Dragon Rider – Part 40

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen Continued

The Iron Fortress

‘Alchymia sent us,’ said Willow cutting through Brimo’s train of thought.

Drake glared at Willow.  Why couldn’t she just keep her trap shut?

‘What?’ screeched Brimo turning to look at Willow, her green eyes blazing with thunder.  ‘My sister has sent you?  It can’t be that important if she sends three miscreants to do her bidding!  Mind you, being down here does play havoc with her skin!’  The Overseer’s raucous laughs echoed around the room, then stopped abruptly.  ‘How do I know you tell the truth?’ she demanded, as she swept around to face Drake, her claw-like finger dangerously close to the end of his nose.

‘She gave me this,’ said Drake reaching for the Amulet of Isis but his fingers found only cold skin.  ’Damn!’ he cursed, as he remembered trading it with Arthur Tinks.  ’I forgot, I-’

The Overseer lurched at Drake and he froze still as her fiery hand felt the top of his chest.  He thought he heard a deep hiss, too low for many normal people to hear, as she removed her hand with a sneer.  Curiously the skin she had just touched felt icy cold, almost like it had been frozen using liquid nitrogen.  He looked down and there upon his chest was burned the image of the Amulet of Isis.

‘My sister has helped you too much!’ screeched Brimo.  ‘How dare she presume to send others down here to do her dirty work!  She disrespects me, always has!’  Brimo began to pace up and down ranting to herself.  ‘So, she wants to play games, does she?  Too precious to come down here and see me.  Sends these instead…insults me.’  Suddenly she stopped pacing and turned to face them, her eyes narrowed into slits.  ‘Hermes, you say?’

‘Yes,’ replied Drake.

Brimo stared off into the corner of the room.  ‘Hermes?  What could she possibly want from him?’  She turned to face them again, ‘What does Alchymia want from him?’

Drake studied her for a few moments before finally, he spoke.  ‘She wants to know where he hid The Emerald Key.’  Well, there was no point lying about it now, was there?  Not now Willow had dropped them in it.

‘I see,’ she sneered.  ‘You may seek out Hermes, he is in the Waiting Area.’

‘The Waiting Area?’ asked Drake, unable to believe it would be that simple.

‘Yes, still has unfinished business, poor fool.  You can talk to Hermes and only Hermes.  Do not talk to any other soul, or remove anything from the Waiting Area, if you do, you will be claimed by me to stay here forever, my sister cannot stop that, do you understand?’ asked Brimo, her eyes narrowing to slits again, like a snake waiting to strike.

Drake and Willow silently nodded.  Pyro was skulking at the back of the room, clearly terrified.

‘You will need these,’ said the Overseer thrusting three small cards at Drake, all with “Visitor” printed on them in bold black letters with the Overseer’s signature underneath.  ‘You have one hour to find Hermes and then to leave this place.  If you exceed that time limit your lives will be forfeit and you will languish here forever.  That is my price, my conditions, do you accept?’

Drake nodded his head once.  ‘And how do we get out of here?’

Brimo smiled broadly.  ‘As if I’m going to make it easy for my sister!  I will help you with one last thing though.  Take this.’  She reached into a small filing cabinet and took out an hourglass the size of a teacup, turned it upside down and gave it to Drake.  The liquid inside the glass began to drop down to the bottom part of the figure of eight, drop by silvery drop.  ‘I can give magickal gifts too,’ she cackled, ‘now be gone before I change my mind.’

Without any hesitation, they sprinted away from the Control Room, took the lift to the ground floor, ran across the foyer and into the yard, then followed the signs for the Waiting Room.

The Waiting Room was a single-storeyed building covered in a cream lime rendering with bay trees in terracotta pots dotted along its exterior.  A burly soldier, dressed in a dark blue uniform with a modified MP5, stood at its entrance.

‘Passes please!’ he barked, as the three of them approached.  Drake flashed the passes at him.  The guard grunted and stepped aside to let them enter.

The foyer was sterile in appearance with white walls, white ceiling and mottled floor tiles.  In the far corner a squat receptionist, dressed in a white dress two sizes too small for her with a white cap perched on top of her brown bun, sat behind a mammoth white desk, her chin barely reaching the top of it.  ‘May I help you?’

‘Er yes, we’re here to see Hermes.’

‘Hermes who?’

‘Trismegestus.’

‘Sign in please,’ she said, pointing a chubby finger at an opened book on top of the desk, its pages blank.  Drake grabbed the blue biro at the side of the book and did as he was told.  She flicked through the database on her palm held notebook, ‘You’ll find him behind the Cypress Grove, under a Fig Tree in front of the sacred cave in the upper left quadrant of the yard.’

