Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-Six

Dragon Rider

Chapter Twelve

Dreams

Drake rubbed his aching forehead; he felt confused and so very tired, a tiredness that was seeping into his bones.  He just wanted to be alone, to go to sleep.  ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying,’ he said.

The hooded figure stepped out from the shadows, his black cloak barely making a sound as it brushed against the cobbled floor.  ‘You must do it, you must finish it,’ he said,  pointing straight at Drake with his gloved hand, a finality in his voice that made Drake nervous.

‘Why me?’ asked Drake, wrapping his arms around his chest to protect himself from the cold, but the cold was already biting into his flesh, making his body tremble.

‘Because you are my son and you WILL avenge my death.’

‘How do I do that?’ asked Drake, the sense of foreboding seizing his heart in its icy grip making it feel like a lump of ice, cold and unmoving inside of him.

‘You know what you must do,’ said the figure coldly, as he pulled back his hood letting his shaggy black hair loose around his muscular shoulders.  ’I cannot rest until my death is avenged, Drake, and you are the only one left who can do it.’

‘I can’t…I’m not strong enough-’

‘Don’t ever say that!’ said Erick Blackthorn, his green eyes blazing with fury, ’You are a Dragon Rider,‘ he said pointing at the tattoo around his right eye and then pointing at Drake’s.

Drake could feel the swirling black of his mark burning into his skin like a scalding hot brand, the Devil’s Mark, tainting him for life.

‘You must avenge my death or I will never rest.  And neither will you: I promise you that!’

‘But-‘

‘It was Fenrik Lasko who ordered my death, son.  He stood there, smoking his putrid cigars, as his demons pulled my dragon apart, limb from limb.  He was there as the dagger was plunged through my heart, as my last breath was taken.  He is the one who took me away from you.  He is the one with blood on his hands.’  Erick Blackthorn pulled the black hood over his head and stepped backwards, disappearing into the darkness.  ’Of this, you can be sure!’

Anger ripped through Drake like a fiery tornado, shattering the ice that had crippled his heart.  ’I will, I’ll do it!’ he roared after his father.  ’I promise you I will finish it, even if it’s with my last breath!’

Drake could hear other voices emerging from the darkness, intruding whispers pulling him back from the shadows.  He could make out Willow and Pyro’s voices clearly now as he was yanked from his dreams.  He groaned silently inwards as everything came flooding back to him…Funestus, The Emerald Key, The Valley of Death…Willow…Pyro.  The enormity of it all choked him, rendered him silent, so he kept his eyes clamped shut and listened instead, as he tried to push it away and make-believe, if only for a while, that none of it was happening.

But, as they travelled onwards, the anger, re-ignited in his dreams, burned brightly inside him.  He only wanted to avenge his father’s death, how the hell had he managed to end up here?

Drake shifted in his seat; he’d got a pain in his bottom from the stiff, spring-less, seats and a throbbing head from the incessant prattling of Willow and Pyro.  ‘When are you two going to shut up?’  he snapped, as Pyro asked Willow, for what seemed like the millionth time, to show him the spell to change her nail varnish colour.  What he wouldn’t do for two minutes of quiet.

‘You awake?’ asked Willow, sarcastically.

‘Yep.’  Unfortunately.

‘Your attitudes stinks,’ said Pyro, ‘I think you should be encouraging your friend in her experiments with magick, it‘s not her fault she hasn‘t been trained.’

‘What?’  Oh, he couldn’t be bothered with them.  He slumped back into his chair, the red leather squeaking beneath him as his bottom slipped down the seat.  He huffed and stared out of the misted window.

Willow jumped around in her seat to face Drake.  She held out her hands to show him her bright purple nails.  ‘What do you think?’ she said, wiggling her fingers at him, ‘I think it’s the most delicious shade of purple I’ve ever seen.  In fact, it’s so good that I’ve turned a whole bottle of my old stuff into it.  I’ve called it Purple Passion.’

Drake shrugged, still gazing out of the window.  ‘That’ll really help us find The Emerald Key, won’t it?’ he snapped, ‘You could do that before.’

‘You really don’t know how to play nicely do you?’ said Pyro.

