Chapter Eighteen: The First Hunt
Penny was relieved from her duties early, so she walked to the Manheim residence to see how Chloe was doing. There was fanfare outside the mansion, with several skeletons rushing to and fro outside, decorating the exterior with pink ribbons and preparing an electric pink pumpkin carriage outside. Skeletons came in and out the front door with trunks of clothes and shoe boxes, perfume phials, scarves and hat cases; several mages and vampires entered with hair styling equipment. Penny rang the doorbell outside the gold gate, several pairs of black eye sockets focused on her, before the leader, Alex, approached her.
“Good evening, Penelope,” he said.
“Hi, Alex. Is this a bad time?”
“No it’s not!”
There was a whooshing sound above their heads. The pair looked upwards and found Chloe hovering above them, her bright hair whipping about her face majestically. She dropped beside Alex and smiled brightly at Penny.
“What brings you here?” she said.
“Was just seeing how you were doing,” said Penny. “What’s going on?”
“Well it’s a big time,” said Chloe, pulling Penny through the gates that Alex opened unrelentingly, “my First Hunt is tomorrow! Mistress Walker just sent a message bat to the house to confirm the time we’re supposed to be meeting!”
“Oh wow,” said Penny, “July’s already here.”
“So why all this?” said Penny, gesturing to the fanfare.
“Well, I need to pick a good outfit, get my hair styled, practice my Charming, there’s a lot to do.”
They ran up the steps to the front door and upon entering the mansion found pandemonium.
“This is all for your First Hunt?” said Penny flatly, “isn’t it a bit much?”
“But it’ll be my first time Outside! And at night, it’s like a school trip!”
Just then, a tall vampire in a pink silk dressing gown waltzed down the main staircase to greet them. Her shocking pink hair was so long it trailed on the floor behind her like a wedding train, and her white-less eyes were a deep, Valentine’s pink.
“You must be Penny,” she said in a voice that echoed through the hall.
“Penny, that’s my mum,” said Chloe, rolling her eyes. “Always wanting to make a grand entrance, aren’t you, lady?”
Mrs Manheim only smiled knowingly as she came to stand beside them. Penny gaped at her, entranced in a field of cherry blossom and roses; she could smell candy floss, bubble gum, some other sickly sweet scent that had her salivating.
“Stop it mum!” said Chloe, and Penny returned to the entrance hall.
“I’m doing a demonstration,” said Mrs Manheim, “that’s how good you need to be tomorrow. I’m counting on you. Your sisters Charmed twelve people each on their First Hunts, you know, and I did—”
“—thirty, yes. A Cave record. Not as much as Hollow, though.”
“Ah, Hollow. Gorgeous boy.”
“Hollow?” said Penny. The name was familiar.
“Yeah, Hollow Walker, his dad’s the editor for BloodType,” said Chloe. “Mistress Walker’s only son.”
“Of course,” said Penny, remembering that she had already met the vampire at Blythe’s house, he was the newest Gardien recruit. “So he’s pretty formidable then?”
“Formidable?” said Chloe, wide-eyed as Mrs Manheim giggled pityingly, “Hollow’s a living legend. There’s no hunter as good as him. He’ll be at school tomorrow in our vampire classes to help tutor us, it’s something he started doing last year, and then he’ll be coming along with our class to hunt too. You still coming, right? You’ll really enjoy it with Hollow there.”
“I’d be mad to miss it,” said Penny. “Maybe I should get an outfit too then?” she said, regarding her army boots and tattered tights self-consciously.
“Come with me, I have loads of clothes to spare,” said Chloe, and without another word, she held Penny by the waist and launched them both in the air. Penny felt weightless and giddy and her stomach lurched as if she was in a lift, and then she was back on steady ground, facing Chloe’s bedroom.
“Nothing pink, though,” she said.
Greymalkin’s Academy was as busy as ever, and news of the First Hunt had spread throughout the school. The non-vampire pupils expressed sentiments both thrilled and envious, asking their vampire friends to take them along, or asking teachers if they could observe. The only Creeps to receive permission were ghosts and wraiths based on their vanishing abilities—Mistress Rookwood and the teaching faculty had no faith that the other pupils would behave themselves or remain unseen.
