Dragon Rider – Part Ten

Dragon Rider

Chapter Six Continued

Going Nowhere, Fast

Willow sat cross-legged on a crumbling window ledge, flicking through the pages of a black leather book with fat gold hinges that Drake had managed to “borrow” from an Antique Book Dealers.  ‘Here it is,’ she said, clearing her throat, ‘The Emerald Key is not a key as such, but a magickal text that allegedly allows the reader to unlock all of the wisdom in the Universe and, because of this, anyone who possesses it can wield great power.

‘It was the first book ever to be created and was written by the God Mercury at the request of Zeus so that he had a full record of everything he possessed.  Unfortunately, it was stolen from Mount Olympus, along with fire, by Prometheus who gave it to Hermes Trismegistus, the Book’s Guardian on earth.

‘The Emerald Key has been passed down through generations of Guardians who swore to protect it as Hermes had once done.  It is believed that Guardians have included Roger Bacon, Nicholas Flamel and Edward Sampson, among others.’

‘That’s it?’ asked Drake.

‘Yep, apparently the book simply vanished around 1832,’ finished Willow.  She dropped the book on to the window ledge and went to sit next to Drake on the sofa.

Drake closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  ‘Okay Gizmo, what’ve you got?’

‘Not much more than what Funestus told us,’ said Gizmo.  ‘Apparently, that Canches guy-‘

‘The one who wrote the notebook?’ asked Drake.

‘Yeah, he was friends with Nicholas Flamel, one of the most famous Alchemists of all time-’

‘Nicholas Flamel?’  Drake laughed, ‘The crackpot who allegedly created the Philosopher’s stone?’

Gizmo nodded his head.  ‘It was Flamel who had the book, he just showed it to Canches.  It was The Emerald Key that gave Flamel the instructions on how to create the stone so that he could conquer death-’

‘Conquer death?’ asked Drake, his voice full of scepticism.

‘Don’t ask me,’ shrugged Gizmo, ‘I’m just reading what it says here.’

‘Okay, sorry,’ said Drake.  Boy, was this guy sensitive.  ‘Do you think you could do some more digging, see what else you can find?’

‘I’ve got Ailsa on to it, if she comes up with anything, I’ll let you know.’

Drake sighed.  ‘We have no leads, nowhere to start.’

‘Give it a couple of hours and I’m sure Ailsa will come up with something-’

‘I don’t think we’ve got a couple of hours, Fenrik’s already on to it, I know it.’  Drake banged his fist on the arm of the sofa, ‘If only we knew what he was up to.’

‘What we need is someone magickal, someone who can give us another angle on The Emerald Key.  Know anyone at the Uni Giz?’ asked Willow.

‘No, I’m sure-’

‘That’s it!’ said Drake smacking his forehead with the heal of his hand, ‘How come I didn‘t think of that before?’  He jumped up from the sofa.  ‘I need to pay an old friend a visit, she’s a Mystick, she’ll know where we need to start.’

‘You know a Mystick?  Why haven’t you told us this before?’

Drake shrugged.  ‘Her name is Alchymia, she’s helped me out a few times, maybe she’ll be able to help again.  She’s a good place to start anyway.’

‘So where do we find her?’

‘Nowhere.’

‘Drake, now isn’t the time for jokes-’

‘I’m not joking.  It’s an old magickal town to the north-west of here.’  Drake rubbed his chin, deep in thought.  ‘Didn’t think I’d go back there so soon.  It’ll be dangerous, can’t risk Falkor-’

‘Dangerous, how exactly?’ asked Gizmo, who had stopped flicking his hand over the images on the screen in front of him.

‘Long story.  Let’s just say I’m not very welcome there.  But still, it’s the only lead we’ve got.’

‘So when do we go?’ asked Willow, jumping off the sofa.

‘We don’t,’ said Drake, grabbing his Zephyr, ‘I go alone.’

‘Drake,’ said Gizmo, ‘you’ll need help.’

