Chapter Eleven Continued
A pale figure stepped forward. Drake could see his nostrils flaring as he sniffed the air like a wolf. Behind the figure stood a white coach, the light he had seen in the darkness had been from the single gas lamp that hung from its helm. Six pure white kelpies, horse-like creatures who could ride as fast as the wind, waited nervously at the front of the coach, their hooves clawing at the mossy floor.
‘It would appear that you are not dead,’ growled the figure, his steel coloured eyes locked onto Drake, his body stiff and unwelcoming.
Drake regarded the figure with wary eyes. ‘No, we are very much alive,’ he replied.
The figure’s lip curled in distaste. ‘Quite irregular, I usually only ferry dead people-‘
‘It’s okay,’ said Pyro, ‘I think I would rather walk, get a little travel sick.’ He made a vomiting gesture to underline the point.
The figure recoiled in disgust, his pale skeletal hands clutching at his chest. ‘You have such a foul creature as a djinn with you?’
‘Yes, unfortunately,’ replied Drake as Pyro shrugged, a weak smile glancing upon his face.
The figure turned back to face Drake and bowed his head slightly, ‘I am Charon the Ferryman. I assume you want to get to the Iron Fortress?’
‘Well, I’m afraid I cannot help. The clue is in my Job Description.’ said Charon, a slight curl on his lips. ’I ferry DEAD people,’ he continued, speaking as if to a two-year-old. He spun on his heels, the tails of his white coat splaying around him, and made to leave.
‘Excuse me!’ said Willow, flapping the scroll in the air to get Charon’s attention, ‘Excuse me!’
Charon turned to look back over his shoulder at Willow. ‘Yes?’
‘Sorry, hi,’ said Willow offering her hand, ‘my name’s Willow-’
‘Get on with it!’ hissed Charon, ‘I’m very busy, you know.’ He spun around. ‘Do you know how many wars are on at the moment?’
‘No,’ Willow shook her head, ‘sorry. But erm, that doesn’t matter because actually, if you read Section 7, sub-section 1 a, of the Underworld Act, 1200 B.C, you can ferry people who are alive through the Valley of Death, as long as they satisfy certain requirements.’
‘What?’ screeched Charon.
‘What are you talking about?’ asked Drake.
‘Look it says here,’ said Willow, pointing at the Scroll of the Dead, ’You need a Totenpasse, such as The Scroll of the Dead-’
‘A what?’ asked Drake, unable to read any of the strange black symbols which had appeared on the scroll.
‘A Totenpasse, a Passport to be shown in the Underworld,’ she turned back to Charon flapping the Scroll of the Dead in his face before beginning to read from it again, ‘a valid reason for visiting-’
‘A valid reason?’ said Charon, his face screwed up like he was chewing a wasp, ’What valid reason could you possibly have?’
‘Our lives are in Mortal Peril,’ replied Willow, pointing at the words “Mortal Peril” in the text of the Underworld Act which had magickally appeared upon the scroll, ’back in the Land of the Living. Oh, and you need to have a witch present. That would be me.’
‘You, a witch?’ snorted Charon.
‘Yes,’ said Willow putting her hands on her hips, her face lifted slightly in a “come on then, let’s argue” kind of way.
Charon looked as if the anger in his body was about to explode, and, despite how pale he was, his face was beginning to glow red. He turned and walked over to his carriage. ‘Get in!’ he hissed.
The three of them ran down the granite steps not wanting to wait a minute longer in case Charon found a way to change his mind. At the bottom the earth was spongy, its surface peppered with a dazzling array of precious stones and minerals. Huge diamonds, the size of footballs, sat alongside boulders of vivid blue azurite and chunks of violet amethysts.
Drake tapped Pyro on the head as the djinn bent down to pluck a diamond, the size of a tennis ball, from the floor. ‘Leave it,’ he snapped.
‘You can’t blame a djinn for trying,’ said Pyro.
‘Exactly why did I bring you?’ asked Drake more to himself than Pyro.
‘I don’t know, you didn’t say,’ shrugged Pyro, ‘but I would take a guess that you find me scintillating company and probably would miss me if I wasn’t here.’ A huge smile spread across the djinn’s face.
‘Yeah, whatever,’ said Drake opening the coach door. He grabbed the djinn by the collar and threw him roughly into the coach.
‘He’s a bit lacking in personality isn’t he?’ said Pyro, as he jumped up and down on one of the red leather seats to check out the springs before he made himself comfortable.
‘Who?’ asked Willow turning around to face Pyro, her leg tucked under her other one.
‘Charon,’ whispered Pyro, pointing to the front of the carriage.
‘Well, he is the bloke that ferries dead people to the Iron Fortress,’ said Willow.
‘Willow, will you stop encouraging him,’ said Drake looking out of the carriage windows at the forest of yew, willow and oak trees looming in front of them, their branches twisted in a macabre embrace, an impenetrable barrier, like soldiers guarding the Fortress, where no branches moved and no leaves stirred.
As the carriage neared the Forest the trees closest to them were pulling their ancient roots out from the earth and were shuffling aside to create a small space just wide enough for the carriage and horses.
‘YAH!’ shouted Charon and the kelpies began their long trek through the Forest of Suffering.