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Chapter 10

“Where do you live?” Jane asked. She and Derek were sitting outside. It was a week after the fire at the factory and they’d accepted Jeremy’s hospitality for the time being, until they got any more word on Rust’s whereabouts. Right now, they were in the walled back garden, sitting on the bench and enjoying the warm sunlight. Jane’s question took Derek by surprise.

“What do you mean?” He asked.
“Well, you seem a bit young to legally own a house. Do you live with an uncle or…?”
“I live with my foster parents. I have done for as long as I remember. There’s Jessica and Frank, they’ve always been great parents, and there’s Laura, my younger sister.”
“You have a sister? What’s she like?”
“Well, she’s pretty much your stereotypical teenage girl.” Derek laughed. “Barbie dolls, Justin Bieber and One Direction posters everywhere, constantly annoying me… I love her, though. I’ve known her since she was a baby. If I’m completely honest, I’d say that she’s my real sister.”
“What do you think you’d do if any of them were in danger?” Janice asked after a few seconds’ silence.
“What?” Derek asked, surprised.
“Say Glacier found out about your family.” She said. “If they were being held hostage and would only be let go if you traded yourself to be in their place. Would you let them live, despite you being our only chance of keeping the Shadow Ruby safe and out of the hands of anyone who’d use it?”

“I…” He stopped and thought. If the stories about Karl Glacier were true, a Necromancer could easily destroy the world in a week. If he had the choice to stop that or save his family…

For a few seconds, he pictured himself in that scenario. Jessica and Frank would probably sacrifice themselves. Laura, though… She was only thirteen. He pictured her, tied to a chair, crying and terrified. His jaw clenched and his fingers curled into fists and he closed his eyes, pushing the image from his mind.

“I don’t know.” He answered truthfully. “I… I don’t know.”
“Even if every other life in the world was at stake?” Janice asked. “Three lives for seven billion.”
“I know,” He sighed. “I just don’t think I have it in me to consciously make the decision right now. I’m not even sure I’d have the will to make the decision if I actually had to and I hope to whatever God is listening that it doesn’t happen.”

Jane stayed quiet for a few seconds.

“What if it were me?” She asked. Derek looked at her and leaned back on the bench, smoothing his hair back.

“I wouldn’t have to make that decision.” He replied with a chuckle. “Because you wouldn’t be a hostage in the first place.”
“But imagine I was.” She replied, not sharing the smile. “Would you let me die or kill the rest of the world?”

Again, Derek fell silent for a few seconds.

“I’d rather not talk about these sorts of things.” He said finally before his eyes widened. “Crap! I haven’t told my family where I am!” He instantly dug into his pocket and took out his phone before dialling his home number and putting the phone to his ear. Jane just rolled her eyes and leaned back.

“Hello?” Derek recognised his foster dad’s voice.
“Hey, Frank.” He said, supressing a sigh of relief. “I’m just calling to apologise for not being home lately.”
“Derek? Where the hell have you bee, we’ve been worried sick!” Frank replied, a mix of anger and happiness in his voice. “We called the police and everything, we thought you were dead!”
“I’m not, I’m okay.” He said. “I, uh… I just… went to… a friend’s… holiday home! That’s it, I’m at a friend’s holiday home!”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Frank asked. “Laura’s been crying nonstop, we almost told her you were dead!”

Derek felt his stomach twist in a tight not at the mention of his sister.

“Could you put her on?” He asked. There was a sigh from the other end before Frank’s faded voice carried through the connection. A few minutes later, his voice was replaced by a young girl’s.

“Derek? Is that you?” Laura asked, obviously in an upset tone.
“Yeah, it’s me.” Derek replied and couldn’t help but smile. “Don’t tell me you were crying, Laura.”
“I wasn’t crying!” She huffed in response. “I was… I’m sorry, Derek, I just missed you!”
“I know, Laura, I’m really sorry, I swear. But I’ll tell you what; when I get back, I’ll get you a big cake and I’ll take you to a One Direction concert. How does that sound?”

