Chapter Twenty-Two: The Rescue
Although she had felt confident the night before in Sleepy Towers, Penny was noticeably anxious the next morning. She awoke early, before padding down to Hollow’s room on the floor below. The vampire was resting in his coffin. She opened the top half of the lid, watched his icy-pale skin ripple slightly with the disturbance, and then peered into his black eyes when they instinctively opened.
“You all right?” he whispered.
“Would you like me to order you some breakfast?”
She nodded solemnly, and met him downstairs in the kitchen shortly afterwards, having washed and dressed in nervous silence. She ate hungrily as he watched her. Just as he was about to say something, the door swung open, and Tick-Tock appeared in the door way, watching them both. She bit her fingers, her large innocent eyes flitting from one to the other.
“You couldn’t sleep either, Tick?” said Hollow.
“No,” said Tick-Tock, “a lot of nerves in the house today. Your mum hasn’t rested, and your dad’s been working on an article about Morenna Manheim’s underwear for almost three hours, and Penny was rolling in her bed all night. Only you’re feeling okay, Hollow. You rested like a baby, like nothing bad is happening.”
Hollow rose to his feet. Penny stared at Tick-Tock, disturbed by the Sharan’s uncharacteristic tone. The vampire ducked low until his eyes were level with hers. He placed a comforting hand on Tick-Tock’s head, brushed the hair off her forehead.
“Have I upset you?” he said quietly. Tick-Tock nodded. “Sorry,” he said, “I’m not being careless, not trying to be, anyway. I’ll be fine, promise.”
“Promise, promise?” said Tick-Tock.
“Put a stake in my heart and leave me out to dry.”
Tick-Tock grabbed him by the waist and hugged him furiously.
“I promise, Tick,” said Hollow.
Penny felt decidedly uncomfortable; the moment shared between the pair exposed the depth of their relationship, and she was unused to witnessing familial bonds so strong. Something fluttered in her stomach, like longing, and a little like envy. How would she have grown, if she had always been a Creep? Would her insecurities and fears and self-consciousness still remain, had she grown up with Hollow and Tick-Tock? She felt empty, pondering all the things she might have been.
“Hey,” said Hollow, “when we’re done tonight, we’ll all go somewhere nice. Your favourite cafe, yeah?”
“Yeah!” said Tick-Tock. She turned to Penny at last, “good luck!” she said, already hovering backwards out the door, “don’t break a leg!”
“No-no, Tick, you’re supposed to break a leg,” said Hollow. Tick-Tock stopped midair, frowning in confusion. “Nevermind,” said Hollow, “go get some sleep.”
“Yessir!” and she was gone.
Penny stood beside him. She saw that he was troubled.
“We’ll both be fine,” she said quietly, “thanks for the breakfast.”
“It’s cool,” said Hollow, looking at her. He smiled brightly, displaying his pearly canines. “Let’s get some rest, too. We’ll have to meet with the other guys later, and then you can get your weapon! I wonder what it’ll be?”
She nodded, and returned to her room, but she couldn’t sleep. instead, she spent the morning writing more thoughts in her diary.
That night, at a quarter to ten, the majority of the Gardien members reconvened in the foyer of the Mason residence. Blythe was in a black jumpsuit again, watching them from the top of the stairs. Forrest and Riider was with Ross Rowe’s entourage, Dagwood and Brian were elsewhere in the mansion, going over maps with Silvia. Shaun appeared from the direction of the Planning Room, holding a small metal cylinder in his hand.
“For you,” he said, throwing it to Penny. She caught it and looked at him for an explanation. “Flex your wrist,” he said, demonstrating how she should do it.
When Penny copied the action, the ends of the cylinder extended to become a long staff, pointed at either side like a javelin. She marvelled at the device. This was so cool.
“I can’t wait to use this on Hawthorne,” she said, “I owe him one.”
“That’s it girlie,” said Shaun amidst the raucous laughter from the group.
“Enough chatter,” said Blythe, halting their excitement, “leave now.”
He slumped down the stairs and went out of sight, not in his office, but towards the Planning Room, without another word. They regarded each other, anticipation fizzing between them, before leaving the mansion in haste and making their way towards Outside exit. No one spoke on the escalators, everyone was in their own thoughts, planning their attacks, ruminating over their strategies.
“It’s a full moon tonight,” Ulrich said during their ascent, “and when I transform I’m very fast. Do try to keep up.”
The Stainer Street bridge was relatively empty, giving the motley crew a chance to gather themselves outside. They walked in the opposite direction from the main road, and the chill of the night ruffled their clothes. Dami conjured some black outdoor cloaks and they donned them appreciatively. When they cleared the bridge, they were greeted by a shaft of pale moonlight that filtered through the trees in white, celestial beams, and a pattern of black shadowy leaves stretched on the floor beneath them like bats. Ulrich detached himself from them. He directed his attention upwards, and faced the moon with a serene expression, the light danced off his immaculate strawberry blonde spikes like the mist in a waterfall.
