Chapter Twenty-One: Melanie Malavender
Archer ushered them to the planning room, a cavernous space with polished mahogany flooring and deep purple walls. The chandelier was filled with purple candles, giving the room a dim and sombre atmosphere. A long board table occupied the centre of the room, around which the Gardien members sat in silence, listening intently to their leader at the head, accompanied by a gold ashtray crammed with cigar butts. The tension was tangible, and the only sign of lively activity was from Shaun, who was sitting in the far corner in the middle of a glowing gold circle on the floor, his hands pressed together as in prayer, and his eyes squeezed shut. There was a white, shapeless blob hovering above his head that had two black eye circles and an upside-down semicircle for a mouth, just like a doodle of a ghost cartoon. Penny and Hollow took the remaining seats to listen.
“It’s absolute madness,” said Dagwood, “totally reprehensible!”
“And he’s working with quite the accomplished witch,” said Josh, shooting a mocking glare at Dami, who bristled in response.
“I trust both of you have secured the documents for me?” said Blythe, watching Dagwood and Brian through narrowed eyes.
“Of course!” said Dagwood, “Penny, this will be very informative for you, to see how things get done.”
Brian withdrew a mass of parchment from a briefcase by his feet, his green, pliable fingers trembling in the dim light. He skimmed through the pages, licking his index finger, which left a slimy, dark blue liquid on the edges.
“When a witch turns thirteen, she’s given a Familiar,” the half-zombie said to Penny, “it’s supposed to be a great moment, I hear; a mark of her power and adolescence. When a witch gets her Familiar, she is automatically registered in the census, and has to attend yearly vet appointments and magic exams to ensure she is using her Familiar correctly, and that there’s no problems, correct, Dami?”
“Yes, although you could have just asked me to explain, Brian, seeing as though I’m the only witch here?”
“Be my guest,” said Brian absently, flicking through the parchment again.
“Some witches for whatever reason, never get their Familiar,” said Dami to Penny, “sometimes it’s because she’s just not good enough, or other times because she’s been up to no good, and no animal wants to be her magic channel. Those witches don’t get registered, and so they’re obviously noticeable.”
“I asked Dagwood and Brian to search the records for any witches of Tarquin’s age that were not on the census, but who have birth records down here,” said Blythe, “and what have you both found?”
“There’s only one witch that meets that criteria, and she’s been living on the Outside for almost ten years,” said Brian, “she’s the same age as you and Tarquin, has no other family records, has no records of attending Greymalkin’s either, and no fixed address, a nomad and a mystery.”
“Her name’s Melanie Malavender,” said Dagwood, “I don’t know who she is, never heard of her, never seen her, but based on the magic she just used tonight, she’s a formidable enemy.”
“Have you heard of her?” Blythe asked Dami.
“So what actually happened this evening, Penny?” said Forrest, “How did Hawthorne escape the school?”
Penny explained how she had found Hawthorne in the passage behind room 202, their resulting fight, Hollow’s rescue, and Hawthorne’s cry for help and final escape. When she described how the warlock had vanished before their eyes, Dami sucked in her breath, shaking her head vigorously.
“What a spell,” she said, “that’s the kind of level befitting Amethyst Rookwood, not a thirty-year-old… transportation spells are very hard, it requires a lot of energy, life force.”
“What do you mean by life force?” said Felix, “we’re still talking plants and herbs that you lot like, aren’t we?”
“No,” said Dami, “something greater… a large animal, or another person.”
“Well this is getting more and more sinister!” said Dagwood. Beside him, Brian’s pale eyes were wide and fretful.
Blythe stood from his seat, the crown of his head just about hovering above the table top, and walked towards Shaun. He was wearing an uncharacteristic black jumpsuit, which was still baggy, but more fitted and tailored than his usual outfits. He dug his hands in his pockets, and appeared to be thinking about a myriad of possibilities, endless problems, and many threads of strategies.
“We know who the witch is,” he said to the room, “and we know who the apprentice is, and now we’ll know where Tarquin has taken them to. I told you all, that something would happen at this prom, and that Tarquin would use this as a cover, and I knew someone would try to escape from the school. I had Shaun prepare an enchantment around Greymalkin’s that would trigger if any magical transportation activity had been committed, and then track the user’s journey from the school to the Outside.”
Penny was shocked to hear this. Her previous faithlessness in Blythe’s foresight had been broken. This small, fearsome wraith had managed to do so much just on an assumption, and now, Tarquin’s plan would be unravelled as soon as it had been executed. The prom had been used to the benefit of both tacticians; Tarquin as a cover for his escape, and Blythe, as a snare to track him. She glanced towards Shaun, and the ghostly apparition which she assumed was Silvia, and marvelled at their abilities. They were probably the most useful members of their organisation.
