Chapter Sixteen: The Spy
Mistress Rookwood wasn’t in the country. She took regular visits to the other Cave schools in Europe and was the Chief Inspector for the European Education Authority. This particular venture saw her in Athens visiting the School of the Titans. Penny overcame her initial annoyance at this news fairly quickly; despite knowing how important this information would be to Rookwood, she hadn’t been too keen on having a one-to-one meeting with her. With no one else to tell, she floated from lesson to lesson in a daze, her head filled with all the horrible things Hawthorne had said about her. Chloe kept shooting annoyed glances in her direction, but Penny hardly noticed until the vampire pinned her against the wall outside their History class, their last lesson for the day.
“Why does it look like you’ve just sucked a lemon?” she said.
Penny struggled free and began walking briskly down the corridor in an attempt to get away from her stunned classmates. It took no time for Chloe to catch up and she resorted to dragging Penny by the arm all the way to the passage of their underground fort. The spinead tried to struggle free again, but Chloe had used the most of her abnormal vampire strength to keep her from getting away.
“What’s the matter, then?” Chloe asked when they were underground.
“Oh don’t be pathetic! I don’t like being ignored, Dido. I’ve been trying to talk to you all afternoon but you’ve been on cloud cuckoo-land or something. What happened? You were fine before Flying class.”
“It’s nothing, really.”
Chloe sighed loudly, flinging her hands in the air.
“Look, Dido, I don’t really care for people, so if I were you I’d take this as a great honour that I’m even asking what your problem is.”
Penny gave her an incredulous look. Why should she feel honoured? She’d just had a tough day. Of course, telling Chloe about Hawthorne would mean revealing all of Gardien’s secrets, and the details of her mission. She still wasn’t sure whom she was allowed to tell about this, and even worse, she didn’t want Chloe to think of her as a fake, just sent to the school to get juicy details on the students.
But she was sure that Chloe could be trusted; the vampire hardly spoke to anyone else.
“I don’t…” she murmured.
“What? You don’t what? Want to fly? Do the hokey-pokey? You don’t shower?”
“Oh just shut up, Chloe!”
Chloe took several steps back. Her bulging eyes soon narrowed to two glowing red slits.
“Fine. I don’t care what your problem is—just don’t be so moody and depressing next time something gets you down, then, all right?” And she turned to leave.
“No—wait!” said Penny, grabbing Chloe by the arm. The little outburst gave her a boost of adrenaline, and with it, she finally decided it was now or never to tell Chloe about her secret—something that had been playing on her mind for a long time. Why should there be secrets between them? Friends didn’t keep secrets, did they?
“I need to ask you something, Chloe. Something important.”
“There’s a boy in our year called Hawthorne. He’s in the Arrow Club. D’you know who he is?”
Penny waited almost eagerly, watching Chloe turn the name over in her head.
“Hawthorne,” she said. “Arrow Club—oh, hold on! Hawthorne Cole? I think he’s the one … yeah, he is! The one who had that crazy incident last year.”
“What incident?” said Penny.
“Nope. I gave you info, now you give me info. Why d’you want to know about Hawthorne Cole of all people?”
Penny didn’t answer at first, instead she went over to cushions and sat down on one. Chloe remained standing where she was, not saying a word. They remained that way for a while, Penny waiting, but when she looked over at Chloe, she saw the vampire filing her nails with an emery board.
“I have something to tell you, okay?” Penny said in exasperation. “It’s really good. Why don’t you sit down?”
“Hmm, well, all right then. If you insist.”
“I’m spying on the Arrow Club,” said Penny, “because I’m working with Gardien to stop Tarquin Blood and there’s a theory that some of his supporters are in that club… I’m actually at this school on a secret mission. I heard Hawthorne badmouthing me, he thinks I’m an enemy.”
Chloe watched the glowing fire in silence, the orange flames flickering magically in her glassy, electric pink eyes.
“That’s a massive secret for me to keep,” she said. “But fine, I’ll keep it, and I’ll share what I know about Hawthorne.”
Penny stared at her, flabbergasted.
