1 Stone Tablet

Dusk knocked on the office door and heard the faint reply from the inside. Enter. Dusk opened the door and walked in, the door swinging shut behind him and closing with a faint click. Take a seat, the man behind the desk said. The desk was made of dark wood, polished to a gleam. The man behind the desk himself was sitting in a swivel chair, facing the window behind the desk. Dusk couldn t see the man s face, but he knew he was called Mr Malicious. I have some work for you. You will be paid generously, you can count on that. Dusk said nothing. I need you to steal something. It is a stone tablet, with ancient writing on it. You will find it in the caves underneath the late Gordon Edgley s house, off to the west. Dusk finally spoke. This thing, he said, his face showing no scope of emotion, You said it was to be stolen, but if it is in the caves, then who am I stealing it from? Mr Malicious gave a small laugh. The owner does not know it belongs to them yet. They live in ignorance to a lot of things; actually it is quite amusing. Dusk leaned forwards slightly. Who is this person? he asked. Mr Malicious turned around to face Dusk. Her name, he said, is Darquesse.

2 Punch
Valkyrie ran, focusing on the air around her palms and used it to propel her as she jumped, kicking the last hollow man in its soft, papery face and puncturing its skin. It fell to the ground in an awkward heap, slowly deflating. Well, that s the last of them. She said to Fletcher, who was standing a few metres away watching in awe. How come you re so good at that kind of stuff? I m not, and I m older than you. I should be the one who does all the fighting, and you should be the one watching in silent amazement. I should be your hero. Valkyrie looked at him. Well, maybe next time you should try harder. It s not my fault I m so amazing, She grinned. Fletcher crossed the space between them in a few strides, and pulled her to him, and kissed her. She was taken by surprise; she had only ever kissed him twice. Well, the second kiss had only lasted about two seconds, and they had fallen down and she had almost choked Fletcher on the way down. But all the same it felt nice, and she felt warm inside, and happy. She felt really, really happy.

There was the sound of someone clearing their throat from behind them, and they broke apart quickly, blushing fiercely, to find Skulduggery standing behind them. Sorry to interrupt, he said I ll just be off then Clearly embarrassed, he began walking in the opposite direction. Feeling absolutely terrible, Valkyrie walked quickly after him, followed by a very red Fletcher. Later that night, the wind and rain were lashing against Valkyries window. She was just pulling off her sleeveless tunic when there was the sound of glass sliding. She whirled, to see Fletcher half in her window. While she was in the middle of getting changed. I, uh, I m sorry- I ll go, I mean I ll come back, if you, you want me too, I, uh he quickly exited the window, dropping to the ground. She stared at the window for a moment more, then quickly pulled off the rest of her tunic and pulled on her Dublin Football jersey. That, she thought, was embarrassing. When she was completely changed she knocked softly on the window and opened it halfway, looking down and seeing Fletcher standing underneath her window, looking up with a guilty and apologetic expression on his face. Valkyrie, I m really sorry. I didn t know you were, getting, uh, getting changed, and I thought I would pay you a visit, so despite herself, Valkyrie smiled. It s ok I guess I was just taken by surprise. Besides, you re really cute when you apologise. On hearing this, Fletcher immediately brightened, but she didn t notice. So can I come in? he asked, an expression he probably thought was cute on his face. Yes, but only if you stop doing that weird half-grin. It makes you look deformed. He scowled in a good natured way. So, what did you come by for? Valkyrie asked. She was sitting on her bed, legs crossed. Fletcher had gone to sit next to her, but she had ordered him to sit on the floor. It felt strange to think of Fletcher sitting next to her on her bed; like there were butterflies in her belly. Did you want to ask me something or what? Fletcher s eyes widened a fraction, but Valkyrie still noticed. What? she said, confused. I was just asking. Fletcher looked away. Um no reason at all, really. I just wanted to talk to you, I guess. He looked up, slightly red in the face, for some unknown reason to Valkyrie. Actually, Valkyrie said, looking down, There was something I wanted to ask you. Fletcher looked up, almost eagerly, but when he saw her sombre expression, his dropped very, very slowly from his face. What? he asked. But this simple question, this one word, had more emotion in it than Valkyrie had ever heard him use in a single sentence. It sounded loving. What?! No, that was embarrassing. Well, why she started, but didn t know how to finish. Why what? Fletcher said, actually sounding slightly concerned now. She looked up and saw he was sitting next to her, against her orders. Idiot, she thought. But he was so, so close closer than they had ever been in all the time they had known each other. She pulled back, instinctively, and suddenly regretted it, but why? Fletcher, why did you kiss me? she asked, eyes cast towards the floor. She heard him shift uncomfortably next to her, and then said, Well I don t know. It just sort of came naturally. But Skulduggery was there! she said, remembering the embarrassment that had followed the kiss when they heard Skulduggery behind them. Well he kind of got blurred out. Like he wasn t there anymore. And anyway, he said, his voice now more forceful, You kissed me, remember, last year inside Kenspeckle s place. Heat rose in Valkyrie and Fletcher s faces as they remembered the incident.

and then you fell down and hit me in the throat. He finished, with a half smile. He was suddenly very close again. He leaned forward a little more, putting his face closer to hers. Valkyrie s breath started to come out unevenly. Again, she instinctively moved backwards, but this time Fletcher had his hand at the small of her back and pushed her forwards. This took her by surprise, and she let him move her forwards, closer to him, closer to his face, his face, which suddenly seemed more important than anything to her right now. Their faces were about a centimetre away from each other now, and she could feel his warm breath on her check. Fletcher leaned forwards, so, so, slowly, and she realised he was going to kiss her again, and she let him come closer. And that s when the window smashed and Dusk came flying through. He turned to them, eyes blazing. They had jumped to their feet, but were still unconsciously holding hands. Dusk met Valkyrie s shocked but angry gaze, and then saw Fletcher standing there and smiled. It was not a good sight. Ah, so have you two formed a bond, between each other? they looked down, saw their hands holding, and broke apart. Then suddenly Valkyrie slammed into the wall, and was up against the wall, being held there by Dusk. I still seek my revenge on you, you know, he said, a smile in his voice, You have special blood. And the first taste was so good, I just had to come back for more. She looked around. Where was Fletcher? Panic rose in her chest, then anger. Had he teleported away? At a time like this? How could he, when Valkyrie was in danger like this?! And then there was a voice that said hold on, and suddenly they were in the Hibernian cinema.

3 Justin
Fletcher let go of her hand, looking away, and said in a gruff voice, here. He handed Valkyrie her enchanted black clothes. I grabbed these and then teleported away from that loony Vamp. She looked at him. Thanks, she said and he blushed slightly, and then she said I ll call Skulduggery and tell him what happened. He ll probably be here soon. As Valkyrie predicted, Skulduggery was there soon and he was angry. How did Dusk know where you live?! he said angrily, No one on their side knows, no one! he paused. Of course he said, Crux. He must have told them last year, after he got in and tried to kill you. But how could Dusk get past the security symbols that China placed around Haggard? He walked off, murmuring to himself. Valkyrie

knew that when he started that, if you interrupted him he d get snappy. And Skulduggery was scary when he was snappy. She wandered over to the window of the hallway they were in, looking out at the dark shapes that were hills and trees, but now looked like stooped people. She frowned. Did one of those shapes just move? Valkyrie turned around to say something, when a fist smashed through the glass and she was pushed roughly to the ground. Everyone looked up sharply and they saw a few dozen paper men outside, who were trying to get through the window. She felt the air against her palms and pushed sharply, pushing herself to her feet and felt the disturbances in the air Skulduggery, Ghastly and herself were making. She felt her Necromancy ring against her finger and snapped her hand against the air, sending a wave of darkness slamming into the hollow men. They all slumped to the ground, unconscious. It was then they noticed the person with them. He had dropped to the ground to avoid the darkness, and was now getting to his feet. He was tall, about as tall as Fletcher, and looked to be about the same age too. He had dark brown hair, which stuck up in some places, but was flat in other places. In other words, like Fletcher s. His eyes were green, a brilliant, deep, deep shade of green, like a thousand crushed emeralds. He was dressed in simple jeans and brown jacket. Hi, he said, addressing them all. I m Justin Flinch Justin Flinch had been captured by the hollow men a few minutes ago, but he didn t know why. I was walking through Kings Park and they jumped at me. I didn t even have time to defend myself. Valkyrie found his eyes fascinating, like a picture you see in an art gallery and think has nothing special to offer. But the more you look at it, the better looking it becomes. She dragged her gaze from his eyes and looked around the table. They were all seated there, even Kenspeckle, who had heard the news and had come to give Justin a quick check up to make sure he was okay after being attacked by the hollow men. She met Fletcher s gaze for a moment, and for a second it looked as though he had just a tiny hint of jealously in his eyes. Valkyrie was surprised. Why would Fletcher be jealous of anyone now, of all times? God, he could be such an idiot sometimes. Thinking this made Valkyrie seem angry with herself, so turned her attention back to Justin. Well, Justin, you are welcome to stay here for a few days if you want. I m sure Kenspeckle wouldn t mind. Skulduggery said, looking at Justin. By the way, what type of mage are you? Justin looked around and flashed a smile. Now this is actually quite interesting. I m an Elemental, but I m also a necromancer. Now, I bet none of you have ever heard of someone practicing both of them at the same time. He looked almost smug. Why? Valkyrie realised everyone was looking at her, but she hadn t noticed because she had been totally absorbed in Justin s eyes. She looked at him and said, Actually, that s exactly what I do. My necromancer power is held in this ring. She showed him the black ring on her right hand, and his grin fell, just a little. Oh, ok, he said, looking faintly irritated, Well, that s a first. I ve never met someone else who did those two things as well. Hey, seems like we have a lot in common. He flashed her his cocky smile.

