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The Whitechapel Fiend

Cassandra Clare

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  "I spy," George said, "with my little eye, something that begins with S."

  "It's slime, isn't it?" Simon said. He was lying on his back on the cot in his dorm room. His roommate, George, was lying on the opposite cot. Both of them were staring up thoughtfully into the darkness, which involved staring at the ceiling, which was unfortunate because the ceiling was gross. "It's always slime."

  "Not so," George said. "One time it was mold."

  "I'm not sure we can really make the distinction between slime and mold, and I hate that I have to care about that."

  "It wasn't 'slime,' anyway."

  Simon considered for a moment.

  "Is it . . . a snake? Please tell me it's not a snake."

  Simon curled up his legs involuntarily.

  "It's not a snake, but now that's all I will be able to think about. Are there snakes in Idris? It seems like the kind of place where they'd drive the snakes out."

  "Isn't that Ireland?" Simon said.

  "I don't think there are limitations on snake driving. Surely they got rid of the snakes. Must have done. Oh God, this place has to have snakes. . . ."

  There was a faint tremor to George's soft Scottish brogue now.

  "Are there raccoons here in Idris?" Simon said, trying to change the subject. He adjusted himself on the hard, narrow bed. There was no point in adjusting. Every position was just as uncomfortable as the last. "We have raccoons in New York. They can get in anywhere. They can open doors. I read online that they even know how to use keys."

  "I don't like snakes. Snakes don't need keys."

  Simon paused for a moment to recognize the fact that "Snakes don't need keys" was a good album name: It sounded deep for a second, but then completely shallow and obvious, which made you go back to the first thought and think it might be deep.

  "So what was it?" Simon asked.

  "What was what?"

  "What did you spy that begins with S?"


  This was the kind of game you played when you lived in a sparsely decorated room located in the basement of the Shadowhunter Academy--or, as they had started to refer to it--the floor of ultimate moisture. George had commented many times how it was a shame they weren't slugs, because it was perfectly set up for the slug lifestyle. They had come to an uneasy acceptance of the fact that many creatures had made the Academy their home after it was closed down. They no longer panicked when they heard skittering noises in the wall or under the bed. If the noises were in the bed, they allowed themselves some panic. This had happened more than once.

  In theory, the mundanes (or dregs, as they were often called) were down in the basement because it was the most secure floor. Simon was sure there was probably some truth to that. But there was probably a lot more truth to the fact that Shadowhunters tended to have a natural snobbery that ran in the blood. But Simon had asked to be here, both with the dregs and in Shadowhunter Academy itself, so there was no point in complaining. With no Wi-Fi, no phones, no television--nights could be long. Once the lights went out, Simon and George often talked to each other across the darkness like this. Sometimes they lay in their respective beds in a companionable silence, each knowing the other was there. It was something. It was everything, really, just to have George in the room. Simon wasn't sure if he would be able to bear it otherwise. And it wasn't just the cold or the rats or anything else about the place physically--it was what was in his head, the ever-increasing noises, slices of memories. They came to him like bits of forgotten songs, tunes he couldn't place. There were remembrances of tremendous joys and fears, but he often couldn't connect them to events or people. They were just feelings, batting him around in the dark.

  "Do you ever notice," George said, "how even the blankets feel wet, when you know they're dry? And I come from Scotland. I know wool. I know sheep. But this wool? There's something demonic about this wool. I cut my knuckles on it making the bed the other morning."

  Simon mmm'ed a reply. There was no need for any real attention. He and George had these same conversations every night. The slime and the mold and the creatures in the walls and the rough blankets and the cold. Every night, these were the topics. Simon's thoughts drifted. He'd had two visitors recently, and neither of the visits had gone well.

