This blog is a mixture of semi-autobiographical musings, fantasy, experimental, and love letters to london

Chapter Eleven: The Rumour on the Bridge

Chapter Eleven: The Rumour on the Bridge

Forrest and Riider had already left by the time Penny awoke the next day. She was curious about the nature of their patrols, and was mildly annoyed that Blythe had hidden the intricacies of Gardien life from her. The enigmatic leader filled her with both fear and anger, but she refused to allow the wraith, short as he was, to intimidate her, not in the way he clearly subdued Forrest and Riider. Unlike everyone else in Gardien, she was not a Creep by birth, and did not ascribe to Creep cultures. In her world, the Mason family was unknown, hidden beneath the pavements of London.  

After getting washed and dressed, and refreshing herself with some green Gecko tea, she went out for a walk. In Scare, the newspaper stand selling The Cave Post caught her eye almost immediately. Luckily, she wasn't on the headline, but there was a small article near on the bottom right that had Penny’s irate photograph in it. Her eyes narrowed the more she read, and when she finished she was ready to wring James Derby’s neck.

“Anger problems my arse,” she muttered, flinging the newspaper back on the stand.

“Erm, excuse me?”

Behind her, a young wraith stared with wide, fretful eyes. She tried to put on her kindest face, worried that the wraith had read the article and thought that she was a loose cannon, but he simply pressed a crisp white envelope in her hand and ran away. She regretted opening it as soon as she read the first line.

Spinead.

You are to come to my home immediately for preliminary house duties. As my mother and father have come over for the Great Tree Festival, they are hosting an important dinner party tomorrow night – all workers need to go through the schedule and clean the dinner room. You are also in dire need of an etiquette lesson, which Archer is only too happy to give you.

There is no carriage, so you will have to come by foot.

Do not keep me waiting.

 

“How do you know where I am?” hissed Penny before trudging over to Gold Street. Her stomach rumbled and she wished that Blythe had waited five minutes before sending the letter. Breakfast would have to wait.

….

There was a line of perfectly operational gold carriages perched uselessly outside the Mason residence. Penny wiped the sweat from her forehead, cursing herself for rushing to the house – she should have made Blythe wait, that would have shown him. The Masons' skeleton footmen ambled by the front door, looking decidedly uncomfortable. She turned to observe the cause of their aggravation.

An even bigger carriage was rolling down the drive behind her. She quickly made her way to the front door to watch it, as the glass wheels, solid silver frame and shiny black ‘M’ on the roof looked threatening enough to squash her without hesitation. The carriage stopped at the end of the drive; the driver rushed off his seat and opened the door of the carriage, bowing so low his shiny white forehead almost touched the ground.

A bony woman stepped out, scanning the area with her narrow, scarlet eyes. Her hair had been straightened and glossed and the shine matched her high heeled shoes and long, sharp fingernails. She wore an outfit that just looked too fancy for a normal day: a sleek black dress with red silk stitching. The man who came out after her looked just as silly in a black suit. Blythe obviously took after his mother; they both had button noses and pointed chins. His father looked more rounded, and his eyes twinkled.

The footmen by the door next to Penny ran towards the pair, taking coats and bags and fussing about with their clothes and accessories. Mrs Mason waved them off irritably; Mr Mason laughed and gave them a few crisp fivers, telling them to ‘go get something to eat’.  When the Mason parents arrived at the door, Penny bowed her head, waiting for them to pass, but they didn’t. The spinead lifted her head and saw, to her horror, that they were both staring at her in amazement. Mrs Mason soon started scowling.

“What is this?” she asked of no one in particular.

“Madeline… why, it’s the spinead!”

“And what is that?” said Mrs Mason.

Mr Mason laughed.

“You don’t watch the news, do you? I know about you, Penny Dido, the spinead,” he said. “And it looked like Blythe wasn’t lying.”

