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Death’s Apprentice – Part 55

Joe sighed and looked at his tea. It was becoming gungy around the edges like when milk goes off. His stomach roiled in disgust.

‘Do I have to drink this?’

‘Deal?’

He sighed loudly. He hadn’t really got a choice, had he? ‘Deal.’

‘Now drink up.’

‘Do I have to?’

‘It’ll make you feel so much better.’

He looked at it, took a deep breath, and prepared himself.

‘Come on, down the hatch.’

He opened his mouth and took a big gulp. It tasted like mud and sweaty armpits and…eugh…he couldn’t. He couldn’t do it. It was only when he tried to take the cup away from his lips that he realised it was being held firmly in place by Agnes.

‘There’s a boy,’ she said, ‘drink up.’

Agnes only removed her hand from the mug when she was sure Joe had finished every last drop.

Joe felt sick. His stomach was loudly complaining about the vile muck he had been forced to drink. She said it would make him feel better. Well, he didn’t feel better. He felt like crap. He felt like he needed a really good burp.

BBBUUUURRRPPPP.

Joe felt red hot shame crawl across his face.

‘Oh, don’t worry,’ said Agnes, ‘it does that to everyone. Bet you feel better though now, don’t you?’

He thought about it. He didn’t feel sick anymore but he wouldn’t have said he felt better.

‘What’s the plan of attack then?’ Hel asked Joe.

‘I don’t know. Where’s the Woodcutter live?’

Agnes threw the bottle that had contained the green substance into the fire. It smashed into tiny little pieces as the fire devoured the glass.

‘He lives in the Haunted Forest -‘

‘The Haunted Forest? Come on, I mean, really?’

Hades gave another, louder cry.

‘That’s to the east of here, isn’t it?’ asked Hel.

Agnes sighed loudly. ‘Yes.’

‘That’s going to take forever,’ said Hel.

‘About a day’s walk, if we don’t run into trouble.’

‘A day? I haven’t got a day. Can’t we just apparate or something?’

Agnes studied Joe with narrowed eyes. She shook her head. ‘Humans,’ she said to Hel, ‘You know who I blame? J. K. Rowling, that’s who. Everyone thinks that’s how magic works. One click of your finger and you can get anywhere in a second.’

‘I don’t think it works like that,’ said Joe.

Agnes shot him a look. ‘What?’

‘Apparating. It’s not a click of the fingers, it’s -‘

‘Yes. Rowling’s fault. Schools for witchcraft and wizardry, I ask you. Now everyone thinks if they get a stick, wave it around and mutter something incomprehensible in Latin that’s magic! Anywayyyy, rant over.’ She placed her hand on her forehead. ‘I don’t know where that came from. Must be a full moon or something.’

‘So when do we go?’ asked Hel.

Agnes sniffed the air.

‘You reading the signs? Making sure it’s the auspicious time to take the journey?’ asked Joe.

Agnes looked at him with what Joe thought might be disappointment. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I think Hades has dropped one.’

So, You want to be a writer? Short writing Prompt.

It’s a new year so let’s try something new and extreme!

No, it doesn’t require you to strap yourself to a bridge and fling yourself off because I’m not talking about bungee jumping. I’m talking about Flash Fiction.

HURRAH!

And not just flash fiction.

I’m talking extreme flash fiction.

Ernest Hemingway apparently wrote this six-word story:

‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’

Pretty awesome, huh?

First time I heard that I was blown away. A whole story in six words!

So, your task, if you wish to accept it, is to write a story in six words.

Go on, give it a go!

What did you come up with?

Oh, and this post won’t self-destruct, even if you don’t accept the mission. YAY!

 

 

Dragon Rider – Part 37

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen

The Iron Fortress

As soon as Drake, Willow and Pyro slipped through the crack in the door they were assaulted by a riot of colour and noise.  They had entered a marketplace, like an Arabian bazaar, the air heavy with the smell of apples, cinnamon and cloves.

Around them, ramshackle houses, made from corrugated iron and cardboard, were crammed haphazardly in between stalls and carts overflowing with bright cloth, exotic spices and grave goods which could be upgraded or exchanged for gold.

In amongst the crowd, brightly cloaked hawkers peddled amulets and talismans whilst a mysterious looking man, wearing a bright red turban, charmed a Cobra out of a wicker basket.

In the distance, separated from the market by a great iron wall, the Fortress loomed like an all-seeing eye.