Yes, it would seem so. Valkyrie said, her voice and face both conveying no emotion. His smile fell, just a little more. It was almost as if her showing no interest towards him had irritated him. Weird, Valkyrie thought to herself.

4 Fletcher«?
The next day, Valkyrie was wandering through Kenspeckle s building, walking but without an aim. She allowed her thoughts to drift, walking slowly and without purpose. Hiya. Said a voice from behind her, and she turned to see Justin Flinch standing there, with that handsome grin on his face. Valkyrie had to admit, he was pretty handsome. Almost as handsome as Fletcher. Hey, she said. So, he said, grinning still, You and that Fletcher kid are together, huh? Valkyrie stared at him. What? she said, still staring at him, Well, I noticed that when you stared at me, his face sorta got all tight and closed off. If I remember correctly, that means that someone is jealous. He grinned. I wasn t staring at you, she said, heat rising in her face, I was looking at the at the colour of your eyes. It s a pretty interesting colour. She replied, all too aware of how stupid this sounded. Hey, did you do somethin with your hair? It looks really pretty today. What? Valkyrie hadn t done anything to her hair what the hell was this new kid on about? Um, I washed it? Anyway, why would you care? he grinned again. Aw, no reason. I just thought someone oughta tell you, since that kid with the stupid hair wasn t gonna. Well, thanks I guess. He grinned again, and walked away. She heard a noise from behind her and turned, reading the disturbances in the air. There was someone in the room a few metres behind her. She clicked her fingers, summoning a fireball and held it in her palm as she crept towards the door of the room. She burst in, looking for someone who looked like an evil person or was holding a gun and looked like an evil person. She grabbed the person in the in a chokehold and was about to force the fireball up their nose when she realised who it was. Oh! Fletcher, I m really sorry. I thought you were a bad guy or something. Uh, that s okay. Um, Valkyrie, why are you trying to choke me? And why are you holding my head in such a lock that it s being held against your chest? He grinned, and she dropped his head, fuming. He hit the ground, hard. He grunted and then she kicked him in the groin and he yelled in pain. What d you do that for, for god s sake?! he yelled, struggling to stand. Because you made a rude comment about me! And I wasn t holding your head there anyway! It was against my side! Yeah, well, whatever. What were you doing talking to that Justin guy anyway? What? He came up to me; he started talking. I just responded. He s a human, I m a human, for god s sake. She was still mad. Valkyrie? his voiced was softer now. Val, I m sorry. Really I am. I didn t know it would upset you that much. Honest. She softened. Yeah, okay. Sorry for yelling at you. And kicking you. And almost killing you. She grinned. Ha, you couldn t kill me if you tried. She arched an eyebrow. You really think you d stand a chance against me? she asked him. He grinned. Hmmm well, yeah. A

very good chance, actually. She smiled. You wanna try? she said, advancing on him and clicking her fingers, summoning a flame. He looked at her in mock horrified fear. Oh, spare me! He said. She laughed and went to punch his arm, but he disappeared and reappeared about a metre behind her. She lashed out a kick, but her foot connected with nothing but air. While she was kicking, he teleported in front of her again, and grabbed her arm, swinging her around, so that she went stumbling and crashed into him. She stood there for a moment, and then pulled away, blushing. Then Fletcher twisted them again so that Valkyrie s back was flat against the wall, with Fletcher holding her shoulders in place. Fletcher, what the hell are you doing? she hissed at him, but he smiled and said Hush, or they ll hear us. I just wanted to get a good look at you. She went red, and he saw and grinned again. Enough. Fletcher, seriously, what the hell is going on. Fletcher s grin dropped from his face, to be replaced by confusion. What do you mean? he asked. I mean, why the hell do we keep getting in these situations? Like now, with us so, close, and, stuff he smiled a small smile, and said to her, with real emotion in his voice, Because I like you.

5 Love or Like?
Later in her room, she heard a knock on the window. Ugh, I wonder who that is, Valkyrie thought in mock sarcasm. She opened the window slightly and said, Fletcher, what the- Oh, sorry! it was Justin, not Fletcher, but what was Justin doing here? She barely knew the guy, and how did he know where she lived anyway? How did you know where I live? she asked him, and he replied Fletcher told me. I asked him, and he just told me Fletcher. Ugh, of course it was Fletcher. So, can I come in? Or are you going to keep me out in the cold? he grinned, and came in. I hadn t said yes yet, you know. And she moved over to give him room to sit on her bed. So anyway, why are you here? Did you- but she didn t get a chance to finish her sentence, because Justin was kissing her, and then Valkyrie was floating and there were butterflies dancing in her belly, and all she could register was how perfect this seemed to be. But there seemed to be something missing, but what? She frowned a tiny frown, but she couldn t work out what it was. Justin pulled away; looking at Valkyrie s startled eyes and said simply, I love you, Valkyrie, ever since I met you, and kissed her again. Then the kiss was over and Justin was out the window. Valkyrie lay back and thought about what had just happened. What had happened? All she could remember was that light, happy feeling in her chest, like when Fletcher had kissed her. She frowned. Fletcher. Fletcher had told her that afternoon that he liked her. But just now, Justin had told her that he loved her. Which was better, more strong and true? Loving or Liking? Valkyrie thought loving seemed more strong and solid. Then there was a tapping at her window, and Fletcher was climbing through, and he came straight down to her and sat there next to her before she could utter a word. Valkyrie, I ve thought about it and I

need to tell you. I really and truly do love you, and I need you to tell me if you love me. He looked at her, smiling and when she didn t respond, What, do you hate me or something? he said gently. What? No! Oh, of course not! Fletcher I love you too. There, she had said it. Once she had, Valkyrie felt an enormous weight lift off her shoulders. So we re officially a couple now, right? he was grinning now, like he used to. Yes, I suppose it does. And they kissed, a long and passionate kiss, with happiness and joy and love and romance and...so, so many other emotions mixed in with it. When they broke apart, Valkyrie was crying. What did I do?! Fletcher asked, alarmed at this sudden mood change. No, Fletcher, I m crying because I m happy. I m really, really happy.

6 What?! No movies?!
You look like a grumpy cow. Fletcher said, and Valkyrie scowled and lunged at him, ruffling his hair. Hey, do you have any idea how long it takes to get my hair in the perfect position? And you messed it up! She laughed. Why do you spend so long on it anyway? Are you trying to catch some other girls attention, huh? he grinned. No, I spend so long on my hair because I want it to look perfect for you. She laughed again and ruffled his hair, causing him to scowl again. It was a warm sunny day in spring, and Fletcher and Valkyrie were lying on a picnic blanket, holding hands and looking up at the sky. Hey, that cloud looks like an elephant. Fletcher said, pointing. No, that looks more like a cloud to me. She replied. He shook his head. Valkyrie, you have no sense of creativity. Well, someone has to be the mature grownup one. She said. He took her other hand, and rolled over so that they were pressed against each other, faces less than two centimetres away. Do you feel like the mature grownup one now? he breathed, sending shivers down her spine. Not anymore. She admitted. She realised that her button up top has half undone, and struggled to fix it. No, you can leave it like that if you want; Fletcher said, I don t mind. She smiled, blushing. That s because you re a big fat perv. Ouch! That s cold. He took hold of her shoulders and very gently sat up, moving her so she was sitting on his lap in front of him. She twisted her head around so she could kiss him, but his lips moved to the top of her neck and he started kissing her neck, from top to bottom. Fle Fletch Fletcher, we re in public! he smiled, Would you rather we did this if we were alone? he asked, still smiling.

