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?”