The girl’s voice was instantly interrupted by what sounded like metal scraping against metal which Derek easily recognised as his young sister’s excited noise.
“You really mean that!?” She sounded too excited to make any noise other than high-pitched ones. “You really, really, really mean it?”
“Cross my heart.” Derek replied, grinning. “As soon as they’re next in Scotland, I’ll take you to see them.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Laura squealed on the other end of the line.
“The only condition,” Derek interrupted. “Is that you do good in school and don’t do anything bad, okay?”
“Okay! I promise I’ll be the best girl in the world and I’ll listen to everything my teachers say!” Laura replied and continued to squeal. Derek couldn’t help but laugh.
“Alright, Laura, could you put Frank back on?” He asked and heard the phone being handed over.

“How do you do that?” Frank asked. “Just one short conversation with you can turn her from crying her eyes out to her Christmas mood, how do you do it?”
“I’m her brother.” Derek laughed. “It’s my job to make Laura happy. It’s your job to keep her out of trouble and be hated for it.”
“I’ve always got to be the villain…” Frank muttered but chuckled. “Sorry for snapping earlier, Derek. I was just so worried, we didn't know what happened to you.”
“I’m fine, Frank.” Derek repeated. “I’ve got to go now, though, we’re about to go trout fishing. Tell Jessica that I’m okay and not to worry, okay? It’s not like I’m important enough to get any attention.” He chuckled.
“Stay safe, then, Derek.” Frank replied and hung up.

Derek put his phone back into his pocket and sighed. When he leaned back, he noticed Jane looking at him with a raised eyebrow.

“A One Direction concert?” She asked sceptically. Derek just shrugged.
“When you’re an older brother, you want to make sure your sister’s happy.” He replied.
“But still… One Direction? Really? Why does she like them?”
“I think it’s mainly because they’re popular.”
“But they’re useless! Look at them! They probably couldn’t hit the side of a barn!”
“Not every girl wants a guy who can protect them.”
“And what if a weak girl and a weak guy are walking home one night and get mugged or something?”
“Then they’ll call the police.”
“What if it’s a vampire?”
“Then you’ll save them.”
“Why would I save them?”
“Because you’ll kill the vampire.”
“What if I’m not there?”
Derek paused. “Would the vampire be stupid enough to attack in a crowded area?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then there’s nothing to worry about, kids never go on dates to Italian restaurants these days.”
“You have an answer to everything, don’t you?”
“Not really, I just spout nonsense.”
“So the Cockroach finally hears himself.”
Derek laughed and smoothed his hair back. “When are you going to stop calling me Cockroach?”
“When you stop being insignificant.” Jane raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms.
“So if I learn to hit things, you’ll call me by my name?”
She shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Then teach me.” He stood up and put his coat over the back of the bench. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to fight, to be honest.”

“It’s not that easy.” Jane sighed. “For one, you’ve got to be strong enough to actually hurt someone when you hit them. You’ve also got to be fast enough so your enemy can’t avoid your attack.”

“Okay, so do you use a martial art style, or…?”
“No, I just hit people with what I can.”

“It’s really that simple.” She shrugged. “All there really is to it is your own technique. Use your fists, elbows, knees, feet, anything that can give you an edge in a fight.”

“Okay… So that’s it, just hit someone with whatever I can?”

“Pretty much. That’s really what most fighting is, to be honest. People will talk a bunch of bull about honour and spiritual connection and all that rubbish but in the end, it all comes down to who can hit the hardest and fastest.”

“Right, right… So just swing a fist?”

“And if they’re too close, use your elbow or a knee. And try to get in shape, Cockroach. Muscle hits a lot harder than fat.”

“Right, first step is to get in shape.”

