Jace paused. He reached towards him, and froze, seeing Alec clearly under the night sky, casting specks of icy, white flames from the stars over him.
That's when Jace noticed the two, spindly white fingers, like cobwebs wrapped around Alec's legs.
Alec flexed his right hand open, before clenching his fingers into a fist. He looked down, realizing his grip was slipping. His body was stiff. He could no longer feel his hands. His arms dropped to his sides, too numb to keep them raised. The rune engraved into his shoulder, though faded, was throbbing.
Jace scrambled back into the river, shouting Alec's name, though he could barely hear as if the voice were coming from underwater.
Then, Alec plunged into the river. He was pulled deeper into the water as if the bottom of the river had cracked and opened into a sea of endless, black water. He couldn't move. His body was paralyzed, useless, as if he were being dragged into a drugged sleep.
Someone was holding onto him, caressing his arms. The two, spindly white fingers from before had tied themselves around his shoulders. A slender body was pressed against his. "It's been too long, but I knew you would come," a feminine voice released into his ear, smooth and melodic like silver wind chimes. Its fingers drew close to his jaw, and it stroked his cheek. "I've been waiting."
Alec thrashed his head back. Despite fighting against his numbed body, he managed to draw enough strength to drag his elbow out in front of him and direct a sharp jab behind him. He kicked towards the surface, but the voice behind him shrieked, as if those silver wind chimes had shattered.
His wrist was grabbed fiercely, holding him down from breaking the surface. He couldn't breathe. His throat constricted.
"You're struggling, I can see. Let me help you," the voice sung.
His lungs were heavy, and his ribcage was tight. He felt the icy fingers grip his chest. She touched the base of his neck. As if a soft, blue velvet wrapped around him, his world faded around him.
She whispered soothingly, "You won't have to worry about anything, anymore, Magnus Bane."
When Alec stirred, he was lying on his side on cold rocks, eroded smooth by water over time. He dragged himself to his knees. His head was killing him. Wincing, he pinched the bridge of his nose and when he opened his eyes, he was startled to see a tall, slender woman kneeling over him. She stood back when Alec rose.
Her hair was as fine as moss, and her eyes ice blue like broken glass shimmered when she narrowed them. "You smell vaguely of his scent. You even have a familiar touch, but I've made a terrible mistake," the woman said, "You're not him."
Alec grit his teeth, trying to suppress evidence of his headache. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"My name is not important to the likes of a human like yourself. I'm the water nymph of this river. When I felt you enter, I thought I knew you. But I was wrong. You're not Magnus Bane. Why, I wonder, do you reek of his magic, then?"
The alliance rune, Alec thought. Even though it was faded, there was an everlasting residual remark in the form of a scar on his shoulder. It was probably enough for this water nymph to sense traces of his magic.
"I know Magnus Bane," Alec replied, "He helped us fight a battle not so long ago."
The water nymph cackled.
"You expect me to believe my darling, Magnus gave you his assistance?"
"He's done so on more than one occasion."
"You must be wealthy. With all that help, I'm certain it came with a heavy price."
"He offered," Alec replied, "Free of charge."
Her facial expression went still. "I see."
Once Alec was steady on his feet, he took a quick scan of his surroundings. He was in a cavern. A pool of water rippled softly by the mouth of the caverns. It appeared going through that water was the only entrance into and out of his cavern.
He made his way towards the water, when the water nymph stopped him. She thrust her body in front him, blocking his way to the entrance. "And what exactly are you to him?"
There was a hint of threatening venom in her voice. Her teeth were bared as if prepared to bite him, but she lacked the fangs of a vampire. Her complexion was flawless.
Alec replied. "I'll spread the word you were looking for him."
"I've not just been looking for him," she spat, "I've been waiting for him for the past 300 years for him to show his face like he promised, and what does he do? Abandons me. He abandons me at this river after he confessed his love for me!"
"Confessed his love?"
"Did you think I always used to be a nymph?" she glowered, a playful smile on her face. "At one time, I was a cherished fairy of the Seelie Court, one of the Queen's maids. Then I met him – a warlock. We fell in love. He promised he'd wait for me by this river to take me away with him. I waited and waited until My Queen concluded I was more loyal to one of the Lilith Children than to her! And do you know what she did? She bound me. An outcast fairy of the Seelie Court, bound to this river."
What Alec wanted to say was that he pitied her – not really – but he had to leave this place. He'd tell Magnus Bane that she was still waiting for him. Instead, he said nothing. After all, she hadn't listened the first time he tried.
Her lips thinned, and she stepped closer. "You're Nephilim."
The words came forth raspy and slurred. For a moment, Alec swore she had said instead 'you're in-love-with-him'. He blinked in surprise. "What?"
"I said you're 'Nephilim'," she repeated. "Did I stutter?"
