Home > The Last Stand of the New York Institute

The Last Stand of the New York Institute
Cassandra Clare

New York City, 1989

The man was far too close. He lingered by the postbox about six feet away from Magnus and ate a sloppy Gray’s Papaya hot dog covered in chili. When he was done, he crumpled the chili-stained wrapper and threw it onto the ground in Magnus’s general direction, then tugged at a hole in his denim jacket and did not look away. It was like the look some animals gave their prey.

Magnus was used to a certain amount of attention. His clothing invited it. He wore silver Doc Martens, artfully torn jeans so huge that only a narrow shining silver belt prevented them from slipping entirely off, and a pink T-shirt so big that it exposed collarbones and quite a slice of chest—the kind of clothing that made people think about nakedness. Small earrings rimmed one ear, ending in a larger one swinging from his earlobe, an earring shaped like a large silver cat wearing a crown and a smirk. A silver ankh necklace rested at the point over his heart, and he had shrugged on a tailored black jacket with jet bead trimming, more to complement the ensemble than to protect against the night air. The look was completed by a Mohawk boasting a deep pink stripe.

And he was leaning against the outside wall of the West Village clinic long after dark. That was enough to bring out the worst in some people. The clinic was for AIDS patients. The modern plague house. Instead of showing compassion, or good sense, or care, many people regarded the clinic with hate and disgust. Every age thought they were so enlightened, and every age was stumbling around in much the same darkness of ignorance and fear.

“Freak,” the man finally said.

Magnus ignored this and continued reading his book, Gilda Radner’s It’s Always Something, under the dim fluorescent light of the clinic entrance. Now annoyed by the lack of reply, the man began to mumble a string of things under his breath. Magnus couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he could take an educated guess. Slurs about Magnus’s perceived sexuality, no doubt.

“Why don’t you move along?” Magnus said, calmly flipping a page. “I know an all-night salon. They can fix up that monobrow of yours in no time.”

It wasn’t the right thing to say, but sometimes these things came out. You could take only so much blind, stupid ignorance without cracking around the edges a bit.

“What did you say?”

Two cops walked by at that moment. They cast their eyes in the direction of Magnus and the stranger. There was a look of warning for the man, and a look of thinly veiled disgust for Magnus. The look hurt a bit, but Magnus was sadly used to this treatment. He had sworn long ago that no one would ever change him—not the mundanes who hated him for one thing, or the Shadowhunters currently hunting him for another.

The man walked off, but there were backward looks.

Magnus shoved his book into his pocket. It was almost eight o’clock and really too dark to be reading, and now he was distracted. He looked around. Only a few years before, this had been one of the most vibrant, celebratory, and creative corners of the city. Good food on every corner, and couples strolling along. Now the cafés seemed sparsely populated. The people walked quickly. So many had died, so many wonderful people. From where he was standing Magnus could see three apartments formerly occupied by friends and lovers. If he turned the corner and walked for five minutes, he’d pass a dozen more dark windows.

Mundanes died so easily. No matter how many times he saw it, it never got easier. He had lived for centuries now, and he was still waiting for death to get easier.

Normally he avoided this street for this very reason, but tonight he was waiting for Catarina to finish her shift at the clinic. He shifted from foot to foot and pulled his jacket tighter around his chest, regretting for a moment that he had chosen based on fashionable flimsiness rather than actual warmth and comfort. Summer had stayed late, and then the trees had turned their leaves quickly. Now those leaves were dropping fast and the streets were bare and unsheltered. The only bright spot was the Keith Haring mural on the clinic wall—bright cartoon figures in primary colors dancing together, a heart floating above them all.

Magnus’s thoughts were interrupted by the sudden reappearance of the man, who had clearly just walked around the block and gotten himself into a total state over Magnus’s comment. This time the man walked right up to Magnus and stood directly in front of him, almost toe to toe.

“Really?” Magnus said. “Go away. I’m not in the mood.”

In reply the man pulled out a jackknife and flicked it open. Their close stance meant that no one else could see it.

“You realize,” Magnus said, not looking at the point of the knife just below his face, “that by standing as you are, everyone will think we are kissing. And that is terribly embarrassing for me. I have much better taste in men.”

