Monday, August 15, 2011

Chapter 4

Ghost thought for a while. “1260, A.D” Marcus, Olivia, and Skulduggery all looked at each other.

“It’s 2011, Ghost.” Ghost looked bewildered. Aquila looked calm, and serene. It was almost….

“You’ve time travelled before.” Said Skulduggery. “you’re not in the least bit disoriented.” Aquila inclined her head gracefully.

“Yes,” she purred. “I have been to this time, in somewhat… different conditions.” Ghost nodded.

“Aquila’s my time magic master. I’m relatively new to this time lark, so I’m depending a lot on her to ensure that I don’t mess up the timeline.” Aquila smiled at Ghost.

“Well, if we aren’t facing two criminals with a known type of powerful magic, then what are we doing?” Marcus heard the rare shock in the Skeleton Detective’s voice, and it frightened him. When you’re nearly a thousand, and you’re a skeleton, things that really frighten you would scare anyone else witless.

Ghost pondered for a moment. “In the rule of time travel, there are two foils. The first is that there are points of solidified time. Any time traveller attempting to rematerialise within those points or approach those points at high speed, like this,” Ghost melded into the shadows, blurring so much like a vampire that Marcus already had his arms up and tattoos glowing. However, the blade had already slithered its way across his neck, pressing hard enough to threaten a cut, but not hard enough to leave any bruising. “Will go splat.” He continued. Ghost truly was a blades master. Marcus relaxed, and Ghost stepped out from behind him, sheathing the blade in a deft movement.

“And the other condition of time travel?” asked Olivia, still staring at Aquila. Aquila answered serenely,

“It’s the law of equivalent exchange. A specific mass of matter being travelled through time, must exchange it’s place with an equal matter of the same mass.” Skulduggery looked at Ghost, then at Aquila.

“So we have a time travelling giant?” Aquila inclined her head again.
“it would seem so.”

Skulduggery thought for a while. There were only three people with sufficient mass to transport through time and still end up whole. And out of those three, two were dead. Or were they…

Marcus was looking at a small patch on the floor. “Skulduggery. We have something here.” Skulduggery walked over, Olivia right behind.

“Condensed crystals. I wonder what they’re made of.” Olivia wondered out loud. She reached out her hand to touch one.

“Don’t touch those!” Aquila snapped, a feral expression appearing on her otherwise beautiful face. Then, composing herself, she replied “Those are time condensate. They are time, frozen within one particular moment, and thus, frozen in eternity.” Olivia cautiously withdrew her hand. “Ghost, show them.”

Ghost pulled a slim sliver of a dagger out of his belt, and threw it. It expertly slammed into the shard of condensed time tip first. There was a brief pause, then the dagger turned transparent, an almost translucent sheen of metal that stuck out at an awkward angle from the shard. Olivia glared at Aquila, while Marcus shot her an excited smile.

“I… I knew that!” she snapped, irritably. “But since you guys are too busy cooing over ms Aquila over there, I reckon you haven’t noticed. There are two footprints here instead of one.” Skulduggery walked over, sheathing his revolver. Olivia realised that Skulduggery hadn’t put it away, and was comforted by the fact that someone besides her did not trust these two. Skulduggery leaned over and checked the footprints.

“True. Two people left here and two people returned. So we’re not after a giant after all.” Marcus stepped forward. Skulduggery looked at him and then nodded in silent approval. Marcus tapped the symbols etched above his eyelids, and his pupils burst out white hot energy. Slowly, the energy began to form into solid shapes. “Val,” whispered Skulduggery. The young woman struggled in her captor’s grip, valiantly; she slammed an elbow into her captor’s nose. He swore, and she stumbled as his grip loosened on her elbow. Before she could get far, however, the hooded man opened his mouth and articulated something that they could not hear. Val’s eyes widened in fear and then, with a flash of blinding light, they were gone. In their place, Ghost and Aquila stood, Ghost looking bewildered and a little flustered, Aquila looking unnaturally serene, not a hair out of place. Then, the image dissipated into motes of light, and the energy pouring out of Marcus’s eyes slid back up his arms and onto his brow, curling into the familiar pattern of the tattoos.

