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.

Dragon Rider – Part 33

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fourteen

A Drink to the Future

Fenrik reclined on the black leather couch, under the large draped window in his office, casually reading The Gate, Devilsgate’s one and only newspaper, owned entirely, of course, by himself.  It was, after all, important that the people of the City were given information about what was going on in Devilsgate and he didn’t want the truth to confuse things for them.

‘So Funestus Black is the favourite to win at the forthcoming elections.  I would never have guessed,’ said Fenrik, straining his eyes to read the small print in the paper, his bushy eyebrows knitting together like the pelmet hanging over his window.  He leaned over and clicked on the small brass lamp that sat on the oak table next to the couch.

‘Who would have thought it, eh brother?  Regina Fludd drowning in the water bowl of her pet Chihuahua,’ said Vigor, draining the last dregs of Hell’s Tempest from his tumbler.  ‘Such a tragedy.’

‘Indeed,’ said Fenrik, cracking a smile as he looked over to Vigor, ‘Just like Funestus’ interview.  Remind me, did I give him permission to speak?’

‘No.  I don’t think so, brother.  The Rat.  Would you like me to bring him in?‘ asked Vigor, leaning forward in his seat in anticipation, his long pointy tongue running along his thin lips.

Fenrik held up his hand.  ‘Not yet.’

Vigor slumped back in his chair and sighed.  ‘Would you like another?’ he asked, shaking his empty tumbler in the air, the two small ice cubes clinking together in the bottom.

Fenrik looked over to his empty tumbler on the table, next to the lamp.  ‘Yes,’ he said, looking back to the story that had grabbed his attention.  ‘It’s just a shame that when he does win the election, he won’t be in his right mind.’

‘That is quite a shame,’ said Vigor, attempting to smile, ‘What a loss it will be to Devilsgate.’  He got up from his chair and walked over to the drinks cabinet in the corner of the room, dropping his tumbler clumsily onto its highly polished surface.  ‘But such a welcome gain for me,’ he said, picking up the silver strainer and looking at his reflection on its shiny surface.

Fenrik looked up from his paper, ‘All in good time Vigor, all in good time.’

Vigor sighed and lowered the strainer.

‘Something on your mind, Vigor?’

‘It’s just that, I was speaking to Mo Green earlier-’

‘Mo Green?’ asked Fenrik, turning his attention back to the paper.

‘Yes, the owner of Greenies, the Absinium Den on Forty-third, it seems that Funestus has been at the club a lot lately,’ said Vigor, grabbing a square decanter of deep red liquid and taking it over to Fenrik’s tumbler, along with the silver strainer.

‘And you’re worried because?’

‘Well, I need him in good health, don’t I?’ asked Vigor, as he placed the silver strainer over Fenrik’s tumbler, put three lumps of sugar on top, before pouring the deep red Hell’s Tempest over it, allowing the mixture to soak through the sugar and then into the empty tumbler below.

Fenrik looked up from his paper again and laughed heartily.  ‘Soon we will have the world at our feet, our own magick provided by The Emerald Key, no longer slaves to the demons we wield and you are worried about Funestus looking good?’

Vigor placed the decanter down on the table next to Fenrik’s tumbler.  ‘No, it’s just that I have had seventeen years of looking like someone has stretched a plastic bag over my skeleton,’ he said, taking the strainer from Fenrik’s tumbler and placing it down, ‘it would be nice to look…different.’

Fenrik folded his paper and placed it on his lap.  ‘I know,’ he said looking up at Vigor and taking the tumbler full of Hell’s Tempest from him.  ‘All in good time.  Soon the whole city will be ours to command, and when we rid it of the human filth that is clogging up our streets, it will be you, my dear brother, that will be at the helm, steering the ship through the waters, purifying it’.

Vigor filled up his own tumbler with the fiery red liquid then hoisted it into the air.  ‘To the future!’

‘To the future!’ said Fenrik.

‘Are you still thinking of using the Fiery-death?’ asked Vigor, before taking a sip from his tumbler.

‘Yes,’ said Fenrik resting the hand holding the glass of Tempest on his leg, ‘from what I have read in my Grimoire, The Emerald Key is the only place to contain the beast’s real name.  Once we have the complete book, the City will be ours.’

‘It is such an evil plan!’ said Vigor, slipping back into his seat.

Fenrik smiled, ‘I try.’  Fenrik took a sip of the fiery liquid before he spoke again.  ‘We need a vessel of fire in which to receive him when we conjure him from Hell.  I was thinking that Pyro would be the perfect candidate-’

‘But brother, Pyro is with the Dragon Rider, the dwarves saw him being taken hostage as the Dragon Rider fled Nowhere.’

‘That is not a problem,’ said Fenrik shrugging, ‘We will summon him when we need him-’

‘And if he dies?’

‘Vigor, you must stop worrying.  There are always other possibilities.’

‘Indeed, brother,’ said Vigor bowing his waxy head.

‘And what of the Scroll of the Dead?  Did the dwarves manage that small task?’

Vigor tried to shake his head but the skin on his neck was too tight, so all that he could manage was small jerky movements like his neck was encased in a collar.  ‘The witch Alchymia managed to sneak it out of her tower.  It would seem that she gave it to the Dragon Rider.’

‘So the dwarves let the Dragon Rider get away with the Scroll and the Fire-djinn?’

‘Yes, brother.’

Fenrik sighed and held up his tumbler.  He twisted it in his hand so that the Hell’s Tempest swirled around its edges like a whirlpool, the ice cubes clattering against the glass.  He stared at the red liquid for a moment before he finally spoke.  ‘The dwarves are being even more incompetent than usual.  Make sure you illustrate my displeasure at this.’

Vigor nodded.  ‘But I didn’t think you were worried about them losing The Hand of Glory or  Scroll of the Dead?’

