Dragon Rider – Part Eighteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Nine

Foxes

‘Okay, so we figure that out later,’ said Drake more to himself, ‘first we need to get into the Underworld.  I don’t suppose?’

Alchymia tilted her head and flashed a brief smile at Drake.  ‘According to the Codex, the entrance to the Valley of Death lies where the names of the dead can be heard as a whisper on the wind, a place now known as New Haven.’

Drake rubbed his chin.  ‘Never heard of it, but I’m sure with Gizmo’s help we’ll find it.’

‘You have another problem.  As you and Willow are not dead, you will not have the aid of a psychopomp to help unlock and travel through the gateway between the Land of the Living and that of the Dead.  You will therefore need a key, but unearthing such a key could be a whole quest in itself.’

‘A key?’

‘Yes, but not like the ones we use to lock our doors at night.  A key, in this instance, is a magickal artefact used for unlocking the gateway between the two worlds.  There is Proserpina’s Mirror, an artefact created by Proserpina to allow her mother to travel through the Realms with ease, but the last time the Mirror was seen was over two and a half thousand years ago.  There are spells that can act as keys, but they need macabre items such as Grave Dirt and Corpse Water and would take years to perfect.  Hecate’s Torch is another option but to find it would be a near impossible task.’  Alchymia leaned back in her chair, ‘The only other option is to find a Hand of Glory, but, as only a few exist-‘

‘A Hand of Glory?’ asked Drake.

‘Yes, it’s a pickled-‘

‘Hand,’ continued Drake, ‘taken from an executed criminal with a candle stuck in between its fingers.’

Alchymia sat upright in her seat and looked at him with an alarmed expression.  ‘How do you know about such a dark object?’

‘From a Fire-djinn, a petty criminal by the name of Pyro.  I picked him up yesterday and he had one in his pocket, reckons that he was summoned and compelled to steal it for some guy who he never actually saw.’

‘Summoned by someone he did not see at all?’

‘Yeah, apparently the bloke who summoned him hid his identity from Pyro, I thought it was a bit sus,’ said Drake shrugging, ‘but Falkor didn’t react when Pyro spilled his guts to me about it so-‘

‘That does not necessarily mean that the Fire-djinn does not know who it was that compelled him; he could have been placed under a very strong spell, such as the Bind of all Binding Spell, making it impossible for this Pyro to divulge any information-‘

‘But to get it past Falkor?’ interrupted Drake.

‘He’s not completely infallible Drake, especially if the person who called Pyro knew his real name.’

‘His real name?’

‘Yes,’ said Willow, ‘a person’s, or thing’s, real name is essential for really potent magick.  If you’ve got their real name you’ve got complete power over the thing that you’ve summoned.’

‘Okay, so say they’ve got Pyro’s real name, I still can’t believe that Falkor wouldn’t pick it up.  Anyway, I know it’s Fenrik who compelled him to steal the Hand of Glory, it’s got to be.  He’s after the other part of The Book and he’s a Demonologist-‘

‘You do not know that for sure Drake,’ said Alchymia, her eyes staring straight through the flames of the roaring fire.

‘It could’ve been anyone,’ said Willow, ‘you’ve got no proof.’

‘I don’t need proof, I know it was him.  Funestus Black told me Fenrik was after The Emerald Key and there’s Pyro just wandering around with the Hand?  No, Fenrik knows he needs to find Hermes in the Underworld and that this Hand is the key to get in,’ a big smile broke across Drake’s face, ‘I’ll just have to take it off the useless piece of-’

‘Drake!’ gasped Willow.

‘What?’ said Drake, smiling even more broadly, ‘it’ll take Fenrik ages to find another key and by that time we’ll already have seen Hermes.’

‘Drake,’ said Willow, ‘I don’t think-‘

‘So how do we find Hermes?’ cut in Drake.

Alchymia run a pale finger over the lines of text that materialized on the pages of the Codex.  ‘Hermes can be found in the Iron Fortress that lies at the end of The Valley.’  She clicked her fingers and The Codex snapped shut sending a shower of dust shooting into the air.  ‘The Iron Fortress is not only protected by the Forest of Suffering, which lies between the two great Mountain Ranges of Sorrow and Regret, but also by other more gruesome things.’