N- no, that s not what I meant! she said, blushing. He laughed, a real, loud laugh, and said, Ah, you re funny Valkyrie. Very funny. Ugh, this was the problem with having a hot boyfriend who knew he was hot, she thought. He s so confident that he knows I ll be self conscious. And suddenly they were in Valkyries room. Feel better about it now? he breathed and she laughed faintly. No. I m not. She then said, watching with covered up amusement when Fletcher s face fell. What? Geez, what do we have to do for you women to make you happy? Tell me, Miss Cain, is there any such way to appease you? she smiled. Perhaps, Mr Renn. He grinned. Pray tell, Miss Cain, what could this be? She laughed and leaned to kiss him, but then he was gone and she heard a laugh from behind her. Very funny. Not. She punched him on the arm. So, he said, Is there anywhere you d like to go right now? But please, God, don t say shopping. She grinned and sighed in mock disappointment. Aw, but that s exactly what I was going to say! She said, pouting. He laughed. Fine. But you better only go into shops that have a husband seat so I can sit down. She pulled a face and said, Are you kidding? I hate shopping. It s so boring, and people always try to get me to try things on that I don t like. He laughed, a real, genuine laugh of amusement, and then said, You re the first girl I ve ever met that has said no to shopping because it s boring, He grinned, Well, would you like to go somewhere? She thought, and then said, No, I d rather stay here. My parents told me they d be out till about seven tonight. Fletcher flashed his best smile and said, So we re her alone? She laughed and hit his head. It sounds funny when you say it like that. Fletcher grinned. Well, I can t help being funny, He grinned, I m hilarious. It s just part of my charm. So, what shall we do? Valkyrie asked, returning to the original conversation. He shrugged, and said Let s watch a movie. Do you have a favourite? Uh, actually, I don t own any movies. But there s some in the Lounge room, but they re all my parents so I don t know if there ll be anything good there. Fletcher shook his head in exasperation How can a normal teenager not own any movies at all? She arched an eyebrow. Would you really call me a normal teenager? I wield Elemental magic and Necromancy; I can beat grown men through physical combat. I m a weapon. He laughed, and replied, Well, I can fight too, and teleport to places miles away in the blink of an eye, I have natural charm and super cool hair. But the real reason that you wouldn t be classified as normal is probably because you have me for a boyfriend. Grinning, he leaned in to kiss her, and they both heard something drop to the floor behind them.

7 Necromancy fight
You disgusting paedophile, a soft voice said, and they whirled to see Justin Flinch standing there with a small bunch of flowers at his feet. You re eighteen, and she s fifteen. Are you insane? Do you actually think she really likes you? Fletcher looked uncomfortable and guilty. Was he really letting this affect him? And what the hell was Justin doing here anyway? And why was he being so horrible? Get out of

here. Get out of here now, before I decide to force you out. Justin growled. Fletcher shot Valkyrie a quick, bewildered glance and teleported with a faint pop. Valkyrie stared at Justin. What the hell was that about!? She asked, her face flushing red with embarrassment and anger. He was being disgusting. You two are almost four years apart. Justin replied. Anger surged through Valkyrie, making her want to kick Justin in the face, hard. That s not much of a difference if we both barely age! She shouted, glaring at Justin. What the hell do you think you re doing; Fletcher and I were having a conversation! Justin glared back. He was going to take advantage of you. Couldn t you see that? He s nothing but a big fat perv. She blinked suddenly, this response taking her by surprise. Why would he do that? She whispered. He would never take advantage of me; he s a really nice person. Justin strode up to her, gripped her shoulder. He would. Of course he would. Who wouldn t? I m sure every boyfriend you ve ever had has taken advantage of you. Why wouldn t they? You re much prettier than other girls. He gripped her other shoulder and forced her up against the wall, and started slowly pulling her tank top straps down. Fear swirled through Valkyrie, then anger. Justin was way out of line, and there was no way she was going to let him go any further. She swung around suddenly, taking him by surprise, and jammed her hip into him. He grunted and the grip on her shoulders was released, but he was recovering quickly and coming at her like a freight train. Valkyrie felt the Necromancer ring around her finger, and used the shadows to push him away. He cried out in pain and used his own shadows, from which seemed to be coming from a string of black beads he wore around his wrist, to slash over the top of her head, making her duck. Valkyrie concentrated, and used the shadows to form into the shape of a sword in her right hand. Justin saw what she was doing and did the same. They walked forwards slowly, swords in hand, and began circling each other with anger in their eyes. Why didn t you just let me do it? You know you wanted me to, Justin spat at her. I m going to knock you unconscious and then I ll finish what I started. Valkyrie stiffened. She was scared. No one had ever threatened her like that, and it somehow seemed more menacing than a death threat. She gripped her darkness sword, and stepped forward, holding her head high. You ll have to kill me before I let you do that. And then she swung her sword at Justin. He dodged and blocked the next slash, and then attempted to cut her shoulder with his sword. But Valkyrie was too fast. She side stepped away, and Justin stumbled forward a little. Before he could recover, Valkyrie raked the sword down his left arm, drawing blood. Justin roared in pain and slammed his shoulder into her, making her stumble and fall over backwards with her back against the wall. The tip of Justin sword was pressing into the base of her neck, and Valkyrie didn t even dare swallow. He flipped the sword around, so he was holding the blade and the hilt was near Valkyrie s head, and slammed the hilt into her temple. She moaned, stars dancing in front of her eyes and her head pounding. The hilt slammed into her head again and again, each time making Valkyrie s vision blurrier. If he keeps this up, she thought, I ll black out and he ll be all over me. Oh God, I don t want that to happen, I m not like that! Justin smiled. She was about to go, and he knew it. He raised the sword hilt one last time, and that s when Skulduggery came storming through the front door and kicked Justin in the face. He wobbled,

cursing, and Skulduggery came at him with a right hook and he slumped to the ground. Skulduggery turned to Valkyrie. Are you ok? He asked softly, and then he saw the blood on her shirt and face, which was still running from the cuts on her temples where Justin had repeatedly bashed the sword hilt into her head. Valkyrie, are you alright? Did he hurt you much? She tried to answer him, but the blood loss and the fog in her vision overpowered her senses and everything went black.

8 Kenspeckle·s place
Valkyrie s head was sore. She groaned, stretched and rolled over in her bed, hoping the aching would go away. She opened her eyes and with a start realised she was in Kenspeckle s Magic-Science facility, in one of the hospital rooms. She sat up, testing her limbs, seeing what was sore and what wasn t, because she knew it would save a lot of pain if she did it now. Kenspeckle walked in, an elderly man with masses of white hair and a grumpy air about him; though his expression softened when he saw she was awake. Ah, good. You ve been out for a while now, you know. Eighteen hours. Mr Pleasant is quite worried, as is Mr Renn and Miss Low. I m afraid you ll have to stay here for a few days. Valkyrie groaned inwardly. Did I break anything? Valkyrie asked him, dreading the answer. No, but you had a lot of blood loss and a few fractured ribs. Honestly Valkyrie, please try not to damage yourself so. She smiled. Sorry Kenspeckle. I ll try harder next time, I promise. He smiled back. I know you will, but I don t think it will make much of a difference. I ll leave you now. He got up and walked out, closing the door behind him. Valkyrie slumped down on the soft pillows, sulking. She had to stay in bed and inactive, while Skulduggery and the rest were off fighting baddies. That sucked. Someone knocked on the door, and Skulduggery and Tanith walked in. Damn it, Valkyrie growled. I have to stay here a few days, while you re off having all the fun and punching all the villains. Tanith laughed, and Skulduggery said, We can stay a few days as well; we re still researching for leads about Dusk. We still don t know exactly how he got to your house and why. Valkyrie arched an eyebrow. Dusk is a psychopathic vampire who wants to kill me. I m pretty sure that s why he broke in. That may be true, Tanith said, sitting on the end of the hospital bed, But we still want to know how he got past all those magic symbols without alerting China. Still standing, Skulduggery said, And we ll stay here a few days so you don t miss out on anything fun. We have Justin Flinch temporarily in a holding cell. Valkyrie grinned. Awesome. Thanks, guys. Tanith smiled. We ll come back a bit later. And with that, they both left as well, leaving Valkyrie alone. And bored. Valkyrie sighed and flopped back onto the pillows, covering her head with the blanket. She hissed in pain when the sudden movement made her head wounds sting. Valkyrie? She knew that voice. He had come to see her! Valkyrie smiled to herself. She lifted the blanket off her head, wincing when her hands came in contact with her head. Hi, Fletcher, she said. How s everything been going? Fletcher smiled

a small smile, and then dropped it. I m sorry, Valkyrie. He whispered. What? It s not your fault. You re not the one who beat me up. I ll have to get him back for that now. Fletcher sighed. I teleported straight to Skulduggery and told him Flinch was at your house, being angry, so he told me to take him to your place, fast. He looked so mad. Valkyrie smiled. At least you helped me. She tried, seeing the miserable expression on Fletcher s face. Fletcher, she said, Snap the hell out of it. I m okay; I wasn t hurt too badly. If only that damn sneak hadn t used his damn sword on me I would have been able to kick him into a messy pulp. She scowled, vowing to make that phrase come true one day. Seriously, Fletcher, I m fine. I ll be ready for action in a few days, just you wait and see. He grinned. It s good to see you awake, Valkyrie. But when you were out, you looked really peaceful, you know? It was much better than seeing you scowling all the time. He said, causing Valkyrie to scowl. She lashed out, running a hand through his hair and making go off-centre. He scowled back, and in turn reached out to ruffle up her hair, but she caught his wrist and twisted, making the rest of him follow lest his wrist be broken, and he ended up with his head on her legs, just above her knees. They both sat there for a while, and smiled. God, I really do like him, Valkyrie thought to herself, and he really does like me. It makes me feel so special about myself, knowing that someone cares about me so much.