Fenrik shot Vigor a look.  ‘No, I’m not, but we cannot have them thinking that incompetence will go unpunished, can we?’ he snapped.

‘Oh, no brother!’ said Vigor shaking his head, and averting his gaze to the parquet floor.  ‘I didn’t mean to question you-’

‘Good.  We must keep our troops in line, keep them on their toes.  I was thinking maybe you could torture the little one or something.’

Vigor looked back to his brother, a small grin on his face.  ‘Elvis?’ he asked, clapping his hands with glee.

‘Yes, if you like.  Just pick one and hammer home the point.’

‘Oh yes, brother!’

‘Just don’t get any blood on the carpets, I’ve only just had them cleaned,’ said Fenrik taking another long swig of Tempest.

 

Dragon Rider – Part 32

Dragon Rider

Chapter Thirteen Continued

Fire and Water

‘Set him free.  Who knows how long he’s been imprisoned here, poor guy, no wonder he’s got anger issues.’

‘Pyro,’ said Drake, slapping the djinn on the top of the head, ’that is probably the first slightly helpful thing you’ve said since I’ve known you.  If we hold on tight when the water comes in, he can take us to the surface.’  Drake ran over to the portable control panel, grabbed it and dragged it over to the dog.  ‘Come on then,’ he said as he wound his hand through the dog’s thick collar, ‘because when that door goes-’

‘Okay, okay,’ replied Willow climbing beside him.

‘Pyro, we haven’t got all day-’

‘I’m not going; I’m too young to die.  Did I ever tell you that my uncle Abraxas lived until he was three thousand five hundred and ninety-nine?  I always thought that was a good innings and anyways, the thought of all that water is making me feel-’

‘What?’ screeched Drake and Willow together.

‘It’s not a problem, I’ll go through the other doors, keep dry and just wait it out, well, until someone summons me.’

‘No way!’ said Drake jumping from the dog and grabbing Pyro by the scruff of his neck.  ‘I brought you here, I’ll decide when you get left behind.  Now hold on!’

‘But I-’

‘Pyro,’ said Drake, through clenched teeth, ‘you can get under my coat.  I might not like you but I’m not going to let you die.  Not yet anyway.’  Drake pushed the djinn down onto the dog and jumped up beside him.  He wrapped his coat over Pyro, ‘Hold on tight.  Okay, one…two…’

‘Drake,’ squealed Pyro, ‘I don’t do water!’

‘Three!’ shouted Drake, stamping on the control panel with his foot.

Almost immediately, an alarm blasted through the cargo hold and four conical lights began to flash orange as the doors slowly ground open.  The cold dark water of the lake trickled through slowly at first and then, with an almighty boom, the doors buckled under the pressure and water thundered through the opening like a waterfall crashing through rocks.

Cerberus woke abruptly and leapt to his feet, but the sheer ferocity of the water knocked his legs from underneath him.  Drake could feel the beast’s muscles pumping as it tried to fight the force of the water, but it was too powerful and Cerberus was sucked out of the hole and into the icy-cold darkness of the lake.

It took all of Drake’s strength to hold on as the dog powered through the water, he could feel his lungs burning as he fought the desire to breathe.  Everything was black around him, he could feel the pressure of the water trying to trick him into breathing.  He could feel Cerberus’ heart pounding as the dog fought for his life in the cold desolate Lake of Forgetfulness and the faint pulsing of Pyro’s heart as his life force began to melt away.  And as every second passed it was getting weaker.

No!  Pyro seemed to suddenly fall limp and his hands loosened on the dog’s collar.  Drake tried to reach out but Cerberus broke the surface of the water and he was thrown from the dog’s body.  His burning lungs drunk in the sweet-smelling air as he thrashed about and tried to keep afloat.

Drake could see Willow thrashing around in the water but Pyro was nowhere to be seen.

‘Where is he?’ spluttered Willow, as she tried to tread water, her eyes frantically searching the choppy grey lake for Pyro.

‘There!’ shouted Drake.  Pyro was lying face down, a few metres from the shoreline.  Drake plunged back into the dark water and swam towards Pyro’s lifeless body.  He grabbed him and turned him over but Pyro looked dead; his eyes were white and glazed over, his face completely stripped of any of his colour.  Drake grasped his upper body and swam, as fast as he could, for shore.

Within minutes he was dragging Pyro’s limp body through the reed bed and onto the muddy bank.  He lay him down on the floor and felt for a pulse.  ’He’s alive,’ said Drake as Willow scrambled up beside him and grabbed Pyro’s head.  She began to blow air into Pyro’s cold crusty mouth as Drake began to pump at his chest.

Pyro gurgled as water gushed like a torrent from his lungs and into his mouth.  He rolled over and spat the black water out onto the floor, his breath rattling in his chest as he struggled to breathe.

‘Ease up will yez!,’ he coughed.  ‘I know yez want to get rid of me but give me a break will yez!’  He cradled his chest in his hands.  ’Ow, that hurt.’  He flopped back onto the ground and began to laugh hysterically.

‘Are you alright?’ asked Willow, her face turning as white as a unicorn as she watched Pyro thrashing around.  ‘Did you swallow any of the Lethe?’

‘Yeah,’ said Pyro coughing again, ’but it doesn’t have the same effect on me, so don’t worry, I’m fine.  That was just a great example of fire and water not mixing.’

Drake pulled the Zephyr from his back, drained the water from it and placed it on the ground before he collapsed next to Pyro.  ’That was way too close,’ he said looking up at the dead sky.

‘Drake.’

He raised himself up on his elbows and turned to look at Willow who was hunched over her wet backpack, the Scroll of the Dead scrunched up in her hands.  ’What?’ he asked, but he already knew the answer.