“And try to avoid getting hit. You don’t look like you’d be able to take many hits, so the more you avoid, the more you’ll be able to get in.” Jane crossed her legs and leaned her head back, her eyes closed against the glare of the sun. “Try not to become a power-hungry tyrant.” She said.

“I’ll keep that in mind…” Derek replied. “Anyway, tell me a bit more about you.”

Janice smiled very slightly. “Well, I’m seventy eight years old, I enjoy romantic comedies and long walks on the beach.”

“Seriously?” He asked, genuinely surprised.

“Of course not, you idiot!” She replied. “Long walks on the beach? Romantic comedies?” Jane looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Do I seriously look like the kind of girl who’d show up on a dating show? I’d rather spend a week in Hell than go for dinner with any of those guys.”

The week passed relatively quickly. Jeremy had called in a lot of favours to try and find Rust, all to no avail. All his friends found were random corpses, empty chairs with tape recorders and in one instance, a hollow mannequin that’d been filled with a spider’s nest. The crate Jeremy had mentioned when Derek and Janice had first arrived turned out to just be filled with hay and nothing more. The truck itself had exploded when it’d been stopped, killing everyone in the immediate area. And still they got hints as to Rust’s whereabouts, clues that came from all over Scotland, from the Shetland Isles to Hadrian’s Wall. It was as if Jester had planned it, set up decoys all over the country and activated them all over the past week. It was just yesterday that Jeremy had stopped calling people and decided instead to contact people who had any idea where Jester’s employer would be. If anything, he’d likely have brought Rust to whoever wanted him.

For now, though, Janice and Derek were walking away from Jeremy’s house, a taxi waiting just outside the gate.

“Don’t knock the driver out this time.” Derek muttered.

“And if Glacier finds out we got a taxi?” Jane replied.

“It’s the Winter, people are getting taxis all the time. I doubt they’d remember a young couple leaving a grandfather’s home.”
Jane’s head snapped to him, eyes shooting daggers. “Young couple!?”
“Just keep quiet!” He said and before she could reply, he opened the back door and climbed in. Jane’s face turned red and her jaw clenched hard before she climbed in after him. For the whole ride, they kept quiet with Derek mumbling half-hearted replies to the driver’s small talk. After a few minutes, the driver got the message that nobody wanted to talk and instead turned the radio up. Fifteen minutes later, Derek gave the driver the last of his cash and stepped out of the car, Jane standing up on the other side. The car drove off, turned the corner and Derek closed his eyes a second before he felt Jane’s hand smack his face. This time, however, it was without the nails.

“Yeah, I had that coming…” He mumbled.

“Don’t tell me what to do every again!” She snapped. “And don’t you dare tell people we are a couple! We never will be, not in this world or any world!” She walked up the gravel pathway.

It was only now that Derek realised where they were: the grounds of a large mansion. The building itself had a gothic look to it, with demonic gargoyles lining the slanted roof and a balcony surrounding the second floor. The grounds themselves were long expanses of trimmed, green grass with statues and fountains arranged in orderly fashion. Most of the statues were of angels, all with long robes and with their wings folded, spread or crossing in front of them. The fountains were of many designs. Some multi-tiered, some flat with sprinklers and some just simple birdbaths. The water in them was frozen over, however.

As Derek slowly followed Janice up the path, a light snow began to fall. As he walked, Derek noticed some of the non-angel statues. These ones were far different from the others. In fact, they were the polar opposites: demons. Some were winged, some were small and imp-like, yet others were plain animals, except they looked more evil than their normal forms. And in the distance, overlooking the forest which separated the mansion from the city, was a single statue. Derek couldn’t make out what it was from where he was but it piqued his interest. Why was it over there, all alone? Was it a statue of someone? Perhaps a family member or loved one of whoever owned the mansion? Perhaps a deity or something like that.

Derek took his eyes off the distant statue and pushed the questions to the back of his mind for now. They were here to visit Fryna Starkad, a Swedish woman who apparently was the best swordswoman in the world. In fact, she’d earned the nickname “Ace Of Blades” for her prowess. If what Derek had heard was true, she could split a bullet in half without even knowing a gunman was in the room. She’d trained Janice and according to her, a better teacher didn’t exist.

