|“||I have no better self to appeal to; it was burned away years ago.||”|
Axel Mortmain, also known as the Magister, was the head of the Pandemonium Club until 1878. Having slowed his aging through the use of dark magic, Mortmain dedicated his life to avenging his parents' deaths. He made Tessa Gray's existence possible, hoping to use her for his own purposes to create a new race, a form of warlocks, half-demons and half-Shadowhunters, that are superior to the Nephilim and meant to cause their destruction.
Mortmain was raised by a warlock couple, John and Anne Shade. From his adoptive father, John, Mortmain developed a shared interest in mechanical tinkering and the possibility of combining magic with devices.
His adoptive parents were both murdered by the Clave sometime after 1815. While he was also hunted, he was never found by the Shadowhunters. Mortmain believed that his parents were unjustly murdered, particularly Anne, who was apparently unaware of the full extent of John's dealings and plans. Bent on revenge, Mortmain began plotting the massacre of the race of Shadowhunters. Establishing a new identity, he chose the surname "Mortmain", which means "hand of death" in French, for himself.
He began with the Shadowhunter who he believed wronged his family: Aloysius Starkweather of the York Institute, whom he pleaded with through Reparations in 1825, almost ten years after his parents' death. When he lost the case, Mortmain decided to help faeries, who also held a grudge against Aloysius, kidnap Aloysius' infant granddaughter, Adele Starkweather, and replace her with the sickly mundane Elizabeth Moore.
At one point, Mortmain found a way to prolong his life, possibly through dark magic or through the contacts of his late parents, or even through a spell in the Book of the White. Because of the public nature of his business, Mortmain, pulling the vampire trick, covered the fact that he did not age normally by faking his own death as Dr. Hollingworth Mortmain and "leaving" his inheritance and shipping business to his "son", Axel Mortmain. He then moved from Shanghai to London, using his new identity as an excuse to change the course of the business from trading to mechanics.
When Adele Starkweather, now known as Elizabeth, married Richard Gray, Mortmain gave Richard a job at his company to get closer to her. Realizing what could be done with a child of a Shadowhunter and a demon, he then sent out an Eidolon demon to sleep and have a child with her. He hoped for a daughter, with whom he could have his own children with to create a new species superior to the Shadowhunters. When a child was conceived, Mortmain gave Elizabeth the clockwork angel, which his adoptive father had made for his mother which had the angel Ithuriel trapped in it, to protect the child from being stillborn. Suspicious, the Gray family left London without leaving a new address. He had since been looking for them, to no avail.
Years later, the Grays' adopted son Nathaniel wrote to him from New York, trying to blackmail him with information from Elizabeth's diary, in exchange for money or a job. Instead, Mortmain sent him a ticket to bring him down to London to see if he was the special child. He then learned that Nate had an adoptive sister named Theresa, and it was she who was the special child. Ecstatic to finally have found her, Mortmain had Nate bring Tessa to London, employing the Dark Sisters to train her ability.
When Tessa was rescued by Shadowhunters from the Dark House, pieces of cogs and clockworks manufactured by Mortmain's company were found in the cellar, along with dissected bodies of people. That and the fact that Mortmain is Nate's employer lead the Shadowhunters' investigation to him. They questioned him, and even resorted to false threats, at one point, but throughout the interrogation, Mortmain feigned surprise at the news of Nate's disappearance, claiming that Nate had left his service to work for the Club. Mortmain also maintained the guise of a mere mundane, ignorant yet curious and aware of the Shadow World through his membership at the Pandemonium Club, under the leadership of "the Magister", de Quincey.
Frustrated at Tessa's escape, Mortmain left Nate at the mercy of de Quincey, believing Nate's use and plan to be flawed. When Nate was rescued by Tessa and the Enclave, he contacted Mortmain shortly after, still eager to prove himself to him, whom Nate saw as a powerful figure that could help him rise in status, as well. Mortmain took advantage of Nate's position and information, and the two began plotting their infiltration of the London Institute.
While the older Enclave members went to de Quincey's hideout, Mortmain went and told the remaining Shadowhunters, the young Will and Jem, of "the Magister's" ultimate plan, which involved a ritual that would raise his clockwork army to be performed by Mrs. Dark. Frantic, the pair rush off to the location Mortmain told them about, leaving the Institute and its inhabitants practically defenseless.
Soon enough, Mortmain and his automatons returned and attacked, using Jem's Shadowhunter blood, which one of his automatons swiped off of him from an encounter at the bridge, to get into the Institute. During this time, Mortmain had finally revealed himself as the true Magister, and that de Quincey was a patsy, with Mrs. Dark partly revealing the same to Jem and Will, both of whom then rushed back to the Institute.
The pair arrived too late, however, as Thomas and Agatha had already perished in the battle, and Jessamine, Sophie, and Tessa were cornered in the Sanctuary, which Mortmain was able to get into after tricking them with the mimicry of Will's voice. Mortmain had Nate and his automatons take the others away, leaving him and Tessa alone together in the Sanctuary. Mortmain tried to convince and coax Tessa into Changing into his father. Unwilling to give into his commands, Tessa threatened to kill herself, going as far as Changing into a woman who had been shot, faking her death through the wave of blood that poured out of her body, brought upon by the Change.
Believing her to be dead, Mortmain grieved for the loss, of the being he had waited years to have. When Will arrived, Mortmain made a hasty escape with his teleportation ring, leaving behind a button from his jacket that Will had cut with his seraph blade. While he would eventually realize that Tessa survived, he was still ultimately unsuccessful that night. He was at least able to retrieve a Pyxis, carrying the Greater Demon Armaros, from the Institute through Nate.