“Are you going to keep talking in riddles or are you going to tell me why there is a scruffy little girl on my doorstep?”

Penny opened her mouth to speak, but the look Mrs Mason gave her was so dangerous that the words got caught in her throat.

“Madeline!” said Mr Mason, laughing. “This is Penny Dido, the girl who was attacked by that Bloodbane fellow. As in, the one your son is trying to catch?”

“And why is this here?” said Mrs Mason, gesturing to Penny.

“She’s working for us now. Blythe hired her. Well, do you mind taking our luggage to our room, Penny Dido? It’s in the carriage.”

The Masons brushed past her and disappeared into the house.

Penny stayed rooted to the spot, mouth hanging open. She felt like she had just been slapped. After giving one long look at the retreating Masons, she staggered to the carriage and dragged the eight suitcases out of the trunk.

“Let me help.”

Archer’s long, thin arm appeared from nowhere. He picked up four of the suitcases and gestured for Penny to do the same.

“Thanks,” she muttered.

“Madeline Mason has only known luxury her whole life,” said Archer. “She doesn’t do well with common folk.”

“I’m not common,” said Penny.

“To her you are,” said Archer. “Somehow she thinks I am upper-class, so you can tell her assessments are usually off.”

Even though his skeletal face was expressionless, Penny could detect the hint of a smile in his voice. She grinned as she followed Archer into the house.

“You do sound upper-class,” she said as they struggled up the long winding stairs to the first landing. “I mean, you talk like Ulrich.”

“There is nothing wrong with using proper English, madam. I am afraid that standards are slipping nowadays. I had to accompany Armand on a visit to Greymalkin’s a few years ago and I was shocked at the way in which the children were speaking. They were saying ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’; ‘haitch’ instead of ‘aitch’. A catastrophe, I must say.”

“I’ve always said haitch.”

The bedroom was unnecessarily big. The ceiling was very high, and the silver chandelier was offensive. There was a white fur rug next to the silk-covered king-sized bed, a massive vanity cabinet and a mahogany door that Penny immediately rushed to. Her suspicions were confirmed: they had a walk-in wardrobe.

“More like a shop than a wardrobe,” she muttered before turning to Archer. “And who’s Armand anyway? I’ve heard his name here and there.”

“Blythe’s older brother. He is the one who discovered the purpose of, and named, the Spine. A brilliant mind, the brains of the family – but Blythe is very intelligent as well. Antoinette is the artist of the three.”

Archer!”

The housekeeper jumped and beckoned for Penny to follow him downstairs. Penny hastily shut the wardrobe door and straightened her clothes, feeling apprehensive once she was in the entrance hall.

Blythe sat on the black velvet chair at the foot of the stairs, not looking at either of them. Mr Mason was on the bottom step, leaning against the banister, and Mrs Mason stood by the front door, arms folded tightly across her chest. She surveyed Penny with cold eyes before turning to Blythe, who seemed a bit too interested in the wall beside him.

“Blythe, are you so careless that you will invite such a person into our home?” said Mrs Mason, still looking at Penny. “What happened to interviews? What happened to references? I do not care if this is the famed spinead, she makes my home look filthy!”

“I know, mother, but the spinead thinks she is above normal Creep. Not only that, she has terrible etiquette and I think Archer will knock her into shape.”

He pulled a cigar from his pocket, lit it, and began to smoke, still looking away from his mother.

“That’s all you care about, isn’t it, Blythe?” said Mrs Mason. “Making your little points and lessons. The dinner has to go well tomorrow, I will not be made to look like a fool. Did you know Gideon Gecko is to attend? What will he say about this … spinead!”

“It will be fine, mother.”

His eyes finally fell upon her. They both exchanged hateful looks. Just before they were able to tear each other apart, Mr Mason got to his feet.

“Well, this is lovely and all, but I think you have some Gardien things to look at, don’t you son? I shall accompany you.”

