Read Skulduggery Pleasant Online

Authors: Derek Landy

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Action & Adventure - General, #Children's Books, #Magic, #Action & Adventure, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Children: Grades 4-6, #All Ages, #Large type books

Skulduggery Pleasant

BOOK: Skulduggery Pleasant
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Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant #1)

Derek Landy

This book is dedicated to my parents,

John and Barbara.

Dad--this is for your bizarrely unwavering

support and unflinching faith.

Barbs--this is for that look on your face

when I told you the good news.

I owe you absolutely everything, and y'know,

I suppose it's entirely possible that I feel some, like, degree of affection toward the two of you. . . .

CONTENTS

One Stephanie 1

Two The Will 9

Three Little Girl, All Alone 24

Four The Secret War 42

Five Meeting China Sorrows 57

Six A Man Apart 82

Seven Serpine 92

Eight Ghastly 97

Nine The Troll Beneath Westminster

Bridge 120

Ten The Gal in Black 129

Eleven The Little Bit of Crime 163

Twelve Vampires 174

Thirteen The Red Right Hand 200

Fourteen Elemental Magic 209

Fifteen The Torture Room 222

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Sixteen What's in a Name? 227

Seventeen A Fabulous Rescue Indeed 243

Eighteen On the Roof, at Night 255

Nineteen The Experiment 264

Twenty The Family Curse 267

Twenty-one The Cave 286

Twenty-two The Scepter of the Ancients 300

Twenty-three Thoughts on Dying Horribly 310

Twenty-four Planning for Murder 319

Twenty-five The White Cleaver 322

Twenty-six The Last Stand of. . . 336

Twenty-seven No Calm Before the Storm 340

Twenty-eight Carnage 349

Twenty-nine Deep in Dublin, Death 361

Thirty An End, a Beginning 387

viii

Page Intentionally Blank

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Chapter One

Stephanie

Gordon Edgley's sudden death came as a shock to everyone--not least himself. One moment he was in his study, seven words into the twenty-fifth sentence of the final chapter of his new book, And the Darkness Rained upon Them, and the next he was dead. A tragic loss, his mind echoed numbly as he slipped away.

The funeral was attended by family and acquaintances but not many friends. Gordon hadn't been a well-liked figure in the publishing world, for although the books he wrote--

1

tales of horror and magic and wonder--regularly reared their heads in the bestseller lists, he had the disquieting habit of insulting people without realizing it, then laughing at their shock. It was at Gordon's funeral, however, that Stephanie Edgley first caught sight of the gentleman in the tan overcoat.

He was standing under the shade of a large tree, away from the crowd, the coat buttoned up all the way despite the warmth of the afternoon. A scarf was wrapped around the lower half of his face, and even from her position on the far side of the grave, Stephanie could make out the wild and frizzy hair that escaped from the wide-brimmed hat he wore low over his gigantic sunglasses. She watched him, intrigued by his appearance. And then, like he knew he was being observed, he turned and walked back through the rows of headstones and disappeared from sight.

After the service, Stephanie and her parents traveled back to her dead uncle's house, over a humpbacked bridge and along a narrow road that carved its way through thick woodland. The gates were heavy and grand and stood open, welcoming them into the estate. The grounds were vast, and the old house itself was ridiculously big.

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There was an extra door in the living room, a door disguised as a bookcase, and when she was younger Stephanie liked to think that no one else knew about this door, not even Gordon himself. It was a secret passageway, like in the stories she'd read, and she'd make up adventures about haunted houses and smuggled treasures. This secret passageway would always be her escape route, and the imaginary villains in these adventures would be dumbfounded by her sudden and mysterious disappearance. But now this door, this secret passageway, stood open, and there was a steady stream of people through it, and she was saddened that this little piece of magic had been taken from her.

Tea was served and drinks were poured and little sandwiches were passed around on silver trays, and Stephanie watched the mourners casually appraise their surroundings. The major topic of hushed conversation was the will. Gordon wasn't a man who doted, or even demonstrated any great affection, so no one could predict who would inherit his substantial fortune. Stephanie could see the greed seep into the watery eyes of her father's other brother, a horrible little man called Fergus, as he nodded sadly and spoke somberly and pocketed the silverware when he thought no one was looking.

