Dragon Rider – Part 34

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fifteen

Souls and Shadows

 

‘What if,’ said Pyro, rubbing his neck in horror, ‘we’re actually being punished like Tantalus or Ixion?  What if we’re actually dead but we just don’t know it?’

‘What?’ asked Willow, half distracted as she fought with a bramble ensnared on her hoodie.

‘Tantalus and Ixion-’

‘Don’t tell me, from Greek mythology, right?’ said Willow, inspecting the small hole that had appeared on the arm of her hoodie.

‘Yeah,’ replied Pyro, nodding his head vigorously, ‘Tantalus had to stand in water but could never drink it, so he was eternally thirsty and Ixion, well, he was tied to a huge wheel that turned around and around and around.  Maybe we’ll be just left to wander around here for eternity, always searching for something and never quite making it, not even knowing if we’re alive or-’

‘Will you just shut up!’ snapped Drake, spinning around to face Pyro, blazing anger burning in his eyes.

‘Wow!  Who rattled your cage?’

Drake stared at Pyro, he could feel the heat rising, his anger brooding in the pit of his stomach like a snake waiting to strike.  He took a deep breath, turned around and continued on through the haunted corridors of the Forest.  Something was wrong with this place.  He could feel it.  It was unnatural, like the darkness around them that ebbed and flowed like a river, almost as if it were alive.  One minute it was twilight, the next pure black with no way of seeing through it at all, but he could feel their presence; the Souls of the Damned, their eyes staring, watching him.

A cold wind suddenly chilled his bones and he pulled his coat tightly around him but he knew it wasn’t the wind that stabbed at him.  No wind existed in this dead place.  It felt more like a thousand icy hands penetrating his skin, tearing at his heart.

Who knew how long they’d been travelling through the labyrinth of wraithlike trees, their twisted branches looming over them like giant hands waiting to grab them and gobble them up.

And who knew how long they could survive in this Godless place?

‘Got the Hand of Glory?’ asked Willow, as they paused for what seemed like the hundredth time as darkness blinded them momentarily.

‘Yeah,’ said Drake pulling it from his jacket and passing it to her.

‘Lichte,’ she commanded and the Hand of Glory sprang into life.

But the light provided no comfort for Drake; on the very edges of its existence, he thought he could just see the spectral faces of the Damned fluttering to and fro, their whispers harmonizing like a swarm of meat flies around fresh meat.

Onwards they plunged through the thickets of brambles and the warped trees, with the bones of the dead crunching under their feet.  The bitter chill swelling around them, freezing their breath as it escaped in wisps, filling their desolate hearts with ice.  But then, in the pit of his stomach, Drake could still feel the anger burning away, simmering like a furnace that was about to blow.  He could hear them whispering, hear them laughing at him.

‘You could just say thank you,’ said Pyro, cutting through the silence with a chainsaw.

‘What?’ asked Drake spinning around to face him.  Why had he brought him?  It wasn’t like he did much, except fart and whinge, in that annoying squeaky drawl of his.  Drake felt sick to the stomach to think he’d nearly felt gratitude towards him for saving them on the boat.

‘You haven’t even had the common decency to say thank you,’ said Pyro, something dangerous beginning to play across his eyes.

‘Thank you?  For what?’  No, thought Drake, looking deep into Pyro’s burning eyes, Pyro hadn’t saved them out of kindness.  No.  There was something in it for him.  And for Fenrik too?  Had to be.

‘Yez joking?’

‘No,’ said Drake, his jaw tightening with every word he spoke.  ‘You only saved us back there so we’d get out and find the Key.  What are you going to do when we find it Pyro?  Take it and give it to Fenrik?  Is that the plan?’

‘Excuse me?  You dragged me here-’

‘Convenient for you, eh?’  How he wanted to get his hands around that scrawny little neck.

‘What?’

‘You’re going to steal The Key,’ said Drake, smacking the side of his head with the heels of his hands, ‘that’s it, isn’t it?  You little-’

‘Drake! Stop!  Don’t do this,’ warned Willow, diving in between Drake and Pyro, her arms outstretched, the light from the Hand of Glory streaking across the claw-like canopy of trees.

‘What exactly is yez problem?’ asked Pyro, his orange skin pulsating with rage.  ’What exactly do yez want from me?’

Drake spat at Pyro’s feet.  ‘I want nothing from you,’ he said leaning over and glaring straight into his eyes.  He hated this djinn so much that it physically hurt inside him.

‘Good, cause yez not getting anything from me.  Yez an ungrateful piece of…’  Pyro sighed and shook his head, ‘Yez really do have a problem.’

‘At last, you’re catching on!  It’s you.  You are my problem!’

‘Me?’ asked Pyro, slapping his chest with his hand.  ‘I’m not your problem Drake.  Yez need to look in the mirror.’

‘I’m not the grubby little demon working for Fenrik!’

‘Drake, you don’t know that,’ said Willow.

‘The same grubby demon who just saved your butt!’

‘We could’ve managed-’

‘If that’s the case why bring me?  Oh, I get it, so you could use me as a punching bag.  Very impressive, must make your father so proud!’

‘Pyro, that’s enough!’ shouted Willow.

‘Oh stop press!  The hero of this story has no father, well boo-hoo!’ said Pyro flinging his arms in the air, ‘I’ll give you my shrink’s number, he’s great with nut jobs-’

‘Pyro!’

Drake grabbed Pyro by the collar, hoisted him off the floor and rammed him up the nearest tree.  ‘I ought to-’

‘Well, come on big boy, let’s do it!’ shouted Pyro, his hands flapping wildly, his body sparking like a piece of tinder.

‘Stop it!’ screamed Willow.

With a jerk of his head, Drake turned to look at Willow.  ‘Why don’t you just get lost you stupid witch!’

‘What?’ asked Willow, stepping backwards.

Drake dropped Pyro and turned to face Willow.  He could see the hurt and confusion written all over her face but still, he continued.  ‘God knows why I ever agreed to this, you’re useless, can’t even do magick properly!’

‘What?’ was all Willow could manage as she slumped against a tree.  ‘Not you Drake, I can take it from anyone but you.’  Tears began to well in the corners of her big brown eyes.

Drake huffed.  ‘Don’t cry.  Don’t you dare cry!’

Willow stood up tall, the determination not to cry clear on her face.  ‘Why did you even bother coming back?  You really don’t care about anyone but yourself, do you?’

‘I don’t need to listen to you!’ snapped Drake, turning away from her.

‘Oh, here we go.  Walk away again, it’s what you do isn’t Drake?’

Pure darkness fell on him like a stone, blasting his insides apart with its evil.  He couldn’t think, his head felt like it was going to explode.  His body was shaking, he was like a bomb on the verge of exploding and those cries of utter sadness from the depths of the darkness were really starting to drive him mad.  He stuffed his hands under his armpits and tried to keep still, to count in his head, to remember what he was doing here.  Because all he wanted to do was hit something, or someone, really hard.

He lost control, swung around and punched wildly.  He felt the jolt in his arm as he hit the unyielding trunk of an oak tree, his knuckles screamed in pain as warm blood poured from the wound.

‘Damn it!’ he hissed as he cradled his hand.

He couldn’t stay here; he could feel all those hands dragging him down, pulling him into the abyss.  He had to get away.

Without a second glance, he turned and fled into the darkness of the Forest.

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