Penny and Chloe made their way to 11E’s classroom to find it crowded with students. For once, Chloe was not the main attraction of the West Quarter corridor, instead, the tall, stocky figure of Hollow Walker had captured everyone’s attention. He stood a head above everyone else, his long black hair cascading in thick tresses down his back. The vampires of 11E were talking to him excitedly, but there were also mages, witches and warlocks who had come to catch a glimpse of the celebrity. As they drew closer to the throng, Penny felt compelled to run to him, and she was enchanted by the sweet smell of grape and toffee apples. She turned to Chloe to enquire where the smell was coming from, only to see the vampire drifting towards him, her eyes wide with rapt wonder. Upon observation, Penny could see vampires and non-vampires mesmerised by Hollow. As he spoke to them, they only responded in the affirmative, or giggled in agreement, or inched closer towards him, trying to touch his bare, marble-white arms.
And everyone was snapped out of their reverie. They saw Mistress Walker approaching them with a stern look on her face. The pupils blinked rapidly, confused by themselves, and then turned back to Hollow.
“You Charmed us!” shrieked Laura, her glasses foggy with distress. “You Charmed a bunch of vampires!”
“Oh, did I?” said Hollow. “Oopsie.”
“Indeed,” said Saffire as she came to stand beside her son. She nudged his arm playfully, but her expression was still wary. “He’s Charmed me before. Be careful, kids, Hollow’s nothing to play with.”
“Wow,” said Chloe, “he’s really amazing.”
11E filed into the classroom as the other pupils dispersed with perplexed expressions. Chloe led Penny to the back of the classroom, after which the other vampires took their seats. Saffire took the seat behind her desk, completing the register as Hollow went to the chalkboard. His black eyes narrowed in concentration as he began to draw a diagram on the board, with the silent class watching him nervously. When he was done, he faced them again, revealing a detailed sketch of the London Bridge area.
“Hey guys,” he said, grinning at them. “This is what it looks like up there, outside The Cave. This is the place where you’ll hunt later tonight. It looks complicated, right? So you’ll need to follow instructions carefully. When I did my First Hunt two years ago, I made sure to memorise London Bridge, so those of you with photographic memories should commit this to your minds… anyone have that here?”
“Hollow,” said Saffire wearily, “you’re the only one who has that.”
Hollow scanned the class, mildly surprised, before continuing:
“Well anyway, you’re vampires! Just try to remember it. Now here’s the hot spots…” he pointed to the area immediately opposite Stainer Street, the road that led to The Cave. Hays Galleria was there, and so was a square that he had marked with a skull and cross bones. “Now this place is something else. They call it the London Bridge Experience, an exhibition that takes people through the old tombs of London Bridge. People dress up as zombies and ghosts and scare the humans. This was my first stop. I pretended to be one of the human actors and took down ten people. Behind the exhibition is an underpass and a pub that’s deserted, but you get a few city types that pass through there for an after-work drink: I got a few humans there, too…”
He continued, pointing to all the places in the area where he had captured humans on his first foray into civilian life; every nook and cranny had been scoured by him. Penny observed the gobsmacked expressions of the class, some looking increasingly self-conscious and unsure. Chloe was leaning forward in her chair with a determined expression, and Penny was glad they were friends; she anticipated her time with the vampire would be a definite spectacle.
“This is too much!” said one vampire with violet hair and eyes at the back of the class, Alistair Connor, “how did you do so many? I’m counting nearly sixty, and you’ve barely got to the end of the map!”
Hollow looked momentarily taken aback before shrugging.
“I just enjoy hunting,” he said.
“Hollow’s a prodigy,” said Saffire, “from when he was a young boy, he could Charm his way out of trouble and sneak up on any adult around him.”
“Now you’re making it sound like I didn’t work hard!” said Hollow.
“I’m not lying though, am I?” said Saffire.
Hollow returned to the class, somewhat embarrassed. “I guess it’s just been natural to me, but that doesn’t mean you guys can’t do just as well. To tell you the truth, I’ve always loved the Outside, and I’ve always loved Charming people. My dad sneaked me out of there a few times before my sixteenth birthday, and I already knew my Disposition years before my First Hunt, so I guess I had a head start.”