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Fergus's wife was a thoroughly dislikable, sharp-featured woman named Beryl. She drifted through the crowd, deep in unconvincing grief, prying for gossip and digging for scandal. Her daughters did their best to ignore Stephanie. Carol and Crystal were twins, fifteen years old and as sour and vindictive as their parents. Whereas Stephanie was dark haired, tall, slim, and strong, they were bottle blond, stumpy, and dressed in clothes that made them bulge in all the wrong places. Apart from their brown eyes, no one would have guessed that the twins were related to her. She liked that. It was the only thing about them she liked. She left them to their petty glares and snide whispers, and went for a walk.

The corridors of her uncle's house were long and lined with paintings. The floor beneath her feet was wooden, polished to a gleam, and the house smelled of age. Not musty, exactly, but . . . experienced. These walls and these floors had seen a lot in their time, and Stephanie was nothing but a faint whisper to them. Here one instant, gone the next.

Gordon had been a good uncle. Arrogant and irresponsible, yes, but also childish and enormous fun, with a light in his eyes, a glint of mischief.

4

When everyone else was taking him seriously, Stephanie was privy to the winks and the nods and the half smiles that he would shoot her way when they weren't looking. Even as a child, she'd felt she understood him better than most. She liked his intelligence, and his wit, and the way he didn't care what people thought of him. He'd been a good uncle to have. He'd taught her a lot.

She knew that her mother and Gordon had briefly dated ("courted," her mother called it), but when Gordon had introduced her to his younger brother, it was love at first sight. Gordon liked to grumble that he had never gotten more than a peck on the cheek, but he had stepped aside graciously, and had quite happily gone on to have numerous torrid affairs with numerous beautiful women. He used to say that it had almost been a fair trade, but that he suspected he had lost out.

She climbed the staircase to the first floor, pushed open the door to Gordon's study, and stepped inside. The walls were filled with the framed covers from his bestsellers. They shared space with all manner of awards. One entire wall was made up of shelves jammed

5

with books. There were biographies and historical novels and science texts and psychology tomes, and there were battered little paperbacks stuck in between. A lower shelf had magazines, literary reviews, and quarterlies. She passed the shelves that housed first editions of Gordon's novels and approached the desk.

She looked at the chair where he'd died, trying to imagine him there, how he must have slumped.

And then a voice so smooth, it could have been made of velvet.

"At least he died doing what he loved."

She turned, surprised, and saw the man from the funeral in the overcoat and hat standing in the doorway. The scarf was still wrapped, the sunglasses still on, the fuzzy hair still poking out. His hands were gloved.

"Yes," she said, because she couldn't think of anything else to say. "At least there's that."

"You're one of his nieces, then?" the man asked. "You're not stealing anything, you're not breaking anything, so I'd guess you're Stephanie."

She nodded and took the opportunity to look at him more closely. She couldn't see even the tiniest bit of his face beneath the scarf and sunglasses.

"Were you a friend of his?" she asked. He was tall, this man, tall and thin, though his coat

6

made it difficult to judge.

"I was," he answered with a tilt of his head. This slight movement made her realize that the rest of his body was unnaturally still. "I've known him for years, met him outside a bar in New York when I was over there, back when he had just published his first novel."

Stephanie still couldn't see anything behind the sunglasses; they were black as pitch. "Are you a writer too?"

"Me? No, I wouldn't know where to start. No, but I got to live out my writer fantasies through Gordon."

"You had writer fantasies?"

"Doesn't everyone?"

"I don't know. I don't think so."

"Oh. Then that would make me seem kind of odd, wouldn't it?"

"Well," Stephanie answered, "it would help."

"Gordon used to talk about you all the time, boast about his little niece. He was an individual of character, your uncle. It seems that you are too."

"You say that like you know me."

"Strong willed, intelligent, sharp-tongued, doesn't suffer fools gladly . . . remind you of anyone?"

