The Maleficent Seven (From the World of Skulduggery Pleasant) (15 page)

BOOK: The Maleficent Seven (From the World of Skulduggery Pleasant)
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Tanith laughed. “Oh, Thames, you misunderstand. I’m keeping this entirely, one hundred percent professional. You have something I want, yes? And, as it just so happens, I have something you want.”

“Which is?”

So Tanith told him what she had that he wanted so, so badly, and − she had to hand it to him – he didn’t respond right away. If she hadn’t known better, she could have sworn he really didn’t care.

“Is that so?” Chabon murmured.

“I propose a trade,” Tanith said. “You take me to the secret door into the Sanctuary, and I give you what you want. After – what, two years? – your search will finally be over.”

Chabon looked at her. “Fair enough. But if you try to cheat me...”

Tanith clapped her hands delightedly. “Splendid news! Thames, I don’t mind telling you, you’ve made me a very happy girl.”

he room Tanith backed into was filled with cages, and in those cages, men and women stood and sat. These people were the worst of the worst, criminals of such a sickening and grotesque order that they had to be held here, in the Sanctuary itself.

The White Cleaver pursued her steadily down the steps, sparks flying as their blades clashed. The prisoners started to shout and cheer as Tanith was forced back, enemies all around her. The Cleaver’s blade passed along her belly, drawing blood. She retreated under his impossibly fast onslaught, barely managing to keep up her defence.

The prisoners reached through the cage bars at her, pulling at her hair, trying to scratch her. One of them snagged her coat and she spun out of it before the Cleaver could close the gap.

He swung and she blocked with the scabbard and flicked up with the sword, but he was twisting the scythe, deflecting the strike and coming back with one of his own.

The prisoners howled with laughter as she ran to the wall, the Cleaver right behind her. She jumped to the wall and kept going till she was upside down, and she crossed the ceiling, trading blows with the Cleaver below her. He was forced to walk backwards, to defend and attack over his own head. She struck his hand with her scabbard and he dropped his scythe. She flipped to the ground, grabbed it with one hand while the other drove her sword into him.

The prisoners stopped jeering. The Cleaver took a step back.

She buried the scythe blade in his chest. He fell to his knees, black blood dripping on to the floor.

The prisoners were muttering now, cheated out of seeing her die. Tanith pulled her sword from the Cleaver’s body and ran for the steps.

She heard a crash from elsewhere in the Sanctuary. The Repository. Valkyrie and Skulduggery were in trouble. Urgency lent her speed. Just as she neared the top step, however, one of the prisoners laughed.

She looked back, saw the White Cleaver standing, pulling the scythe from his body. She turned for the door again, ran the last few steps and then the breath went out of her. She looked down, at the tip of the scythe that protruded through her chest.

The Cleaver walked up the steps towards her. That was some throw. She almost laughed. Her sword fell from her grip. He took hold of the scythe. He circled, moving her around, looking at her like he was observing her pain, remembering what it was like. A twist of his hands and she was forced to her knees. She gasped when he removed the weapon. Her body was shutting down.

He raised the scythe. Tanith looked up, ready to die, but when he had circled her, he had passed through the doorway, and was now standing out in the corridor.

She lunged, slamming the door in his visored face. She pressed her hand against it and whispered, “Withstand.” The sheen spread over the door just as the Cleaver began to pound on it from the other side.

Tanith tried standing but her body couldn’t take any more. She slumped to the ground. The prisoners watched from their cages with delighted eyes, and as her blood seeped through her tunic, they started whispering. The whispers filled her head, slowly flooding every recess and corner of her mind. Time dragged, became something abstract. Unreal. How long had she been sitting here? How much blood was there left for her weak heart to pump through the wound?

She started crawling. Down the steps. The strength left her arms and her weight fell forward and she tumbled the rest of the way to the floor. It didn’t even hurt, though. Not on any level she could feel. Those whispers blocked the pain, and she started crawling again, to the cages. There was one held off the ground, and inside it was a man with dark hair, whispering with all the others. He reached down and she reached up and his hand found hers and he pulled her, helped her to stand. He never stopped whispering. None of them did.

