Thank you for the reviews! This chapter (and the ones following) will have KOTW spoilers.
Valkyrie woke up drowning in her hair.
She sputtered, grabbing strands of it out of her eyes and her mouth and her nose. She tried to sit up, but she accidentally put her hand on top of a section of it and nearly ended up ripping her head off her neck.
She growled with frustration, grabbing it all and throwing it over her shoulder in a twist, and with her bare legs she kicked off the blankets. She glanced at the wall to her left- it was always dark and gloomy in the house on Cemetery Road, but the view from her window was bizarrely cheerful, sunshine pouring through. This made her feel slightly less grumpy, but it took a lot to put Valkyrie Cain in a good mood in the morning.
Her head turned around, ears pricking up, and she realized her alarm was still going off. It hadn't woken her up, though. She scowled, wondering how much she overslept while she stretched towards the nightstand and slipped her thumb over the hold button. The time came up, cheerful in it's big blocky white numbers, over the picture of her and Alice on her touch screen.
Valkyrie swore extravagantly (and loudly) and vaulted out of bed, glad that Skulduggery hadn't came in and put her clothes away yet, because she needed them now. She made the effort to grab panties from her drawer, but the rest she just scooped off on the floor, slipping into her work pants so fast she nearly fell over. Then she had to stagger to fix her balance, bumping into her wardrobe, loudly, in the process. She swore again.
Her boots were down stairs, so she pulled on a pair of white socks with two different cuts and sped down Skulduggery's stairs, jumping the last set with air magic and landing on both feet with a loud stomp.
"You are awfully loud today," Skulduggery quipped from the living room.
"Why didn't you wake me up?" Valkyrie snapped, glaring in his general direction. She moved through the living room to the kitchen, and his gaze followed her as she stomped through.
"I was about to," he replied. "But you looked so peaceful, snoring and drooling away. I felt like it would be a crime to interrupt the human miracle of sleep."
She considered throwing something at him, and then decided he wasn't worth the effort. "Just because you don't sleep doesn't mean you get to judge those you do," she retorted, opening the kitchen cabinet.
Skulduggery came through the doorway. "I suppose I was just jealous. I don't have hair that gives me a very becoming mustache while I sleep."
Her grip on the cereal box tightened, and she looked away from the bowl she was pouring into to shoot him another glare, one that could be counted on to stop anyone and everyone in their tracks.
"Very attractive," he added, and she nearly took back her previous decision and sent the cereal box flying at his head.
"You're dead to me," she said into the box as she replaced it in the cabinet, and he laughed. It was an honest laugh, louder than his usual voice and boisterous. It was rousing to her, even if it was at her expense, because Skulduggery being in a good mood always had a positive effect on her. Content that the teasing had no malicious intent and he was (mostly) innocent, she opened the fridge and kneeled down to get the milk from the door drawer. She heard him take out his pocket watch- there was the click-click-click of the chains coming together, and then his smooth voice saying "ah," very softly.
"Time to go," he said abruptly, and grabbed her by her arm and began to drag her across the kitchen.
"But my cere-" She protested, dropping the unopened milk on the counter. She shimmied her shoulders, trying to get out of his grip. But he simply adjusted it, draping his arm around her and continuing to usher her through the house.
"Can't. There's no time. We have a meeting with someone in forty-five minutes."
They speed walked, strides perfectly matched, though Valkyrie had to walk much faster to compensate. Valkyrie's mind was already calculating the familiar drive. They'd barely make it. Exasperated, she abandoned any idea of breakfast.
"Then why didn't you wake me up!?"
"Like I said," Skulduggery replied, letting go of her so she could put on her boots, "I was about to."
She pulled on her boots, kicking her leg up higher than she needed to and nearly kicking Skulduggery in the ribs. That was on purpose. Then she pulled on her other boot and nearly toppled. That was not. Skulduggery caught her by the elbow. His other hand slid to her waist, and he helped her up.
"My, we are clumsy this morning," he murmured into her ear, amusement in his voice.
"Shut up," she muttered back. They both looked up at the large clock behind them in unison.
Without another word, the detectives rushed out of the house.
They had made it, but Skulduggery was speed walking when they entered the Sanctuary, and Valkyrie didn't want to be left behind.
He had briefed her on the way over there. They had a proper mystery to investigate, and their client had requested a meeting to get all of the details out. It involved no murders or crazy teenagers, which was refreshing, but she still wanted a case by the poolside. Especially with the weather as nice as it was, she had told Skulduggery. He hadn't said anything.
They turned a corner and Skulduggery suddenly stopped. "There he is," he said.
Valkyrie lifted her head and looked into the dark hall. There stood a boy. He had hair bleached by the sun, and a pair of sunglasses was arranged purposely on the crown of his head. He wore an expensive looking polo shirt, and an expensive looking pair of shorts, and a very expensive looking watch. It gave him the overall image that he had recently escaped from a magazine shoot and was being hunted by murderous photographers. He was handsome and tall, and he was twenty-two years old.
He was Hansard Kray, and he hadn't noticed either of them yet.