7

"Yes. Gordon."

"Interesting," he said. "Because those are the exact words he used to describe you."

The man's gloved fingers dipped into his waistcoat and brought out an ornate pocket watch on a delicate gold chain.

"Ah," he said, "I must be off. It was good to meet you, Stephanie. Good luck in whatever you decide to do with your life."

"Thank you," Stephanie said, a little dumbly. "You too."

She felt the man smile though she could see no mouth, and he turned from the doorway and left her there. She found she couldn't take her eyes off where he had been. Who was he? She hadn't even gotten his name.

She crossed the space to the door and stepped out, wondering how he had vanished from sight so quickly. She hurried down the stairs and reached the large hall without seeing him. She opened the front door just as a big black car turned out onto the road. She watched him drive away, stayed there for a few moments, then reluctantly rejoined her extended family in the living room, just in time to see Fergus slip a silver ashtray into his breast pocket.

8

Chapter Two

The Will

9

Life in the Edgley household had always been fairly uneventful. Stephanie's mother worked in a bank, and her father owned a construction company, and she had no brothers or sisters, so the routine they had settled into was one of amiable convenience. But even so, there was always the voice in the back of her mind telling her that there should be more to her life than this, more to her life than the small town of Haggard, which was tucked quietly into the east coast of Ireland. She just couldn't figure out what that

10

something was. Her first year of secondary school had just come to a close, and she was looking forward to the summer break. She didn't like school. She found it difficult to get along with her classmates--not because they weren't nice people, but simply because she had nothing in common with them. And she didn't like teachers. She didn't like the way they demanded respect they hadn't earned. Stephanie had no problem doing what she was told, just so long as she was given a good reason why she should.

She had spent the first few days of the summer helping out her father, answering phones and sorting through the files in his office. Gladys, his secretary of seven years, had decided she'd had enough of the construction business and wanted to try her hand as a performance artist. Stephanie found it vaguely discomfiting whenever she passed Gladys on the street, this forty-three-year-old woman doing a modern dance interpretation of Faust. She had made herself a costume to go with the act, a costume, she said, that symbolized the internal struggle Faust was going through, and apparently she refused to be seen in public without it. Stephanie did her best to avoid catching her eye.

10

11

If Stephanie wasn't helping out in the office, she was either down at the beach, swimming, or locked in her room listening to music.

She was in her room, trying to find the charger for her mobile phone, when her mother knocked on the door and stepped in. Melissa Edgley was still dressed in the somber clothes she had worn to the funeral, though Stephanie had tied back her long dark hair and changed into her usual jeans and running shoes within two minutes of returning to the house.

"We got a call from Gordon's lawyer," her mother said, sounding a little surprised. "They want us at the reading of the will."

"Oh," Stephanie responded. "What do you think he left you?"

"Well, we'll find out tomorrow. You too, because you're coming with us."

"I am?" Stephanie said with a slight frown.

"Your name's on the list; that's all I know. We're leaving at ten, okay?"

"I'm supposed to be helping Dad in the morning."

"He called Gladys, asked her to fill in for a few hours, as a favor. She said yes, as long as she could wear the peanut suit."

11

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They left for the lawyer's at a quarter past ten the next morning, fifteen minutes later than planned thanks to Stephanie's father's casual disregard for punctuality. He ambled through the house, looking like there was something he'd forgotten and he was just waiting for it to occur to him again. He nodded and smiled whenever his wife told him to hurry up, said, "Yes, absolutely," and just before he was due to join them in the car, he meandered off again, looking around with a dazed expression.

"He does this on purpose," Stephanie's mother said as they sat in the car, seat belts on and ready to go. They watched him appear at the front door, shrug into his jacket, tuck in his shirt, go to step out, and then pause.

"He looks like he's about to sneeze," Stephanie remarked.

"No," her mother responded, "he's just thinking." She stuck her head out the car window. "Desmond, what's wrong now?"

He looked up, puzzled. "I think I'm forgetting something."

Stephanie leaned forward from the back to take a better look at him, and spoke to her mother, who nodded and stuck her head out again.

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