When Good Times Fail
Skulduggery Pleasant walked the streets of Haggard. He'd been rescued from the Faceless Ones portal and was trying to get to grips with himself. The torture in the portal had been, for want of a better word, exquisite, and when he had returned the tension between realities had almost killed him. Killed him again, so to speak.
Skulduggery kicked a squashed beer can out his way as he walked and thought of Valkyrie. She had trained in Necromancy, yes, but as soon as the portal had closed she had told Skulduggery she hadn't let her Elemental powers fade. It had been her reassurance that had brought him back from the brink of death. Ghastly and Tanith had indeed played an important role, yes, but his young apprentice had proved herself. If only Guild hadn't fired them both after Skulduggery had told Guild of his suspicions, she might be a detective now. A proper detective. It was a sad thing, really.
Skulduggery stopped walking abruptly and realised he was outside Valkyrie's house. From under the brim of his huge hat he could see that there was a full moon. A perfect night, at least.
Faint drizzle began, and Skulduggery made up his mind. He pushed open the gate gently and walked up Valkyrie's driveway. Thunder boomed and the rain intensified.
He walked around to Valkyrie's window and put his powers to use. He manipulated the air and the wind buffeted him up onto the roof. He proceeded to knock lightly on Valkyrie's bedroom window.
The 15-year-old looked up to see Skulduggery, in his disguise, standing just beyond a pane of glass. She pulled her earphones out and put down her book, got up from her bed and opened the window.
"Skulduggery!" she said, grinning. She helped her skeletal friend through into her room. "My parents are in Australia for another two months. I sent the reflection to stay at my grandparents. What brings you here? The mood when good times fail?"
Skulduggery shrugged. "I don't actually know."
Valkyrie frowned, regarded him with concern. "You're recovering, I hope?"
Skulduggery tilted his head to the side. "Not remotely."
"Skul…" Valkyrie stepped forward, and hugged him, and the detective felt somewhat less than hollow for a few seconds. Then she withdrew and looked into his eye sockets. "You're back now."
"And feeling like a stranger."
"But you're among friends! Everybody's thanking Fletcher, Tanith, Ghastly and I for bringing you back. That's all that matters. That you're back."
"Back, yes, but confused."
"But we can fix that." Valkyrie's brown eyes softened. "There's even been a rumour circulating that Guild might be willing to hire us again."
Skulduggery didn't say anything. He was content just to watch Valkyrie speak. He didn't like thinking too much nowadays. Thinking tended to lead to remembering, and Skulduggery wanted to forget. Although he'd never say to Valkyrie or Ghastly, The Faceless Ones had broken something in his mind, and he didn't know how to fix it.
But Val did.
Valkyrie frowned. "Are you OK, Skulduggery? You seem quieter than usual."
Skulduggery looked at her blankly, and only then did he notice the dark at the edge of his vision, which converged quickly.
He shuddered and dropped to the floor. Valkyrie shrieked and ran to him. Unlike Ghastly or Tanith, Skulduggery didn't have a pulse, and she had no way to tell if he was still alive.
She reached over to the wall and frantically ripped her phone out of its charger. She dialled Ghastly Bespoke. The tailor answered after three rings, but didn't even have time to utter a word before Valkyrie spoke.
"You need to get here and you need to get here NOW. Don't ask questions, please. Skulduggery is here and he might be dead. Get here. NOW."
Ghastly swore and hung up. Valkyrie assumed he was coming. She placed a head on the skeleton's forehead protectively and waited.