Then, a change happened. He began to snarl, and bent over his knees as if he had been punched in the stomach. His back rippled threateningly, and his hair grew darker, a glossy chestnut, and it grew longer, falling in thick waves down his back. He grunted as the transformation took place, clutching the sides of his head until his back calmed again, and his hair stopped growing. He remained bent double, breathing deeply, before finally standing upright to face them. His face was as pale as the moon above, and his hair formed a thick, brown widows peak around his face. Two large canines jutted out of his mouth, and a mane of hair fanned out around his face, ending in a glossy beard at his triangular chin. His eyes were the same total blackness of Hollow’s, and his nose was considerably longer and thinner, ending in a point.
“Close your mouths,” he said, his voice the same sardonic sneer as always, “you’ve all seen a werewolf before.”
“None quite so pretty,” said Felix.
“Let’s go,” said Josh. He raised his hand in the air as if hailing a taxi, and a strong gust of wind enshrouded them like a cyclone. “This will help you guys to catch up,” he said, raising his voice above the noise, “ride our slipstream!”
He jumped onto Ulrich’s back, sitting comfortably cross-legged, and continued to conjure wind with his raised hand. Ulrich’s chest was parallel to the floor. He glanced back at them silently, before darting forward. They blinked, and he was gone.
“We’ll go next,” said Felix, turning to Penny and Hollow, “my speed will make it easier for you guys, get on Dami.” The witch reluctantly piggy-backed, her green arms encircling the vampire’s neck with a threatening undertone. They were gone almost as quickly as the first pair. Without another word, Hollow carried Penny on his own back and followed the group. Penny clamped her eyes shut: she had learnt her lesson from the last time she travelled on foot with Hollow, and would not allow herself to succumb to sickness just when everyone was depending on her. As they zipped through London, whipping past the humans so quickly they could not be seen, reduced to a gust of wind on a summers night, her mind travelled back to the prom, and her fight with Hawthorne. She had been ridiculously unprepared, and almost died as a result. She would have to cooperate with everyone else who had powers, and could not afford to be so vulnerable again.
Tower Hamlets was a bustling district of London eclipsed by the shadow of Tower Bridge. It shared its space with the neighbouring Southwark, within which London Bridge was located, and the two boroughs staked their claims on the various tourist attractions that lined the River Thames. Tower Hamlets found itself battling with its other neighbour, Greenwich, during the Olympics, where the stadium visitors often forked towards the more illustrious borough, neglecting the Hamlets’ local amenities. However, the residents were proud to view the spiralling structure of the ArcelorMittal Orbit which denoted the Olympic Park, the distant lights of the stadium, and the old Olympic flags that no one had bothered to lower.
When the Olympic Park was in sight, Ulrich and Josh took to the sky thanks for the former’s wraith powers. The pair appeared to be running on the air, a white wispy presence whipping around Ulrich’s quickly moving feet. Felix and Hollow followed suit. Penny looked below at the sparkling lights of the city and their golden reflections in the river, she saw the freshy mown Olympic Park, its winding path leading to the stadium. According to Shaun’s map, Melanie, Hawthorne and possibly Tarquin were in the bowels of the stadium; an extravagant and theatrical hostage location.
Ahead, Ulrich and Josh descended through the open roof first, the others waited outside.
“Can you feel any enchantments?” Felix asked Dami.
“No,” said the witch, “although I’m worried I wouldn’t be able to detect any even if she had placed some around the stadium… she seems very strong.”
The moment Dami finished talking, a golden glow encased the stadium walls. The group jumped backwards, weapons at the ready, when Josh’s body fazed through the wall nearest to them.
“She had some hexes for us,” he said, “Shaun’s taken them down.”
“Did you trigger them?” said Hollow.
“Unfortunately, yeah,” said Josh, grimacing, “I’m sure she’ll come and meet us soon. Anyway, come in, we’ll split.”
As soon as Josh disappeared, Hollow and Felix withdrew their fists and punched a hole in the side of the wall, blasting away the metal, brick and cement that had protected athletes and spectators against the elements for almost a month in the summer of twenty-twelve. Inside, they passed through a tunnel before arriving in the lower stands. They ran to the centre of the pitch, where Ulrich was crouched low, his black eyes scanning the darkness for attackers.
They agreed for Felix and Dami to lay wait at the highest seats, which gave them a vantage point, and Hollow and Penny took to the southern quarters whilst Ulrich and Josh went north. Both areas had passages that would enable them to travel underground. Thanks to Shaun’s extensive map, they knew the weak points in the ground that would open a network of subterranean passages and tunnels, all leading to the antechamber where Peaches and her assailants should have been. Hollow and Penny stopped just short of their concrete entrance to do a quick inventory.