‘Look,’ she said holding out the soggy Scroll to Drake.

‘Damn it!‘ he cursed as he took the paper which now resembled a ball of muddy paper mache.  He rolled it up in his hands and threw it into the lake where it bobbed around like a ship lost at sea.

‘Come on!’ said Drake grabbing his Zephyr, ‘We need to get going.’  He leapt from the floor and slung his Zephyr over his back.  He scanned the shoreline for any signs of Cerberus, but the dog was gone from sight already.  All that was left were his huge soggy paw-prints that lead off into the Forest of Suffering.

‘What’s the plan?’ asked Willow, water dripping from her black hoodie, as she pulled Pyro up by a knobbly hand from the floor.

‘I don’t have one.  We’ll follow Cerberus’s footprints into the forest and then keep walking, making sure we keep the Fortress in sight-’

‘Sounds like a great plan to me,’ said Pyro, his voice gravelly and sore after his dip in the water, ’at this rate we might get out alive in a couple of hundred years.  That’s okay for me, I age slower than you two-’

‘Got a better one?’ snapped Drake spinning on his heels.

Pyro shrugged.

‘For God’s sake!  Where did that come from?’ asked Willow, flinging her hands in the air, ‘After everything we’ve just gone through can’t you two just get on?  I actually thought we were getting somewhere!’

‘Probably not,’ said Drake turning his back on them both.  He stomped over to the wall of trees, carefully following Cerberus’ fresh trail.  He couldn’t help it, there was something about Pyro that just rubbed him up the wrong way.

Pyro looked at Willow and smiled sheepishly, then followed after Drake.

‘I guess we’re going this way then!’ said Willow putting her hands on her hips, watching them walk off.  After a few seconds, she huffed before finally stomping after them.

Dragon Rider – Part 31

Dragon Rider

Chapter Thirteen Continued

Fire and Water

Drake turned his attention to the map.  He could clearly see the exit Gizmo had been talking about; it was located two floors below, on the opposite side of the boat and, luckily for them, an elevator shaft, situated just above it, would lead them straight down to it.  He spun around, the map still superimposed on his vision and headed back to Willow and Pyro.

Willow looked even worse than he felt; her eyes were heavy and she was still cradling her head in her hands.  ‘Come on,’ said Drake pulling her to her feet, ’you’ll feel better once we get outta here.’

They left the steam room and entered the gym where the man in the Bermuda shorts had another towel in his hands to put in the dirty laundry.  His eyes were black, unseeing, so they left him to it and exited into the corridor.

‘We just need to get to an elevator shaft on the opposite side of the boat,’ said Drake leading them off down the corridor.  The elevator shaft was positioned exactly as the map had shown; in a hallway by one of the ship’s many kitchens.  It looked as if the shaft was used to transport food deliveries as it was small and had a single door that dropped from the ceiling.

They all piled in and Drake pressed the large green button on the wall.  The door clattered shut behind them, enclosing them in a small steel box lit only by one sickly yellow light on the ceiling.  The elevator ground down the two floors and spewed them out into a large storage area filled with stacks of wooden boxes stamped with the cargo’s contents and origins; there were fine wines from the New World and expensive champagnes from what used to be known as France.  In the corner, puffs of smoke escaped from the chugging machine which extracted the Lethe from the Lake of Forgetfulness.  The room smelled like Pyro; petrol and gas with the hint of sweat alongside the addition of wet dog and musty cardboard.

The large service exit was located straight opposite.  Drake scanned the shadows for the operating panel, still trying to work out exactly how he was going to get them all out of the cargo hold alive.  If only there was some kind of breathing apparatus or…

Brilliant white light flooded the cargo hold as the steel doors at the side of the room were thrown open.

‘Leaving so soon?’ came the voice of a man silhouetted against the light.

‘Morpheus?’ said Drake, unable to keep the bitter sound of frustration from his voice.  Once his eyes had adjusted to the brightness he could see Morpheus was flanked by a whole army of personal guards dressed from head-to-toe in black, holding AK-47s pumped for action.

‘Did you really think you could get away that easy?  And you,’ he said turning to face Willow, ‘are a sore disappointment.  Trying to leave without saying goodbye, where are your manners?’

‘I-’

Morpheus raised his hand, dripping in platinum, to his mouth to silence her.  ‘It is too late for apologies, my dear.’  Morpheus sighed.  ‘It gives me no great pleasure to do what I must but, as you have tried to leave without payment, I must take what is owed by force.  Your dreams are what is required, alive or dead, we can extract them either way.’  He shrugged and turned to one of his guards, ‘Let him lose, come back and check on them in half an hour.’  And with that, Morpheus was gone.

‘Shit!’ exclaimed Drake, as a guard was hauled in by a three-headed black dog on a thick iron chain, his tattooed arm bulging from beneath his short-sleeved tee-shirt.  Drake was vaguely aware of Willow letting out a little squeal beside him and the sound of Pyro hyperventilating.

‘Say hello to my little friend; Cerberus,’ said the guard with a toothy grin as he unhooked the iron chain from the dog’s studded leather collar and backed quickly out of the room, the steel doors clanging shut behind him.

The dog’s black hackles were raised, his black eyes bulging with excitement as he eyeballed Drake, Pyro and Willow.  The dog’s three heads snarled, great pools of drool dribbling from the corners of curled lips.

Drake stood his ground, his fists clenching and unclenching at the side of his body.  ‘Willow, Pyro,’ he whispered through clenched teeth, ‘back up slowly, get up high, on a stack of boxes, be quick!’

Willow and Pyro scrambled up the nearest pile of boxes just as the dog lunged forward.  ‘Come on you oversized mutt!’ yelled Drake, as he darted to the left, away from Willow and Pyro.  The snarling dog followed, its black eyes locked onto him.