‘What is it with you two?  How come you’ve become best friends all of a sudden?’

‘I like to make the best out of a bad situation,’ said Pyro, ‘I mean, you dragged me here but-’

‘You’re a djinn, Pyro, you get dragged around all the time-’

‘Oh, it’s like that is it?’

‘Like what?’ asked Drake looking at Willow.

Willow shrugged, ‘Don’t get me involved, I happen to like him-’

She liked him?  A djinn that was into setting fire to things?  A djinn that worked for Fenrik?  Drake opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again.  He really couldn’t deal with them now; he was too tired, his whole body felt heavy, like it was shutting down.  He slumped back into his seat and covered his eyes with his hand.

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Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-One

Dragon Rider

Chapter Nine Continued

Foxes

Drake grabbed Pyro by the collar again and dragged him down the steel steps.  Willow ran closely behind them, her hand firmly clamped around her rucksack.

A scream erupted across the sleepy town, followed by the hiss of a cat.  Drake skidded to a halt, yanking Pyro with him as he turned to look at the top of the stairs.  A blur of orange had launched itself at Ozzy.  The dwarf fell backwards and thrashed about on the ground, swearing loudly as he tried desperately to stop the cat from sinking its teeth into his thigh.

A smile erupted on Drake‘s face.  Maybe he did like that cat.  Drake shook his head.  No, maybe not.

Scarface appeared behind Ozzy, who was still struggling with Fulcanelli at the top of the stairs.  ‘THEY‘RE DOWN THERE!’ he barked, sending spittle flying from his grubby mouth which became trapped, like a fly on a web, in his blonde beard.  He stepped over Ozzy and the cat and moved to the side of the balcony.  ‘Get them!’ he ordered, standing upright like a victorious general, as four dreadlocked boggarts burst from the doorway and charged down the steps.  ‘Tie Alchymia up,’ he shouted to no one in particular, ‘and Ozzy, when you’ve quite finished with that cat…’

‘Shysters!’ shouted Pyro, struggling to free himself from Drake’s grip so he could get back up the stairs.  ‘I’ll have yez!’ he screamed, punching the air with his knobbly hands.

‘Behave,’ snapped Drake, whacking Pyro around the head.

‘What?  Why are we running from them?’ shrieked Pyro, making curious hand signals to the dwarves above him.  ‘I hate those dwarves!’ he spat, ‘Shysters!’

Drake rolled his eyes, grabbed Pyro and threw him over his shoulder before bounding down the steps three at a time.  They had reached the last flight of steps as a gangly boggart, wearing a white vest and beige camouflage trousers that stopped just above his ankles, flew past them, screaming.  He landed in a tangled mess on the ground, his legs at funny angles under his body, and his head was facing the wrong way.

‘Oh, that’s messy,’ said Pyro grimacing, and placing his hand over his mouth.

‘Which way?’ hissed Willow as they reached the bottom of the steps.

Drake swayed slightly on the spot as indecision gripped him.  ‘Will you hold still?’ he snarled at Pyro, who was wriggling around like a fish out of water on his shoulder.

Truth was, Drake didn’t know which way to go.  He hadn’t actually been paying too much attention when Fulcanelli was leading them to the house, he’d been too busy carting Willow around and struggling to keep his eyes on the stupid cat.

‘Hey!’ said Pyro, ‘This place looks familiar.  Those timber towers look like freaky sunflowers from where I’m lying.  Reminds me of Nowhere.  Geez, I haven’t been there since 1415.  Don’t want to go back there in a hurry either.  Last time I was there, I got summoned to deliver a love potion to the local baker for some old woman who’d only been given weeks to live, before the Grim Reaper came for her, poor old gal.’

‘Pyro!’ screamed Drake.

But the djinn continued, his stubby arms flapping about as he was talking, ‘Anyways, I ended up getting sidetracked by a bit of business in the local tavern, The Old Draconian I seem to recall, so, by the time I’d got to the baker, the old lady was already dead, but not from her illness though, no, the baker’s wife had got wind of her plan and attacked her around the head with a baguette.  The upshot was that I was charged with being an accessory to murder but I managed to do one before sentencing.’

