“You were careless, Dexter.”
He grimaced. It annoyed him when she used his middle name. Dexter. It sounded like an admonishment. He actually liked the name, but when she used it ... he felt naked and exposed. Only she had the power to make him feel that way. Not many people affected him. It was probably why he trusted her more than anyone else; this woman, whom he could rely on since the Academy days. He almost didn’t want to admit it, but she gave him strength. This woman was his muse.
And she was right, of course: he had been careless. With his twelve previous victims, he had watched their flailing, writhing bodies; relishing in their pain until they breathed their last. With the thirteenth, however, he had been in such a hurry to leave the area and meet The Muse that he hadn’t bothered to check if she was still alive. That meant that he now had another enemy. Penny Dido knew too much and she had probably already told Gardien everything he had said. He was angry about this: angry at her, and angry at his own stupidity.
On the other hand, it meant that the solution – Spine, they were calling it – had worked. He wasn’t a failure anymore. From this day on, he would be known as the only living Creep to turn a human into one of their own. They shouldn’t be calling for his arrest – they should be nominating him for an award. Even the bloody humans needed to acknowledge him – a Nobel Prize would do him well.
At that, he spat on the ground in sudden disgust. What a foolish thought! He didn’t want or need anything from humanity.
The Muse wore a veil over her face and big, Hollywood-style glasses. A cigarette, complete with holder, rested delicately between her long, bony fingers and burned absently in true Cruella de Vil fashion. She wasn’t a smoker, but it finished off whatever look she was going for.
“What?” she said. “Will you apologise for your sloppy behaviour, or just stand there like always?”
“Women shouldn’t be rude.”
They were in St Pancras, standing outside the station with one suitcase between them. The majority of the items within belonged to The Muse, but the warlock was okay with that. He was used to this, and a part of him found it endearing how she always carried meaningless things everywhere she went, such as a lilac sleeping blanket that belonged to Colonel Wrong, the P.E. teacher she had fancied in her youth, and a black wooden box that contained the crushed bones of her best friend's Familiar.
Today, she had carried all these things and more, waiting patiently for him in the sewers under the station. She had looked genuinely happy to see him, the image of her relieved eyes – bright, but dark – was etched onto his mind. These things reminded him of his mother – the only woman he ever loved – so he had a tendency to treat The Muse like no other.
It had been her idea to go to Paris as a security measure: if the death toll in London got too high, he would need to look for guinea pigs in another location before things became too suspicious. It seemed they were too late: they were already aware of the rumour of the London Bridge Snatcher that was making the rounds. When the potion had proven to be useless, the Paris trip just became a wound-licking holiday break, but, if Penny Dido had survived, there was hope for others.
He lit a cigarette of his own and pulled on it for a long time before turning to The Muse.
“I’m not apologising for anything. I didn’t tell her that much ... but we could hunt her down and kill her, just to make sure.”
The Muse waved her hand in the air in dismissal.
“Forget Penny Dido – unless she means more to you than I do.”
“Of course not.”
“Well leave her be. Whilst you were prancing about Hay’s Galleria, chasing after women, I got myself a spy. From what I’ve heard, she hasn’t told the police or Gardien anything that they haven’t guessed at already. If Dido becomes a hindrance, we’ll know.”
He stared at her, perplexed.
“Who’s the spy?”
“Wheeler? That freak?”
“Pot: kettle, darling.”
He stifled a laugh and finished his cigarette, as did she. When he threw his butt on the floor, an elderly woman shook her head at him and trotted away, pulling a tartan trolley behind her.
“Let’s go,” The Muse said, “before we bring trouble.”
She grabbed the suitcase and started towards the entrance of the station. The station was busy as the commuters rushed to and fro. It was all about money to them; working nine to five at pointless jobs only to watch in dismay as their cash went to taxes. The warlock had to smile at their ignorance. One day, they would have no jobs to go to.
When they arrived at the platform and saw their train, The Muse ignored several doors until the warlock spoke up.
“Can’t we just get on?”
“First Class, babes.”
He appraised their carriage. It was spacious and separated from everyone else. The carpet felt soft under their feet and the chairs were the size of sofas. He still wasn’t used to the Outside World. It got on his nerves most of the time, but he had to admit, the humans had style when they got serious.
“Check the toilet,” The Muse said, “is there enough space in there?”
He opened the door with the ‘W.C.’ plaque on it and peered inside. It was more than large enough for her to do whatever it is that women do in toilets. When he saw his reflection in the glossy mirror on the far wall, he started. The face of a pale, middle-aged man with brown, surly eyes looked back at him. He chuckled and exited, then took his seat opposite The Muse.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
“Forgot I had this on.”