9 Maze
Valkyrie stumbled and fell, falling to her knees. The Hollow man stood above her, raised its fist and was about to swing it into her head when Fletcher appeared beside it and punched its face, making it stagger. He then proceeded to kick its knee and then its chest, and grabbed its arm and tore at it, making a hole. He pushed it aside as the foul gases from within escaped, tainting the air. Fletcher reached out and helped Valkyrie up, grinning. Why do you look so happy? She asked grumpily. She could have beaten that hollow man, she knew she could, and then Fletcher just had to come in and do it for her, because he had seen her fall down. You re grumpy with me now, aren t you? Valkyrie, I know you could have beaten that guy, but I had already finished with mine so I came to help. Don t be so sulky. She tossed her hair, and shot Fletcher a sulky look, silently letting him know she was going to be sulky anyway. He sighed and started walking with her to Skulduggery and Tanith. Well, that takes care of them. He said, brushing a piece of hollow man skin from his shoulder. It fell onto Tanith, and she recoiled and brushed it away, flailing with revulsion. I can t stand those little pieces of their skin she said, still looking disgusted. Skulduggery cleared his throat. anyway, we need to get to the centre before Dusk does. They were in a huge maze, which they had followed Dusk into, who was trying to reach the centre. He had been holding a large piece of stone with ancient writing on it, though the team still didn t know what it was. They had been tracking Dusk, and had finally learned that he was working for someone called Mr Malicious. Good, Skulduggery had said. A new villain. Finally. They had tracked Dusk to a large

cemetery, and he had run into the maze when he had seen them. And they still hadn t reached the middle, though they had been trying for almost twenty minutes. A few minutes ago, they had run into a small army of Hollow Men, and had battled their way through. Skulduggery, Valkyrie said, Why don t you fly up and see if you can spot Dusk, or the centre. Skulduggery nodded. Sounds good. I ll be back soon. With that, he flew up over the hedge, and started gliding right. Tanith placed her sword in her scabbard, and turned to Valkyrie and Fletcher, who were standing next to each other. So, Tanith said, looking first at Valkyrie and then at Fletcher, You two are together, huh? Ugh. Nothing ever got past Tanith. Valkyrie blushed fiercely, and Fletcher mumbled something. Tanith laughed at their embarrassment. God, you two look so cute when someone says that. There s nothing wrong with that, I was just asking. Fletcher looked up and mumbled, Yeah, I guess we are. Tanith opened her mouth to say something, when Skulduggery came into sight and landed smoothly next to them. This way, he said, walking left and turning right, I spotted Dusk. He s already in the middle of the maze, and he s with a guy in a red suit who was holding the stone thing. Valkyrie started walking. So let s get there and find out what it is. She said.

10 Caves
Dusk had found it. The Stone Tablet Mr Malicious had paid him so handsomely to find. Finding the tablet had been easy enough; so had fighting the monsters in his way. Dusk frowned. Why had it been so easy? Why had he been paid so much to do such an easy job? Questions flitted about in his mind, from one corner to another. Well, he had the Tablet now, which was all that mattered. Mr Malicious had told Dusk to find him in the centre of the giant maze in Wintry Cemetery Gardens once he had found the Tablet. Dusk looked at the ancient writing, so old it may have crumbled away from the slightest touch, carved into the aged stone. He frowned. Mr Malicious had told him that the Stone Tablet belonged to a woman named Darquesse. Darquesse. Dusk s eyes narrowed. Why did that name sound so familiar? It was like he had heard it whispered, perhaps, in a dream, or tasted it in someones blood

11 True Name
You have done well, Dusk.

The man who stood with Dusk wore a dark red suit, and had no hair. From where they were hiding, or more accurately, spying, Skulduggery, Tanith, Valkyrie and Fletcher couldn t see either of their faces. The man in the red suit was holding the Stone Tablet, staring at it without ever taking his eyes off it. This Tablet will help me complete my plan. He said, It will help me vanquish all my enemies so that I may live in prosperity. Sir, Dusk said quietly, Who is the person you told me owns the Tablet? You told me they did not know it was theirs. And why was I paid so much for such an easy job? The man chuckled softly, never taking his eyes off the tablet. The one who owns this tablet does not know they own it, because they do not know who they are yet. Dusk turned, and they could see his face now. He frowned slightly. I do not understand, He said to the man in the red suit, You talk about this person as if they have no idea who they are, or what they can do. Once again, the man chuckled softly. You are right, Dusk, this person has no idea what they can do. Not even the faintest idea. But they know who they are, and it scares them. They feel as if they cannot tell anyone, for fear that they would be dismembered from their society in order to take precaution on what is to come. This person is the one who will destroy the world as we know it. Once again, Dusk frowned. The name you told me, the one who owns it, the name seems so familiar, as if I have heard it somewhere before, or tasted it in someones blood. I cannot work it out. Oh, you have tasted the name, Dusk. You drank the person s blood, but you could taste the evil and the darkness that tainted it, and you spat it back out. Dusk s face turned thoughtful; like he was sifting through the memories of each time he drank a person s blood. And what is more, the man said, speaking louder now, That very person is watching us right now. Valkyrie s eyes widened in shock. How had he known that they were there? But he had said the evil person was there, watching them. Then she realized. He was talking about her. She was Darquesse. She gave a small gasp, but was oblivious to the startled stares from the others. But that meant that the Stone Tablet belonged to her, but she had never seen it before! None of this made sense. None, and she hadn t told Skulduggery about the dream she had had a few weeks ago, about the fight in the Repository years earlier, where she had glanced at the Book of Names and had seen her true name. Darquesse. She had tainted blood it was the blood of the ancients could this have been what Billy Ray Sanguine had been talking about weeks ago, when he had her up against the wall with the straight razor pressed to her neck? She could still hear Sanguine s voice in her head as clear as if it had happened that very morning: You ve got very special blood. You know that? See, you figure you re descended from the Last of the Ancients and that s it, that s the scope of your uniqueness in its entirety. I m here to tell you, little lady, that that ain t so. You got a whole host of other things goin for you. Not to give you a big head or anythin , but everything about you screams important. And I m talkin grand scale important. Everything I hear just reinforces the idea that, you, my dear, are a very special girl She frowned. Could Sanguine have been right all along? And what would she tell Skulduggery now? He was looking at her, and so were Tanith and Fletcher, and she could feel the mask of Horror her face had

become. Valkyrie, what is it? What s wrong? Skulduggery was whispering, but she couldn t answer. She just shook her head. She felt drained of strength, like she would just fall over if she tried to stand. She needed to get away, so she could get her strength back, but she couldn t. She had to snap out of it, so she could run or fight or do something. Come out now, Dark Queen, the man was saying, a sneer in his voice, I know you re there. And all your little friends can come out now as well. Valkyrie needed to snap out of, she needed to be focused. She squeezed her eyes shut, gathering her thoughts, and felt everything sharpen. She was okay now. She stood, and started walking into the centre of the maze. What are you doing?! Tanith hissed at her, but Valkyrie paid her no heed. Dusk was glaring at her with every ounce of hatred his blackened soul was capable of. The man in the suit still had his back to them. Here I am, Valkyrie said, her palms shaking and slippery with sweat. What do you want with me? The man turned. His face was waxy and pale, and his eyes were a bright, startling green. He had no eyebrows as well as no hair. Ah, so this is what the end of the world looks like. I never imagined it would be so pretty. Skulduggery stepped forward. What are you talking about? Valkyrie is not the end of the world. What are you saying? Skulduggery sounded worried. Oh, so she has not yet told you? the man said, smiling. By the way, my name is Malicious. You may call me Mr Malicious though, if you like. And this young girl in front of you is the end of the world, I m afraid. Do not worry, young Valkyrie, even though it is your true name, No one will be able to control you with it. It has been made safe, centuries ago. Ah, how amusing she has not yet told you, skeleton detective! Valkyrie, what s going on? Skulduggery said. He sounded really worried now. Tanith and Fletcher were looking confused and scared, as if they were afraid of what was going to happen next. She turned to face them. Valkyrie? Fletcher said softly. Val, what s going on? that was Tanith. Valkyrie took a deep breath. She opened her mouth to speak. My name is not Valkyrie. It is not Stephanie. My name is Darquesse.

12 Darquesse
Nobody moved. The first one to speak was Skulduggery. What do you mean? He asked. His voice was devoid of any emotion. His skull was its usual blank mask, but somehow it seemed even blanker than ever right now. Valkyrie swallowed. My true name. It s Darquesse. Skulduggery shook his skull. How could that be? Where did you find out? When did you find out? She swallowed again. A few weeks ago. I had a nightmare. It was of the fight with Serpine, in the Repository. When when the book fell, I had glanced at it, and I saw my name. Stephanie Edgley, Valkyrie Cain, and in the final column Darquesse. The dream whisperer from Cassandra told me. I I am Darquesse. Valkyrie, or Darquesse, could feel the

tears welling up inside her, felt them behind her eyes and beneath her eyelids, but they weren t spilling out. Why didn t you tell anyone? Fletcher asked. He sounded so quiet, and afraid. Was he afraid of her? No. No, she didn t want Fletcher to be scared of her, she loved him. How could she cope with being in love with someone who was frightened of her? No. I was afraid, Valkyrie said at last, a single tear spilling over her eyelid and trickling down her cheek. I was afraid that I would be controlled, or that people I cared about would be afraid of me. Skulduggery spoke next. But you could have told me, though. You trust me, don t you? And you you re a good guy. He said. Another tear. I felt like I couldn t tell anyone at all. And I don t feel like an evil person. I haven t done anything evil...or..or She was sobbing now. Which she hadn t done in years. Fletcher moved to hug her, but she could see the doubt in his eyes. They would never look at her the same way again. Never. They wouldn t trust her, or let her come with them on mysteries she would have to live outside the magical community. Forever. The thought made her sob even harder, the tears spilling out of her eyes and dripping off the bottom of her face onto the ground, where they made tiny wet patches. What are we going to do? Tanith asked softly. Valkyrie looked at her, and at once Tanith s eyes widened and she looked away slightly. They had trusted her. They had all trusted Valkyrie, and now they would hate her for not telling them. They would never trust her again. No one said anything for a few minutes. Valkyrie fell to the ground, still sobbing. Skulduggery walked over to her. What do you want us to do? he asked softly. He really sounded worried. But he didn t sound afraid. That was something at least. Then Valkyrie realized what she had to say. She stood up, wiping the tears from her eyes onto the sleeve of her jacket. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Three pairs of anxious eyes looked back at her. Kill me. Valkyrie said.