“What?” said Chloe, “I’m a Manheim, gossip is all I know. Seriously, you being in Gardien isn’t that exciting, you know—it actually makes a lot of sense. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the school figured it out themselves. Why else would you want to go to school? It’s not like its compulsory.”
“I guess so,” said Penny, with a mounting feeling of trepidation. Had it been a mistake to attend Greymalkin’s? If the majority of the school populace had already assumed there was another reason behind her enrolment, the clearly intelligent members of the Arrow Club, particularly Hawthorne Cole, might have already been plotting against her.
“Don’t worry though,” said Chloe, looking guilty, “I don’t think you’re in danger or anything.”
“She says this now,” said Penny, rolling her eyes. “The secret you’re about to tell me better be good!”
“Oh, it’s juicy, Penny,” said Chloe, “but you’re being all nervous and silly and it’s annoying me. Come to my house after school. We’ll hang out, and I’ll tell you then.”
A sea of purple flooded out of the cathedral. A flurry of witches disappeared on their brooms; gangs of mages rose above the throng on cloudy platforms, others had conjured silvery angels’ wings that unfurled from their backs. Penny and Chloe bobbed along in the crowd, as always, the former was breath taken by the scenes; Chloe only looked mildly interested, ignoring the usual adulating stares she received from other pupils. When they escaped the clearing and made their way into Scare, Chloe beckoned Penny into an apothecary.
The walls were made of black shiny bricks and a symphony of sweet, lulling smells greeted them at the door. Shelves stacked with gold phials, silver bottles, brown glasses and pipettes were on either side of them, and at the centre was a sample table.
“My mum wanted new perfume, so I promised her I’d get her something after school.”
Behind the service desk was a being with a peculiar appearance. His face was long and bony, the right side was pitch black; the left, marble-white. His eyes were inverted colours, making him look like a walking yin-yang symbol. He wore an illustrious scarlet cloak, complete with mortar board and feather.
“Hi Domino.” Said Chloe absently, scanning the shelves.
“Manheim,” said Domino with a small smile. “And Penny.”
“Hi,” said Penny. “What are you?”
“Straight to the point, as always,” said Chloe as she extracted a majestic golden bottle from the shelf.
“Ah, I don’t mind,” said Domino. “I’m a wizard, not a lot of us around, we tend to look like this.”
“Why?” said Penny curiously.
“It makes us look different and it’s cool,” said Domino.
“Well, I guess,” said Penny.
Domino sighed, but he was unable to hide the mirth on his face. “Here, let me explain," he continued, “magical Creeps like to distinguish themselves from each other. Warlocks are simply male magicians who conjure spells through physical mediums: as I’m sure you know by now, the cloaks you see enable them to do magic. Destroy the cloak and they’re powerless. Witches do magic through nature: they can manipulate weather, make potions from natural herbs and plants, tap into the spiritual abilities animals possess and use them to do their bidding. Mages are powerful: they use ether, the air, in other words. As long as there’s oxygen, they can do something. Dangerous people, mages. Wizards like me work through art. So, we hypnotise people with paintings and colours, we write enchantments on paper, and if spoken, a whole lot of mischief will happen. If you see a man or woman playing a flute down here, run like the wind: it’s a wizard trying to enchant you. My forte is colour.”
The black bricks on the walls flushed red, then purple, then white and black again. When Penny turned back to Domino, she found a toad, croaking in annoyance on the service desk.
Penny yelped and jumped, backing away from the wizard who was doubled-over with laughter behind her.
“Colour is bewitching, you know,” he said.
“Oh hurry up Domino!” said Chloe. “I want to go home.”
“Have some fun, Manheim!” said Domino. The room flashed a rainbow again, and Domino appeared behind his desk, the toad seemingly vanishing to another parallel space. Penny waved at him, following Chloe back though Scare, and onto Gold Street: the home of the rich and famous, and also the same neighbourhood as Blythe Mason.
