Home > The Lost Book of the White (The Eldest Curses #2)

The Lost Book of the White (The Eldest Curses #2)
Author: Cassandra Clare, Wesley Chu

PROLOGUE

Idris, 2007

IT WAS NOT QUITE DAWN when Magnus Bane rode into the low clearing with death on his mind. He rarely came to Idris these days—that many Shadowhunters close together made him nervous—but he had to admit that the Angel had picked a pretty spot for the Nephilim’s home. The air was alpine and fresh, cold and clean. Pines shuffled affably against one another on the banks of the valley. Idris could be intense at times, gloomy and Gothic and full of foreboding, but this pocket of it felt like something from a German fairy tale. Perhaps that was why, despite all the Shadowhunters everywhere, his friend Ragnor Fell had built his house here.

Ragnor was not a cheerful person, but he had unaccountably built a cheerful house. It was a squat stone cottage, sharply gabled in rye straw thatch. Magnus knew perfectly well that Ragnor had teleported the thatch directly from a tavern in North Yorkshire, to the consternation of its guests.

As he trotted his horse down to the valley floor, he felt the troubles of the present fade. At the top of the valley, everything was terrible. Valentine Morgenstern was working very hard to start the war he wanted, and Magnus was so much more wrapped up in it than he would have wished. There was this boy, though, with these very hard-to-describe blue eyes.

For a moment, though, it would just be Magnus and Ragnor again, as it had been so many times before. Then he would have to deal with the world and its problems, which would be arriving shortly in the form of Clary Fairchild.

He left the horse behind the house and tried the front door, which was unlocked and swung open at his light touch. Magnus had presumed he’d find his friend engaged in drinking a cup of tea or reading a voluminous tome, but instead Ragnor was in the process of trashing his own living room. He was holding a wooden chair above his own head, in some kind of frenzy.

“Ragnor?” Magnus offered, and in response Ragnor threw the chair against the stone wall, where it broke into splinters. “Bad time?” Magnus called.

Ragnor seemed to notice Magnus for the first time. He held up one finger, as though telling Magnus to wait a moment, and then with great purpose he strode to the oak bombe chest across the room and, one after the other, pulled each of its drawers out, allowing each to fall and smash against the ground in a huge clatter of metal and porcelain. He straightened up, rolled his shoulders, and turned to Magnus.

“You have crazy eyes, Ragnor,” said Magnus carefully.

He was used to Ragnor being a relatively dapper gentleman, well-dressed, with a healthy glow to his green skin and a shine on the white horns that curved back from his forehead. The man before him would have seemed in bad shape no matter who he was, but for Ragnor, this was very, very bad. He looked lost, his glance flicking around the room as though trying to catch someone hiding just out of sight. Without preamble he said, in a loud, clear voice, “Do you know the expression sub specie aeternitatis?”

Magnus was not sure what he’d expected Ragnor to say, but it had not been that. “Something like ‘things as they really are’? Though that’s not the literal translation, of course.” Already this conversation had gone completely off the rails.

“Yes,” said Ragnor. “Yes. It means, from the perspective of that which is really true, really and truly true. Not the illusions we see, that we pretend are real, but things with all illusions stripped away. Spinoza.” After a moment he added thoughtfully, “That man could drink. Very good at grinding lenses, though.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Magnus said.

Ragnor’s focus abruptly snapped and he looked straight into Magnus’s eyes, unblinking. “Do you know what existence is, sub specie aeternitatis? Not our world, not even the worlds that we know, but the whole of everything? I do.”

“Do you now,” said Magnus.

Ragnor didn’t break his gaze. “It is demons,” he said. “It is evil. It is chaos all the way down, a bubbling cauldron of malevolent intent.”

Magnus sighed. His friend had become depressed. It happened to warlocks sometimes; the absurdity of the universe became somehow both more and less funny as their life spans stretched so far beyond any mundane’s. This was a dangerous path for Ragnor. “Some things are nice, though, right?” He tried to think of Ragnor’s favorite things. “The sunrise over Fujiyama? A good old bottle of Tokay? That place we used to have coffee in the Hague, it came in those tiny thimbles and you could feel it burn its way to your stomach?” He thought harder. “How stupid an albatross looks when it lands on water?”

Ragnor finally blinked, many times in a row, and then dropped into the plaid-upholstered armchair behind him. “I’m not depressed, Magnus.”

“Sure,” said Magnus, “total existential nihilism, that’s regular old Ragnor.”

“It has caught up with me, Magnus. All of it. Now the big guy’s after me. The biggest guy. Well, the second-biggest guy.”

