Penny Dreadful: The Foretelling

Kat’s boots echoed down the deserted streets of Victorian London, their hardy soles gripping the slick cobbles as she ran. For the better part of the night she’d been hunting this creature and she wasn’t about to let it get away now, not when she was so close. Taking a left, then a right she caught a glimpse of her prey at almost every turn, it was fast, faster than any human, but she knew these streets and managed to gain time by taking shortcuts. Her prey never let up though, whenever she was about to catch it, it would perform some impossible leap or scale a sheer building and be off again. It was a creature of darkness, a darkness that had fallen over London a few months past, and she had known then that there would be lots of running in her future. Luckily Kat kept herself in excellent shape, she was lithe and energetic, easily out pacing people ten years her younger.
It started as a fog, a fog so thick you could barely see ten yards in front of you, but that’s all anyone thought it was, a fog, until people started dying. Then they realised, it was a plague. What started simply as a cough before long meant that when you went to sleep you wouldn’t wake up again. From that point London suddenly got a whole lot quieter, people were afraid to venture outside, they shut themselves up in their own homes, preferring to starve to death rather than face the horrors outside their door. You see, the fog wasn’t the only thing out there, it just hid darker things, the creatures of the night. People went out and simply disappeared, nobody knew exactly what was out there, they just knew not to let it catch them. Katriona knew though, she and some brave friends knew exactly what was lurking in the fog, and they had marched out to face it. Through dreadful sacrifice they managed to turn back the tide of night and bring back the day, but the price was high, they lost the very person they had set out to save and it cut everyone deeply. The darkness didn’t recede entirely either, the fog was gone and the creatures no longer controlled the streets, but they were still out there, bolder now they had tasted blood. During daylight hours London went about its business as usual, but once darkness fell, the city drifted into an unnatural silence.
The night creatures didn’t keep her from venturing out however, quite the contrary, she enjoyed the hunt, and she wanted answers. Their leader had not been seen since that fateful day her friend had fallen, and Katriona was still determined to find him and bring him to justice for what he had done. She ran through the night, thoughts of previous weeks rushing through her head, when suddenly she snapped out of her reverie and starred about herself. She found herself in a large open cobbled street, lanterns hung on stalls at either side of the road, Chinatown. A shiver went up her spine, something felt wrong and she had learnt long ago to trust her instincts. There was a chill in the air; that was normal for London at this time of night, but there was also a fog; the fog, or what remained of it, clinging on in the darkest parts of London’s underbelly. It crept down the street and set the hairs on her arm on end, slowly she moved forward, delving deeper into the fog, trying to keep her footfalls as quiet as possible. It grew harder and harder to see, but she could still make out the vague shapes of the market stands through the haze. She kept scanning the rest of the street around her, every sense on edge, an uneasy sensation slowly overcame her, she was too exposed here, what she was hunting had better eyesight than she did and she didn’t want to get caught out in the open.
Just then she caught the smallest of movements in the corner of her eye and she snapped around to face the closest market stall. The cloth which covered its surface and hung over its side had moved ever so slightly, as if it had been caught up in a light breeze…except there was no breeze. That also made her uneasy, there was no breeze, no noise, no nothing, it was absolutely silent and for someone used to living in the hustle and bustle of London the hushed stillness was unnerving. She slowly moved towards the stall, her hand hovering over a sheath at her waist as she crouched quietly in front of it. Slowly she drew the six inch steel dagger from its sheath and held it in a reverse grip, careful not to touch its razor sharp edges, her whole body tense, she lightly gripped the hanging piece of cloth and in one fluid movement yanked it away.
An ungodly screech filled the air, splitting the silence like a knife, as a cat bolted out from under the cart and into the night. Katriona tensed at the screech and then relaxed, letting out a breath she hadn’t realised she had been holding. For god’s sake she thought, pull yourself together, you nearly split that poor cat in two. She smiled to herself and briefly shook her head to try and relieve some of the tension, her shoulder length copper hair swinging freely. As she started to rise, suddenly something dark flew over the market stall in front of her with blinding speed, knocking the contents of the stall flying, before barrelling straight into her. The blow knocked the wind from her chest and sent her hard into the ground, her dagger flying out of her hand.
The world spun around her as she hit her head on the unforgiving cobbles, her chest aching, her lungs desperately trying to draw air, all the while the big creature kneeled astride her. It was a man, or it had once been a man, now it just looked like one, while inside its heart no longer beat. While he had been alive he must have been six foot at least and built like a boxer, a sturdy man that might have walked down the street with a confident and powerful air about him she imagined, now it was a different story. His once thick hair was thin and brittle, falling out in chunks while his face looked ashen and malnourished, he had a twitch which exerted itself on his left shoulder occasionally and his back was arched unnaturally. His once capable muscles had withered somewhat and his skin hadn’t tightened back up as they shrank, it gave him the look of someone who was wearing skin that didn’t belong to him.