They reached the large double doors of the mansion and Jane banged the heavy, dragon-shaped knocker three times against the door. A few seconds passed before the left door was opened and a young, handsome man stood there. He wore a neat tuxedo with white gloves and his jet black hair was slicked back. He had very handsome features, with a strong jaw, high cheekbones and emerald green eyes. Derek found himself becoming more than a little jealous.

“Madame Thorne.” He said with a nod. “Welcome back. Mistress Starkad has been eagerly awaiting your return.” His eyes flicked to Derek. “Master Monroe, we hear you seek the tutelage of my mistress. Please accept our welcome and make yourself at home. If you have any luggage, I will be happy to carry it. Otherwise, please follow me to your rooms.” The butler opened the door further and Jane walked in.

“Thanks, David.” She said. “And please stop with the Madame and Master. We’re not royalty.”
“Of course, Ms Thorne.” David bowed. “What about you, Master Monroe?”
“Just call me Derek.” He replied, a little colder than he’d meant. The butler, however, either didn’t notice it or pretended not to.

“Very well, then. If you’ll follow me.” He gestured towards the staircase and began to walk, hands clasped behind his back. His jacket had the trademark coattails of a butler. Derek and Jane followed him up to the second floor, Derek noticing the large number of swords on display. Longswords, claymores, falchions, broadswords, rapiers, cutlasses… Every type of sword was on display in this house and they were all polished to a shine. They were on pedestals, in glass cabinets, on wall plaques, being held by suits of armour… On every wall there were swords.

David led them through the corridors and he opened a door to a large bedroom. The bed was a king-sized four poster, with plain grey covers and pillows. There was a desk and chair facing the window. On the desk were a short stack of books, a notepad, an assortment of pens and pencils and what looked like a candle sconce. To the left was a door which led to a bathroom. On all 3 walls, above the bed and two doors, were crossed swords. Above the bed were a pair of cutlasses, above the bathroom door were a pair of longswords and above the main door were twin rapiers. The rapiers had hand guards designed to look like the mouths of lions. The longswords were of simple design, yet they were very beautiful and their pommels were glorified with polished onyx. The cutlasses above the bed had flawless leather grips and their pommels were smaller blades, almost like daggers. The blades of all these swords were polished to a reflection and were better than most mirrors Derek had looked into.

“Your accommodation, Derek.” David said, sounding slightly uncomfortable using his first name. “If you have any requests, please don’t hesitate to inform myself or Mistress Starkad. Please make your way back to the main hall, my mistress will be with you presently.” David then turned to Jane. “Ms Thorne, if you’ll follow me.”
“Am I in the same room as last time or somewhere new?” She asked.
“Your accommodations are the same as your previous visit, yes.”
“Then I know where they are. Thanks.”

David bowed and turned on his heel before walking out of the room and turning right. Jane looked at Derek.

“Come on. Fryna isn’t the type of girl you keep waiting.”

“Alright…” He looked around the room once more. The walls had no decorations aside from the swords and the walls themselves were just a plain, light grey colour. He turned and followed Jane down the stairs again.

As soon as they stepped onto the marble floor again, Derek felt something press against his cheek and instinctively moved away, only to feel another cold, metal blade on his shoulder.

“You run from a fight, you risk the jaws of death.” A voice said from behind him. It was obviously a female voice, with a Scandinavian accent. If his throat hadn’t been instantly dried up, Derek would’ve said something smart, probably about how he was a Necromancer. He didn’t risk speaking, though, lest it just come out as a whisper and he embarrass himself.

“Fryna, don’t scare the Cockroach.” Jane said, a hint of a smile in her voice. The blades left Derek’s shoulder and cheek, followed by a laugh.

