Blythe and Penny made their way along the bridge as the warm air swept across it, ruffling their clothes as they walked. The city was abuzz with excitement, but it felt as though they were in their own muted little bubble, unconscious of the world around them. In the distance, the skyscrapers stood out like austere needles, land-marking the City of London, where people sweated and huffed and clicked their tongues as they poured over spread sheets and computer screens. The buildings, the black signature taxis, the fun-loving people of the city, made Penny feel rather insignificant, and she was grateful for her companion to guide her along the way. Blythe didn’t speak and neither did she, but Penny felt so comfortable in his presence that she didn’t feel the need to.
A drunken man ran up to the pair and grabbed Penny by the waist. He started to laugh and dance with her, and then let her go, running into the distance with an air of madness.
“Is this what people do out here?” she asked Blythe. “Get drunk and dance?”
“Only on the weekends,” he shrugged. “Hmm, that answers it then: you’re not from here, are you?”
Penny shook her head.
“I thought so. You have a bit of an accent anyway. You looked a bit mesmerised when I saw you as well.”
“Ha! Mesmerised. I guess I am. I’m all alone here after all; I have to be happy about something.”
Blythe frowned, looking slightly confused.
“Yeah. I got kicked out. I’m from Lockview Village –”
“—never heard of it.”
“Well, not many people have. It’s pretty off the radar, and those who do know about it wish they didn’t.”
Blythe smirked. “It’s a good thing you’re not there anymore then, isn’t it?”
He stopped, pulled his shoulder bag towards him and extracted a Canon camera from its contents. He then took a picture of the bridge in the distance and showed it to her. It was a lovely photograph, not as good as the real thing, but pretty in its own right. After giving her a small smile, he slid down the wall and sat crossed legged on the floor, where he patted the space beside him for Penny to sit. Penny pretended she hadn’t seen him at first, opting to look out across the river for a while. She saw quite a few couples walking along the lower bank, holding hands, kissing and giving each other piggy-back rides. She shot a furtive glance in Blythe’s direction, and thought of Alex Whittick, her one source of light from the other side of the Holy Borders. She miserably pictured his reaction next Saturday once he realised she was never coming back.
She finally sat down, but by this time, Blythe was fiddling with the camera. Penny stole a glance at the screen as he flicked through the pictures on the file. Two pretty women, one blonde and the other red-headed, appeared on it, their eyes bright and wide. Penny guessed that they were tourists, judging by their stereotypical khakis and hats.
“Who’re they?” asked Penny.
“Hmm. Just some girls I met a few weeks ago.”
He seemed distracted, so Penny waited until he was ready to speak. He finally snapped out of his reverie and turned to her, stowing the camera away.
“So, tell me about yourself, Penny.”
“What would you like to know?”
“Ah … well I know where you’re from. But what about your family? What makes you tick? What do you like doing?”
“So you want to know everything, basically.”
“Well,” she started, looking into the sky. She was slightly disappointed that the stars were absent. “My family was just weird, so I won’t get into that – well, let’s just say we didn’t see eye to eye on worldly matters. But I like reading horror books, though.”
“Is that why you’re dressed like the bride of Frankenstein?”
“There’s nothing wrong with a bit of black, Blythe. But yeah, it kind of evolved from all of that reading, I suppose. I don’t think I’d be so brave if I ever met a real vampire, though.”
“So what about you?” said Penny, swiveling around to face him, “what’s your family like? What do you like doing?”
“I don’t want to talk about me. Let’s talk about you.”
“No way! Come on, don’t be shy.”
“Well, my dad’s dead. My mum lives somewhere. And I’m a scientist.”
Penny raised her brows. That wasn’t the answer she had been expecting. She opened her mouth to question him further, when an ear-splitting scream sliced through the air. She shot to her feet and looked in the direction of the noise. There was a woman leaning over the bridge a few metres away, where Penny and Blythe had just been standing, looking at Number One, London Bridge. Penny peered over the bridge also, to see what the woman was screaming at, for a dozen or so people had now started to mill around her and were also yelling. All she could see was a line of buoys floating on the river, partially hidden behind a dubious purple mist. It wasn’t until Penny noticed that one of the buoys had a ponytail that she realised what they actually were.