“Ulrich has a good sense of smell, so he might be able to get a hold of Hawthorne,” said Hollow as they continued their advance, “it’s the witch I’m worried about.”
“Same,” said Penny.
Hollow stopped abruptly. He scraped the soles of his shoes against the floor, and without warning stomped his feet in the ground. The weakened concrete gave way, crumbling into an open black mouth, and Hollow hovered above it. They peered inside the opening, listening intently, before Hollow lowered them both, cradling Penny in his iron grasp. The tunnel was dark, barely illuminated by emergency lights that gave the atmosphere an otherworldly violet tint. Hollow narrowed his eyes, his heightened vampire vision working overtime to decipher any enemies hiding in the passage. They pressed forwards, barely talking, their feet echoing down the passage and reverberating off the cold, blank walls. Penny remained close beside the vampire, thankful for his strength. This mission did not compare to her work at Greymalkin’s; and she could feel the pressure mounting like prickly heat in the back of her neck.
“Are you okay?” said Hollow.
“Yeah,” lied Penny, “why?”
“Your heart is pounding in my ears. It’s cool, I’ve got you.”
“Thanks,” said Penny, pressing closer towards him.
In the northern passage, Ulrich held his hand up, signalling for them both to stop.
“You hear something?” said Josh, looking around with uncertainty.
“Nevermind,” said Ulrich, “just a rat. If I hear another one I may have to eat it; I had to skip dinner.”
“A rat? Really? Forrest and Riider eat those too,” said Josh, “it sounds so grim.”
“Rats are a Cave delicacy, though,” said Ulrich with a wry smile.
“Give me the Masons’ menu anytime,” said Josh, “they know how to treat their guests… shame about Blythe’s stink attitude.”
“Indeed,” said Ulrich, “small man syndrome.”
A shadow detached itself from the ceiling and dropped between the pair, severing their formation and sending them both on the floor. They jumped to their feet with perfect synchronicity, weapons bared. The being before them was nothing more than a black shadow, shaped like a person, with no facial features or identifiable traits.
“The witch?” said Josh.
“Definitely her doing,” said Ulrich. They attacked as one, Ulrich punching the figure, and Josh slashing it with his shield. The shadow disappeared and reemerged in a pillar of black smoke further down the tunnel in the way they had already come. The pair hesitated to follow it, before darting in the opposite direction; Josh instinctively jumping on Ulrich’s back and Ulrich running at superfast speed. Josh began conjuring a hurricane in their wake, the shield accelerating their advance to ethereal levels. It was exhilarating. Josh whooped at their speed, and Ulrich chuckled; he felt weightless, like a ghost, and no matter how starkly the tunnel turned, or how closely it narrowed, it was no match for him. They spiralled down the tunnel, their senses heightened, and almost crashed into Melanie Malavender at the other end.
Ulrich virtually screeched to a halt, then leapt backwards, brandishing his knuckle dusters again. Josh lifted his shield above his head, then drew it in a downwards arch. The wind was so forceful, it sliced the walls on either side of them, ripping a dark scar through the concrete. Melanie observed the attack wearily, but she remained steadfast by whatever spell she had placed on her feet, signified by a purple mist that enshrouded her soles. The Gardien pair watched her. She was decently pretty, her dark hair falling like a veil around her shoulders. Her green skin had dulled with the effects of underground life, and there were dark circles beneath her eyes. She wore combat trousers and army boots, but had no weaponry. Whatever she planned to do would be with magic alone.
“Do you just plan to look at us, or are you going to tell us where Bloodbane is?” said Ulrich.
Melanie said nothing. Her irises turned white, and the ground, the floor and the ceiling became pearl in colour. Ulrich and Josh shielded their eyes instinctively, and discovered that they had been encircled by an army of shadow people when they opened them. Melanie was nowhere in sight.
“She’s playing with us!” said Josh, slashing the shadow army away, “stalling for time, probably!”
“Well she’s rather stupid,” said Ulrich, punching the creatures into dust, “I have her scent now. Get on.”
Ulrich returned to his place on the werewolf’s back, and they ran further down the tunnel.
Dami rose to her feet. From her and Felix’s place in the top stands, they could only hear the distant sounds of Ulrich and Josh’s advance through the underground tunnels.
“We need to help them,” she said, “I just felt a strong magic presence in the tunnels… they need witch spells to counter it. Ulrich and Josh are in danger.”
Felix joined her, absently counting his silver magazine.
“You’re the boss,” he said.
“Stoker!” yelled Dami. A flash of lightening later, and the tabby cat was by her feet. “We’re going down,” she said, “take us to the other witch.”