“Mom.” He whispered. Olivia felt sorry for him, she couldn’t help it. He looked so forlorn, and so much likes a little boy. She walked over, feeling terrible about her previous outburst.
“It’s going to be alright, Marc, you’ll see.” She knelt down next to Marcus and cradled his heads in her arms. Marcus took a deep steadying breath, whispered thanks and stood up, just in time to see Ghost looking with a small smile at Skulduggery, and Skulduggery shrugging in that good-natured, teasing way of his.

“What?” asked Marcus? They both said nothing. Then, there was a moment of silence, as though the lull before the storm. A window broke open, and a blur leapt through. It was large, black, and wore black leather.

Skulduggery’s gun was up and roaring and the leather clad shadow stopped, and roared back, equally loud, if not louder. Ghost had his blade out, and was sprinting towards the new threat, while Marcus had slammed his fists together, activating the symbols that gave him strength. His hands glowed red and he began shuffling forward towards the creature.

“Valkyrie. Where is Valkyrie?” the creature shouted. Ghost took advantage of the momentary loss of concentration and slashed. There was a spark of metal against enchanted leather. Ghost hesitated, and the creature flung out a clawed arm. Ghost was sent sprawling head over heels on the floor. Aquila jumped forward, not letting up, landing a barrage of palm strikes on the creature’s chest. It stumbled backwards a few steps, then caught onto Aquila’s rhythm, stepping back just out of range, and then slamming a painful looking kick into her abdomen. She doubled over, coughing, and a kick to her ribs sent her across the room, skidding to a stop on her back.

The creature growled. “Good.” Then, it turned and walked straight into a magically charged fist. Something cracked, and the monster stumbled backwards, clutching at its face. Olivia swept her arm in a wide arc, gathering shadows, and then punched straight out. The bolt of shadows caught the monster in the midriff, at the exact moment when Ghost’s fist slammed into its cheek. The monster howled pitifully, hanging in air for the briefest of moments, then the force launched it into the stone wall, cracks webbing out as though Billy-Ray had just been through.

Marcus walked close, his guard still up. Then, a fist shot out, straight between his guards, crunching into his nose. His eyes watered, vision blurring, and with a whump, a kick connected with his midriff. His torso was on fire, and he felt the ground zoom away and slam into him again, winding him. He vaguely saw the skeleton detective move into position, slamming elbows, fists and knees into every possible place, but the creature barely hesitated. Then, clear as crystal, the sound of Ghost’s voice

“Stop. Or I rip your head off.” Though it was recognisably Ghost’s voice, there was something different. A little more nasal and a little ginger around the fs. Marcus rubbed his eyes, wincing at the pain, and then stood up. Ghost’s eyes were slit-pupilled, and his hands were covered in a fine layer of black hair. His fingernails were long, and hard looking, wickedly curved and sharp beyond a doubt. He could see the tips pressing into the creature’s neck, and droplets of blood began to ooze out when the creature began to struggle. Skulduggery pressed a gun against the creature’s head.

“Who are you? And what do you want?” The creature grinned, a grotesque display of sharp teeth and gums.

“Don’t you recognise me Detective? Caelan. Ring any bells?” Skulduggery kept the gun pressed against his forehead.

“My god.” Muttered Skulduggery. Marcus pressed his palms together and aimed the two halves of the glowing sigils at Caelan. “What happened to you?”

Caelan laughed, cold, empty and smooth. “I overdid the wolfsbane serum.”

“I should kill you right now, beast. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t” Ghost hissed, his features gradually becoming more feline. Caelan looked straight ahead, seemingly resigned to his death. Ghost sighed, then blurred into a black stream, reforming next to Marcus. His fur retracted, and he became human looking once more.

“I know who took Valkyrie.” Said Caelan. Everyone stared. “And I know the incantation that took her.” Everyone stared some more.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chapter 3: where things get interesting.

Skulduggery was meditating, his version of sleep, when Marcus crept back home. As if normal school weren’t enough, lessons with China Sorrows were a gruelling hour-long gauntlet of ancient texts, dodging energy bolts hurled by his irritable mentor, and the endless array of books he had to assist in keeping at the end of the day. There was literally no end to the number of sorcerers coming in to read the massive volume of scripts that China had collected and leaving the perused books lying around. China would have killed them, so Marcus tried his best to do them a favour.