“Oh my god!” she gasped.
She turned to face Blythe, who was chalk-white.
“Blythe, why are there –”
She never got to finish her sentence. Blythe had grabbed her by the wrist and started dragging her away from the scene towards the City. He spat into the river, growing steadily pale.
“You’re in shock,” he said. “Let’s get you out of here.”
“No, Blythe! They might need witnesses. We were there for a long time; we could help!”
He laughed humourlessly, but didn’t let go of her arm.
“Let me tell you something about London, Penny. There are no witnesses, only suspects.”
She wrenched her arm away.
“Don’t be like that! I might not come from London, but I’m still English! I do know how the legal system works, you know!”
She began to walk towards the crowd, but Blythe spun her around.
“Look,” he began. “There’s more than one reason why I approached you tonight; there’s a murderer around here, he’s torturing women.”
“Exactly. If the crime scene’s here, then he’s probably near. Do you want to be a target?”
“And there’re loads of witnesses there, anyway, right? Just leave them be; sometimes you have to put your own safety first.”
Neither of them moved for a while. Penny eyed him carefully. He had spoken sense, but it seemed heartless to her. In the country, one person’s problem was everyone’s problem, whether you wanted to be involved or not, but Blythe’s actions only told of a different philosophy in London. Even as she looked back at the crime scene, it was evident that several people had scattered; there were less than half of the spectators who were there before. They probably felt the same: their own safety was more important.
“Do you understand, Penny?”
For some reason, she thought about Peter McDonald. When she had been beaten, he didn’t run away and leave her behind, even though he could have. He alerted Reverend Joseph and checked up on her the next day, knowing full well that Courtney would put two and two together. It was bad enough that Penny was no longer a Lockviewian to stick up for him when Courtney decided to hand out punishment. She couldn’t bear walking away from two dire situations, especially when one was so distressing. It seemed as though she had been naive: every place, no matter how flashy and shiny the wrapper, had its darkness, its dirt-stain. This was London’s.
“No, I don’t.”
She turned on her heel and walked back towards the crowd, ignoring Blythe’s yell of exasperation. His attractiveness had vanished.
When Penny took her third step, she stopped. Not because she wanted to, but because a heavy, incomprehensible weight had dropped onto her shoulders. She opened her mouth to gasp, but it felt zipped shut. She soon realised that her whole body was stuck and as her heart hammered dramatically against her ribs, Blythe came into view.
“Women should listen.”
She was enveloped in an impenetrable darkness. Her eyelids felt cold and wet and she spun in the dark by a strong force, a tornado of pressure. When the darkness lifted, her arms and legs gave way and she fell to her knees. Blythe stood before her as if he hadn’t moved from the spot. Penny’s eyes widened at the look of blue murder on his face.
She struggled to stand, lost balance, and fell on her bottom, trembling from head to feet.
“W-what did...what the hell did you just do?”
She must have been hallucinating. It wasn’t possible. Looking around, Penny was shocked to see that they weren’t on the bridge anymore, but rather a dark and smelly alleyway with wet, mossy walls and broken cobbles on the ground. They were almost boxed in; two walls on either side of the alley came near to closing, but there was a tiny gap for someone to squeeze through. Making a second attempt at escape, she got to her feet and pelted towards the exit...only to be bound again. As if invisible ropes had coiled around her body, her arms and legs snapped together and she fell flat on her face.
“Not so fast, Penny,” Blythe said slyly, flipping her over unceremoniously. Penny screamed and spat in his face. At this, Blythe grimaced, struck her – which made blood ooze from her lip – and folded Penny until she was sitting up right.
“I did tell you to come with me,” he said, wiping the spit from his face. “Women should behave.”
“What are you?”
Blythe grinned and let her go. Penny flopped back onto the ground, the wind escaping her lungs. He made a conscious effort to stand in a place where Penny could see him clearly. From a corner of her eye, she saw the stranger light a cigarette from his pocket and draw on it absently.
“I’m a murderer,” he said. “You know the one who put all those bodies in the river?” He spread his arms out as if proud of himself. “But I must admit; they floated down here faster than I thought. Looks like this’ll be my last night here. And yours.”