“Do you remember when you came here, young Janice?” Fryna Starkad said. “You tried to fight against me!”
“And I almost beat you…” Jane replied, crossing her arms and looking away. The smile was gone from her voice.

“Yes, just as a sheep would best a wolf in battle.” Fryna grinned before turning to Derek. She was tall, nearly six foot, and her face was hard yet had a cheery look about it. Her hair was light brown and tied in a braid which went down to her knees. She wore tight-fitting leather clothing, a sleeveless top and trousers. Her boots went up to her knees and her arms were smooth yet there was no denying they were strong. She looked Derek up and down and put both of the longswords in sheaths at her hip. “Hmm… You will need some work. Some weight loss is a must, replace this fat with muscle… Work on your reflexes, definitely need to work on that.” She began to walk around him. Derek felt like he was a museum piece on display and Fryna was some art critique. She came back around in front of him and tapper her chin thoughtfully. “I’ve worked with worse.” She said after a few seconds’ silence. “I will give an estimate of two weeks, at most, to turn this chubby nerd into a warrior!” She grinned and looked to Janice, who raised an eyebrow.

“If you try and get it into his mind that he can beat me, we’ll have a problem.” Jane said. Fryna laughed.

“Janice, I would never intend for that. It would be up to your boyfriend to decide his limitations.”

“We are not a couple!” Jane snarled. “Seriously, why the hell does everyone think that? Do I really look like I’d date this bug?”

“Perhaps not now.” Fryna chuckled. “By the time I’m done with him, the girls will be lining up to see him.” Her face then turned hard and she looked to Derek, who was smirking at the thought of being in a kissing booth with a line of pretty girls the length of a train outside it. When he saw Fryna, though, the smile quickly disappeared.

“It will not be easy, pup.” She said sternly. “Every morning, at six o’clock, you will awake and run one hundred laps of the mansion. At ten o’clock, you will perform your upper body exercises until lunch time. This will include lifting weights, push ups, crunches, pull ups and other exercises like that. David should have put a timetable on your desk by now. At one in the afternoon, you will join me outside for four hours or sword training. Then you will perform another fifty laps of the mansion, followed by dinner. Until midnight, you will then aid David and my other staff with their duties. These duties will include preparing breakfast for the morning, repairing the mansion, basic cleaning and general chores.”
As Fryna listed everything, Derek felt himself grow paler and paler, his eyes growing ever wider. When she was done, he closed his mouth and cleared his throat.

“What time do I get breakfast?” He asked nervously. Fryna smiled mischeviously.

“You will have your breakfast between your morning laps and upper body exercises.” She said. “Any laps you miss will be added to your evening laps. For today, I will allow you to learn the mansion and learn the layout. Now, do you have any questions?”
Derek was about to shake his head when he remembered something. He frowned slightly.

“Yes, actually. On the way to the front door, I couldn’t help but notice the statue away from all the others.” He said. Fryna smiled slightly as he spoke. “I was wondering what it was and why it’s separate from all the other statues.”

“Follow me.” She said and tilted her head towards the door before walking. She walked quickly and Derek had to hurry to keep up. Jane gave a mock salute before turning and heading back up the stairs. Fryna stepped outside and took a deep breath before continuing in the direction of the lone statue. The snow had already started to settle on the ground, making the grass a clean and undisturbed white. The statues had a layer of snow on top of them, as did the ice in the fountains. They walked for about ten minutes before reaching the statue. Derek walked around to the front of it and looked up at a hooded shadow of a face. The cloak was long and flowing with a pair of skeletal hands protruding from it, both holding a large scythe with a two meter long blade. Below the statue was an inscription.

Death and time are the same. None can be stopped, however they are vital to all life.