Blythe stood and walked past Mrs Mason to get to the office. She hissed and stormed up the stairs, all but knocking Penny over.

“‘Excuse me’ would be nice,” said Penny, without thinking.

Mrs Mason whipped around, her eyes wild. She splayed her hand out in front of her body and was about to perform the same spell Penny had seen Forrest do two days ago when Archer got in between them.

“I will take you to your room, Mrs Mason.”

“If her manners do not improve, I am giving you permission to beat her, Archer!”   

….

“And then, guess what? I had to use a toothbrush to clean those silly little knobs on the chairs!”

Penny pulled her boots off and flung them on the floor. Forrest was sitting on the chair opposite her in the living room. He had been annotating his copy of Othello as Penny told him about her day at The Mason’s. Riider was sprawled on the floor with a glass of Bailey’s resting precariously on her stomach. It had been a ghastly day. The Mason’s Dinner Room was bigger than the entire Sloan residence. It had great paintings with gold and silver frames on the walls, iridescent wallpaper that was so expensive that Archer didn’t trust Penny to wipe it clean, and tens and tens of chairs, all arranged around a ridiculously long table. It had been Penny’s job to sweep and wash the mahogany floors, shine the goblets and plates and polish all the little nooks and crannies of the room. She had wanted to keel over by the time she had finished, but Blythe demanded she take inventory of food stock in the immaculate kitchens.

“Maybe you should take Dami up on her offer…” said Riider.

“I must admit, you’ve had quite the day,” said Forrest. “But I’m sure it will benefit you in the long run, Penny.”

“How?” said Penny. “I’ve been treated like an insect! Mrs Mason – God, if I could just punch her –”

“Penny,” said Forrest, closing the book. “Have you ever needed to cook or clean?”

“No…” said Penny, thinking back to her time in Lockview, “My mum always did it, but that was only because she thought a Christian woman was supposed to do those things! She chose it – no one forced her to do it, Forrest!”

“I understand that,” said Forrest patiently, “but when I was your age, I was hauling timber, slaving away in workshops, building houses with my dad. And Riider, she volunteered at the community centre on Chapel Street, washing mould and grime off of old dragons. Doing such things is humbling.”

“Well… well, w-when has Blythe Mason ever been humbled?” said Penny.

“Rich people don’t get humbled,” said Riider, sitting up to swig her drink. “They have their lives, we have ours. Unfair ain’t it? One day, I bet they’ll all get a humbling. Viva la Revolution! And all that, right?”

Penny shrugged helplessly. She had thought Forrest and Riider would have been more offended on her behalf, but she was beginning to understand the power the Masons held in their society, and was exhausted thinking about the depth of energy it would take to fight against them. The last thing she had wanted was a lecture on being humble, though. Dami’s potion didn’t seem so bad now that she had experienced the wrath of Mrs Mason.

“How was your day?” she asked finally, stretching out on the sofa.

“Pretty pointless,” said Riider. “Some Creeps said they saw a few warlocks milling about in Bermondsey, so Blythe told me and Forrest to snoop out. Nothing related to Tarquin there.”

“Did you find out what all those warlocks were up to?”

“Illegal poker games,” said Forrest. “I say ‘illegal’ because they were gambling with homosilisk venom. There’s been a lot of that around lately…”

“Homosilisk?” said Penny.

"Human-basilisk hybrids," said Riider, "one of 'em lives in the Thames, she's our friend, you know. She keeps the water green."

“Homosilisk venom has been on the news a lot," said Forrest, "It's potent, just a drop can kill dozens of people. There's speculation that the venom is used for Spine, but it hasn't been confirmed by Armand yet. If there are loads of warlocks trading with the stuff, it might lead to Tarquin in some way.”

“Well, whatever,” said Riider. "We found no leads. Let’s get some lunch.”

“Riider, it’s five o’ clock.”

“Well, linner then.”

“Have you forgotten Faust’s dinner party?”

