AN: This story is set between Death Bringer and Kingdom of the Wicked, I've rated it M for a reason but without wanting to say too much all I can say is you've been warned. As usual I own nothing here, it's just for fun. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a message. The story is complete and I'll be updating it once a week. I hope you all like it.
Chapter One: Back-alley Brawl
It was raining, it was always raining. Valkyrie Cain, sixteen year old sorceress, killer of Gods and all round saviour of the world, sighed. For once she wished that it would be sunny, it would make a nice change from constantly having her hair plastered to her scalp and running the risk of pneumonia just because she was on a case.
"When do we get to go home? I'm starving." Valkyrie moaned, speaking into the phone that she had held to one ear as she traipsed down the alleyway. It was quiet and empty. The sounds of the street noise were gone down here. She was alone and out of the way of prying eyes and that was the point. This wasn't exactly the kind of thing that she could do with mortals watching.
"Soon, and you should never put your stomach above a case." Skulduggery answered, his velvet voice calm, just like it always was. In the background Valkyrie could hear the sound of someone blaring a car horn, a reminder that Skulduggery was in the nice, warm Bentley. He was probably having a great time.
"Easy for you to say, you're a skeleton." Valkyrie grumbled, running a hand through her damp hair in an attempt to wipe it out of her eyes. "Remind me again why I'm doing this on my own?"
"Because, for whatever reason, Kern hates me and has asked specifically that he meets with you and only you."
"You did shoot him," Valkyrie pointed out, glancing furtively around the alley. Where the hell was he? She checked her watch. Quarter past. He should be here by now. Something didn't feel right. But Douglas Kern wasn't the kind of man who was known for being prompt. No doubt he had spent the last hour scoping out the alley, making sure that Valkyrie had indeed come alone as they had promised.
"Some people are so petty," Skulduggery said casually, she could picture him just shrugging it off – as if shooting someone was just a normal, everyday thing. Valkyrie almost chuckled despite herself. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be grand," Valkyrie assured him. Even now, for all of his humour and one-liners, Valkyrie knew that he worried about her. Not that he would ever admit it, of course. Skulduggery wasn't much of a fan of emotional conversations. He far preferred punching bad guys. "You sure Kern's information is worth all this though?"
"It could be vital in solving a double murder."
"And I could be in bed," Valkyrie countered, somewhat sullenly. She wasn't really sulking about not being able to sleep. She was used to that. No, what was annoying Valkyrie was that if their roles were reversed then Skulduggery wouldn't even be slightest bit wet, a fact he enjoyed reminding her of when she complained about being stuck in the rain.
"We all have to make sacrifices, Valkyrie."
"You don't, you're in the Bentley."
"Yes, but I'm having to listen to you complain, which I might add is ruining a perfectly good interview about the benefits of wind power in a modern economy."
"Shut up," Valkyrie snapped. She was about to carry on their argument when the sound of a door opening broke the silence in the alleyway. Kern. "He's here."
"Call me if you need me," Skulduggery said and then the line went dead.
Slipping her phone back into her jacket pocket, Valkyrie turned towards the source of the sound. At the end of the alley a tall man was scurrying towards her. His coat collar was pulled up high so as to protect his face from the wind and rain which had already numbed Valkyrie's skin. Valkyrie stepped into the middle of the alley as he neared. As he got closer and closer, she could see the fear in his eyes. He dabbed at his forehead wiping away not rain, but sweat.
"You're late," Valkyrie said by way of greeting. She didn't like Kern and so she wasn't ready to waste pleasantries on him. Besides, something didn't feel right. He was on edge. But this was his meeting, he had called them, told them he could name Sandra and Alan Smedley's killer. So why was he scared?
"You came alone?" Kern asked, his voice breathy.
"You know I did," Valkyrie answered bluntly.
He hummed and nodded, glancing over her shoulder and then back at her face. His breathing was erratic, the hand that he had used to wipe at his face was shaking.
"Well," Valkyrie prompted. Part of her wanted to called Skulduggery, let him know that something wasn't right. But that would just scare Kern off. This was too important to mess up.
"Well what?" Kern asked, blinking stupidly at her.
"The name," Valkyrie said, trying desperately not to lose her temper, which thanks to the already awful conditions, time and now his behaviour was at breaking point. "You said you knew who killed the Smedleys, you said you had proof."
"I – I did. I mean, I – I do." Kern mithered, correcting himself quickly.