After that fateful night, Mortmain bided his time, hiding in Cadair Idris, gathering his wits thinking of ways to finally get Tessa.
At this point, Mortmain had made Benedict Lightwood, a well-respected Council member, his own puppet after promising him a cure for his demon pox. He made the Lightwood challenge Charlotte Branwell for the position as the head of the Institute, which would give him access to the Institute's Great Library, as well as some free rein of the Enclave, aiding in his quest of destroying the Council from within.
The plan was foiled, however, when Jessamine and Nate's relationship and their role in the plot are discovered, with Jessamine and Nate revealing parts of it to Tessa. Mortmain, however, anticipated this to some extent and had placed a block in Jessamine's mind, preventing the others from getting further information from her. Benedict was turned, however, when Charlotte threatened to expose him. For this failure, Mortmain stopped sending him his medicine and left him to succumb to his disease and die.
He also employed werewolves, making them construct his automatons nonstop with the help of yin fen, hoarding his own at the same time, depleting the Downworld's supply of the drug around London in the process, knowing Tessa or his friends would have no choice but go to him when their drug-dependent friend Jem runs out of his own supply.
This time came sooner than he anticipated. Jem, then Tessa's fiancé, was close to death. Taunting the group, Mortmain sent them a letter and a pack of yin fen, telling them his terms: Tessa for the yin fen. Though Tessa wanted to oblige, Jem refused outright and destroyed the instructions that would have allowed them to contact Mortmain.
Through a renewed faux partnership with a partly resurrected Mrs. Black, the Institute was again attacked by automatons, posing as the Silent Brothers returning Jessamine to them. The others realizing too late where he was, Tessa was brought to him in Cadair Idris with no delay.
Once there, he once again had Mrs. Black killed, in hopes of proving to Tessa his dedication to her. He also revealed the full extent of his plans, expressing his interest in breeding the race of half-Shadowhunters, half-demons, a new kind that is just like Tessa, who are superior to the Nephilim and would be able to destroy them, finally extracting his revenge. Calling himself an honorable man, Mortmain offered to marry her before getting his way with her.
Mortmain also told Tessa that her existence was made possible because of his intervention, having kept track of her Shadowhunter mother and letting loose the Greater Eidolon demon on her, thus producing her. He told her about the origin of her clockwork angel necklace, of how it had been his father's and how he tuned it to her life to protect Tessa from danger and harm.
Finally, Mortmain once again demanded that Tessa Change into his father, John Shade, as he once had. This time, however, he was able to convince Tessa, with the promise that he would send Jem yin fen when she does as he asks.
With his father's watch, Mortmain made Tessa Change into him. For some reason, Tessa is overwhelmed by Shade during the Change, something Mortmain seemed to have anticipated. After a brief moment of glee upon being reunited somewhat, Mortmain hurriedly explained to his father his situation and asked him for the binding spell he created that would complete the animation of his clockwork army, binding the demon souls onto the automatons, making them both strong because of the demons, yet protected from Shadowhunter weapons because of the mechanical bodies. Before Shade could finish writing the spell down, the Change stopped abruptly, but Mortmain was able to get what he needed and figured the rest out on his own.
Wanting to show Tessa what she helped him achieve, Mortmain unleashes his army on a nearby village, horrifying Tessa. He also sent some to ambush the emergency Council meeting that was attended by almost all Shadowhunters, killing several of the present and unprepared Shadowhunters.
Thinking himself invincible because of his army, Mortmain bound the automatons to his own life.
The residents of the London Institute, along with Magnus Bane and a few Silent Brothers, arrived the following day. His army was able to quickly subdue and overpower them, and Mortmain had Tessa brought back to him. However, Tessa, acting on impulse and a sudden notion, Changed into the angel Ithuriel. The freed portion of Ithuriel's spirit angrily called him out and crushed him in his fiery hands, killing him, Mortmain's last words being those of disbelief.
After his death, the Clave raided and searched his properties. At his residence, they found a hidden room filled with music boxes that were well cared for and frequently used.
Mortmain was a smart and deceitful man, able to trick and manipulate others easily, as well as wealthy and proud. Mortmain was cruel and merciless, hardened by his deep hatred for Shadowhunters and his years of plotting his revenge.
Mortmain was a short, middle-aged man with graying sideburns, narrow features and light gray eyes.
Despite being an adopted child, Mortmain evidently had a close relationship with his parents, who had raised him with love and as if he was there own, no different from them. Dubbed their "clockwork prince", Mortmain knew of his parents' activities and thought them justified by the time he was grown up. When his parents were killed, Mortmain tried to plead a case, believing that his family was wrongly murdered. When he was denied this justice, Mortmain devoted his entire life to avenging their deaths.
Nate adored Mortmain more than anything, he treated him like a god because he was powerful and would have been capable of helping Nate become powerful as well. He would even kill his own sister for the Magister. Mortmain didn't share much affection towards him, however, as after the boy did something wrong, he gave him to de Quincey for one of his Downworlder parties where he would have been drained of blood and killed. In the end, Nate was simply another pawn to serve a purpose for him and his goals.
In the Institute's Sanctuary, when Tessa appeared to have killed herself, he wept over her body, mourning the years he spent—then believed to have been wasted—preparing for her birth. Though Mortmain wanted to marry and impregnate her, it was only for his sick plans of creating a new species. He attempted to convince Tessa to join him willingly with embellished words but eventually revealed his true cold and cruel nature.
- Clockwork Angel (first appearance)
- Clockwork Prince
- Clockwork Princess
- Every Exquisite Thing (mentioned only)
- A History of Notable Shadowhunters & Denizens of the Downworld