“She turned to Skulduggery and held out her arms. “Come here, you.”
He tilted his head. “My hugs are for special occasions only.”
“I prefer the old tradition.”
“Would a handshake do?”
“A pat on the back?”
She stepped forward and wrapped her arms round him. “Hug,” she said.
He sighed, and his hands settled on her shoulders. The others were warm and their embraces strong – with Skulduggery the hug was cold, and there were areas on his jacket that gave way beneath her fingers, and she could feel the emptiness within. She didn’t mind.”
“Are you sulking?”
“Me? No. I don’t sulk.”
“You sound like you’re sulking.”
“I’m just waiting for the violent urges to subside.”
“Suddenly Saracen Rue looked old and tired, and Skulduggery Pleasant came into focus as what he really was – a genius, a killer, a tortured soul, and the only true dead man among them.”
“I don’t want a perfectly safe weapon. I want a dangerous weapon that hurts people.”
He took the stick from her, rapped it against her head. She howled and he nodded.
“See? It hurts people.”
“Thank you,” Skulduggery said to her. “I fear he was about to start insulting me.”
“I couldn’t let that happen,” she said. “Your ego is a fragile and delicate thing.”
“You see? You understand me.”
“Reading those books is all he does these days. I think he’s even read some of them twice. What kind of disturbed individual would read the same book twice, I ask you?”
“Dexter, please put your shirt on. Valkyrie’s getting distracted.”
“I’m not,” she said, then smiled at Vex. “You don’t have to put your shirt on.”
“If he can't get to the clock, any idea how we deal with this lot?"
"With great care," Donegan suggested.
"How about we run off shout and they follow?" Said Gracious. "Then, just when they think they've caught us they fall into our trap."
"OK," said Tanith. "And that trap would be?"
"A big hole we'd dug earlier and covered with branches.'
Tanith frowned. "I thought you were meant to be smart."
Gracious frowned back at her. "Who told you that?"
"Gracious is book smart," said Donegan. "He leaves the real world thinking to people like you and me and small dogs that he meets."
"The innocent are often the wisest.”
“She wants to be polite and not hurt your feelings, so she's not going to laugh right now. But inside, inside she's laughing.”
“Sanguine felt the ridiculous urge to reach out and poke him, just to see if he’d react, but he’d seen that kind of anger before. It was the quiet kind. The dangerous kind.”
“There's a clock on the wall. Press your hand against the face and turn it very slightly to the. Left. There'll be a click to tell you it's done."
"Sounds easy enough."
"Yes it does," said Sanguine. "Kiss for good luck?"
"Maybe later," said Gracious.
"How about a handshake?" Asked Donegan.”
“This book is dedicated to you.
Whether you are a Minion or a Skuttlebug or just, you know, a normal person, it’s because of you that I get to do what I love and laughingly call it work.
I know some of you by name and some of you by sight (and some of you by smell, but let’s not get into that) but there are still countless others I have never met, and to all of you I say thank you for your support, your passion, and your lunacy.”
“I know she was sent to keep an eye on me and then kill me, but … do you think she did fall in love with me, even just a small bit?”
“She stuck a knife in you.”
“That’s rarely a good sign.”
“But hey, you had some good times, didn’t you?”
“Yes. Yes we did.”
“Before she stabbed you.”
“They have a name for it these days. They have a name for everything these days. They call it Second Lifetime Syndrome, and it happens when a sorcerer watches her family and friends age and die around her. You’ll latch on to other mages from that moment on, because what’s the point of going through all that pain again? Valkyrie, there are some stark realities you have to face. You’re going to look the way you do for the next eighty years. In two hundred years, you’ll look twenty-five. You won’t be able to form attachments to mortals. They will start to notice something is different about you when they’re lined and saggy and you’re still young and perky. You’re going to have to say goodbye to your parents before they start to ask questions.”
“strike from the shadows, disapear into darkness”
“I was going straight for Mantis, but then that bloody gas got in my eyes and, I don't know, some massive bloke reared up in front of me. I hit him, but I swear, it was like hiting a wall."
Gracious nodded. "You hit a wall."
Maybury blinked at him. "I what?"
"I saw it. You ran into a cloud of gas and stumbled around for a second until you reached a wall, and then you shrieked and punched it. It was very heroic.”
“He looked at Ghastly. "Thoughts?"
"I want to kill Sanguine," was the first thing Ghastly said. "And I want to do it slowly, in front of a lot of people. Using a hammer”
“Portia followed after, a smirk on her face, and Syc hissed as he passed.
Donegan waited till they were gone, then swung round to Gracious.
"He hissed at me."
"He hissed at you."
"Should I hiss back?"
"It's a bit late."
"He could still hear."
"Not unless you run after him."
"Do you think I should?"
"I think I should."
"It'd be a bit weird."
"You might be right." Donegan pursed his lips, then shook his fist at the doorway.
"That showed him," said Gracious.
Donegan nodded. "He'll think twice about hissing at me again.”
“He things we think he's a double agent, working for them but secretly working for us. He doesn't know we know he's a triple agent, working for them but secretly working for us but really he's secretly working for them. Dexter, how's your brain?"
“Night descended on Roarhaven like a woolly blanket of blackness with holes in it that were the stars.”
“He looked at Ghastly. "Thoughts?"
"I want to kill Sanguine," was the first thing Ghastly said. "And I want to do it slowly, in front of a lot of people. Using a hammer."
Skulduggery nodded. "Very healthy.”
“The Engineer smiled (internally, for of course it had no mouth). It was feeling good. It was feeling optimistic. Moving at its current speed, it would arrive back in Ireland in plenty of time to shut everything down before a series of overloads and power loops inevitably led to a sequence of events which would, in turn, eventually lead to the probable destruction of the world. The Engineer wasn't worried.
