just

just
because

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.

prologue

Prologue

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.