Chapter Twenty: Prom Night
The year elevens were abuzz with prom excitement, and Penny quickly got swept into the fray. The day of prom dawned on Greymalkin’s, and the pupils spent the afternoon transforming the assembly hall into a garden. Fake black turf stretched across the marble floor; golden orbs were hung from the tall ceiling, and in the centre was an enormous golden tree, adorned with black apples and dead roses. A stage had been erected at one end of the hall, upon which were two velvet seats for prom king and prom queen. Faeries gathered around the numerous fir trees that framed the perimeter of the hall, each tree wore black boots and top hats, looking proud and excited to be a part of the festivities.
Charlie Appleton and Cordelia were standing beneath the centre tree, the former wore an expression of disbelief, whilst Cordelia observed him proudly. The warlock scanned the hall, and observed all the other pupils who had listened to his instruction, given him advice and encouragement over the previous two weeks, and invited him for lunch to discuss future events. The prom committee had now become the Events Club, a new pan-Creep group that would plan parties and activities all year around, with Charlie as the chair and Cordelia the clerk. It was a wonderful thing, thought Penny, to see the warlock so genuinely pleased that he had been accepted, and that he had made new friends.
“Well done, Appleton,” said Chloe, as she and Penny came to stand beneath the tree with him, “looks like you’ve planned the perfect prom.”
“I couldn’t have done it without the rest of you,” he said.
“Of course you couldn’t have,” said Chloe.
“Well I’m glad to see you’ve finally showed your faces,” said Cordelia to the pair, “just when the final decorations are being put up, how classy.”
Before Chloe could respond, Klaus dropped in the centre of the group, having seemingly been watching them all from the top of the tree.
“Chloe,” he said, “be my date tonight.”
“Penny’s my date,” shot Chloe.
Penny took a step backwards, shaking her head vigorously. She was on Gardien duties, and even though the urge to have fun at the prom was overwhelming, she knew it would be reckless to treat the evening frivolously.
“Hollow’s my date,” she said quickly, ignoring the shocked and sensational expressions from the group.
“And Charlie’s my date,” said Cordelia before Chloe could drag her in. Charlie jumped as if he had been scalded, and stared disbelievingly at Cordelia with a face as red as a strawberry.
“So it’s settled then,” said Klaus proudly, “I’ll pick you up at eight.”
He sauntered off towards the exit of the hall without another look.
Chloe rounded on Penny instantly, and the spinead excused herself from Charlie and Cordelia, who looked decidedly self-conscious, and beckoned for Chloe to follow.
“Sorry I never got to tell you before,” she said quietly as they exited the hall and made their way down the corridor. Penny quickly briefed her on the reason behind Hollow’s appointment to the school, and Blythe’s assumption that Hawthorne, Tarquin, or the unknown Outside-contact might use the prom to cover their next move. Penny and Hollow had already planned to go to the prom as casual dates, and patrol the secret passageways and outside grounds of the school, whilst Felix and Dami had been stationed at Stainer Street on the Outside to catch any escapees.
“So tonight’s your last night at Greymalkin’s,” said Chloe.
“I’m afraid so, it’s been fun though. Thanks for befriending me.”
“And I’ll obviously come ‘round to see you every weekend, whenever I can,” said Penny.
“Who asked you to do that?” said Chloe.
“No one,” said Penny, “I just really want to see you. I’m begging, even.”
“Well, if you insist,” said Chloe. “Come and help me pick out an outfit, then. Klaus is so flashy! I don’t want him upstaging me at all.”
And although Penny knew there was a serious duty attached to her evening, she allowed herself to be free, and to momentarily forget about Blythe, and Hawthorne, and Tarquin Blood, so that she could be a sixteen-year-old again, and do the things that teenagers were supposed to. Unfortunately, her emancipation would be short-lived.
Klaus Vanderman’s family had a lot of money. Although their wealth was incomparable to The Manheim’s, it granted them the luxury of living in Willow Drive, the exclusive vampire village that was more affluent than Nightmare. Klaus knew, in order to prove himself worthy of Chloe’s time, nothing less than a full fairy tale theme would surpass, and so he hired a blue pumpkin carriage, donned a midnight-blue suit that was encrusted at the lapels with diamantes, and borrowed two flying foxes from the Walker residence to accompany them through the city towards the school. When the pair emerged from the carriage, Chloe’s hair curled and swept into a bun, her pink Cinderella-style ball gown finished with rose petals and faerie dust, the school went silent, all but throwing the coveted prom crowns at their feet. Penny looked childish in her simple red and black dress, and Hollow sighed in exasperation, his plain black suit, whilst elegant, could not compare to Klaus’s performance.
