Chapter Seventeen: The Apprentice
The rain pelted down on the pavement, and Hawthorne Cole trudged forward with his head bent low against the storm. Summer on the Outside had been a typical British washout, with heavy rain forecast for the weekend. Hopeful families had still made attempts to challenge the weather and they suffered at bus stops in sopping sun hats and flip flops. Hawthorne grimaced as he brushed through the crowds, inhaling the smog of London Bridge, the pungent smell of the River Thames that had still been cordoned off for an investigation.
The bodies floating on the water had caused a frenzy amongst the humans and many of them avoided the major bridges to be reminded of the massacre of only two months’ prior. Hawthorne deviated from them, coming to stand on the concourse that surrounded City Hall, that glass shark fin that emerged from the sleek black pavement and glistened in the rain. He continued on, passing the building until he was beside the railings that overlooked the river, ignoring the stares of the humans nearby. He tried to imagine the night that Tarquin Blood met Penny Dido, when she felt the terror of Creepdom, only to survive and become a Cave celebrity. After observing the murky green waves of the river, he continued down the concourse.
He was superior to most Creeps; unlike many of his people, he was unafraid to explore the Outside, and thanks to his parents, he was cultured, knowledgeable, and streetwise. He had travelled all around the country with them, journeyed through the countryside, visited other cities; had witnessed human behaviour and depravity and knew how to navigate his way around the world. Sometimes, he thought about his fellow warlocks with pity, especially that naïve Arrow Club lot, too busy arguing about proms and parties when there was a whole revolution taking place just a few miles above their heads. He went to the bus stop by Tower Bridge, got on the 78, and took the first seat by the doors. London flashed past him in watery sheets and all the colours of the city were drained to grey and black. It took him almost an hour in the traffic to arrive at the small village known as Nunhead, a community on the edges of metropolitan life, with a park bereft of children and several cafes, delis and a humble primary school that, unbeknownst to the teachers and pupils, was haunted by Archibald Bladder, a Cave ghost with nothing better to do, who had spent most of his time in The Cave stealing iced buns from the bakers’ shops and pestering elderly witches on their days out to the spa.
Hawthorne’s location was The Nun’s Head, a pub that looked out to the park and was owned by a rogue mage. He stepped over the threshold into a dimly-lit family establishment and scanned the booths before sliding into the one nearest the bar. He sat opposite the woman who had buried her face in the Sunday lunch menu. Hawthorne glanced over at the bar and nodded curtly at the mage, who watched them guardedly as he wiped a pint glass clean. He was a burly man with greying temples and looked human enough, but he issued an ominous presence that pressed against Hawthorne and the woman as a warning. Hawthorne looked at her; she had dropped the menu on the table and turned towards the mage with a disdainful expression, trying to assure him that they were not planning to cause trouble, and they had no desire to betray his identity to the human customers. Only slightly satisfied, he turned away from the pair, but did not release the pressure that had all but pinned them to their seats.
“What a powerful man,” breathed the woman.
“Scary,” said Hawthorne, “he belongs down below… surprised he hasn’t accidentally killed someone out here.”
“With that kind of strength? Not a chance,” said the woman, “he is skilled, and he’s lived for many years… I can sense at least two-hundred on him.”
Hawthorne glanced towards the man again. A young girl had hopped onto one of the stalls in front of the bar and was asking him for some lemonade. His face broke into a smile as he tussled her hair, and yet the imposing pressure he had placed on Hawthorne and his companion did not subside.
“So anyway, enough with him,” said the woman, “is there anything you want to eat?”
“What? Erm, no thank you, I’m not really hungry.”
“Neither am I. Sorry to bring you here, I know there’s a great Creep café back in London Bridge, but for obvious reasons we can’t go there.”
“It’s fine,” said Hawthorne, embarrassed that she cared.
“It’s not fine at all. Chips, who eats that?” she said jabbing a disapproving finger on the menu, “and cod… cod? What is toad-in-the-hole when it’s at home? The first time I came to the Outside, I genuinely thought it was an actual toad and I was so looking forward to it, only to see a sausage and some bread. What a nightmare.”
“Melanie,” said Hawthorne, “what did you call me here for? I thought you were coming with—”
“Don’t you dare say his name, boy,” said Melanie. “Remember where you are.”
Hawthorne couldn’t help but shift his gaze towards the mage again. He had busied himself with the punters, but that didn’t mean he was not eavesdropping on their conversation.