What? Skulduggery said, No. We could never kill you. Valkyrie stood straighter. You have to, she said softly. She realized Dusk and the man were gone, but she found she didn t care. I m a threat to this planet. I could be the unimaginable evil that brings the world to its knees. Kill me, and it won t ever happen. Skulduggery looked at her. No, Valkyrie, there has to be another way, something we can do toNO! Valkyrie shouted. She was crying again. YOU HAVE TO KILL ME. IT S THE ONLY WAY! she walked unsteadily to Skulduggery, and snatched the gun from his skeletal hand. She put it to her head. No! Valkyrie! he roared, but it was too late, and Valkyrie was pulling the trigger.

13 Bullet
The gunshot hurt Valkyries ears. It was loud, so loud, and her ears rang afterwards. She felt her eyes widen, felt her mouth fall open. For a moment she felt nothing, but then she felt the pain hit, slamming into her like a brick wall. She gasped, and all her breath left her. All she could register was the pain, so much pain, in her head. Everything was moving so slowly, but she couldn t make sense of anything except the pain, the pain; the pain was all that was there, the pain was all that mattered. The pain was the only thing in the world. She saw slightly blurred shapes: a skeleton in a suit; a pretty blonde lady with a sword, a young boy with spiky hair. She saw one shape, the skeleton, run to her, but she was falling, falling, and she was weightless. She barely registered her body hitting the ground; all she could feel was agonizing pain of the misshapen lump of metal that was lodged in her head, causing the pain. She felt her eyes begin to close, she felt her own warm blood pour from the wound in her head onto the ground, but nothing mattered any more. There was numbness in her head, only a little, but it was spreading, and it was making the pain go away. She welcomed it with open arms. Anything to just make the pain go away. She saw the skeleton beside her, and the other shapes were beside her as well, but they were fading, fading. Slowly, so slowly, she raised her hand to the wound, seeing what it felt like. She pressed her hand to her head, feeling the flow of the warm blood that was her own, that was coming out of her head. Why was there so much? She wondered. The skeleton had her hand, he was holding it, and he was saying a word over and over again, Valkyrie! Valkyrie! More words now. Valkyrie, look at me, look at me- the boy with the spiky hair was saying two words, over and over again, NO! No, Valkyrie, no! Valkyrie, Valkyrie, NO! The blonde lady with the sword wasn t saying anything; her mouth was just hanging open and her eyes were wide and shocked. She tried to remember the Skeletons name; she struggled against her slow brain that now had a bullet in it and was pouring blood onto the ground and onto the skeletons suit. Skullduggery s suit. Skulduggery. That was the name of the skeleton. Skul duggery ? Valkyrie said, her brain not allowing her to speak any faster. She turned her head, saw two more people crouching beside her, one still saying words, but she couldn t make any sense of them. Her brain was shutting down; her body was shutting down. Soon she wouldn t be able to see or hear them. The two people. Their names. Their names were Tan ith she said. She turned her head a little more; saw the boy with the spiky hair. He had clear stuff dripping from his eyes. Why? What was that stuff? She couldn t remember. She frowned. She couldn t remember the boy s name, but she wanted to. She wanted to say the boys name before she died, just one last time. A thought hit her slow, foggy brain. Die. She was going to die. What? She didn t want to die! Valkyrie, she wanted to live, to laugh, grow and learn and run and fight. Fight. Wait, that was why she was dying, because she was Darquesse; because she had shot herself with Skulduggery s gun, because she didn t

want to be evil. She smiled. Now everything would be okay, because she wouldn t be alive anymore to hurt anyone. She smiled again. She looked up at the boy, at the water running from his eyes, and she wanted to say his name, but she couldn t. So instead, she gripped his hand with her last piece of strength and she smiled up at him. She smiled at him with her last feeling, the last emotion she would ever feel. She smiled at the boy, and she saw him smile back. She saw the darkness cloud her vision, felt her eyes closing, closing for the last time, and then she remembered the boy s name. Fletcher she said, and she smiled and held his hand. Then the darkness took over and Stephanie Edgley, Valkyrie Cain, Darquesse, was dead.

14 Out-Of-Body-Experience
When Valkyrie opened her eyes, she didn t know where she was. She wasn t in her home, or Skulduggery s home, or the Sanctuary, Bespoke Tailors, or anywhere else she knew of. Her head hurt. She closed her eyes, willing the pain to go away, but it stubbornly stayed. She opened her eyes again, but she was surrounded by nothing. How was that possible? Where was she? What was this place? I would tell you, but I haven t a clue what this is myself. Came a voice from behind her, and Valkyrie whirled to see her Uncle Gordon standing behind her, hands behind his back and a small smile on his face. Uncle Gordon? Valkyrie said, bewildered. But Gordon was dead. She knew that. Valkyrie frowned, trying to think. Did that mean she was dead too? Wait she had killed herself, using Skulduggery s gun. She remembered now. She she was dead. Um, Gordon, I don t want to sound cliché or anything, but am I in heaven? Gordon laughed. No, I don t think so, Stephanie. She nodded. Good. I m not quite sure where we are, actually he frowned, thinking. I saw your performance. Quite good, actually. So, you re Darquesse, hmm? Valkyrie swallowed. Yes. I am, and that s why I shot myself. I didn t want to harm anyone. Gordon nodded. I understand that decision. But really, Stephanie, I think that was a bit stupid. Stephanie blinked. How? I thought it would save the world if I was dead. Gordon nodded again. And I see the logic in that decision. However, you are needed back on Earth, my dear. Stephanie s eyes widened. How? I am the destroyer of the world. I don t think it needs me,

Gordon. Gordon frowned. Stephanie, listen to me. By killing yourself, you have just doomed the world. What? Stephanie shouted, How? I m Darquesse! Gordon s face became somber. Ah, but you see, Stephanie, there is a creature of great darkness coming. Coming very, very soon. And you, my dear, are the only one in the entire existence of the universe who can kill it. You, my dear, were born to fight this creature of darkness. That is your purpose in this world, he said, You are not Darquesse. You might be one day, but you are not Darquesse yet. You are not Stephanie Edgley either. That is the name from your old life. You name is Valkyrie Cain, and you are the one to vanquish the darkness. She stared at him. I m I m really the only one who can kill it? she asked, doubt in her voice. Surely there s someone else, somewhere? Gordon shook his head. No. No one. And that is why you must stay alive, Stephanie. Valkyrie, not Stephanie, not Darquesse, stood straight. All right. I ll be there when this creature of darkness comes, and I ll get rid of it. It s my sole purpose of existence. She paused. So, uh, how do I get back to earth? Gordon smiled. just close your eyes, and when you are ready, you will go back. He smiled a bigger smile. Stephanie, I will always be watching you, every twist and turn you make. Never forget that. I love you, Stephanie, and I will always help you if you ask for help. Don t be afraid to do what you need to do, or become who you need to be. Remember, you are still Valkyrie Cain. Only you have the power to changer who you are. Valkyrie nodded and stepped forward to hug her Uncle. I ll never see you again, will I? She asked softly. No, but I will always be in your heart. Never forget that. Ever. Valkyrie smiled. Thanks, Gordon. I ll save the world, just watch me. I ve done it before, and I think I m starting to get the hang of it. Valkyrie closed her eyes, and felt a peculiar sensation inside her, like a light, perhaps. She felt herself lift off the ground and start to float away, and just in time she snapped her eyes open and yelled down to her Uncle Gordon, Wait! What is this creature of darkness? she yelled. Gordon yelled a response back, but she couldn t hear him. And then Valkyrie felt herself fall, and her eyes were closed again. She could hear voices, the voices of people she knew. She heard Skulduggery. There must have been another way. Anything. Something. She heard Tanith. Why did she kill herself? Why? That girl was always such a fool. She heard Fletcher. She she s gone. And then Valkyrie opened her eyes and sat up. She looked around, as they cried out in shock and surprise to see a dead girl wake up suddenly, and Valkyrie grinned and said: I m back.

