Shadows In Darknes

Shadows In Darkness is the second book in the series with Dynamic Skull.
Bert now has an assistant who isn't quite normal...

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4. Veronica

     The arrow sliced through the running man’s leg, sending him to the mud, screeching.

     ‘Good shot.’ said Veronica Shadows

     Kieran Ex knocked another arrow in his bow and they wandered through the gloomy forest.

     ‘They say man is the most dangerous prey, but actually rabbits are much harder to hit.  Still, there’s nothing quite like the panicked squeal a mortal makes when they know they’re about to die.  It’s quite relaxing, in its own way.’

     ‘I heard you were quite a hunter, and it seems those stories are true.’

     ‘I’ve been doing this since I was a boy,’ he said. ‘My father used to take us out, me and my four brothers.’

     ‘I didn’t know you had any siblings.’

     ‘I don’t.  When we reached our teenage years, my father threw us all into a pit and announced that only one of us was coming out alive.  I was the smallest of my brothers, but the most ruthless.’

     ‘What a charming story.’

     ‘It was a different time back then.  A simpler time.’ Ex settled into an archer’s stance, pulled the bowstring back, and let fly.  The arrow caught the hobbling mortal in the back and he fell, face down. ‘What do you want, Veronica?’

     ‘Oh, it’s not what I want,’ said Shadows. ‘It’s what you want, too.  We should be allies.  Combining my Church, with your Church of the Peaceless in America.  We could rule the world, you and I.  First, we take over England and America, and then we’ll snatch Antarctica, followed by Africa.  We’d be amazing together.’

     Ex chuckled. ‘And there, you see, we have our problem.’

     ‘Oh?’

     ‘My Church doesn’t need you, Veronica.  We’re strong enough as we are.  We’re funded and resourced by seventy per cent of those Mages that worship the Peaceless Ones.  Aligning ourselves with your Church wouldn’t give us the rewards it would give you.’

     ‘Ah, but I think you’re deliberately ignoring some key facts.  We have something you don’t – a Cradle of Magic.  The Biaderie successfully brought back the three Peaceless Ones only a couple of years go.  We have a track record, as they say.  We have credibility.’

     ‘But you’re weak.’

     ‘Compared to your organisation, perhaps.  But we’re growing stronger.  And I don’t say this to offend you, but I’m not a wanted criminal yet.’

     Ex laughed. ‘No offence taken.  To be honest, though, my renegade status has actually helped my Church.  The people I represent are nervous by nature, unwilling to proclaim their beliefs for all to hear.  They look to me for leadership, as someone who isn’t afraid to stand up to the Sorcerers Academies.’

     ‘And they’re also, I would expect, more than a little afraid of you.’

     ‘Fear helps things run smoothly.’

     ‘I would imagine so,’ said Shadows. ‘But you didn’t come all this way just to turn me down straight, now did you?’

     ‘No, no I didn’t.  I’m interested in your offer, just with a few amendments.’

     ‘Such as?’

     ‘Well, your church will have to merge into mine, not the other way round.’

     ‘Oh, so we’ll be joint leaders, yes?’

     ‘Um…no.  My people are quite shy, and they only want me in charge.  So you’ll have to be my second in command.’

     Shadows’ face fell for a moment or two, but she quickly turned it upside down to form a smile. ‘Ok.  Great.  So you’ve agreed?’

     Ex nodded and Shadows jumped up and down and hugged him, ‘Thank you so, so much.’ She planted a kiss on his cheek and skipped away like a child in a park.  Ex smiled.

 

***

 

     A dark shape flitted high above the streets of London, moving from rooftop to rooftop, spinning and twisting and cavorting in the air.  He wore no shoes and his footsteps were light, he trod no more than a whisper, snatched away by the night breeze.  He sang to himself as he moved, and giggled a high-pitched giggle.  He was dressed in black, with a battered top hat that stayed perched on his misshapen head no matter what acrobatic feat he performed.  His suit was old, torn and musty, and his long-fingered hands were tipped with elongated, hardened nails.

     He landed on one leg on the edge of a rooftop and held his pose.  His lanky body curled.  He looked down at Charing Cross Road, at the people passing below him, at the cars zipping by.  His cracked lips pursed, his small eyes moving, he browsed the selection on offer, making his choice.

     ‘Mr Grimm.’

     He turned quickly to see the young girl walking towards him.  Her long coat was closed and the faint breeze played with her strawberry blond hair, teasing it across her face.  And such a pretty face.  Mr Grimm hadn’t seen a face as pretty as that for years.  His lips parted, showing a set of rotting teeth, and gave her his best smile.

     ‘Mirabelle,’ Mr Grimm said in a voice that was high and strained, in an accent from East London and….something else….something unknowable. ‘You’re lookin’ ravishin’.’

     ‘And you’re looking revolting.’

     ‘You’re too kind, I’m sure.  Now, what brings you to my part of the woods?’

     ‘It’s not your neck of the woods any more Mr Grimm.  Times have changed.  You shouldn’t have come back here.’

     ‘Where was I gonna go?  Old Folks’ Home?  Retirement village?  I’m a creature of the night, my beautiful sister.  I’m Mr Grimm, ain’t I?  I belong out here.’