He roared and amid the fog Kat heard several more cries, all very much too close for comfort, but first things first, she had to deal with this brute. She hadn’t even caught her breath properly yet when he started pounding her with punches, some on the abdomen but mainly towards her face which she kept protected behind bunched fists. Wincing in pain as another heavy shot impacted her chest she knew she had to act quickly or face becoming another stain on a London street corner. His punches were coming thick and fast, flowing with an unnatural quickness which belied his size, and while his muscles had certainly shrunk he was still stronger than most men. Kat knew she couldn’t take him in a fair fight and she couldn’t reach her second blade as it was pinned under her, she had no intention of playing fair however. As he drew back a punch with his left hand she noticed his shoulder twitch, this stalled the punch just long enough so that when it came in Kat was ready for it.
Opening her guard and moving her head to the side she let the powerful blow thunder past, hitting nothing but air, while at the same time she locked her two arms round it and pulled. Following the momentum of his punch, Kat pulled with her hands and pushed off as hard as she could with her feet, off balance this caused the man to roll forwards, over her head and land on his back. This brought Kat into the same position he had been in a moment before, kneeling astride him, their roles reversed, but she had no intention of starting a lengthy fight. Quick as a flash she grabbed one of the metal pots which had fallen off the market stall and swung it into her assailant’s temple, knocking him out.
With the brutish creature no longer a threat she collected her dagger which was laying a few feet away and got to her feet. Analysing the situation she was still in the middle of the street, could see only a few feet in any direction and there was cutlery scattered across the pave stones. There was no sound of anyone else approaching, and someone else might have taken that as a sign that they could drop their guard, but not Kat, she knew exactly what was coming next and removed her second blade; this one longer like a small sword, and held both up in a defensive stance. No sooner had she achieved this stance than another creature sprang at her from the fog, a smaller creature, which made it even quicker than the first, but it didn’t matter, Kat was ready for it. With a graceful swipe of her blade and a twist of her body the creature went flying past her and crashed into another market stall…it didn’t move after it landed, its neck sliced clean open. As smooth as the kill had been however it produced an unfortunate frenzy amongst the other lurking creatures, some dashing to feed on their fallen comrade, but mostly, all pretence of stealth abandoned, they charged in one direction, straight at Kat.
In moments she was set upon by at least half a dozen opponents, it was hard to count amid the storm of clawed hands, fists and teeth. She ducked the first two coming from opposing sides, letting them run into each other before driving her blades up through their chins and into their brains, all movement ceased as they slumped against each other and fell to the floor. As another charged in from behind she let out a lethal back kick which twisted the creatures head at an unnatural angle and it joined its friends on the floor. Realising she couldn’t stay where she was she charged forward just as one swiped at her face, but she pivoted away gracefully only to be surprised when another one went to tackle her legs. Jumping at the last moment to avoid its arms grabbing her and its teeth sinking into her legs, she managed to dive into an awkward roll and come back up onto her knees, slightly off balance. Sensing more than seeing, she felt something coming at her back, so without thinking she coiled herself like a spring and spun round hard, leading with her reversed grip dagger. She lost her footing though and slipped backwards onto the path, this was to turn out to be fortuitous however as the creature was closer than she had anticipated and she found herself staring into a row of gruesome teeth barely an inch away from her face. They didn’t get any closer though, the slip had not only saved her from losing half her face, it had also put her dagger exactly in the right place to go through the creature’s temple.
The teeth in front of her chomped a few more times before going slack, thick dark saliva oozed from its fetid mouth and dripped down onto her leather jacket, the veins on its face still throbbed and were clearly visible, and its eyes….its eyes which had only a moment ago been red with lust and yet empty of anything else, were now fading into a vacant stare. Pushing it off her and retrieving the dagger Kat got to her feet and looked around, still on guard for another attack. There were three creatures directly in front of her a few paces away, they approached slower now, cautious of their preys bite but still desperate to feed. Kat thought she could probably take them if she had too but she suspected more were lurking in the fog or on their way, perhaps a lot more, more than she could handle alone. She liked to hunt alone, she could focus and it didn’t put anyone else in danger, but there were times such as now where she wished for a gun hand and another few blades. As she tensed herself for a fight she caught a glimpse of another creature, this one had slick hair and wore the remains of a smart suit and tie. This was the creature she had been hunting, this was the one who would give her answers.
“Renfield”, she said under her breath.
He was skulking off into a nearby warehouse, there was no time to lose, she opened another pouch on her belt and took out a small vial, a little invention by a friendly doctor. Closing her eyes and throwing it against the ground it created an almighty flash of light, blinding those close to it and stunning those further away, their enhanced eye sight working against them. As the creatures stumbled around she slipped away and followed Renfield into the warehouse.
