Live and Let Drood
A Secret Histories Novel
The name is Bond, Shaman Bond. Better known as Drood, Eddie Drood. Yes, I’m one of those Droods—the family who’ve been keeping the forces of evil contained in the shadows for as long as humans have walked the earth.
Recently I suffered a slight case of death, but thanks to Molly, my best girl (who happens to be a powerful witch), I got over that right quick. Unfortunately my family wasn’t so lucky. In my absence, Drood Hall was destroyed and all my relatives were killed. Which left me as the last of the Droods.
I didn’t much like being the Last Drood, I can tell you—and then I realized that things weren’t as they seemed. Someone had activated a dimensional engine, sending my Drood Hall off to an alternate Earth, replacing it with a burnt-out doppelgänger. My family is still alive out there. Somewhere.
And nothing’s going to stop me from finding them….
Home Is Where the Heart Breaks
You think you know where your life is going. You think you’ve got everything sorted out. You’ve defeated your enemies, saved the world, made peace with your family and gone on holiday with the woman you love. And then you discover what you should have known all along: that it takes only one bad day to turn your life upside down. That there’s nothing you can have, nothing you’ve earned, nothing you’ve paid for with blood and loss and suffering . . . that the world can’t take away from you.
High above the extensive grounds, the wide roof rose and fell like a great grey–tiled sea, complete with sharp–peaked gables, scowling gargoyles that doubled as water spouts and ornamental guttering that had probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Add to that a perky little observatory, extensive landing pads for all the family’s more outré flying machines (and, of course, the winged unicorns), and more aliens and antennae than you could shake a gremlin at . . . and it all added up to one very crowded and very useful roof.
I used to spend a lot of my time up on the roof when I was just a kid, enjoying the various comings and goings and getting in everyone’s way.
All gone now.
The Hall was a burnt–out ruin. Someone had taken it apart with gunfire and explosives and set fire to what remained. Walls were broken and shattered, blackened and charred from smoke and flames. The upper floors had collapsed in on themselves into one great compressed mass of broken stone and rubble and what fragments remained of the roof. The ground floor looked to be more or less intact, but the windows were all blown out, and the great front doors had been blasted right off their heavy hinges. God alone knew what was left inside.
For all its many bad memories, the Hall had always been home to me. I’d always thought it would always be there to go back to when I needed it. To see it like this, brought down by rage and violence and reduced to wreck and ruin, stopped the breath in my throat and the heart in my chest, and put a chill in my soul that I knew would never leave.
I made myself walk slowly forward. Molly was right there at my side, trying to say something comforting, but I couldn’t hear her. There was no room left in me for anything except what had been done to my home. The massive front doors that should have been enough to hold off an army had been thrown back onto the floor in the gloom of the hallway. And a single golden–armoured figure lay curled in the doorway, quite still and quite dead, the gleaming metal half–melted and distorted, the arms fused to the torso and the legs fused together, by some unimaginable heat. I hadn’t thought there was anything in the world that could do that to Drood armour.
There was no smoke in the air, no heat radiating from the fire–blasted hallway. Whatever had happened here, it had clearly happened sometime before. Days before. So I hadn’t missed it by much. The attackers had come here, slaughtered my family, blown up and set fire to my home and then left. All while I was off enjoying myself in the south of France. I stood before the open doorway and I didn’t know what to do. What to say. My stomach ached, and even breathing hurt in my tightened chest. Molly Metcalf moved in close beside me and slipped an arm tentatively through mine, pressing herself against me. Standing as close to me as she could, to give me what comfort she could.
“Why didn’t I know?” I said numbly. “How could something like this happen and I didn’t know? Why didn’t anyone reach out to me?”
”Maybe . . . it all happened too quickly,” said Molly. ”It must have been a surprise attack, to catch your whole family so off guard.”
The strength just went out of my legs and I crashed to my knees on the gravel before the doorway. It should have hurt like hell, but I didn’t feel a thing. Too taken up with the greater hurt that filled my head and my heart and overwhelmed everything else. I would have liked to cry; I’m sure it would have helped if only I could have cried . . . but all I could feel was cold and lost and alone. You never know how much your family means to you until you’ve lost them all. Molly crouched at my side, one arm draped across my shoulders. I’m sure her words would have helped if I’d listened, but there was no room in me for anything but the growing need for rage and revenge. If tears would come, it would have to be later and far from here. After I’d done all the terrible things that I would do to my enemy.