Drake opened his mouth to speak but Alchymia stopped him with a quick flick of her hand.  ‘Do not ask for details Drake, I cannot say; The Fates have forbidden it.  You must be careful, for one wrong move and you will never be able to return, you will be doomed to a half-life of suffering that you will never escape.’  Alchymia looked at Drake with a stern expression.  ’You cannot leave the way you entered and whatever you do, you must ask for permission from The Overseer of The Fortress to see Hermes.  Choose your words carefully and be aware, that if your request is granted, they will seek to take your life as payment.  And if they do not, your life will be forfeit already.’

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Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty-Five

Cerberus cowered, his hackles raised on his thick neck, his snake-tail tucked firmly in between his muscular back legs.

‘What’s a matter, boy?’ asked Joe, taking in the dog’s troubled appearance.

Joe reached out and ran his hand through Cerberus’ warm rough fur. The dog was shaking.

‘Cerberus? There you are, you naughty boy. Where have you been?’ It was a girl’s voice which made the dog shake uncontrollably.

Joe turned his head to where the sweet, little voice had come from. A small girl, probably no more than ten-years-old, stood before him dressed in a white shift dress. Her hair was the colour of the darkest night, her skin as pale as the moon. She took a tiny step forward. It was then Joe noticed the pack of hounds sitting behind her, dogs of varying shapes and sizes.

‘Who are you?’ he asked. Things were going from strange to stranger. Joe had already questioned his sanity many times since he’d entered Crow’s Funeral Home and now he was doing it again. What was a ten-year-old girl doing down here with a pack of dogs? And why was a three-headed dog so scared of her?

He gave himself a pinch. He knew, deep down, it wouldn’t work but he tried it anyway in the vain hope that he was just dreaming. Maybe his shitdad has drugged him? He certainly wouldn’t put it past him.

‘Ow!’ he screeched pinching himself again. No, he wasn’t dreaming it. This was actually happening.

The girl’s eyes narrowed and she shook her head in disbelief.

‘Why are you hurting yourself?’ asked the girl.

‘Because…’ he looked at the girl and then his arm, ‘oh, it doesn’t matter.’ He certainly wasn’t going to explain himself to a little girl.

 

 

Dragon Rider, so far, so good? – A review

I am thoroughly enjoying revisiting my very first novel, Dragon Rider. Some of it is making me cringe but, overall, I’m actually really proud of what I’ve written. It’s also allowing me to see how far I’ve come with my writing.

And, if I can progress in my writing, so can you!

What I don’t like:

Cringey, cringe – I’ve noticed a few errors. For example, I have used the word took when it should have been taken (eek! That’s embarrassing).

I’ve also noticed that some of the sentences are a bit stiff and long.

I do like to connect separate sentences with commas! (I did it so you don’t have to! Do not repeat my mistake!!!).

Falkor

How I picture Falkor.

And, maybe the story is a tad confusing? That’s one of the pitfalls of writing a story; sometimes because you’re the one in charge of the plot and you know the whole story you don’t know for sure if you’re actually explaining it to the reader properly (this is where beta readers come in handy).

It needs a good edit.

What I do like:

I still love how I have set the story up. Right from the opening lines, the tone is  dark and mysterious:

“A scream exploded somewhere in the distance but broke off before it reached its terrifying conclusion.  Another life sucked dry, thought Drake, as the bitter smell of blood rolled in on the mist, along with the dead leaves and the smell of decay.  He pulled his black hood over his head and slunk back into the shadows like a black panther stalking its prey, his vivid green eyes alert, his body pumped for action.

There was movement in the alleyway opposite, a slight rustle of paper, a scraping sound.  He stopped breathing momentarily, his hands curling into tight balls at his side as he listened harder.  Had his senses failed him, were the Shadow Walkers really that close?”

Personally, I think that works but what was your impression of the beginning of the story?