‘Thanks!’ shouted Drake, and they raced out of the automatic double doors and into the yard beyond.

The yard was covered in lush green grass surrounded by Oak trees, their leaves burning red against the dead sky of The Underworld.  A row of mobility carts sat idle just outside the foyer.  ‘Come on, we haven’t got much time, let’s take one of these,’ said Drake jumping into the nearest one.  He gave the hourglass to Willow, turned the small silver key in the ignition, and the cart spluttered into life just as Pyro scrambled into the back.

The cart chugged through the Waiting Area, struggling with the different types of terrain it had to cover, from lush grass to mud, then to baked, rocky earth.  They passed the silent figures of Geishas making tea under the pink blossoms of cherry trees, a pirate shouting commands from the helm of his battle-scarred ship, its skull and crossbones flag in tatters and faceless Spirits trudging continuously through knee-high mud, their Tommy guns held aloft as invisible shells blasted the mud around them.

Willow held up the hourglass; only half of the silvery liquid remained.  ‘We haven’t got much time left.’

‘It can’t be much further,’ said Drake staring out into the distance to where ten armoured Gladiators practised their sword strokes against the backdrop of lofty cypress trees.

‘Look!’ squealed Willow, ‘A cypress grove!  That’s where Hermes should be!’

Dragon Rider – Part 39

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen Continued

The Iron Fortress

A tall woman, dressed in a khaki uniform, approached them.  ‘Welcome to The Processing Centre, may I help you?’ she smiled at them through thick red lips.

‘Yes, we’re looking for the Main Tower,’ said Willow.

‘Certainly, if you just follow the central path through the Processing Yard you will reach the Tower in a few moments,’ she said, pointing the way with a bright red fingernail.  ‘Don’t look so scared, the Afterlife isn’t like this, this is just the Processing Centre.  Here we have to make sure everyone reaches their correct destination as quickly as possible.’  She thrust a piece of paper at them, ‘Please fill in this questionnaire to tell us how we can improve your experience at the Centre.’

Willow took the paper from her.  ‘We will, thanks for your help.’

Drake, Willow and Pyro negotiated the yard easily, finding themselves at the foot of The Main Tower in a matter of minutes.  Willow discarded the questionnaire into a plastic bin at the side of the entrance before they crossed the wooden bridge over the moat of liquid fire, and entered the tower through the two automatic glass doors.

The foyer of the Main Tower reminded Drake of an ultra-modern hotel like the ones that lined the Business District in Devilsgate.  It was incredibly bright; row upon row of chrome spotlights dazzled from the ceiling, the rays bouncing off the polished black marble floor like dozens of miniature fireballs which had the curious effect of making Drake feel like he was walking on the night‘s sky.  In the centre of the room stood a statue of twisted chrome (An Angel in Contemplation read the silver plaque fixed onto its base) with several designer acrylic chairs arranged around it in a semi-circle.  The receptionist, an elegant brunette, sat behind a black granite desk polishing her nails.

‘Over there,’ whispered Drake, pointing to the steel elevator situated to the right of the receptionist.

The receptionist looked up briefly as Willow, Drake and Pyro made their way over to the elevator.  The phone rang and she looked away.  ‘Hello, you are through to the Main Tower, Tracy speaking, how may I help you?’

Drake scanned the chrome sign on the wall beside the elevator that listed all the various departments within the tower.  ‘Un-human Resources…Complaints and Appeals…The Exit.  I wonder if that really is the way out?

‘Makes sense that it’s in the Main Tower,’ said Willow, ‘we better remember that for later.’

‘Ah, here it is,’ said Drake, ‘the Control Room.’

They stepped into the elevator and the doors glided shut behind them.  ‘Which floor do you require?’ asked a chirpy disembodied voice.

‘Seven-hundred and seventy-seven, please,’ replied Drake.  The elevator ascended so quickly that it didn’t feel as though they were moving at all.

There was a sound like a balloon deflating and an unpleasant smell wafted around the lift.

‘Please refrain from that kind of behaviour in the lift,’ said the Lift-voice.

Pyro shrugged.  ‘What can I say?  I’m surrounded by iron!’

After what seemed like only a second, the elevator came to a stop, a bell pinged and the doors opened.  ‘Welcome to the seven-hundred and seventy-seventh floor, The Control Room.  Please enjoy your stay,’ chimed the voice.

‘What is it with this place; why is everyone so blooming-well happy? snapped Willow.

Drake shrugged his shoulders and then stepped out onto a small landing with large steel doors that slowly opened as they approached.  ‘Let’s go and meet Brimo.’

‘I might just sit this one out,’ said Pyro, slinking to the back of the lift.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Drake, pulling Pyro out by his collar.