She pressed her hand to the lock on the cage. This wasn’t an easy one. She really had to concentrate. She frowned. Bit her lip. The lock clicked. Tanith stepped back, blinked, watched the cage door open and frowned again. Had
she
opened it? Why had she opened it? Why would she—

Her legs gave out and she fell, but there was a man beside her and she dropped softly into his arms. It was the man from the cage, the one she’d released. He lifted her. Even if she’d wanted to struggle, she wouldn’t have been able to. Her life was dripping on to the floor, robbing her of her strength. The whispers had stopped.

“I’m dying,” she mumbled.

“Not if we get you medical assistance,” replied the man. He carried her to the door, tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge.

She shook her head. Her thoughts were jumbled. “The White Cleaver,” she said.

“He’s gone by now,” said the man. “Open the door.”

Some part of her knew that this wasn’t a good idea. Some part of her, growing quieter with every slow heartbeat. She was finding it hard to keep her thoughts in order. She reached out. He moved her closer, so she could rest her hand flat against the door. It took a few attempts, but finally, Tanith focused long enough for the door to stop shimmering. Behind her, the prisoners in the cages started laughing again. The man put her down.

“No,” she said dully.

“Moribund,” said another one of the prisoners, “hurry. Release us.”

The man, Moribund, ignored the call. He knelt by Tanith’s side.

Her mouth was dry. “You tricked me,” she whispered.

“I am sorry,” he said. “I was imprisoned here a long time ago. I have to escape while I can.”

“Free us!” a woman demanded.

Moribund looked back at the cages. “I won’t be doing that,” he said.

The woman spoke again. “What are you talking about? This was our plan!”

“This was
my
plan,” Moribund corrected.

“But it wouldn’t have worked without us!”

“And for that I am grateful. But each and every one of you is a killer. Each and every one of you has claimed innocent lives before you were thrown in those cages, and were I to release you, you would go on to claim many more. No. You’re staying where you are.”

They stared screaming at him, cursing him, flinging threats and spittle.

Tanith tried sitting up, but Moribund laid a hand on her shoulder. “Save your strength,” he said.

“I’ll stop you...”

“Why would you want to?”

She gritted her teeth. “I let you out...”

“And that wasn’t your fault. Who are you? What’s your name?”

Tanith collapsed back. It was all she could do to keep her eyes open. “Tanith Low,” she said.

Moribund nodded to her. “Tanith Low, when a sorcerer’s power is bound, it doesn’t disappear – it just becomes inaccessible. But there are faint dregs of magic that are still available to us. Too weak on their own, when combined with others, they can perform one single task – instil a simple command into an unsuspecting mind. Injured as you are, you were the perfect candidate. You are not to blame for releasing me, Tanith.”

“I can’t let you go. You’re a... you’re a killer like them...”

Moribund glanced back at the screaming prisoners. “I was worse,” he said. “Once upon a time, I was the most evil person in this room. But I’m not that man any more. I’ve changed. I don’t expect you to believe me. In your place, I wouldn’t. But it’s true, and now I have several lifetimes’ worth of evil to make up for. Starting today.”

He moved her, propping her up against the wall, alleviating the pain slightly. “I will send word once I’m clear of the Sanctuary,” he said. “If no one has found you by then, I’ll get a doctor to you. You’re going to live, Tanith Low.”

“And what’s to stop them from... getting me to open another cage?”

“It won’t work if you’re aware of what’s happening.” He stood up. “I have to go.”

“I will find you,” she said.

He smiled down at her. “No, you won’t. But I’ll find you. I owe you a favour, and I pay my debts.”

ane and O’Callahan returned the Gulfstream V jet to the hangar from which they’d taken it, as good as new, if you didn’t count the bullet holes and rocket damage. Vex borrowed a car without asking and they drove into the City of London, and as morning broke a doctor named Brennock poked at Vex’s leg with a pen. “You’ve been shot,” he said.

Vex nodded. “I can see we’ve come to the right person.”

“You only said
she
was shot,” Brennock continued, nodding to Aurora as she sat on the bed. “You said one person with a bullet wound, not two. Definitely not two. You didn’t say
you’d
been shot. This is very, very unprofessional. I have half a mind to walk out of here and leave you to your injury.”

“You fixed Aurora,” said Vex.

“Yes, he did,” Aurora said, tapping her side. “Stings a bit, but otherwise good as new.”

“She was lucky,” said Brennock. “It passed right through without hitting any vital organs.”

“Did any of my vital organs get hit?” Vex asked. Then, “Do legs
have
any vital organs?”

