Dead Man Walking.
The detectives simultaneously clicked their fingers, and angry balls of flames appeared, flickering in the palm of their hands for a second, before being hurled at the opponent and being replaced with another fireball.
The muscular men facing the detectives were doing their best to dodge the fireballs that were flying towards them, smothering the fire that did hit them, and putting out the flames before they had the chance to spread.
Suddenly, she became aware of the shadows in the alley, they seeming to be shifting, stretching, and rushing towards Valkyrie’s feet. Valkyrie was no longer throwing fire. The shadows continued, crawling up her arm, lingering at her fingertips. She drew back her arm, before throwing it in front of her, a whip of darkness bowling her enemy off his feet. Another tendril of shadows shot forwards and pinned him there, and she took a step towards him, intending to end their battle.
The thin man was back to physical contact now, hurling punches and kicks, before catching his foe in a chokehold. And then it was over.
Seven powerfully built men now lay, limp and unresponsive, on cracked concrete. Valkyrie turned, catching sight of Taia. “Skulduggery,” She called, not moving her gaze from Taia, “Somebody may need to have a word with Geoffrey.”
Taia gasped as the thin man, Skulduggery, turned to face her. Valkyrie clamped a hand over her mouth. Skulduggery frowned. Or at least, he would have frowned, were his face not hanging by a thread, torn diagonally between his eyes.
Valkyrie exploded into laughter, Skulduggery looked at her, bemused, and Taia stared, fish-eyed, at the torn wax skin that bordered an immaculately clean, white, human skull.
“Don’t worry,” The man called Skulduggery gestured to Valkyrie, who lay curled up on the floor, still laughing. “She’ll be back to her annoying self in no time.”
Time passed. The laughter, however, did not.
“Okay, I have one girl unable to breathe, and another unable to take her eyes off me.” He paused, “The second one can be justified. My looks are undeniably amazing.”
Between gales of laughter, Valkyrie managed to force out some words. “Skulduggery, I... I don’t think you... realise...” Another wave of laughter flooded over her. “She’s definitely looking at your face... but not... not why you’d think...”
“What’s wrong with my face?” He asked, confused.
Valkyrie tossed her mobile phone to him, and he peered at the reflection of himself.
“Ah.” He paused, “This could take some explaining.”
Valkyrie managed to stop laughing, caught her breath and stood up. “You think Geoffrey Scrutinous would explain it well?”
“Hmm? Oh, maybe.”
“You’re thinking.” She tilted her head. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking, she reminds me of you, when I first broke down the door of your late uncle’s house.”
Valkyrie glared at him.
“And if she is anything like you, she won’t just let this go.”
“Not even if she talks to Scrutinous?” Valkyrie asked hopefully.
“Would you have given up?”
“No, but... But she’s not me.”
Taia sighed. “Look, would you just tell me what’s going on?”
“Ah,” Skulduggery hesitated. “This isn’t my real face.”
“Yeah, I got that.” She said, blankly. “I was thinking of the fire. The fire and the shadows.”
“Ah.” Skulduggery cocked his head, thinking. “We’re just figments of your imagination?”
A groan sounded at Taia’s feet and she slammed her boot into the offender’s head, sending the hefty man back to sleep. “As is he, I suppose.”
Skulduggery sighed and turned to Valkyrie “See, just like you. Doesn’t believe a word I say.”
Shrugging, Valkyrie responded. “Get better at lying then.”
“I’m a great liar” Skulduggery retorted.
“And get rid of the façade, it’s not exactly useful anymore.”
“Right.” Skulduggery tapped his collar bones and the tattered remains of his face subsided, before disappearing completely, leaving only a skull, with a black hat settled at the top, like icing on a cake.
Taia blinked. “You’re a skeleton.”
“Yes, I am.” Skulduggery replied, crouching down to shackle one of six unconscious men.
“And you can talk.”
“That’s pretty remarkable.”
“I am, rather, aren’t I?”
“It’s also pretty impossible.”
“Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you?”
“So, how does it work?”
Skulduggery was now shackling the fourth man. “Magic.” He said, blankly.
“No,” Taia shook her head, “Seriously, how does it work?”
“Can you think of any other reasonable explanation?”
She hesitated. “Fine. And the shadows and fire, they’re magic too?”
“So, are you alive?”
“You’re dead, then?”
He hesitated. “Not exactly...”
“So, you’re more, kind of, undead.”
“Well, yes but–”
“You’re a Zombie.”
“No, I’m not a–”
“He’s a magical detective.” Valkyrie muttered. “No more, no less.”
“Then what are you?” Taia asked, ignoring Valkyrie completely.
“I’m a skeleton.”
“We’ve been through this part already.”
“Ah, yes.” Skulduggery said, before pausing. “Valkyrie, I appear to be out of shackles.”
She shrugged. “You’ve used mine already.”
Skulduggery cocked his head.
“One hand each?” Taia suggested
“One hand each. That way they won’t be fully bound, but they’ll all be partially held back, so you can take them down again easily enough.”
Skulduggery nodded. “Good idea. And as a bonus, it will still keep them bound from using magic.” He looked at her, and Taia guessed that if he had a face, he might be smiling. “Maybe you’re not so much like Valkyrie, after all.”
His companion scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, unlike you were, she is still thinking straight.” He told her, removing the shackles from one man’s left hand, and putting it around another’s right hand. “And she hasn’t fainted yet,” He added.
Valkyrie scowled even more, and more still when Taia began to laugh.
“You fainted?” She asked.
“I was attacked by a man who had jumped through the window, saved by a man who blasted down the door, and abruptly threw fire at the first man, who turned into a human fireball before being shot by the fire-throwing man who turned out to be a skeleton.”
“So you were attacked by a man, and then witnessed magic used by a man who turned out to be a skeleton.”
“Sounds very similar to what happened here; except that I was attacked by three men, witnessed two people throw fireballs, and one person flinging shadows. And someone turned out to be a skeleton.”
“She has a point.” Skulduggery chimed in.
Valkyrie scowled again.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” Skulduggery asked, gesturing to Taia’s arm.
Until then, she’d forgotten all about it. “No.” She replied. “Wait, yes. Yes it does.”