‘Will you quit manhandling me?  What is it with everyone thinking they can order me around?’ said Pyro, grabbing back his collar and brushing himself down, although he refrained from flaring up and burning Drake.

Tentatively they stepped through the doors.

Colours leeched out into the darkness from the television screens that covered almost every available surface, each screen broadcasting its own unique image.  Drake could see the brunette receptionist picking her nose and an image of the lobby from which they had entered the Control Room, whilst other images were clearly beaming back at them from the Land of the Living, a small hour glass counting down in the right-hand corner of each of the screens.

‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ said a cold voice from behind a black leather chair in the centre of the room.  The chair swung around to reveal a youthful, but severe, looking woman with red hair tied in a bun on the top of her head.

Drake cleared his throat.  ‘Are you Brimo, the Overseer?’

‘I am.’

‘You’re Death?’ asked Pyro stepping closer.

‘Not exactly,’ said the woman, tilting her head so that her jaw jutted out, ‘I organise the practicalities, the collecting of the Souls, making sure they have the right paperwork, that kind of thing.’

‘Interesting,’ said Pyro nodding his head as he inspected the Control Room with his eyes.

‘What?  Don‘t you think a woman should be in charge of such an operation?’

‘I don’t think he meant that,‘ said Drake.  A fight with Death?  Now that seemed too much like tempting fate.

‘Women give life to the people of the world, it seems only right that a woman also takes it away, don’t you think?’  Brimo’s green eyes blazed, challenging them to disagree.

‘Er, yes I suppose so,’ said Drake.  Was that the answer she was looking for?  God, she was even pricklier than Alchymia!

Brimo rose elegantly from her chair and glided over to the wall of television screens.  ‘So what is so important to two living beings and one fire-djinn, that they risk life and limb to travel through The Valley of Death?  What do you want?’

‘We’re looking for someone who’s dead,’ said Drake, almost immediately regretting the words he had used.

Brimo snorted in derision.  ‘Well obviously,’ she said, her jaw tensing slightly, ‘there aren’t many living things here.  Name?’

‘Hermes Trismegestus.’

‘And what makes you think you can just stroll in here demanding to see one of my Spirits?’ said Brimo looking at Drake over her shoulder.

‘I-’

‘I should strike you down now and be done with you,’ she said, sweeping around to face them, ‘What arrogance you have shown coming in here and disrupting the balance of things!  And the mess you have made of the Forest of Suffering, do you know how long that forest has been there?’

‘Er-’

‘No, I didn’t think you would,’ said Brimo.  She stroked her thin fingers over her chin, ‘So, what to do with you?’

‘Alchymia sent us,’ said Willow cutting through Brimo’s train of thought.

Drake glared at Willow.  Why couldn’t she just keep her trap shut?

‘What?’ screeched Brimo turning to look at Willow, her green eyes blazing with thunder.  ‘My sister has sent you?  It can’t be that important if she sends three miscreants to do her bidding!  Mind you, being down here does play havoc with her skin!’  The Overseer’s raucous laughs echoed around the room, then stopped abruptly.  ‘How do I know you tell the truth?’ she demanded, as she swept around to face Drake, her claw-like finger dangerously close to the end of his nose.

 

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 Twenty-Three

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eleven

Escape

Willow grabbed Drake’s arm, ‘Look, Look!’ she cried, pointing at the sky.

Falkor hovered above them, like some primordial guardian angel, his lustrous azure body, almost invisible against the sky, sparkling in the mid-morning sun.  He roared defiantly, pinned back his wings and plummeted to the ground, his enormous jaws gaping open.  The air was thick with the smell of gas as blue-hot flames jettisoned from the back of his throat.  The sound was terrifying, like ten jet engines starting up.

The crowd scrambled for cover, screaming, as Falkor swooped in front of them, unfolding his azure wings and flashing his sabre-like fangs.  Scarface pulled Elvis in front of him to shield himself from the onslaught of fire.

Unfazed by the screaming crowd, Falkor gently landed on the cobbles, and stretched out his wings, allowing Drake and Willow to haul themselves onto his bare back.  Before the crowd could react, Falkor kicked back and propelled himself into the sparkling sky.

‘DON’T LET THEM GET AWAY!’ came the shouts from the crowd, as the Elders tried to put order to the chaos.

‘Pyro!’ hissed Drake.  He could just see the djinn’s bald head bobbing up and down as he made a run for it, as fast as his short legs would carry him, through the chaos of the crowds, to a dark alleyway and his freedom.

‘Leave him,’ pleaded Willow.

But it was no good, Drake was damned if they were going to lose Pyro and the Hand of Glory.  He didn’t have to say anything; Falkor was on to it before Drake had even finished thinking about capturing the djinn.