     ‘You belong in a cell.’

     He laughed. ‘Me?  In captivity?  For what possible crime?’

     ‘Apart from murder, you mean.’

     ‘Is that still illegal, then?’

     ‘Yes, it is.’

     She opened her coat, revealing the sword against her leg. ‘You’re under arrest.’

     He tittered, did a flip in the air, landed on his right foot and grinned at her. ‘Now this is new.  You were always pokin’ your nose where it wasn’t wanted, always dealin’ out what you thought was justice, but you never arrested anyone.  You a proper copper now, that it?  You one of the constabulary?’

     ‘Give up, Mr Grimm.’

     ‘Bloody hell, you are.  Consider me impressed.’

     Mr Grimm dipped his head, looked at her with those small eyes of his. ‘What was it you used to say before things got all rough an’ tumble?  ‘Come and have a go—‘

     ‘If you think you’re hard enough.’

     He grinned. ‘Do you?’

     Mirabelle Clerke withdrew her sword from its scabbard.  It caught a beam of moonlight and held it, and she looked back at him without expression. ‘I’ll let you decide that.’

     And Mr Grimm sprang.  He flipped over her and she turned, ducking the swipe of hard nails, moving again as he landed, narrowly avoiding the return swipe and twisting to face him as he came at her.

     He batted the sword to one side and his right foot connected with Clerke’s thigh, his toenails digging in, and he clambered up, kneeling on her shoulder.  She grabbed his wrist to avoid the nails.  She stumbled, unable to support his weight, but he jumped before she hit the rooftop, landed gracefully as she rolled to a crouch, and then dived at her again.

     They went tumbling.  He heard the sword clatter from her grip, and felt her foot on his belly as she kicked.  He did a flip and landed, but her fist was right there, smacked him square in the face.  He took a few steps back, bright lights dancing before his eyes.  She kicked his knee, and he howled in pain, then there was a grip on his wrist and a sudden wrenching.  He pushed her away, his vision clearing.

     ‘You should be leavin’ me alone.’ He spat. ‘I’m unique.  I’m an endangered species, you should be protectin’ me.’

     ‘You know what they do to endangered species,’ she said. ‘They put them in enclosures so no-one can hurt them.’

     ‘Enclosures,’ Mr Grimm thought about it for a second. ‘That’s a fancy word for a cell, innit?  And you’re not takin’ me anywhere near a bloody cell.’

     And then it drifted up to them, the sound of a baby crying.  Mr Grimm’s expression softened and he smiled again.

     ‘Don’t even think about that.’ Mirabelle warned.

     His smile turned into a grin, then a leer.

     ‘Race you.’ He said.

     Mr Grimm ran to the edge of the building and then there was nothing beneath his feet but air, and the next rooftop swooped to meet him.  He landed and ran on without missing a step.  He glanced over his shoulder; saw Mirabelle Clerke trying to keep up.  She was good, that girl, but this was something he was made for.  He was the prince of London city.  It let him go where it let no-one else.  He knew it like he knew his own face.

     The baby’s cry came again and he changed direction, heading away from the busier areas, tracking it over streets and alleyways.  His powerful legs propelling him through the darkness and he spun and dug his feet into brick.  He ran sideways, the length of the building.  He saw Mirabelle moving on a parallel course, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, trying to intercept him before he reached his goal.

     One last cry from the baby and Mr Grimm zeroed in on an open window, high above street level.  He made a series of small jumps, building his momentum.  He saw Mirabelle out of the corner of his eye, sprinting to catch up.  Too slow, he thought to himself.  He leapt from one side of the street to the other and dived straight in, clearing the window and going for the crib.

     But the crib held only blankets, and the room was dark and unfurnished, not like a baby’s room at all.  And why had the window been open?  It wasn’t warm enough to have the window open—

     The baby’s cry, much louder, was coming from a small device that sat near the window.

     It was a trap.  She had tricked him.

     He moved to the window, but she had walked up the side of the building and was climbing through.

     Out there,’ she said, ‘in open air, I didn’t chance of catching you.  But in here, in a confined space?  You’re all mine, ugly.

     Mr Grimm panicked, went to the door, but it wouldn’t budge; there was a sheen to it he could see, even in the darkness, and he knew it would withstand whatever he had to throw at it.  He whirled.  His only way out was the window – the window that Mirabelle Clerke now guarded.  She laid her sword on the ground, and took off her coat.  Her tunic was sleeveless and her arms were strong.  She rolled her neck, loosening up her shoulders, and nodded to him.

     ‘Now,’ she said, ‘Finally.  Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.’

     Mr Grimm roared and went for her, and she kicked him.  He swiped, and she ducked, and smacked him across the jaw.  He tried to flip over her, but the ceiling was too low, and he bellyflopped onto it, felt his breath leave him and crashed to the floor.  After that, all that registered was a whole lot of fists and elbows and knees, and a wall that kept running into his face.

     Mr Grimm collapsed.  He breathed hard and groaned in pain.  He stared up at the ceiling.  He could see the cracks, even in the dark.  Mirabelle stepped into view, looking down at him.

     ‘You ready for your nice warm cell now?’

     Mr Grimm whimpered.

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