‘What?’ asked Willow, her face screwed up in confusion.

‘It’s true,’ replied Pyro, nodding his head.  ‘Blackthorn, you’re gonna have to put me down, my gases are starting to build.’

The boggarts were virtually breathing down their necks, Drake could feel it.  ‘Come on!’ he shouted, bounding down the nearest passage, his eyes darting around for any sign of an exit, or any unwelcome movement.

‘Er Blackthorn,’ said Pyro.

‘What?’ he snapped.

‘Hate to break up the party, but don’t you think it’s a little too quiet down this way?’

Drake eyed his surroundings suspiciously.  Pyro was right but he wasn’t going to admit it.  Not out loud anyway.

All the passageways in this part of town looked the same, narrow and slimy with tall rickety buildings hemming them in, but he couldn’t go back, not into the hands of the dwarves and boggarts, so there was only one way to go and that was forward.

They raced down the passageway, emerging from the end into a wide cobbled street full of boarded-up houses and an inn that looked as if even the hardest of criminals would be too scared to enter.

‘The what?’ said Pyro, lifting his head to look at the sign of a muscular hand holding the bloodied, severed head of a green dragon, dangling limply from the crumbling wall of the pub, ‘The Old Draconian!’ he shrieked.  ‘We’re in NOWHERE!’

‘Pyro,’ hissed Drake.

‘AAAAHHHH!’ shouted Pyro, ‘We’ve got to get out of here!’

‘Shut up, you-‘ but Drake stopped dead.

‘Drake, what the -‘ said Willow as she almost collided with his back, her eyes following his gaze.  A troop of boggarts, dressed in nothing but kharki combats and with hairy chests exposed, were staggering up the road, bottles of half-drunk ale in their hands, pushing each other and shrieking loudly like a pack of hyenas.

To Drake, the thought of taking on a group of drunkard boggarts was only slightly more appealing than eating Dragon dung.  His hand reached for his guitar; it wouldn’t take a second to get Pyro off his shoulder and get his Zephyr out.  He could subdue the beasts with his music, it never failed to have them snoozing and sucking their thumbs like babies.  He jerked his hand back; no, not here where other things lurked for whom the music had no effect.

‘Drake,’ screamed Pyro, ‘I think I’m gonna spontaneously combust!’

Drake wheeled around, they’d have to go back.

But as Drake turned, he came face to face with Scarface, Ozzy and Elvis, followed closely by another group of boggarts.

They were blocked in.

Scarface snarled.  ‘Well, well…What do we have here?’

‘In here!’ said Willow, grabbing Drake by the arm and dragging him into the Draconian Inn.  They smashed through the door, sending it flying into the wall on the inside of the pub, the glass in the frame shattering on impact.

‘Blackthorn, stop with the bouncing around will yez.  I’m gonna blow!’ pleaded Pyro.

‘OI!’ shouted a dishevelled satyr, with dried vomit in his black beard.  The satyr lunged at them but collapsed, instead, in a drunken heap on top of a small, brutal-looking leprechaun with bruised eyes and bulging arm muscles.  The room erupted with fury as the leprechaun tried to throttle the satyr.

Drake and Willow ploughed on as all hell broke loose, trying to dodge the broken glass, flying chair legs and the bodies that were zooming in every direction.  A scrawny looking minotaur smashed into the glass panels at the back of the bar sending the spirits flying.  They, in turn, began shrieking as they flew around the room exploding glasses and bottles.

A large beer jug flew within inches of Pyro’s head as they reached the end of the bar.  A small hag with a particularly bad case of nose rot followed it, headfirst over the wooden counter.

Willow and Drake dived for the door that led to the back of the pub, crashing through it, interrupting a game of Poltergeist poker.  They emerged from the back of the pub into a small beer garden, covered in patchy brown grass and cigarette butts, surrounded by a six-foot brick wall.  Drake, still clinging to Pyro, quickly grabbed an empty beer crate and turned it upside down then Willow placed another on top.  Willow scrambled onto the rickety platform, jumped, and hauled herself up onto the top of the wall and then jumped down onto the other side.

‘Drake!’ screamed Pyro.