“Of course not, Forrest, but you know I’ve gotta have my pre-dinner meal!”

Forrest turned to Penny, frowning deeply.

“Can you believe that this is an annual argument as well, Penny?”

Riider then ranted about stubbornness and unfairness. Penny was nervous about Faust’s dinner party; meeting Creeps other than Forrest and Riider had proven to be a hit-and-miss experience. On one end of the spectrum, there was Dagwood, but Madeline Mason stood arrogantly on the other end. In fact, the entire Mason family left her feeling cold, and she dreaded her upcoming duties at their mansion.

Before long, they were getting ready for the dinner. Forrest and Riider went up to their room to get dressed, as did Penny. The spinead decided on a tartan suit and shiny black Doc Martens. She tied her hair up into a silk red ribbon, one healthy afro puff packed high on her head, before looking herself over in the mirror. Downstairs, Forrest looked neat in a crisp black suit and Riider was stunning in a navy pencil dress. Her dreadlocks were swept up in a bun and held in place by a tie-dye scarf.

“You ready, gel?” she asked.

Penny nodded, and they left the house.

They walked down Closet Road and got on a carriage that took them through Scare, past the hospital, and into a quiet a cul-de-sac. A large sign on the wall read Outside. On the right of the sign was a black door; a chute was on the left. Forrest led them to the black door, which was pitch black on the other side. Riider pushed her towards the blackness, and the floor suddenly illuminated, revealing a rickety wooden staircase that moved up and down like an escalator. They stepped onto it, Penny looking around in bewilderment as the stairs carried them upwards. It seemed to go on for ages before another set of doors opened before them, leading onto a noisy and dark street.

Stainer Street, London Bridge, was located under a tunnel. The echoing drone of cars and busses rang in their ears, but there wasn’t a single person to be seen.

“Ah, I should give you one of these,” said Forrest, turning to Penny. He pulled something from his pocket and pressed it in her palm. It was a tiny golden key.

“What’s this for?” asked Penny as she pocketed it.

“It allows you entrance to The Cave,” he said. “You’ll see how it works on our way back.” He looked around to make sure the coast was clear before pointing at the black door which they had just come through, embedded inconspicuously in the wall. “Remember Stainer Street, Penny. This is where The Cave is located.”  

“Roger,” said Penny.

“The Cave almost got discovered once,” said Riider as they walked towards the high road. “This street got pretty badly bombed up during the Blitz.”

“What happened?” asked Penny.

“Well, the entrance got buried under a pile of rubble, so some Cave construction workers, I guess they were trolls or something, rebuilt it in the night.”

The main street was as busy as ever. A long line of tourists snaked past, chattering and taking photos of the London Bridge Experience a few yards down the road. Commuters rushed in and out of the Underground station and groups of school kids ambled around the bus stops. Penny’s eyes darted around London Bridge. She was so caught up in everything that she barely noticed when they crossed over to Tooley Street and turned left, into Hay’s Galleria,  a beautiful arcade with a high-stretching roof and a soft, golden walkway. There were boutiques, quaint cafes and stylish restaurants under the canopies. Forrest walked through the galleria at a brisk pace, turning into the walkway over the River Thames. By now the sun was starting to set and the orange and pink sky was reflected on the water’s surface.

Tower Bridge came into view soon enough. Penny’s heart pounded, her meeting with Tarquin Blood flooding back to her with full force. It felt like she had been in The Cave for a few years rather than a few weeks, but Tarquin’s face refused to fade in her memory. She she could still remember, still feel the terror of death.

Stop thinking about it, she told herself, just enjoy the party.

 They followed the Londoners up the thick stone steps that lead to the bridge. The trio tried to remain inconspicuous as they walked past the line of traffic and the control booth. A few people gave them odd stares as they knocked on the single wooden door embedded in the stone wall of the Bridge, and were even more curious when it opened for them. 