Drake dived over an empty crate and headed for the Lethe extractor in the corner of the room.  Cerberus bounded after him; Drake could hear it advancing upon him, its claws scratching at the wooden floor, its tail smacking into the rows of wooden boxes.  When Drake could feel the warm acrid breath of the beast, he suddenly dived to the right.  Cerberus tried to follow but its body skidded as he tried to turn, its claws failing to find grip, and it collided with a wall of boxes, which exploded, sending bottles of wine crashing to the floor.

Concentrating on a thick steel chain hanging from the ceiling, Drake ran at the port-side wall and bounced off it, throwing himself backwards and upwards to grab the chain.  He caught it and clung on tight as he flew over Cerberus’ great black heads.  As soon as his feet touched the machine he forced himself back over Cerberus’ snapping jaws until he had enough momentum to land like a cat on top of the Lethe extractor.  He let the chain go and it smashed into the side of the boat with a loud clunk.

Cerberus lunged at the extractor, his middle head just about reaching the top of the machine, his six eyes blazing with madness and fury as it kept lunging at the extractor.  Its terrifying bark ripped through the hold like thunder echoing through a mountain pass and with every attack the machine crumpled further in on itself.

Drake steadied himself on top of the swaying and creaking extractor.  He couldn’t reach the chain from where he was perched and the only other way off the machine was down, and into the jaws of Cerberus.  He looked over to Willow and Pyro, and held out his hands in supplication, hoping that for once they’d come up with the goods and get him out of this.

He could see from Willow’s expression and the movement of her lips that she was trying to cast a spell, trouble was, she didn’t have a spellbook and whatever spell she was trying from memory didn’t seem to be working.  Pyro stood at the top of his pile of boxes looking as gormless as usual, his arms outstretched in a half-hearted attempt at a shrug.  He really was going to strangle the djinn with his bare hands, if they ever got out of here alive.

Think! shrieked the voice inside Drake’s head.  I would, if I could, he shouted back.  If only that stupid dog would stop barking for one millisecond.

He banged the heel of his hand on forehead.  Damn it!  Dragons, djinns, demons; no problem.  Oversized dogs?  The Zephyr was out; it would knock everyone out and he couldn’t drag everyone to safety.  He had to get down, he had to face Cerberus somehow, he had to defeat him.

The machine groaned as it scrunched even further into itself.  And then the answer flew at him.  Three bars of purple-covered chocolate floated in front of him.  He looked over to Willow who just shrugged at him and smiled weakly.

Without a second thought, he grabbed one of the bars, ripped the foil off it and threw it to the floor.  The middle head snarled as it laid its head protectively over the bar, the other two heads snarling back in reply.  Drake unwrapped the other bars and threw them down on the floor where they were devoured by the other two heads.

Once the chocolate had been devoured the dog sat down, his thick black tail sweeping excitedly along the dusty wooden floor.  He sniffed up at Drake, its huge mouths panting excitedly.

‘Got any more?’ asked Drake.

Pyro and Willow both shrugged in reply.

Drake took a deep breath and leapt from the top of the machine, landing lightly at the side of Cerberus.  The dog collapsed onto the floor and sighed happily before rolling over, each of its long, pink, slimy tongues lolling out from the corner of his mouths.  Drake shook his head; this couldn’t be happening, right?  Things were never that easy, were they?  He leaned forward and ran his hand over the dog’s tan coarse belly fur.  He could feel the thrum of the dog’s heart in his chest and hear the contented purr as Cerberus’s eyelids drooped shut.

‘I think you can come down now,’ whispered Drake, as Cerberus began to snore like a freight train.

‘I can’t believe it ate all the chocolate,’ sighed Willow, ‘oh, it smelt so good.’

Drake stared at her with a look of disbelief.

‘What?’ she asked, shrugging, ‘I eat when I’m stressed.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Pyro, ‘I’ll get you some tasty chocolate when we get out of here, great mounds of the best stuff you’ve ever tasted.  I know a guy, a shyster called Jack the Eye, he works for a guy, who knows a guy that drives for a guy who owns a chocolate factory.  He owes me-’

‘Pyro,’ snapped Drake, ‘not now, eh?’

‘Okay, okay.  I was just saying.’

‘We’re going to have to move him-’

‘Move him?’ asked Willow with disbelief.  ‘He probably weighs a ton, how‘re we going to do that?

‘Well, we can’t leave him to drown can we?’ snapped Drake back at her.

‘You don’t have to,’ said Pyro, grimacing as he lifted up one of the dog’s lips to reveal its yellowing, plaque encrusted teeth, ‘take him with you, set him free.’

‘What?’

Dragon Rider – Part 30

Dragon Rider

Chapter Thirteen

Fire and Water

Pyro propped Drake up as they staggered through the bar.  It was Pyro’s idea; they had to make people believe that Drake was still under the influence of Lethe, it was the only way, he argued, to get past Morpheus and all the swaying bodies.  Trouble was Drake wasn’t pretending, his head throbbed worse than usual, he was struggling to focus properly and he couldn’t contain the tremors that were erupting all over his body.

The only thing that he could hear above the thump, thump of the music, was that little voice in his head which he tried so hard to keep hidden.  It was nagging at him, asking him how he could’ve been so stupid as to believe that taking a ride on the Arcadia was going to be easy.  Look, it said, at the people, they were nothing but shadows, zombies whose eyes stared at fading memories on the edge of their consciousness, too far out of reach, lost to the Lethe.  Their features were distorted and twisted, like the Gods that kept them enslaved on the boat for all eternity.

Drake thought he could hear their cries, their pleas for mercy, for peace, mingling in with that annoying nagging voice.  How could you have fallen for it?  Free us.  Please?  Are you so consumed by the need for vengeance that you would lead Willow into a trap rather than listen to Pyro?