‘No!  Not again!’ screamed Pyro, running as fast as he could, but that wasn’t very fast as his legs had seemed to have stopped working the second he had seen the dragon heading for him.  ’AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!’ he screamed, as Falkor swooped over and scooped him up from the crowd, like an eagle grabbing a salmon from a stream, his muscular feet clamped around the top of each of the djinn’s arms.  In a beat of a wing they were once again ascending into the air and over the crowd which was now resembling more of a riot.

Once Falkor had reached a safe distance, Scarface threw Elvis to one side and clambered to his feet.  ‘Shoot that dragon!  Come on, what you waiting for?  Take him down!’ he ordered.  The boggarts immediately started shooting and the sky was suddenly alive with electricity, large bolts of lightning streaking from their stun guns, the blue tendrils crackling and fizzing millimetres from Pyro’s dangling body.

‘NO!  DON’T SHOOT AT THE DRAGON!’ screamed Pyro, ’I DON’T WANT TO LOOK LIKE A PASTA SIEVE!’

Luckily for Falkor, the boggart’s aim was abysmal.  It was just a shame, thought Drake, that they hadn’t managed to hit the djinn because that scream was starting to do his head in.

Drake peered down.  He could see the dwarves and other members of the crowd scrambling around, throwing whatever they could find into the air; shoes, stones and bits of rotting fruit, but they all missed Falkor and, instead, rained back down upon them.  He chuckled as a boggart grabbed Elvis by one of his ankles in desperation and threw him at the disappearing dragon.  The chubby dwarf failed to gain much height and instead plummeted back to earth, landing straight on top of the boggart’s head, knocking him out cold.

Within a few wing beats, Falkor had risen above the bizarre buildings of Nowhere and had cleared the town walls where the Security Goblins were trying, unsuccessfully, to load their cannons.  The Kraken was emerging from the moat, its slimy suckered tentacles slithering up the walls as it opened its gargantuan fang-filled mouth to catch the falling dragon, but Falkor was miles away before the first shot was even fired.

Drake waited until Falkor had cleared the Wild Mountains before he contacted Gizmo.

‘Gizmo, are you there?’ he said, pressing the button on the side of his watch.

There was a brief silence before Gizmo’s holographic form appeared before him, flickering like a ghost.  ‘Hiya.  See you’ve found Falkor then?’ said Gizmo, pushing his glasses back up his nose, the slight sound of frostiness in his voice.

‘Er…yeah,’ said Drake, ‘any more trouble back there?’

‘No,’ said Gizmo, shaking his head, ‘all’s quiet at the mo.  Is everything alright?’

‘Yeah, everything’s fine.  We need your help.  We need to get to New Haven, can you help me out and send a map?’

‘Okay, no problem; the map will be with you in a mo.’

‘Cheers Gizmo  Has Ailsa managed to find anything in Fenrik’s systems yet?’

‘No.  She’s been munching away but they’ve got it protected by one serous fire-wall, she came back an hour ago quite frazzled.  Didn’t take much to repair her though.  Oh, I nearly forgot, she managed to intercept some chatter before she got fried; it seems that that guy you picked up, er, Pyro wasn’t it?  Well, he’s been released already.’

‘Yeah, I know,’ said Drake looking at the petrified body of Pyro clamped tight in Falkor’s claws, ‘I’ve seen him hanging around.  Keep working on the computer Gizmo, and stay safe, we’ll be back as soon as we can.’

Gizmo’s image evaporated, revealing a rotating 3-D map.  Drake scanned the map, correlated Falkor’s trajectory and then pushed it into the corner of his vision with a flick of his eyes.

He could feel the pressure in his head again, he could feel the adrenaline surging through his body, plumping up his veins in his arms and on the back of his hands, and he could feel his hatred boiling in the pit of his stomach.  This was Fenrik Lasko’s fault.  It always was and always would be.

Until Drake finished it.

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 Twenty

Dragon Rider

Chapter Nine Continued

Foxes

‘You will listen now Drake, and listen good, for you will need all the help you can get.  There are things that you do not know yet, things that you will need to know if you are to travel to the Underworld and come out alive.  As I have already told you, you will need a key to gain entry into the other realm and, as you have seen this fire-djinn with a Hand of Glory, it makes sense for us to summon him now, to see what information we can gather from him.  If we are very lucky he may still have it in his possession.’

‘He’ll have hidden it,’ said Drake, huddled on his chair like a sulky child.

‘We will never know unless we give it a try,’ said Alchymia, turning her attention back to the spellbook in front of her.

‘Whatever.’