“Ooh I wonder what he’s got planned!” said Riider, pushing past the pair to run up the staircase inside. Forrest and Penny followed after her. They got into a lift and was taken up into a long, narrow room with red velvet carpet. Streamers and ribbons hung from the ceiling. A wall of windows stood on the left and right of the room, allowing for a breath-taking view of the River, the sunset and the Londoners several metres below them. Penny pressed her face against the window, watching life unfold in miniature form below. From here, she could even identify where she had stood weeks ago with Tarquin Blood on London Bridge. She could see the masts of HMS Belfast, the tourists on the duck boats in the River, and the commuters sitting around tables and benches in riverside restaurants.

They weren’t alone in the room. Witches, warlocks, wraiths, mages, and skeletons stood in clusters around champagne tables. When they saw Riider, they cheered and welcomed her in. Penny received a similar reception.

“So this is the spinead,” said a mage with a long, pointed hat. “Theodore Kern,” he added, shaking Penny’s hand. “I don’t live in The Cave, so I’m a little behind on the news.”

“Can Creeps live on the Outside?” asked Penny. The group now surrounding her chuckled.

“Of course,” said Theodore. “There are millions of Creeps living all over the UK. Of course, we mages are better suited for this; we look human enough.”

“And werewolves,” said a skeleton beside Theodore. “When they ain’t transformed, that is.”

Forrest joined the group, bearing two glasses of champagne. He gave one to Penny, who was so thrilled at being given alcohol that she almost dropped it. Some of the Creeps looked at her questioningly, but she masked her glee by coughing into her hand. Not even Alex Whittick had given her alcohol; he had been very superstitious and believed that such an act would result in a curse from God. Penny took three quick gulps of it before gagging. Alcohol didn’t taste as nice as she thought it would. It was bitter and had a strange after taste.

When the sun finally set, the Bridge burst into light. The stone facade of the bridge had been illuminated; the light shone into the party room and gave it an eerie, ghostly feel.  A chorus of Oohs and Aahs erupted from the Creeps who had not come here before, but Forrest and Riider looked as though they had been expecting it. After the darkness came, a group of vampires wearing sunglasses materialised by the entrance, cheering when they saw their friends. Introductions were made and Penny was told several stories and anecdotes that didn’t really mean much to her, but she smiled and laughed and enquired when it was needed. The Creeps seemed happy to have her there, and she was surprised and mildly pleased that they didn’t regard her as a silly little teenager.

“Frasier! Faun!” Riider yelled at the door, spilling some of her champagne on the floor. Forrest followed her gaze, looking pleasantly surprised at the two newest guests.

A pair of wraiths stood by the door. One was massive and muscular, sporting several rude tattoos along his thick, brown arms. He wore a t-shirt that looked several sizes too small for him, and his shiny bald head reflected the white light from the Bridge. The wraith beside him was the exact opposite; bone-thin, with dreadlocked hair that reached his knees. Despite their oddities, each wraith had a Forrest-like quality to their appearance.

“Penny,” said Forrest, as Riider pulled the two wraiths towards the group, “these are my older brothers: Frasier,” he nodded to the skinny wraith, “and Faun,” the massive wraith shook Penny’s hand furiously.

“Hi,” said Penny.

“I’ve been wanting to meet you, girlie!” said Faun, already snatching three glasses of champagne from the table and throwing them to the back of his throat. “The great spinead! What’s it like to be human?”

All eyes were on her now. Penny shrugged, surprised that she almost couldn’t remember.

“Erm … not much different to being a Creep, really,” she said.

“Can you do anything special?” asked Frasier, twirling a dreadlock around his index finger. “Forrest said you’ve been turned into something like a wraith. Can you vanish? Repel things? Or attract them, even.”

“Nope,” said Penny. “I’ve tried, believe me.”

“Bah! Rubbish,” said Faun, grabbing his fifth glass. “You go through all of that and don’t even come out with anything special.”