“I inherited these grounds from a very old friend.” Fryna said as she looked up at the statue. “He was such a lovely man. We met when he was twenty three years old and we fell in love instantly. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give him children and he realised this too late. He died knowing the grounds are in good hands.” She smiled and turned, looking out over Aberdeen. “His family had this mansion for seven generations.” She said. “Although I am not related by blood, I will keep these grounds in the best condition possible and defend them from anyone who would look to take or destroy them.” She looked to Derek. “This statue represents death, the one inevitability of our lives. We can run from it for as long as we want but sooner or later, the Reaper will always catch us. There are people who do not fear it, of course. Those people tend to believe that they are stronger than the rest of us.” She sighed and put her hands on the hilts of her swords. “If you do not fear death, why do you delay it?” She asked. “People may say you’re a coward to fear the inevitable. I say that fear is what drives us. A fear of dying, a fear of losing those close to us, a fear of failure… These fears make us fight to conquer them. Do you understand, pup?”

Derek nodded. “I think so.” He said. “If we don’t fear death, there’s no point in fighting for our lives.”

“Exactly! We fight because we don’t want to die, because we fear the great unknown. Even thought you are a Necromancer, do not think you’re above death. Fear the power you use but don’t be afraid of using it. Now, what is your weapon of choice?”
"Uh… Weapon of choice?” Derek blinked. “I… I never thought about it.”
“Then choose a weapon.” Fryna said. “Longsword, rapier, cutlass, claymore, choose a weapon and summon it to your hand.”
“Wait, what? Summon it?” He exclaimed. “How do I summon it?”
“You control the shadows, do you not? Form them into your weapon of choice.” She smiled.

Derek took a breath and thought for a moment. What weapon did he want? He didn’t want something small, like a butter knife but he didn’t want a great claymore, either. A rapier sparked his interest but that seemed a little too dainty for him. After a few minutes of thought, he decided on a weapon and nodded.

He closed his eyes and felt the coldness in his stomach, the energy that came to him from what he guessed was the past generations of the mansion’s owners buried on the grounds. He felt the power and opened his eyes, relaxing his body and mind. He saw the shadow cast by the statue of Death and drew them in, the shade darkening and snaking towards his hand through the air. The shadows curled around his hand and lengthened, curving slightly. The shadows hardened and became still gradually until his hand closed around a solid hilt.

The sword was made of pure darkness. The pommel was a spike, a couple of inches long and narrow. The crossguard was made of four smaller blades, each pointed diagonally outwards and upwards with two curving down around the thumb and fingers. The blade itself was slightly curved and narrow, not unlike a katana, with small wisps of shadow curling around it from time to time. The whole thing was weightless in his hand, almost like he was holding nothing at all. Fryna’s eyes twinkled at the sight of it.

“A unique look, I must say.” She said. “I’m almost jealous. If I didn’t know better, I would try and take that sword from you.” She laughed. Derek smiled awkwardly and opened his hand. Instead of dropping to the ground, the sword dissipated and the shadows dispersed.

“So, what do I do now?” Derek asked. “Just explore?”

Fryna nodded. “Become acquainted with the ground and mansion. Oh, by the way, I’d recommend talking to Sub about a more suitable training outfit than that.” She smiled. “His workshop is just behind the mansion.”

“Thanks,” He replied and smoothed his hair back. “And thanks for teaching me. It’s not exactly very, uh… manly to have to rely on Janice to defend me all the time.” He chuckled. Fryna laughed with him.

“You shouldn’t worry too much. Ms Thorne was the best student I’ve had. She is a natural with a sword, even if her weapons sometimes lack the finesse of her skills.” She smiled, turned and began walking back to the mansion. Derek stayed by the statue for a few minutes, reflecting on the past couple of weeks. He looked out over Aberdeen, trying to picture what it would be like if Karl Glacier got the Shadow Ruby. If what everyone said was true, it would be in ruins. An entire city, laid to waste.

He sighed quietly before turning to make his way back to the mansion. He then remembered the conversation Jane and Rust had when they’d saved him from Hedge and those other vampires. They’d mentioned someone called Sub… Derek frowned and looked down at his outfit.

Was he about to meet his tailor?

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