‘As I was saying, Willow,’ said Alchymia turning back to look at Willow, ‘the last time I summoned a demon was over one hundred years ago, so I may be a little rusty.  There are many ways to summon demons; some are benign, others quite evil, and, of course, all take different times to perfect and all produce different strengths of control.  Are you with me so far?’

Willow nodded enthusiastically as she drunk in every word Alchymia said.

‘As time is not on our side, I think it would be a good idea to do a quick summoning spell although this means we will not have full control over our subject.’  Alchymia pointed over to a table by the wall covered in small bottles of oils, jars of ingredients, and different coloured infusions, the long sleeve of her gown skimming the pages of the spellbook.  ‘Willow, would you collect together some of the infusions on the table over there for me?  The Come to me, and Protection drafts as well as the crushed dandelion, sweet woodruff and the cardamom pods, oh, and bring the small bronze cauldron over too, would you?’

‘Okay, got them,’ said Willow, glass bottles jangling as she brought the ingredients over to Alchymia.

‘Right,’ said Alchymia.  She clapped her hands together and the spellbook closed in front of her.  She pointed to the bed and the book gently took flight, flapping its way over to the other side of the room, coming to rest gently on it.  Alchymia rose gracefully from her chair, like a ghost.  ’Drake, if you wouldn’t mind?’

Drake stood up and moved to stand by Willow as Alchymia thrust her hands out, commanding all the furniture and books to slide to the edges of the room, leaving the bare, wood-stained floorboards free to perform magick.  With another flick of the hand she produced a white chalk stick from the air.

‘I gebannan fif-brond steorra e hring!’ she commanded, and the Chalk dropped to the floor as if guided by some invisible hand, and immediately began roughly marking the shape of a five-sided star, encompassed in a circle, onto the dark wood with thick, noisy strokes.  Once the pentagram was complete, Alchymia sprinkled all of the dry ingredients into the cauldron and then tipped in the strong-smelling Come to me draft and the blood-red Protection draft before placing it at the north point of the star.

Alchymia stood over the cauldron, ‘Fyrwylm!’ she exclaimed and the cauldron burst into life, hissing and spitting as the ingredients fused together in a bubbling mass of sweet-smelling orange goo.

‘I think we are ready,’ said Alchymia, nodding appreciatively as she stood back to admire her work.  She grabbed a small wooden box from a pile of boxes on the floor.  ‘Drake, if you wouldn’t mind holding these?’

Drake took the box from Alchymia and clicked it open.  ‘Iron filings?’

‘Yes, it is just a precaution, in case the djinn needs to be subdued for any reason.’

‘Iron makes them weak,’ explained Willow.

Drake looked at the small particles of black metal in the box and nodded his head in approval.  ‘Must remember that.’

‘Out of your mood now?’ asked Willow.

‘Maybe,’ he shrugged.

Alchymia stood just outside the summoning pentagram, the potion in the cauldron bubbling away at the top-most point of the star, its sweet-smelling fumes making the air hot and heavy.  She stood at the opposite side of the pentagram and lifted her arms as if in supplication to the Gods, exposing her delicate arms as the sleeves of her pale blue gown slipped past her elbows.

Alchymia closed her eyes and began to chant the words, ‘Aspryttan Pyro, I gebannan eow,’ over and over again, her voice barely raised above a whisper.  The white chalk stick began to furiously scribble Pyro’s name, over and over again, inside the pentagram as its edges began to smoulder like tinder when it first catches the flame.

Suddenly it went dark, the room lit only by the orange flickering light of the pentagram as it began to burn more brightly. Alchymia continued to chant the spell until, finally, the pentagram burst into flames, snuffing out a few seconds later as the air was sucked from the room.

It was difficult to breathe; Drake could feel his lungs aching as he fought for air, the hot, sweet-smelling fumes from the potion, still bubbling fiercely in the cauldron, were catching in his throat, making him want to gag.

There was a whistling sound, like a kettle coming to its boiling point on a gas hob, accompanied by a cool breeze as refreshing air was pumped back into the room.  There was a loud thump and the sound of someone cursing in the darkness in front of them.

Daylight flooded the room revealing Pyro bent double in the middle of the pentagram, dressed in brown chinos and a stained light blue shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his knobbly brown elbows.

‘Yeah,’ he screamed, to no one in particular, ’come on, you want a piece of me?’  He smacked his butt cheeks with the palms of his hands.

‘No!’ shouted Drake, as he bounded across the room and threw the small wooden box in his hands at the back of Pyro’s head.

‘Ow!’ said Pyro as he stood up, stroking the back of his head.  ‘What did you do that for?’  He had a puzzled expression on his face and he was swaying like a branch in a gentle autumnal breeze.  His eyes suddenly snapped shut and he crashed to the floor in a heap.