  Isabelle and Clary, two of the most important people in his life (as far as he could tell), had both come to the Academy. Isabelle had appeared to stake her claim on Simon, and Simon--in a move that astonished him still--told her to back off. It couldn't just go back to the way it was. Not like this, not when he couldn't remember what it was. And then in the training exercise, Isabelle had shown up and slain a vampire that was about to take Simon down, but she had done so coolly. There was a distressing deadness to the way she spoke. Then Clary had popped up. Be careful with her, Clary had said. She's more fragile than she seems.

  Isabelle--with her whip and her ability to slice a demon in half--was more fragile than she seemed.

  The guilt had been keeping him awake at night.

  "Isabelle again?" George asked.

  "How did you know?"

  "Educated guess. I mean, she showed up and threatened to cut anyone to ribbons who got near you, and now you don't seem to be talking, and your friend Clary showed up to talk to you about her, and you also mumble her name when you sleep."

  "I do?"

  "On occasion. You're either saying 'Isabelle' or 'fishy smell.' Could be either, to be fair."

  "How do I fix this?" Simon asked. "I don't even know what I'm fixing."

  "I don't know," George said. "But morning comes early. Best try to sleep."

  There was a long pause and then . . .

  "There must be snakes," George said. "Isn't this place everything a snake could want? Cool, made of stone, lots of holes to slither in and out of, lots of mice to eat . . . Why am I still talking? Simon, make me stop talking. . . ."

  But Simon let him go on. Even talk of possible nearby snakes was better than what was currently going through his head.


  Idris did its seasons properly, in general. It was like New York in that manner--you got each one, distinct and clear. But Idris was more pleasant than New York. The winter wasn't just frozen garbage and slush; the summer wasn't just boiling garbage and air-conditioner drippings that always felt like spit coming from overhead. Idris was greenery in the warm weather, crisp and tranquil in the cold, the air always smelling of freshness and burning log fires.

  Mostly. Then there were mornings like the ones this week, which were all bluster. Winds with little fishhooks at the end of every gust. Cold that got inside the clothes. Shadowhunter gear, while practical, wasn't necessarily very warm. It was light, easy to move in, like fighting gear should be. It was not made for standing outside on a boggy stretch at seven in the morning when the sun was barely up. Simon thought of his puffy jacket from home, and his bed, and heating in general. Breakfast, which had been a glue substitute under the banner of porridge, sat heavily in his stomach.

  Coffee. That's what this morning needed. Idris had no coffee places, nowhere to pop in and get a cup of the hot, steaming, and awake-making. The breakfast drink at the Academy was a thin tea that Simon suspected was not tea at all, but the watery runoff of one of the many noxious soups that emerged from the back of the kitchen. He swore he'd found a bit of po
tato skin in his mug that morning. He hoped it was potato skin.

  One cup from Java Jones. Was that so much to want from life?

  "Do you see this tree?" shouted Delaney Scarsbury, pointing at a tree.

  Of the many questions their physical trainer had put to them over the last few months, this was one of the most logical and direct and yet confusing. Everyone could clearly see the tree. It was the only tree in this particular patch of field. It was tall, slightly tilted to the left.

  Mornings with Scarsbury sounded like the name of a call-in radio show for cranks, but it was, in reality, just physical punishment designed to condition and train them to fight. And to be fair, Simon was more in shape now than he had been when he arrived.

  "Do you see this tree?"

  The question had been so weirdly obvious that no one had replied. Now they all mumbled a yes, they saw the tree.

  "Here is what you are going to do," Scarsbury said. "You are going to climb this tree, walk along that branch"--he pointed to one heavy main branch, maybe fifteen feet from the ground--"and jump off."

  "No, I'm not," Simon muttered. Similar sounds of discontent rumbled around the class. No one seemed excited about the prospect of climbing up a tree and then deliberately falling out of it.

  "Morning," said a familiar voice.

  Simon turned to see Jace Herondale behind him, all smiles. He looked relaxed and rested and utterly comfortable in his gear. Shadowhunters could draw runes for warmth. They didn't need hypoallergenic down-substitute puffy coats. Jace wasn't wearing a hat, either, which allowed his perfectly tousled golden hair to wave attractively in the breeze. He was keeping back and had not yet been noticed by the others, who were still listening to Scarsbury yelling over the wind while pointing at the tree.