“And how did you know your Disposition?” said Alistair. “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” said Hollow, “I just knew, one day the blood bank supply was making me feel ill, and I started gravitating to a certain blood type. I was eight when my dad took me out the first time, and that’s when I just knew what I needed; I could taste it in the air, smell it, even. And it was that drive that made me desperate to hunt. Hunting is a natural thing for us vampires, it’s somewhere in all of us, it just takes some longer to get into it than others, but it’s always there. And I can teach you how to access it, that primal nature of ours…”
Penny felt it this time, his Charm, but she was unable to fight it. Hollow put the class under his spell again as he began encouraging them to shake away their fear and enjoy their First Hunt to the fullest, to tap into their natural strength as vampires, the most coveted species in The Cave. By the time the lesson had finished, the pupils appeared ten feet taller, and they strutted down the corridors to their next class as if they owned the school. Even Penny, with her ambiguous nature, felt strong enough to go hunting after the speech, and Chloe was no longer irritated by the attention she received from the rest of the school populace, but she revelled in it for the rest of the morning.
They were accosted by Charlie Appleton on their way to Charm class. A proud-looking Cordelia was in tow.
“Guess what?” said Charlie, grinning.
“You’ve joined the Arrow Club,” said Chloe to a snickering Penny.
“Very funny,” said Charlie, unperturbed, “we got it! Mistress Rookwood was so distressed by the recording, she’s banned Martin Dell from prom!”
“But he never wanted to go in the first place,” said Chloe, “that’s not a punishment, now he and his friends are gonna plot together whilst you’re dancing and stuffing your faces.”
“You are such a Debbie Downer, Chloe!” said Cordelia, “Charlie did a great job, you know, without either of your help, might I add. And Klaus has been slacking as always—I hope you two start to pull your weight around from now on! Well done again, Charlie! We’re going to prom!”
Nearby pupils heard Cordelia’s exclamations, and in a matter of minutes the entire school knew about the little prom committee’s battle against the evil Arrow Club, much to Chloe’s chagrin. She battled against queries about the prom all day, and Penny, not knowing how Greymalkin’s activities worked, felt bombarded by the questions, and had to redirect their demands to Charlie, who was both surprised and enamoured by the attention. Penny was happy for him; she enjoyed seeing other pupils invite him to lunch, or share their ideas for decorations, or even request membership to the prom committee. By the time Penny and Chloe arrived at the library booth later on that day for a review of their success, they found a hoard of new faces clamouring to get a seat.
“See?” said Chloe, “we don’t need to be here.”
“Yes we do,” said Penny, “this is to give Charlie some support… and anyway, we were the VIP guests a little while ago, we have helped, regardless of what Cordelia wants to say, so we deserve to be here. I didn’t go through that Arrow Club humiliation for nothing.”
“Ah, look who it is,” said Klaus, leaning back in his seat when he saw the pair. “Our dynamic duo.”
“Shaddup, Klaus,” said Chloe, pushing everyone aside to sit next to him, “come here, Penny.”
The new members of the committee quickly gave them way, sacrificing their own spaces next to Klaus for the pair to sit comfortably.
“Well, now that everyone’s here,” said Charlie, looking around nervously, “I guess we can start planning the theme?”
The library exploded with a barrage of suggestions, prompting Mr Adebayo, the wizard librarian, to appear on their table in a burst of angry red fireworks and demand their silence.
“Yes I’m glad you’re going to prom as well!” he said, “But this is not a dancehall! Discuss your plans quietly or get out!”
He was gone in another red flash. Cordelia took that moment to speak, her face flushed with excitement.
“I believe the theme should be Charlie’s choice,” she said, “he’s the one who really tried, and it’s all because of him why prom hasn’t been cancelled.”
“I agree,” said Penny.
The other pupils had been about to argue against Cordelia’s suggestion, but with Penny’s interjection they quickly nodded their approval at Charlie, turning their attention to him so suddenly he flicked his hood up defensively.
“Erm, let me think,” he said from the shadows, before reemerging sheepishly to look at them all. “I’d like our theme to be about unity,” said. “I’m aware that this whole thing hasn’t helped the warlock standing in this school, and till today I was the only warlock member on the prom committee… a few years ago I doubt you’d see someone like me interacting with you all. I think that’s a positive step. So now, with two of us representing the warlocks, I’d like to think we’d be able to encourage the others to come, isn’t that right, Hawthorne?”
Penny and Chloe instinctively snapped in the direction Charlie gestured to. Sitting at the end of Charlie’s bench, huddled in a corner of the booth, was a pale, dark-haired boy with dark eyes and a thin red mouth. He looked around at everyone sullenly, and pretended that Penny and Chloe were not in attendance.
“They might come,” said Hawthorne. “They might not.”
“Wait,” said Chloe, “so even you want to come to prom, do you, Hawthorne? I never thought I’d see the day.”