Brennock folded his arms. “You didn’t tell me there were two people who needed my help.”

“I thought that might have put you off. I know how reluctant you can be to leave your house.”

“We’re
in
my house.”

“I was talking metaphorically.”

“We’re in my house,” Brennock repeated, “and Ms Jane is getting bloodstains all over my sheets while your friends downstairs are eating all my food. I can’t be seen talking to you people. Anyone who has any contact with an operative from the Irish Sanctuary has to report it, did you know that? We’re to report it immediately and, if possible, delay them until the Cleavers get here.”

“Grand Mage Ode must not like us.”

“Well,” said Brennock, a little haughtily, “you did get our last Grand Mage killed.”

“Strom may have died on Irish soil,” Vex said, “but it was an English blade that took his life, or has Ode forgotten that Tanith Low was the one to swing it? We’re going up against her right now, for God’s sake. Ode should be thanking us.”

“No one mentions Low when they talk about Strom. They just talk about how he died because of the Irish Sanctuary.”

“Well, that’s convenient,” Vex muttered.

“I could go to prison for helping you.”

“It’s appreciated.”

“That’s all? That’s all you’re going to say?”

“It’s...
really
appreciated?”

“What about compensation for the risk I’m taking?”

“I could give you a hug.”

“I’m talking about money!”

“You can’t put a price on hugs.”

“You’re making jokes? You’re making jokes while you’re putting my life in danger?”

“Oh, your life’s not in danger.”

“They could execute me for harbouring fugitives.”

“We’re not fugitives. We haven’t committed any crime that they’re aware of. If anything, you’d be executed for aiding the enemy during a time of near-war. So that’d be treason.”

“Oh my God.”

“Brennock, we appreciate the risk you’re taking in helping us. We do. But I’m not going to pay you because that would cheapen both of us. Besides, you owe me. Who introduced you to your wife?”

Brennock frowned. “A mutual friend.”

“Ah, but who introduced you to your mutual friend?”

“My brother.”

“My point, Brennock, is that if you go far enough back into your past, I’m sure you’ll find someone with a link to me. Or at least to Saracen. He gets around.”

“I do,” Saracen agreed as he poked his head in. “Gracious is back.”

Vex looked at Brennock. “Doc, seriously. Fix me.”

Brennock hesitated, then scowled. His hands started glowing, radiating heat. “Try not to move,” he said, and placed his hands over the wound. The heat intensified and Vex gritted his teeth.

Aurora slid off the bed and went downstairs, but Saracen stayed, and peered closer. “What are you doing?”

“Disintegrating the bullet shards,” Brennock mumbled.

The heat spread and Vex was sure he could feel his skin starting to blister. And then it was over, and Brennock took his hands away and coolness rushed in.

“It’s already started to heal,” Brennock said, dabbing the wound with ointment. He wrapped Vex’s leg with a bandage and gave him a pouch of leaves. “Chew one every hour,” he instructed. “It’ll be fine, so long as you don’t get shot in the same place.”

“You’re a good man, Doc,” said Vex. He put his weight on his leg and it wasn’t bad at all.

“You’ll be leaving now, I expect?”

“Absolutely,” said Vex. “Leaving soon, anyway. As soon as it gets dark.”

“You’re spending the
day
here?”

“Ah, you’re very kind. Thank you. But I have to insist, the moment night falls we are
gone
. Midnight at the very latest.”

Brennock glowered. “In that case, I think I shall go for a very long walk.”

“Probably wise.”

Brennock left and Vex joined the others in the kitchen. By the time he got there he wasn’t even limping any more.

“Dexter,” said Gracious, “I was just telling the others here – I talked to my friend. He says there have been no recent disturbances inside the Sanctuary.”

Vex nodded. “Hopefully that means Tanith hasn’t broken in yet. Which means she’s going in tonight, and so are we. This friend of yours – do you think he’ll be able to let us in?”

“Not without getting himself arrested. But don’t worry, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I’ve been working on. You leave it to me.”

“Fair enough,” said Vex. “But I have to admit, now I’m slightly nervous. Whatever you have planned, keep in mind that we need to be stealthy. In and out without making anyone suspicious. It’s going to be risky, and if we’re caught, we’re going to prison. Or we’re going to get killed. So anyone who thinks they have better things to do on a Saturday night, now is the time to walk away.”