Drake Blackthorn, my main character is, in my opinion, written well (but I would say that, wouldn’t I?). Willow was going to be my main character. This all changed when I began writing; Drake just kept popping out at me, almost begging me to use him as the hero. I did as I was asked and I don’t regret the decision. He’s angry, he’s distrustful of people and faeries, he’s hell-bent on revenge, stubborn, and a general pain in the ass but I love him!

Willow

This is a picture I did of Willow Ravenwood.

I like the way the story begins with a chase scene as Drake and his dragon tease the dwarves as they compete to capture Pyro, the fire-djinn, who has a massive bounty on his head. When I wrote this scene I was using action films as inspiration. Most good action films begin with some sort of chase scene, don’t they?

And, Falkor, Drake’s dragon; where have I got his name from? Does anyone recognise it? It’s from one of my favourite childhood films; A Neverending Story.

My favourite character by far though is pyro. I think, even to this day, he’s probably the best character I’ve ever written. He’s so funny and I wish I had a friendly fire-djinn just like him to keep me company.

The setting is working too. The dark brooding city of Devilsgate compared to the wondrous magic of Nowhere. I do worry about myself sometimes though when I reread some of the weird and wacky ideas I’ve come up with!

Blackthorn - Revenge of the Dragon Rider

The first cover for Dragon Rider with its old title “Revenge of the Dragon Rider” under my pen name Nikki Morgan. I don’t use the pen name anymore so I can blame her for the awful book cover. Wtf was I thinking? That cover is shockingly shit, lol!!!

I’m actually quite chuffed when I look back on what I wrote all those years ago. If anything, this has actually put a fire in my writing belly. I think I might get it edited all over again and try and improve it because, for my first attempt, I don’t think it was half bad at all.

sketch of Drake

A really bad, unfinished, drawing of Drake

But, I’m not the one that matters. What do you, dear reader, think of Dragon Rider? What do you love and, perhaps more importantly, what do you hate?

Please, let me know!

 

 

Dragon Rider – Part Seventeen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eight Continued

Alchymia and the Cross-eyed Cat

Alchymia tore her eyes away from the pages of the book and picked up Drake’s empty mug.  She swirled the tea residue around the bottom of the mug, studying the patterns it formed, her brow wrinkled like a newly ploughed field as she turned the mug this way and that.  She dropped the mug back onto the table before consulting the book again.

After a short time, Alchymia clapped her hands and a pack of vividly coloured tarot cards materialised before her, suspended mid-air as if some invisible hands were holding them.  With a wave of her hand, the cards began to dance.  She snatched a card from the pack; it depicted a man in bright purple robes brandishing a wand; The card of the Magician Hermes.

Alchymia leaned back in her chair and sighed heavily.  She clapped her hands once more and the cards disappeared.  ‘I trust you Drake, but I cannot say the same for this Funestus Black.  I do not know him or his motives.’

‘I know that but-’

Alchymia continued.  ‘The Emerald Key is a very powerful artefact which can be used both for works of extreme good and extreme evil.  Such a dangerous object could bring about devastation on a scale not seen in this dimension before.’

‘That’s why I can’t let Fenrik get it, you know what will happen if he finds it first.’  Drake’s stomach constricted, he could feel the bile rising up his throat.

‘Yes, indeed.’  Alchymia’s eyes flicked back to the book and she sighed again, ‘But it is out of my hands-’

‘That’s it?  You’re giving up on us?’

‘No.  I mean, it is out of my hands.  I too have no say in the matter; The Fates have decided I must tell you what I know.  Unfortunately for you, Fenrik will prove more of a problem than you had hoped.  He already possesses a portion of The Key-’

‘What?’ said Drake digging his fingers into his legs as he leaned forward in his chair.

‘The Aradian Codex,’ she gestured to the book floating before her, ‘tells me that when Hermes Trismegestus-’

‘The book’s Guardian on earth?’ asked Willow.