Hawthorne shot her a scathing look, but did not acknowledge Penny beside her.
“Well, as far as moody appearances go, I’d give you a five out of ten,” said Chloe, “if you want to perfect your angry glare, I’d suggest asking my mum for acting lessons.”
The committee members snickered audibly, even Cordelia had trouble concealing her glee. Klaus grinned at Chloe, and surprisingly, Chloe smirked back at him. Hawthorne stared at them all with a palpable loathing, and at last he turned to Penny.
“Stop staring at me,” he spat.
“Guys, I said unity!” said Charlie, “I’ve decided, that will be the theme of the prom. I hope everyone invites a warlock to come along, doesn’t have to be as a date, just let one of the Arrow Club boys know you’re thinking about them.”
“But we’re not thinking about them, Appleton,” said Klaus, “and all they think towards everyone else is how to put a hex on us.”
“Either way,” said Charlie before Hawthorne could speak, “we now have a real-deal Arrow Club member here, so let’s be kind. This is a great moment everyone. Okay, so how do you think we can portray unity at the prom…?”
Cordelia began to speak, but Penny was no longer listening. Hawthorne had obviously joined the prom committee because of her; he had no reason to associate with the rest of the school populace before, and had been quite content to remain a shadowy figure in the bowels of the Arrow Club. She would have even preferred Martin Dell, with his elaborate pontifications, to the silent, almost deadly-looking, Hawthorne Cole. She could still hear his assertions about her ringing in her ears, and when she stole a glance at him, she found that his hateful eyes were trained on her.
The prom committee meeting ended without incident: they had decided to recreate the Great Tree Festival, with the theme colours gold and ivory. All the Year Eleven classes would work together to design parts of the tree, and the committee would organise the king and queen ceremonies. Penny and Chloe remained behind to discuss Hawthorne’s attendance, congratulating Charlie’s plan before he left. Klaus had offered to be Chloe’s date for the First Hunt later that evening, to which she requested he dropped dead. Chuckling loudly, he left the two girls in peace.
“I say we follow him,” said Chloe.
“I was thinking the same thing,” said Penny. “He’s obviously after me.”
“I’ll be able to smell him out,” said Chloe, “quick, let’s go before he gets away!”
They said their farewells to Mr Adebayo and departed the library hastily, rushing down the cloistered hallways of their cathedral school, up and down marble staircases, through abandoned passageways and round winding fire escapes, until they located Hawthorne in the entrance hall, thanks to Chloe’s keen sense of smell. They hid in an alcove until the warlock had descended the steps of the school and left the clearing that surrounded it, before rushing after him again. He was headed towards Scare. The immediate area was overtaken with the signature purple uniform of Greymalkin’s, so it was easy to spot his black cloak amongst the crowd.
“We’re going up,” said Chloe, and she catapulted them both towards the sky, trailing Hawthorne a few meters behind to avoid his keen glare.
“Where d’you think he’s going?” said Penny, “are there any warlock haunts nearby?”
“I haven’t got a clue to be honest,” said Chloe, “he’s always been a loner, though. I guess Martin Dell is a bit of a sycophant, so maybe they meet up together or something.”
“Oh, I’m not sure,” said Penny, “it’s clear that Hawthorne and Martin have different ways of doing things…”
To their surprise, the warlock headed straight home, to Murky Lake, where a series of homely cottages were assembled in a zig-zag line. The neighbourhood was predominantly populated by wizards and warlocks, and there were several discarded instruments outside some of the cottages with the words “for free” scrawled haphazardly on signs beside them.
“What’s that about?” said Penny, gesturing to the instruments.
“Oh, wizards are dramatic. When their little music spells don’t work, they get into a tizz and throw the whole instrument away. I wouldn’t take any if I were you: some of them are riddled with curses. Just their way of getting back at everyone. Domino lives round here. Wizards are really tricky people, I find them annoying.”
“Domino is lovely, though,” said Penny, “did you see his toad trick?”
“Who cares!” said Chloe, “you’re getting heavy now, let’s walk the rest of the way to Hawthorne’s.”
The cottage was well kept, with a freshly mowed front lawn and black roses delicately fixed to a white trellis bordering the front door. A black fir tree did stretches on the tar-coloured grass, annoying a group of faeries that had perched on its branches. Penny and Chloe walked down the front path purposefully before edging around the perimeter towards the back of the house. As they did so, a spark lightened the area, and Hawthorne burst out of the back door. They watched him stalk around the house from their place within the fir tree, hearts pounding at the close shave. They had scrambled in so carelessly that their uniforms had several tears, and fir needles pricked their backs and attached themselves to their hair.
