The Lost HerondaleCassandra Clare
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There was a time, not long ago, when Simon Lewis had been convinced that all gym teachers were actually demons escaped from some hell dimension, nourishing themselves on the agonies of uncoordinated youth.
Little did he know he'd been almost right.
Not that Shadowhunter Academy had gym class, not exactly. And his physical trainer, Delaney Scarsbury, wasn't so much a demon as a Shadowhunter who probably thought lopping the heads off a few multiheaded hellbeasts comprised an ideal Saturday night--but as far as Simon was concerned, these were technicalities.
"Lewis!" Scarsbury shouted, looming over Simon, who lay flat on the ground, trying to will himself to do another push-up. "What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation?"
Scarsbury's legs were as thick as tree trunks, and his biceps were no less depressingly huge. This, at least, was one difference between the Shadowhunter and Simon's mundane gym teachers, most of whom could barely have bench-pressed a bag of potato chips. Also, none of Simon's gym teachers had worn an eye patch or carried a sword carved with runes and blessed by angels.
But in all the ways that counted, Scarsbury was exactly the same.
"Everyone get a look at Lewis!" he called to the rest of the class, as Simon levered himself into a shaky plank position, willing himself not to do a belly flop into the dirt. Again. "Our hero here might just defeat his evil spaghetti arms after all."
Gratifyingly, only one person laughed. Simon recognized the distinctive snicker of Jon Cartwright, eldest son of a distinguished Shadowhunter family (as he'd be the first to tell you). Jon believed he was born for greatness and seemed especially irritated that Simon--a hapless mundane--had managed to get there first. Even if he could no longer remember doing it. Jon, of course, was the one who'd started calling Simon "our hero." And like all evil gym teachers before him, Scarsbury had been only too happy to follow the popular kid's lead.
Shadowhunter Academy had two tracks, one for the Shadowhunter kids who'd grown up in this world and whose blood destined them for demon-fighting, and one for the mundanes, clueless, lacking in genetic destiny, and scrambling to catch up. They spent most of the day in separate classes, the mundanes studying rudimentary martial arts and memorizing the finer points of the Nephilim Covenant, the Shadowhunters focusing on more advanced skills: juggling throwing stars and studying Chthonian and Marking themselves up with runes of obnoxious superiority and who knew what else. (Simon was still hoping that somewhere in the Shadowhunter manual was the secret of the Vulcan death grip. After all, as his instructors kept reminding them: All the stories are true.) But the two tracks began every day together: Every student, no matter how inexperienced or advanced, was expected to report to the training field at sunrise for a grueling hour of calisthenics. Divided we stand, Simon thought, his stubborn biceps refusing to bulge. United we do push-ups.
When he'd told his mother he wanted to go to military school so he could toughen up, she'd given him a strange look. (Not as strange as if he'd said he wanted to go to demon-fighting school so he could drink from the Mortal Cup, Ascend to the ranks of Shadowhunter, and just maybe get back the memories that had been stolen from him in a nearby hell dimension, but close.) The look said: My son, Simon Lewis, wants to sign up for a life where you have to do a hundred push-ups before breakfast?
He knew this, because he could read her pretty well--but also because once she'd regained the ability to speak, she'd said, "My son, Simon Lewis, wants to sign up for a life where you have to do a hundred push-ups before breakfast?" Then she'd asked him teasingly if he was possessed by some evil creature, and he'd pretended to laugh, trying for once to ignore the tendrils of memory from that other life, his real life. The one where he'd been turned into a vampire and his mother had called him a monster and barricaded him from the house. Sometimes, Simon thought he would do anything to get back the memories that had been taken from him--but there were moments when he wondered whether some things were better left forgotten.
Scarsbury, more demanding than any drill sergeant, made his young charges do two hundred push-ups every morning . . . but he did, at least, let them eat breakfast first.
After the push-ups came the laps. After the laps came the lunges. And after the lunges--
"After you, hero," Jon sneered, offering Simon first shot at the climbing wall. "Maybe if we give you a head start, we won't have to wait around so long for you to catch up."