Skulduggery’s head tilted and he looked at Marcus. “Valkyrie’s not back yet, Marcus, go to your room and do some of that sigil writing that China’s been teaching you.” Marcus grunted. Every single day. Nothing but maths, science and symbols. He pulled a sheaf of papers out of the recycle bin at the foot of the stairs and retreated to his room.

Marcus’ room was a place of astonishing messiness. Day-old socks were strewn across his bed, and his floor was littered with comics, rough sketches of sigils, and half read books. He sighed, before tapping the symbols hidden cleverly just beneath his sleeves. The books automatically arranged themselves, while the half drawn symbols flapped into a pile on the table where the erased parts began to reappear. His socks flew downstairs (there was a startled “What?”) and his bed made itself. Marcus grinned, and sat down, beginning on a rather complex symbol.

Val was running. It had been a while since she had had to run so much, and she was breathless. Fletcher had already teleported for help and she could only pray Marcus was safe. Springheeled Jack bounded after her, his long, lanky legs allowing him to easily lope along at the breakneck speed that Valkyrie was running at. “Going’ somewhere, love?” Springheeled Jack smiled, his many sharp teeth glinting in the dim streetlights. Valkyrie jumped, leaping over a small fence, the swirls and eddies of air around her legs she had used for the jump disturbing a small hurricane of dust. Valkyrie felt her eyes water and her nose wrinkled. She could hear the soft thump of Jack’s landing behind her. She could not lose any more time, but her body was reacting differently. Sanguine would really have been a help right now, thought Valkyrie belatedly as she sneezed, and felt a heavy fist smash into the back of her head. The stars danced in front of her face before the rest of the world turned black.

Fletcher was not in good shape. His arm had been broken, several ribs cracked, and his breathing was ragged despite the best healers in the Sanctuary arriving within minutes of his appearance. Someone with zero combat experience versus a serial killer. The outcomes were literally painfully obvious. Marcus heard Skulduggery talking downstairs and he caught the words kidnapped, and danger. Then, with a whooshing, the science-magic van outside zoomed off into the Irish night, an unconscious Fletcher inside. Skulduggery peered into Marcus’s room, looked at Marcus sitting innocently at the table and cocked his head. Marcus had been around Skulduggery long enough to know that he was in trouble. Skulduggery suddenly sighed. “Come downstairs. We have a situation that you should be a part of.” Marcus hesitated, after Skulduggery had left the room.

“Hello? Yes. Could you come over in like, let’s say… 5 minutes? O.K. Thanks.” Marcus hung up the mobile phone and headed downstairs.

Marcus Cain was not having a fantastic day. Far from it. As Skulduggery had explained, someone had donned the mask of Tesseract, as well as it’s curse. As far as Marcus could remember, Tesseract was a Russian assassin that the team had run into a long time ago. The last time he had made word in the wizarding circles was when he had killed a certain Mira Jovial. A bone crusher, not the most conventional power, but a nifty one nonetheless.

Olivia had arrived to a less than warm welcome. Marcus’s eyes had been filled with a kind of manic fire that Olivia had only ever before seen in a manic vampire. It was almost scary, the amount of resolve that Marcus had managed to brew up in the short time since he had heard of Springheeled Jack’s attack on his parents, and the apparent culprit behind it.

“We’re not doing any good sitting here. We should be out there, looking for him!” Marcus shouted, his eyes smouldering.

“Calm down Marcus.” Snapped Skulduggery. “Don’t you think before you act? Seriously. You’d better not have inherited that impulsive streak from both your parents.” Skulduggery paced back and forth, throwing disparaging looks at both Olivia and Marcus. However, all the fight seemed to leave Marcus. It was as though someone had physically deflated him. “We need a plan.” Said Skulduggery. Marcus stared at him. “and fortunately for you, I usually have one handy.”


The plan was relatively simple. The building was a simple, two storey building, with two windows, and a front door, that was undoubtedly locked. Olivia would create the biggest shadow diversion she could, to mask the insertion of the other two from the ceiling. Marcus would use a symbol drawn from chalk to vaporise the ceiling while the Skeleton Detective would go in guns blazing. In theory, Skulduggery would grab Valkyrie and run, while Marcus would hold off the legions of minions with symbol magic.