“That would’ve been bad,” said Chloe when Hawthorne had finally returned to the house. “Of course he has security spells around his house, I was careless.”
“What should we do then?” said Penny. “He lives by himself, right? Why would he need security? No one would care about a teenage warlock unless he was doing something shady that needed hiding.”
“Should we try again? Maybe you can fly us to the roof, the spell might just be on ground level.”
Before they had a chance to decide, a massive knobbly hand emerged from the tree trunk, pulled them from within the branches, and dumped them unceremoniously onto the ground. The fir tree bent towards them accusingly, before marching towards the other side of the lawn.
“You stupid tree!” said Chloe, “we were only trying to hide!”
The fir picked a dead branch from the ground and threw it at them in response.
“Wow,” said Penny. “Anyway, let’s go to the roof, then.”
Chloe grasped Penny again and launched into the air. Their feet landed on the thatched roof soundlessly, but they waited a few second to confirm there were no other hexes to be found.
“Good,” said Penny, “we’ll do what happens in the films. You lower me down by the ankles because you’re stronger, let me see the windows. His room must be in one of them.”
Chloe obliged. The first window was a master bedroom with ruby red walls and an unmade bed. Penny grabbed the sash fixtures on the windows to steady herself and to allow for a closer look at the room. There was a dressing table next to the bed that displayed a montage of wedding photos of a young, pretty couple—a bearded warlock and a petite witch—laughing as they descended the stairs of some mossy-walled cathedral. The next series of photos was of Hawthorne as a baby, a young boy, and a teenager. The expression in those photos was markedly different to the one he constantly wore as a young man. There were other items in the room; an overturned witch’s boot, a dirty cauldron, a black cloak slung over a chair, and a bowl of rotting cat food by the door. The unmade bed was flecked with dirt and there was a film of dust on the furniture. Hawthorne had not touched the room since his parents’ deaths.
Penny asked Chloe to let her back up again, and she relayed what she had seen whilst nursing the after effects of head rush.
“Sad, isn’t it?” said Penny. “Hawthorne and Tarquin, both tragic tales.”
“We’ve all had tragic tales, Penny,” said Chloe, “but we don’t all kill people because of them.”
“What tragic tale have you had?” said Penny, “you live in a mansion with servants at your beck and call… your mum is a glamorous movie star, your dad a ghoul-winning director.”
“And who asked for that?” said Chloe. “I didn’t ask to be born a Manheim, just how you didn’t ask to be born in Lockview—you always moan about your old life but at least you had a roof over your head and parents that cared enough about you to get on your nerves, at least you had a friend who actually thought about you from time to time. There’s loads of people who’ve lived my life who’s gone on to kill people and do stupid things—everyone has a choice and I’m not arguing about it anymore. Give me your legs so you can look through this idiot’s window and I can go home. I have a hunt to plan for.”
Penny begrudgingly obliged. She peered through the second window, feeling sour and annoyed, but was distracted by what she saw. Hawthorne’s room was painted black. A red damask rug was in the centre, but there was no bed, just a small chest of drawers upon which he had burned several red candles down to the wick. He was sitting on the rug away from the window, facing the chest of drawers, giving Penny a profile view. In front of his crossed legs was a large black cauldron that had some silvery, glowing liquid in it that lighted the whole room. Hawthorne was talking to it excitedly, gesturing wildly. The liquid would slosh and ripple at his words. Penny scrutinised the liquid’s surface. She could see a tint of green, the same emerald glow of a witch.
Above her, Chloe was being assaulted by the fir tree, who was now throwing larger sticks at the pair. Penny looked back at Hawthorne’s room. He was gone.
“Let me up quick!” said Penny, “he’s coming!”
Chloe pulled Penny back onto the thatched roof.
“You owe me for this!” she snapped, before throwing the spinead unceremoniously onto her shoulders and taking to the air again, this time quicker than before. Penny glanced downwards, Hawthorne had scrambled out of the house, looking left to right, then circling the cottage. The fir tree was gesturing at him, but without the ability to speak, its secret was trapped within its branches.
“That was close,” said Penny, “he was talking to someone in a cauldron, d’you know what that’s about?”
“A cauldron?” said Chloe with a frown, “with water inside?”