I knelt before what was left of my home and my family and shook uncontrollably in the grip of emotions I never thought I’d have to feel. Molly put her arms around me and rocked me gently back and forth like a mother with a child.
After a while I became aware that Molly was speaking urgently to me, almost shouting into my ear.
“Come on, Eddie. We can’t stay here! We have to go! There’s always the chance whoever did this might come back, and we can’t afford to be here if they do. If your whole family couldn’t stand against them, we certainly can’t.”
I nodded slowly and got to my feet again, with her help. My head was clearing, all the pain and horror and loss pushed aside by a cold and savage need for revenge. I couldn’t leave here, not yet. I needed information and weapons. And more than anything I needed some clue to tell me my enemy’s name. And then nothing was going to stand in my way. All the awful things I would do to him and anyone who stood alongside him would make my name an abomination on the lips of the world. . . . And I wouldn’t give a damn.
I wasn’t used to thinking like that, but it seemed to come very easily. I was, after all, a Drood. The Last Drood.
Molly realised she wasn’t going to get any sense out of me. She looked at the ruined hall before her and the sheer scale of so much destruction seemed to overwhelm even her for a moment.
“What the hell happened here, Eddie? What could have done this?”
“I don’t know,” I said. My voice sounded distant and far away. “The Chinese tried to nuke us once, back in the sixties, and that got nowhere. No one’s struck directly at the Hall for ages. I would have said there was nothing and no one in the world that could get past all our defences and protections. This is all my fault, you know.”
“What?” said Molly, turning immediately to look at me with her large dark eyes.
“I should have been here,” I said steadily. “I wasn’t with my family when the enemy came. If I had been here, maybe I could have done . . . something. Saving the day against impossible odds is what I do. Isn’t it?”
“Stop that,” Molly said firmly. “Stop that right now, Eddie. What could you have done that your whole family couldn’t? If you had been here, odds are you’d be lying here dead, too.”
“I can do something now,” I said. “I can avenge my family. I can be the Last Drood. I can bring down my enemies in horror and suffering, and make my family name a byword in this world for revenge and retribution.”
“Okay,” said Molly. “Someone needs a whole load of stiff drinks, and possibly a nice lie–down in a cool dark room. You’re in shock, Eddie. Let’s get out of here.”
“Not yet,” I said. “I’m not finished here yet.”
“And what if the enemy isn’t finished? What if they come back?”
“Let them,” I said. “Let them all come.” And there was something in my voice that actually made Molly shudder briefly and look away. Anywhen else, that might have bothered me. I looked steadily at what was left of my home. My thoughts kept going round in circles, and returning to the same impossible situation.
“How could anyone have got past all of Drood Hall’s centuries of layered shields and protections? It’s just not possible!”
“Well, we did,” said Molly.
I looked at her. “What?”
“We got in. That time you came back to overthrow the Matriarch and take control of your family.”
“Well, yes,” I said. “But we only managed that through my insider knowledge and because we had the Confusulum. Whatever or whoever that annoying alien thing was. And since the Blue Fairy isn’t around anymore, I don’t see how anyone could acquire another one. But I see what you mean. This was no sneak attack. This was a carefully planned open assault. Which raises even more questions. Look around you, Molly. Look at the grounds. None of the robot gun positions have been activated; they’re still sitting in their hidden bunkers under the lawns. And I can’t See any trace of the force shields and magical screens that should have slammed into place automatically the moment the Hall came under threat. It’s as though the enemy caught my family with all their defences down. Which should have been impossible . . .”
“Could someone have . . . lowered the shields, from inside?” Molly said carefully. “Sabotage, in advance of the attack? We never did identify the traitor inside your family, the one who’s been working against your interests for so long.”
She stopped talking as I shook my head firmly. I wasn’t ready to think about that, not just yet. “Concentrate on our enemies,” I said. “Who is there left, who could have done this to us? We stamped out Manifest Destiny, stopped the invasion of the Loathly Ones and the Hungry Gods, wiped out the Immortals and crushed the Great Satanic Conspiracy. I mean, who’s left?”
“Clearly, someone you missed,” said Molly. “There’s always someone . . .”
I thought about it. “The Droods are supposed to have made pacts with Heaven and Hell, back in the day, for power and influence and protection,” I said. “Could this have been the day when all our debts came due?”
“No,” Molly said immediately. “I’d know.”
I managed something like a smile. “You worry me sometimes when you say things like that.”
She managed a small smile of her own. “Can I help it if I’m a girl who likes to get around?”