Olivia had turned up dressed in shadow black robes, her gauntleted hand smoking with Necromantic energies. Marcus had exposed all his tattoos the release of the stored up energies making them smoke and his eyes were golden and fiery. Skulduggery appeared as Skulduggery. They were ready.

Springheeled Jack toyed with his new knives. Not that he needed it, but she had insisted, and Springheeled Jack was never one to refuse a pretty maiden a request. He leapt to his feet with preternatural ease and headed for the room door. He heard it before he saw it. The shadow bomb smashed through the window, landing in the middle of the floor and exploding forcefully. Jack was swept up in the shockwave, and crashed against a bookcase, which teetered for a twersecond, then fell on him. “ow.” He muttered.

Skulduggery swept in, his navy blue tie billowing out around his neck. Jack cursed, and leapt up, the knives flashing in the late afternoon sunlight. Skulduggery twitched a finger, and a blast of searing air caught the London Ripper off guard. He grunted as he was thrown into a wall, and slid slowly to the ground, feeling his bruised ribs.

“You go ahead, Guv’nor, I surrender.” Skulduggery eyed the man suspiciously. “ ‘ere. Take these knives. Don’t need them” Jack slid the knives across to the detective. Then, jumped out of the window. Skulduggery stared and then motioned, and Marcus and Olivia climbed in. They were silent as Skulduggery motioned them forward. Marcus tapped the door, and a blue sigil glowed into life. He motioned the other two back, and the sigil exploded. Olivia coughed, and her eyes watered as the dust faded. She looked back and saw Skulduggery and Marcus standing in dust free air bubbles of their own. “Oh.” They said in unison as they saw Olivia. Olivia didn’t say anything and just glared. Shadows flared and the dust was blasted off her hair and clothes. Marcus grinned at her. She grinned right back, and Skulduggery sighed.

Silently, the trio of fighters entered into the next room. A slim shadow stood in the room, barely a silhouette against the fireplace. Skulduggery advanced slowly, gun in hand, and aimed it directly at the back of the figure’s head.

“Hello,” said the figure. The figure’s voice was velvet, female, and her hair burned black in the dim light. She had a slight Russian accent, and as she turned, both Skulduggery and Marcus caught their breath. Olivia rolled her eyes and sighed. The woman was one of breathtaking beauty, her eyes as blue as fresh snow, and her long, dark lashes were covered by a fringe that looked like burnished copper. When she spoke, it was with a Russian accent, and she spoke in fluent English.

“I take it that the gentleman has escaped?” Marcus gulped then nodded. Olivia glared at him from the side. “I see.” Mused the girl, as though it did not concern her in the slightest, and completely ignoring the looks her visitors were giving her. A moment later, she looked up, apparently noticing her new guests. “How rude of me!” she exclaimed. “I am Aquila, Aquila Felicity Romanoff. Nice to meet you.”

Marcus stepped forward and shook her hand before returning her smile. Olivia stepped in between them and introduced herself brusquely.

“I’m Olivia Storm, disciple at the Necromancer Temple in Ireland. This is Marcus Cain, symbol user. And I hardly need to tell you about the Skeleton Detective.” Aquila cocked her head to one side, looking strangely feline. “Ghost, it’s alright to come out now.” Silently, a teenage boy, good looking in a sturdy kind of way melted out of the shadows, sheathing the foot long blade in a holster at his calf. He had the same feline look about him as Aquila, and as they watched, he inclined and spoke in a friendly voice “Glad to see non-Mevolents here.” Skulduggery, Marcus and Olivia looked at one another and then asked in incredulous unison. “What year is it?”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

chapter two: the mole.

The skull dissipated into fine mist, shrouding everyone. It was a Necromancer trick, oldest in the book, for knowing where everyone was, and then, the dirt beneath their feet crumbled, and a familiar face loomed out of the ground. “Well, hello, li’l darlin’.” A familiar voice drawled, almost lazily. Sanguine, resplendently clad in a formal business suit. He dusted off the pebbles on his shoulder, and looked around the room in mock surprise. “Not to make a joke about a hole sudd’nly ‘pearing in the ground, but, well, well, well.” Sanguine smiled, evidently at the joke. “The Diablerie, an esteemed organisation has taken an interest in your son…” immediately, a gun, a sword, a fistful of fire, and a legion of shadows were pointed his way, not to mention the sigils on the outstretched palms faced directly at him. “Whoa, hold your horses, ladies and gents; I’m not your oppon’nt tonight. Your fighter is this man. Meet the terrifying, the astonishing, the skilful, Bristol… Jetstream!” Billy-Ray Sanguine backed away from the door, while a shrill ringtone version of Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ rang from behind the door.