‘Yes.  When he was given The Emerald Key, Hermes made plans to make sure that this most dangerous text was entombed with him when he died, so that, even in death, he might protect its secrets.  However, all did not go to plan, for when his body was laid to rest someone attempted to tear The Emerald Key from him.  Fortunately, only a part of the text was stolen and this is what has been handed down through generations of what are now called Guardians, although they were not really Guardians-’

‘Because they were only looking after a stolen part of the book?’ asked Willow.

‘Exactly, but truth be told, they probably never even realized that they were Guardians of a stolen object; that information was probably lost through the sands of time.  It also explains why no one Guardian has ever been able to fully exploit the book’s enormous power, for although certain information can be accessed in its current state, if you know how to translate it, the text is only truly powerful when it is read altogether, as one.’

‘Until now,’ spat Drake.  He jumped up from his seat, his fists clenched, his jaw tight.  ’He wants to reunite the two parts, no wonder he’s trying to find it, you’ve got to help us-’

‘Sit down,’ commanded Alchymia, her anger, the hag hidden deep within, momentarily flashing across her face.

Drake did as he was told.

‘The Codex’s great wisdom cannot pinpoint the exact location of Fenrik’s stolen part of The Emerald Key.  It seems he has a very powerful protective spell placed upon it, but it can tell me where the other part is kept, but, be warned, if you continue on this quest you will face a perilous journey that will affect you in ways that you could never imagine.  You will face grave danger from things that no living being should ever have to encounter.  Do you think you are strong enough?’

‘I have to get that Book,’ said Drake.

‘I cannot stand in your way, Drake.  The Fates have made this your quest, it is up to them if you achieve your goal or not.  To find the lost part of The Emerald Key you must venture through the Valley of Death.’

‘The Valley of Death?’ spluttered Willow, her voice breaking on the last word.

‘The Underworld…’ said Drake, ‘Why?’

‘The Underworld?’ asked Willow, her face beginning to drain of colour.

‘Hermes, as its original Guardian, still holds half of The Emerald Key and until he can reunite it with the missing half, his spirit clings on to this life, not daring to pass through into the Afterlife.’

‘Isn’t there anyone…you know…alive that can help us?’ asked Willow, her face now as white as a unicorn’s horn.

‘Unfortunately not.  Hermes still has his portion of The Book,’ said Alchymia, running a pale hand over the book floating in front of her, ‘it has not been destroyed, no, for then Hermes would not be a spirit, he would have been released from his servitude.  There is no other way.  To find The Emerald Key you must travel to The Valley of Death and get him to relinquish his half of The Book.’

‘Can’t we just summon him?’ asked Willow trying to disguise the panic rising in her voice.

‘Yeah, Willow’s a witch.  I’m sure she could help summon him,’ added Drake.

Alchymia raised an eyebrow.  ‘You are a witch?’

Willow shrugged.  ‘Not trained so I don’t possess a Book of Shadows, but I can do the odd spell or two.’

Alchymia considered this new information.  ‘No.  Even if you were an excellent witch, summoning spirits is far too dangerous.’

Drake rolled his eyes.  ‘Others, the Demonologists, they do it, it can’t be any more dangerous than going to The Valley of Death, can it?’

‘There is a difference between summoning Demons and the Elementals, which are alive, and the spirits of the dead that dwell in the Underworld.  When one summons a Demon, it is only the Demon you are calling that can travel to you.  This is not so for spirits; some are malevolent creatures who can attach themselves to the dead spirit you are summoning, so, even if you only call forth the spirit of Hermes, there may be others that escape through the crack you create in the Spirit World.  Whatever escapes and whatever havoc they create would be your responsibility and hence you might end up destroying the very things you are trying to protect.  Where would the sense be in that?  No, there is no choice; to get the information you need you will have to speak to Hermes directly.  You must charm him, apply to his ego.  As the Guardian of The Emerald Key, he will not want to give it up easily.’

‘How do we do that?’

‘That, my dearest Drake, is something you have to find out for yourself.’

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty-Four

From where Joe was lying, he could see Cerberus’ snake tail wagging wildly.