Valkyrie jumped behind Skulduggery, heat rushing to her face. "You didn't say it was him." She said, keeping her voice down.
"I didn't think it would help your motivation this morning," he replied. "Evidently, I was right. Come on. He won't bite."
"Don't even joke. I'm still mad at you. …God, do you see what he's wearing? It's like he's showing off. Taunting me."
He said nothing, just turned to look at her, and she was forced to emerge behind his tall figure, trying not to look like an idiot. She wondered if her hair was still all over the place.
Skulduggery walked towards Hansard, and held his gloved hand out.
"Mr, Kray," he said, and they shook hands. Then it was her turn.
"Detective Cain," Hansard said. "It's nice to see you again." He didn't sound openly hostile, at least. She reached out and took his hand, and used that moment to admire his watch. It had a rose with thorns for the watch face- his family's crest- and at each hour number was a small symbol, too tiny for her to make out. His grip was firm and polite, and at least he didn't seem to be repulsed by her. Maybe he had forgotten the whole thing.
"Thank you both for coming." He found a desk near them and sat, like it was his work place and they had come to see him.
"Not a problem," Skulduggery said smoothly.
"I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't accepted. I don't trust anyone else with this case."
Valkyrie raised an eyebrow. "It's that important?"
Hansard raised his chin and looked directly at her. "To me? Yes. I heard about what happened with Argeddion. It's the only reason my father is letting my consult with you two. Your work was thorough and dedicated, and as neat as you could be with something like that. You saved us all, and I'm glad I could help."
"You helped immensely, Hansard," Skulduggery said.
Hansard looked slightly less serious. "It was nice, to have a hand in the world saving for once. And your integrity there assured me that I could ask you about this case and it could remain a secret."
He spread out his hands on the desk, and Valkyrie got to look at his watch again. She noticed the symbol of the Faceless ones woven into the design, beautifully subtle. It had been created by a true artist, and it made every other crest she had seen look like clumsy child's work.
"Shipments have been disappearing off our ships," Hansard explained, glancing down at his hands.
"For most of the journey, they're fine, untouched, but like clockwork, the night just before they're to be picked up, anywhere from ten to fifty percentage of the cargo goes missing. Always in the middle of the night, always completely undetectable. It's baffled all of us and our cliental is not very happy, to say the least. It seems to me that the problem lies in the ocean itself- my main department, the railroad, has had no such problem. Well, no actual problem. There was the incident with the Hallow Men three months ago…"
Valkyrie felt her face go slightly warm.
"…But that's beside the point. I need the two of you to investigate the areas where our cargo went missing and report back to me."
He took his phone from his pocket, and on it was an underwater map with coordinates. He tapped at his screen, typing something quickly, and she felt her own phone buzz in her pocket.
"These are dangerous waters, Mr. Kray," Skulduggery said, looking at his phone. It was an older model than either hers or Hansard's, and the picture wasn't as clear. "Why won't you investigate it yourself?"
"Well, it's exactly as you said, detective…"
Valkyrie's stomach growled suddenly. Hansard looked at her, fair eyebrows raised, and she lowered her head as she felt her cheeks heat up.
"Pleasant." Hansard continued, after a prolonged pause. "It's too dangerous for an individual like myself to swim in those waters, looking for a hoard of items that may or may not be there."
"But my partner and myself are expected to go with no hesitation?"
Hansard looked weary. He raised his arm up, and opened his palm. Valkyrie was baffled until she realized he was gesturing to illustrate, "well, look at me."
"What," Valkyrie said, responding with a teasing lilt in her voice to make up for her own embarrassment earlier. "Do the sea monsters eat people with sunglasses that cost more than a new Sanctuary building?"
Hansard's lips twitched, something that looked like an involuntary smile that he was trying hard to keep off his face. "You know what I mean," he said. "The danger for the two of you is much, much less."
Skulduggery harrumphed. "And why would this be worth the effort and risk?"
"I assure you," Hansard said, smiling. It was a smile meant for business, and it made him look like his father. "I will make it worth your while."
"He wasn't kidding," Valkyrie said later, in the Sanctuary's parking lot. "I think that's more than I've been paid since I started working here."
"They didn't even pay you until last year," Skulduggery pointed out.
"True. But still. That's a lot of money, Skulduggery." He didn't seem to care, so she continued on. "We could buy watches like his. And a tennis court, to match. Turn our lives around. We'd no longer be, you know, the heathens in the nice suits. We could be proper, fancy mages."
Skulduggery slid into the Bentley. He made a tutting noise with his non-existent tongue. "You've certainly thought this through, for someone who was just mocking our client for his nice sunglasses. With that in mind, I'm not sure you're fit for high society."
"Well, neither are you." Valkyrie retorted. "You don't even have a crest. They'd probably turn us commoners away at the door. Hey," she said suddenly. "Where are we going?"
"We are getting you breakfast."
Valkyrie leaned back in her car seat, bouncing slightly. "Yes. Keane's?"
"Yes!" She repeated, cheering.
"All is forgiven?"
"There is nothing to forgive," Valkyrie said wisely, and she was already thinking about what she was going to order.