“Something like that.”
“He was scrying. It’s one of those abilities only witches and warlocks have. You know how witches can tell the future in a crystal ball? It’s like that, but they also use scrying to communicate with each other. Did you see who it was?”
“A witch,” said Penny, “I definitely saw something green.”
“So he does talk to someone then,” said Chloe. “And I’m assuming they’re somewhere on the Outside, otherwise he wouldn’t need to scry, he’d just go straight to their house.”
“Hawthorne and an unknown witch in cahoots. Could there honestly be a witch that would team up with a warlock, Tarquin Blood of all people?” said Penny.
“Well, look at Hawthorne’s parents… his mum was a witch like that, wasn’t she? I bet there’s quite a few of them, and if she’s on the Outside, it’s probably because she doesn’t like the politics down here.”
“Makes sense,” said Penny.
They were in Scare again, looking worse for wear. Their uniforms were tattered and torn, they had dirt on their shirts, and their hair was a mess, Chloe’s pretty pink tresses looking dull and forlorn, and Penny’s bouncy curls were limp and dry.
“This won’t don’t do,” said Chloe. “Of all days to have a fight with a tree. I need to get ready. Penny, I’ll meet you at the entrance gate at eleven tonight. Wear something nice!”
“Sure,” said Penny, waving her off. She made her way to Closet Road and updated Forrest and Riider on Hawthorne Cole’s activity.
It felt like a lifetime ago that Penny was at the entrance of The Cave. The chutes were there as usual, along with the sign telling everyone that they were about to go Outside. A crowd of vampires buzzed with anticipation by the black door that led to the ascending escalators. Some had come with their parents and older siblings, others were accompanied by wraith or ghost friends. Mistress Walker was there with Hollow, who was politely refusing autographs, and dodging questions from pre-teens about the gossip pages in BloodType. There was a large crowd of Greymalkin’s students cordoned off with a velvet rope, who came along to bear witness to their fellow pupils’ milestone. Many reporters were in attendance, and a lot of them took interest in Penny’s presence. When Hollow saw this, he went to stand beside her, blocking the view of the flashing cameras.
“Thanks,” she said, having to raise her voice above the din.
“No problem. How’ve you been finding Greymalkin’s anyway? Was nice to see you the other day. With Chloe Manheim, no less.”
“It’s been great, I’ve been really enjoying myself, actually, but I’m only there till the end of the month.”
Hollow regarded her quizzically, and she said quietly, “it’s a Gardien thing, I’ll tell you about it later.”
“Hmm, I see.”
Just then, he was cut off by his mother’s whistle. The area grew silent quickly.
“Is everyone here?” she asked.
“No,” said Penny, “Chloe hasn’t come yet.”
Just then, Laura squealed, and pointed at the path leading back to Scare. A retinue of pink carriages, pulled by black glossy unicorns, made its way towards them. The reporters gasped, training their lenses on the Manheim spectacle. Flag wavers marched beside the carousel and trumpeters took up the rear. Chloe was in the first carriage, and her mother exited the doors first, helping her daughter down the polished steps.
“Morenna!” yelled the reporters, bulbs flashing an odd purple, something Mistress Walker had requested so as not to dazzle the budding vampires at a time when their senses needed to be at their peak.
“What madness,” said Hollow, watching the vampire in disbelief. Judging by the transfixed stares of the reporters nearest to the actress, they had been Charmed. She gave way for Chloe to take centre stage, who wore a pink kimono-style dress and red leather boots. This was her debutante moment, thought Penny, and although she knew Chloe loathed the disingenuous attention given to her by most people, she could tell the vampire was thoroughly enjoying herself, courting and manipulating the attention on her own terms, and thrusting herself on others, rather than the other way around. She approached the waiting vampires like a queen, and Penny felt particularly self-conscious when Chloe came to stand beside her, trying her best to ignore the envious and incredulous looks from the crowd.
“Now you’ve done it, Manheim,” said Hollow, “your mum’s stolen the show from Peaches!”
Morenna was now hovering above the reporters, posing dramatically with her unnecessarily long hair fanning out like peacock feathers behind her. The skeletons and aides on the ground began throwing cherry blossom petals in the air to christen her. However, a young woman appeared behind the carriage fleet, looking slightly bemused at the antics. She was beautiful in an otherworldly way; her dark brown eyes shimmering in the dim light, and a thick mass of brown afro hair adorning her head like an autumn tree. She was far from unassuming, and, judging from her terse expression, was annoyed at being reduced to the shadowes. As Peaches Rowe had so gallantly told Penny not long ago, she had been crowned Miss Cave three years in a row.