‘Drake!’ shrieked Willow, ‘What have you done?’  She ran over to where Pyro lay, ‘Look, he’s got a lump the size of the Orb of all Mystickal Magick!’

‘I couldn’t let him gas us all, could I?’ said Drake.

‘That was what the iron filings were for.’

‘Oh.’

Fulcanelli rubbed himself up and down the djinn’s legs, ‘I like him Mistresssss,’ he purred, ‘Can we keep him, pleaseeeee?  He looked at Alchymia with his cute green crossed-eyes.

Alchymia was holding a glass of dark amber liquid in her hand.  She swept over to where Pyro lay and bent down, taking his head in her free hand.  ‘Here, have some of this,’ she soothed, pouring the cool liquid into his mouth.

Pyro’s eyes flickered.  ‘Am I in heaven?’ he asked, a dopey looking expression upon his face.  ‘I can hear the Cherubs playing their harps!’  But then he threw his hand up to his throat and gagged.  He continued to clutch at it, grimacing.  ‘Ah! What have you done, witch?  Whiskey and hemlock?’ he screeched, as he jumped up and backed into the corner of the room, his face full of fear.

‘What am I missing?’ asked Drake.  He was now standing in front of Pyro like he was a prize attraction in a Freak Show.

‘Whiskey and hemlock,’ croaked Pyro still clutching his throat.

‘It will neutralize the fire aspect of Pyro’s nature whilst we perform the interrogation-’

‘Interrogation?’ shrieked Pyro, quickly hiding his hands behind his back.

Alchymia glided over to Pyro, the hem of her blue gown smudging the chalk markings on the floor.  She grabbed the top of his head and thrust a small celestial-blue Angelite crystal into his mouth and clamped it shut with her hands.  Once she had counted to fifty-three she released him.

‘What…are you…doing?’ spluttered Pyro. spitting the crystal out on to the floor and clutching his throat again with his knotty hands.  ’What is it with everyone?’ he cried, ‘How much has one djinn got to put up with?’

Alchymia grabbed Pyro’s face in her hands and inspected it, turning it this way and that in her long fingers, before turning her attention to the blue crystal.  She picked it up off the floor and rolled it around in her hands.

‘So?’ asked Drake.

‘He has not been put under a Silence Spell but was Bound quite tightly to whoever summoned him previously.’  Alchymia swept over to Pyro, grabbing his face again in her cold hands.  ’Who ordered you to steal the Hand of Glory?’ she demanded, her eyes locked onto Pyro’s.

‘What?’ said Pyro, shrinking further into the corner of the room.

‘The Hand of Glory.’

‘I don’t know.  I already told Drake-’

‘Have you still got it?’ asked Alchymia, her eyes boring into him.

Pyro nodded weakly, his eyes wide with fear.  ’In my right trouser pocket.’

Alchymia’s body relaxed, she sighed and turned to look at Drake.  ’He still has the Hand of Glory, but as for who sent him to steal it, he was telling the truth, he did not see.’

‘Can I go now?  I’m having a really bad couple of days,’ sighed Pyro as Fulcanelli began rubbing himself against his legs.  ’I think…I need to sit down.’

‘We’ve got trouble!’ shouted Willow peering out of the window from behind the thick grime.

Alchymia and Drake swept over to her.  ‘The dwarves,’ hissed Drake.

‘I was hoping we would have more time,’ said Alchymia, spinning on her heels, ‘I have so much I need to tell you.’

‘Time’s all used up,’ said Drake, ‘we’ve got to go.  Will you be okay here?’

Alchymia laughed, ‘I think I can look after myself.’

‘Okay,’ replied Drake, ‘is there a way out of the back?’

‘Yes, Fulcanelli will show you in a moment.’  She pointed to the cat who was still beside Pyro, licking his paw.  He stopped and heaved, ejecting a large orange fur-ball from his mouth onto the wooden floor.  ’But first I must tell you all that I can.  Promise me Drake that you will not leave Willow.  You will need a witch to get through the Underworld alive.  This,’ she said, producing a roll of brown parchment from within the flowing sleeve of her gown, ’is The Scroll of the Dead.  It is what the Dwarves have come to Nowhere for.  Only with this and the help of a witch can you hope to enter or leave the Underworld because only a witch can read it.  This parchment contains all of the spells you will need to successfully reach the Iron Fortress.  Guard it with your life.’  She handed the scroll to Willow.

‘Alchymia, we really need to go,’ said Drake, looking out of the window.  He stooped down and grabbed his Zephyr and Willow’s rucksack.

‘You will also be needing this,’ said Alchymia, holding out a necklace with a silver pendant suspended from the bottom of the chain.  The pendant looked like an angel to Drake, with its silver wings protectively curled around a vial of red liquid.