I took her hand in mine and squeezed it firmly. “Sometimes I forget that I’m not alone anymore. That I don’t have to do everything myself.”
“You always were too ready to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, Eddie. Whatever you decide to do, I’ve got your back.”
“Good to know,” I said. “Because I’m pretty sure this is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.”
I gave her hand a final squeeze, let it go and turned away to look into the open doorway, where the huge and specially reinforced front doors should have been. The empty gap was like an open wound. I moved slowly, steadily, forwards, Molly right there at my side. Gravel crunched loudly under our feet in the quiet. The remains of a lone gargoyle lay shattered on the ground before us. As though it had been shot down while flying against our enemies and plummeted to the ground. And maybe it had. I’d always been suspicious about the gargoyles. When I was just a kid, sleeping in one of the great communal dormitories along with the other young Droods, I was half–convinced gargoyles would creep down from the roof at night and listen outside our windows, so they could report all our sins and bad intentions to the adults. And maybe they did. Drood Hall is full of secrets. I stopped then and made myself rephrase that. Drood Hall was full of secrets. It was important to remember everything I’d lost.
I stepped past the broken remains of the gargoyle, with its shattered face and broken wings, to stand before the open doorway. Something really powerful had blasted both doors right off their hinges and sent them flying a fair distance down the hallway. I could see them lying on the floor, the heavy wood cracked and splintered from some unimaginable impact. And there in the doorway was the half–melted golden figure, the last defender of the entrance hall. The armoured man lay curled into a ball, as though wrapped around his pain. I knelt down beside him, let my fingertips drift gently across the cracked and distorted face mask. The metal was cold to the touch. Cold as death. There was no way to remove the featureless mask, no way of telling who it was inside the armour. Whether . . . it was anyone I knew.
I rose and strode past the dead man into the gloom of the hallway. There were no lights working anywhere, just dark shadows and fire– and smoke–blackened interiors. Loud and dangerous cracking and creaking sounds came from the bulging ceiling overhead, which supported all the weight of the fallen–in upper floors. It could all come down anytime. I knew that. I didn’t care. I needed to know what had happened here; needed that more than life itself. It is possible . . . I wasn’t entirely sane at that time.
I moved slowly down the dark hallway, through ruin and devastation, and forced myself to be calm and collected, practical and professional. Just from looking around me, at the nature of the destruction, I could see they must have used grenades and flamethrowers. No other way to do this much damage in a hurry. Probably some magical and superscience weapons, as well. Someone had been intent on doing a really thorough job here.
I considered all the possibilities as I made my way down the hallway, broken floorboards groaning warnings under my weight. Molly was careful to keep distance between us, to spread the weight out as much as possible. Could there have been sabotage, or even an invasion of the family Armoury—our own weapons turned against us? It didn’t seem likely. An enemy who’d planned such a thorough assault wouldn’t have gambled on finding enough weapons here to do the job. They’d have brought their own. Could the enemy have teleported inside the Hall if all our shields were down? That would explain how they were able to take all of us by surprise so easily. Maybe even suicide bombers? So many possibilities, so many questions, and no answers anywhere. Molly stepped deftly over the rubble on the floor, looking at everything, touching nothing.
“There wasn’t any damage out in the grounds,” she said, after a while. “All the fighting took place indoors. Look at the bullet holes in these walls. And scorch marks from energy blasts, which implies energy weapons or offensive sorceries. Do you suppose . . . there could be any survivors, maybe trapped somewhere in the Hall?”
”No,” I said. ”We would have fought to the last man rather than let this happen to the Hall.” I stopped abruptly, glancing about me, hands clenched into fists at my sides. “But you were right earlier. We can’t afford to spend too long here. If all our defences are down, then the shields that hide our presence are down, too. The whole world can see exactly where Drood Hall is, for the first time, and that makes us vulnerable. The vultures will be gathering. They’ll descend on us in their hordes to search for loot and overlooked secrets. But I can’t leave, Molly. Not yet. I have to know . . .”
“Of course you do,” said Molly. “Every clue the enemy left behind is ammunition we can use to identify and then nail the bastards who did this.”
I had to smile at her. “There was a time the Droods were your enemies. Not that long ago, you would have been overjoyed by all this. You’d have danced on these ruins. . . .”
“Danced, hell,” said Molly. “I’d have hiked up my skirts and pissed on them, singing hallelujah. But that was then; this is now. Everything changed when I met you. Now an attack on your family is an attack on you. And no one messes with my man and gets away with it.”