Suddenly, all fear dissolved in Joe. All that time he’d been worried about Cerberus, and after what Charon had said about him ripping him apart. He looked at Cerberus’ three heads; the lopsided mouths,the long, smelly tongues, the way he was wagging his tail. He very much doubted this dog had it in him to rip anything apart. You only had to see the look on its cute, daft face.

Cerberus was a dog like Lola, just a very big version of a dog, well, a very big version of a dog that had three heads. But what did two extra heads matter? Dogs were dogs, no matter how many heads they had. And, even with three heads, Joe knew he preferred Cerberus to almost all humans.

As Joe was the local dog whisper, he knew he’d got this covered.

‘There’s a good…’ He had a sneaky look under the dog, ‘there’s a good boy!’ Joe ran his hand under the jaw of the middle head. It was soft and wet under his fingers.

The dog began to purr, almost like a cat. ‘Oh, good boy! Do you want to play?’ He stretched his arm out and grabbed a stick. He threw it for the dog.

Cerberus bounded after it.

The stick hadn’t gone far, so Joe quickly stood up and waited for the dog to come back. Which it did a second later, holding the stick in its huge, drooling, middle mouth. The first and last head also had a small bite on the stick.

‘Drop,’ said Joe.

Cerberus’ heads loosed the stick and it landed on the floor in front of him.

‘Oh, you’re such a good boy,’ said Joe, stroking the side of Cerberus’ middle head. ‘Do you want me to throw it again?’

Joe bent down to pick it back up. He was still bent over, hand clamped on the stick when the dog yelped.

Dragon Rider – Part Sixteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eight Continued

Alchymia and The Cross-Eyed Cat

‘You think that I can help you locate it?’ said Alchymia, still running her hand absentmindedly through Fulcanelli’s thick mane.  He purred and tilted his head, offering her his ear.

Drake’s stomach tightened and he was suddenly aware of beads of sweat forming on the back of his neck.  He hadn’t seen Alchymia for years and here he was expecting her to drop everything to help them.

And if she didn’t want to help them, there would be no arguing with her.

Alchymia was not all that she seemed.  Drake thought of her as a woman because it made her easier to comprehend, but she was much more than that.  Alchymia was a Light Being; not quite solid but fluid, like running water in a river.  But there was also a dark side to her that Drake did not wish to see and he hoped that in coming here, he wasn’t going to meet that side of her again.

‘Who wants you to find the book?’  Alchymia raised her head as she spoke, her face expressionless, her voice tinged with a touch of frost like the first days of winter.

‘Funestus, Funestus Black.’  Drake shifted in his chair, ‘The Head of the Enforcerer’s Office in Devilsgate.’

Alchymia raised an eyebrow.  ‘I would have thought someone of such importance would have plenty of people at his disposal, so why has he chosen you?’

‘He didn’t choose me, I kind of got dragged into it.  Look, it’s a long story and the only thing that really matters is that, if I don’t find that book for him, a lot of people will be in real danger.’  He sighed and shook his head, ‘I can’t let that happen.’

‘No.  No, you cannot.’  Alchymia leaned back in her chair, her brow heavily creased.  ‘I suppose the next question to ask is, why Funestus Black would want such an artefact-’

‘To stop Fenrik Lasko getting his filthy hands on it.’  Drake bit out the words.

‘and what he intends to do with it,’ continued Alchymia.

Drake dropped his mug on the table, the milky dregs splashing over the side like little teardrops.  ‘I don‘t know,’ he said, slumping back into his chair.

‘But what if -‘

‘There can be no buts, I have to find The Emerald Key,’ said Drake, running his fingers through his shaggy black hair.

‘And your desire to help Funestus Black is not because of your vendetta against Fenrik?’ asked Alchymia.

‘Vendetta?’

‘Fenrik and his brother remain unpunished for your father‘s death-’

‘You think I’m doing this just to get back at Fenrik?’

‘Are you not?’

‘No.’

‘So this hatred you carry for them is not clouding your judgement?  You really have no other option than to find The Emerald Key?  To find it for a man of which you hardly know anything?’