“Still a pretty big guy,” Magnus agreed. “Is this about Valentine? Because—”

“Valentine!” Ragnor barked. “Idiot Shadowhunter business, I’ve no patience for it. But the timing is good. For me to disappear. Anything bad happening in Idris right now is probably just part of this whole business with the Mortal Instruments. No reason for the agents of the real threat to question it.”

Magnus was getting fed up. “You want to tell me what this is about? Since you asked me to come here? Said something about the matter’s great urgency? Can we have a cup of tea, or have you already smashed the kettle?”

Ragnor leaned in toward Magnus. “I’m faking my own death, Magnus.”

He chuckled, before turning and heading through a doorway toward, Magnus guessed, more redecorating. With reluctance, Magnus followed.

“For heaven’s sake, why?” he called after Ragnor’s retreating back.

“I don’t know why now,” Ragnor called back, “but a bunch of them are coming back. You can’t kill them, you know, you can only send them away for a while, but then they come back. Oh yes, do they come back.”

Magnus was starting to wonder if Ragnor had finally lost it. “Who?”

Ragnor suddenly appeared directly beside Magnus, emerging from what Magnus had thought was a closet but was, he now realized, a hallway. “He says ‘who,’ ” Ragnor echoed sarcastically, and for a moment he sounded like his usual self. “Who are we talking about? Demons! Greater Demons! What a name. Why did we let them name themselves? They’re not so great.”

“Have you been drinking?” Magnus said.

“All my life,” Ragnor said. “Let me say a name to you. You tell me if it means anything.”

“Go.”

“Asmodeus.”

“Dear old Dad,” said Magnus.

“Belphegor.”

“Blobby sort of chap,” said Magnus. “Where are we going with this? Is one of them after you?”

“Lilith.”

Magnus sucked in air through his teeth. If Lilith was on Ragnor’s trail, that was very bad. “Mother of Demons. Lover of Sammael.”

“Right.” Ragnor’s eyes flashed. “Not her. Him.”

“Sammael?” Magnus said, chuckling. “No way.”

“Yes,” said Ragnor, with the sort of finality that made Magnus realize, with a sinking feeling, that Ragnor wasn’t kidding.

“Can I sit down or something?” Magnus asked.

* * *

THEY TOOK REFUGE IN THE wreckage of Ragnor’s bedroom. He’d managed to split the whole bed frame in two, which was a pretty impressive trick. Magnus sat on a desktop that had miraculously remained intact. Ragnor paced back and forth.

“Sammael, as everyone knows, is dead,” Magnus said. “He did something that started letting demons into our world, and then he was killed, people say by the Taxiarch—”

“You know Sammael couldn’t truly be killed,” Ragnor snapped impatiently. “Much lesser demons than him come back eventually. He was always going to. And now he has.”

“Fine,” Magnus reasoned, “but I don’t see what it has to do with you. I mean other than in the sense that it has to do with all of us. No, please don’t throw any furniture until you’ve explained.”

Ragnor lowered his hands, and a floor lamp that had been spinning lazily toward the ceiling fell to the ground with a clatter. “He’s been looking for me. I don’t know why, but I can guess.”

“Wait,” Magnus said, his brain starting to catch up. “If Sammael is back, why isn’t he, you know, wreaking havoc?”

“He’s not all the way back. He can’t spend much time in our world, and he’s still just floating out there in some kind of void. I think he wants me to find him a realm.”

Magnus’s eyebrows went up. “A realm?”

Ragnor nodded. “A demon realm. One of the other dimensions in the cluster of soap bubbles that is our reality. He’ll be very weak at the start. He’ll need energy to build up his strength, build up his magic. If he can find a realm to claim for his own, he can make it into a kind of dynamo for his own power. And I, Ragnor Fell, am the world’s leading expert on dimensional magic.”

“And its most humble. Why can’t he find his own realm?”

“Oh, he probably would eventually. He’s probably been looking all this time. But demon time is not the same as human time. Or even warlock time. It could be hundreds more years before he returns. Or it could be tomorrow.” He trailed off. In the corner, a wastebasket slowly tipped over and spilled its contents across the uneven planks of the floor.

“So you’re going to fake your own death. Doesn’t that seem—hasty?”

“Do you understand,” Ragnor roared, “what it would mean for Sammael to return to his full might? If he returned to Lilith, and they joined their power together? It would be war, Magnus. War upon Earth. Total destruction. No more bottles of Tokay! No more albatrosses!”

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