LONDON, ENGLAND

AUGUST 1878

11:48 PM

Axel Mortmain stared out the window pensively, hands folded neatly behind his back. It was drizzling outside; quite normal, he supposed, when one considered the time of year. The fire crackled merrily in the background, kept alive only for its appearance to the footman and the parlor maid. He had begun to suspect foul play when Griffiths entered the room and cleared his throat, as though hoping not to be noticed. Mortmain watched his reflection in the darkened glass. "A guest to see you, sir,'' was all he said.

"Very well," Mortmain said, without turning around. "Do send him in. And be quick about it, won't you?"

"Of course, sir." The footman bowed and slipped back into the hallway as silently as he had come. Mortmain resumed his unseeing gaze into the night. Presently, the door opened and a cloaked figure slid into the room, as graceful as one of those blasted Nephilim. The fire blew itself out with the entrance, as if sensing the imminent danger. The stranger took in the room's fine décor and chuckled darkly. "You've been making a fine living, haven't you, Mortmain," he said.

Mortmain unhitched himself from the window and, walking over to the sideboard, poured himself a glass of liqueur. "Brandy?" he offered, waving a glass in the man's general direction. He shook his head. Mortmain shrugged unconcernedly and downed his portion, promptly topping it again with a generous amount. The moments dragged on, neither saying a word, until the reappearance of Griffiths. "Another guest, sir," he announced wearily. "Shall I send him in as well?"

"Please do. Tell him I'm terribly disappointed in him. He should know better than to keep the Magister waiting."

"As you wish, sir." Another bow, another hushed exit. Mortmain settled himself in his chair and waited. The other man ranged around the room, picking things up and examining them. Footsteps sounded in the hallway, followed by the doorknob turning. It swung open to reveal Nathaniel Gray, dressed in a fine suit. He was followed by another hooded figure. Together, with the first man, they set themselves in the chairs across from Mortmain. Simultaneously, the two cloaked figures dropped their hoods. Nathaniel simply sat there, looking decidedly at ease with the entire thing.

"Why have you called us here tonight, Mortmain?" the first man asked, sounding rather bored. "I am not one of your silly cult followers; I see no reason to stay."

"Patience, Fredrichs," Mortmain said easily. "I have an offer to propose."

"I am not interested in your ill-gotten wealth," Fredrichs said lazily, "nor any offer of yours. Good bye." He stood to leave. "What makes you think I would willingly part with fortune, Fredrichs?" Mortmain called. "My reward is not gold, but flesh. I understand you have taken a recent interest in the vampire woman Belcourt?"

Fredrichs froze, his hand on the doorknob. "What do you know about her?" he asked in as neutral a voice as he could manage. Mortmain laughed like a child with a new toy. "I have been tracking her," he said. "I know where she has fled. If you carry out your task successfully, I will find and have her brought back to England for you. If not…you will not see her again."

Fredrichs crossed the room and threw himself into his previously vacated chair. "You play a dirty game, Mortmain," he said. "Dirty and dangerous."

"Will you accept my offer?"

"It's not as if it's an easy choice you've left me, mundane. Stop looking so smug. I will help you under two conditions; you will not go back on your word and she will not be harmed."

"I swear on the Angel."

"That holds you to nothing, mortal, and you know it. I want you to swear on your own life."

"A risky thing you are asking, my friend," Mortmain mused. "But if it is the only way to gain your trust and cooperation, then so be it. I swear on my life that your vampire will not be harmed and that I shall do everything in my power to obtain her."

"That is all very well," the second man interrupted, "but there is no reason for us to be here that I can see. Why were we summoned, Mortmain? And no funny answers."

Mortmain gazed around the table. Two of these men were infinitely valuable to him, and he could not afford to lose such weapons. The human boy, however, was becoming bothersome. He would have to be disposed of, soon. "Gentleman, a plan has been formulated and the time is ripe for it to be put into motion. I want that girl."

"Theresa Gray? But sir, that thing is sure to play right into your hands," Nathaniel protested. Mortmain smiled condescendingly. "I do not want the shapeshifter, boy," he said. "I want the other one."

"Jessamine Lovelace?" Fredrichs looked baffled.

"Lilian Highsmith?" the second man asked.

"The maid?" Nathaniel inquired.

"No, you fools!" Mortmain howled. "The other one! The woman! I want Charlotte Branwell kneeling at my feet!" He calmed down fractionally. "You, Richardson." The second man grunted. "I want you to monitor the rest of those pathetic excuses of Shadowhunters that she calls her family."

"What's in it for me?" Richardson asked suspiciously. Mortmain smiled maliciously. "When I rule, you will have an assured place on my consul, should you succeed in your task."

"And if not?"

"Then you will be punished. Fredrichs, you have her trust, do you not?"

"I do."

"Excellent. You will strengthen this trust, until she would allow you to lead her blindfolded and weaponless into battle."

"Sir?"

"What?" Mortmain snapped. Nathaniel shrunk away. "What will you have me do, sir?" he asked in a small voice.

"Nothing," Mortmain said. "You are too weak to be of any help to me. All of you, go," he added. "I am finished with you for today." He turned back to the window and recommenced his watchful trance. "Do not fail me. I want her dead."