Stoker darted down the stairs obediently, and Felix and Dami gave chase behind her.
Penny and Hollow’s tunnel ended abruptly. There was an open trapdoor beneath them, tantalisingly easy. With nowhere else to go, and with no other signs of danger, they moved towards it, albeit with hesitation for what was below.
“This is it then…” said Hollow. “She’s down there.”
“Mmhmm,” said Penny. “Do you think she’s waiting at the bottom?”
Hollow said nothing at first, then he pressed his hands together in prayer, closing his eyes tightly. The black tresses of his hair lifted in the air and began swimming about his head lazily. His lips parted slightly, and an echoing whisper hissed through them. Penny looked on in wonder; she had never heard of a vampire doing a spell, and the way his hair floated above his body, and the serene look on his pale white face, made him look celestial and worryingly strong.
His eyes flashed open so suddenly that Penny reeled backwards. They were pearl-white and the veins all over his body became dark, printed on his skin like tribal markings. He tilted his head to the left and right, and the distant whispering sound continued to flow from his mouth. Hollow pressed his hands to the ground. The whispering grew louder, but all the while his mouth remained still; their slight parting was the only sign of his utterances.
“Got it,” he hissed, releasing his hands from the ground. After letting out a haggard sigh, his body shuddered, and the vein markings vanished as quickly as they had come. He then blinked rapidly so that his eyes could return to their normal pitch-black.
“What was that?” breathed Penny. She was several feet away from him now and didn’t quite know what to expect next.
“It’s erm, well I don’t know. I just discovered it a couple of years ago, when I was in school and doing an exam. Suddenly, I could feel everything around me … I could, like, sense everyone’s answers; knew exactly what they were writing down. So I cheated, obviously, and got an A-star. The thing is, though, is that it gets me a bit tired, and I don’t really know how to use it all the time. It comes and goes when it pleases. I’m not gonna tell my parents until I’ve mastered it … until I can call on it at will—‘cos then it’ll be impressive.”
“But what did you just do?” said Penny.
“Well, what I’ve got, it’s like a hyper-sense thing. I was just feeling around for the witch underneath us. She’s half a mile away, in a circular chamber. That’s the farthest I got until my hyper-sense broke. Still trying to think of a name for it. Let me know if you think of something flashy.”
“That’s … very useful, Hollow,” said Penny.
The vampire smirked at her appraisal.
“That it is,” he said. “I suppose you want me to go down first then, because of it?”
“Well, it makes sense, you know…”
Realising that this was the crucial moment, Penny withdrew the cylinder from her pocket and extended it before strapping the long, sleek staff on her back with an attachment in her belt. Hollow brushed his fingertips against the grip of his revolver and took a step towards the hole. A sly smirk crept across his face; an unnerving look of pure excitement and adrenaline flashed in his eyes. It was the total opposite of Penny’s demeanour: she was shaking and biting her lip.
“Right then!” said Hollow, and he jumped down without a second thought.
“Right … then,” said Penny. She got on her knees and fumbled wildly for a rung or a step or something to hold on to. Her hands finally located a long, cold metal bar, which she gripped for dear life. Bracing herself, the spinead eased her body down the dark tunnel, grabbing rung after rung until her feet touched solid ground.
The tunnel led to a long, winding passage that was lit by lanterns that hung from the ceiling. The ground was wet and gravelly and there were plenty of puddles to step in. It was too dark to see far ahead, so moving forward would have been an act of faith. They both started moving in unison, steps echoing down the passage. Penny wanted nothing more than to hold on to Hollow’s arm, and she almost did, but a feeling of inadequacy overcame her that made her abandon the idea. Hollow looked so excited to be doing this task, and here she was, shaking and acting like a baby. She took a deep breath to steady herself, and continued the journey a few paces behind the vampire, eyes and ears tuned to pick up anything unwanted.
She didn’t see Hawthorne until it was too late.
He all but materialised in front of them, having dropped from a place near the ceiling that was hidden in shadow. Hollow and Penny jumped backwards, the former instinctively grabbing the revolver from his belt and aiming it at the enemy.
“You,” said Hollow, eyeing Hawthorne coldly.
Penny couldn’t believe that this was the same Hawthorne as before. His dark eyes looked savage and sunken, accompanied by dark circles and purplish bruises around them. His cheeks were hollow and his face gaunt and pale. Even his hair, once sleek and shiny, looked dull and unwashed. It was set in an untidy heap on the top of his head, and even his black cloak had stains and holes in it.
“Penny Dido,” he said in a hoarse voice. “Why am I not surprised? When Melanie told me we had intruders, I would’ve bet my life it was you. Constantly, constantly ruining everything connected to the warlock.”