Due to her previous trepidation of Blythe, Penny had not taken the time to explore the area properly, but now, accompanied by Chloe, and walking on foot, she was able to see just how grand and breath-taking Gold Street was. The cobbled streets that were so synonymous with Cave life had been replaced by marble slabs; whitewood trees surrounded by faerie clusters lined the pavements and the purple orbs were all encased in golden ornamental claws. Every home was an astonishing mansion. The largest belonged to the Mason family, but the others were no less impressive: Gideon Gecko’s house was a multicoloured castle complete with a steaming green lake of tea beside it; there were five-storey citadels, fairy book fortresses and moated castles. The Manheim Mansion was a grand white building reminiscent of a wedding cake; golden gates sheltered it from the rest of the community and a band of skeletons busied themselves on the other side, polishing the pumpkin carriages and sweeping the front porch.
“So different from Forrest and Riider’s place,” Penny muttered.
Inside, the floors and walls were white, but the ceiling had been painted a startling royal blue, with golden stars glittering in rainbow arcs across it, giving the impression of a domed evening sky. A grand staircase winded upwards towards a landing that was decorated with black ivy; oak doors were closed in every direction, leading to rooms of gold-plated wonder.
“Come to my room,” said Chloe. She crouched low and launched herself towards the first-floor landing, leaving Penny to scale the stairs in a fluster. She followed Chloe to the door at the end of the corridor. On the other side was fuchsia madness: furry carpet, a shiny ceiling and a grand wardrobe from which clothes tumbled onto the floor like a tongue. A gigantic heart-shaped platform was in the middle of the room, finished with mesh curtains and decorative cushions. The platform was home to a glossy pink coffin.
“I don’t have any food, I’m afraid,” said Chloe, “obviously we don’t eat anything in this house, but I’ll just get Alex to bring you something. Roast lamb? Mash potatoes? Pasta salad?”
“Sure,” said Penny, “I’ve been eating rat-meat, so some lamb would go down well I think.”
A little while later and a roast dinner was set before her on a small oak table and gilded chair. Chloe began wrapping the perfume bottle, perched on top of her coffin, absently running ribbons through her fingers until they curled and bounced elegantly.
“Hawthorne Cole,” said Chloe. “He didn’t always go to Greymalkin’s, you know. He randomly started attending last year after his parents died. They used to travel loads, his mum was one of those rare witches who loved everything warlock. Most witches end up marrying mages or wizards, you see… they’re the most popular out of the magician species. The Coles were proper activists, they used to travel all over the world on warlock duties and stuff.
“Anyway, one day the news came out that the Coles were killed on the Outside by some humans.”
“Humans?” said Stacey. “How can that be? They’re not magic.”
“Well, everyone has a weakness, don’t they? Yeah, we vampires look invincible, but stake our hearts and burn ‘em, make us stand out in the sun and we’re gone. Same with warlocks. It’s like what Domino said, magicians all have their mediums with which they use magic—if you tear a warlock’s cloak, he can’t conjure any spells, and it takes a long time until he can weave his magic into an entirely new cloak… and it can’t just be any old jacket, mind you: the cloak has to be woven from dragons’ mane by a senior wizard—under a bloody full moon. With a witch, if you kill her Familiar, she’s stunned for five minutes. That’s a long time to be weakened.”
“But how would a human know all of that?” said Penny.
Chloe shrugged. “I don’t know, and to be honest I don’t care, but if I was to guess I would put it down to people like you.”
“Yeah, you humans who like to read horror stories and all that. Spend your time in graveyards, pretend to be vampires… you always end up stumbling on the truth, making stuff harder for us Creeps. Look at those Alice Trent books, my favourites, but they’re even sold on the Outside… all those human kids think they’re reading fiction, but a real vampire is talking to them on those pages, giving little snippets of our world. And humans aren’t that stupid, are they? Wouldn’t put it past them to find something to meddle with and try it out.”
“So that’s why he’s so angry,” said Penny. “I should stay out of his way, just in case… he literally called me The Enemy. He’ll be after me, no doubt. And it makes perfect sense for him to follow Tarquin and his human killing spree.”
“Of course. You’re pretty much dead.”
“But you have a vampire on your side, remember? I’m strong, and way stronger than any silly warlock. Stick with me, I’ll beat him up for you.”