He felt like screaming as the voices became louder, drowning out even the sound of the music.  Faces leered at him, strangers mocked him.  Stupid boy!  Come and join us, be one of us, forget your troubles.  Drink the Lethe!

A girl in a long black dress and heavy eye make-up grabbed him and he stumbled.  ’Dance!’ she giggled as Pyro fought to keep hold of him.

‘Out of the way!’ screamed Pyro.  ‘He’s going to be sick!’

The girl didn’t seem to register what Pyro had said, her eyes were dead like nothing existed behind them, but she continued whirling across the dance floor in a Bacchanalian trance, asking people to dance.

Drake shuddered.  He could feel zombified hands grasping at his clothes, pleading with him to save them.  But he knew it was no good; they were already dead.  He closed his eyes and let Pyro lead him across the room.

As soon as they’d exited the bar area, Pyro let Drake go.  ’It’s just back there,’ he said pointing down the corridor to the back of the boat.

Drake leant his head against the wall, allowing the cold to penetrate through his skull, to dissipate the mayhem there.  He stood up and rubbed his forehead like he was trying to iron out the creases.

‘Come on!’ snapped Pyro.

‘Okay, okay,’ said Drake.  He took a deep breath and followed Pyro down the corridor, through the gym and to the steam room.

‘In here!’ hissed Pyro as a man in Bermuda shorts strolled past them with a rolled-up towel in his hands.  Drake didn’t fear being seen by the man; he was as dead as the rest of them.

Willow was slumped on a slatted wooden bench, her head squashed up against the wall, her pink hair stuck to her face.  Luckily the steam had been turned off else her make-up would’ve been running down her face with the slug trail.

Pyro sat next to her and, tilting her head back, tipped the contents of the can of pop into her mouth.  As soon as the first sip of the fizzy brown liquid had been swallowed, she opened her eyes and groaned.

‘Where am I?’ she said, slurring her words.

‘Safe,’ whispered Pyro as he stroked her back.  ‘Have some more of this,’ he said, making sure she drained every last drop from the can.

‘My head feels like it’s been used as a football.’

‘Eat this,’ said Pyro stuffing chunks of chocolate into her mouth.

‘You alright?’ asked Drake, propping himself up the wall.  He had to get a grip.

‘Yeah,’ nodded Willow, cradling her head with her hand, ‘I think so.’

Drake took a deep breath and forced himself to stand up.  ’Sit there, eat some more chocolate.  We need to you to be as alert as possible if we’re going to get off this boat alive.’  He turned and closed his eyes momentarily, allowing the dizziness to subside.  He pressed the button on the side of his watch and waited for Gizmo to answer.

‘Gizmo?’  There was no reply, just a dull buzzing of a dead line.  ‘Must be the room, I’ll go out and try, give me a mo.’  Drake stepped outside, steadied himself up the wall, and tried again.

‘Gizmo?’

After a brief pause Gizmo’s smiling face appeared before him.  ‘Hi Drake, how’s it…’ said Gizmo, pushing his glasses back up his nose and squinting, ‘oh, you look a bit rough.’

‘I’m okay,’ replied Drake, his voice calm but slightly betraying his lack of control.  But, even with his Lethe hangover, he could sense that Gizmo was more relaxed with him.  Maybe Gizmo losing Falkor had thawed him out a bit.  ’I need you to do something for me.  We’re stuck on a boat called the Arcadia, got any info on how to get off it?’

‘Can‘t you just get off the deck by the gangway?’ asked Gizmo, his usually smooth brow creased with lots of wrinkles.

‘It’s a bit more complicated than that.  Is there another way?’

‘Just a sec.’  There was silence on the line as Gizmo disappeared.  ‘Okay,’ he said reappearing a few seconds later, ‘according to this, the Arcadia was a mega-yacht owned by the Russian Billionaire Vladimir Berezovsky, hang on, no, that doesn’t make sense.  Drake?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Berezovsky drowned along with over two-hundred partygoers when it vanished in Bermuda in 2011.’  Gizmo looked up at Drake, his face draining of colour as this information slowly sunk in.  ‘Drake, where are you…exactly?’

‘Like I said, it’s complicated.  Can you find any plans?  Any info on how to get off it?’

‘Yeah, the plans are floating in cyberspace.  Hang on.  Okay, here you are; there’s a service exit on the third level below deck, at the back of the ship, port side,’ he said, as the plans of the Arcadia appeared, before Drake’s eyes, superimposed in blue upon his vision.

‘Okay, thanks,’ said Drake, cutting Gizmo off.

Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-Nine

Dragon Rider

Chapter Twelve Continued

Dreams

‘I’ said Pyro weakly as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath to try and stem the feeling of nausea, ‘am a djinn and NOT a demon!’

‘If you say so,’ said Morpheus, his arm still protectively around Willow.  ‘It doesn’t matter.  If you don’t want to ride with us that is your prerogative but I suggest you look at what you’ll have to contend with down there before you decide.  Shall we go and sort the music out?’ he said, turning to Willow.

Willow nodded and giggled like a little girl.

‘Oh, help yourself to a drink from the bar below deck,’ shouted Morpheus over his shoulder as he walked away with Willow.

‘Blackthorn, I don’t think-’

‘When are you going to get it into your thick skull that we don’t want you to think, eh Pyro?’ said Drake, tapping Pyro on the side of his head.

‘Blackthorn, think about this!’ pleaded Pyro, ‘Willow is acting bizarre, why would she just walk off with a stranger?’

‘I don’t know,’ shrugged Drake, as he strode over to the side of the boat.  ‘Maybe she’s also fed up of hanging around you.  Besides, this boat will get us to the Fortress quicker than fighting through that lot,’ he said, pointing to the ground below them.