‘I need to find that book, if I don’t, Fenrik will, and the entire human population of Devilsgate will be destroyed.  Come on Alchymia, you know what he’s like-’

Alchymia held up her hand to silence him and Drake did not argue.  He knew better than to do that.  Instead, he watched in silence as she rose from her chair and floated, like a ghost, over to a stack of books by the bed, strands of her silvery-blue hair stirring around her like leaves kissed by a summer’s breeze.

With a quick flick of her hand, the pile of ancient books rose into the air releasing a heavy brown volume, decorated with strange symbols in gold leaf, from the bottom of the stack.  As the other books rearranged themselves into a neat pile, the book flapped into the air like a bird and followed Alchymia back to her chair, where it floated down in front of her, stopping a few centimetres above her lap.

She clicked her fingers and the brittle pages began to flick backwards and forwards.  With another click, the book fell still and she ran her eyes over the open pages.  ‘Hello Willow,’ said Alchymia, her eyes not moving from the yellowing pages of the book.

Willow sat up and rubbed the back of her head.  ‘What just happened to me?’ she asked, wincing as she found the small bloody lump there.

‘Ah, that would be Fulcanelli,’ explained Alchymia, pointing to the cat, ‘I told him that I did not want you to see where I was hiding until I had met you.  Unfortunately, he used a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  He is a little theatrical, a simple blindfold would have sufficed.  Please, come and join us,’ said Alchymia, pointing to a mahogany chair with a plump red seat that had materialised next to Drake.

Willow stumbled over to the chair and sat down.  Her eyes sparkled with delight as Fulcanelli circled around her, rubbing himself against her legs.  Eventually, he settled and looked up at her with his big green, crossed-eyes.

‘He’s so cute!’ she cooed.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty-Three

Joe could hear the sound of heavy breathing in the dark. He opened his hand and felt grass beneath him like a thick carpet. For a second he felt disorientated and confused. Where was he? Because he certainly wasn’t lying in his bed, all warm and snuggly.

He heard a soft snort.

‘Lola,’ he called, slowly opening his eyes. He took a sharp intake of breath as he caught sight of the biggest dog he had ever seen. It had three heads and one of its noses was now sniffing at his crotch.

A short cry escaped from Joe’s lips.

Everything came flooding back to him; the new job, Death, Charon and…

And Cerberus…

Cerberus, the Guardian of the Underworld.

‘Nice doggy,’ said Joe, ‘there’s a good boy.’ He carefully lifted himself up on his elbows. The dog continued to sniff his groin.

How had he ended up here, lying on the floor?

Shit. No. No, he hadn’t…had he?

Yep. He’d only gone and fainted!

Fainted?!!!

Red hot shame swept over his face. If his shitdad had been here, he’d have never lived it down.

He hadn’t wet himself, had he? His crotch felt warm and wet and…

Joe looked down. Thank God for that, he hadn’t wet himself but…eugh…a great big glob of dog drool landed on his trousers.

He fell back onto the grass.

Today was not a good day.

He was going to be eaten by a three-headed dog. No one would know he’d died, here, alone.

Alone.

He really was feeling sorry for himself. He suddenly had a craving for pizza. A huge pepperoni pizza with tons of barbeque sauce. And a large bottle of sprite. That would probably be his last meal if he ever got put on Death Row.

He looked at Cerberus. What did he mean, if; he was already on Death Row wasn’t he? And no one knew.

Not that his mother or shitdad would care.

Joe lay rigid as Cerberus began to walk forward so that Joe’s whole body was covered by dog.

Please don’t sit down! Please don’t sit down.

Cerberus lifted its three heads and opened his middle mouth wide. Its teeth were huge, almost the size of a man’s hand. It’s breath smelled like putrid meat and ammonia. Another big glob of dog drool landed on Joe’s face.

He retched as it splatted on to the side of his face. Pepperoni pizza no longer appealed to him.

The dog’s heads swooped down.

Please don’t eat me! Please don’t eat me!

Cerberus’ tongue flopped out and he gave Joe a big fat lick on his face.

Eugh. Where had his tongue been? It felt rough on his skin, like sandpaper and it was sanding the skin off his face.