‘You,’ said Drake, slapping Gizmo on the back, ‘need to fix the problem you’re having breaking into the Enforcerer’s computers.  You also get to send Ailsa to infiltrate Fenrik’s system-’

‘No!’ cut in Gizmo, ‘I can’t allow that, it’s too dangerous, I-’

‘I know, but we need to know what he’s up to, what info he’s got, how close he is to finding it.  Find that out and we’ll have half a chance.’

‘And what do I get to do?’ asked Willow, her hands firmly on her hips, her eyes thunderous.

‘You get to stay here and help Gizmo.’

‘Drake?  Come on!’

‘I’m going alone.’

‘You’re not even taking Falkor?’ asked Willow, suddenly concerned.

‘Who’s Falkor? asked Gizmo.

‘No, it’s too risky, they’re not exactly pro-dragon where I’m going, and on the subject of Falkor…’

‘Dragon?’ asked Gizmo, swinging around in his chair, ‘no one said anything about dragons-’

‘No Drake, I’m not looking after him,’ said Willow shuddering, the thunder in her eyes now replaced by a look of horror.  ‘Look, I like dragons, really, I do, but I couldn’t look after one.  Anyway, if you’re not taking him you’re going to need transport.  We can use my Metatron, it’s a bike that Gizmo’s souped-up, very fast, very cool, you’ll like it.’

Drake chortled.  ’I was only going to ask if you could keep an eye out for him and give me the heads up if anything happens, that’s all.  But the Metatron sounds like a good idea.’

‘Great!  You get to go on an adventure and I get to babysit a Dragon.’

‘Will someone tell me when we got a pet dragon?’ asked Gizmo.

 

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Death’s Apprentice – Part Twenty-Seven

The door creaked on its hinges as Joe pushed it open. A cool breeze blew in from the open doorway. Joe took a tentative step forwards but stopped because he could see nothing but black. A vast open expanse of black.

‘Go on then,’ said Mrs Crow.

‘But there’s nothing there,’ said Joe, taking a step backwards.

‘There is,’ said Mrs Crow, and with a sharp jab to his back she added, ‘now stop piddling about here and get on with it.’

Joe staggered through the door and into the black.

‘It’s been nice knowing you,’ said Mrs Crow to his back, ‘you know if the worse happens.’

He turned as the door slammed behind him.

‘Great,’ he said. The word echoed through the darkness. ‘Brilliant. Just brilliant.’

He stood still, not knowing what to do. Did he go back? The prank had surely gone far enough, hadn’t it? He couldn’t play this stupid charade forever, could he? No. Time to go back. Things had gone far enough.

Joe spun on his heels. He’d had enough. He’d go back through the door, have a good laugh with whoever had set this up but now it was time to finish it. Except…

The door had disappeared.

‘Very funny!’ he shouted to no one in particular. ‘You can stop now!’

‘Stop what?’ The voice made him jump. He swung around to see a figure swathed in black, lit by a small lamp held by a skeletal hand.’

‘Fuck! Who are you?’

‘Pleasure to meet you too!’

‘Yeah, erm.. sorry…I…you made me jump.’

‘Well, who else did you expect to be here?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Joe, he flung his arms in the air, nearly losing the book in his hand, ‘I’ve never been here before.’

‘Of course, you haven’t. You only die once.’

‘I’m not dead.’

‘Not dead? Don’t be stupid! Of course -‘

‘I’m not. I’m still alive and kicking and not falling for this shit anymore.’

The figure rushed over to him and grabbed Joe’s wrist. It held it in icy cold hands.

‘Wow!’ the figure exclaimed. ‘You have a pulse! You’re an actual live person. Well, this is very irregular.’ The figure dropped Joe’s hand and held up the lamp to Joe’s face. Its hood dropped from its head, revealing a man’s skeletal face. He had a patch over one eye and long straggly grey hair. Joe thought he could smell ammonia. The man reached up with his free hand and run it across Joe’s face. Joe cringed inside.

‘Oh, I’m sorry. This is too much, isn’t it? It’s just…it’s just I only ever see the dead ones and to find a live one standing right before me, well, it’s nothing short of a miracle.’ The man reached inside his cloak and scratched his armpit. ‘I’m Charon, by the way,’ he said, offering Joe the hand he’d just scratched his armpit with, ‘and I’m your guide across the River Styx.’