There was an explosion behind Drake as two colossal cluricaun, with great clawed eagle feet and two large fangs protruding from their mouths, burst from the pub snarling and baying for blood.  No one started a fight in their Master’s pub without paying for the damage.

Drake grabbed Pyro so that he could launch him over the wall, but it was one step too far for the djinn and the situation hit critical.  Like a great big whoopee cushion, the wind exploded from his bottom just as one of the snarling beasts lunged for Drake.  The gas hit the cluricaun straight on and the dog immediately dropped unconscious.  The other cluricaun’s long ginger tail disappeared between its legs and he whimpered, turning and running back into the pub.  Drake looked at Pyro with a look that was a mixture of gratefulness and disgust and then threw him over the wall.

Willow caught the djinn and placed him down on his feet as Drake landed, like a black panther, beside them.  As soon as his feet touched the ground he grabbed Pyro again and threw him back over his shoulder.

‘Be careful!’ warned Pyro, ‘I’m delicate at the moment.’

Off they went running again.  Behind them was a violent crash, the sound of falling bricks and the pounding of boots on concrete.

They flew around the next corner, down another passageway, turned the next corner and the next, until suddenly, there was a pop inside Drake’s head, a rushing sound and the mind-bending feeling of running into something that didn’t yet exist, as the Purg-Atrium burst into existence before them.

‘Damn it!’ shouted Drake flinging his arms up in defeat, nearly losing Pyro in the process.  Why had he brought them here?  To the place they could easily be cornered like foxes trapped by a pack of hunting dogs?

The dwarves and one group of boggarts burst into the square behind them as another group appeared in front with most of the inhabitants of Nowhere.  Shit.  This is what they had wanted; they’d corralled them here!

‘No!’ screamed Pyro.  Drake threw him on to the floor where the djinn proceeded to run around like a demented chicken, slapping himself on the face.  ‘You will never take me alive!  Come on!  Want a piece of me?’

Drake turned to face the dwarves, his hands flexing at his side, Willow by his side preparing to fight.

And despite the sun in the cloudless sky, blackness closed in around them.

 

Dragon Rider – Part Nineteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Nine Continued

Foxes

The gates to Nowhere were locked tight, with one-hundred bolts, one-hundred keys and a whole lot of magick, at twelve p.m. sharp to prevent the murderous redcaps (rat-like creatures who soak their hats in the blood of their victims) rampaging through the town.  Mind you, how they got past the Search and Security Team and the Kraken was anyone’s guess.  But as it was well past eleven o’clock when they had finally finished their conversation, Drake and Willow had no choice but to stay the night with Alchymia who had lightened the mood with a banquet fit for a King.

Drake hadn’t put up much of a fight and instead had taken his fill of the mountains of cooked meat, bread and treacle sponge that Alchymia had conjured out of thin air, before he slumped, belly full, beside Willow, in front of the crackling fire.  Alchymia proved to be an excellent host, amusing them with ancient stories of myth and mysticism.  He knew she was trying to ease their worries for one night, but the more she tried, the more he could feel the dread growing in the pit of his stomach like a heavy stone.  To even contemplate going into Death’s domain was crazy, but Drake knew there was no escaping from it now; his fate was sealed and had been from the moment he’d agreed to Funestus’ proposition.

At one o’clock Willow and Drake had collapsed, as far apart as possible, on the comfiest bed that they had ever slept on, and had instantaneously fallen into an enchanted, dreamless sleep.

Drake woke to the sound of birdsong floating in on the warm autumnal sunshine peeping in through the grimy window.  It was peaceful here, in this room.  For a few precious moments, it felt like he was home, and then it was gone, interrupted by the sound of Willow snoring next to him.  He lifted himself up on his elbows; he could see Alchymia sitting in front of the roaring fire toasting crumpets for breakfast.  Fulcanelli was nowhere to be seen.

He swung himself off the bed and went to sit down next to Alchymia.  He picked up a crumpet from the blue china plate beside her and speared it onto a long rod, a huge grin on his face at her attempt at domesticity.

‘You don’t usually cook, do you?’ he asked, as Alchymia tossed a blackened crumpet into the fire.

