This blog is a mixture of semi-autobiographical musings, fantasy, experimental, and love letters to london

Chapter Nine: Gardien

Chapter Nine: Gardien

“This is Scare, Penny,” said Forrest. “It’s the main shopping district. All the major shops run through here.”

The trio was lost in the throng of a hectic city centre. The streets were paved with dark brown cobbles and the pavements were lined with streetlamps, each lamp resembling an eagle claw, with an orb of pulsing purple light clasped within the talons. Thatched cottages sat higgledy-piggledy in little corners everywhere. Each cottage boasted magical items on sale, from potions ingredients and spell books, to pets, mage robes, odd groceries, sweets, staffs, and bone-shine for the skeletons. A clock tower chimed twelve releasing a cloud of fluttering bats as it did so, and the focal point was an owl fountain that spurted green water from its beak. A group of witches sat around the fountain, laughing and playing with each other’s Familiars: black cats with shrewd eyes. Mages, skeletons, warlocks and vampires walked by in groups and they chatted excitedly to one another. Music drifted out of the cottages and a few of the Creeps danced in the street.

Because it was crowded, most Creeps didn’t notice Penny, but the deeper into the crowd they went, the more eyes that turned their way. The giggling witches stopped and started pointing at her. One of them stood and waved; a gesture she returned.

They passed a shop that had sacks of blood in the display window. When Penny asked what the shop was for, Riider said: “It’s the blood bank for the younger vampires. When vampires are born, they don’t know what blood type to drink, so they have to feed from bloodbanks until they’re sixteen.” The wraith then pointed to a set of stables. A line of black carriages stood beside the stables and a tall, spindly man with a cap welcomed them at the entrance. After an exchange of words, Forrest paid the man five pounds for a day carriage.

“Thankee,” said the stables owner. “Marty will be your driver.”

When he saw Penny, his eyes widened and he staggered back.

“Is that the spinead there? Is it the spinead?”

Forrest frowned. He put a protective arm on Penny’s shoulder and pushed her behind him.

“Yes. And her name’s Penny. Forgive me, but we don’t want any trouble. Can we please have a carriage?”

The owner looked crestfallen, but he left them all the same, returning with a portly wraith. This wraith prepared the carriage and he whistled to the trio once finished.

“The name’s Marty. I’m gonna be your driver for the day. Pleased to meet you, spinead.”

When the carriage pulled away, Scare continued to grow inside, opening into a spider’s web of streets and alleys, where cottages and stages for street performances lined the area. Several Creeps yelled and pointed at the carriage, and some even took photographs of Penny with digital cameras. The denser the population, the more she was noticed, and she began to get a little worried.

“Word spreads fast around here,” said Riider. “Them witches probably told everyone you were out here.”

“Great,” said Penny sarcastically, but for some reason, she was dimly aware of the flutter of happiness in her chest. She put this up to nerves, and tried to ignore the furore that was continuing outside the confines of their carriage.

They rounded a corner and the full sight of The Cave revealed itself. In the distance, Penny could see muddy fells and distant mansions and fun fairs. A castle stood before them surrounded by a green, swampy moat. There were black flags on the turrets and spires, flying eerily as if caught in a slow breeze.

“This is the shopping centre,” said Riider once they crossed the drawbridge.

The centre was huge inside. Shops were stacked on top of each other like jars of sweets in a sweet shop. The different colours of food, clothes and books in display windows seemed to shine in their own enchanted light. There were Creeps fleeting in and out of the shops at every turning. Witches used their broomsticks to fly to the higher shops, their black cats sitting proudly on the twigs. Wooden staircases joined the floors. They moved like escalators, green light emanating from between the gaps.

“Can you drop us off here?” said Forrest to Marty. “We will return in an hour.”

“An hour?” said Riider. “You want us to shop for a measly hour?”

“I want to take Penny to the Danger Zone.”

“Oh. Right.”

“What’s the Danger Zone?” asked Penny.

“You’ll see,” said Riider.

Intrigued, Penny got out of the carriage and followed Riider to one of the staircases. Once they were on the first floor, the pair ran from shop to shop, trying on an array of clothes and shoes. Penny enjoyed visiting the bespoke tailors that all the rich mages went to; the long, velvet robes and shawls looked grand and majestic, but it was expensive in there. A bowler hat cost three hundred pounds.