Pyro gulped loudly as he glanced fleetingly over the side of the boat.  From this vantage point, he could see a whole menagerie of monsters lurking in the labyrinthine Forest, from a Nemean Lion and a Chimera, to a flock of Stymphalian birds feasting on the flesh of a man.  ‘I think I need to sit down,’ said Pyro, ’this is just turning into the worst day ever.’

‘Well, I’m going for a drink,’ said Drake.  He turned and walked away, leaving Pyro curled up at the side of the boat.

Drake wound his way through the mass of dancing bodies and down the short staircase at the front of the ship just as the music changed.  He smiled in approval as Skulls of Destiny’s “Trash-time Valentine” blasted from the upper deck just as he grabbed a tall glass of clear liquid from the bar.

He took a huge gulp of the soothing drink, which tasted like cotton candy, and slumped into the nearest comfy chair.  He was so damn tired.  Why couldn’t he just go to sleep, forget everything, just be normal for once?  He took another gulp of his drink.  God, it was good, but he was so sleepy.

But something didn’t feel quite right.  It was if he could feel all of his worst fears, his nightmares, closing in around him, dancing at the very edge of his consciousness.  He could almost taste Fenrik’s cigars, could hear Vigor rasping, could taste Willow’s tears, feel the pain as Falkor was ripped to pieces.  He didn’t want to close his eyes, to see the phantoms plaguing his dreams.

‘It’s okay.’

Drake’s eyes shot open.  Had he already fallen to sleep?  He looked at the pretty girl sat next to him, dressed in black with long purple hair.  He was sure she was the girl that had winked at him before, but it couldn‘t be.  He shook his head and tried to dispel the mist that was beginning to cloud his mind.

‘It’s okay,’ she repeated, ‘everyone feels like that at first.  Take another sip, it will make it better and it will all go away.’  She smiled sweetly and lifted Drake’s glass to his mouth.  ‘Go on,’ she soothed, ‘take a sip.’

Drake took another swig.  He was so sleepy…

*****

‘Blackthorn, Blackthorn!’

‘Go away!’ snapped Drake.  He didn’t want to wake up, not yet, sleeping was just too good.  It was bliss not having to think.

‘Hey Blackthorn, get up!’

‘What do you want Pyro?’ groaned Drake, not wanting to open his eyes, ‘Can’t you just leave me alone?’

‘Blackthorn, we’re in danger,’ said Pyro, shaking Drake, the sharp edge of urgency in his voice, ‘I need you to snap out of it now!’

‘Where’s the fire Pyro?  Ha!’ grinned Drake stupidly, ‘You should know, you probably started it!’

‘You’ve been drugged!  Come on!  If you stay here much longer you will forget everything.  That drink you’ve got is Lethe-’

‘Lethe?  I don’t care what it is, it’s like ambrosia for the Gods.’  Drake hiccupped, ‘I think I need another one!’

‘Blackthorn, you idiot, Lethe is the water from the lake the boat came from, the Lake of Forgetfulness-’

‘Forget about it, Pyro, chill man!’ said Drake trying to tap Pyro on the shoulder but missing.

‘DRAKE BLACKTHORN!’ screeched Pyro, ’wake up now!’  He grabbed a silver bucket of ice from the wooden bar and threw it at Drake.

‘Wow! What was that for?’ asked Drake looking down at the water dripping from his head onto his black tee-shirt and coat.

‘And you think I’m stupid.  Look, I know you don’t like me but I really need you to listen to me now, AND FOCUS!’ said Pyro, slapping Drake across the cheek.

‘Hey!’ said Drake feeling the side of his face.  He looked up at Pyro in a sulk, ‘What was that for?’

‘I‘ve been knocking around for a good few millennia, and you need to trust me when I say that, in my time, I’ve met a few shysters-’

‘Like me?’ asked Drake, thumping his chest with his hand and slumping back on his velvet-backed chair, grinning.

‘No, not like you.  I mean guys that would pull your eyes out just for the pleasure of it.  Don’t you think it was funny Willow just walking off like that?’

Drake shrugged.

‘Or that all the monsters we saw in the Forest of Suffering were all from Greek and Roman mythology?’

‘So?’

‘So, when I said I knew that guy when we came aboard, you know, Morpheus?’

‘Morpheus,’ repeated Drake, nodding.

‘Well, I do, and that DJ guy, Hypno, they’re Greek Gods, brothers from like way back in time.  They prey on abandoned souls and steal their dreams, that’s what keeps them immortal.’

Drake guffawed.  ‘What?  No!’

‘Yeah, so you can imagine how they felt when we came aboard.  Two live ones to feed off.  Your dreams would keep them going for a very long time.’

‘What about your dreams Pyro?  Do you dream in fire?’

‘Can’t feed off a djinn, we don’t dream in the same way you do.  Lucky for you too, else you’d be gone.’

‘Gone?’

Pyro nodded and run a finger across his throat.

‘Why are you dressed like a pot plant?’ asked Drake, his face screwed up in confusion as he stared at Pyro.

‘Because,’ said Pyro, closing his eyes with a sigh, ’I am trying to go incognito, so they don‘t recognise me.’

‘I don’t think it suits you, green just isn‘t your colour.’

‘Come on,’ said Pyro, grabbing Drake’s Zephyr from the floor in one hand and Drake with the other.  He propped Drake up, managed to get the Zephyr onto Drake’s back, and then dragged him across the bar and into a hallway behind it.

‘You’ve got to get a grip!’ said Pyro, looking anxiously up and down the hallway, ’If Morpheus finds us-’

Drake smiled gormlessly at Pyro and slid down onto his bottom with a thump, his Zephyr squealing in pain as it scraped off the wall.  ’I love you Pyro.’