He leapt forward. Penny held her staff high in the air and swung it towards Hawthorne’s head. She dealt a glancing blow, but it wasn’t enough it stun him and he continued his advance. Just as he was about to drag Penny to the ground, Hollow grabbed a hold of his cloak and pulled him backwards. He lost his footing and fell, thrashing about on the ground like a pathetic, overturned crab.
Hollow knelt over him, his talons pressed against the warlock’s neck.
“Where’s Peaches?” he said. “What’ve you done with her?”
“I don’t know!” said Hawthorne, but the look in his eyes showed that he knew all too well.
“Come on, Hawthorne,” said Penny. “Just tell us. Then you can go home. You might not even go to prison; we’ll just tell the police that the witch put you up to all of it—”
“Don’t you dare talk that way about Melanie! She saved me—she saved Tarquin, she’s given me a purpose.”
“Where’s Tarquin?” spat Hollow. “You mentioned Tarquin. Is he near here?”
“I … I don’t know!”
Hollow pulled Hawthorne up by the tufts of his hair. The warlock screamed pitifully. In his agony, he made several attempts to conjure the black dogs Penny had seen before, but they were reduced to cloudy, shapeless blobs that materialised for a moment, before dissipating again. The power imbalance between the two Creeps was obvious.
“Where is he?” the vampire said. “This is all about Tarquin, isn’t it? It’s all his plan!”
“Let me go, you filthy animal!”
“Penny,” said Hollow, his voice dark and quiet. “Penny—tear his cloak.”
“NO!” screamed Hawthorne.
Penny looked from Hawthorne’s pleading expression to Hollow’s vengeful one. She knew what would happen if she cut Hawthorne’s cloak: he wouldn’t be able to do magic again. She wasn’t sure where her compassion came from, but she didn’t have the heart to do it. Hollow’s face became a mask of disappointment when she lowered her staff.
“Fine,” he said. “You hold him and I’ll cut the—”
“—just leave it, Hollow. Look how pathetic he looks. Hawthorne can’t do anything to us.”
“P-pathetic?” said Hawthorne. “How dare you, you disgusting little liar—”
He was silenced by a powerful blow from Hollow’s fist on the side of his head. The warlock’s eyes rolled backwards and he fell to the ground, unconscious.
“Penny,” said Hollow, his voice still eerily quiet as he all but discarded Hawthorne like a refuse bag against the wall. “Are you serious about this?”
“What do you mean?” said Penny, looking at her feet.
“Well, you went on and on about joining Gardien, about being taken seriously, about wanting to belong and be accepted by the Creeps, yet when I tell you to do something important, you baulk at the last minute.”
“Don’t start, Hollow.”
“Don’t start? Don’t start?” He made his way towards her. “What do you think this is, Spinead? We’re literally battling for life and death here! Tarquin has killed people, and he almost killed you. This witch has kidnapped the mayor’s daughter. She’s in cahoots with the most wanted warlock ever, and she brainwashed Hawthorne—”
“—but that’s just it, Hollow! Hawthorne’s been brainwashed. Why should we take his magic away?”
“Erm, because he’s dangerous?” He was so close to her that she could feel the coldness radiating from his body in waves. He placed his hands on the side of her face and held her so that she couldn’t move.
“Get off me,” said Penny. “Get off me, Hollow!”
“You’re angry at the wrong person, Spinead; you should be angry at yourself, for being weak—”
Before she knew it, Penny had shoved her knee into Hollow’s stomach. He gasped from shock more than pain, and bent forward only slightly. Penny detached herself from his grasp and rubbed her sore cheeks.
“Don’t be mean to me,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this before in my life. I am taking it seriously, okay? Just give me time.”
“You didn’t have to knee me,” Hollow mumbled.
“You were being a jerk,” said Penny. “Don’t touch me like that again.”
“Sorry,” said Hollow after a pause. “But don’t you think, as I’m the one with experience, you should have faith in my judgement? I know we’re equal partners, but you shouldn’t undermine me. I know what I’m doing.”
“I get that. But so do I.”
“Fine. We’ll compromise. But if Hawthorne wakes up and causes a mess, it’s your fault.”
They stood there in silence before Hollow turned to stare at her. He walked towards Penny until he was inches away and held her face again, this time gentler than before, and stroked her cheeks.
“I’m really sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to be horrible.”
“And I wasn’t trying to undermine you,” said Penny
They hugged each other awkwardly and resumed their journey through the passage.
“Hawthorne’s down,” said Melanie.
She was in the chamber Hollow had identified from before. Peaches Rowe was unconscious, having been force-fed a sleeping potion shortly after the video recording. Melanie sat on a throne-like chair in the centre of the room, cauldron beside her, within which a silvery liquid shimmered and rippled as if it had a life of its own. Tarquin’s face floated across the surface, his features reduced to a two-dimension projection. He scowled at Melanie’s news, shaking his head angrily.