Forrest walked slowly behind them with his hands in his pockets. After a while, he pulled a book out of his coat and sat down on a bench.

“You two go on without me; I’ll be right here.” He flashed them the title of the book, which was The picture of Dorian Gray, before immersing himself within the pages.

“Yeah yeah,” said Riider.

The two women began scaling the castle. They ran everywhere, accumulating an obscene amount of luggage, and did not notice that several hours had passed them by.

 

***

 

Forrest was unimpressed when Penny and Riider caught up with him again. He had completely finished The Picture of Dorian Gray and had moved onto Little Dorrit. Marty was the opposite; mentally counting his overtime pay with each passing moment. The group re-entered the carriage and travelled away from Castles Shopping Centre, veering towards the three muddy fells that framed the outer limits of the city. The streets grew noticeably quieter, the population sparser, and the neatly paved roads grew dim as a forest comprised of black evergreen trees and bare ebony bark appeared in the distance. Marty stopped the carriage abruptly, his horses whinnied and fretted.  

 “This is the Danger Zone,” said Forrest. “I wanted to take you here so you know where not to go. Fang, the werewolf town, and Mould, the zombie town, are in there. In a way, you’re not the only formerly human Creep to come down here; vampires and werewolves and zombies were all human once, many of them several hundred years ago at least. Sometimes things go wrong though. Unlike vampires and werewolves, who keep their mental capacity, as soon as a zombie is made, they’re completely feral—and abnormally strong. If there’s a zombie sighting on the Outside, the Cave Police are dispatched to bring them down here.

Werewolves are probably their only equal in terms of strength, so a small werewolf community migrated here several years ago to keep the zombies in check.”

“It was great that they did, too,” said Marty unexpectedly, “we had another warlock cause trouble a few years ago, man called Rubin Child. He manipulated a zombie who kept on biting people, almost made a whole army, he did. Police were out of their depth with all the new additions and that. So those werewolves did us all a great favour by moving over here—it’s all right, it’s all right,” he told the horses.

“We can go back if you would like,” Forrest said to him.

“Yeah, we better do,” said Marty, and he steered the carriage away towards Scare.

“Rubin Child,” said Penny, “any connection to Tarquin?”

“We were thinking that,” said Riider, “can’t rule it out.”

“Seems pretty familiar,” Penny muttered, staring back the way they had come. The forest darkened in the distance, but amid the gloom, she saw a pair of impenetrable, shining eyes. They watched her until she was out of sight.

 

**

 

Dinner was held in a tavern called Toadstools. It was painted emerald on the outside and a royal motif decorated the interior. Inside, great squashy chairs circled oak tables, silver chandeliers dangled above and a beautiful mahogany bar displayed a treasure trove of drinks. By this time, Forrest had paid Marty an extra ten pounds for his trouble and sent him on his way.

“Have you enjoyed your day, Penny?” the wraith asked once they were seated.

“It’s been fantastic. I can’t believe you guys can fit so much down here!”

“And it’s your home now, gel. You’ll have access to all this stuff every single day for the rest of your life,” said Riider.

“That’s true,” said Forrest. “This is your home now too.”

“I know,” Penny beamed. After her previous apprehensions, it was surprising how happy those words made her feel.

Before anyone could say anything more on the matter, a worried little witch came to their table. At first, Penny thought, with dread, that she had come for an autograph, as they had received a hearty welcome from several Creeps on their arrival to the tavern, but the witch only had eyes for Forrest and Riider.

“I have a message for you,” she said in a small voice.

Forrest gave the girl a kind smile and held out his hand, as if he had been expecting this all day. The witch seemed at ease by this, and then gave him a crisp white envelope. She then curtseyed at the trio and ran away.

“What was that about?” asked Penny whilst Forrest read the letter.

“Why don’t you look for yourself?” he said, handing the envelope to her. As Penny read, her heart started to pound in her chest.

 

Forrest and Riider,

 

It is time for me to see the spinead. A carriage will arrive at your home at nine a.m. next Thursday.

Do not keep me waiting.

   

“Who’s that from?” she asked flatly.

“That’s the Big Boss Guy from Gardien,” said Riider. “How’s that? He wants to meet you!”