Penny smiled warmly before returning to the roast dinner. Friendship was still alien to her, but she would treasure the feeling it gave her.
It was Saturday. The Cave was in full swing with shopping, leisure and play. Penny returned to Closet Road late into the previous night, so she had been unable to tell Forrest and Riider about the Hawthorne Cole discovery. She found Forrest in the kitchen in a pink apron the next morning, frying eggs over the stove with a sullen expression.
“I wish you would cook sometimes, Riider,” he said.
“I’ll cook tomorrow, promise.”
“You said that yesterday morning.”
“Well, now this is a double promise.”
He turned to look at her with an incredulous expression, spatula in hand, when he saw Penny standing by the door.
“Ah, morning Penny,” he said, “just in time for breakfast.”
“You were out on the tiles, gel!” said Riider, patting her on the back as she sat down.
“I guess so… I’ve made a friend.”
“And who’s that then?” said Riider.
Riider’s eyes widened. She shot a mischievous glance at Forrest, who quickly busied himself setting the plates and glasses around the table.
“You’ve certainly hit it big, gel,” said Riider, “A Manheim. You were at their house, were you? What’s it like?”
“Huge,” said Penny. “And Chloe is cool, I’ve been hanging with her since Monday, actually, but we’re kind of solid now. I like her.”
“Chloe’s the nice one out of the Manheim lot, but the dad’s all right,” said Riider. “Ain’t that right, Forrest?”
“Mmhmm,” said Forrest, sharing the breakfast out with a clatter, “any updates on your mission, Penny?”
“Yeah, quite a big one actually,” said Penny.
Both Forrest and Riider turned their attention to her with a sudden seriousness that caught her off guard. She was reminded then, that although The Cave was a new and mesmerising place for her, the Gardien members’ main priority was Tarquin Blood. A little embarrassed, she explained what she had heard in the Arrow Club, and the brief background on Hawthorne Cole given to her by Chloe—omitting that she had confessed her own involvement in Gardien matters to the vampire. When she had finished, the kitchen descended into an unsettling silence.
“So it’s true then,” said Forrest. “What a shame. But this is invaluable, Penny.”
“So it looks like Blood really has got followers in the school…” said Riider.
“We’ll need to secure your safety of course,” said Forrest. “We’ll contact Blythe immediately.”
They had a rushed breakfast before travelling by carriage to Blythe’s mansion. It was Armand who answered the door. His lab coat was just as mucky as before, his curls thick and wild, bouncing in all directions.
“Penny!” he yelled, reaching forward to pull her into a hug. “Penny you mustn’t keep our meetings so sparse! This is unacceptable, absolutely tragic. Oh and look, Forrest and Riider! Do come in.”
He gave way to the trio, yelled for Blythe to greet them in the foyer, and when the misanthropic wraith appeared behind the office door, he all but lifted him from the ground. Blythe scowled at everyone from behind his curtain of customary cigar smoke.
“What are you doing?” he said to Armand. “I didn’t even know you were here.”
“Why Blythe! I’ve been here for four days!”
“Well leave. This is my house.”
“That won’t do, dear brother. Archer! Yoohoo!”
The skeleton rushed to the scene, looking around at the myriad of faces with the black bottomless pits where eyes used to be. His body language implied perplexity, and slight trepidation towards whatever Armand had planned.
“Please prepare us five cups of green Gecko tea and some fresh pastries in the tea room!”
“Of course, Master Armand.”
“Let’s go everyone!” said Armand, dragging Penny down a corridor she had not yet seen, “it’s time for tea.”
“Go home,” rasped Blythe from the rear. To Forrest he said, “I’m assuming you have something important to tell me, otherwise I’ll turn back right now and go to bed.”
“Yes, of course, Blythe,” said Forrest. “This is about the Greymalkin’s situation.”
Penny glanced back at Blythe, and caught him regarding her with irritated loathing. She shot him a wry smirk in response, and felt her chest swell that she had proven him wrong, and had done the unexpected.