‘No,’ she said, spearing another crumpet onto her rod, ‘I do prefer to use magick; it is much more controllable.’

‘I think we can manage without breakfast,’ he said smiling and prodding at the fire.  But, despite the fire, the room had suddenly grown frosty.

‘I know what you are thinking,’ said Alchymia abruptly, ‘and I will not allow it.’

Where the hell had that come from?  ‘Excuse me?’ asked Drake, turning to look at her, the smile evaporating quickly from his face.

‘I am not going to let you leave without her,’ said Alchymia, motioning at Willow with a quick flick of her head.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said Drake, a black cloud suddenly falling over him like the night.

‘So you weren’t planning to slip out whilst she was asleep?’

Drake fidgeted in his seat.  ‘No.’

Alchymia raised an eyebrow.

Drake sighed; there was no point arguing.  ‘Okay, okay,’ he said raising the palm of his free hand.  ‘How did you know?’

Alchymia’s face softened and she smiled at him warmly.  ‘I know you Drake, I know how your mind works.’  But the warmth soon turned to a mixture of concern and disbelief.  ‘Do you think that you will not need help on this quest of yours, did you not hear me when I told you how dangerous it is going to be?’

‘Of course I heard you,’ said Drake, prodding the fire again with his iron rod, ‘I just work better on my own.’

‘How do you know that when you never let anyone help?’

Drake seemed to be studying the sizzling flames of the fire as they licked his increasingly blackened crumpet, but really his eyes were unseeing, his mind elsewhere.  Finally he took the crumpet out of the flames, looked at the burnt lump welded onto the end of the rod and threw it back into the fire.

‘Why do you insist on pushing people away?’

‘I don’t.’  He spat out the words with a little too much venom.  Why the hell did he sound like a sulky child whenever she questioned him?

He slumped back in his chair, resting his elbow on the broad wooden arm of the chair, covering his face, his mark, with his hand.  If only he could gouge the mark out with a glass shard, make it disappear forever.

‘Your burning hatred and uncontrollable desire to avenge your father’s murder will destroy you Drake, not the fact that you are the last Dragon Rider in existence.  You push those that care away, afraid that they might get too close and see the real you, the part of you that cares, that loves.  Do you think that protects them?  Or is it yourself that you are protecting?’

What did she want from him?  Did she want him to admit that life was just easier if he only had himself to rely on?  He sat there in silence, unwilling to give her what she wanted.

‘If you continue to allow your hatred to fester inside you like this, it will kill you.’  Alchymia leaned back in her chair, her face seemed to have aged greatly in the space of a few moments, as if the weight of the world rested on her shoulders.  ‘A wise man once said that those with revenge in their hearts must dig two graves; one for their enemy and one for themselves.’

Drake flexed his hands, the anger was pulsing through his veins waiting to strike like a poisonous snake.  ‘Are you lecturing me?’ he spat through clenched teeth, ‘You’re not my mother!’

The watch on Drake’s wrist began to bleep.  ‘I have to take this, it’s Gizmo,’ he said, leaping up from his chair.  The desire to get out of the room was almost as overwhelming as the need to argue back, to vent his frustrations.  He glared at Alchymia for a few seconds and then, without another word, he bounced out of the room.

He could feel the pressure in his skull again, it was stabbing at his brain like an ice pick.  Why did she always make him feel like a little kid?

‘Okay, Okay!’ spat Drake to the watch, as he sat down on the crumbling staircase in the other room.  He could hear the rise and fall of voices behind him; Alchymia must’ve woken Willow up so his hopes of escaping from Nowhere without her were well and truly shattered.  Despite what Alchymia thought, Drake knew Willow would only slow him down and right now all he wanted to do was to find the book, get back to Devilsgate and sort out Fenrik.

Drake pressed the button on the side of his watch and Gizmo’s heart-shaped face appeared in front of him.

‘What’s wrong Gizmo?’ asked Drake, noticing immediately that Gizmo looked nervous, his appearance not as immaculate as usual.

‘Look, don’t worry,’ said Gizmo, looking furtively over his shoulder, ‘but we had a bit of trouble here last night.  There were demons-’

‘How many?’

