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.