“Thatchett was misguided,” said Tarquin, “I thought he said Hawthorne was reliable?”
“He was passionate,” said Melanie, “passionate and angry. That normally works, doesn’t it? Worked for you.”
“I’m different,” said Tarquin, “Hawthorne isn’t intelligent.”
“I’ll get Thatchett to find us another helper. How’s it your end?”
“Okay… I’ve made some improvements to the substance. Should be ready soon,” said Tarquin.
“And I just had to endure a negotiation meeting with Forrest Gardner, Riider Malone, Ross Rowe and a load of Cave officials, whilst impersonating you,” said Melanie, “you’ll take me on holiday after this.”
“Definitely,” said Tarquin, “Paris, Brussels, wherever you want to go.”
The witch mused to herself wistfully before the cauldron shattered beside her, sending the liquid spilling onto the ground by her feet. She leapt back instantly and crossed her arms over her chest. The water rippled, rose into the air in crystalline orbs, and surrounded her body, encasing her in a glass cage. A vampire with electric green hair, a witch with a scowling Familiar, and the werewolf-wraith duo from before burst into the chamber, regarding her wearily. A second later, and the witch and vampire were beside Peaches Rowe.
“I don’t think so!” said Melanie, but before she could perform a spell, the Familiar had perched herself on Peaches’s slumbering lap, and a silver circle of protection appeared on the floor, guarding both the cat and Peaches from attack.
“You have no Familiar so you can’t break a Familiar’s spell,” said Dami, “maybe you should have worked harder to get one… it’s made your life much more difficult than you think.”
“But it’s made our job a lot easier,” said Felix, pointing the barrels of his revolvers at her chest.
Without hesitation, Josh struck the air with his shield, and Melanie’s glass cage shattered. She tried to conjure another one before the water evaporated, but the wraith cast a cyclone of wind, seemingly catapulting his werewolf companion towards her. He ran a tight circle around the witch, taking the last of the liquid with him.
“Well done, Gardien,” she said, “you’ve done well.”
“Where’s Tarquin?” said Felix.
“How would I know?” said Melanie, “you didn’t think he was here did you?”
She threw her head back and cackled, that maniacal noise so synonymous with witches. It was abrasive and shrill, and made the quartet feel belittled and annoyed.
“Oh, guys,” said Melanie, “this was all just a decoy!”
Her eyes went white again, flushing the chamber in a pearl finish, but this time the shadowed people did not appear—instead, the ground began to ripple, sending the group crashing unceremoniously onto the floor. Dami recovered first. She pulled Felix from the ground and sat on his back, imitating Ulrich and Josh’s formation. “Follow me!” she called to the other two. Felix ran erratically around the chamber, darting towards Melanie and away from her, dashing between the different walls of the chamber like a bouncy ball let loose. In the confusion, Melanie staggered backwards, her shrewd eyes unable to follow the movements of the fastest vampire in The Cave.
Dami used the commotion to her advantage, casting stunning spells and attacks at the witch: she made ivy spring from the ground like wild tentacles, she conjured warriors made of dirt. If Melanie tried to counterattack, Ulrich and Josh stopped her, blasting her with wind and punching her backwards. When Hollow and Penny came, they instantly joined the fray. Penny had recovered from her previous fear, finding solace in the presence of the more seasoned warriors, and hovered around the perimeters of the chamber, watching intently when Melanie conjured shadow fighters desperately, and knocking them backwards if they came too close to her.
Hollow hovered above the din, aiming his revolver at the witch, and fired several rounds in quick succession. The group halted their struggle at the noise and drew back, breathless and trembling with anticipation. Hollow was still floating in the air, his hair whipping about his face as if caught in a wind, aiming the barrel at the witch’s pitiful frame. He had shot her in the stomach, legs and arms. Shiny black blood flowed from the wounds like squid ink, and dribbled down onto her clothes. She stared wide-eyed at Hollow, her mouth curled into a snarl. Her attention was taken by Penny’s timid stance by the door, and she flew towards the spinead, screeching angrily. Felix was by Penny’s side in a flash. His revolvers were in the air, and he fired instantly. Penny flinched. The witch’s head had exploded. Her body trembled and fell backwards. A mottled green heap, splattered with black blood and littered with grey chunks of brain, was all that remained of her head. Felix shot several more rounds in the witch’s stomach, and the body jerked eerily at the impact.
“Thanks for saving me,” said Penny.
“Don’t mention it, gel,” said Felix with a smirk.
“How messy,” said Ulrich, “both you vampires got blood all over my clothes.”
“I’ll take it!” said Josh, collapsing onto the floor, “I’m exhausted and hungry. And after all that, Tarquin isn’t here.”