"I…no, I'm sorry, "Alec stumbled, "What does that have to do with anything?"
"It means I understand," she said. There was a proud sense of accomplishment in her voice. Her shoulders straightened. "Because you're Nephilim, my poor Magnus is somehow indebted to your kind. I mean, with him being a Downworlder and everything – as your people say, he obviously owes you more than one favor for more than one screw up. I wouldn't but it pass him to get himself in such a pathetic situation."
Alec could not resist but stare, lips slightly parted in astonishment. The nerve of this water nymph, speaking freely about anyone at her limited discretion. It was like jabbing a knife blindfolded, not caring at the moment if you hit your ally or your enemy. If she took down enough allies, surely she'd eliminate her enemy.
"That's not true," Alec said, before he could stop himself, "Magnus is a friend to the Nephilim."
"For a price, Magnus would be a friend to anyone, even you. It's unfortunate that price is an apparent un-repaid debt."
"Was Magnus indebted to you?"
"Love has no price!" the water nymph shrieked. "Unless…," she became startling calm. "He loves you," she whispered. She repeated it as if the words did not sound right on her lips, "He loves you."
Alec said nothing.
She cupped a hand across her mouth, and closed her eyes. "Now I understand," she said. When her eyes opened, a glower followed behind them, like cold embers sparking fire. "Obviously, my darling Magnus is confused. It's been so long he's been without my love he's trying to fill that emptiness with a Nephilim unworthy of his devotion."
She's absolutely crazy. Alec thought. At first he decided against saying anything at all, but the words slipped from his mouth. "You're crazy."
"Do you love him?" the water nymph said, ignoring him.
Alec hesitated, but it wasn't because he doubted his feelings for Magnus. No, it was far from that. He was unsure of what the consequences would be at this point if he were to confess his true feelings. He closed his eyes, imaging what Jace would do, defending Clary.
"All right," he said finally, "I love him."
She stumbled back abruptly, as if his own words stung her. "Then it's true," she said. "No wonder you carried that familiarity on your skin and it's in your blood too. He's shared a part of himself with you."
Alec touched the part of his shoulder scarred by the rune. The slightest trace of it must still bound himself to Magnus, and this water nymph must have sensed that.
"Yes, you idiotic Nephilim. I know of the Alliance Runes passed down by Valentine's daughter and the fact that my Magnus bound himself to a Nephilim. I may be a water nymph, but I still hear stories from the Fair Folk, at least those stories I happen to overhear by the river's edge. Faeries love to gossip. I now realize who that Nephilim was…" she breathed, as if a sense of relief washed over her, "Alec Lightwood."
The water nymph suddenly raised her head. "You have loyal friends. I see they're still trying to rescue you. It's nearly morning. How annoying." She plucked a white, lotus flower from her hair and tossed into the pool of water behind her. "Take a look."
Alec approached the water and peered down. Like a mirror reflecting the surface, he saw rippled glimpses of Jace and Isabelle talking to Meliorn, who apparently had joined them. He seemed to be explaining something. The scene quickly faded back to dark water.
"Take me back to them," Alec demanded. "They need to know I'm okay."
"Under one condition," the water nymph replied, a grin teased the edge of her lips. "Look at me."
Alec turned briefly, breathless when the water nymph pressed her lips to his. A sweet liquid was in her mouth that trickled into Alec's mouth and down his throat like nectar. He pulled back in shock.
"Poison," she explained. "You may leave whenever you'd like, but once you do, you have until the full moon to bring Magnus to me…understand?"
"The full moon? That's in three days."
The water nymph smiled, "Then we understand each other."
"What happens if I don't bring Magnus back?" Alec asked.
"Then I won't be able to remove the poison from your body. Don't even think about coming here alone either, or I'll allow the poison to run its course. You may be feeling a little nauseous till then, but during the full moon is when my poison truly activates its full potential."
"What will happen if I do bring Magnus to you?"
"I'll exact my revenge. It's his fault and my love for him that bound me to this infernal river. I'm going to kill him. In return, I'll remove the poison from your body. I should mention my poison is unique in that my antidote cannot be recreated. No length of magic outside my own will cure you, even that of a warlocks."
"How do I know you won't kill us both?"
"I may be a water nymph, but I'm still part of the Fair Folk. We never lie. I promised you an antidote under these circumstances, and I won't go back on my word. Don't worry. I'll save your pathetic life. It'll be enough to satisfy me knowing that it was I who made you alone in this world, just as I have suffered."
"Do you expect me to agree to any of this?!"
"I except you to do something," she said, amused, "I'm curious to see what that will be."
Alec fought back the urge to slam his fist into her face. Instead, he closed his eyes and dove into the water. The last sound he heard was the echo of her laughter.
A/N: Please review, thanks!