15 Death
Dusk looked around. The room he and Mr Malicious were in was small, cold, damp and unfurnished. Dusk always felt uneasy when he was around Mr Malicious, but he didn t know why. Well, Dusk said to

break the silence that enveloped the room, Is the Cain girl dead? Oh, no. She is very much alive. She is wounded and bleeding badly, but she is definitely alive. Confusion and anger swirled through Dusk. Why not?! he spat. He wanted Cain to die! She shot herself through the head, and you said she had died! Mr Malicious smiled. Yes, I did say that. And she did die. But she met her Uncle on the road to the next life. He convinced her to stay on Earth so that she could kill the creature of Darkness that will soon be arriving on our planet. So she is still here, and I would advise that you not kill her, Dusk, or it might have catastrophic consequences on the world. Dusk was still angry. Cain was the person who had ruined his inhumanly beautiful vampire face with that cursed razor of Billy-Ray Sanguine s. For that, he believed she should die. I am wondering, Dusk said to Mr Malicious, Why you did not choose to hire Sanguine for the jobs you have paid me to do. He is a Hitman Deluxe , as he puts it, and that tunneling trick is very useful. Mr Malicious smiled. Ah, he did not tell you while you were working together, then? In the Revengers Club? Billy-Ray Sanguine wants Cain dead because she stole his magic from him. Dusk eyes widened. How? he asked, intrigued. the previous year at Aranmore Farm, while in a battle between them and the Diablerie and Faceless Ones, Valkyrie Cain cut Billy-Ray Sanguine across the belly, inflicting a devastating wound. Sanguine tried to find someone to fix it, but it just got worse and now he cannot do his tunneling trick. That is why he wants to kill Cain, but he is too afraid to kill her while the Skeleton Detective is so attached to her. If someone were to kill Cain, Skulduggery Pleasant would stop at nothing to get revenge on that person.

16 Ache
Valkyrie s head hurt. Again. God, she was so sick of waking up and finding that her head hurt, damn it! She opened her eyes to see people standing over her. Skulduggery, Tanith, Kenspeckle, Ghastly and Fletcher. Ugghhh . She moaned and tried to sit up. What happened? Valkyrie asked, her head still feeling foggy and achy. Skulduggery stared at her. You mean you don t remember? he asked, sounding a little surprised. I m not sure I don t remember yet, anyway. She paused. Why is my head still heavy? she asked, reaching up to see if there was something there causing the heaviness. She felt a bandage running around her head. It was think and heavy and slightly moist. She paused again. Why is my head bandaged? she asked, dreading the answer. Skulduggery shifted his weight uncomfortably. Uh, you shot yourself in the head with my gun. Then you died, and then you opened your eyes, said I m back , and blacked out. She shot herself? Why had she done that? Her eyes widened as she remembered. Oh. Was all Valkyrie could say. Her eyes narrowed. Wait Then she remembered everything clearly. Crying. Telling them she was Darquesse. Falling to the ground. Telling them to kill her. Running to Skulduggery, taking his gun. Putting it to her head and pulling the trigger. The pain of dying. Why am I alive? Valkyrie said, her voice low. I

should be dead. I m a threat to the planet. I could end up killing you all. Killing everyone. Killing the planet! she finished off, shouting. Oh! she said, remembering her out-of-body-experience with Gordon. I met Gordon. Everyone stared at her. I met Gordon, after I died. I was in this place; it was like oblivion. A void. Gordon was there. He told me Her eyes widened. The world is in great danger. She said. Why? Skulduggery said sharply. Gordon. He told me he told me a creature of great darkness is coming soon, and that I need to stay alive, because because I m the only one in the entire existence of the universe who can kill it. It s my life s purpose. That s why I was born. She looked around at all the surprised and bewildered faces surrounding her, and said, a lot quieter, And he told me that I am not Darquesse yet. Only I can change who I am, and at the moment I am Valkyrie Cain, and it s my job to kill the darkness that s coming to kill us all. For a moment no one said anything. Then Skulduggery spoke. Well, when it comes you had better be ready.

17 Lord Vile
The corpse moved. It was in the caves in which Lord Vile s armor had been recovered a little over two and a half years earlier by Baron Vengeous. The corpse moved again, its left arm twitching a few times before becoming still again. It twitched again. Its right leg moved slightly, and then its neck twisted slightly to the right. The corpse became still again and didn t move for almost a minute. Then the corpse opened its eyes and sat up. The corpse looked around at its surroundings; looked at the bleak stone walls of the grave that had been constructed in a large cave to house the body that lay within. Slowly, stiffly, the corpse stood up, testing its limbs and moving its neck. The corpse s eyes narrowed in anger and confusion. Why had it been awoken from its peaceful slumber? Who had interrupted its comforting sleep? The corpse had been awoken by a sensation that it had not felt since it was alive. The corpse focused, and black armor appeared on it, rolling down its body like steam. The last piece of armor to appear was the mask. It appeared in a burst of shadows. The corpse felt satisfied now, with its armor back in place. Its armor had been taken from the caves, but he had summoned it with his thoughts. The corpse had been awakened because he had felt the power begin to blossom into his rival. His rival, who he knew would come one day, but did not know who it was. His rival. His enemy. His enemy must be killed. It must, or it would surpass even him and become the most powerful sorceress the world had ever seen. The one he had been waiting for. The corpse had been the Necromancy order s Death Bringer, but

had left them and went to join Mevolent. The corpse knew it was time. The next Death Bringer was just beginning to come to power, and he had to kill it. The only one who could kill a Death Bringer was another Death Bringer. The corpse felt it inside him that his rival had come. Lord Vile started unsteadily walking. One way or another, he was going to kill his fellow death bringer. Darquesse.

18 Vision
So, Valkyrie said to Skulduggery, Do we have any new leads? Skulduggery sighed and shook his head. We ve been looking for days, but we can t find anything new. Valkyrie sighed and slid down in her chair. Nothing interesting had happened in days, and Valkyrie was starting to feel bored. Skulduggery s phone rang, breaking the silence and making her jump. Skulduggery was not one to jump . Skulduggery looked at the number on the screen, flipped it open and pressed it to where his ear should have been. Finbar, he said, Nice to hear from you. Good to know you re still alive. What s wrong? he listened for a moment, then said, I see. And you d like Valkyrie and myself to come? Valkyrie frowned. What was wrong? All right, I ll be there soon with the team. Sit tight. He flipped the phone shut and stood up. Looks like we re going to be paying a visit to Cassandra Pharaohs. They pulled up outside the old brick house with the faded red tile roof and the red front door with large bushy shrubs surrounding it on either side. Skulduggery, Valkyrie, Fletcher, Tanith and Ghastly got out and walked up to the faded red front door and knocked twice. It opened after a few seconds and Cassandra Pharaohs and Finbar Wrong were standing there. They weren t smiling, even Finbar. Please, do come in. Cassandra told them, giving them a small, kind smile, though her eyes still looked troubled. I have something to show you in the steam room. In the steam room, Cassandra took a seat on the chair in the centre and opened the yellow umbrella over her head. Ghastly clicked his fingers and sent a fireball beneath the grille, setting the coals alight. Finbar turned the red wheel on the wall and they heard the water moving through the rusted pipes before it reached the roof and sprayed from the sprinklers fitted into the ceiling and the steam started to billow. They heard Finbar turning the wheel again and the water shut off but the steam proceeded to get denser and denser. Then the image came. It was hazy at first, but it got clearer after a few seconds and they saw him. Lord Vile. Tanith gasped, taking a step backwards and almost knocked Ghastly to the ground. The image of Lord Vile strode forwards, towards another figure, a woman in black. Darquesse. Valkyrie struggled to hold back her tears. She was watching herself, and it sickened her. Fletcher saw she was upset and gave her hand a quick, reassuring squeeze. They watched as Lord Vile and Darquesse battled each other,

using their shadows to both attack and defend. They were a real match for each other. They saw another figure, hazy and indistinct, running towards the two great Necromancers who were battling to the death. The figure stopped when it got near enough. It was still blurry, like a fuzzy TV picture. From what Valkyrie could see, the figure had long dark hair and was also dressed in black, but not like Darquesse. She wore black, tight pants and a sleeveless shirt. It looked like she was about fifteen or sixteen. The new figure stepped in between the two, and held out her arms. A burst of shadow burst forth from one of the figure s hands, and slammed into Lord Vile and Darquesse. They would have been thrown off the feet and onto the hard ground, but Vile rolled to the side and flipped backwards, just avoiding the shadows. Darquesse sent forth shadows of her own, attempting to black the shadows from the blurry figure but they just burst when they came into contact with the blurry figure s shadows. Lord Vile growled and leapt forth, slamming into the blurry figure and making her stumble, but a sheet of shadows rose up from behind her and she didn t fall. The shadows turned sharp and shot at Vile, and his shield of shadows scattered when the sharp ones hit it. They pierced his armor and he roared in pain and fell to the ground. Black blood started to leak from the chinks in the armor and dripped onto the ground. Vile tried one last desperate attempt to kill his pursuer, who blocked it with a swipe of shadows. Lord Vile s face hit the ground, and he was dead. The figure stood up and turned around, and they finally saw her face. Valkyrie, Skulduggery, Tanith, Fletcher and Ghastly gasped in shock, for the face was one which they knew well. Especially Valkyrie. Because it was her face.