‘I don’t know, four or five, hard to say,’ said Gizmo shrugging, ‘it was dark.  I think they were after the computer stuff, anyway, we managed to get rid of them but-’

‘Are you okay?’

‘Yeah, yeah, I’m fine but-’

‘And the warehouse?’

‘Yeah, they tried to set it on fire but we stopped them, Falkor scared the living dead out of them-’

Drake’s eyes narrowed.  ‘Falkor?’

‘Er, yeah-’

‘Gizmo?  What aren’t you telling me?’

Gizmo scratched his head and grimaced.  ‘He’s bolted Drake, don’t know where he is or-’

Drake closed his eyes and sighed, as he tried to keep that angry serpent inside him under control.  ‘Okay, look, it’s not your fault.  Keep everyone together, watch each other’s backs and make sure you keep a lookout, okay?’

Gizmo nodded.  ‘How’s Willow?’ he asked.

‘She’s fine,’ said Drake, ‘We’ll be back soon.  Look after yourselves.’  Drake pressed the button again and Gizmo’s face disappeared.  He hadn’t got the patience to deal with Gizmo’s sentimentalities.

Complications, always so many goddamn complications!  And where the hell was Falkor?  If he got caught…No, he couldn’t even try to think about that now, there was too much crap in his head already.

Drake stood up, his head pounding, and he swept back into Alchymia’s room.

Willow was sitting by Alchymia.  A heavy book, bound in a rich red cover, floated before them, its thick pale brown pages open.  ‘I do not summon Demons as a rule, indeed-’

‘They’ve attacked the warehouse…lots of them…last night…’ said Drake, kneading his forehead with his hand.

‘Slow down Drake,’ said Willow, her face ashen, as she shifted around in her chair to see Drake, ‘what’s happened?’

Drake halted his frantic pacing.  ‘It must be Fenrik…it must be…’

‘What’s happened?!’ repeated Willow.

‘There was an attack on the warehouse last night.  Demons tried to nick the computers and set them on fire.  Falkor helped scare them off but now he’s bolted…If they get hold of him…’

‘But The Warehouse is okay?  And Gizmo?’

‘Yes, yes, they’re all holed up there, but Falkor…’

‘Falkor will be fine,’ said Alchymia who was now flicking her eyes over the book in front of her.

‘How do you know?’ snapped Drake, his anger still boiling over from their conversation, or Alchymia’s lecture, depending on your perspective.  She didn’t know everything; she didn’t know how intrinsically linked he and Falkor really were.

Drake knew that for the moment at least, Falkor was unhurt because if he was damaged in any way he would feel it deep down in his very core.  This was the bond that held them together; Reciprocity; the effect whereby any injury caused to himself or Falkor was felt by the other in all of its agonizing glory.  If Falkor was killed, well, Drake would feel that too, and Drake would eventually die heartbroken, that much was certain; but Drake’s own death would be slow and painful as the link between dragon and rider gradually dissolved.  Slowly, madness would spread through Drake like a poison, infecting every part of him until, eventually, his own madness would force him to end his own life; only then could he join his dragon forever in the afterlife.

This was Reciprocity in its most raw state.

‘Because he is a dragon, a wild animal who is perfectly capable of looking after himself,’ said Alchymia, not lifting her ice-blue eyes away from her spellbook.

‘Drake,’ said Willow.

Drake didn’t hear her, his mind was racing.  He started pacing up and down again mumbling to himself.

‘DRAKE!’ shouted Willow.

‘What?’ snapped Drake, spinning on his heels to face her.

‘You might want to sit down-‘

‘Willow,’ sighed Drake, rubbing his forehead with his fingers, ‘I haven’t got time to sit down!’

‘Sit down,’ commanded Alchymia.

Drake stood still, his eyes flicking from Alchymia, to Willow, to the chair and back again.  He huffed and finally sat down.

‘Gizmo will be fine, he’ll deal with it; we’ve had enough practice.  Anyway, we’ve got our own stuff to worry about.’  Willow coughed nervously and leant forward in her chair, like she was expecting a bomb to go off.  ‘Drake,’ she said, looking at him sheepishly, ‘we’re going to summon Pyro-’

‘You what?’ shouted Drake, bouncing back out of his seat almost the second his bottom had touched it, ‘What are you talking about?  Why?  I don’t think so, I don’t want that foul little-‘

Fulcanelli dashed out from under the bed and gave Drake a quick nip on his leg.