The mayor’s daughter quickly clip-clopped away from Morenna’s photoshoot to stand beside Mistress Walker, who was watching Morenna blankly. She blew her whistle sharply again, and the student vampires turned towards her, their excitement mounting once more.
“Why’s Peaches here?” said Penny, gesturing at the mage.
“It’s customary for her to give a farewell speech to the vampires,” said Hollow.
“It’s wonderful to see you all,” she said, raising her voice above Morenna’s commotion. Some of the reporters directed their cameras to her, and she automatically began posing for pictures, pretending to shake the hand of a perturbed Saffire. “And how nice that so many of you have brought along your families,” she continued, “as vampires, you enjoy such a unique experience with your First Hunt, and such a memorable rite of passage that both adults and young people can enjoy.”
The speech was sweet, but Morenna’s entourage made it difficult for anyone to hear. Peaches’ smile faltered. She tapped her her staff on the ground three times, and a great wind sent several reporters tumbling onto the ground, Morenna was spun around in a cyclone, and several camera bulbs smashed. A small round of applause greeted this action, and Chloe snickered. “that’s what she deserves.”
With the reporters silenced, Peaches continued.
“Although this is an exciting time for you all, I must implore you to keep the secrets of The Cave close to your hearts. You should see your First Hunt as a great privilege, a sign of trust between yourselves and your fellow Creeps. We are trusting you to behave as vampires should, not as rogues, but to be discreet and skilful, not killing, not causing unnecessary harm, diverting the humans’ attention away from our place of safety underground. We are living in turbulent times, and humans have been hurt and maimed at the hands of a Creep we all know. Therefore, it is important now more than ever before to uphold our tradition of secrecy, and reinforce the sacredness of the Concealment Act. And as always, enjoy yourselves.”
Peaches’ speech was met with a raucous round of applause. The mage led the way to the Outside door and opened it with a flourish. The Manheim trumpeters resumed their din, and Chloe waved at her entourage before departing first with Penny and Hollow in tow. Morenna dabbing at the corners of her eyes before turning back to the photographers was the last thing Penny saw before their magical escalators took them heavenward, towards the secret entrance to Stainer Street.
“Okay, everyone who has come without parents, remember your groups,” said Mistress Walker from behind, “Also remember your blood-link. If you get into any trouble, signal any of us and one of us adults will get you.”
“Blood-link?” said Penny to Chloe.
“Yeah, it’s a way for a vampire to signal for danger. There’s a part of our hearts that still have live, red blood in them, so if we need help we can pump our energy into it and get the attention of other vampires. That’s why a stake through the heart can be so lethal, for us, even deadly—it’s the one part of our bodies that’s still kind-of alive.”
“Have you decided where you’ll go first?” said Penny.
“Oh yeah, I was listening very attentively to Hollow. We’ll go to the alley behind the London Bridge Experience first.”
“Glad to hear!” said Hollow from behind them. “That’s my favourite spot. I’ll tag along with you guys to start off, then go see how the others are getting along.”
“Cool,” said Chloe. “I might even beat your score.”
“I hope you do,” said Hollow.
The cool summer air chilled them. Penny, Chloe and Hollow left first. The seasoned vampire had donned a black cape and looked at Chloe’s ensemble disapprovingly before beckoning them to follow him across the road and onto the main street.
It was just like Penny remembered from the night she had met Tarquin Blood; the dark, starless sky above and the glimmer of sky scrapers illuminating the ground below. She could see trains passing on an overhead bridge ahead, and a main road buzzing with cars and black taxis. Cyclists, pedestrians and red buses zoomed past the trio, oblivious to the danger. As they crossed the road, an absent cyclist trudged past them, clearly regretting going for a ride so late at night. When they reached the pavement, the cyclist wobbled off his bike and onto the road. Penny and Chloe turned towards him, but Hollow was there in the blink of an eye.
“Are you okay?” he asked the stranger, who only stared dreamily at him in response. Hollow pulled the man to his feet, holding his wrist, and swiftly plunged his canines into the stranger’s vein. A second later and Hollow’s black cloak whipped upwards, covering them both. Before the hem fell, the pair was on a bench several feet away from the road. Hollow, telling the man to be careful, and to have a quick rest to catch his bearings. The man thanked him profusely, not noticing the pin-prick wound on his wrist, or that he had been talking to a vampire.