Simon was too exhausted for a snarky comeback. And definitely too exhausted to claw his way up the climbing wall, one impossibly distant handhold at a time. He made it up a few feet, at least, then paused to give his shrieking muscles a rest. One by one, the other students scrambled up past him, none of them seeming even slightly out of breath.
"Be a hero, Simon," Simon muttered bitterly, remembering the life Magnus Bane had dangled before him in their first meeting--or at least, the first one Simon could remember. "Have an adventure, Simon. How about, turn your life into one long agonizing gym class, Simon."
"Dude, you're talking to yourself again." George Lovelace, Simon's roommate and only real friend at the Academy, hoisted himself up beside Simon. "You losing your grip?"
"I'm talking to myself, not little green men," Simon clarified. "Still sane, last I checked."
"No, I mean"--George nodded toward Simon's sweaty fingers, which had gone pale with the effort of holding his weight--"your grip."
"Oh. Yeah. I'm peachy," Simon said. "Just giving you guys a head start. I figure in battle conditions, it's always the red shirts who go in first, you know?"
George's brow furrowed. "Red shirts? But our gear is black."
"No, red shirts. Cannon fodder. Star Trek? Any of this ringing a . . ." Simon sighed at the blank look on George's face. George had grown up in an isolated rural pocket of Scotland, but it wasn't like he'd lived without Internet and cable TV. The problem, as far as Simon could tell, was that the Lovelaces watched nothing but soccer and used their Wi-Fi almost exclusively to monitor Dundee United stats and occasionally to buy sheep feed in bulk. "Forget it. I'm fine. See you at the top."
George shrugged and returned to his climb. Simon watched his roommate--a tan, muscled Abercrombie-model type--swing himself up the plastic rock handholds as effortlessly as Spider-Man. It was ridiculous: George wasn't even a Shadowhunter, not by blood. He'd been adopted by a Shadowhunting family, which made him just as much a mundane as Simon. Except that, like most of the other mundanes--and very unlike Simon--he was a near perfect specimen of humanity. Repulsively athletic, coordinated, strong and swift, and as close to a Shadowhunter as you could get without the blood of the angels running through your veins. In other words: a jock.
Life at Shadowhunter Academy was lacking in a lot of things Simon had once believed he couldn't survive without: computers, music, comic books, indoor plumbing. Over the past couple of months, he'd gotten mostly used to doing without, but there was one glaring absence he still couldn't wrap his head around.
Shadowhunter Academy had no nerds.
Simon's mother had once told him that the thing she loved most about being Jewish was that you could step into a synagogue anywhere on earth and feel like you'd come home. India, Brazil, New Zealand, even Mars--if you could rely on Shalom, Spacemen!, the homemade comic book that had been the highlight of Simon's third-grade Hebrew school experience. Jews everywhere
prayed with the same language, the same melodies, the same words. Simon's mother (who, it should be noted, had never left the tristate area, much less the country) had told her son that as long as he could always find people who spoke the language of his soul, he would never be alone.
And she'd turned out to be right. As long as Simon could find people who spoke his language--the language of Dungeons & Dragons and World of Warcraft, the language of Star Trek and manga and indie rockers with songs like "Han Shot First" and "What the Frak"--he felt like he was among friends.
These Shadowhunters in training, on the other hand? Most of them probably thought manga was some kind of demonic athlete's foot. Simon was doing his best to educate them to the finer things in life, but guys like George Lovelace had about as much aptitude for twelve-sided dice as Simon did for . . . well, anything more physically complex than walking and chewing gum at the same time.
As Jon had predicted, Simon was the last one left on the climbing wall. By the time the others had ascended, rung the tiny bell at the top, and rappelled to the ground again, he'd made it only ten meters off the ground. The last time that had happened, Scarsbury, who had an impressive flair for sadism, had made the entire class sit and watch as Simon painstakingly made his way to the top. This time, their trainer cut the torture session mercifully short.