“Am I the only one who finds something really, really wrong about this?” said Penny. “How did he know where you were – and why did that girl look so scared?”

Riider shrugged.

“That’s just how he is. We don’t ask him any questions.”

Penny turned to Forrest for an explanation.

“What she says is true,” he said. “We find it makes life easier if we don’t question him too much.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” she asked. “Is he some great scary demagogue or something?” A feeling of dread crept up her spine as she thought of Reverend Joseph. Penny didn’t know what she would do if she found another person like him down in The Cave.

“No, no, nothing like that,” said Forrest. “It’s just … well, he can be difficult. I suppose you’ll find that out when you see him.”

            Penny eyed him suspiciously.

“Come on, gel, you have a whole week to worry about that,” said Riider. “Let’s just eat!”

She lost her appetite. Just what type of person was the Gardien leader? And why was he surrounded in such mystery?

 

***

 

The next week went by in a blur. Forrest and Riider hadn’t been around much due to their new Gardien duties. The wraiths had also spent the time meeting the rest of the team. It looked as though the leader of Gardien wasn’t satisfied with the influx of people who had applied to join, so only eight people made the final cut. From what Forrest and Riider had said, the other Gardien members were a colourful group of people, but all with great qualities for fighting against Tarquin Blood.

That Thursday morning, she dressed in clothes that would make the average Lockviewian look on with pride. As she buttoned her cream dress, the spinead felt as if she was visiting a strict grandparent. She faltered at the last minute, however, and pulled on a bright blue pair of Doc Martens, ripped arm bands and holey tights.

When she got downstairs, Forrest and Riider were waiting for her with a tea set between them.

“Have some Gecko tea, Penny,” said Forrest. He tilted the tea pot, pouring a transparent, navy blue liquid into a tea cup.

“Gecko tea?” she asked, sitting down and peering into it.

“Calms the nerves,” said Riider.

Penny sipped it tentatively. She had never had blue tea before, but as soon as the berry flavoured liquid touched her tongue, her body broke out in a warm shiver and a great calmness washed over her.

“Gideon Gecko, the craziest scientist in The Cave,” said Riider. “He’s a mage who put magic in tea. Every colour gives you a different emotion.”

 By the time the tea was finished, Penny felt much better, but when the knock sounded from the front door, her apprehension sneaked back. It made her question the effectiveness of Gideon Gecko’s magic.

“That would be our carriage,” said Forrest. When he opened the front door, an immaculately dressed skeleton greeted them. He wore a top hat that Penny remembered seeing in the bespoke tailors from the day before. The skeleton did a little bow and led them to a carriage that stopped Penny in her tracks.

It was fit for a king. A pumpkin shaped, golden carriage sat on top of polished black wheels. It was adorned with filigree ornaments and the interior was red, royal velvet. Four black stallions were attached to the carriage with gold reins. She staggered towards it, mouth quivering in disbelief as the skeleton helped her in.

“What is this?” she asked the wraiths.

“All his carriages are like this,” said Riider.

Penny felt stupid to be travelling in such a thing. It was far too grand, and, as they made their way through Scare, she noticed that they were getting strange looks from the crowd. The cheerful, excited faces she had seen previously were now solemn.

“Is there a royal family down here?” she asked.

“No,” said Forrest over Riider’s giggles. “His family is very important in The Cave. They own over a quarter of the districts. Scare, for example, belongs to them.”

They soon arrived at a quiet and exclusive community of mansions. The cobbles had given way to marble paving slabs, and the eagle-talon street lamps of Scare were now elegant gold fixtures, each adorned with pearl orb lights and faeries that clustered around the orbs like transfixed moths.

 “Gold Street,” said Riider. “A few princes and mayors from other Caves own houses here you know.”

They stopped outside the largest of the lot. It was a Victorian mansion painted such a deep black that it reflected its own eerie light. A pebbled drive led to a red door with a brass lion’s head knocker. The footman helped each of them out of the carriage and knocked on the front door. Another skeleton greeted them on the other side.

“Miss Malone. Master Gardner,” he said.

“Alright, Jeeves?”

“Hello, Archer.”