He downed the champagne and went to pick up another when Forrest grabbed his arm.

“Are you insane, Faun?” he said. “It isn’t water.”

“Didn’t you hear, Forrest?” said Frasier. “Natalie banned him from drinking in the house after he vomited in Old Lady Margret’s fish bowl. He’s been sneaking drinks ever since.”

“Oi, Frasier, you bloody snitch!”

Forrest folded his arms across his chest, shooting Faun a look of reproach.

“Well now I know. I’m going to tell Natalie what you’ve been doing.”

Faun slinked off to the long dining table and flopped pathetically onto one of the chairs.

“Oh, it’s alright, Faun!” said Riider, skipping over to him.

By this time the group had disintegrated, the novelty of having the spinead as a dinner guest had worn off and the Creeps had separated into smaller groups around the room. Penny, Forrest and Frasier remained by the big champagne table, watching the party unfold.

“Speaking of wives,” Penny heard Frasier mutter, “When are you and Riider…?”

Forrest shrugged. He shot a furtive look towards Riider, who was busy sharing a joke with Faun. Faun’s eyes widened at her story, and he soon broke down into a fit of laughter. Tears streamed down his eyes, and the proud look on Riider’s face oozed self-confidence. Penny noticed others in the room watching the pair rather wistfully, and she suddenly wished that she had been near enough to hear the tale, too. Penny returned her attention to Forrest, to see him rub the back of his neck absently, and then he stared, almost transfixed, into his champagne glass.

“I see,” said Frasier. He smiled kindly, patted Forrest on the shoulder and walked over to a group of vampires.

Penny and Forrest stood by the table, both getting increasingly uncomfortable. Penny, in an attempt to make small-talk, was just about to ask what time the party was starting, when there was an explosion of colour and smoke by the door. The smoke cleared to reveal a female mage wearing a red cat suit and felt top hat.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!” She said. “Please take your seats around the dinner table; the party is about to begin!”

The Creeps did as they were told. Penny sat beside Faun and Riider, with Forrest and Frasier sitting further down the table. The red-suited mage tapped the ceiling with her staff, and all the lights went off.

Oooh!” said Faun, amidst laughter from the other Creeps.

“Oh wow, look!” said Riider, pointing to the window facing her; at the astonishing fireworks display outside the Bridge. They took the form of green oak trees and sparkly black witches, glittering mages, dancing wraiths and leaping vampires. Penny was pleased to see that warlocks had been included in the display, along with werewolves, skeletons, zombies and ghosts.

There was a great flash of light as more fireworks appeared in the party room with them. This caused several Creeps to jump to their feet. Golden Sharans and dragons and sprites and faeries whizzed around the guests, danced on the tables and cartwheeled along the rails on the windows. The firework figurines whizzed towards the centre of the table and merged together, until they formed a glittering silver fountain that cracked and snapped and showered the guests with sparks. Penny gasped, staring at the multitude of colours dancing and shimmering as one. An arm appeared through the light, then a body, and finally a bright, smiling face poked out of the midst of the fountain. He was handsome, his long hair styled into zigzag canerows.

“Faust!” yelled Riider.

Faust winked at her, and then bowed as the guests clapped and cheered at his appearance. The fountain zipped to a halt, the fireworks outside disappeared with a pop and the lights flickered back on.

“Welcome to my dinner, guys!” said Faust. “Glad you could all make it! Be prepared for party games, loads of food and loads of alcohol – although none for Faun because he’s been told off by his wife!”

A chorus of laughter erupted from the guests. Faun gave his brother the middle finger.

“I’d also like to welcome Penny Dido, the spinead! My little brother’s looking after her and showing her around The Cave. What better introduction than this, eh? Now, Manda,” he turned to the red-clad mage by the door, “I think we should get some food, don’t you?”