So, You Wanna be a Writer? Five things you need in Act Two of your novel.

In the post, Five reasons why the three-act structure is for you (see it here), I explained that act two corresponds with the middle of your novel.

Act Two is where the hero takes action. Here are five key ingredients that the middle of your story needs:

One – Challenges that the hero must face

The hero can’t have it easy. There have to be lots of obstacles put in their way because, if there wasn’t, what would be the point of reading it? It would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?

The challenges don’t have to be life and death scenarios. It’s best if there are plenty of highs and lows to the second act. Usually, the challenges facing the hero at the beginning of the second act begin to test character but don’t have serious consequences. That’s not to say they aren’t difficult, just that they don’t have a life or death outcome. Slowly the tension builds in act two so that by the end of act two the hero is at his lowest point.

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair
Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

Two – A world that is different from the ordinary world of Act One

The ordinary world of act one is where we meet the hero and where the hero is inactive. The special world –  in which the hero enters after the triggering event at the end of act one – must challenge the hero. It must be different and allow the hero to be tested and, in turn, change.

Don’t forget that the hero isn’t used to this new special world. They have to learn new rules.

Three – Be aware of the theme of your story

As I explained in my post, five things you need to do in act one of your story, your novel will need a theme that runs through the whole of it.

There will be an underlying theme or message to your story. This is an idea that runs through the whole of the novel. The message could be, for example, “crime doesn’t pay,” or “love conquers all”. It gives the story cohesion.

You must keep this in mind as you write act two, making sure the theme is a thread that runs through the whole of your story. If you don’t, the story won’t gel properly and won’t have the cohesion it should have.

Four – avoid a saggy middle

There is a danger in act two that your writing will fall flat and become boring if the action isn’t dynamic. The hero must face challenges but they can’t all be easy. There has to be highs and lows and, as the story continues, the tension needs to rise until the hero is at his lowest point at the end of act two.

Remember that the second act is just as important as the beginning and end. Take time over it and don’t rush. Also make sure that the message of the story, for example, Revenge is self-destructive, runs through the entire length of the novel.

Keep your focus, keep the writing tight and make sure you don’t meander. There has to be a momentum, a reason why the character has to keep on going, no matter the cost.

Five – Make sure you include a crisis

At the end of act two, the hero has to be at his lowest point. He has to face a crisis. This is a plot point which throws the hero into act three.

The crisis can be the hero facing his greatest fears, the end of a relationship, or he can be near to death as he is brought to his knees by whatever hostile force is facing him.

The crisis is the main event of the second act. It is the point to which everything in the story leads before it emerges the other side allowing for the hero to change.

 

Is there anything else you’d add to this list?