Bristol kicked in the door, and walked slowly into the room. He saw the various assortments of weapons facing him, and muttered “oh, hell.” Then Skulduggery’s gun roared, Tanith’s sword flashed and the shadows swiped the mist of black where Bristol had stood. Then, moving unnaturally fast, he grabbed Marcus, and put him through a table. “Cain…” he snarled, breathing fast and heavy. Marcus groaned, but he aimed his palms at Bristol. The searing blast sent Bristol flying upwards, trench coat billowing out behind him. He hit the ceiling with a meaty thud, and then fell to the ground, groaning, and shaking bits of plaster from his neatly done hair. Marcus didn’t give him a chance to recover and helped Bristol back up to his feet with a heavy punch to the chin. Bristol rubbed his chin ruefully, and unsheathed the broadsword on his back. Marcus danced back, the unnaturally fast swing of the blade missing his stomach by hairsbreadths. Jetstream was relentless, swinging the broadsword with unerring skill, and Marcus backed out of the kitchen, while the sword ripped a gash in the kitchen wall. He ran for the front door, and saw Jetstream pursuing him. Marcus was out of breath, tired and had various nicks and cuts from the fight. Then, miraculously, he stopped. Marcus recovered his breath and stood straight, looking at his opponent. Bristol seemed to have stopped in mid-step, frozen in place. Skulduggery held his hands open, solidifying the air around Jetstream. Marcus did not wait for a second hint. He stepped forward, low beneath Bristol’s guard, then pushed off the ground with his feet, while striking upwards with a semi-clenched fist. Bristol’s head rocked backwards, and his eyes rolled up in his head. Skulduggery let go, and Bristol collapsed in an unconscious heap.

“Where am I?” Bristol’s head lifted from where it had hung most of the night, his now-unkempt hair fringing his eyes. That’s when Valkyrie noticed the white of his skin, same as Caelan. “He’s a vampire!” she yelled, backing her son behind her. Marcus squirmed a little, and then darted out from behind his mother, tapping symbols as he went. His belt melded into the tattoos forming silver crucifix shaped daggers in both hands. He pressed one to Bristol’s throat. Bristol sneered defiantly, and said “Go ahead and kill me, if you want.” Marcus pressed the dagger to his neck a little harder. Then, there was a knock on the door. Valkyrie got the door. An attractive woman clad in crimson leather, in her late teens stood at the door. “I’m sorry, ma’am, my name is Olivia Storm, I’m a necromancer, and well, Ol’ Tenny wants a certain Bristol Jetstream back at the Temple.”

Valkyrie shot her wary look, then let her in. Marcus took one look, and his jaw hit the floor. “O… Olivia?” Valkyrie looked at her son for an explanation. “She’s my classmate for arithmetic.” Olivia undid Bristol’s ropes. He leapt up, scowling ferociously, and reaching for his sword.

“Now, now, none of that.” Olivia cajoled, twisting Jetstream’s arm backwards ferociously. He howled and dropped to the floor, where Olivia stomped on his fingers, hard. He howled, and Olivia pulled him to standing position again by his injured hand. Jetstream whimpered, and Olivia dragged him out of the door by his coat collar, leaving Marcus and his mother staring blankly at the door.

Tenebrae stared at the young vampire. He was truly a problematic child. “What do you have to say for yourself?” Tenebrae thundered. Bristol quaked nervously in his boots, looking as though he might faint. His sword swung casually in the hands of a girl in her late teens, but this time with black hair streaked with white and equally pale skin. “Butterflies?” Tenebrae asked. Blood Butterflies looked disdainfully at Bristol, and spoke.

Her voice was low, mellow and sweet, but the venom in her voice was unmistakeable. “I think, High Priest… I should be the one punishing him. He’s… earned it.” Her soothing tones did not serve to calm Bristol down, instead he was even more unnerved by the whole turn of events. How did his punishment get to be decided by the only vampire in the room that detested him more than their race?

“I will send him over tonight.” Said Tenebrae.