Archer the housekeeper bowed and allowed them entrance into a beautiful hall. There was checked marble floor and the walls were covered with expensive ruby wallpaper. A gold chandelier was connected to a domed ceiling that was far above, the fresco of a gifted artist painted upon it. A staircase on the left wound its way to several floors, each one fancier than the one that came before.

“The master would like to speak with you two first,” said Archer. “Miss Dido, please take a seat.”

Penny sat down on the black velvet sofa by the stairs and waited patiently as the wraiths went through the opposite a mahogany door marked Office. She was silent, and stared at the door until they retuned.    

 

….

 

The Mason family had been trading since the 1700s. They excelled at several business ventures: timber, masonry, shipping and farming. As the centuries went on, and their businesses passed down to future generations, their wealth accumulated until they became one of the most well-known families in the Creep world. It was a Mason, Kit Mason, who founded the London Cave in 1840, the first Cave to ever exist. The Masons then opened Mason Square, which became Victoria Square in 1901, and finally Scare, the largest shopping district. They were a private bunch; few Creeps knew them personally, what made them tick, or what they liked doing in their moments together. The doors of their homes only opened for special dinner parties, and the invites were exclusively for the rich, the famous and the aristocracy.

The Mason family in the twenty-first century was headed by Tobias and Madeline. Tobias Mason established the new and improved Cave Police department in the early nineties and Madeline was the CEO of Castles Shopping Centre, the focal point of Scare. They had three children; Antoinette, Armand and Blythe, the youngest. Blythe Mason was the leader of Gardien.

He wasn’t frightening in appearance; on the contrary, he looked more like a child than anything else. At four-feet-eleven, one could even say he had a candid look about him, even though he was thirty years old. His skin was the colour of rich milk chocolate. His hair was coloured likewise and was set in neat curls that framed his round face. His button nose was firm and his chin pointed. He always wore clothes that were too big for him, giving the impression of a boy playing dress-up in his father’s work clothes.

But it was his eyes that gave him away. They were scarlet like most wraiths, but they had a dark intensity to them that could make a person’s voice catch in their throat. It was this stare, along with his serious demeanour, that made him the most frightening member of the Mason family. He didn’t have any friends – the Gardien team being the first non-family members he had spoken to since the Academy days – his previous friendship with Tarquin Dexter Blood had caused him to lose trust in people.

At that moment, he sat behind the mahogany desk in his office, a single green lamp providing the only light in the room, and pulled a Cuban cigar from a gold case. Forrest Gardner and Riider Malone entered the office just as he had begun to smoke.

“Morning, Gov,” said Riider.

“Good morning, Mr Mason,” said Forrest.

He didn’t say anything, but indicated two of the three chairs that had been set out for them. When they were seated, he asked:

“Having fun with the spinead?” in a raspy whisper of a voice, permanently damaged by nicotine abuse.

“She’s cool,” said Riider. “A little bit on the quiet side, but who wouldn’t be, with all that’s happened? She’s gonna go far, though. You heard it from me first.”

“And you, Forrest? What is your take?”

“She’s been through a lot, but I think it has made her stronger. She’ll be a great help to Gardien.”

Blythe nodded.

“So, allow me to go over what you had told me on Monday, Forrest, just to clarify. She had had an argument with her father in Cumbria, and was taken to London. There she met Tarquin Blood, who was in hiding at the time – how we allowed him to wander around right on our doorstep is beyond me...”

He gave them both a look of accusation before continuing.

“Tarquin had also been using my name to get him around and conceal his identity. After the spinead had tried to get away from him, he captured her, confessed to the murders and fed her the Spine.”

“Then we found her in the alley. Correct.”

“And you say these parents of hers are not biological.”

“Yes. They adopted Penny when she was three. She’s originally from London.”

Blythe shrugged his shoulders.

“I would hardly say she’s been through a lot. I am sure there are plenty of Cave children who had suffered worse. She came from Cumbria, one of the most beautiful places in England.”

“Er, yeah,” said Riider. “But, like, she got attacked, Blythe.”

“And so did twelve other women. And they died, did they not? Or am I getting my facts wrong?”

“Erm, Mr Mason,” said Forrest. “Let’s not forget she’s only sixteen—”

“When I was sixteen I founded the Mason Press Company. What is your point, Forrest?”