  "How did you get roped into this?" Simon asked, blowing into his hands to warm them.

  Jace shrugged. "Just lending a graceful and athletic hand," he said. "It would be remiss of me to deny the newest generation of Shadowhunters a glimpse of what they could become if they were very, very, very lucky."

  Simon closed his eyes for a moment. "You're doing this to impress Clary," he said. "Also checking up on me."

  "By the Angel, he's gone telepathic," Jace said, pretending to stagger back. "Basically, everyone's pitching in since all your teachers ran away. I'm assisting with training. Like it or not."

  "Hmm," said Simon. "Not."

  "Come on now," Jace said, clapping him on the arm. "You used to love doing this."

  "Did I?"

  "Maybe," Jace said. "You didn't scream. Wait. No. Yes, you did. My mistake. But it's easy. This is just a training exercise."

  "The last training exercise involved killing a vampire. In the training exercise before that, I watched someone get an arrow in the knee."

  "I've seen worse. Come on. This is a fun exercise."

  "There is no fun here," Simon said. "This is not Fun Academy. I should know. I was in a band once called Fun Academy."

  "To assist you this morning," Scarsbury yelled, "we have an expert and highly physically able Shadowhunter--Jace Lightwood Herondale."

  There was an audible gasp and titters of nervous laughter as every head turned in Jace's direction. There were suddenly a lot of female sighs from the class, and some male ones, too. It reminded Simon of standing in line for a rock concert--at any moment, he felt, the crowd might burst into a squeeing noise most unbecoming to future demon hunters.

  Jace smiled wider and stepped forward to lead the group. Scarsbury nodded his greeting and stepped back, arms folded. Jace eyed the tree for a moment and then leaned casually against it.

  "The trick to falling is not to fall," Jace said.

  "Wonderful," Simon said under his breath.

  "You are not falling. You are choosing to descend using the most direct means possible. You remain in control of your decent. A Shadowhunter doesn't fall--a Shadowhunter drops. You've been trained in the basic mechanics of how to do this . . ."

  Simon recalled Scarsbury shouting a few things over the wind several days before that may have been training instructions on falls. Phrases like "avoid rocks" and "not on your back" and "unless you're a complete idiot, which some of you are."

  ". . . so now we'll take the theory and put it into practice."

  Jace took hold of the tree and scampered up it with the ease of a monkey, then made his way to the branch, where he stood freely and easily.

  "Now," he called down to the group, "I look at the ground. I choose my landing site. Remember--protect the head. If there's any way to break momentum, any other surface you can use to lessen the length of the fall, use it--unless it's dangerous. Don't aim for sharp rocks or branches that could pierce or break you. Bend the knees. Keep relaxed. If your hands take the impact, be sure to make contact with the entire palm, but avoid this. Feet down, then roll. Keep that momentum going. Spread out the force of the impact. Like so . . ."

  Jace delicately stepped off the branch and dropped to the ground, striking with a subdued thud. He instantly rolled and was up on his feet again in a moment.

  "Like that."

  He gave his hair a little shake. Simon watched several people flush as he did so. Marisol had to cover her face with her hands for a moment.

  "Excellent," said Scarsbury. "That's what you will do. Jace will assist."

  Jace took this as his cue to climb the tree again. He made it look so simple, so elegant--just hand over hand, feet firmly gripped the entire way up. At the top, he took a casual seat in the nook of the branch and swung his legs.

  "Who's first?"

  There was no movement for a moment.

  "Might as well get it over with," George said in a low voice, before holding up his hand and stepping forward.

  Though George was not as nimble as Jace, he did make it up the tree. He used a lot of clutching, and his feet slipped several times. Some of the phrases he used were lost to the wind, but Simon was pretty sure they were obscene. Once George reached the branch, Jace leaned back dangerously to make room. George considered the branch for a moment--the lone, unsupported beam stretching over the ground.