Drake threw the rucksack to Willow, who caught it in one hand before placing the scroll of parchment into it.  He slung his Zephyr on his back and took the necklace.  ’What is it?’ he said, placing the chain around his neck.

‘It is the Blood of Isis,’ said Alchymia, ‘an Amulet to give you protection against my sister, Brimo.’

‘Your sister?’  Why the hell hadn’t she mentioned this before?

‘Yes, Brimo is The Overseer, the Queen of the Dead.  Be on your guard Drake because she will try and take your life.’

‘I will, thank you,’ said Drake.

Alchymia placed her icy hands on either side of Drake’s face, he could feel the cold penetrating deep into his skin.  ’Your father would be proud of you, you have grown into a strong and brave young man.  Be careful and next time, do not leave it so long before you visit me.’

‘I won’t,’ said Drake, his face turning slightly red, ‘and thanks, for everything…and I’m sorry, for earlier.’

Alchymia smiled, but it was a sad smile which did not reach her eyes.  ‘Be careful out there Drake.  And one more thing, what do you want me to do with the djinn?’

Drake laughed devilishly.  ‘I’ve been thinking about that; I’m going to take him with us.’  If I can’t find the book on my own, well, he may as well come along for the ride too.

‘Drake,’ said Willow, her voice betraying her exasperation, ‘you can’t force him to come with us-’

‘I can and I am.  Besides, you know what they say about keeping your enemies close.  When they summon the little shit for the Hand of Glory, I want to know.’  He strode over to where Pyro was cringing in the corner of the room and bent down so that his face was level with Pyro’s.  ‘Now Pyro, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way, that’s completely up to you.  Either you come quietly or I carry you out of here, the choice is yours.’

‘I’ll come quietly,’ mumbled Pyro, a look of resignation on his face as his jowls drooped low.  But Drake could see a look in his eye which made him suspect that, as soon as he could, he would try and get even.  But he’d be ready.

‘Do not worry,’ said Alchymia, holding up a purple candle bound in gold ribbon, ’with this candle I have created a basic binding spell.’  She clicked her free hand and it sprang into life.  ’It will prevent him from hurting you.  That is, I am afraid, all I have time to do.  If he thinks about, or is compelled to hurt you whilst this candle is still burning, he can only inflict minimal damage.  The effects of the whiskey and hemlock will wear off very shortly.  Fulcanelli, if you would show them the exit.’  Alchymia waved her arms in the air and the bed on the far wall disappeared to reveal a doorway leading into a bare room, dark except for small shafts of light escaping from the edges of a boarded-up window.

Drake grabbed Pyro by the collar.  ‘Ow, you little-’

‘Oops, I guess the whiskey has worn off, but I can only cause minimal damage because of the candle.’  Pyro shrugged, ‘It’s just an allergic reaction I get to annoying people.’

Drake scowled and roughly shoved Pyro through the doorway.

Fulcanelli stopped abruptly by the door.  ‘The stairsss down are behind thissss doorrr.’

‘But Alchymia told you to show us the way out,’ said Drake.

‘And I haveeee…must gooo…Mistress in dangerrrrr.’  Without another word the cat shot back across the room like a rocket and was gone.

Drake’s body tensed, his hands flexing at his sides.  He turned his body slightly and looked back to where they had come from, then he looked back at the door.

‘What’s your problem?’ asked Pyro.

‘You!’ snapped Drake pushing Pyro out of the way.  He smacked the door with his boot and it blasted outwards onto a steel balcony with a staircase that zigzagged down to the street below.  Warm sunlight flooded the room, dazzling off the wet roofs of the timber houses lining the street outside.

Drake stepped out and closed his eyes, letting the sun’s rays warm his face.  It had been so long, he thought, Nowhere might be primitive, but at least the sun does shine here.  In the distance, he could hear the Healers’ chants rising and falling on the breeze as they made their rounds.

‘Excuse me, do we really have time for sunbathing?’ asked Pyro.

There was a loud bang from somewhere below.  Drake snapped his eyes open and tilted his head to the side, analysing the commotion.  There was another bang, the sizzling of laser fire and the rhythmic drumming of boots on floorboards.

The dwarves and boggarts.

They had forced their way into the building.

And they were advancing.

Fast.

Dragon Rider – Part Fifteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eight

Alchymia and the Cross-eyed Cat

A cat, the size of a Labrador dog, stood on his two hind legs behind Willow, his body glowing orange as if it were made of pure fire, his two piercing green eyes studying Drake closely from under his crazy orange mane.

‘Fulcanelli, what….what did you do that for?’ spluttered Drake, his voice struggling to hide his irritation.