Pyro shook his head and tutted.  ’Stay here,’ he ordered, ’and don’t move.  I need to find some Dandelion and Burdock, and chocolate, that’ll sort you out.’  Pyro took one last look at Drake, shook his head again and disappeared off down the hall.

Drake remained seated on the patterned carpet, which looked as if someone had been sick all over it, and smiled.  He felt really sleepy and really happy as he stared at the white walls.  It was like heaven; he could stay here forever, no problems.

‘Hello again!’ he said, as Pyro reappeared ten minutes later, minus the greenery, glowing slightly orange and looking rather harassed.  ‘Did you miss me?’  Drake winked and gave Pyro a toothy grin.

‘Get this down you,’ said Pyro, tipping the contents of a brown can into Drake’s mouth.

Drake took a big gulp.  ‘Pyro, what are you doing?’ snapped Drake, shoving Pyro’s arm away before clambering up from the floor.  ’God’s sake,’ he said cradling his head in his hand, ’What the hell has happened to me?’

‘Good to see you’re back to your normal “happy” self, eat this,’ replied Pyro, unwrapping the purple foil off a chocolate bar and handing it to Drake, ’Don’t thank me for saving your butt!’

Drake shrugged.  ‘Okay,’ he said.

‘Next time maybe you’ll give me a little more respect and listen.’

Drake stared at Pyro but said nothing.

‘I did warn you not to come on this boat.’

Whatever.  ‘Where’s Willow?’

‘I locked her in the steam room for safety.  It’s on this floor, at the back.’

‘Let’s go, got any more of that stuff ?’

Pyro tapped his trouser pocket.  ’Yeah, only one can and four chocolate bars so don’t take anymore Lethe.  Come on,’ he said, leading Drake down the corridor.

‘Do you know how to get off the boat?  If it’s in the air we’ve got serious problems-’

‘It’s not in the air,’ said Pyro sheepishly.

‘Good, it’ll be easier to sneak off-’

‘Or maybe not.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Drake grabbing Pyro by the collar and pulling him around to face him.  ’Pyro?’

‘Blackthorn, you’ve been out for ages.  The Arcadia is submerged in the Lake of Forgetfulness.’

‘What?’

‘We’re totally submerged,’ said Pyro, holding out his knobbly arms, big sweat patches under his armpits on either side of his blue shirt.

‘What?  We can’t be!  How the hell are we going get off?’

‘I don’t know,’ replied Pyro shrugging.  ‘And Anyways, I don’t think we’re supposed to.’

‘We’ll see about that,’ said Drake, ‘take me to Willow.’

 

 

Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-Eight

Dragon Rider

Chapter Twelve Continued

Dreams

Drake glared at Pyro and grabbed his Zephyr before he climbed out of the carriage.  Pyro and Willow followed.

‘The Fortress is that way,’ said Charon pointing across the valley, ‘Goodbye.’

‘I’m going to complain, I am, only doing half a job, ‘shouted Pyro as Charon dashed around to the front of his carriage, ‘I ask you, what is the world coming to when even the ferryman of the Underworld won’t do his job!’

‘Good day,’ said Charon already seated at the front of his carriage.  He turned to his kelpies, shouted ‘YAH!’ and they were off, thundering back to where they had just come from, ready to collect more fresh souls.

Drake slung his guitar over his back and looked down the disintegrating bridge, a thin crooked finger pointing the way to the Fortress, its iron bulk veiled by the tangled wall of miles and miles of brambles and trees.  He inwardly sighed; they hadn’t even travelled half-way to the Fortress and they’d got so many more miles to travel.  The road before them looked never-ending.  How the hell were they going to get to the Fortress now?

‘Come on,’ he said, his voice a strange mixture of anger and misery, ‘be careful where you tread, I don’t fancy going for a swim-’

‘I need a break,’ said Pyro, plonking himself down, his stubby legs hanging off the side of the bridge.

‘Pyro!’ hissed Drake through clenched teeth.

‘What?’ asked Pyro, turning to look back at Drake, ‘I need some fresh air.  If you don’t mind me saying, it was getting a little smelly in there.’

Drake glared back at him, trying to count to a hundred in his head, quickly, before he exploded.

‘Hey,’ said Willow, placing her hand gently on Drake’s arm, ‘Let’s take a few minutes and we can check out the Scroll.’

‘Okay,’ replied Drake, his hands pumping at his side as he tried not to put his hands around Pyro’s neck.

‘Show me the way,’ asked Willow, holding the Scroll of the Dead up for Drake to see.  Black symbols began to burn brightly on the brown parchment in front of them.

PLOP!

‘What does it say?’ asked Drake.

PLOP!

‘It’s saying that-’

Drake spun on his heels.  ‘Pyro?’ he screeched, as Pyro threw another fragment of the crumbling bridge into the lake.

‘Yes?’

‘What do you think you are doing?’

‘Trying to see if I can skim the water with these bits of rubble,’ said Pyro, holding up a handful of jagged pieces of the bridge in his hand.  ‘It’s supposed to be good for relieving stress,’ he said, lobbing another bit of bridge into the water.  The large fragment disappeared into the grey water with a loud plop.  ‘Doesn’t seem to be working though.  Maybe it’s my technique. I should’ve listened to my Great Aunt Gazit, she was Champion Skimmer in our village for five years in a row when I was growing up.  Mind you, that could’ve had something to do with the fact that everyone was scared of her, she had-’

‘Pyro?’

‘Yes?’

‘Shut up!’ screamed Drake.

‘Huh.  You asked me a question-’

Drake turned his back on Pyro.  ‘So what’ve you come up with?’ he asked Willow.

‘Well-’

‘Can you hear that?’ asked Pyro, his knobbly hand cupped to his ear.