‘Drake, sit down, you are scaring my cat,’ commanded Alchymia.

‘I’m scaring your cat?’ said Drake, sitting down, rubbing his leg.  ‘He just bit me!’  He looked at Alchymia, but the look on her face told him to leave it.  He crossed his arms, slumped in the chair and turned his gaze to the fire.

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.’

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 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.

Dragon Rider – Part Eleven

Dragon Rider

Chapter Six Continued

Going Nowhere, Fast

Drake slung his guitar over his back and headed for the door.  There was no point taking anything else as it would only slow him down and he could easily find food from somewhere, even if he had to be a little creative to get it.  And anyway, he didn’t intend on being away too long.  The only trouble was going to be getting used to the lenses Gizmo had given him to keep him in contact with the warehouse.  He could feel them irritating the lining of his eyes, but he’d give anything a go at least once.

He halted at the exit to the warehouse.  He could see the Metatron with Willow sitting on top of it, bent double under a bulging rucksack.

‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ growled Drake, his hands clenched firmly at his side.

‘I’m coming with you.’

Drake’s jaw tightened.  ‘Look, thank you for letting me use the Metatron, but I said I was going alone.’

‘I know what you said Drake, but I’m just not listening,’ she said, putting her hands on her hips.  ‘I can help, I have magick, you never know when you might need me-’

‘I work alone.’

‘Not this time Drake.  This concerns all of us and I’m not prepared to just sit here and do nothing.’  Willow huffed and crossed her arms over her chest.

‘They hate human witches in Nowhere even more than here,’ spat Drake.

‘I don’t care, I’m used to it,’ replied Willow.  A few silent seconds passed before she looked at him from under thick black eye-lashes.  ‘I’ll let you control the bike.’

Drake looked at Willow sitting stubbornly on the bike.  Damn it, there was no point arguing.  ‘You do as I say, okay?  And for God’s sake what have you got in that rucksack?’

Willow began to run through the list, counting them off with her fingers, ‘I’ve packed some food, rope, my make-up-’

‘Get rid of it.’

‘But Drake, I-’

Drake cut Willow a hard stare.  ‘Get rid of it.’

She heaved herself off the bike.  ‘Okay, Okay but I get to take my make-up-’

‘Whatever, just get on with it.’

Willow returned five minutes later (a couple of tons lighter) and climbed onto the bike behind Drake.  He turned the key to power the machine up; it growled at him as the jets burst into life, the blue-orange flames exploding from the back of its silver body.  It slowly rose into the air, where it hovered until Drake hit the acceleration and they sped off in a blaze of fire.

Their journey to Nowhere was swift; within half an hour they had left the oppressive darkness and squalor of the City behind and were travelling through vast forests of leafless trees peppered with the remains of devastated towns and cities.  They saw no one; Drake deliberately avoided the other cities, choosing instead the more scenic route through the Wild Country, emerging from the mountain passes as the sun was beginning to fall beyond the horizon and into Mithra’s Realm.  In the distance, Drake could see the fortified town of Nowhere, its great timber buildings silhouetted against the setting sun.

Before they hit the main elevated mud road into Nowhere, Drake and Willow discarded the Metatron beneath a pile of dead leaves and branches, under a leafless Sycamore tree; they’d have to come back for it later.  The people of Nowhere were not into the gadgets of the modern world, so they continued the journey into town on foot.

Once they’d reached the vast moat that encircled the town they dipped behind a rocky outcrop and observed the Search and Security Team controlling the heavy flow of traffic passing through the gate.

‘How are we going to get past those?’ asked Willow, as she watched a Security Troll pick up a leprechaun by his oversized collar and toss him into the moat.  He landed with a great splash and then began swimming to the side, spluttering and panting.

Drake took in the town’s defences; the eight metre high walls with sharp wooden stakes arranged at forty-five-degree angles at their apex, the hulking goblins patrolling along the battlements and the slimy, suckered tentacles of the Kraken surfacing from the murky depths of the black moat as it attempted to devour the flailing leprechaun.