“You think I won’t do it, freak? You—”

Magnus’s hand went up. A hot flash of blue spread between his fingers, and in the next second his assailant was flying backward across the sidewalk, then falling and striking his head against a fire hydrant. For one moment, when the man’s prone form didn’t move right away, Magnus was worried that he had killed the man by accident, but then Magnus saw him stir. He peered up at Magnus with his eyes narrowed, a combination of terror and fury plain on his face. He was clearly a little stunned by what had just happened. A trickle of blood ran down his forehead.

At that moment Catarina emerged. She appraised the situation quickly, went right to the fallen man, and passed her hand over his head, stopping the blood.

“Get off me!” he yelled. “You came from in there! Get off me! You got the thing all over you!”

“You idiot,” Catarina said. “That’s not how you contract HIV. I’m a nurse. Let me—”

The stranger shoved Catarina away and scrabbled to his feet. Across the street some passersby watched the exchange with mild curiosity. But when the man stumbled off, they lost interest.

“You’re welcome,” she said to the retreating figure. “Jackass.”

She turned to Magnus. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “He was the one bleeding.”

“Sometimes I wish I could just let someone like that bleed,” Catarina said, taking out a tissue and wiping her hands. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

“I came here to see you home.”

“You don’t need to do that,” she said with a sigh. “I’m fine.”

“It’s not safe. And you’re exhausted.”

Catarina was listing slightly to one side. Magnus grabbed her hand. She was so tired that Magnus saw her glamour fade for a moment, saw a wash of blue on the hand he was holding.

“I’m fine,” she said again, but without much heart.

“Yes,” Magnus said. “Obviously. You know, if you don’t start taking care of yourself, you’ll force me to come to your house and make my magically disgusting tuna soup until you feel better.”

Catarina laughed. “Anything but the tuna soup.”

“Then we’ll eat something. Come on. I’ll take you to Veselka. You need some goulash and a big piece of cake.”

They walked east in silence, over slick piles of wet, crushed leaves.

Veselka was quiet, and they got a table by the window. The only people around them spoke quietly in Russian and smoked, and ate cabbage rolls. Magnus had some coffee and rugelach. Catarina made it through a large bowl of borscht, a large plate of fried pierogi with onions and applesauce, a side of Ukrainian meatballs, and a few cherry lime rickeys. It wasn’t until she had finished these and ordered a dessert plate of cheese blintzes that she found the energy to speak.

“It’s bad in there,” she said. “It’s hard.”

There was little Magnus could say, so he just listened.

“The patients need me,” she said, poking her straw into the ice in her otherwise empty glass. “Some of the doctors—people who should know better—won’t even touch the patients. And it’s so horrible, this disease. The way they just waste away. Nobody should die like that.”

“No,” Magnus said.

Catarina poked at the ice a moment longer and then leaned back in the booth and sighed deeply.

“I can’t believe the Nephilim are causing trouble now, of all times,” she said, rubbing her face with one hand. “Nephilim kids, no less. How is this even happening?”

This was the reason Magnus had waited by the clinic to walk Catarina home. It wasn’t because the neighborhood was bad—the neighborhood wasn’t bad. He’d waited for Catarina because it was no longer completely safe for Downworlders to be alone. He could hardly believe that Downworld was in a state of chaos and fear over the actions of a gang of stupid Shadowhunter youths.

When he had first heard the murmurings, just a few months before, Magnus had rolled his eyes. A pack of Shadowhunters, barely twenty years old, barely more than children, were rebelling against their parents’ laws. Big deal. The Clave and Covenant and respected-elders shtick had always seemed to Magnus the ideal recipe for a youth revolt. This group called themselves the Circle, one Downworlder report had said, and they were led by a charismatic youth named Valentine. The group comprised some of the brightest and best of their generation.

And the Circle members were saying that the Clave did not deal harshly enough with Downworlders. That was how the wheel turned, Magnus supposed, one generation against the next—from Aloysius Starkweather, who’d wanted werewolf heads on the wall, to Will Herondale, who had tried and never quite succeeded in hiding his open heart. Today’s youth thought that the Clave’s policy of cold tolerance was too generous, apparently. Today’s youth wanted to fight monsters, and had conveniently decided that Magnus’s people were monsters, every one. Magnus sighed. This seemed like a season of hatred for all the world.