“What do you mean?”
“It means you’re the lucky number thirteen,” he looked around the alley wistfully. “It was fun, it really was; going on the hunt, tricking all those stupid women, bringing them back to my lair … but things went wrong. They weren’t supposed to have died. I’m a scientist; this should have worked. I can’t go back home now; they know it was me…”
“B-Blythe, what are you on about?”
He looked down at Penny in surprise, as if he had forgotten she was there.
“And stop calling me that. My name’s not Blythe. I hate that name, and I hate him.”
The-man-who-was-not-Blythe stooped over Penny and blew the cigarette smoke in her face.
“My name is cursed, but sadly, my mother didn’t know about it. It caused a great teasing in my school days, you know, but I soon showed them my skill. My name has only ever been given to men who have had great, catastrophic deaths. Even in ancient times, it had passed on to a man who had abused an innocent woman, and this woman’s death lead to a great revolution. He died, as did his father who was named likewise –”
“—spit it out!”
He pulled an ugly face and stubbed the cigarette on Penny’s cheek. She hissed in pain, but met his eyes evenly. Penny didn’t care how long he had been practising this speech; she didn’t want to hear it.
“Tarquinius Bloodbane's my name, better known as Tarquin Blood, and I'm a genius.”
His voice had taken a deeper timbre that rumbled in his throat. As he spoke of his name, Penny felt a shiver shoot down her spine.
“You’re insane,” she said, trying to struggle against the invisible bonds. It was useless, she was stuck. Penny tried to look around at where the bonds had come from, but knew there was no point. Tarquin had done something, he had put the ropes on her, and she still didn’t know how. She tried to ignore the supernatural connotations of her capture, but all the evidence seemed to point to them.
“I’m not insane. I’m a genius, I said. Sadly, you will never see. It’s a shame we should part like this, Penny; I quite liked you. But my potion was a failure; it is only fitting that I use the last of the batch. I do hate wasting things.”
Penny’s eyes grew wide, and a flash of blue panic coursed through her body. Was he really going to kill her? Had it only been a few minutes ago that she was looking out at the beautiful River Thames, laughing with anticipation for her new adventure in London? Something in her stomach rumbled at Tarquin’s evil grey eyes, at the strange air that emanated from him, as if he was something out of this world. It all added up; his ability to transport her from London Bridge to this unknown alleyway in the blink of an eye, his binding technique, his talk of ‘potion’, which, judging by the small brown phial he now cradled in his hands, matched the descriptions in all of her horror novels. Tarquin wasn’t human. Was this the norm in London?
“Congratulations, Number Thirteen! The last goes to you!”
He unstopped the little brown phial and tapped her jaw, but Penny clamped it shut until pain shot through her gums and her bottom lip started to bleed.
“No-no-no, Penny,” Tarquin soothed. He pulled her mouth open without any effort at all, and tipped the phial.
“Ah-ah-AHHHH!” screamed Penny, thrashing around, but her body remained rock stiff.
The repugnant substance hit the back of her throat and sloshed down into her stomach. It burned, it killed. She could feel all the places it had touched disintegrate and dissolve. Her blood turned to fire and it ripped through the veins, agonisingly pulsing with every futile heartbeat, coursing through her muscles and her bones. Tarquin left her side and watched her with an indescribable expression, before his features contorted into a hard, dangerous look that would have made Reverend Joseph proud.
“How unfortunate,” Tarquin said scathingly, “getting killed by a warlock; the scum of the earth.”
He spun around and was gone with a flourish of his silk black cloak.
As soon as Tarquin was gone, the ropes around Penny’s body vanished, and she scrambled onto her knees and began crawling forwards, trying her best to call out for help, but to no avail; her throat was singed and destroyed. As the cogs in her body wound to a halt, Penny flopped onto her back and started into the starless sky, a silent sob escaping her lips. All around her, clouds of purple smoke began to form, seemingly emerging from her skin. The clouds thickened until she could breathe no longer. At last, she gasped her final breath.
Then she closed her eyes and succumbed to the darkness.