Dragon Rider – Part Nine

Dragon Rider

Chapter Six

Going Nowhere, Fast

Drake was sprawled on a threadbare sofa, his Zephyr guitar lying across his chest. He couldn’t play here, not when he would end up bewitching Willow and Gizmo. Instead, he pretended to run his fingers over the strings, mentally playing the chords to soothe his aching brain.
But no matter how hard he concentrated on the music in his mind and tried to ignore the millions of questions that rattled around with it, he couldn’t; they kept bubbling to the surface, forcing him to think.
He stopped and gently dropped the guitar to the ground, trying hard not to look at his reflection in the shiny bridge of his instrument. But just like the questions that refused to go away he could neither ignore or liberate himself from the tattoo-like marking that blighted his face, “The Devil’s Mark”, a black swirl that ran from his right eyebrow, around his eye and then down his cheek; The Mark of the Dragon Rider.
It had begun to develop when he was four years old and, from that point in his life, he had either been an object of terror or one of curiosity and infamy. The latter helped him greatly in his work, for some people couldn’t help but be attracted to him (like his informant, Heaven Cadenza, Funestus Black’s Personal Assistant in the Law Department) but Drake had learned the hard way that this attraction was not really for him, but rather for what they thought he stood for, and what they thought they could get from him. In the end, this sort of attraction was very short lived.
The only person who had seen through all of the trappings of his heritage and had loved him, not because of it, but in spite of it, was Willow. But that was long ago, in the past, before he had run out on her. And what did she know of him now and what he’d been up to in those intervening years? Did she still feel that way, or had she turned on him also, throwing him out to a dog like Funestus?
Drake closed his eyes but the heat of his anger wasn’t helping to ease the knot in his stomach. Every vein and sinew in his body shrieked at the idea of working for Funestus; he wanted to finish Fenrik off on his own, not as part of some mad quest to find something that probably didn’t even exist. But it had also become painfully clear that he couldn’t walk away from Funestus’ offer. And that troubled him. Greatly.
‘If you’re with us,’ argued Willow, bringing Drake back into the present, ‘we’ll find the book quickly; Gizmo can do the techie stuff, I can do the magick and you’ve got experience from whatever it is you do when you’re out doing whatever it is you do. It’s simple really.’
Drake huffed. ‘Simple,’ he muttered under his breath.
‘Maybe you shouldn’t help us to find it,’ snapped Gizmo, tapping codes and text onto the virtual keyboard.
‘What? Don’t say that Giz, we need him,’ said Willow, pulling up Drake‘s legs and flopping onto the sofa next to him.
‘Do we?’ asked Gizmo spinning around in his chair. ‘He doesn’t seem to be that bothered.’
Drake reluctantly opened his eyes and swung his legs down from Willow’s lap. His eyes lingered on Willow, his mind trying to work out if she’d sold him out. He sighed and shook his head. ‘When do we start?’
‘Now,’ said Willow.
Within minutes Ailsa was dispatched to Funestus Black’s residence with a message accepting his offer.
Funestus’ reply was stark; No book, No money, No protection. Find it fast before Fenrik’s Demons did.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Twenty-Six

Like everything else that had happened in the last twenty-four hours or so, Joe wasn’t quite sure if what was happening at that moment was real or not. He considered all the things he’d been through; meeting Mr and Mrs Crow, the trial for the job which included burying a dead body at midnight with a man, called Azrail, who looked like a skeleton, finding out Mrs Crow was Death (well for England anyway) and that her sister had stolen her scythe so she couldn’t collect the souls of the dead anymore. Oh, and he’d met a man called Lucifer.

No. At some point, hopefully not too far in the future, the prank would stop, the prankster would be revealed and everything could go back to normal.

Whatever normal was.

Because, right at this second, he was feeling like it all needed to stop. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny in the beginning and now, now it was even less funny.

His heart was pounding against his ribcage. His legs were jelly and he was sweating. Yep, this was as far from funny as you could get.

Joe was scared. Really scared. More than he’d ever been scared in his life. Even when he’d taken a beating from his stepdad.

What could be even scarier than taking a beating from your stepdad?

Standing at the door to the underworld knowing you’re about to go through it.

‘Are you sure this is the only way?’ asked Joe, turning to face Mrs Crow.

‘Yes. You’ll be fine. Just remember not to upset Cerberus because you don’t want your face ripped off do you?’

‘No. But -‘

‘Don’t worry about it Joe,’ said Mrs Crow, with a patronising pat to his shoulder, ‘you’re good with dogs. It will be fine. Cerberus will be fine -‘

‘And if he isn’t?’

‘Well, you’ll have your face ripped off then, won’t you? Take this,’ she said, holding out an A5 book to Joe.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s the Book of the Dead. Hopefully, it will help you to navigate the underworld -‘

‘Hopefully?’

‘Well, no one’s ever used it so I don’t know how useful it will be. But at least it’s a start, isn’t it? It’s something.’

‘Yeah great.’

‘So you know what you’ve got to do?’

Joe nodded. ‘Yep. Find your sister and get the scythe back.’

‘There’s a good boy. Go on then, off you go. Any last words? Anything you want me to tell your mother if the worst happens?’

Joe sighed. ‘No.’

‘Go on then, no time like the present.’

Joe grasped the cold brass knob on the door. The door to the underworld. The cheap pine door that stood between him and the underworld. The unremarkable door that hung in the funeral home of Mr and Mrs Crow, Hight Street, Bloxwich.