The place was dark and dank, the smell of decay in the air, the floor was wet in spots with a sticky substance, and the remains of body parts could be seen all around the large room, as if they had been thrown away like leftovers. She realised that’s exactly what they were as she slowly made her way into this den of decadence. Looking around she couldn’t see Renfield but she knew he was here, this had been his destination all along, thinking it a place of safety, and she smiled as she thought about how wrong she would prove him. She knew she couldn’t push her luck however, the creatures would recover soon and come looking for her, and she didn’t want to still be here when that happened.
“I know you’re here Renfield, why don’t you come out and make things easier for yourself”, she projected into the darkness. “I don’t know how you managed to escape from the hospital but you killed three innocent people in the process and I can’t let you get away with that.”
Renfield was a cowardly character, retaining more personality than most of his kind but still driven by the same desires and possessing of the same unnatural strength. Never the less, she knew he would be scared, he would undoubtedly take an out if she gave him one.
“However, I need answers, so I will let you live if you tell me where your master is, where is Dracula?” she offered diplomatically.
“DO NOT SPEAK MASTERS NAME”, Renfield yelled viciously as he dived at her from the shadows, his eyes wild and his teeth bared. She managed to dodge the attack and pivoted round to face the next one but he was gone again. Apparently she had struck a nerve.
“Ok….have it your way, but you were a smart man once, you know how this is going to end, so why not be a gentleman and come out so we can have a little chat”, a gentle smile on her lips. Nothing moved, she continued to walk slowly around the room but could not see anything in the shadows so she decided to change her tactics. “I hate to see you like this, you were a handsome man once, a worthy man, you had a good job and money, any woman would have been lucky to have you”, she said with perfect false affection. “It’s just such a shame that your master made you like this, he took your life away from you, why keep his secrets when he cares nothing for you, why help Drac….”
Another roar sounded from her left and again he came diving out of the shadows, “got you” she said to herself, and twisted hard on the spot, planting her fist into his temple hard. He fell to the floor instantly, not knocked out just stunned, Kat casually walked up to him and planted her boot on his neck. His eyes went wide and she saw the cowardly Renfield return, his lust and anger gone, replaced solely by self-preservation.
“Will you answer my questions now?” she asked already knowing the answer.
“Yes…yes, anything, please”, he begged between gasps.
“Where is your master?”
“Gone”, he said simply.
“What do you mean gone? Gone where?”
“Away, far away, back home”, Renfield explained.
Kat had a feeling she knew where he meant, Transylvania. She cursed, that was beyond her reach, at least for now, but why would he leave, especially without the others.
“Why would he leave you all behind?”
“He mourns, mourns the loss of his Miss Ives…”
Kat pushed hard on his throat, “Now it is you who must not speak a name, do not talk of Miss Ives, she was never his.”
Renfield nodded, choking as her boot pressed down, croaking out a garbled apology. She let her boot off slightly so he could speak, it made sense, it was frustrating but she would get him one day, make him pay.
“Well then, it seems I’ll just have to keep myself busy clearing the streets of your filth until he returns”, she said with a smile.
“Others come” he said mysteriously.
She eyed him warily, “what do you mean others? More vampires?” That was all she needed more masters in the city spreading their corruption.
Renfield shook his head and motioned that she remove the boot so he can explain. She sighed, he wasn’t going anywhere, he knew she could kill him in an instant if she so desired, so she removed her boot. He got up into a crouch and rubbed his throat a few times, eyes darting around as if looking for a way to escape, so she took a step towards him and held up her dagger as a reminder.
“Tell me Renfield, who is coming?” she threatened.
He looked slightly shaken by the knife but after she asked her question his face drew up into a wide smile. “I hear things, whispers in the dark, the darkness may have receded but its influence lives on, dark times lay ahead for good old London town”, which he said in a fake cocky accent, laughing.
“The man and the monster, afraid and fearless, one cannot exist without the other.
A tradesman of skill and deadly secrets, don’t stray too close to his blade or he will make mincemeat of you.
Village curses come to town, the rider will not spare any in his path, be careful not to lose your head.
They will call and all will come, the strongest shall crumble before them and the weak shall serve them.
A shadow looming over all, pulling strings in the dark and guiding fates, careful not to fall into his web.”
Finishing his riddle Renfield started to back off into the shadows, Kat could have stopped him but she decided she would let him live for now, she was a woman of her word after all. She also needed to get out of there, she could hear the other vampires approaching. Renfield’s words had sent a cold shiver down her spine, clearly Dracula was the least of her troubles, London was in danger, under siege from all sides, and she knew it would take all her skill and the help of some friends if they were to have any chance of survival, let alone victory.

 

As the vampires stormed back into their den Katriona left by a back exit, her long leather coat flapping and copper hair moving gently in the wind. She headed for home, she needed to plan, she needed help, she needed to wash her blood and saliva stained clothes, but right now more than anything she needed a good night’s rest.