“Of course, sorry,” he said. “But I still want to know what this is about.”
“It’s about the girl,” said Melanie. “You said she’s started Greymalkin’s.”
“Yes, and she’s in cahoots with Mistress Rookwood, as well as Forrest Gardner and Riider Malone, who just so happen to be working with Blythe Mason.”
“So, of course she’s a spy,” said Melanie.
“Yes of course. I tried to get the other guys in the Arrow Club to hear me out—”
“Hawthorne,” said Melanie, “they are still school children. You are the only one who he trusts, and so do I. You’ve experienced a life that very few people in the Cave understands, so when we found you that day on the Outside, just after your parents’ funeral, we knew you would be perfect to help out in the plan. Stop trying to recruit the Arrow Club boys; let them be children.”
“Okay,” Hawthorne beamed, ecstatic that his mentors valued him to such an extent, “I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”
“Good,” said Melanie. She flashed a smile at him, and for a split second, her life mask slipped, and the green skin beneath her façade appeared like a green bolt of lightening. After recomposing herself, she leaned towards Hawthorne’s earnest, desperate face. “I want you to kill her.”
Hawthorne stared blankly at Melanie Malavender. Then he nodded slowly, absorbing the darkness of her eyes and the presence of her own magical power. From his station by the bar, the mage stiffened, but did not turn towards them again.
“I’ll kill her,” he said.
Penny slumped around the Mason residence miserably. Despite her good work at Greymalkin’s, Blythe had still ordered her to help Archer around the house. She had protested all the way from Closet Road to Gold Street, but when she had stepped into the polished foyer, her angry ravings only dissipated on her tongue. Her job had been to mop all the floors in the house, including the upstairs bedrooms. Just when she had had enough of the marble hallways, pillared rooms, chandeliers and extravagant furniture, she happened upon a corridor framed with photographs similar to the one downstairs. There were more photos of Mason family members with the British Royal Family, and some starling ones of a young Mrs Mason on the cover of BloodType, the cold anger absent from her eyes, replaced with a gleeful exuberance that was unbecoming.
The final photo series was of Tarquin Blood and Blythe. Penny did a double-take. Both boys were in their Greymalkin’s school uniform, and they were holding a trophy of some kind, with Mistress Rookwood standing behind them proudly. Blythe grinned at the camera, and Tarquin mirrored his expression. It was a far cry from the nihilism that encompassed the demeanours of both men today. Penny had assumed that Blythe and Tarquin had been mere acquaintances, but the photo, and its place on the treasured halls of the Mason family, told of a deeper childhood connection, the severance of which might have caused much damage to the wraith in question. At the end of the corridor was a door that Penny knew was Blythe’s bedroom. She entered it without hesitating, but was disappointed with its dullness. The walls were scarlet and the floor white marble. A mahogany four-poster bed dominated the room, and there was an oak furniture suite that completed the décor. She wandered around the room, poking her head behind curtains and bookshelves, expecting to see something revealing about the elusive Gardien leader. Annoyed, she turned on her heel to leave the room, and found Blythe’s head staring at her from the floor. Penny yelped and tripped over herself, watching in horror as the wraith rose from the ground and came to stand over her. His eyes were listless and cruel, and he scanned her once over distastefully.
“Did you have fun?” he said.
“Sorry,” said Penny quickly, “I was being nosy.”
“You saw the photo in the hallway.”
“Yeah, I did,” said Penny, slightly confused that he hadn’t cast her out the house.
“Interesting, isn’t it?” said Blythe. He pulled a cigar from his pocket and began to smoke it, never taking his eyes off Penny. “We were quite close.”
“So I see,” said Penny. “What happened?”
“Experiences, choices. I don’t envy him; he had a bad life, but he chose to live the way he is now; he made the decision to kill people. Now you chose to intrude on my personal space. That was the wrong decision.”
“I’m really sorry,” said Penny, “I won’t do it again.”
“Now, you’d think I would ban you from this house, but I think you’d like that, so you will continue to work in this mansion until I find something better for you to do.”
Penny opened her mouth in protest before clamping it shut due to a frightening look from Blythe. Without warning, her body was lifted from the ground and a strong gust of wind pushed her unceremoniously out the door, which slammed shut behind her. As she scrambled to her feet and left the corridor, she took one last look at the photograph, and at the two young men behind the polished glass, best friends unable to see trouble on their bright horizon, totally unaware that their lives would deviate from each other so starkly.