Butterflies’ cherub like countenance immediately brightened, and she skipped over to the High Priest, pecking him on the cheek and fairly floated away through one of the dark tunnels leading away from the central chamber.

Bristol whimpered.

Butterflies waited in her customary trench coat, and watched the shackled Bristol enter the room. “You do know why you’re here, don’t you?” Her voice was thick with Irish brogue, and her dark hair glinted like steel in the dim illumination cast by the natural luminescence of the ceiling. Bristol nodded, his own voice thick in his throat. “I took a hit job without Tenebrae’s approval.” She waited until he had ungainly plodded close, before whipping a trail of shadows into him. He yelled as he was thrown backwards, smacking solidly into the stone wall.

Bristol wiped the trickle of blood at the side of his mouth and stood unsteadily. Such was the life of the despised necromancy student. Such was the life of a necromantic vampire. It was going to be a long night.

Marcus waited outside the school gate. The bell had rung early, and he had waited for almost an hour now. Still no sign of Olivia Storm, and Marcus was beginning to get worried. She hadn’t even shown up for arithmetic and that was her favourite subject, from what he had gleaned from her friends. Then, like a rose out of a fog, Olivia stepped out of the grey school building. Her hair was a beautiful auburn today, and her eyes were brooding, and a haunting stormy grey. “Hey!” Marcus yelled loudly, causing her to look up in alarm. To Marcus surprise, her hair changed colour to burnished gold, and her eyes became a violent shade of purple. She saw Marcus and her wary look lessened a little. The gold in her hair turned darker and sparkled in the sunlight, and her eyes turned lilac. “What do you want?” she asked brusquely. Marcus winced at the hostility in her voice. “I just wanted to talk, he said, “we’re probably the only two teenage sorcerers around.” Olivia looked pointedly at him.

“I’m a Necromancer.” She said simply. Marcus just stared. “ What?” she asked, feeling a little self conscious. Nothing, thought Marcus to himself. I just thought that all Necromancers were hermits living directly underneath rocks, whereas I have a live Necromancer in front of me and she’s gorgeous. Marcus kept that thought to himself. “I just thought that most Necromancers were recluses.” He said out loud. Olivia looked at him sceptically again. “Anyway, what kind of Necromancer wears crimson leather when on a case?”

Olivia looked at herself. “The type that looks good in it.” She decided, and with that, left. Marcus hurried to catch up. “Why are you following me?” she asked,

“What are we playing now, twenty questions?” Marcus teased.

“You started it,” said Olivia, and continued “so answer my questions.”

“Fine.” Marcus gave in somewhat grumpily, and answered “ my parents are on my case, wondering why I didn’t explain why I knew a Necromancer earlier. They didn’t expect Tenebrae to be recruiting so soon.” Olivia nodded. “What else do you want to know?” He asked, irritable that his secret had been prised out of him so easily. Olivia shrugged her shoulders non-commitally, and continued walking. “Alright. My turn. How do you know Bristol Jetstream?

“He used to be my partner acolyte back at the temple.” Olivia said, her voice hard. “He sold his soul to Dusk, and made sure that my friend was infected as well.” Marcus was dazed. Necromancy bonded with vampirism? He was lucky that Bristol Jetstream was such an incompetent or else he would have been a gone case.

“I’m… Sorry for your loss on that one.” Said Marcus. He really meant it too. Olivia shrugged non-commitally and Marcus privately face-palmed. Necromancers were practically buddies with death and the death of a friend meant that while you could not speak, touch, or hold them ever again, the Necromancer in question would be undoubtedly a source of power to all the Necromancers living within the temple walls. A perfectly likeable and respectable religion, really, death worship. “So you subscribe to their religion?” Marcus asked.

Olivia’s glare was withering. “Mr. Cain, just because I practice death magic does not mean that I subscribe to death worship. So if you’ve gotten your order of ideas clear, then I don’t feel like talking anymore.” She mimed Tenebrae’s face and voice, and said in a surprising likeness, “Such is the Necromancer way.” Before grinning crazily at Marcus. Her smile was infectious. Marcus grinned right back.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

chapter 1

1: Family issues

Marcus Cain winced as the tattooist’s needle left his skin, the tattoo ink disappearing even as he stared at it. He flexed his hand and winced, feeling the injured skin stretch. “There we go, man!” exclaimed Finbar. His hands flung wide, and hurled the tattooist’s needle into the pile of cushions lying at the other end of the room, where it continued to hum and spew the ink all over the fluffy pink cushions.