“Prom is a big deal, then?” he said to no one, before taking Penny’s hand and leading her up the stairs to the school. Chloe and Klaus posed for pictures by the entrance steps, accepting flowers and hugs from other pupils who had come to view the black carpet and take tips for their own proms in future years.
“They did a good job with this, though!” said Hollow, whistling as he looked around the hall, “this is pretty amazing.”
“Yeah, I can’t take credit for it, though.”
A few people greeted Penny and Hollow at the door, before taking to the dance floor, grabbing paper plates of food by the buffet, or taking photos beneath the tree. Charlie wore a white warlock’s cloak, and Cordelia’s gold robes looked dazzling against her brown skin.
Penny waved at them, but didn’t stay to chat; she was trying to focus on the students still coming into the hall. She and Hollow milled beside the stage, which granted them a vantage point. As the evening wore on, they exchanged observations.
“Surprisingly, the Arrow Club is here,” said Penny, nodding her head at the angry-looking warlocks who had refused to wear anything but their cloaks, although some had made an effort with tuxedos beneath. She saw several students grab them at random, forcing them to dance. Martin Dell, his ban lifted by a subdued Mistress Rookwood, looked offended when a ruby-haired vampire grabbed his hand and spun him on the dance floor, but when they were finished, his face was flushed scarlet, and the corners of his mouth twitched.
“What about Hawthorne?” said Hollow. Penny had identified the warlock to him before, so he was familiar with the pinched, dark-eyed scowl of Hawthorne Cole.
“He’s not here,” said Penny, glancing at the clock, “it’s almost eleven o’clock, he should have come by now.”
“Okay, we’ll split up,” said Hollow, “I’ll go outside, you check that alleyway you told me about. It has to lead somewhere.”
Without another word, they went in opposite directions. Penny left the hall, but not before seeing Charlie and Cordelia in an alcove by the door, locked in a passionate kiss.
The din of the music echoed in her ears by the time she was clear of the hall, and the silence that remained was deafening. This was the first time Penny had seen the school so empty; she had been accustomed to the crowds of purple-clad students, milling and rushing down the corridors. Her shoes echoed on the mosaic floors, and the gothic-style pillars and tresses that adorned the walls appeared shadowy and dark. She walked up the marble staircases, past the statues of famed Greymalkin’s alumni, and ducked beneath wall sconces that cast her body in shadows that stretched across the floors. It felt like a lifetime ago that she had come to the Arrow Club quarters in room 202, but when she stood opposite the door, a chill crept up her spine that was as familiar and as strong as the day they had tried to negotiate the prom that was running without fault down below.
Without another thought, she pushed the room door, but it remained steadfast. Afterwards, she crept to the grate in the wall, pulled away the cover, and crept into the black tunnel inside, closing the way behind her. Up the cramped ladder she went, and she edged down the hidden passageway she had discovered, the one that deviated from the Arrow Club’s hideout. She continued until the passage opened up into a large chamber, built with grey stones that were dusted with moss. A shaft of light in the ceiling clearly led to the roof outside. Hawthorne was pacing back and forth, talking angrily into a handheld mirror.
“I tried!” he snapped, “You don’t get it!”
“Tried what?” said Penny, coming into view.
Hawthorne jumped and dropped the mirror on the floor. It shattered at his feet. The pair regarded each other warily, and Penny was unsure of what to do. Her fearless entrance had been impressive, but now she was scared. Hawthorne may have been a pupil at a school, but he had Outside experience, and unlike her, had been a Creep his whole life, and would know spells and magical attacks that were incomprehensible to her.
“What are you doing here?” he said.
“Hawthorne, you’ve been really transparent,” said Penny, “what’ve you been up to?”
The warlock splayed his hand outwards and she was blown back by a gale-force wind that sent her into the opposite wall. Staggering to her feet, she clutched herself, feeling for any broken bones. When she looked at him again, he was flanked by four dobermans, each with glowing green eyes.
“How could you come to me unarmed?” he asked incredulously, “you know I do magic right? I’ll make these guys eat you alive!”
He pointed at her and the dogs bounded forward. Penny half-ran, half-limped towards the passage from which she came, but the leading dog caught her first, dragged the hem of her dress and pulled her to the floor. Penny shielded her face instinctively, noting with horror that the dogs were ice-cold, like stone, and their barks were akin to the roars of a lion. They were much heavier than normal dogs, and several times she was winded by the punch of a brick, as opposed to padded dog paws.