He turned the knob and began to push the door open.

Dragon Rider – Part Eight

Dragon Rider

Chapter Five

The Spider’s Lair

Fenrik Lasko sat lazily flicking through the bruised pages of a book, bound in yellowing human skin, with a red dragon crudely painted on its front cover.  The stiff pages of the Grimoire creaked angrily as he turned them over, its ancient writing and symbols raging under the flickering light of the tallow candle placed next to it on the large oak desk, perched high upon the top of a human-looking skull.  Beside it, lay the skull of some long-dead animal, holding down a stack of vellums and parchments thick with dust.

Cigar smoke hung thick in the air like ghostly spider webs, dripping down from the ceiling and smothering the vast bookshelves, overflowing with dusty tomes, glass jars full of pickled animal body parts and other sinister substances, such as grave dirt, corpse water and a small golden cask containing the last dregs of Fenrik’s stash of dragon’s blood.

Fenrik stirred as a gentle rap came from the other side of the large door to his office.  He snapped the Grimoire shut, pushed it aside, and grunted as an ugly green demon, no bigger than a six-year-old child, floated into the room, struggling under the weight of the large silver tray he was carrying.  The demon placed the tray in front of Fenrik, spilling a small amount of green liquid from a silver goblet.  Fenrik removed the silver cover from the platter at the side of the goblet and hit the demon on the head with it, sending him crashing into the full-length gilt mirror that stood before one of the bookcases.  The mirror landed heavily on the demon but didn’t smash, so he carefully pushed the mirror off himself and back into position.  He then scrambled to his feet, trying not to anger his master anymore and bowed low before sheepishly backing out of the room.

Fenrik’s eyes bulged at the sight of the large plate of meatballs, smothered in a blood red tomato sauce, lying on a bed of steaming yellow spaghetti.  He grunted in appreciation as he shovelled meatballs into his gargantuan mouth, tomato sauce dripping down his crisp blue shirt like splatters of blood.

The door to his study opened again, this time revealing a lofty figure wearing a black pinstripe suit with a trilby hat pulled down low over his white candy floss hair.  The figure’s skin was waxy and yellowish-green as if he were an ancient Egyptian mummy that had been unwrapped for the first time.  He walked across the room and sat down on an oak chair in front of Fenrik’s desk.

This was Vigor Mortis, Fenrik’s half-brother, a creature that was neither alive nor dead after an accident with a dragon and its rider seventeen years ago.  Unable to cope alone, Fenrik had dug his brother’s body from its grave and re-animated it with Unmentionable Magick, which had left Vigor with a sallow complexion and a body that looked as if someone had stuck a vacuum up his bottom to suck the life out of him; a vacuum-packed version of Fenrik, but taller and with a lot less hair.

Fenrik dropped his fork noisily onto his plate and then wiped the tomato sauce off his chin with a napkin.  ‘Ah, brother, good news I hope?’

Vigor took off his hat and smiled, flashing his jagged teeth at Fenrik.  ‘It is as you suspected.  Gizmo and that Dragon Rider turned up whilst I was there-’

Fenrik raised a bushy eyebrow, ‘but they did not see you?’

‘No brother,’ said Vigor shaking his head, ‘Funestus was keen to keep us apart, and I played along with his game.  Lomax filled me in on everything this morning.’

‘Are they going to find the missing part of The Emerald Key for him?’

‘Funestus is still awaiting their answer but I think the deal is already done.  From what Lomax heard, Funestus used you as a bargaining chip to get the Dragon Rider involved.’

Fenrik smiled.  ‘Good.’

‘So, what do we do now?’ asked Vigor, playing with the trilby in his hands.

‘Nothing.’

‘Nothing?’ asked Vigor, his sunken black eyes looking up at Fenrik, ‘Don’t you want me to kill the Dragon Rider at least?  Oh please brother?’

‘No,’ said Fenrik, holding his hand up to silence the excitable Vigor, ‘Not yet.’

‘But I want to crush his skull in my bare hands for what his father did to me!’ said Vigor, clasping his trilby too hard.