19 Identity
Valkyrie s mouth fell open. How the hell could this be? They could still see Darquesse far behind the figure, unmoving. And Valkyrie was standing right there, and it was definitely Valkyrie. It had her face, her hair, her physique, everything that Valkyrie had. Yet it couldn t be her, because Darquesse was still behind her. Suddenly Darquesse was right behind Valkyrie and she slammed a shadow into Valkyrie s head. Then the images scattered and the steam disappeared. Nobody moved. Cassandra stood up, folded the umbrella down and walked over to them. That is the future as I have seen it. It can be changed. Would you like a drink? Once again sitting around Cassandra s kitchen table, Valkyrie finally spoke. What was that? she asked, staring around at everyone s faces, Darquesse was there, but then Valkyrie was there at the same time. Skulduggery cocked his head. Why are you referring to yourself by name? he asked her. She swallowed. Because I don t know which one is me. She said quietly. Ghastly cleared his throat. Well, why don t we try to find out what happened in the vision? he said to everyone, Why was there two of the same person? How is that even possible? Tanith raised her head.

Yeah, that s pretty confusing. How could there be two Val s? Fletcher looked up. Well, isn t there already two of her? Everyone stared at him. I mean, He said, What about her reflection? With that, there is two of her. Maybe maybe one of them was the reflection. But which one ? Skulduggery murmured. Which one was the real me? Valkyrie whispered, Which one was Darquesse, and which one was Valkyrie? Skulduggery turned his skull to her. You are Valkyrie. I have no doubt in my mind that the Valkyrie there was you. Why would the reflection know or want to come after Darquesse and kill her, anyway? Valkyrie smiled. So, she said, feeling better than she had in days, I m Valkyrie, huh?

20 Gone
They walked towards the new Sanctuary. Skulduggery had told them that they needed to keep a very close eye on Lord Vile s armor, because he had been wearing it in Cassandra s vision and Skulduggery was sure as hell that Lord Vile wouldn t risk battling anyone without it. They arrived at the building, which was gleaming, polished metal on the outside. It was a high tech science laboratory, and there was a secret entrance to the new Irish Sanctuary, which was beneath it, on the bottom floor. Valkyrie stared idly at the dummies in the Hall of Dummies, which was where the entrance to the Sanctuary was. There were dummies of great inventors and scientists there, hundreds of them. Her gaze fell upon a dummy of Isaac Newton. It had a lopsided grey wig on it and it didn t look much like the real Isaac Newton. So where s the lock? Is it one of the dummies or something? Valkyrie asked, looking around at the dummies. No, Skulduggery replied, pressing a lump in the wall, It s right here. An elevator opened up from a seemingly blank space of wall, and they all stepped inside. It was like an elevator, but there were no buttons on the walls of it and they didn t seem to move, but then the door opened again and they were looking out at the new Sanctuary foyer. It looked a lot like the old foyer; there were paintings and potted plants around, and they had once again cleverly designed it to look neither cluttered nor sparse. There was a large triangular desk with three young women sitting behind it, typing and writing on papers and giving directions and assistance. The room was triangular and large, with the desk marking the dead center. There were countless doorways in all sides of the room, each with a Cleaver standing with its hands clasped behind its back and a scythe strapped to its back standing guard next to each doorway. They walked over to the triangular desk. The lady sitting nearest to them looked up. Can I help you? she asked. We request an audience with the Grand Mage. The receptionist smiled at them. She paused, then said, The Grand Mage has been informed. Please make your way to the waiting room. Skulduggery nodded his thanks, and they started walking towards one of the doors off to the right.

Valkyrie still had no idea how Skulduggery knew where everything was in the new Sanctuary, because this was the first time he had been there. The new Grand Mage was a man called Dee Stricken. He was tall, his arms bulging with muscles, and had incredible intelligence. He had one elder, who was Thurid Guild. The Grand Mage had decided he didn t want Guild thrown in prison, because he said he understood Guild s decision. The sanctuary was keeping a close eye on him though, because most didn t trust him now. These days, he always had a sad expression on his face and spoke less. Valkyrie almost felt sorry for him. We need to keep tabs on Vile s armor, because it s rumored that he can summon it telepathically if it is taken from him. When his armor disappears, we ll know that he s coming. No sooner than these words had left Skulduggery s mouth , they heard running footsteps and Stricken, the new Grand Mage, came around the corner and almost knocked two cleavers and a sorcerer flying. Lord Vile s armor, he panted, It s gone.

21 Reflection
Valkyrie s reflection blinked. It had been asleep in Valkyrie s bed, but it had been woken by a feeling, a sensation it had felt. What? But the reflection didn t register feeling or emotion. The reflection frowned. It was experiencing a feeling now, confusion. Then another feeling hit it. Anger. The new emotion, the anger, swirled through the reflection and its eyes narrowed. She was angry at Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain. She was angry because they had shot it, two and a half years earlier, in a town called Roarhaven, they had shot it, and she was angry about it. She was angry at Valkyrie Cain for never talking to it properly, for always taking advantage of it, for never listening to it and always being mad at it for doing something, however small and insignificant wrong. How does that feel? A voice said from beside the reflection, and it whirled around, feeling new emotions, shock and surprise and fear. The dark silhouette of a man was there. It was sitting on the windowsill, being very still. It had been so still that Valkyrie s reflection hadn t even noticed it. Until now. How does what feel? the reflection asked the silhouette, peering into the darkness in a effort to see who it was. These new emotions. You want to keep them, yes? You want to become real. I can help you, I can make that happen. Would you happen to be interested? Valkyrie s reflection smiled from its own emotion for the first time. Yes, the reflection said, the smile growing bigger over each passing second. Oh, yes indeed.

22

Missing
Valkyrie knocked softly on her window. When the reflection didn t open it, she knocked a little louder, but still nothing happened. Frowning, Valkyrie tugged opened the window as quietly as she could as slid through. She leapt over the bed onto the floor beyond it and started to get changed out of her black clothes. She was about to tap on the reflection to ask it to go back into the mirror so she could go to sleep, but then she stopped. Was it just a trick of the light, or was the bed empty? Valkyrie pulled back the covers on the bed and her fear was confirmed. The reflection was gone. She started to breathe fast, but forced herself to calm down. Maybe the reflection was in the bathroom, or the kitchen having a snack. Valkyrie padded out of the bedroom and made her way to the bathroom at the end of the hall. She tested the door and it swung open. Empty. She crept down to the kitchen and flicked on the light switch. No reflection. Starting to worry just a little, Valkyrie quietly padded around the house, looking for a sign of movement that could be the reflection. It was nowhere. Cursing, she ran stealthily back to her room and shut the door. After changing back into her enchanted black clothes, she dialed Skulduggery s number and when he picked up, she told him the reflection was missing. He told her to sneak out of the window and wait for him at the pier. She climbed onto the windowsill and brought her hands to her sides before slipping off the window sill and used the air to slow her descent. But when she was almost at the bottom, she saw something move right underneath her. A figure looked up and cursed and tried to move out of the way, but was too slow. Valkyrie landed on the figures head and they both went down, the figure squealing. Valkyrie landed standing up, but the figure who was Fletcher Renn sprawled onto his back in a very large, very muddy puddle. Damn, he said, wiping mud from the back of his head. You made me get mud all through my hair. Valkyrie rolled her eyes and started walking towards the pier. Come on, she said over her shoulder, The reflection s missing and we need to find it, fast. Once in the warmth that the Bentley provided, Valkyrie told them both and Tanith who had miraculously appeared how she had come in and found the reflection missing. Skulduggery lowered his skull a little and said, This might be the first step the reflection makes in becoming Darquesse. We need to find it and return it to the mirror quickly before it does any damage. So where do we look? Tanith asked him, It could be anywhere, couldn t it? Skulduggery s skull tilted. Unfortunately, that is the case. And we have no idea if it left on it s own free will or if it was under orders from someone. Valkyrie s eyes widened. But that guy in the red suit, Malicious, didn t he say that my true name had been sealed centuries ago? Tanith considered

this. That s true, she said, But he could have been lying. Maybe we should- But Tanith was cut off from the look on Valkyrie s face. Val? Val, what is it? Valkyrie closed her eyes, struggling against the feeling she had suddenly had. What was it? She searched her mind, trying to recall it. Valkyrie opened her eyes. I just sensed it. Where the reflection is. If Skulduggery had had eyes, they would have widened. How? He asked. I don t know. But I sensed it. And and I sensed that when we get there, it s going to be dangerous.