Marcus grinned at his friend’s exuberant laugh. Then flinched as his injured hand touched the cold metal. Sighing, he reached for his magic reserves, and tapped a symbol on his left shoulder. The tattoo glowed indigo, then faded. Steam hissed from Marcus’s hand as his magical sense instinctively converted the magic to matter, healing the tattooed hand instantly. He high-fived Finbar, then paid the skinny tattooist and left the shop when Finbar spoke “I see something… It’s… you. In great danger. And facing an opponent. Right… about… now!” Finbar’s eyes focused, and he ducked, as the window smashed open, and a shape blurred into the room. Marcus had instinctively brought up both fists, and tapped the symbols on both of his forearms, before flinging them wide. A wall of blue energy slammed into the figure, bringing him up short, and throwing him into a wall, which cratered impressively.

Bristol picked himself up off the floor, surveying the initial damage he had caused. “Now that’s what I call an entry.” He mused aloud. Marcus stared. “What? I enjoy theatre.” Bristol insisted, unstrapping the sword on his back. “and swordplay is my favourite part.”

He came hard and fast, swinging the blade expertly as he went. Marcus didn’t bother with theatrics. He slipped in Bristol’s guard, and rocked Bristol’s head upwards with a solid uppercut, and then three jabs sang out in a sweet short rhythm as Marcus began working Bristol’s body. Bristol stumbled backwards, and snarled, swinging his sword. Marcus ducked and danced away, tapping his knuckles together as he went. His fists glowed red, and he punched Bristol, launching him backwards through the broken window, spectacularly flying him through at least six meters of open air before landing painfully on the rough asphalt. Bristol got up, wiping the trickle of blood from his mouth. “I’ll be back, Cain. I’ll see you bleed if it’s the last thing I do!” And with that dramatic sentence, Bristol called shadows around him and disappeared. Marcus stared some more.

Valkyrie stared at her husband, Fletcher Renn. His head was slumped backwards over the couch, and his normally spiky hair was sticking up in all the wrong places. Valkyrie planned on collecting a couple of spiders and letting them loose in Fletcher’s hair, just for the heck of it. She sneaked quietly, stealthily, up the stairs, and just as she hit the top stair, the door slammed open.

Valkyrie felt a rush of adrenaline, and she clicked her fingers, generating fire in one hand, and in the other, shadows coiled, ready to attack. Fletcher on the other hand, woke with a start, falling off the chair. Before he hit the floor, he teleported. Marcus walked into the room, grinning at his parent’s reactions. “Jesus!” yelled Valkyrie, fixing her 16 year old son with a withering glare. “Don’t ever do that again! I nearly attacked you!” Marcus grinned, and threw his bag in a corner of the room, before slipping into the kitchen without a word. Fletcher reappeared in the middle of the living room, looking rather peeved, and a bit of snow hung precariously off one of the hair spikes.

“You spend too much time around China Sorrows!” Valkyrie continued yelling.
“I agree.” Said Fletcher, putting on his best Dad face. Valkyrie took one look and burst out laughing. Fletcher’s face was one of stern concern, a look that had never fitted him well. It made him look as though he had just been attacked by a baby hamster. Bemused and very confused. The blob of snow dangling in front of Fletcher’s face did not help either. Fletcher looked on in genuine bewilderment as his darling Valkyrie slowly sank to the floor, laughing so hard she was completely silent. Marcus chuckled to himself, and went to his room.

The doorbell rung, and Valkyrie went to take the door. Familiar faces peered at Valkyrie. She could hardly believe her eyes.

“so are you going to stand there and let us all freeze to death?” that voice, that warm, velvety voice.
“Technically, you are dead.” A woman’s twenty-something voice, “just so we’re clear.” Valkyrie remembered that cheeky laughing tone.
“seriously. I forgot to wear my thermal underwear today.” Valkyrie knew that one well.

“Tanith! Skulduggery! Ghastly! What are you doing here?” Valkyrie’s jaw was still somewhere on the floor, but she managed to ask.
“Let us in,” mumbled skulduggery from behind the thick scarf he was wearing, “and we’ll tell you.”