  "Come on, Lovelace!" Scarsbury shouted.

  Simon saw Jace lean in and offer a few words of advice to George, who was still gripping the trunk of the tree. Then, with Jace nodding, George released the tree and took a few careful steps out onto the branch. He hesitated again, teetering a bit in the wind. Then he looked down, and with a pained expression, he stepped off the branch and fell heavily to the ground. The thud he made was much louder than Jace's, but he did roll and manage to get back on his feet.

  "Not bad," Scarsbury said as George hobbled back to Simon. He was rubbing his arm.

  "You do not want to do that," he said to Simon as he approached.

  Simon had already worked that out. The confirmation didn't help his spirits.

  Simon watched his classmates go up the tree one by one. For some, that took up to ten minutes of grunting and clawing and occasionally falling off halfway up. This got a loud "I told you, not on your back" from Scarsbury. Jace stayed in the tree the entire time, like some kind of rakish bird, at points smiling at the students below. Sometimes he looked elegantly bored and walked up and down the branch for fun.

  When there was simply no avoiding it anymore, Simon approached for his turn. Jace smiled at him from above.

  "It's easy," Jace said. "You probably did it all the time as a child. Just do that."

  "I'm from Brooklyn," Simon replied. "We don't climb trees."

  Jace shrugged, suggesting that these things were not to be helped.

  The first thing Simon learned about the tree was that while it appeared to lean to the side, it was really just straight up. And while the bark was rough and cut into the meat of the hands, it was also slippery, so every time he tried to get a foothold, he lost it. He tried to do it the way he'd seen Jace and George do it--they seemed to grip the tree very lightly. Simon tried this, realized it was futile, and grabbed the tree in a
hug so intimate, he wondered if they were now dating. Using this awkward clutching method and some froglike leg pushes, he managed to get up the trunk, scraping his face along the way. About three-quarters of the way up, he felt his palms slick with sweat and he started to lose his grip. The falling feeling filled him with a sudden panic and he gripped harder.

  "You're doing fine," Jace said in a voice that suggested Simon was not doing fine, but that was the kind of thing Jace was supposed to say.

  Simon made it to the branch using a few desperate moves he knew looked very bad from below. There was almost definitely a moment or two when his butt must have been on display in a less-than-flattering manner. But he made it. Standing up was the next trick, which he accomplished with more fevered gripping of the trunk.

  "Good," Jace said, giving a quirky little smile. "Now just walk to me."

  Jace walked backward down the branch. Backward.

  Now that Simon was on the branch, it didn't look like it was fifteen feet off the ground. It looked like it was in the sky. It was round and uneven and slippery as ever and it wasn't meant to be walked on, especially not in the sneakers Simon had chosen to wear that morning.

  But he'd gotten this far and he wasn't going to let Jace just do his magic backward walk while he clung to the trunk. He had gotten up there. Climbing down was a bad prospect, so there was really just the one option, and at least it was quick.

  Simon took his first step. His body immediately began to shake.

  "Look up," Jace said sharply. "Look at me."

  "I need to see--"

  "You need to look up to keep your balance. Look at me."

  Jace had stopped smirking. Simon looked at him.

  "Now step again. Don't look down. Your feet will find the branch. Arms out for balance. Don't worry about down yet. Eyes on me."

  Somehow, this worked. Simon made it six steps out onto the branch and was amazed to find himself standing there, arms rigid and out like airplane wings, the wind blowing hard. Just out on a tree branch with Jace.

  "Now turn to face the Academy. Keep looking out. Use it as a horizon. That's how you stay balanced--you choose a fixed point to concentrate on. Keep your weight forward--you don't want to go over backward."

  No. Simon really didn't want to do that. He moved one foot to meet the other, and then he was standing facing the pile of rocks that formed the Academy, and his fellow students below, all looking up. Most did not look impressed, but George gave him a thumbs-up.