Without warning, the animals began to yelp. Each one was knocked away from her with a gust of wind and sent crashing into the stone walls, dissipating in a cloud of black dust. Above her, Penny saw Hollow marching towards Hawthorne. She rolled onto her stomach to watch the fight. Hawthorne conjured various black animals, only for Hollow to fend them off with a casual back hand, clouds of dust showering on the floor in response. Hollow darted towards the warlock with a speed that reduced him to a blur, and encircled a pale, stony hand around his neck. Hollow lifted Hawthorne in the air, brandishing his talons with another hand, and motioned to tear the warlock’s cloak.
“Wait!” Hawthorne screamed. Hollow paused.
“Are you gonna talk?” he said, “who’ve you been talking to? Do you know where Blood is?”
Hawthorne’s face turned deathly white. His eyes darted to Hollow, then to Penny.
“So it was you at my house that day,” he said, all but spitting the words at her, “the tree can do sign language you know, he kept saying ‘the odd girl’ was looking through my window.”
“It’s true, then is it?” said Hollow, “you kind of give yourself away there. Who were you talking to? What’s her name?”
Hawthorne looked petrified. If he hadn’t just tried to maul her to death, Penny would have felt sorry for him. She saw his lip tremble, his frightened glance at her and the vampire who held him hostage, and then without warning, he yelled
Hollow jumped backwards, away from the shaft of light above, but did not relinquish his hold on Hawthorne’s neck. Penny struggled to her feet again, groaning at the bruises that were quickly spreading over her body, and staggered towards Hollow for protection.
“Who did you just call?” shouted Hollow. He started shaking the warlock until his head was limp, eyes glassy and disorientated. They never got their answer: Hollow dropped Hawthorne on the floor suddenly, shaking his hand as if he had been burnt.
“What happened?” said Penny.
“It’s her,” said Hollow, “whatever witch he’s been talking to has stepped in to help.”
As evidence, Hawthorne’s body became translucent and grey, like the ghostly form of Silvia Peters, and he disappeared without a trace.
“I didn’t even know that was possible,” he said, “what kind of spell was that?”
“They got us,” said Penny, “come, we haven’t got time, we need to tell everyone that Hawthorne’s gone; Dami will know the spell, won’t she? Let’s go.”
They darted out the chamber, down the passage and scrambled through the tunnel, not stopping when they were out of the grate on the other side.
“How do you feel?” said Hollow, watching Penny askance, “You’re still limping.”
“In pain,” panted Penny, slowing to a halt. The gilded corridor swam before her eyes, and she held onto Hollow’s marble-like arm to steady herself.
“Sorry I took so long,” said Hollow.
“How did you know I was in trouble?”
“Check your pocket,” said Hollow.
When Penny did so, she withdrew a silver amulet with a single ruby in the centre. The ruby glowed brightly, seemingly powered by Hollow’s presence.
“It’s a roundabout way to do a blood-link,” the vampire said, “that’s my heart blood in there, and it triggered me when you started to panic. There’s a more effective way to do it, though, if you don’t mind. You’re not a vampire, but you have human blood—I can smell it, pretty strongly as well,” he added when Penny tried to question him, “your blood’s disturbingly sweet, you know, and you’re my Disposition, too… it was really distracting having you sleep next to me like that.”
“Oh, shut up,” said Penny, but she felt her face grow hot.
“Well, can I mark you then? It only works between vampires and humans, but it’ll work with you,” said Hollow, “marking isn’t bad, and it’ll help us to communicate if either of us were in trouble, all I have to do is drop a bit of my blood in you, make a small cut.”
“As long as it doesn’t hurt, and I won’t be your slave afterwards.”
“Lay off the horror novels,” said Hollow. He held her right hand in his, and was about to make an incision, when Penny stopped him.
“I have something to tell you,” she said. “I reckon it’ll be useful, seeing as though we’re partners, but my skin is invincible.”
“I know it sounds strange,” she said, and she explained what had happened in Armand’s lab, and the subsequent experiments she and Riider and performed afterwards. “So,” she continued, “you have to cut me precisely, with an acute point. Your nail might not be enough.”
“That’s… crazy useful,” said Hollow, “looks like Bloodbane gave you something after all. But if my nail won’t work, how about my teeth? I’m sure you would’ve been eaten up by those dogs back there; and my teeth are sharper than that.”
“Give it a try,” said Penny.