Fulcanelli shrugged, then began to lick his paw.  ‘Because I cannnn,’ he purred.

Drake threw his hands to his head.  ‘But Fulcanelli…we don’t have time for this-’

‘Mistress wants to see youuuu.  I will take youuuu.’  He pointed at Willow, lying like a baby on the floor, ‘She can’t seeee.’

‘Surely there were easier ways of doing that,’ said Drake, rubbing the top of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.  Things were never simple; Willow, the cat (if that’s what he was), why couldn’t they just leave him alone and let him get on with it?

‘Damn it, Fulcanelli!’ cursed Drake, as the cat leapt, without warning, out of the room like a lightning bolt.

Drake looked at Willow lying on the floor.  Why the hell hadn’t she just stayed at home?  He rolled his eyes and scooped her off the floor where she hung limply in his arms, a small trail of drool trickling from the corner of her mouth, gleaming like a slug trail.  The faint hint of a smile curled his lips; he couldn’t wait to tell her about that.

Fulcanelli moved like a firestorm tearing up a forest as he weaved his way through the dark backstreets.  Drake followed the orange afterglow with Willow still dangling in his arms.  He eventually found the cat sitting outside the door of a shabby four-storied house that looked as if it hadn’t been lived in for decades; bare pockets of brick lay exposed to the elements where the rendering had been eaten away and most of the glass was missing from the windows.

‘You took your timeeee,’ said Fulcanelli grooming his paw.

Drake scowled; of all the annoying beasts he had ever met…

It was a few moments before Fulcanelli moved, he rapped the sun-bleached door three times before pushing it open.  He bounced into the house and disappeared up the staircase at the far end of the room.

Drake scoured the area before he followed the cat into the darkness.

Damp, decay and death oozed from every surface; from the mottled wallpaper to the basement peeping through the crumbling floorboards.  With only thin slivers of moonlight to illuminate his way, Drake struggled across the rotting floor and up the stairs after Fulcanelli.  Gaping holes smiled at him as he climbed, waiting for him to fall into the rats that scuttled and scratched beneath them.

The second floor was also dark and as rotten as the floor below.  Grey net curtains flapped loosely over the glassless windows and withered leaves gently scraped across the floor with the ebb and flow of the breeze.

With no sign of Fulcanelli, just the distant sound of purring coming from somewhere above, Drake continued upwards.  He emerged into yet another room, a red door standing open at its far end, the purring, louder now, was coming from the other side of it.

Drake walked carefully through the narrow doorway and into a warm and homely room, smelling of lemon and tarragon, that clearly had an enchantment on it since it was larger than the whole house itself.  A simple wooden bed, shrouded in layers of thick patchwork blankets, lay at the centre of the far wall, surrounded by stacks of leather-bound books, jars and scrolls of parchment.

Alchymia sat in front of a roaring fire to the left of the room with Fulcanelli resting his head on her lap, purring loudly as spittle erupted from his mouth.  At the other side of her, a wooden table strained under a pile of books, a chopping board, fresh herbs and a myriad of bottles and containers filled with different coloured oils and infusions.

‘Drake,’ said Alchymia, her eyes fixed on Fulcanelli, ‘you can place Willow on the bed.’

Drake sighed with relief; Alchymia was, at least, safe.  He said nothing but stumbled over to the bed and tipped Willow on to it and let the blankets swallow her up in layers of warmth and comfort.

‘Come and sit down,’ said Alchymia softly, pointing to a chair that she had magicked beside her.

Drake slumped heavily onto it.

‘Tea?’

Drake nodded once and a small dark wooden table appeared in front of him, with a steaming mug of milky tea on top of it.  He took the mug and wrapped his cold hands gratefully around it.

‘It has been quite some time Drake, so I can only assume that you are in trouble.’

Drake nodded again, his eyes unwilling to look at her, to betray his shame.  Why was it that she was the only one who could make him feel like a little child again?

‘I also assume that it has something to do with the fact that the dwarves have ransacked my home?’

Again Drake nodded, he could feel the tiredness taking over his body.

‘What are they looking for?’

Drake looked up and sighed.  ‘I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s probably the same thing we’re looking for.’

Alchymia looked at him, eyebrow arched, waiting for his answer.

‘The Emerald Key,’  he said quickly, before gulping down a mouthful of tea.

Alchymia’s eyes widened momentarily.  ‘I see…’ she said, turning her attention back to Fulcanelli, running her fingers through his orange mane, ‘and why are you are looking for The Key?’

‘I need to find it, I have no choice,’ he said, studying the tea in his mug.  ‘Someone wants it and if I don’t find it for him, well, let’s just say that’s not an option.’  He sighed heavily.  ‘I need your help Alchymia.’