Valentine’s Circle had not done much yet. Perhaps they never would do much. But they had done enough. They had roamed Idris, had gone through Portals and visited other cities on missions to aid the Institutes there, and in every city they’d visited, Downworlders had died.

There were always Downworlders who broke the Accords, and Shadowhunters made them pay for it. But Magnus had not been born yesterday, or even this century. He did not think it was a coincidence that wherever Valentine and his friends went, death followed. They were finding any excuse to rid the world of Downworlders.

“What does this Valentine kid even want?” Catarina asked. “What’s his plan?”

“He wants death and destruction for all Downworld,” said Magnus. “His plan is possibly to be a huge jerk.”

“And what if they do come here?” Catarina asked. “What would the Whitelaws even do?”

Magnus had lived in New York for decades now, and had known the Shadowhunters of the New York Institute all that time. For the last several decades the Institute had been led by the Whitelaws. They had always been dutiful and distant. Magnus had never liked any of them, and none of them had ever liked Magnus. Magnus had no proof that they would betray an innocent Downworlder, but Shadowhunters thought so much of their own kind and their own blood that Magnus wasn’t sure what the Whitelaws would do.

Magnus had gone to meet with Marian Whitelaw, the head of the Institute, and had told her of the reports from Downworld that Valentine and his little helpers were killing Downworlders who were not breaking the Accords, and then the Circle members were lying about it to the Clave afterward.

“Go to the Clave,” Magnus had said to her. “Tell them to control their unruly brats.”

“Control your unruly tongue,” Marian Whitelaw had said coldly, “when you speak of your betters, warlock. Valentine Morgenstern is considered a most promising Shadowhunter, as are his young friends. I knew his wife, Jocelyn, when she was a child; she is a sweet and lovely girl. I will not doubt their goodness. Certainly not with no proof and based on the malicious gossip of Downworld alone.”

“They are killing my people!”

“They are killing Downworlder criminals, in full compliance with the Accords. They are showing zeal in the pursuit of evil. Nothing bad can come from that. I would not expect you to understand.”

Of course the Shadowhunters would not believe that their best and brightest had become just a little bit too bloodthirsty. Of course they would accept the excuses Valentine and the others gave them, and of course they would believe that Magnus and any other Downworlder who complained simply wanted criminals to escape justice.

Knowing they could not turn to the Shadowhunters, Downworlders had tried to put their own safeguards in place. A safe house had been set up in Chinatown, through an amnesty between the constantly feuding vampires and werewolves, and everybody was on the watch.

Downworlders were on their own. But then, hadn’t they always been on their own?

Magnus sighed and eyed Catarina over their plates.

“Eat,” he said. “Nothing’s happening right now. It’s possible nothing will happen.”

“They killed a ‘rogue vampire’ in Chicago last week,” she said, chopping into a blintz with a fork. “You know they’ll want to come here.”

They ate in silence, pensive on Magnus’s side and exhausted on Catarina’s. The check came, and Magnus paid. Catarina didn’t think much about things like money. She was a nurse at a clinic with few resources, and he had ample cash on hand.

“Gotta get back,” she said. She scrubbed a hand over her weary face, and Magnus saw cerulean trails in the wake of her fingertips, her glamour faltering even as she spoke.

“You are going home and sleeping,” Magnus said. “I’m your friend. I know you. You deserve a night off. You should spend it indulging in wanton luxuries such as sleep.”

“What if something happens?” she asked. “What if they come?”

“I can get Ragnor to help me.”

“Ragnor’s in Peru,” said Catarina. “He says he finds it very peaceful without your accursed presence, and that’s a direct quote. Could Tessa come?”

Magnus shook his head.

“Tessa is in Los Angeles. The Blackthorns, Tessa’s daughter’s descendants, run the Institute there. Tessa wants to keep an eye on them.”

Magnus was worried about Tessa, too, hiding alone near the Los Angeles Institute, that house on the high hills by the sea. She was the youngest warlock whom Magnus was close enough to that he called her a friend, and she had lived for years with the Shadowhunters, where she could not practice magic to the extent that Magnus, Ragnor, or Catarina could. Magnus had hideous visions of Tessa hurling herself into a fight between Shadowhunters. Tessa would never allow one of hers to be hurt if she could sacrifice herself in their place.

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