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 façade face looking mildly annoyed. Valkyrie grinned. Then all hell broke loose as a skull made of shadows smashed into the room.