Forrest narrowed his eyes at Blythe, but said nothing more on the matter. The Gardien leader simply smiled at him, a taunting, cynical smile.

“You two must understand: I do not get caught up in media hype. Are you aware that the spinead’s story has been flogged on the news and all the newspapers for the past week? Non-stop coverage of her life, her woes, her traits. I am sick of it. People are forgetting the bigger picture: a dangerous little man is on the loose and he will stop at nothing until he achieves his goal – a goal that is still unknown to us. I thought I had hired a good group of people here, but it looks as though most of Gardien has been caught up in this ridiculous frenzy.”

He drew angrily on his cigar for a long time, his dangerous eyes staring at something far in the distance. Forrest and Riider watched on, completely lost for words. When Blythe’s eyes fell upon them again, he looked madder than before.

“So what have you got for me?” he said. “I have sent you on your first patrol. Have you seen anything suspicious on the Outside?”

Forrest fumbled around in his bag until he found the small notepad at the bottom.

“The humans have cordoned off a section on the River Thames where the bodies were found, but not before our homosilisk got a blood sample from one of the victims—”

“—yes, I am aware. Carry on.”

“There’s been a sudden disappearance of Creeps.”

“How so?” Blythe said after a pause.

“It seems as though Creeps who would normally go Outside for shopping have just … stopped. Warlocks, mainly,” said Forrest.

“Hmm,” Blythe stubbed his cigar on the table. “Very suspicious … the warlocks have been acting strange down here as well, according to my father. Having little meetings at night, not associating with other Creeps…”

“Do you think there’s other warlocks down here on Tarquin’s side?” said Riider fearfully.

“Perhaps. It would require some looking into.”

“Maybe Penny could do it?” Riider looked hopeful, but Blythe only gave her a patronising sneer.

“Maybe not. Anyway, let us get this over with,” he pressed a button on the side of his desk and Archer stepped into the room. “Bring it in,” he said to him. Archer nodded and exited.

“Bring what in?” said Forrest.

“The spinead, of course.” 

….

 

Penny squinted in the darkness of the office. At first, she could only make out three silhouettes before they took on the forms of Forrest, Riider and a small man with ringlets and a pointed chin. It was a surprise to see him, and at first Penny didn’t want to believe that he was the leader of Gardien, for he looked so child-like, so arrogant. He stared at her as she entered the room and didn’t speak when she sat down on the chair opposite him. His eyes were deep and dangerous, the scarlet only making them seem more sinister. Penny shuddered; in the first few seconds of meeting this man, she could already tell he was similar to Reverend Joseph.

“Penny, meet Blythe Mason,” said Forrest.

“B-Blythe?”

Now she knew why Doctor Spink had called Tarquin’s alias ‘ironic’. The real Blythe narrowed his eyes at her, as if daring her to say anything about it. She met his expression evenly, but regretted it instantly. The look on Blythe’s face was darkly threatening.

“Do not forget your place, spinead,” he said. “You are in my office, my presence. Remember who I am.”

His lips pulled into a sneer. Penny pressed her back against the chair, trying her best to get away from him.

“I think I have the perfect thing for you to do,” he said. “I must admit, the thought of an idle sixteen-year-old bothered me immensely. It is too short notice to send you to school, so there is only one thing for it: you will work here, helping Archer with the house duties.”

What?” said Penny. “I’m not a maid!”

Blythe leaned back in his seat, relishing Penny’s disdain.

“It seems as though your celebrity has gone to your head, spinead. Let me remind you of the status of my family; if I wanted, I could throw you out of this Cave, but I am obviously not that petty to waste my time on someone like you. But when I say you will work for me, I mean it, and Forrest and Riider will see to it that you come here, every evening without fail whilst they are on their Gardien duties.”

“That’s not fair, Blythe!” said Riider, her cheeks darkening.

“I agree,” said Forrest quietly. “This seems awfully harsh, Mr Mason.”

“This is my Gardien,” said Blythe. “The spinead is already living with you, which is already a distraction in my books. I do not want anything else to get in the way of our operation. The spinead must do work here to get out of our way.”

Riider still looked angry; Forrest, defeated. Penny watched Blythe closely. He loved every minute of this, and she knew that their reactions were only playing into his hands. She feigned her most nonchalant expression and leaned back in her chair.

