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Read an extract from the prologue of Joseph Delaney's chilling third instalment in the new Spook's legend - Dark Assassin.
I awoke in darkness, shivering with cold, my mind numb and void of memories.
Who am I?
I was lying on my back, staring up at a pitch-black, starless sky. The full moon hung low on the horizon and it was the colour of blood.
I felt bewildered.
Where am I? I wondered.
I sat up slowly and looked around. The ground was flat, dotted with dead trees and patches of scrub. I could see lights in the distance, and the faint outline of what looked like cottages.
I began to stumble towards them, weak and unsteady on my feet. Perhaps someone there could help me – or at least tell me the name of this strange place. I didn’t like the look of that moon; it should have been a pale silvery yellow – not a monstrous bloated thing, its staring face covered in blood. It seemed to be watching every step I took.
I gradually grew stronger and made better progress towards the cottages – but suddenly I was brought to a halt by what sounded like the growl of an animal in the darkness behind me. It growled again and my anxiety became a stab of fear.
Something was stalking me. I could hear it padding closer in the darkness. Filled with panic, I fled, sprinting towards the nearest of those lights.
I hadn’t run far when I saw the silhouette of a figure approaching, walking directly towards me. Now there was danger ahead as well as behind.
I am skilled at judging people by their gait, I realize. The figure had a swagger that comes from confidence and walked the walk of a fighter. The threat was growing.
Whoever it was halted about six feet from me; I halted too, my whole body shaking with fear. Perhaps this was the moment when my life ended. Maybe the trembling of my limbs was telling me that my demise was near . . . My mind was bewildered, but perhaps my body sensed its demise?
"Grimalkin? Is that you?" the figure cried.
The sound of that name acted like a spell. It affected me profoundly. My body stopped trembling and my fear fell from my shoulders like a worn-out cloak. Somewhere in the distant past I had heard that name before. I struggled to recall everything that was associated with it.
Then I realized that the voice I’d heard was that of a girl. She stepped closer and smiled; a smile that was like a light illuminating the darkness.
I knew this girl well. Her name was Thorne.
Suddenly the name Grimalkin awoke my memories. Images flashed into my mind in vivid colour. I saw my opponents fall before me, their bodies soaked in blood. My knives sliced and pierced; I drew my scissors from the secret sheath beneath my left armpit and snipped away the pallid thumbs of my dead enemies.
Suddenly my identity surged back.
I am Grimalkin. I am dead. . .
But I am still Grimalkin.
I was now in the dark. I remembered the confrontation up on Anglezarke Moor. I remembered how I had attacked Golgoth, the Lord of Winter, running towards him with my blades. I’d known that I could not win, but I’d bought time so that Alice, the earth witch, could fight back.
There had been a moment of freezing cold and intense pain; then I had fallen into the dark. My life as a witch assassin on Earth was over.
My fear ceased. I was now aware of the straps that criss-crossed my body, and was pleased to find my blades in place: short ones for throwing and long ones for fighting at close quarters. I felt under my left armpit: my snippy scissors were also safe in their sheath. There would be other dead witches here in the dark; enemies I had encountered in the past, and perhaps new adversaries too. Would I be able to take their thumb-bones to increase my own strength? Was the dark like Earth in some respects?
All at once I was aware that my heart was beating and I was breathing steadily, just as I had on Earth.
It was then that I had a moment of regret.
Never again would I be the witch assassin of the Malkin clan. Another would take my place – probably already had. Nor would I be able to help the humans in their fight against the Kobalos – a race that had waged war, intending to slay all human males and enslave the females. I thought of the girls and women who were already slaves of the Kobalos and felt sad. I had sworn to free them – but now, in the dark, I could no longer keep that vow. I could only hope that my allies left behind on Earth would still prove victorious without my help.
Death was final. It was hard to accept that, but what had happened could not be changed. I had to let the past go and deal with my new situation.
How would things differ now? I wondered. What opportunities would the dark present?
My attention returned to the girl in front of me. When we knew each other, I’d been training her to become a witch assassin like me. We had been close.
I’d wept when my enemies slew Thorne – but tears are a waste of time. They achieve nothing. And afterwards I’d taken my revenge and hunted down every one of her killers.
I glanced at her hands. She had died when her thumbs were sliced away, but now they were whole again.
"It’s good to see you, child," I told her.
My memory had now fully returned. My mind was sharp and clear, just as it had been when I was alive – maybe even better.
"It’s good to see you again, Grimalkin," Thorne replied. "But I wish we were meeting under better circumstances. The dark’s a terrible place. It’s hard to survive."
"But you have survived, child. I’m impressed," I told her. "I obviously trained you well. Now you can teach me what I need to know of this place."
"That’s why I came. When a soul arrives here, the first hours are the most dangerous. I’ll help you, if you will allow it," she said.
"How did you know that I had died?" I asked her.
"There are those here who specialize in knowing the affairs of Earth – we call them Watchers; they take the shape of ravens. They told me of your death, so I came to help you. This dank field is where most of those who serve the dark materialize after death."
"Do you know what happened immediately after my death? Did the others survive?" I asked.
"Yes, I do know much of what happened. Tom Ward and his apprentice, Jenny, continue the struggle against your enemies. The god Pan fought Golgoth and drove him away. But although Pan won that battle, he’s badly weakened, and the conflict simmers on. Golgoth will eventually return, stronger and more dangerous than ever. Since then the Kobalos have won battle after battle and are now close to the shores of the Northern Sea. No doubt they plan more attacks upon the County. But there is nothing we can do about it from the dark."
"Thank you for that information," I said.
"We must leave this place immediately," Thorne said, her eyes flickering to and fro as if searching the darkness for some threat. "It is dangerous to remain in one place for too long."
"I put myself in your hands. Lead the way!" I commanded with a smile.
Now the trainee would train her trainer; I followed Thorne towards the distant lights.
As we set off, I glanced back over my shoulder but could see nothing.
"Something was following me," I told Thorne. "It padded on four legs. I was being stalked."
"You’ll have to get used to that,” she replied. “There are lots of predators in the dark. Some are human, but there are all manner of other creatures that are hungry for blood. They usually concentrate on lone victims; now that there are two of us, we will be more secure. You will find that those who dwell in the dark have formed groups – there is safety in numbers."
We left the wasteland behind and emerged onto a narrow cobbled street. At first glance it could have been somewhere in the County – Priestown or Caster perhaps.
The second terrifying tale in the Spook's spin-off series from bestselling author Joseph Delaney.
Thomas Ward was working as the new County Spook, fighting the Dark with his own apprentice. But a new enemy stirred in the north, and Tom’s calling required him to leave his home and lead an uprising against a legion of beasts: creatures of the dark intent on locking the whole earth in a never-ending winter.
Then something went horribly wrong, and now Tom lies cold in a grave, while those who remain are in despair.
Who can now take up the battle? And how much time remains before the dark army brings the fight back to the County, and the world is changed for ever?