No one moved. No one spoke. Until Saracen leaned in towards Aurora.

“We might die tonight.”

She glared at him, then shrugged. “Help me up.”

He took her hand and they walked out, and Gracious hung his head.

 

There’d been all kinds of plans for how to sneak into the Sanctuary, but each one was discarded because either it wasn’t very good or it wasn’t very possible. In the end, they just walked up to the side door and knocked.

The door opened and the Administrator, Merriwyn Hyphenate-Bash, looked out. Her gaze took them all in, and then settled on Frightening.

“Mr Jones,” she said, “I wasn’t aware of an appointment.”

“No appointment,” said Frightening, “but I need to gain entry nonetheless.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but security has been tightened and rules must be obeyed. If you’d like, I could have a representative of the Council come outside to meet with you, and if he is satisfied, we can begin formal procedures to get you a temporary visitor’s pass.”

“What do you make of this?” Gracious asked, stepping forward and handing her a small glass cube.

Once it was in Merriwyn’s hand, it started glowing. “It’s certainly very pretty,” she said, gazing at the colours. “Where did you find it?”

“It was just over there,” said Gracious, “I thought someone might have dropped it. The lights are interesting, aren’t they? Almost hypnotic.”

Merriwyn nodded. “Very pretty indeed.”

“They’d almost put you to sleep, wouldn’t they? If you look at them hard enough.”

“They might very well do.”

“You can almost feel your eyelids getting heavier...”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“Look at all the nice colours...”

“I’m looking.”

“Feel yourself getting more and more tired...”

“I’m not really tired, though.”

“Feel your eyelids starting to droop...”

Vex sighed as Gracious toppled over in a deep, deep sleep.

“Oh, my,” was all Merriwyn had time to say before Aurora punched her and she collapsed into Frightening’s arms.

Donegan nudged Gracious in the face with his foot until his partner moaned and sat up. “That,” Donegan said, “was brilliant. You have outdone yourself, Gracious, you really have.”

Gracious blinked sleepily. “Did it work?”

“You’re a genius,” said Donegan. “A magical, mystical genius. They’ll write songs about you in years to come. They won’t be any good, these songs, and they’ll mostly be out of tune and have a lot of humming, but they’ll be songs, and that’s the important thing.”

Vex helped Gracious to his feet and they all slipped through the door.

“Two Cleavers in the next room,” Saracen whispered. “Both of them facing us.”

“I’ll handle this,” said Gracious.

Aurora frowned. “Are you sure?”

Gracious waved away her concerns, and took a red rubber ball from his pocket.

“They’re not puppies,” Donegan reminded him.

“Everybody shield your eyes,” Gracious said as he squeezed the ball a few times, bounced it and then lobbed it through the doorway. Vex looked away just before a bright flash lit up everything.

Silence. No alarms raised.

Gracious crept to the door and looked out. Finally, he breathed in relief. “It worked.”

Vex and the others followed him out. Two Cleavers stood perfectly still.

Frightening approached one slowly, waving his hand in front of the visor. “What did you do to them?”

“They’re on sensory shutdown,” said Gracious. “They’ll come to in a few minutes with no idea that anything weird happened.”

“Sensory shutdown? OK, that sounds fine. But are you sure you haven’t just wiped their brains?”

“Pretty sure,” said Gracious. “I mean, yeah, it’s a risk, but... No, they’re fine. My calculations were correct. This isn’t the first time I’ve used this, and the test subject showed no signs of impaired cognitive ability.”

“Who was the test subject?” asked Aurora.

“I test everything out on myself before taking it into the field.”

She stared at him. “You zapped your own brain?”

“And it didn’t do me any harm apart from the dizziness and the vomiting spells and the weirdly persistent ringing in my ears. Also the blackouts and the mood swings and the creeping paranoia. Apart from that, zero side effects, if you don’t count numb fingertips. Which I don’t.”

“Because he also lost the ability to count,” said Donegan.

“That was temporary,” snapped Gracious. “We’re in, aren’t we?”

“Yes, we are,” said Vex. “And now we need to get to the sword without encountering any mages or Cleavers. Saracen? Think you can guide us?”

“Sure,” said Saracen, and closed his eyes. He swivelled his head slowly, and then pointed. His eyes opened. “This way.”

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