“Got em!” said Shaun, opening his eyes for the first time. They were silvery and wider than normal, and the whites were gone. “They’re at the old Olympic Park, in Tower Hamlets. Keep at it, Silv, lemme draw what it looks like.”
“Will do,” said Silvia, seemingly speaking from Shaun’s mouth as well.
Shaun unclasped his hands and began to draw an invisible mural in the air, after a few moments, the lines he made began to take form, as faint brass-coloured lines at first, and then brighter, until a golden cage of a diagram unfolded before them all, hovering before the mage, and visible to everyone in the room. Blythe observed it shrewdly, as did the others, as if committing the diagram to memory.
“I can make prints of it,” said Shaun, “for any scrambled-brains out there.”
“Unnecessary,” said Blythe quietly. He pointed to a space at the centre of Shaun’s map, “so this is where they are?”
“X marks the spot, Blythe.”
“Can you see Tarquin?”
“No, not yet,” Silvia’s disembodied voice echoed through Shaun’s mouth, “but the witch is here, and so is a young warlock with an angry appearance, and so is Peaches Rowe, looking very frightened indeed.”
“We’ll rescue her tomorrow night,” said Blythe, “and we’ll get Tarquin and his accomplices, mark my words. He will expect us to rush there tonight, and will most likely prepare a trap for us. We will not allow that to happen so easily. Peaches will be fine; no one kidnaps a Creep of that profile to cause them harm; this is a waiting game, he wants to use time to trick us,” he paced the room quickly, almost muttering to himself, “of course; twelve million pounds is obviously ludicrous, and he knows that he’ll never get it, but he gave us three days in the video; he either expects us to rush there tonight, just to ambush us, and if not, he’ll use the remaining three days to prepare anything he needs for a next high profile attack—we won’t let him carry out that attack, but will surprise him by making our move tomorrow night instead.”
He stopped to look at their stunned faces. “Did you all get that?” he said. They nodded quickly. “Good. Teams: Forrest and Riider will accompany Ross Rowe to his evacuation site to stage a negotiation with Tarquin and the witch, Felix and Dami will go to the hostage site and secure Peaches’ escape, Ulrich and Josh will be the decoy team with Ulrich leading the attack, Hollow and the spinead will accompany the decoy team. Dagwood and Brian will be with Silvia and Shaun and myself on the tactician side.
“Now for those of you going Outside,” said Blythe, pacing the floor measuredly, and not looking at any of them, “you’ll need to organise yourselves as such: Ulrich and Josh will be the front lines, you are to enter the hostage site first, once there, Shaun will dismantle any enchantments from our side. Felix and Dami will enter after you, to help engage the enemy, whilst the fight ensues, Penny and Hollow will rescue Peaches. Of course, you may also have to join the fight, but your main priority is the safety of Peaches Rowe. Cave Police officers will be deployed to help you. I trust you all to use your initiative whilst out there, but if you need assistance, the tactician team will be able to help. Use these next few hours wisely to plan your strategies. We begin tomorrow evening at ten p.m. Off you go.”
They filed out of the mansion hurriedly. Once outside the gates, the group quickly exchanged ideas. Penny only observed, feeling highly under-qualified and unnecessary, but Forrest patted her on the shoulder comfortingly.
“What do you think, Penny?” he said, “out of all of us, you have the most experience with Hawthorne Cole, you’re the expert here. What can we expect of him?”
“Yeah, you actually got into a fight with him! Well done, gel!” said Riider, punching her in the arm.
“Erm, there’s not much to say I suppose,” said Penny, “he’s unstable and emotional, so you might want to look out for that; it’ll make him do something reckless. When Hollow confronted him about the witch, he looked genuinely frightened, like he thought he had ruined the plan. A bit desperate.”
“And remember his past,” said Hollow, “he hasn’t had it easy, both of his parents getting killed and that. He’s angry, but weak as well. Not much fight in him.”
“So he’ll be easy, but that Malavander woman is the one to watch,” said Felix, “make us proud, Dami.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” said Dami, regarding the vampire hatefully.
“We’re gonna be fighting up a storm, aren’t we?” said Felix, “and I’m quite looking forward to some witch-on-witch action.”
Dami whipped her arm towards the ground, and a tabby cat appeared from nowhere, leapt into the air, and began attacking Felix’s face.
“Let’s just go, please?” said Ulrich, “I’d love to get this all over with. Outside team, come over to ours.”
Forrest and Riider departed shortly afterwards towards Scare to help with the evacuation process, whilst the rest of the group went in the opposite direction.
“Oi!” said Shaun from behind. They turned to see him lightly jogging towards them. His activities with Silvia had livened him up a little, his previous sluggishness evaporating as quickly as Blythe’s cigar smoke. “Penny,” he said, “I’ve been making a weapon for you, it’ll be done by tomorrow night, promise.”