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll work for you. I don’t care.”

“But gel!” hissed Riider.

“No, it’s fine. Penelope Dido at your service, Mr Mason.”

She heard Forrest moan, but that didn’t matter. There were bigger things at stake than Forrest’s disappointment. Blythe gave her a challenging smirk, but it didn’t reach his eyes, which were still hard and cold and were giving Penny the creeps.

“Good girl,” he said. “I am sure ten pounds a night is good enough for you.”

“Yep,” she said, smiling inwardly. Ten pounds was probably a small amount for someone as rich as Blythe Mason, which is probably why he suggested it, but it was a fortune to someone like Penny, who had lived on four pounds an hour from T. Rex Records.

Blythe then turned to Forrest.

“You may retire to the brunch room (Penny almost rolled her eyes; if one had a room specifically set aside for brunch then they had too much money); the rest of Gardien is in there. They wish to speak with the spinead.”

Forrest didn’t look entirely happy with Blythe. He gave the leader a reproachful look before gesturing for Penny and Riider to follow him outside. At the mention of the Gardien members, Penny brightened a little bit; at least she was able to meet some more interesting Creeps. She only hoped that they weren’t as horrid as Blythe.

Archer led the trio into another large room. The walls were terracotta, the floor peach marble. A grand piano with a strange mother-of-pearl finish stood on a platform at one end of the room. There was fancy furniture all round; squashy thrones with pearl ornaments and chaise lounges. In the centre of the room was a funny group of people. They sat around a table that had a tray of freshly rolled pretzels, baguettes, pastries, pasties and biscuits on it. There were several antique teapots, jugs of juice and a tray of Outside meat. From what Forrest had implied about Cave cuisine, Outside meat was expensive for Creeps, but Penny figured that the Mason family was wealthy enough to dine on Outside meat alone.

All heads turned to the trio. When they saw Penny, excited yells erupted from amongst them. Someone detached himself from the group and stood so that Penny could see him. Her face broke into a smile.

“Dagwood!”

“Penny!”

The warlock looked proud to be on a first name basis with the spinead, and he gave the rest of the group an ‘I-told-you-so’ sneer.

“I think it’s best if I do the introductions,” he said. “Seeing as though not all of you know Penny as I do – she’s going to give me an interview you know. Everyone will hear about her good rapport with this warlock hot off the press!”

“Oh, please tell us again – we ain’t just heard you say it for a million times!” said the vampire nearest to Penny. He had electric green hair that was set into liberty spikes. His eyes were the same colour.

“Well, this person is Felix Brown,” sniffed Dagwood, inclining his head to the vampire. “And next to him is his Gardien partner, Dami Price.” Dami was a stern looking witch. She gave a small smile to Penny as Felix shook her hand vigorously.

“Nice to meet you!” he said.

“And that’s Ulrich Dagger and Josh David.”

Ulrich looked normal enough, albeit snobbish. His strawberry blonde hair was gelled into an elaborate set of spiked layers that must have taken ages to get right. Josh was deathly white. Penny would have mistaken him for a vampire if not for the tell-tale scarlet eyes that all wraiths had.

“Ulrich is a werewolf, just in case you were wondering,” said Dagwood.

“A werewolf who is not to be associated with those beasts of Fang,” Ulrich said.

“Yeah, yeah, you grouch!” said Josh.

Next to appear was a pensive looking woman who was translucent. A grey trail of mist followed in her wake and she had her own eerie glow.

“My name’s Silvia Peters, the ghost,” she said in an echoing voice. “Pleased to meet you.”

“And-and that is her partner, Shaun Forbes the mage!” Dagwood panted, annoyed at being interrupted. Shaun had dreadlocks, albeit shorter and messier than Forrest’s and Riider’s. The top row of his teeth was gold; the bottom row silver. He also had a lot of studs in his ears and every finger had a diamond ring on it. He waved at Penny absently, his bloodshot eyes were vacant, as if he was in a daydream.

“And finally,” said Dagwood, “my partner, Brian.”

Brian was accompanied by a sweet, overbearing odour. His skin had a murky green tint to it, and his dark hair was slick with grease.