He clutched his face as if recoiling from shame, and tugged sharply. The face of the middle-aged man came off in his hands and then took the form of a plain white mask. Life Masks had been developed by the mages for espionage purposes during the Cold War, and now they had come in handy for his own concealment needs. He was a world-wide criminal, after all.
“You’re still slipping,” The Muse said. “Have you even checked if there aren’t any other Creeps on this train?”
“If there was, you wouldn’t have let me take off this mask.”
She considered this.
“I’ll check, just in case.” She rummaged around in her top and withdrew a small pendant that looked like a glass cube. When she twirled it in her hands three times, it flushed scarlet – a sign that only human blood was in the vicinity.
The train rolled forwards smoothly and they stared out of the window as the station moved away from them in a dull blur of grey.
“You told me you had something important to talk about,” said The Muse.
Just then, the door opened and a customer host appeared with a tray of pastries, baguettes and hot drinks. He had the typical Eurostar demeanour that one just couldn’t find on normal trains.
“Would you like some breakfast for three pounds, sir?”
The warlock shook his head.
“And for Madame?”
The Muse shook her head.
The host smiled politely and strolled to the next carriage.
“Right,” the warlock repeated. “I want you to do something for me.”
“I want you to kidnap Peaches Rowe.”
The Muse sucked in her breath and snatched the glasses from her face. The veil slipped away, revealing her green face and cold, black eyes. They danced around the warlock’s face, looking for any sign that he was joking.
“What the hell for?”
He frowned, disappointed at her trepidation.
“Gardien,” he said. “Do you know who the leader is?”
“He’s clever – too clever. I know him very, very well. If there was anyone who could figure out my plan, it would be him.”
“That doesn’t answer my question. And besides, why don’t you want anyone to know what you’re doing? Not even I know all the details. What’s with all the secrecy?”
The warlock sat back in his chair and watched his muse through steepled fingers.
“I’m a saviour. I’m The Cave’s ... Messiah. If people found out what I was doing, they would get in the way and spoil it. No one must know about this plan; I want to see everyone bow at my feet in gratitude. When everything is all out in the open, my name will be revered.”
These words hadn’t left his mouth before, but once they had, he shivered. It made him excited to think about the gifts, the praise, and the glory that would be bestowed upon him in the near future. He still needed a name for it as well; when he found out that they had named it Spine – after another Creep who hadn’t even put the blood, sweat and tears into making it as he had – he was furious. But forgiveness was needed in such situations; his brethren were only being ignorant, after all. His heart swelled, and before he knew it, a sly grin was plastered on his face. His name, chanted like a hymn, a mantra across all the Caves around the world.
Tarquin Dexter Blood. Tarquin Dexter Blood. TARQUIN DEXTER--
“And what about my name?”
Tarquin’s smile slipped as he was dragged inconsiderately from his reverie. He gave her a dark look.
“I’m the captain of this ship. You knew that going in.”
She nodded curtly and said no more on the matter.
“So I get it, you want to be a saviour and whatnot. What has this got to do with Ross Rowe’s daughter? He’s our mayor – what’s he ever done to you?”
“They need to think I’ve gone completely insane. I want them to think I’m not on anyone’s side; Creep nor human, and that I’m just randomly attacking anyone and everyone. The kidnap of Peaches Rowe will take them off whatever trail they’re on.”
“Where will she be?”
Tarquin smiled wryly.
“I took the liberty of investigating that matter quite a while ago, just in case she became important to my plans.
“In three weeks, she is to visit the Olympic park as a Cave representative; they're opening a new sports club on the site for local children. They don’t know she’s a mage, of course, so she’s there as an international delegate. After our trip to Paris, you come back and take her.”
“Whilst you stay, working on the potion.”
“Yes. And keep her near to the park when she’s in your possession. There will be a lot of humans there, so it will make it more difficult for the Cave Police and Gardien to investigate without getting spotted.”
“And how will they know you’re the one who’s behind it?”
“Tape a message. Make her ask for a really unreasonable ransom, like a hundred million or something. They’ll just think I’m planning to use the money to fund my work. Whatever you do, make sure your face isn’t shown.”
She gave him a questioning look and he answered it patiently.
“They need to think I’m the only one behind everything. That way, they’ll spend all their energies looking for Peaches, thinking that I’m nearby. But I’ll be in Europe, looking for more guinea pigs. I might even set up a base in a mountain region.”
“You’re a genius.”
“I know. Will you do it?”
She ran a casual hand through her hair and shot him that mischievous look he knew so well.
“Of course, babes.”
“You’re amazing, Melanie Malavander.”