23 Process
Valkyrie s reflections eyes opened. It had been taken to a factory, it remembered that, and the man had tried to force it into a clear glass tube filled with faintly luminous dark purple bubbly liquid. When it had refused, the man had suddenly become enraged, and forced it in. when the reflections head had been submerged, it had lost consciousness. But it wasn t the reflection anymore. Darquesse sat up, testing her limbs one by one. She stood, and though she was unsteady, didn t fall. She looked down at herself and saw that she had been dressed in an exquisite black dress, floor length with a long train behind it. There was a fine black veil over the top half of her face, obscuring her eyes from people who looked at her. Her boots were tall, and made from black leather with needle sharp points on the ends of them. Perfect for kicking. She smiled. Darquesse looked around. She was standing on a battlefield, but there was nobody there with her. She was alone. She suddenly felt the urge to kill something; take something s life from it just because she had the power to do it. A noise pricked her ears. There was a group of about twenty people walking towards her. They were dressed in grey and each held a scythe in their hands. Darquesse smiled and advanced on them. The first grey thing swung its scythe at her, aiming for her head. She ducked under it and grabbed the things head, wrenched it to the side and let the body fall. She punched a hole in the second things chest, and ripped the next ones head off its shoulders. She swung the head and it cracked against the next grey thing s chest, making it stumble. Three grey creatures attacked at the same time with unnerving precision, but she just swept her hand wide and an unseen force knocked the scythes to the ground. She picked one up using the force and swung it across the grey things, and watched with satisfaction as their torsos fell to the ground with sickening thuds.

Darquesse laughed. This was fun, so she continued to kill the grey creatures in various ways, sometimes pulling off limbs, other times making them impale themselves on their own weapons. As the last creature fell to ground, Darquesse heard a car pull up behind her and she turned, catching sight of her beautiful reflection in the heavily tinted windows. It was a beautiful face, flecked with the black blood of the creatures she had killed. She had black bags under her eyes and black lips. Then the car door opened and six people got out. The first had her face. Darquesse smiled, recognizing the face from her old life, before she had become as real a person as the one standing before her. The second person stood close beside the dark haired girl. He had spiky, untamed blonde hair and she recognized him also. She recognized them all: the scarred man, the exquisitely beautiful black haired woman, the blonde lady with the sword, and the Skeleton in the suit and the hat. Darquesse stepped forwards, laughing. She would enjoy killing these people. Suddenly something cold and hard struck Darquesse s head, and she whirled, snarling, temporarily postponing her kills, and saw the person raise its arm and a wave of shadows hit Darquesse s front and she went tumbling backwards. Lord Vile lashed out with a tendril of sharp shadows, but Darquesse ducked under it and returned the favor with a sliver of shadows which struck Lord Vile s chest plate and he stumbled a little but managed to maintain his balance. He growled, and leapt forwards, slamming into Darquesse. She stumbled and fell, and Lord Vile slammed a shadow into her head and she slumped to the ground, unconscious. Then Lord Vile turned to them.

24 The Battle of Identity

Skulduggery and Ghastly strode forwards, snapped their palms against the air. Lord Vile just moved through the ripples they had created, and kept coming. China tapped matching tattoos on her shoulders and ran up to Lord Vile with inhuman grace and agility. She swung a punch at his head and it connected, sending Vile flying backwards. Vile sent a wave of shadows over to China, who ducked and moved in to punch again, but this time Vile was ready for it and he blocked the punch and delivered on of his own to the side of China s head. She slumped to the ground. Vile kicked her out of the way and advanced on Tanith, who swung her sword in a wide arc and brought it down on Vile s arm, but he blocked the swipe and the several that followed with shadows. The shadows came crashing into Tanith and Ghastly, who had ran up to help her, and they too were kicked out of the way, unconscious. Skulduggery brought out his revolver and fired six times, hitting nothing but shadows that wrapped around his left leg and sent him flying away through the air. He hit the ground and groaned, tried to get up, but failed. Lord Vile strode towards Valkyrie. Oh no you bloody well don t. growled Fletcher, who lashed out at Lord Vile but was batted away with a sliver of shadows. Lord Vile turned his attention back to Valkyrie, the only one still conscious. I was confused, Lord Vile said to her, advancing with a smile in his cold, dead voice. I sensed your presence and fought the woman in black, but now I see that it was you who I was after. Tell me, how is it that she looks so much like you? She is a real person, with emotion and power, yet she mirrors you exactly. How is that so? Valkyrie couldn t speak. She was terrified. Fear coiled and thrashed in her belly, and she felt the strength leave her limbs. Lord Vile kicked her in the chest, and she fell over backwards. Speak! Lord Vile thundered, and turned just in time to see Darquesse rise up behind him, her pretty face distorted with rage and pain. They resumed their fighting, using the shadows to battle. Valkyrie willed herself to get up. It took four seconds until she could move, and she climbed unsteadily to her feet. She watched the battle between the two great Necromancers continue, and then she heard a hiss Valkyrie! From her right. She looked over to see China stretching out her arm, holding something out to her. Valkyrie ran over to China and took the thing from her hand. It was an exquisite intricate black necklace. She stared at it in confusion. What the hell was China doing, wasting her time giving her a useless piece of jewellery?! China opened her mouth to speak, coughed a few times, and said, Put it on, and you will have the courage and the power to go on. Put it on, and defeat them. Then China s head dropped forwards again and she was unconscious. Valkyrie stood, chained the necklace around her own neck and stood slowly, feeling the courage and the adrenaline rushing through her veins. Valkyrie turned towards Darquesse and

Lord Vile, who were still fighting viciously, and ran to them. They stopped in surprise. Valkyrie thrust out both her arms beside her and sent waves of darkness slamming into Lord Vile and Darquesse. Vile rolled and came up, unharmed but startled, and Darquesse raised a shadow shield that burst when the Darkness hit it. It got Darquesse full in the front and she went down, rolled, and came back up again, glaring at the new assailant. Lord Vile growled in anger and slammed into Valkyrie, almost knocking her to the ground, but a wall of shadows rose up behind her and she didn t fall. Valkyrie turned the shadows sharp and they pierced Lord Vile s armor from all sides, and he screamed in agony and fell to his knees with black blood dripping from the chinks of his armor. He sent a weak swipe of shadows to Valkyrie, but she deflected it with shadows of her own. Lord Vile slumped down, dead. Then Valkyrie turned and Darquesse slammed shadows into Valkyrie s head. She fell, the shadows not catching her this time. Slam. The shadows hit Valkyrie s head again and she struggled to raise a shield, but Darquesse batted her hand away and kicked her in the side of the head. Blood started to pour from the wound the boot had inflicted upon her head, and Valkyrie fell to her stomach. Darquesse smiled, raised her boot to smash Valkyrie s head open, when there was gunfire and Darquesse shuddered, and stepped back. Darquesse blinked in surprise, shock contorting her pretty features. She began walking quickly backwards, clutching at the bullet wound in her left temple. Darquesse stumbled to her knees and collapsed, hitting the ground. She was dead.

25 The Battle is over
Valkyrie looked up to see China holding Skulduggery s gun at the spot where Darquesse had stood. She lowered the gun and strode towards Valkyrie and hauled her up. China looked at her for a moment and then hugged her. I don t usually save people s lives because I care about them, or hug them. But you, my dear, are special, and even I see that you are someone to trust and believe in. China smiled at her.

Skulduggery walked towards them unsteadily, and held out his hand. I ll have my gun back now. He said. After a slight hesitation, China laid the revolver in his hand and he put it away into his jacket. Valkyrie, I m glad you didn t die, he said, then looked at the two dead bodies in front of them. Now what are we going to do with these two?

I can organize a small expedition to place Lord Vile in the caves again, she said, And we can store Darquesse in the Hibernian s morgue. No one will come to any danger if she is there. Skulduggery nodded and went to help Fletcher up. Ghastly had stood and was helping Tanith to her feet. Well, said a voice from beside Valkyrie s ear, We won. She turned, grinning, and kissed Fletcher on the mouth. That we did. She replied. She turned back to the others. Well, shall we go to Kenspeckle? In case anyone hadn t noticed, I have a huge gash on my head and it s dripping blood everywhere. Everyone placed a hand on Fletchers arms. To the Hibernian, Skulduggery said, And well done to everyone for yet again saving the world.

26 Afterwards
Valkyrie felt the heavy bandage on her head. I told you to stop touching it, Kenspeckle said crossly, It will only bring infection. He scowled and walked away to tend to Tanith s broken wrist. Skulduggery walked over to her. Congratulations, he said, You have saved the world from yourself. Valkyrie grimaced. Do you think that Darquesse will ever come back and try to take over the world? she asked him. No, I don t think so, he answered, She s being kept inside the new Morgue, and she definitely can t get herself out of there. The only way she could come back is if she went back into the mirror and then waited for someone to call her out again. Don t worry, there will still be a reflection in your mirror when you get home. Valkyrie grinned. So what are we investigating next? she asked him. We need to track down who changed your reflection into a real person, made her into Darquesse. And we need to find out how. Valkyrie looked at him in anticipation. A new mystery. She said, and they both laughed.

27

Awakening
Darquesse opened her eyes. She was back in a mirror. She blinked a few times, as if awakening from a deep sleep. You re back. Said a voice, and she turned to find the silhouetted man who had transformed her standing outside the mirror. I m afraid you re going to have to wait a while before you cam become Darquesse again, he continued, You used all your power going back into the mirror. But don t worry, you will be back soon, Darquesse. The reflection squinted in the dim light. Who are you? she asked the man, but he was gone. The reflection sat back in the mirror, and started waiting. Darquesse would rise again, of that she was absolutely sures.

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