The smell of hot cocoa filled the cosy interior of the air. Tanith and Ghastly sat in a corner, shoulder to shoulder, and Skulduggery had settled himself in Fletcher’s favourite chintz armchair, to which Fletcher had responded to by sulking and teleporting upstairs. Ghastly suddenly asked “Where’s Marcus? You know, tall for his age, tattoos all round like China Sorro—oof!” Marcus had de-activated the invisibility sigils and swung a punch at Ghastly. He ducked backwards, and hit his head on a wall. Ghastly smiled ruefully, and rubbed the back of his scarred head. Marcus smiled at his boxing teacher, and let the adults ruffle up his hair. Valkyrie smiled. They looked so much like a proper family. Except that one of them was a skeleton. And that another looked as old as her. And one of them was covered in scars. Skulduggery tilted his head in the familiar, impatient way. Valkyrie fondly remembered when she had gone to a world inhabited by vengeful, hateful gods that wanted to destroy the world as it was, just to rescue her mad mentor. And Ghastly had been a statue. And Tanith had been a Remnant infected madwoman. Good times… Good times…

Fletcher stuck his head downstairs, and then cast a longing look at the chintz armchair before heading upstairs again.

“ Are you listening, Val?” asked Skulduggery. Val shrugged and curled up comfortable next to Tanith, who she noted sported new clothes from Bespoke-Low Tailors. “Ravel needs us to get a job done.” Val’s blood raced quickly. It had been ages since they had a job to do, Ireland was so peaceful now.
“I knew it. You couldn’t just call for a social visit, could you, Skulduggery? Not even for a rather cold Christmas? What is it? Come on, the suspense is killing me. Just like Ghastly’s suspenders are killing him.” Valkyrie teased, and Ghastly immediately protested.

“My suspenders are perfectly fine!” he insisted.

Tanith rolled her eyes at Valkyrie, and shushed Ghastly. “Go on, Skulduggery.” Tanith sounded so mature. Valkyrie missed the days when Tanith was her best friend and big sister rolled into one. She still was her best friend, but not so much big sister anymore. Fletcher stuck his head downstairs, stuck his tongue out at Skulduggery and teleported back upstairs again. “Never grows up, does he?” said Skulduggery, his fa├žade face looking mildly annoyed. Valkyrie grinned. Then all hell broke loose as a skull made of shadows smashed into the room.



The man hurried down the street, glancing cautiously over his shoulder. Good. No one was there. He pulled the key out of his pocket with trembling hands and pushed it into the keyhole. Then, a fist slammed into the side of his head. He reeled back, his vision blurring and spinning. He reached for his magic, pushing out violently against the air, and heard a loud crack. Then, he felt a stiletto against the side of his throat. Immediately, his senses dampened, and the cold, brisk air felt warm and sluggish. He felt the urge to turn and punch whoever was holding the dagger, but the impulse soon faded in his numbed mind.

“’Allo Guv’nor!” there was a cheery smile in the voice. He should have been terrified, but he smiled along with the assailant, belatedly noticing that the push at the air had done nothing but to dent the wall in front of him. He struggled a little, and felt the blade nick his skin. The pain brought him back to reality. He roared, rearing to his feet, and he felt the man behind him stumble backwards, the dagger slipping harmlessly off his coat. Never let it be said that clothes made by Ghastly Bespoke weren’t durable. Turning, he was met by a foot to the chest, which sent him sprawling, though most of the impact was absorbed by the chest of the one piece vest he was wearing. Springheeled Jack’s blade swept down, and sparked off the man’s sleeves, and he snarled, punching downwards towards the man’s face. The man blocked, and rolled, coming up with a haymaker to Jack’s chin. Jack slipped by, and slipped his knife into the sorcerer’s carotid artery before pulling backwards savagely. The blood fountained in a beautiful arc, and the man dropped, his neck half ripped from it’s foundations, the wound a tear of astonishing raggedness. The man slipped to the floor and gasped, his hands clutching his throat, before his eyes went dull.

Jack smiled and licked the blade. He had no idea who he had just killed, but following metal man’s orders were fun. The night was young, and London was still too overpopulated. He leapt and bounced off a wall, disappearing from view.