A small Turkish man, dressed in a cream suit with a crimson fedora perched on top of his head, sprang out in front of them.  ‘Can I interest you a soothing tea before you enter?’  Drake and Willow shook their heads.

Pyro nodded enthusiastically.  ‘Is that apple tea?’

The Turkish man nodded.  ‘Yes, it is the finest.  Come, sit down, enjoy,’ he said, beckoning to Pyro, as he produced a small glass of brown liquid on a delicately engraved silver saucer.

‘I haven’t had apple tea for, well, I think the last time was in 756 A.D.’

‘Pyro,’ snapped Drake through clenched teeth, ‘what are you doing?’

‘Can’t a djinn have a drink now?’

‘Not when we need to hurry up,’ said Drake, grabbing Pyro by the scruff of his neck, ‘now come on!’

Pyro crossed his arms over his chest and scowled as Drake dragged him through the crowd.

‘Special Scroll of Dispensation, Sir?’ asked a balding man with an English accent and horn-rimmed glasses.

‘Er, no,’ said Drake, pushing the guy aside as he searched the heaving crowd for Arthur Tinks, the man who Alchymia had told him to give the amulet to.  How he was going to do that, when he didn’t have a clue what Arthur looked like, or where he would be, was beyond Drake.  It was like looking for a dragon’s tooth in the ocean.

‘Got something for me?’ asked a grubby man in an oversized sheepskin coat.

‘What?’ asked Drake trying to push the guy off his arm as he continued to search the crowd.

‘Alchymia told me to look for you, well, a kid with a funny mark on his face anyway, said you’d got something I‘d be very interested in,’ said the man eyeing his surroundings suspiciously.

Drake looked at the man, his face askew, and crumpled with confusion.  ‘Arthur Tinks?’ he asked, unsure whether he was surprised or horrified to learn that Alchymia knew such a man.

‘That’s me; Arthur Tinks is the name, trading tat, trinkets and totally unusable objects is the game.  So?’

‘Oh yeah,’ said Drake, pulling out the amulet and removing it from his neck, ‘this.’

‘Be careful!’ said Arthur Tinks taking the amulet in his filthy hands and cradling it to his chest as he looked around, ‘you don’t know who could be watching.’  Arthur Tinks looked at the amulet in his hand and nodded his head in appreciation.  ‘A Blood of Isis amulet, very rare, only a few in existence.  It’s heavy,’ he said, as he jangled the necklace about, ‘seems genuine.’  He tested the red body of the amulet with his teeth.  ’Mmmm, like it, can swap it for two genuine Bowlex watches,’ he said, opening the left-hand side of his coat to reveal gold and silver watches, diamond necklaces and other more bizarre items such as mini skulls, bejewelled daggers and various coloured bottles lining the fluffy inside of his coat.  ’Don’t like the Bowlex?  Okay, how about this necklace?’ he said, pulling out a diamond necklace, with a small vial dangling from it that shimmered with all of the colours of the rainbow.

‘Ooh, that’s nice,’ said Pyro, the rainbow colours dancing across his brown face.

‘That’s an actual fragment of Freya’s Rainbow necklace, makes the wearer attractive to any member of the opposite sex.’

‘And that?’ asked Pyro, pointing to a jam jar containing a single black flame.

‘Can’t let you have that I’m afraid, it’s very dark, Alchymia would never forgive me if I let you have that, and it’s reserved anyway.’

‘Okay,’ shrugged Pyro.

‘What’s that?’ asked Willow, pointing a purple nail at a badly singed leather book.

‘Ah, nice item, a Book of Shadows, a member of the Venetian Inquisition swapped it for a Dispensation Scroll when he passed through here,’ he lifted his hand to his face and spoke, in a whisper, from behind it, ‘didn’t want to be seen with it when he passed to the other side, you know.’  Then he winked at Willow as if they’d shared some great secret together.

‘What was he doing with a spellbook?’ she asked.

‘It killed the poor guy, or should I say, the witch it belonged to did.  Er…what was her name?  That’s it, Laura Malipero.  If I remember correctly she’d cursed it, so when the guy opened it, it burst into flames and killed him, burnt chunks of the book in the process too, but there’s still loads of useable spells in there.’

‘And what’s that?’ asked Pyro, pulling a leather strap from Arthur Tink’s coat.  An ampoule of glistening clear liquid hung loosely from it.

‘Mermaid’s tears,’ replied Arthur Tinks.