“True,” said Dami, untying the comatose Peaches and petting Stoker appreciatively, “but we’ve saved the hostage and killed the accomplice. Any news on Hawthorne?”
“Just in the passage,” said Hollow, jerking his head in the direction from where he and Penny had come, “he’s out cold.”
“Well done everyone,” said Dami, “for our first proper mission, I don’t think we did too badly. Now everyone line up so I can check for injur—snap!”
Everyone froze. “What, what?” said Felix.
Dami was staring at Melanie’s body. A scarlet circle had appeared on the floor around it, glowing like lava. Stoker hissed at it, shivering in Peaches’s lap defensively. A moment later, and the body disappeared.
“A fake!” said Dami, “a perfect fake… it smelt and felt just like a real witch.”
Hollow and Felix held their guns at the ready again, anticipating another attack.
“Can you sense her now?” said Josh to Dami. The witch shook her head slowly, her face a mask of confusion.
“I’ll scry,” she said. With a flick of her wrist, a golden mirror appeared in her hand. “Shaun,” she said, “where is she?”
“A shame that, innit?” came Shaun’s lazy drawl from the mirror, “you guys did well. She done fooled me, too. She’s not far, though—and this is the real one. She’s flying back onto the main road, going towards the Blackwall tunnel.”
“All right,” said Josh, dusting his trousers down, “well that’s a shame, we still have more work to do.”
Just then, the Cave Police burst through the cavern. Stoker hissed at them as well, before trotting towards Dami’s ankles defiantly. Dami allowed the Familiar to return to hammerspace, thanking her for her help.
“There she is, guys,” said Hollow to the officers, gesturing towards Peaches, “great timing, too. We need to leave; there’s a warlock out in the passageway not too far from here; his name’s Hawthorne Cole, a Greymalkin’s student.”
Without further word, Gardien departed the stadium grounds.
“So, she can make fakes too,” said Penny as she climbed on Hollow’s back again.
“Not quite,” said Dami, mirroring her actions with Felix, “during the fight, she substituted herself with one of those shadow puppets and escaped. Because of the commotion, we wouldn’t have noticed.”
“And I can still smell her,” said Ulrich, crouching low again, “follow me.”
They chased after the werewolf, riding his slipstream again, just as an army of workers from the Cave Construction Co. appeared on the scene to repair the damage to the stadium. The group sped down the dual carriageway, dodging double-decker buses and motorbikes, ruffling pedestrians and cyclists as they went. They were so fast, that they soon saw the shadow of Melanie Malavender ahead of them, entering the opening of the Blackwall tunnel, which was rammed with stagnant traffic. Penny opened her eyes at last, finally growing accustomed to Hollow’s speed, eyeing the witch who was only a few feet away from them.
“D’you think she’s going to Tarquin?” Penny yelled in Hollow’s ear.
“Probably,” said Hollow, “I hope so, but I don’t think it’ll be that easy.”
In the tunnel, the line of cars honked and rumbled, and the stench of exhaust fumes made Penny feel sick. No one noticed the flitting shadows, the unnatural wind, or the cackling witch on a broomstick speeding above them. Hollow and Penny took to the walkway on the right of the tunnel, and Ulrich and Josh ran on the left.
“If it’s a broom chase she wants, she’ll get it!” Penny heard Dami say ahead of them. The witch stood on Felix’s back, balancing herself. A wooden broomstick was conjured from thin air, Stoker already sitting on the twigs. Dami mounted the broom and gave chase. Felix slowed down a little, coming to run beside Hollow and Penny.
“Aye, let’s mount the wall, this walkway’s kind of thin!” said Felix, nodding his head to the pale tiles of the circular tunnel. Hollow nodded, although his momentum meant that he had to use his entire body to do the action, and Penny was almost shrugged onto the floor.
“Sorry!” he called to her. Penny braced herself. The world turned upside down. Hollow chased after Felix, and the two vampires whooped and yelled in exhilaration, their speed defying gravity, and their excitement challenging sense and reason.
“My god, Hollow!” Penny screamed, eyes clamped shut again, but if he heard her, he decided to ignore it. She caught a glimpse of Josh cheering the trio from his place of comfort on Ulrich’s back, and wished that she had had a werewolf partner instead.
They had finally caught up to the witches now. Dami was throwing silver daggers at Melanie, who dodged them expertly. Felix assisted by firing quick rounds of gunfire at the witch, and Hollow followed suit. A gust of wind from Josh knocked her off-balance, and she faltered. Dami took the chance, landing one of the sharper weapons right in the socket of Melanie’s shoulder, and they all heard her responsive yelp of agony. Josh assaulted her with a tornado-like blast, and the was flung off the broomstick and on the road outside the tunnel, just missing a row of waiting cars. Ahead, Penny saw that Stoker was glowing.
“Good cat,” said Hollow, “she’s making Melanie invisible to the humans.”