Manda the mage tapped her staff on the ground, and a semi-circle of buffet tables materialised around the diners. There were several yells of relief as the guests rushed to the tables, with Riider and Faun taking the lead.

….

It had been a feast fit for a king. The diners gorged on racks of lamb, spare ribs, curried goat, jerk chicken, fried snapper and mutton stew. Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes, rice and peas, coleslaw, sweet potato mash and stew cabbage accompanied the meat, with chocolate soufflé, sticky toffee pudding, bakewell and treacle tart, cheesecake and rhubarb crumble and custard for dessert. There was plenty of wine, champagne, fresh juices and spring water to wash it down. Penny was full. She leaned back in her chair and sighed, trying to make room in her stomach for another bite of sticky toffee pudding.

After everyone had eaten their fill, they played party games and told funny stories to one another. It was after three in the morning when everything quietened down pleasantly.

“So, Forrest,” said Faust, absently shuffling a deck of cards. “How’s this Gardien job going?”

The chatter died down. Even Faun and Frasier stopped their arm-wrestling match to listen. It appeared that Gardien business had been kept private from the Creep populace. 

“Well,” said Forrest, glancing at Riider. “It’s been difficult. Some warlocks have disappeared, and according to Blythe, others are having strange meetings in The Cave. Creeps who live on the Outside are apprehensive, and rightly so, but they keep reporting ‘sightings’ of strange warlocks out and about. Some say it’s Tarquin himself, but we know he isn’t anywhere near London.”

“So why do you guys have to patrol, then?” asked Faun.

“You can never be too sure…” said Forrest.

“Blythe reckons Tarquin is looking for a crew,” said Riider. “He’s one warlock, and there’s only so much magic a warlock can do, right? So he’s gonna need wraiths and mages and stuff. He obviously knows that Gardien exists. He’s not gonna back down without a fight.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” said Frasier. “I thought Tarquin Blood was just a little kook, like Rubin Child was. Why is he building an army?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Forrest. “It’s not an army. Blythe has first-hand experience of Tarquin’s behaviour. He is supposed to be very charismatic.”

“He is,” said Penny, feeling nervous when all eyes fell on her. “He sweetened me up before attacking me. It’s the whole reason how we started talking. How does Blythe know about that?”

“Well apparently, Blythe and Tarquin used to be best friends,” said Riider.

What?” said Penny.

“Don’t talk about it though,” said Theodore Kern. “I hear it makes him angry.”

The guests suddenly looked fearful, even though Penny was sure that some of them were several years older than Blythe.

“But still,” said Frasier. “Why is he looking for followers? He’s killed a dozen humans – that’s it. What’s the point of resisting?”

The guests leaned forward in their chairs, waiting for the answer.

“You’ve seen Penny,” said Forrest. “Does it really look like he’s just made a little poison to kill people? Spine is a substance that turns humans into Creeps. Penny’s the first person to survive a Spine attack, and Tarquin hadn’t banked on that. Isn’t that right, Penny?”

“Yeah,” said Penny. “He left because he thought he’d killed me. What’s going on, you think?”

“We don’t know,” said Forrest. “But why on earth would he want to turn humans into Creeps? What’s that for? You could argue that he wants to destroy the human race or something, but there’s no way he would be able make enough Spine for that, so he must have a plan.”

“Good grief,” said Theodore.

“I don’t like the sound of this at all,” said Manda the mage, who had taken off her top hat and was twirling it around in her hands.

“I think,” Faust said slowly, “if you want your answer, then you should stop looking for it on the Outside.”

“Whyssat?” asked Riider.

“I’ve been hearing things through the grapevine. The warlocks of The Cave are becoming restless. This is what they wanted –”

“—not all,” said one of the warlocks around the table.

“I beg your pardon,” said Faust, “but you know what I mean. There’s some warlocks in The Cave who think what Tarquin’s done is legendary. At last, a warlock to make a name for themselves; a warlock to stick his finger up to society.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” said Penny. “Tarquin’s killed people. That can’t be good for anyone.”

