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.