‘We’ll have to wait for a load big enough to hide in,’ he replied, ‘there’s no other way.’

Once the sun had finally said goodbye to the market town, leaving in its wake a grey-blue dusk, Drake and Willow slipped out from behind the rocks and crept closer to the road.  They lay down on the great earth embankments, waiting for a suitable load to pass in which they could hide.  The road was heaving with traffic; farmers escorting their herds through the gates, long trains of carts filled with cured meats, terracotta pots, and silverware, and brightly clothed entertainers juggling or eating fire.

A farmer with a bad limp headed along the muddy road with his three sons, shepherding a large herd of Tri-horn Hairy Fairy cattle.  These huge beasts were much sought after for the magickal properties of their horns, urine and red pelts which were used to make flying carpets in the Middle East.  They were completely placid, unless you were trying to brand them with a piece of searing hot iron on their bottoms (not a good idea, as the farmer could testify), and a perfect Trojan horse to get Drake and Willow into Nowhere as they smelt worse than horse poo.

Drake pulled on his hood and motioned for Willow to follow him up the embankment and into the herd of cattle.  They thundered along the road at a great speed, which was probably a good job as the air around them was putrid and full of large meat flies which had attached themselves to the cows’ bottoms.

Soon they were passing through the town gates and under the humungous hairy noses of the Search and Security Team and, although the farmer was questioned and his sons were not allowed to take in their broadswords, the group entered Nowhere fairly easily.  Once they were safely past the trolls and deep within the Common Marketplace Drake and Willow extricated themselves from the cattle and tried to take a breath of fresh air.

Only the air wasn’t fresh.

The Marketplace was worse than being stuck in the middle of the cattle; it was thick with the smell of rotting fruit, dung and urine.  They didn’t know about hygiene or street cleaners in Nowhere; it smelt like one giant toilet that hadn’t been flushed for over ten years.  Carts, laden with all types of produce from small milk containers that held infinite amounts of liquid to embroidered silk that kept the wearer toasty warm even in the Artic, trundled over mouldy vegetables, dung and more indescribable things.

Cloaked wizards were enchanting balls of blue light to hang in the air above the market stalls and tiny flower faeries were being strung up around the perimeter buildings.  In the background, Purple-haired Pygmy Pigs and Disappearing Dung Donkeys brayed and grunted amongst the chatter and singing of the excited townspeople.

Despite the bright light and the sheer amount of people in the Market place, Drake felt as relaxed as he ever would do in Nowhere.  He couldn’t believe their luck; they’d arrived on the Eve of Samhain, a Festival celebrating the end of Summer and the coming of the Dark Days, which entailed lots of drinking, dancing and the slaughtering of lots of animals.  Even though he was far from welcome in Nowhere (which would never change because he’d taken off with their dragon) he knew that they were far too preoccupied to notice him or Willow.  And if they did, they drunk so much before, during and after feasting, that they would probably think he was part of the entertainment, for at least a little while anyway.  All he and Willow had to do was to stay out of trouble as they crossed the market square and get up to Alchymia’s tower at the top of the hill before they sobered up.

But if he did get caught here, well, the consequences would bring more than tears to his eyes.  The whole place reeked of the Darkest Ages when humans were rounded up and eaten alive.  And if they caught Willow?  Well, let’s just say, they hated human witches more than they hated Drake and they would, no doubt, love to make a great spectacle out of killing both of them.

Drake and Willow made their way swiftly across the packed market, both of them keeping on their hoods as a precaution.  Drake knew Willow was the weak point at the moment; he could feel her prancing after him, her mind being seduced by the riotous entertainers as they practiced their fire dancing skills.  Why had he let her come?

Suddenly he stopped; he could hear a familiar gruff voice rising and falling over the general commotion.  He took a sharp intake of breath and waited for Willow to catch him up, not daring to look around or move one more step.  As soon as she’d reached his side, he grabbed her to hold her back.  He felt her body tense as his cold fingers closed around her arm.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could just see Scarface and the other two dwarves, Ozzy and Elvis.