“I’m part zombie,” he explained. “Don’t bother asking how a witch and a zombie got together to have me, because I’m at a loss myself.”

Penny laughed, taking the seat offered to her by Felix. She picked up a pastry from the tray whilst Dagwood poured her a cup of yellow Gecko tea.

“So, do tell,” said Felix with a sly smile. “How did you find Boss Man?”

Penny grunted.

“I knew it, I knew it!” laughed the vampire. “You owe me ten quid, Brian. Was I the only one who knew he was gonna give Penny a hard time?”

“Yeah, methinks Penny hates him. Don’t you gel?” said Riider. She sat down just as Forrest pulled a seat out for her and handed her a muffin.

“He was harsh as usual,” said Forrest, who still looked unhappy about Penny’s treatment. “I don’t know why I’m surprised, to be honest.”

“So is he this difficult all the time?” Penny asked.

The Gardien members nodded solemnly.

“Well, I think it’s preposterous!” said Dami, slamming her cup on the table until it cracked. “Just as expected of a man in power. If Blythe had been a woman –”

“—alright, calm down,” Dagwood said under his breath. All eyes turned to him; they were looks of admiration mingled with incredulity.

“What was that?” the witch almost whispered. “Is the warlock talking to me?”

She rose to her feet, and a foreboding chill crept into the room.

“Let me tell you something, Dagwood, and I hope that miniscule warlock brain is able to process this, don’t ever think that I’m not vengeful enough to give you the darkest hex this side of The Cave. I may be just a little witch to you, but in all ways, I am above you!”

The teapots exploded like shrapnel and the table broke clean in half, sending all the delicious food onto the floor. A chorus of oh Dami’s came from the group. Penny regarded the witch worriedly. She had never met anyone so angry before; she thought of the many anger-filled rants Richard Sloan used to have, and realised that he had met his match in Dami.

“Don’t worry, alright, peeps?” said Shaun in a lazy drawl. He waved his hand in the air in a rather complex way for someone so out of it, and the damage was reversed.

“Now that our little tantrum is over,” said Ulrich, turning to Penny, “let’s continue the conversation, shall we? We don’t let Blythe Mason bother us; he is just a very private man, who doesn’t have much contact with others, so his manners are a bit askew.”

Ulrich spoke with received pronunciation, and whilst Penny was still trying to figure out what he had said, Dami’s head snapped in his direction.

“What was that? Tantrum?” she snarled.

“Please, Dami. Your poor attempts at intimidation might work with Dagwood, but not me. Warlocks are born with an inferiority complex, it seems. I have a backbone, thank-you-very-much.”

Dami scowled at him and stormed out of the room.

“Great going, Ulrich,” said Felix. He picked up his bag. “Nice meeting you, Penny. We should have a pint next time,” he added, and followed his partner out the door. Dagwood looked much more at ease after Dami had left, and he picked up a pretzel to nibble on.

“I don’t have an inferiority complex...” he said. Brian patted his shoulder consolingly.

“Are you guys for real?” said Penny as she chomped on a cinnamon swirl.

“What d’you mean by that?” said Shaun.

“You all seem pretty weird ... almost dysfunctional. If the rest of the Cave populace saw you, they’d be worried.”

The group laughed.

“I want you to use those same quips when I interview you, Penny!” said Dagwood. “That makes for good reading. Um, by the way – when are you going to...?”

“Soon,” said Penny, smiling warmly. “I’m going to be busy; Blythe said I have to be his maid.”

There was instant uproar from the group.

“That’s madness! And you’re supposed to be helping us anyway!” said Brian.

Penny shrugged.

“It’s what the boss wants,” she said.

“He really was mean, eh?” said Josh.

“But that won’t get my gel down!” said Riider, winking at Penny.

“And besides,” Forrest said, “some work might be … good, I suppose. There is nothing wrong with a little humility. I had to go through something similar when I was young.”

“I would expect nothing less to come from your mouth, Forrest,” said Ulrich, looking pleased. Riider leaned back in her chair, grabbing a slice of bacon and popping it into her mouth.

“This is Gardien, Penny. What d’you think?” she said.

Penny liked them. She liked them a lot.

 

Chapter Ten: The Great Tree Festival

Chapter Ten: The Great Tree Festival

Chapter Eight: The Muse and the Warlock