Hollow stared at her palm. For the first time, Penny noticed trepidation. Then she realised; she was his Disposition, and he must have been fighting the urge to do more than simply make a cut. At last, he braced himself, and plunged his canines in the edge of her hand. Her pinky finger flexed instinctively. Hollow was true to his word, and did not drink a single drop from her—instead, her cut his own hand, and a bead of black liquid swelled like an onyx in his palm, which he inverted to let it fall into Penny’s hand. The vampire’s blood immediately seeped into her puncture marks, as if her own blood was drinking it in. A moment later, and the blood, and wound, had disappeared.
“Let’s go,” said Hollow.
They had barely cleared the stairs when an ear-splitting scream rang through the corridor. Penny and Hollow sprinted towards the source of the noise, the assembly hall, where the prom was in full swing. Inside, the revellers were frozen in horror, staring at the stage. Penny followed their gaze to see Chloe and Klaus sitting on their thrones, crowns glistening on their heads, but both vampires had craned their necks to look at the backdrop behind them, on which a grainy projection was displayed, and a distorted voice emanated from it. Everyone watched the person on the screen, a pretty but dishevelled mage, who was gagged and crying at the camera.
“Peaches,” said Hollow.
“The mayor’s daughter?” said Penny, squinting to get a better look, “what on earth is going on?”
“Thank you for all your attention,” said the voice, “I am touched that you’ve all sent out search teams, the Cave Police, the Met, and even set up an elite corps, Gardien, just to catch plain ol’ me.”
“You’re joking,” said Hollow.
“However, I have demands that aren’t being met, and so, Mr Rowe, please take me seriously. Your daughter is safe, but I need twelve million pounds if you want her back. You have three days.”
The assembly hall went silent, with all students staring at each other in confusion and shock. The Arrow Club members looked extremely disappointed, but there were no accusing glares from their classmates, if anything, those nearby appeared sympathetic, with several Creeps patting the warlocks consolingly on their shoulders. Chloe’s face was a mask of fury. She pulled the crown from her head and let it tumble on the ground. Klaus turned to her amusingly, trying to console her in his sarcastic way, offering his deepest sympathies that her moment had been ruined by a terror plot. Mistress Rookwood, who normally supervised the prom from her office, observing the antics of the pupils from her scrying mirror, appeared at the doors of the assembly hall with a stony expression, Tolkien by her feet with his tail upright and erect.
“This prom will have to finish early,” she projected to the room to a chorus of groans from the crowd. One furious look from her, and everyone fell silent. “You must leave in groups for your safety! Tarquin’s message has just been delivered to the whole Cave, in almost every room in this city. There is pandemonium outside.”
“I’ve signalled Felix,” said Hollow, tapping Penny, “let’s go before everyone rushes out.”
He gently pulled her by the arm and led her out the assembly hall, down the main corridor, and through the entrance hall to the outer school grounds. When they were outside, he hoisted her across his back and ran towards the exiting passage. Penny had only seen this speed from far away before, but on his back, she felt an overwhelming pressure on her shoulders, and everything around her became blurry streaks of random colour. By the time they stopped, in Scare, her head was spinning, but she felt too sick to ask for a break, and so she endured another wild transit as the vampire took to the air. Below them, Creeps were frantic, and the police were galloping on horses to quell the crowd. A group of well-dressed mages in emerald robes travelled via a cluster of gold clouds above the Creeps, their faces stern.
“Mayor’s guard,” said Hollow to answer Penny’s question, “there’s gonna be an investigation, and Ross Rowe’ll probably have to be evacuated.”
“How did she get kidnapped?” Penny wondered aloud, “we only saw her the other day!”
“It’s pretty grim,” said Hollow, “Felix’s just told me to go straight to Blythe’s house: emergency Gardien meeting.”
So Blythe Mason had been correct: Tarquin Blood’s plan had coincided with the prom night, but not in the way they had expected. He had done the unimaginable, appearing to use Hawthorne’s odd activity to divert their attention to the school, when all the while he had already made his move, even going as far as to plan his pawn’s safe escape and maintain the secrecy of his Outside witch at the same time. They had underestimated him, and had been naïve, and were paying for it with the innocent capture of Peaches Rowe, along with the removal of Hawthorne Cole, their only link to the warlock of the hour. In the distance, Penny saw the fells that marked Greymalkin’s Academy: it would be her last time attending the school as a student, and with her departure, an ominous, more unpredictable chapter of her life had opened. They journeyed into the darkness towards Blythe’s house, towards danger, and the impending crisis of The Cave.