“That’s how you do it,” said Hollow to the dumfounded girls as he jogged towards them. “I’d already marked that guy from the moment we got to the main road. I could see him struggling up the slope, so I timed when we’d be near enough for me to stun him, and then used that commotion to get his blood.”
“Ah, Stunning, of course,” said Chloe.
“Stunning?” said Penny.
“It’s the opposite of Charming,” said Hollow, “a malevolent force that knocks people senseless. We can kill people by stunning them if we’re strong enough.”
“Have you?” asked Penny.
“No,” said Hollow. “Almost. I was angry, didn’t mean to hurt the guy so much. But anyway, we’re losing time, let’s go to the alley way.”
They walked towards the London Bridge Experience. Situated beneath the bridge leading to the main London Bridge road, the exhibition boasted a facade of the supernatural, with photographs of actors promising to give visitors the fright of their lives as they journeyed through the old underground tombs of London Bridge. It was closed for the night, but illuminated with green neon lights, making the photos of humans dressed as zombies, ghouls and ghosts look eerie and obscene. Now that she had seen the real thing, Penny was somewhat underwhelmed, but Chloe looked impressed enough to stare at the posters, transfixed.
“Are you sure it’s not a Creep who owns this thing?” she asked Hollow.
“Nah, positive. But I’m sure whoever owns it has met one of us. It’s pretty cool in there, I had a whale of a time during my First Hunt.” They continued behind the exhibition, and down an almost-deserted road which then led onto the underpass. There was signage signifying the entrance to the pub that Hollow had mentioned in class. It was neatly embedded in an alcove, and shadowed by the curved ceiling of the underpass. There was tinny, ice-cream van music playing Pop Goes the Weasel from somewhere beneath it, causing both Chloe and Penny to halt in their tracks.
“It’s just an extra spook from the exhibition,” said Hollow with a chuckle. “Now Chloe, I want you to go first. Stand by the entrance, put on your Charms, and wait. Someone is bound to come out of that pub.”
Looking unsure of herself, Chloe crept towards the pub, and leaned against the wall to wait. Soon enough, a drunk couple staggered out of the door and onto the pavement, but Chloe left them alone.
“Wrong blood type,” said Hollow to answer Penny’s unasked question. “They’re mine, though,” he added, looking slightly strained that he had to let them go.
Another man exited the pub. Judging from Chloe’s small jump, his blood type matched her Disposition. He walked in the opposite direction to her, and she began to trail him timidly at first, before walking more purposefully towards him. The man twitched and whipped around to face her with an expression of awe and astonishment. Without her saying a word, the man dropped to his knees and crawled towards her, looking like a puppy waiting for snacks. Chloe grabbed his wrist, plunged her teeth into his vein, and began to drink earnestly. When she was done, the man fell on his face. Chloe staggered towards them both with wide eyes, her mouth open as she panted, fresh blood dribbling down the sides of her mouth.
“Oops, she took too much,” said Hollow. He left Penny’s side in a flash, picked the man from the ground, deposited him on the bench where the cyclist had been, and was back by her side in a second.
“How do you feel?” said Penny, touching Chloe on the shoulder. She was still panting, and clutching her chest.
“Give her time,” said Hollow, “the first feed is like no other; it’s when you realise those little blood sacks are nothing but dog food. Her body’s getting used to taking in real, undiluted blood. She’ll be much more powerful now. Ain’t that right, Chloe?”
Chloe nodded vigorously, though her eyes were still wide and stunned.
“Wipe your mouth, Chloe, you look horrific,” said Penny.
Chloe let out a shaky laugh, wiping the blood with the back of her hands and then licking it off desperately.
“I’ll stay around for one more hunt, then I’ll go with the others,” said Hollow.
The trio returned to the underpass, past the pub and onto the main road leading directly to the Bridge. Penny saw the jagged shape of number one, London Bridge before them, that building she had pondered over shortly before her attack, and across the river she spotted Tower Bridge, with its castle-like towers, and was reminded of the Gardner family dinner, and all the wonderful people she had seen silhouetted against the sunset. As she stood at the interstice between her old life and the new one, she realised how lucky she had been that Tarquin had attacked her, and spirited her away to another world where she was wanted, and where she fit in. The trio flitted across the bridge, into the night, hunting and joking and laughing and living.