“Cool,” said Penny, “thanks, Shaun!”
“No probs, get on with it then!”
Ulrich and Josh lived in Sleepy Towers, a vast complex of tower blocks that had beautiful balconies and verandas on every floor. It was the most modern piece of infrastructure Penny had seen down in The Cave, the flats appearing to be inspired by Georgian architecture, but looking new and fashionable at the same time. The entrance was marked by marble steps, which then led to a foyer. They took a rickety, enchanted escalator to the top floor, where the Gardien pair’s home was situated. Inside was pure nineteen-twenties vintage, and beautifully decorated. Books were piled in every free space, and the sofas were well-worn. Their ivy-adorned balcony looked out onto the entire city. It was breathtaking.
“Drinks anyone?” said Josh, rummaging through cupboards and coolers for bottles. Ulrich made tea and presented a tin of butter biscuits to the coffee table.
“You know, I’ve never been near these parts,” said Felix, admiring the flat, “maybe we should come down here, Dami.”
“It’s proper nice,” said Hollow, “we vampires are so dreary, right?” he added to Felix, “we’re stuck in the Victorian era.”
“Whilst I appreciate your comments, we can admire architecture later,” said Ulrich, taking a seat around the coffee table with them, “we need to plan and take stock of everything. I actually think this will be a good time to orientate Penny of our abilities and weapons, it’ll help if we all refreshed ourselves, anyway.”
“Great idea,” said Penny. She turned to Dami, “So, you have a Familiar too, do you? I never noticed it before, and you just kind of pulled it out of thin air. How did you do that?”
“It’s just as you said, out of thin air,” said Dami. She pulled at something in the air beside her, and what looked like a silver seam appeared. Dami opened the seam; inside was darkness. She made a quick gesture, and the same plump cat from before poked its head through the opening, looked around at them with bored, unimpressed eyes, and turned back into the nothingness without a backwards glance. “That’s Stoker,” said Dami proudly, “he doesn’t like to come out all the time, so I keep him in my hammerspace.”
“Gobledegook,” said Penny,
“Sorry,” said Dami, smiling gently, “hammerspace is the invisible atmosphere that surrounds all of us. All magical species can manipulate hammerspace; it’s where we store important magical items, like a virtual inventory. Without hammerspace, we’d have to carry bags everywhere, and who wants that? Hawthorne conjured those dobermans from his hammerspace, and made them attack you. It’s a useful thing.”
“Besides that,” said Josh, “Shaun’s given us all these great weapons that really play to our strengths. Like mine.”
He extracted a thin, silver staff from his outdoor cloak. With a flick of his wrist, the staff expanded into a torso-sized shield, the shape of a kite. “With this, I can repel attacks, and it amplifies my wind-making abilities. I’ve actually made a small tornado with this, it’s amazing.”
Ulrich brandished a pair of knuckle dusters that were made of some black metal. “These are mine,” he said, “I’m a close-combat fighter, fairly strong when I transform. These contain my strength, like a powder keg, and then they release it in powerful bursts upon impact; Shaun really is quite formidable.”
Hollow and Felix placed their silver revolvers on the table, eyeing them appreciatively. Ulrich looked decidedly uncomfortable, edging away from the weapons.
“We won’t shoot you!” said Felix.
“I know, but silver bullets give off a certain aura that makes me uneasy. Put them away, won’t you?”
“Of course,” said Penny, “werewolves, silver bullets. How funny.”
“And, I have this,” said Dami. She unfolded a chain from which hung a series of daggers and long, acute weapons. They clinked together melodiously, glimmering in the dim light. “As Shaun all but moaned about the other day, these are actually made from wood, but he reinforced them with some enchanted metal. Either way, their shot is fairly accurate, and I’ve always been a good knife-thrower anyway. These enhance my long-range attacks quite well. If all else fails, I have plenty of my own arsenal to use, all in my hammerspace.”
“And now I can’t wait to get my own weapon,” said Penny, smiling brightly, “now that I know we’ll be so well equipped, I’m not that scared anymore.”
“That’s the spirit!” said Hollow, “and why would you need to be? I’m here!”
“And so is the rest of us,” said Dami, “she doesn’t need you, Hollow, she’s a big girl who can do things on her own.”
“Will you stop?” said Ulrich, “let me just say, if none of you have noticed, I am getting sleepy. Tomorrow is a full moon, okay? My body’s trying to prepare for it. So can we just hurry up with a fighting plan, make some educated guesses on the type of spells we’ll be encountering tomorrow, and just get some sleep? I have no more time to waste.”
“The prince has spoken,” said Josh, receiving an icy glare in response, “let’s get our heads together.”
And so they planned through the night, retiring several hours later to their own homes, anticipating the first major fight of their organisation, a battle that was sure to have long-lasting repercussions for them, and for The Cave, for a long time.