‘Is that what they look like?  So pretty.  Did you know that one drop of this stuff can cure all kinds of wounds and maladies?’ said Pyro, dangling the ampoule in front of his eyes, mesmerised.  ’I’ve always wanted to see a mermaid,’ he said distractedly.

‘How about two tickets to the Blue Pearl?’ asked Drake.

‘The Blue Pearl, eh?’ said Arthur Tinks, with another wink of his eye.

‘Yeah, the gold ones if you have them.’

‘It just so happens that I’ve got two spare,’ he said, reaching into the other side of his coat.  He took out two golden tickets, emblazoned with the words “Free Entry to the Blue Pearl – Free beer upon entry before 10 pm” and handed them to Drake.  ’I was keeping them for someone else but -’

‘Thanks,’ said Drake, inspecting the tickets.

‘I’m guessing they’re not for you?’ cackled Arthur.

‘Er what?  No,’ said Drake, shaking his head emphatically.  He knew by the look on Arthur’s face that he didn’t know the full story about the Blue Pearl, and, to be honest, he really didn’t want to.

‘Okay, if you say so, no business of mine anyway.  Doesn’t seem like a fair swap to me though,’ said Arthur Tinks, scratching his bald head with dirty fingernails, ‘don’t know what’s happening to me.  The amulet’s worth more than two tickets so I can let you have the mermaid’s tears and-’

‘The spellbook?’ asked Willow, her one eyebrow perched high on her face, ‘Please?  I’ve never had a spellbook…’

Arthur Tinks looked at Drake who just shrugged.

‘Okay,’ replied Arthur, handing the mermaid’s tears to Pyro and then the spellbook to Willow.

‘Thanks,’ said Willow taking the book and stuffing it into her rucksack.

‘You’ll need to go over there,’ said Arthur, pointing at a large gateway guarded by two equally large trolls, ‘if you want to get into The Processing Centre.’

‘Hang on a minute,’ said Pyro, his face twisted in confusion as he looked at the mermaid’s Tears which were fizzing and bubbling, ‘these are boiling!  I can’t use them if they all boil away!’

‘You’re a fire-djinn aren’t you?’ said Arthur.  ‘Water and fire don’t mix, remember?’

‘I want an exchange!’ said Pyro stamping his foot on the floor.

‘Sorry, a deal’s a deal,’ said Arthur Tinks shrugging.  And, without another word, he disappeared off into the crowds.

‘Come on, let’s get out of here,’ said Drake.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 54

‘No silly, I’m not going to hurt you. You just need a restorative tincture or maybe something a little stronger, hang on.’ Agnes swooped over to a small cupboard in the corner of the room and began to root around in it.

Joe took a sip of his tea to calm his nerves. Things were getting way out of hand.

‘Yes, got it!’ shouted Agnes, spinning on her heels, a small bottle full of a green substance raised in the air.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s Dead Man Walking.’

Joe gulped loudly.

‘Don’t worry,’ said the witch darting over to where Joe sat.

But he was worried.

Very worried.

Especially when he caught sight of the silver skull stopper jammed into the neck of the bottle.

‘Do I really have to take that? I’m sure I’ll be fine,’ said Joe, recoiling.

There was a loud pop as Agne’s pulled the stopped out with her teeth. She spat the stopper onto the floor. It bounced several times then rolled off under a cupboard never to be seen again.

‘It’s okay Joe,’ she said, gripping his shoulder with her free hand whilst simultaneously tipping the contents of the bottle into Joe’s tea. It hissed as it touched the hot tea and then disappeared. ‘Why be “just fine”? We’re going to be facing some really REALLY bad shit, Joe, why not be prepared?’

‘I haven’t actually agreed…’ but his voice drifted off as Agnes began to talk over him.

‘Really, really, REALLY bad shit actually. And that’s before we even enter the Valley of the Dead. I need my heart back Joe and I have a good feeling that you’re the man to do it.’ She absentmindedly patted him on the shoulder as she looked off into the distance. ‘There’ll be all manner of nasties before we reach the Woodcutter -‘

‘The Woodcutter? Who’s that?’

Agnes sighed. ‘The man who stole my heart obviously. Do keep up Joe.’

‘How did he…you know…’

‘How do you think?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘He cut it out with his blade,’ said Hel.

Hades began to cry.

‘Nevermind,’ said Agnes, ‘Joe’ll get it back for me, won’t you Joe?’

‘Well, I am kind of busy. You know with my own quest. Remember?’

‘What?’ asked Agnes.