“You have to think about it from their point of view, Penny,” said Faust. “Warlocks have been ignored and mistreated for centuries. I was at the opening ceremony for the Great Tree Festival. I noticed that the warlock decorations had been absent, that the warlocks who performed got booed. Imagine being in that position, and then finally, a warlock as intelligent as Tarquin comes along, shows everyone up at school. I’m the same age as Tarquin, see; I was in his year. The guy’s a genius. No one believed a warlock could do so much. He was interviewed by the Monthly Spell and everything, so a lot of warlocks have been watching his progress since then. And now look, he’s done something that will make not only him, but warlocks everywhere, noticed.”

“So what does this mean?” said Forrest. “That there’s … Blood sympathisers? In The Cave?”

“That’s exactly what it means. And do you know what’s worse? I hear it’s all coming from the Academy. I don’t know if it’s the warlock teachers, or some kids in the Arrow Club, but something’s going on at that school.”

“I need to tell Blythe,” said Forrest. “This is not good.”

The party took on a subdued tone after this revelation; all everyone wanted to talk about was Tarquin’s plan, his followers, and the unnamed sympathisers at Greymalkin’s Academy.

….

“But it can’t be the Arrow Club!” said Riider for the umpteenth time. “I’m sure it’s a dodgy teacher; someone who taught Tarquin in his hey-day.”

 Due to the centuries-old rivalry between witches and warlocks, two societies had been set up at Greymalkin’s Academy in 1901: the Arrow Club and the Sword Club, for warlocks and witches respectively. These clubs planned social events for each race, and could easily create a space for people to express their leanings. Penny agreed with Riider, though; she was almost certain that the one starting all this trouble was one of Tarquin’s old teachers.

She listened to bits and pieces of Riider’s rant as they walked along Stainer Street. Her mind was foggy from all the food and excitement of the night, and blank with fear for the high tensions in The Cave.

“Here we are, Penny,” said Forrest, who also looked worse for wear. He indicated a random brick in the wall. “It looks normal, but if you look closely, you’ll see that there are hinges on this brick,” he said. “And it is slightly lighter than the rest.”

“Oh yeah,” said Penny. She pulled the lid of the brick instinctively. A tiny keyhole was underneath. Realisation dawning, Penny pulled the golden key from her pocket and clicked it in the lock. A trapdoor opened in the pavement before them.

“Just jump down, gel,” said Riider, and she shoved Penny into the hole.

The darkness reached up and caught her. Penny felt herself being pushed and pulled in the darkness, zipping down long, winding drops and jagged curves. The whoosh of air hit her face, clearing away the fog from the dinner party. Just as she was starting to have fun, the chute opened up and belched her onto the dusty ground of The Cave. Forrest and Riider appeared seconds later, sliding on the ground with practised precision.

“Whoo! I love that thing!” said Riider, who had been screaming the whole way down.

“I suppose we’ll need to tell Blythe about what Faust said,” said Forrest, his eyes distant. “It’s really late, so we’ll do it tomorrow, OK, Riider? I have a feeling Blythe will be in his office during his parents’ dinner party, we can discuss then.”

“Sure,” yawned Riider.

“Don’t remind me of that thing,” said Penny, who was truly dreading her maid’s duties for the Mason family.

They slogged towards the house, barely saying goodnight to each other before flopping, fully dressed, onto their beds. Penny was too tired to even write in her diary, but there were so many thoughts bouncing around her head that she didn’t think she would be able to write them all down anyway. She could hear Forrest and Riider talking in the next room, most likely about Faust’s information.

Penny didn’t want to think about it, but she had a feeling that the Blood supporters would soon make her life very difficult…

Chapter Twelve: Hollow

Chapter Twelve: Hollow

Chapter Ten: The Great Tree Festival

Chapter Ten: The Great Tree Festival