"Show me," Valkyrie demanded. Every instinct she had was telling her that this wasn't right. But she stayed put, there was too much at stake to let this fail. Sandra and Alan Smedley had been mortals and that meant the mortal police were digging around what had clearly been a magical murder. They could uncover any number of truths that would result in the Irish Sanctuary having to go to town on more memory alterations and after Darquesse and Vile had torn up half of Dublin city centre Ravel was desperate to keep mortal awareness of magic at an absolute minimum. "Now. I'm not joking, Kern. You don't tell me what you know right now and I call Skulduggery. You remember him, don't you?"
"Alright, alright, there's no need to threaten me." Kern said, but there was no anger in his words, it was something else. Relief?
"No," said another voice behind Valkyrie. "There isn't."
She whirled round but before she could put up any kind of a fight, there was flash of red light as something had hit her, hard. She staggered back, managing to avoid the next attack that came her way more by luck than anything else. The sound of running signalled Kern's flight. Valkyrie cursed. But she had bigger problems than that rat right now.
The man in front of her was taller than her, with broad shoulders and physicality about him that made Valkyrie realise that she was instantly out matched. A black hood obscured his face from view. His coat was long and black, the same as his trousers. He reminded Valkyrie of the Necromancers she had once known. But this man was no Necromancer.
"Who are you?" Valkyrie asked, slipping her hand into her pocket as she backed away, desperately trying to blindly call the last number that had been used. Even if he couldn't hear her, Skulduggery would know that something had happened.
The man didn't answer.
"Let me guess, you're the one that killed them, aren't you?" Still nothing. It was like talking to a wall, only more intimidating, because walls generally didn't have the ability to kill people. "And this is what, a trap? You got Kern to lure me here and now you're going to kill me, is that it?"
He was getting closer now and no matter how much she kept talking he wasn't slowing down. This wasn't like a film, he wasn't about to remove his hood and reveal all his nefarious little schemes. He was going to kill her too and all Valkyrie had was a choice: either run or fight. A few years ago, Valkyrie knew that she would have scarpered. Back when she was Stephanie Edgley, a scared little girl running from a man like him. But she wasn't that girl anymore.
She waited for him to edge closer still, pretending to be backing away and then as soon as he was close enough she lashed out, driving her boot into his knee. The man cried out in pain, swinging a wild fist at her that Valkyrie easily ducked. His hand came up and another surging streak of red light hurtled for her, but this time she rolled away, splashing through a puddle and coming up on her knees. Her palm struck the air and the man was sent off his feet, smashing into the wall. There was a sickening crunch as the back of his head slammed into brick. He crumpled and fell like a rag doll to the cold, hard floor. He didn't get up. He didn't even move.
Valkyrie rose to her feet, blinking back a small pain in her head. She shook herself and pulled a set of shackles from her pocket. Warily she stepped forwards, poking him with the toe of her boot, just to make sure that he was actually down and not play acting. It had been easy, not that she was complaining, sometimes easy was good.
She was just cuffing him when hurried footsteps signalled the arrival of Skulduggery.
"Nice of you to show up at last," Valkyrie smirked as she turned away from the hooded man and looked at Skulduggery. He had his gun in his hand and somewhere along the way he had lost his hat.
"I was dealing with our friend Douglas," Skulduggery told her. "He thought it would be a good idea to try and get a little revenge instead of actually escaping. I taught him the error of his ways." Valkyrie raised an eyebrow, her eyes flicking to the place where his hat should have been. "He might have got in a lucky shot. Who is this?"
"Haven't the foggiest," Valkyrie shrugged, holding a back a grin as she remembered the first time they had met and he had used those exact same words. "He tried to jump me. We fought, I won, no biggie."
"Any particular reason he wanted to kill you?" Skulduggery asked, holstering his gun as it was no longer necessary for him to be holding it.
"Not that I know of, think he might have been the guy that killed the Smedleys. I'd say ask him but he's a bit busy being, you know, unconscious."
"People who've been beaten up often are," Skulduggery noted. "Right then, if there are no other mysterious strangers around here waiting to pounce?" he paused, waiting for any waiting lunatics to take their cue and leap out. "Excellent, then I suggest we take your new friend and Douglas back to the Sanctuary. I get the feeling that they are in for a long night."
"Mind if you drop me off home first?" Valkyrie asked, not wanting to be part of interrogation this early in the morning. "I'm pretty tired."
"And you need your beauty sleep," Skulduggery finished, if he had a face then Valkyrie was sure he'd be smirking.
"Well, it does take effort to look this great," Valkyrie shrugged, before quickly adding: "Any comments about my hair won't be appreciated."
"You look lovely," Skulduggery said as he hunkered down and scooped up the unconscious body of Valkyrie's attacker. Valkyrie shook her head and together they headed out of the alley and towards the welcoming warmth of the Bentley.