"Enough!" Scarsbury shouted, clapping his hands together. Simon wondered whether there was such a thing as a runed whistle. Maybe he could get Scarsbury one for Christmas. "Lewis, put us all out of our misery and get down from there. The rest of you, hit the weapons room, pick yourself out a sword, then pair up for scrimmage." His iron grip closed over Simon's shoulder. "Not so fast, hero. You stay behind."
Simon wondered whether this was it, the moment that his heroic past was finally overpowered by his hapless present, and he was about to be kicked out of school. But then Scarsbury called out several other names--among them Lovelace, Cartwright, Beauvale, Mendoza--most of them Shadowhunters, all of them the best students in the class, and Simon let himself relax, just a little. Whatever it was Scarsbury had to say, it couldn't be that bad, not if he was also saying it to Jon Cartwright, gold medalist in sucking up.
"Sit," Scarsbury boomed.
"You're here because you're the twenty most promising students in the class," Scarsbury said, pausing to let the compliment settle over them. Most of the students beamed. Simon willed himself to disappear. More like the nineteen most promising students and the one still coasting on the achievements of his past self. He felt like he was eight years old again, overhearing his mother bully the Little League coach into letting him take a turn at bat. "We've got a Downworlder that broke the Law and needs taking care of," Scarsbury continued, "and the powers that be have decided it's the perfect opportunity for you boys to become men."
Marisol Rojas Garza, a scrawny thirteen-year-old mundane with a permanent I will kick your ass expression, cleared her throat loudly.
"Er . . . men and women," Scarsbury clarified, looking none too happy about it.
Murmurs rippled across the students, excitement mixed with alarm. None of them had expected a real training mission this soon. Behind Simon, Jon faked a yawn. "Boring. I could kill a rogue Downworlder in my sleep."
Simon, who actually did kill rogue Downworlders in his sleep, along with the terrifying tentacled demons and Endarkened Shadowhunters and other bloodthirsty monsters that crawled through his nightmares, didn't feel much like yawning. He felt more like throwing up.
George raised his hand. "Uh, sir, some of us here are still"--he swallowed, and, not for the first time, Simon wondered whether he regretted admitting the truth about himself; the Academy was a much easier place to be when you were on the elite Shadowhunter track, and not just because the elites didn't have to sleep in the dungeon--"mundanes."
"I noticed that myself, Lovelace," Scarsbury said dryly. "Imagine my surprise when I discovered some of you dregs are worth something after all."
"No, I mean . . ." George hesitated, substantially more easily intimidated than any six-foot-five Scottish sex-god (Beatriz Velez Mendoza's description, according to her bigmouthed best friend) had a right to be. Finally, he squared his shoulders and plowed forward. "I mean we're mundanes. We can't be Marked, we can't use seraph blades or witchlight or anything, we don't have, like, superspeed and angelic reflexes. Going after a Downworlder when we've only had a couple months of training . . . isn't that dangerous?"
A vein in Scarsbury's neck began to throb alarmingly, and his good eye bulged so far out of his head Simon feared it might pop. (Which, he thought, could finally explain the mysterious eye patch.) "Dangerous? Dangerous?" he boomed. "Anyone else here afraid of a little danger?"
If they were, they were even more afraid of Scarsbury, and so kept their mouths shut. He let the silence hang, thick and angry, for an agonizing minute. Then he scowled at George. "If you're afraid of dangerous situations, boy, you're in the wrong place. And as for the rest of you dregs, best you find out now whether you've got what it takes. If you don't, then drinking from the Mortal Cup will kill you, and trust me, mundies, getting bled dry by a bloodsucker would be a much kinder way to go." He'd fixed his gaze on Simon, maybe because Simon had once been a bloodsucker, or maybe because he now seemed the most likely to get drained by one.
It occurred to Simon that Scarsbury could be hoping for that outcome--that he'd selected Simon for this mission in hopes of getting rid of his biggest problem student. Though surely no Shadowhunter, even a Shadowhunting gym teacher, would stoop so low?
Something in Simon, some ghost of a memory, warned him not to be so sure.
"Is that understood?" Scarsbury said. "Is there anyone here who wants to go running to mommy and daddy crying 'please save me from the big, bad vampire'?"