‘Retrieving Death’s scythe.’

‘Oh that? Yes, yes. Easy peasy. As soon as I get my heart back, I’ll help you find the scythe. Deal?’

Joe sighed and looked at his tea. It was becoming gungy around the edges like when milk goes off. His stomach roiled in disgust.

‘Do I have to drink this?’

‘Deal?’

He sighed loudly. He hadn’t really got a choice, had he? ‘Deal.’

‘Now drink up.’

‘Do I have to?’

‘It’ll make you feel so much better.’

He looked at it, took a deep breath, and prepared himself.

‘Come on, down the hatch.’

He opened his mouth and took a big gulp. It tasted like mud and sweaty armpits and…eugh…he couldn’t. He couldn’t do it. It was only when he tried to take the cup away from his lips that he realised it was being held firmly in place by Agnes.

‘There’s a boy,’ she said, ‘drink up.’

Book Review – The Familiars by Stacey Halls

The Familiars by Stacey Halls (Zaffre Books, 2019)

I’ll put my hands up and be really honest and say I only picked up this book because the gorgeous cover caught my eye as I was wandering around a supermarket (yes, I’m one of those people – mea culpa :)). I read the blurb, it sounded good so I bought it.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Familiars is the debut novel by author Stacey Halls.

Set in 1612, The Familiars is set against the backdrop of the very real events of the Pendle witch trials, and centres around Fleetwood Shuttleworth, the mistress of Gawthorpe Hall.

The young Fleetwood Shuttleworth is pregnant again after suffering several miscarriages. She’s anxious and desperate to provide her husband Richard with an heir. She discovers a hidden letter from a doctor with the awful prediction that she will not survive another birth.

In a desperate bid to keep herself and her baby alive she employs a local woman, Alice Gray, to be her midwife. However, as the witch hunts begin to gain traction it isn’t long before Alice is implicated in the use of witchcraft. How far will Fleetwood go to protect herself, her baby and her midwife?

The Familiars is an impressive debut novel by Stacey Halls. I felt it was a little shaky and slow in the beginning but not enough to stop me reading it. When the pace picked up there was enough intrigue and suspense to keep the story moving forward. However, I felt the conclusion of the story was a little bit underwhelming but this is probably because the story had to be set within the confines of what was acceptable for a Gentlewoman in 1612, so not necessarily the author’s fault.

Unlike the Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox (see my review here) the heroine of The Familiars manages to be pro-active despite the restrictions of the time. This was a big plus for me. Personally, I find nothing duller than a heroine that does nothing!

Whilst The Familiars isn’t perfect, and despite the shaky start, I would recommend The Familiars. I think for her debut novel, Stacey Halls did a fantastic job.

4 out of 5 stars.

Great for those who like Historical Fiction that is set against real, researchable events. Not so good for those interested in the witch hunts and assizes as the drama takes place away from the actual trials. In other words, it might not be “witchy” enough for you.

 

 

 

Dragon Rider – Part 36

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fifteen Continued

Souls and Shadows

 

Drake looked at the spirit and a smirk played across his lips, ’If this works, Pyro’s right, you are a genius!’

‘So how do we do this?’ asked Willow, a wide smile on her face.

‘Yeah, I mean, if it’s a raging tornado how are we supposed to stay, you know, alive?’ asked Pyro, his face now looking panic-stricken as he began to consider what they were about to do.

‘That’s the tricky bit-’

‘We can dive under there,’ said Willow pointing to a cleft in the earth underneath the roots of a large de-robed oak tree.

‘Well, it’s better than nothing,’ shrugged Drake,

Quickly they clambered into the small hole at the foot of the tree, along with the rotting leaves, the scuttling centipedes, gigantic woodlice and the petrifying bones of the dead.

‘Are you sure about this?’ asked Willow, kicking half a skull away with her pump.

‘Not really, but what else have we got?  Just do it.’

‘Sorry,’ whispered Willow to the green spirit who was banging its fists on the inside of the glass shouting ‘Let me out!’  Holding it firmly in her hands she gave the jar a good shake.

The spirit screamed and flew into a rage, whirring around the jar and expanding in size.  The jar shook violently in Willow’s hands as the spirit turned from green to yellow, to red, to deep blue and then it settled on the colour of the stormiest sky.  Willow managed to hold it firm until she heard the glass crack then she threw it to the ground shouting at Drake and Pyro to hold on tight.

