I've wanted to do a story about the Dead Men for a while, but Lilith Grace got there before me. However, she gave me permission to go ahead and do my own one, so thanks for that. I'm really grateful.

"You're sure about this, little brother?"

"Yes, for a thousandth time, I'm sure. You're in the army, aren't you? And stop calling me "little brother". I'm older than you."

"Yeah, but I'm taller. Also, I'm more mature."

"Just shut up."

"And as you've so kindly pointed out, yes I am in the army. And it isn't a job I'd advise anyone to take up."


"I just worry about you, little brother."

"Well you shouldn't, younger sister."

"Immature brother."

"Reckless sister."

"You're calling me reckless? You, Skulduggery? Remember that time in the Himalayas?"

"Which would have seemed very irresponsible of me until you remember that I can manipulate air so it wasn't really all that dangerous."

"It was very dangerous."

"I think we're getting a bit off-topic here."

"Unbelievably dangerous."

"Can we move on, please?"

"Untold quantities of dangerous!"

"Yes, I get that. Move on?"

"And that, my dear brother, is why I do not want you in the army. Knowing you, you'd walk onto the battlefield wearing a huge sign that reads "Aim this way, please" then proceed to jump up and down waving your arms at Mevolent's men and hollering at the top of your voice."

"That would make a good distraction," he mused.


"Sorry, Aoibhinn. I promise not to walk onto the battlefield wearing a sign that says "Aim this way, please"."

"That's all I ask."

"Unless of course someone tapes it on me and I don't notice it."

Aoibhinn rolled her eyes and gave an exasperated sigh.

"I give up on you, Skulduggery. Just try not to be this flippant when you're in a life or death situation and your nonsense could get you killed."

"No promises."

"Skulduggery... I'm going to miss you."

"What are you talking about? You're never at home anyways."

"Yeah, but when I am, you probably won't be. And knowing you, chances are you'd get yourself killed on your first day."

"Probably not on my first day."

Aoibhinn sighed.

"Who'll keep your ego from getting too big when you're gone?"

"I'll find someone to do that, don't you worry. Artemis, probably."

"She's joining too?"

"Yeah. I thought I told you."

"You probably did, but I was too distracted by the likelihood of your slow and painful death at the hands of one of Mevolent's men."

"You worry too much about me."

"That's because you don't worry enough about yourself."

"That's because I never underestimate by own skill."

She snorted.

"Well, just take care, ok?"

"When do I not take care?"

"I don't know, every second of the day perhaps?"

"I do take care. Just not an awful lot of care."

"Well then, take more care, ok?"

"I'll do my best."


A loud sigh interrupted them.

"When you two are quite finished, I have a carriage to drive here. If you're coming, boy, then hop right in. If you're not, then don't, but I need to get going."

Skulduggery hopped in.

Ghastly Bespoke sat across from his mother and said nothing. She was the first one to speak.

"You're going to survive this."

"Yes, I am."

"Wouldn't it be easier to just not do it?"

"You're the one who suggested it in the first place."

"Yes. I know. I'm just having second thoughts about it, is all."

They lapsed into silence again. Ghastly realized he was drumming his fingers on the table again. He stopped, then picked up a piece of cloth and started stitching. In, out. In, out. It set its own kind of rhythm, amplifying the quiet.

"I wish you would stop doing that."

Ghastly yanked the thread abruptly, then cursed under his breath as the stitch came apart.

"Doing what?"

"You know what. Stitching while we're talking. It makes me feel like you're ignoring me."

Ghastly muttered something like "didn't realize we were talking", then took a sip from the glass of water on the table. Minutes passed. Neither said anything. Ghastly checked the clock.

"I should go now. Don't want to be late on my first day."

"Don't be silly. You're waiting for your father to pick you up. He'll teleport you there, you won't be late."

"Mum, I can't get 'picked up'. I'm twenty."

"Yes, you can."

Tick, tock. More minutes.

"Dad's not here yet."

"I can see that. Have patience."

Someone spoke from the back of the room.

"Not here yet, am I?"

Ghastly shrieked and flew off his chair. His mother just sighed.

"Dear, how many times do I have to say this? Don't teleport into the living room. It's rude. Use the front door like a normal person."

"Why bother? C'mon, son, let's go."

Ghastly was just relieved to get away from the tension in the room.

"Yeah," he said, "Let's go."

"Stop grinning like a maniac. You could get killed. That isn't a good thing."

"Sorry. I didn't realize I was grinning."

"And comb your hair. It's distracting me."

"How can it be distracting you? You're not even doing anything."

"It's distracting me from my thoughts."


Five minutes later, Dexter Vex was still grinning and his hair was every bit as untidy as ever. His best friend sighed.

"There's no getting you to do anything you don't want to, is there?"

"Nope," Dexter chirped, "there's really not."

"You're annoying, you know that?"

"You tell me every second of the day."

"I don't know why I ever said I'd accompany you."

"Neither do I."

"Well, we'll be there in about five minutes, and then it'll be good riddance to you."

"Don't worry," grinned Dexter, "I'll find someone else who can bask in my awesomeness."

"I pity your future comrades."

"Sour grapes, my friend. Sour grapes."

"Hopeless, I'm not going to try to dissuade you anymore, but I want to ask you something. You're a Sensitive. How, exactly, is that supposed to come in handy in close combat?"

"That sounds an awful lot like you're trying to dissuade me."

"Well, I'm not. I'm just asking a question."

"You're my cousin. You're supposed to be cool and fun to be around. You're not supposed to disapprove of my choices."

"God, Hopeless, just answer the question, will you?"

"Fine. If you must know, close combat comes down to physical force more often than magic. So there."

"Don't act like that."

"Like what?"

"You know what - you've gone all stubborn and pigheaded and get all mad whenever I even suggest you should reconsider this."

"Can't make me reconsider it."

"And that's exactly what I mean."

"You're not going to convince me of anything."


"So you might as well stop trying."

"There you go again."

Hopeless glared and Carmen held his gaze. They stared at one another like this for a few minutes, neither of them willing to give in. Hopeless began to tug at his tie, like he always did when he was nervous. Carmen noticed, but didn't react. Finally, Hopeless sighed.

"Sorry for getting all moody and everything. It just annoys me when you go all responsible on me."

"Someone has to."

"I can be responsible."

"Yes, but only when it fits in with whatever you've set your mind on at the moment."


"You're very difficult."

"I do my best."

"This conversation is getting us nowhere."


She sighed.

"Just shut up, will you?"

"You're the one who started this converstation."

"And you're the one who hijacked it out of my control."

"Well, what did you think? That you could make me reconsider?"

"It's your choice, Hopeless, I just think it's a bad idea."

"And you can keep thinking that, as long as you don't try to coerce me into anything."

"Of course not."