Fenrik gave Vigor a warning look that silenced him.  ‘We leave things as they are.  For now.  Let them try and get The Key,’ he said, shrugging, ‘it makes no difference to me.  If they come out alive and they have it, it saves you a trip.  Rather he goes down there to fetch it than you Vigor.’

Vigor nodded his head in agreement.

‘If they die,’ said Fenrik, shrugging, ‘so be it, you will just have to fetch it as planned.  Either way, I will get the missing part of The Emerald Key and the Dragon Rider will die.  Whether it be today, tomorrow, or next week; it does not matter.  He is an insignificant fly that can be squashed at our leisure.’  Fenrik wafted his hand in the air as if he were shooing away a fly.

‘May I have the pleasure, brother?’

‘It has been a long time since we were able to harvest dragon parts, I’m down to my last drop of dragon blood,’ said Fenrik, instinctively stroking the dragon skull on top of the vellums.  ‘A new candle holder would be useful too,’ he said pointing to the human-looking skull holding the candle, ‘Erick seems to be a little down in the mouth of late.  A new model might be just what I need.’

Vigor cackled.  ‘Oh brother, you are evil!’

‘It is a talent I possess.’  Fenrik paused, picked up his fork, and stuffed another meatball into his mouth.  ‘And the Hand?’ he asked, as he chewed.

‘It is still with Pyro.’

‘But not for much longer, it would seem.  I’m surprised Funestus hasn’t confiscated it already.’

‘He tried, he sent the dwarves to get Pyro but the Dragon Rider got there first.’

‘The dwarves?’ asked Fenrik, looking up at Vigor.  ‘So Funestus uses our own men against us?  And the dwarves don’t know a thing?’

‘No brother.  When I saw Scarface earlier he was worried that you would be angry at him for losing the Hand.  I didn’t let on that you knew nothing about it-‘

‘Good.  The less that the dwarves know, the better.’

‘But why would Funestus let Pyro keep the Hand when it was within his grasp?  Why send the dwarves for it but then let it go when the Dragon Rider brings it in?  The Dragon Rider will need it.  It doesn’t make sense, not when Funestus could have handed it over to him-‘

Fenrik moved a meatball around the edge of his plate.  ‘It would seem that we aren’t the only ones being played,’ he said, spearing the meatball with his fork before continuing, ‘He doesn’t want the Dragon Rider to see any connection between me, the Hand and himself.  By leaving it in Pyro’s possession, he’s trying to distance himself from the artefact, and denying he has any knowledge of it.  He’s being careful and very, very clever,’ said Fenrik, shovelling the meatball into his mouth, ‘or so he thinks.’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Vigor, a look of confusion still on his face, ‘So, what do you want me to do with Funestus?’

‘Nothing.  Yet.  We send the dwarves to see Alchymia as planned-’

Vigor sat up straight in his chair.  ‘But won’t the Dragon Rider go there, you know, given his history with her?’

Fenrik shrugged.  ‘Probably, but if Funestus wants to play games, then who are we to deny him that pleasure?’

‘But what is the point of sending the dwarves to Alchymia if you intend the Dragon Rider to fetch The Key?’

Fenrik dropped his fork down onto his plate and sighed.  ‘Are you questioning me brother?’ he asked, looking up from under his bushy eyebrows, ‘because you know that I do not like to be questioned.’

Vigor threw his bony hands up in placation, his hat falling to the parquet floor.  ‘Of course not brother, I would never-’

‘Good,’ said Fenrik, his wolf-like eyes locking onto Vigor’s.  ‘Everything will work out. If we change plans now, Funestus will know we are on to his double-crossing ways.  We wait, see how the game plays out for a while.  I have other plans for Funestus.’

‘Yes brother,’ said Vigor, bowing his waxy head in agreement.

‘When we get our hands on the missing portion of The Emerald Key we will have our own magick and then we will wreak our revenge upon this City and those who seek to double cross us,’ said Fenrik, pounding his fist upon his desk, ‘but until then, we wait!’

‘Yes brother,’ said Vigor, ‘but let me have the Dragon Rider when it is time!’

‘When the time comes, he’s yours.’