And then the truck hit it.”
“The door handle turned. Someone knocked, and a man's voice called, "Uh, hello?"
Valkyrie looked at Skulduggery, looked back at the others, looked at Skulduggery again.
"Hello," Skulduggery said, speaking loudly to be heard over the alarm.
"Hi," said the man. "The door's locked."
"That's funny" said Skulduggery. "Hold on a moment." He reached out, jiggled the handle a few times, then stepped back. "Yes, it's locked. You wouldn't happen to have the key, would you?"
There was a delay in response from the other side. "I'm sorry," the man called, "Who am I speaking with?"
Skulduggery tilted his head. "Who am I speaking with?"
"This is Oscar Nightfall."
"Are you sure?"
"Are you sure you are who you say you are? This is the Great Chamber, after all. It's a very important place for very important people. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that someone, and I'm not saying that this applies to you in particular, but someone could conceivably lie about who they are in order to gain access to this room. I have to be vigilant, especially now. There's a war on, you know."
Oscar Nightfall sounded puzzled. Who are you?"
"Me? I'm nobody. I'm a cleaner. I'm one of the cleaners. I was cleaning the thrones and the door shut behind me. Now I can't get out. Could you try and find a key?"
"What's your name? Give me you name."
"No. It's mine."
"Tell me your name!"
"My name is Oscar Nightfall."
"What? No it isn't. That's my name."
"Is it? Since when?"
"Since I took it!"
"You didn't ask me if you could take it. I was using it first."
"Open this door immediately."
"I don't have the key."
"I'll fetch the Cleavers."
"I found the key. It was in the keyhole. It's always the last place you look isn't it? I'm unlocking the door now. Here we go."
Skulduggery relaxed the air pressure, opened the door, and pulled Oscar Nightfall inside. Valkyrie stuck out her foot, and Oscar stumbled over it and Vex shoved him to Ghastly and Ghastly punched him. Oscar fell down and didn't get up again. Skulduggery closed the door once more.”
“With the speed of a cobra, Scapegrace lashed out at Bagatelle, catching him on the ear with a vicious chop. He ducked as Shun reached for him, and spun with a kick that came dangerously close to landing. Mud fired off a punch that Scapegrace blocked with his chin, and Scapegrace countered with a flailing hand to the air as he fell.”
“We're authors, too," Donegan said, "and we've been trying to get into the picture-book market. We have this idea for a Where's Wally type thing, except in ours, you'd have to find the one living person hiding in among all the dismembered corpses while the chainsaw-wielding killer hunts him down. You know, for kids."
"We're going to call is Save the Survivor," Gracious said.”
“I am what prevents the Accelerator from being a bomb."
"Except you didn't," said Gracious. "Because you weren't around."
"I got bored."
"You're a machine."
"Machines can become bored, too."
Gracious looked suddenly concerned. "My toaster is bored?"
"Perhaps, " said the Engineer. "I do not know many toasters.”
“With age comes wisdom, you ever hear that?"
"I did, but I've found that wisdom has a cut-off point of around one hundred and twenty years. Once you reach that, you're really as wise as you're going to get.”
“Should we change our name?" Saracen asked. "The Dead People, perhaps?"
"The Dead Non-Gender-Specific Persons?" Vex suggested.
"Dead Men and a Girl? Dead Men and a Little Lady?”
“What are you doing?"
"I'm, uh, acting normal."
"No you're not. You're acting like someone pretending to be normal. Stop pretending and start acting, but don't act like you're not pretending, that'll make it worse.”
“Ghastly Bespoke’s opinions were not always right. It was his opinion, for example, that he could stand with his back to you and you wouldn’t stick a knife in it. How wrong he was.”
“She wondered if all the firsts in her life would go by so quickly, and be forgotten just as quickly.”
“Besides, it’s not as big a deal as people make it out to be. You just have to be prepared to answer any question on any of the four hundred books you’ve read so far in graduate school. And if you get it wrong, they kick you out,” she said. He fixed her with a look of barely contained awe while she stirred the salad around her plate with the tines of her fork. She smiled at him. Part of learning to be a professor was learning to behave in a professorial way. Thomas could not be permitted to see how afraid she was. The oral qualifying exam is usually a turning point—a moment when the professoriate welcomes you as a colleague rather than as an apprentice. More infamously, the exam can also be the scene of spectacular intellectual carnage, as the unprepared student—conscious but powerless—witnesses her own professional vivisection. Either way, she will be forced to face her inadequacies. Connie was a careful, precise young woman, not given to leaving anything to chance. As she pushed the half-eaten salad across the table away from the worshipful Thomas, she told herself that she was as prepared as it was possible to be. In her mind ranged whole shelvesful of books, annotated and bookmarked, and as she set aside her luncheon fork she roamed through the shelves of her acquired knowledge, quizzing herself. Where are the economics books? Here. And the books on costume and material culture? One shelf over, on the left. A shadow of doubt crossed her face. But what if she was not prepared enough? The first wave of nausea contorted her stomach, and her face grew paler. Every year, it happened to someone. For years she had heard the whispers about students who had cracked, run sobbing from the examination room, their academic careers over before they had even begun. There were really only two ways that this could go. Her performance today could, in theory, raise her significantly in departmental regard. Today, if she handled herself correctly, she would be one step closer to becoming a professor. Or she would look in the shelves”
“When a man dreams his own dream, he is the sport of his dream; when Another gives it him, that Other is able to fulfill it.”
“Then what is there for you? What is there for you if he does not love you?" Nothing.”
“I believe, my dear Erienne,” he began solicitously, the humor in his voice disguised by a disapproving frown, “that you either have a penchant for self-destruction… or you are somehow testing me… or my ability to protect you. I think this may bear further investigation.”
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