By the time they arrived at the tea room, a tray of tea and hot pastries had already been delicately spread across a gilded oak table. The teacups were rimmed with bands of rose gold, and the gold-finished cutlery had been shined to perfection. The ground was cream marble; the walls a midnight blue, huge chandeliers hung from the ceiling like crystallised spiders’ webs, each finished with diamonds and filigree ornaments.
“Okay now everyone, what’s the news?” said Armand to the room once they had seated.
“Armand, shut up,” said Blythe. “Just shut up and get out of my house.”
“Ah! How rude of me,” said Armand, giving no indication that he had heard his brother, “I forgot to tell you how my day has been… my apprentices have been working very hard, however Clouden fell ill, poor boy had smoke coming out of his ears for the past week, I told him not to worry! I have Samia, the best zombie-healer in all the land! And she said—”
Blythe slammed his fist on the table, and the tea set cluttered and trembled in response. His eyes were bright and livid, the cigar clasped between his sharp teeth.
“Get out, get out for goodness’ sake, get out of this house!”
“Blythe,” said Armand after a pause, “whatever’s wrong? Did you miss your mid-morning nap?”
“Erm, Armand,” said Penny quietly, “I came to give an update on the Tarquin Blood situation, I’m on a special mission, see.”
“Well why didn’t you say so?” said Armand, brightening immediately, “please, do tell!”
Just then, Archer rapped the door politely before letting himself in sheepishly.
“I beg your pardon,” he said, “but I have a phone call for Armand, from Antoinette.”
Both Armand and Blyth froze, eyes wide. Armand turned to Blythe with a wide smile that was both maniacal and fearful.
“Well go on then, Armand, brother,” said Blythe. His eyes were glassy with a smug fury, “Don’t keep her waiting.”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you all,” said Armand as he leapt to his feet, “I daresay I have my own funeral to attend. Adieu!”
“I hate him,” said Blythe after a stunned pause. “I have him so much, but I hate Antionette more. Now can you please tell me what the hell’s been happening at that school before I banish all three of you from my presence? And I want you to wipe that smirk off your face, spinead, before I remove you from your post indefinitely.”
The threat was effective, and Penny stared at the table sullenly. Forrest quickly updated Blythe on the Hawthorne Cole situation whilst Riider stuffed her face with the pastries. As he listened to Penny’s findings, Blythe remained stoic, but his eyes shone with the anticipation of a lion on the hunt. His cigar was poised above the table between trembling fingers, and every so often he would glance towards Penny and back to Forrest. Penny could almost hear the cogs in his brain whirring with activity; his mind overcrowding with strategies like an army tactician in the midst of war. When Forrest had finished, Blythe rose from his seat and headed towards the door.
“Penny is to remain at Greymalkin’s for the next month. I have a date in mind for when she shall leave, but I will not disclose it yet. Continue to engage with the planning committee and the Arrow Club.”
“But Blythe,” said Forrest, “is that not dangerous?”
“This is what she wanted and this is what she’ll get,” said Blythe. His trouser legs dragged on the floor behind his feet, and his jumper hung limply off his left shoulder, and yet he appeared more imposing with every step towards the door. “I will arrange some things on my end. Leave this place when you’ve finished eating.”
The door slammed behind him. Forrest shook his head slowly, looking hurt and concerned, and Riider glugged Gecko tea beside him.
“Forrest,” she said when she was done, “Penny’s gonna be fine. Ain’t you, Pen?”
“Yeah I am, you don’t have to be so worried, Forrest,” said Penny. Inside she was beaming; Blythe had used her actual name for the first time.
“You don’t know that, Penny,” said Forrest, taking her out of her reverie. “The Cave is a dangerous place for the uninitiated, and a warlock is not to be underestimated. Although belittled, they are a powerful species, fuelled by frustration and anger, which only makes for more potent magic.”
“I totally understand where you’re coming from,” said Penny. “But I’m not stupid. I have Chloe, and Saffire Walker, and even Mistress Rookwood right by my side. I won’t do anything stupid, I promise.”
“Come, Forrest, have a pastry!” said Riider, shoving an apple Danish into his mouth before he could say anything more. But in the preceding weeks, Penny did the exact opposite.