She struck a witch’s pose, and her hands moved through a sinuous series of magical gestures. A slow presence gathered on the air around us and all the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. A sudden cold wind came gusting down the hallway, disturbing the ashes. Molly spoke a single Word, almost too much for human vocal chords to bear, and the echoes of it trembled and shuddered all through the enclosed space.
“There,” said Molly, relaxing just a little. “I’ve put some temporary shields in place: a No See zone over the Hall and serious avoidance spells around the perimeter. Low–level stuff, easily broken by anyone who knows what they’re looking for, but enough to buy us some time, so we can make a proper investigation. Where do you want to start, Eddie?”
I didn’t thank her. It would only have embarrassed her.
I looked up and down the gloomy hallway. It was all so still, so quiet. The only sounds had been our careful footsteps and the quiet shifting noises of broken stone and brickwork. The ceiling made constant ominous noises as the collapsed upper floors settled and pressed down. There was still a little smoke, farther in, curling unhurriedly on the still air, and the odd cloud of soot and ashes drifting this way and that. Molly sneezed explosively, and I jumped despite myself. I looked at her reproachfully, and she stared haughtily down her nose at me, as though she’d meant to do it. She raised one hand and snapped her fingers imperiously. A sharp breeze blew in from the open doors and rushed down the hallway, dispersing the smoke and blowing away the soot and ashes. The breeze died away quickly, before it could disturb anything precarious.
Most of the interior walls had been riddled with gunfire and then smashed and burned and blown apart. There were great holes in the old stonework, and the wood panelling had been almost completely burned away by fierce heat. It was hard to find anything I recognised. The great statues and important works of art, the wall hangings and the family portraits: gone, all gone. I realised Molly had stopped to look up at the ceiling, and I followed her gaze, checking it quickly for spreading cracks.
“No,” she said, without looking round. “It’s just . . . our room was up there, on the top floor. Is it possible . . . ?”
“No,” I said. “All the upper floors have fallen in on themselves. There’s not a few feet of roof left intact anywhere. Everything we had up there is gone.”
“Everything you had,” said Molly. “I kept most of my stuff in the woods. Oh, Eddie . . . I’m so sorry.”
“It’s just things,” I said. “You can always get more things. What matters is I still have you.”
“Forever and a day, my love,” said Molly, slipping her arm through mine again and briefly resting her head on my shoulder.
We moved on into the gloom and the shadows. The sounds of our slow progress seemed to move ahead of us, as though to give warning we were coming. All the great paintings that used to line the walls, portraits and scenes of the family by all the great masters, were gone forever. Generations of Droods, great works of art preserved by the family for generations, reduced to ash, and less than ash. Even the frames were destroyed. Someone had swept the walls clean with incandescent fires, probably laughing as they did. I crouched down as I spotted a scrap of canvas caught between two pieces of rubble from a shattered statue. Molly peered over my shoulder.
“What is it, sweetie?”
“I think . . . this was a Botticelli,” I said. “Just a few splashes of colour now, crumbling in my hand.” I let it drop to the floor, and straightened up again. “Why would the enemy take time out from fighting the Droods to destroy so many important works of art? These paintings were priceless, irreplaceable. Why not . . . take them and sell them?”
“Because whoever did this was only interested in destruction and revenge,” said Molly. “I used to be like that. I would have torched every painting in every museum in the world to get back at your family for killing my parents. The Droods have angered a lot of people in their time, Eddie. Sometimes hurting the one you hate can be far more important than profiting from them.”
“Are you saying we deserved this? That we had it coming? That we brought all this on ourselves?”
“Of course not! I’m just making the point . . . that really angry people often don’t stop to think logically.”
“I liked the paintings,” I said. “And there were photographs, too, towards the end of the corridor. A whole history of my family. And the only photograph I ever saw of my mother and my father . . . How am I ever going to remember what they looked like, with the only photo destroyed?”
“I don’t have any photos of my parents,” said Molly. “But I still think of them every day. You’ll remember them.”
We moved on. All the statues and sculptures had been blown apart or just smashed to pieces. So much concentrated rage . . . I couldn’t even tell which piece was which from just looking at the scattered parts, though here and there I’d glimpse some familiar detail. The rich carpet that had stretched the whole length of the hallway was gone; just a charred and blackened mess that crunched under our feet.
It was like walking through the tomb of some lost civilisation and trying to recreate its original glory and grandeur from what small broken pieces remained.
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