The sound of smashing glass was completely drowned out by the Rarog’s roar, it was like a giant engine beginning to power up as it transformed into a black churning wind, a terrifying monster of Vengeance.

Drake’s eyes were forced shut as dust and bone were whipped up around him.  Somewhere above him, there was a crack as a branch was wrenched away from its trunk.  Willow grabbed onto his arm just as the storm hit them fully, lashing at them like a thousand whips.  He could hear nothing but the rage of the beast as dust and debris were hurled at the prison-like structure that had so far protected them, but he could not predict how long they could withstand the power of the storm.

The Rarog expanded rapidly, gathering trees, branches and bones as it devoured the Land of the Dead.  Drake felt it bite at the roots of the oak and he could hear the cracks as it tore huge pieces of wood from around them.  It seemed like an eternity as they sat, huddled together, under the finger-like roots of the great oak as the storm raged around them.  The Rarog continued its roaring rampage of vengeance until, gradually, it moved off into the distance accompanied by a chorus of agonised screams as it gorged itself on the Souls of the Damned.

They waited anxiously in their prison until they could hear the storm no more, except for the murmurs of it remaining in the air, like memories.  Only then did they feel safe to emerge from their refuge.

‘Geez, that was windier than me!’ exclaimed Pyro dragging himself off the floor, ‘and that’s saying something.  Yez alright?’ he said, turning to Willow.

Willow nodded.  ’I think so,’ she said, removing a twig from her pink hair.

‘Drake?’ asked Pyro.

‘Yeah, nothing ripped off anyway.’

‘So I guess we should bust a move before it comes back, eh?  Don’t fancy being here when it returns,’ said Pyro grimacing.  ‘Too much wind can kill you, you know.  I used to know a guy, who knew a guy, who died from eating too many sprouts. Tragic it was, the way he went.’

Drake could see the black funnel of the tornado cutting a path through the Forest of Suffering, towards the Sorrow Mountains, its lower half surrounded by an almost translucent maelstrom of dust, debris, trees and bones.  The Iron fortress was clearly visible now, a few miles away at the end of the Valley of Death, behind a rolling expanse of grassland, The Burning Fields, peppered with bubbling and spitting pools of mud that smelt like rotten eggs.

The journey through the Burning Fields was swift and all too soon they were confronted by the great wooden doors of the Iron Fortress.  Drake knew that nothing could prepare them for what lay ahead, for now, they were to meet Death itself.

The great doors slowly creaked open.

They had made it to the Fortress.  Quickly they slipped through the crack in the doorway and into the unknown realm beyond.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part 53

He looked at Agnes and Hel who were both studying him with a mixture of amusement and concern. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What the fuck had just happened? Why was he so grumpy? And, more importantly, why the fuck had he just fainted upon seeing a badly healing scar?

What the hell was going on?

And why the fuck was he swearing so much?

‘You ok?’ asked Hel.

No, he really wasn’t and now his face was turning red with shame.

‘I’m sorry for snapping, I don’t know what’s wrong with me,’ he said, rubbing the back of his head. He’d got a nice lump developing there.

‘It’s all good,’ said Agnes, producing a large mug of tea from thin air, ‘I find a cup of tea helps in any stressful situation.’

Joe took the mug from her. It was decorated with dancing unicorns.

‘It’s this place,’ said Hel.

‘Not my cottage?’ asked Agnes.

‘No. The forest.’

‘Ahhhh, I see. Yes,’ said Agnes, rubbing her chin with her hand, ‘it is the Forest of Suffering after all.’ She looked at Joe with those large eyes full of concern and all his grumpiness began to melt away. Again. She had a habit of doing that.

‘It probably doesn’t help that you’re alive.’

‘No, it probably doesn’t,’ said Hel, looking at him in sympathy, her hand firmly on her hips.

‘Maybe we should do something about that?’

‘WHAT?’ shrieked Joe, recoiling back into his chair. ‘I’m okay alive, thanks. I don’t want to die!’

‘No silly, I’m not going to hurt you. You just need a restorative tincture or maybe something a little stronger, hang on.’ Agnes swooped over to a small cupboard in the corner of the room and began to root around in it.

Joe took a sip of his tea to calm his nerves. Things were getting way out of hand.

‘Yes, got it!’ shouted Agnes, spinning on her heels, a small bottle full of a green substance raised in the air.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s Dead Man Walking.’

Joe gulped loudly.

‘Don’t worry,’ said the witch darting over to where Joe sat.

But he was worried.

Very worried.