Dami hovered above, out of the humans’ line of sight, and Felix took the chance to snatch the witch from the ground. She screamed like a banshee, clawing at his face and back. Hollow tried to shoot her, but was unable to do so without injuring Felix first. Penny looked on helplessly, her weapon only really suited for close combat. She glanced at Josh, who mirrored her expression; although his ability was perfect for long-range attacks, one gust of wind would overturn Felix as well. And then it came to her; Penny had impenetrable skin. She had no reason to be so fearful, especially with two vampires, a werewolf and a wraith as backup. She may not know how to fight, but she knew how to throw a javelin, or to stab something, or defend herself, at least…
“Hollow,” she said, “let me down! I have a plan!”
“Yes!” she said. She had already geared herself up for this. They were now in Kidbrooke in South London, which was undergoing a massive construction, the former ferrier estate demolished for a major regeneration project. It meant that most of the barren land was hidden by towers of scaffolding, and the scaffolding had in turn been protected with white tarpaulin. The ghostly towers rose into the air on either side of the busy roads, concealing a maze of metal and wood, and the skeletons of new, fancy apartments underneath. It was the perfect location for a supernatural fight, and Felix, with all his strength, managed to steer the group in that direction. He then crashed into the nearest tarp-covered wall, into a bald, partly-constructed living room, the open windows groaning in the night wind.
The rest followed him. Hollow was weary, but he swung Penny towards the still screaming witch, who was pummelling Felix frantically . He easily deflected her blows, but just as he was about to extract his revolvers from his belt, she performed a spell, making them glow red hot, and although he withstood the heat valiantly, the vampire eventually dropped the guns with a pained yelped.
Out of nowhere, Penny swung her most powerful blow at Melanie’s head, but she dodged, whipping around to face her. Seeing Penny subdued Melanie, and she regarded her scathingly, but did not attack. I thought so, thought Penny, she doesn’t want to hurt me just yet… might have some questions for me, might even want to take me back to Tarquin, perform some more tests. The spinead took advantage of Melanie’s hesitation, and made for a quick jab at the witch’s stomach. Melanie did not dodge, instead, she welcomed the blow, but instead of metal plunging into flesh, her stomach became a vortex, sucking both spear and spinead into its depths. She cackled, head flung back towards the concrete ceiling, whilst Penny yelled, frightened of the implications of the vortex’s power, but unable to unleash the spear.
Dami, Felix, Hollow and Josh took that moment to attack. Using Stoker’s power, Dami created a golden circle on the ground that bound Melanie, rendering her unable to move. Hollow and Felix fired several rounds at once. Josh sliced his shield in the air, and a biting wind hit Melanie with such force that it created lesions all over her skin, severing flesh, issuing streams of black blood on her body. The vortex collapsed, and Penny fell to the floor watching as the horrified witch tried too late to shield herself, but with Stoker’s magic firmly in place, any personal enchantments were nullified, and she was unable to escape from the golden circle on the ground. Felix and Hollow fired simultaneously, and this time, their attacks struck. Melanie Malavender fell backwards, twitching with the after effects of so many attacks.
Ulrich crouched above her, watching her face distastefully. He brandished his knuckles with a grim smile, and Melanie stared at him with wide, horrified eyes. A feeling of sympathy swelled in Penny once more, and she looked away just before Ulrich’s punch made impact, but she heard it, the squelch of flesh, and the dull pound of a heavy fist meeting its target again and again.
“At last,” said Josh, slumping on the floor, “she’s really dead, yeah?”
“Yes,” said Ulrich, standing upright, “what a troublesome witch.”
“You guys look so exhausted,” said Felix. Hollow chuckled in agreement.
“Well, we’re not all freakish, undead monsters,” said Josh.
Penny trembled. This was the most excitement she had had in her entire life, and her courage had depleted. Dami crouched beside her, patting her on the shoulder.
“Amazing,” she said, “well done, Penny.”
“That was brilliant, Penny!” said Hollow, “Creepen life! So awesome!”
He dragged her to her feet and patted her reassuringly on the back. Suddenly, she was crowded by her teammates, who were all thanking her, and commending her courage.
“I dunno what came over me,” she said shakily, “but I could do with a strong drink right about now.”
“Anytime,” said Josh. “Penny, welcome to Gardien.”
And in her frightened fatigue, she was elated. She leaned against Hollow’s shoulder, and allowed him to pick her up, cradling her like an injured child.
“Let’s go back,” said Hollow, “I guess our Police will be here soon, right? And those construction guys.”
They turned away from the bloodied mess on the floor. Although they had not found Tarquin, they were closer to catching him than ever before: with Hawthorne in custody and his cherished accomplice dead, they were sure to hear from him soon—and now, they had tangible leads with which to find him.