"Excellent," Scarsbury said. "You have two days to train. Then just keep reminding yourself how impressed all your little friends will be when you come back." He chuckled. "If you come back."
The student lounge was dark and musty, lit by flickering candlelight and watched over by the glowering visages of Shadowhunters past, Herondales and Lightwoods and even the occasional Morgenstern peering down from heavy gilt frames, their bloody triumphs preserved in fading oil paint. But it had several obvious advantages over Simon's bedroom: It wasn't in the dungeon, it wasn't splattered with black slime, it didn't carry the faint whiff of what might have been moldy socks but might have been the bodies of former students decaying under the floorboards, it didn't have what sounded like a large and boisterous family of rats scrabbling behind the walls. But the one notable advantage of his room, Simon was reminded that night, while camped out in a corner playing cards with George, was the guarantee that Jon Cartwright and his Shadowhunter-track groupies would never, ever deign to cross the threshold.
"No sevens," George said, as Jon, Beatriz, and Julie swept into the lounge. "Go fish."
As Jon and the two girls approached, Simon suddenly got very interested in the card game. Or, at least, he did his best. At a normal boarding school, there'd be a TV in the lounge, instead of a gigantic portrait of Jonathan Shadowhunter, his eyes blazing as bright as his sword. There'd be music leaking out of the dorm rooms and mingling in the corridor, some of it good, some of it Phish; there'd be e-mail and texting and Internet porn. At the Academy, after-hours options were more limited: There was studying the Codex, and there was sleep. Playing cards were about as close as he could get to gaming, and when he went too long without gaming, Simon got a little itchy. It turned out that when you spent all day training to defeat actual, real-world monsters, Dungeons & Dragons questing lost a bit of its luster--or at least, so claimed George and every other student Simon had tried to recruit for a campaign--which left him with old half-forgotten summer camp standards, Hearts, Egyptian Ratscrew, and, of course, Go Fish. Simon stifled a yawn.
Jon, Beatriz, and Julie stood beside them, waiting to be acknowledged. Simon ho
ped if he waited long enough, they'd just go away. Beatriz wasn't so bad, at least not on her own. But Julie could have been carved out of ice. She had suspiciously few physical flaws--the silky blond hair of a Barbie doll, the porcelain skin of a cosmetics model, better curves than any of the bikini-girl posters papering Erik's garage--and wore the hawkish expression of someone on a search-and-destroy mission for any weakness whatsoever. All that, and she carried a sword.
Jon, of course, was Jon.
Shadowhunters didn't practice magic--that was a fundamental tenet of their beliefs--so it was unlikely that the Academy would teach Simon a way to make Jon Cartwright vanish into another dimension. But a guy could dream.
They didn't go away. Finally, George, congenitally incapable of being rude, set down his cards.
"Can we help you?" George asked, a sliver of ice cooling his Scottish brogue. Jon's and Julie's friendliness had melted away once they learned the truth about George's mundane blood, and though George never said anything about it, he clearly had neither forgiven nor forgotten.
"Actually, yes," Julie said. She nodded at Simon. "Well, you can."
Finding out about the imminent vampire-killing mission hadn't exactly tied a bright yellow ribbon around Simon's day; he wasn't in the mood. "What do you want?"
Julie looked awkwardly at Beatriz, who stared down at her feet. "You ask," Beatriz murmured.
"Better if you do," Julie shot back.
Jon rolled his eyes. "Oh, by the Angel! I'll do it." He pulled himself up to his full, impressive height, rested his hands on his hips, and peered down his regal nose at Simon. It had the look of a pose practiced in the mirror. "We want you to tell us about vampires."
Simon grinned. "What do you want to know? Scariest is Eli in Let the Right One In, cheesiest is late-era Lestat, most underrated is David Bowie in The Hunger. Sexiest is definitely Drusilla, though if you ask a girl, she'll probably say Damon Salvatore or Edward Cullen. But . . ." He shrugged. "You know girls."
Julie's and Beatriz's eyes were wide. "I didn't think you'd know so many!" Beatriz exclaimed. "Are they . . . are they your friends?"