‘Pyro, we’re a little busy at the moment,’ said Drake trying, for Willow’s sake, to keep his anger under control.

‘I can hear it,’ said Willow, looking up from the scroll, ‘it sounds like dance music.’

They all stood still, listening to the dull thump, thump of music coming from somewhere in front of them.

‘That can’t be right,’ said Drake, unsure of what he was hearing, ‘there’s nothing here, just the lake.’

‘Well, that’s definitely dance music,’ said Willow.

Drake looked out over the grey waters of the lake; something was stirring in its depths sending great bubbles of white water up to the surface and waves were beginning to lap against the bridge.

‘What’s going on?’ asked Pyro, jumping up from his perch on the edge of the bridge, the bottom of his brown chinos wet.

There was a huge explosion of water, about thirty metres in front of them, and a great white yacht emerged from the depths of the lake like a shark.  The vessel was enormous, probably around 100 metres in length, and great torrents of water gushed from its wooden decks as it surfaced.  Dance music blasted from the vessel as it sailed towards them.

‘Wow!  That is some boat,’ said Drake, as, within a matter of minutes, the yacht had drawn in alongside them.

‘Come aboard!’ shouted a man in a cream suit, peering from the deck as the gangway extended onto the bridge.

‘Blackthorn,’ said Pyro, tugging at Drake’s sleeve, ‘I don’t think we should.  I’ve got a bad feeling-’

Drake pulled his arm away from Pyro.  What was it with this guy?  ’Thanks, but we need to go to the Fortress,’ he shouted back to the man.

‘That’s okay, we’re heading that way.’

‘But you’re in a boat,’ said Willow, pointing from the boat to the Fortress, ‘and the Fortress is over there.  Behind a Forest.’

‘This is a special boat,’ replied the man with a huge flashy grin, beckoning for them to board, ’What harm can it do?’

‘Blackthorn, come on, let’s walk,’ said Pyro.

Pretend Pyro isn’t there before you explode, thought Drake.  He turned to Willow.  ‘Does it say anything on the Scroll?’

‘No,’ said Willow, taking a quick peek at the scroll.

‘Well then, it can’t be anything bad.  Let’s give it a go.’

‘I don’t know, maybe Pyro‘s right.’

‘Come on, surely it’s better than walking for miles across this bridge and then having to fight through that lot,’ said Drake, pointing to the Forest.  ‘It’ll be quicker.’

‘It’s a bad idea,’ said Pyro, stepping slowly backwards, away from the boat.

‘I could always knock you out with my music and drag you across,’ said Drake through clenched teeth.

‘No thanks.’

‘Come on,’ said Drake, grabbing Pyro by the collar and pushing him up the gangway, ‘you first. Oh, and Pyro, if you do one, I will personally kill you!’

‘Welcome aboard the Arcadia,’ said the man in the cream suit, as Pyro, Drake and Willow climbed aboard.

‘What is this?’ asked Willow, her mouth wide open as she marvelled at the heaving crowd, all dancing to the music being played by a DJ in baggy t-shirt and low-slung jeans, mixing it up on the decks behind the swimming pool.

‘This little thing,’ replied the man, pulling his Ray-Ban’s down his nose so that he could look over them with his pale blues eyes, that sparkled like sapphires next to his tanned skin, ‘is something I dreamt up as an alternative to that dreadful man, Charon.  So unrefined.’  He winked at Willow, ‘Just think of it as your last little bit of hedonism before you pass to the other side.’

‘Oh, we’re not dead,’ said Drake.

‘Really?’ said the man, flashing a gold tooth as a wide smile spread across his face.  ‘Let me introduce myself, I’m Morpheus’ he said, pointing to his smooth bare chest peeping out from under his suit, a chunky platinum chain sparkling against his orange-looking skin, ‘and that’s Hypno, our resident DJ.’  Morpheus looked at the platinum Daniel Roth watch on his wrist, ‘We will be ascending in a minute as we begin our journey to The Fortress, so why don’t you relax and enjoy the ride.’

‘Ascend?’ asked Pyro, holding his stomach with one hand, his mouth in the other.

‘Yes, how else did you think we were going to get there?’

Pyro turned to Drake.  ‘Did I ever mention that I’m not good with heights?’ he asked, his face had drained of colour, his skin taking on a green hue.

‘There’s everything you could desire aboard this vessel.  What’s mine is yours; the swimming pool, beauty salon for the lady, or you could try the sundeck or Jacuzzi on the upper floor,’ said Morpheus, gesturing at the deck with his jewel-encrusted hand, as the boat began to rise gently into the air like a Hover-copter.  The engine roared somewhere below deck before the boat turned smoothly in the air and began its journey south.

‘I really don’t like heights,’ said Pyro, grabbing tightly onto the nearest railing, his knuckles white.

‘We should be at our destination in about an hour, so enjoy yourselves.’

‘This is amazing,’ said Drake, smiling at a pretty dancer, dressed in a small pink top and white shorts, who had winked at him, ‘when I die I want to go like this.’

‘For sure,’ said Morpheus, grabbing a glass of clear liquid from a silver tray as a waiter, dressed head to toe in white, passed by.  ‘Madame.’ he said giving the glass to Willow.  He turned to Drake.  ‘Is this music to your liking?’

‘We’re more into alternative stuff, that kind of thing,’ said Drake.

‘No problem,’ said Morpheus.  ’Why don’t you come with me,’ he said, putting his long arm around Willow‘s shoulders, ’and we’ll sort that out.’

‘Okay,’ said Willow, after she had finished taking a sip of the clear liquid.

‘Don’t I know you?’ asked Pyro, still clinging tightly to the railing, before Morpheus could walk away.

‘I don’t think so, I don’t generally tend to hang around with demons,’ said Morpheus with a smirk.