Dragon Rider, so far, so good? – A review

I am thoroughly enjoying revisiting my very first novel, Dragon Rider. Some of it is making me cringe but, overall, I’m actually really proud of what I’ve written. It’s also allowing me to see how far I’ve come with my writing.

And, if I can progress in my writing, so can you!

What I don’t like:

Cringey, cringe – I’ve noticed a few errors. For example, I have used the word took when it should have been taken (eek! That’s embarrassing).

I’ve also noticed that some of the sentences are a bit stiff and long.

I do like to connect separate sentences with commas! (I did it so you don’t have to! Do not repeat my mistake!!!).

Falkor

How I picture Falkor.

And, maybe the story is a tad confusing? That’s one of the pitfalls of writing a story; sometimes because you’re the one in charge of the plot and you know the whole story you don’t know for sure if you’re actually explaining it to the reader properly (this is where beta readers come in handy).

It needs a good edit.

What I do like:

I still love how I have set the story up. Right from the opening lines, the tone is  dark and mysterious:

“A scream exploded somewhere in the distance but broke off before it reached its terrifying conclusion.  Another life sucked dry, thought Drake, as the bitter smell of blood rolled in on the mist, along with the dead leaves and the smell of decay.  He pulled his black hood over his head and slunk back into the shadows like a black panther stalking its prey, his vivid green eyes alert, his body pumped for action.

There was movement in the alleyway opposite, a slight rustle of paper, a scraping sound.  He stopped breathing momentarily, his hands curling into tight balls at his side as he listened harder.  Had his senses failed him, were the Shadow Walkers really that close?”

Personally, I think that works but what was your impression of the beginning of the story?

Drake Blackthorn, my main character is, in my opinion, written well (but I would say that, wouldn’t I?). Willow was going to be my main character. This all changed when I began writing; Drake just kept popping out at me, almost begging me to use him as the hero. I did as I was asked and I don’t regret the decision. He’s angry, he’s distrustful of people and faeries, he’s hell-bent on revenge, stubborn, and a general pain in the ass but I love him!

Willow

This is a picture I did of Willow Ravenwood.

I like the way the story begins with a chase scene as Drake and his dragon tease the dwarves as they compete to capture Pyro, the fire-djinn, who has a massive bounty on his head. When I wrote this scene I was using action films as inspiration. Most good action films begin with some sort of chase scene, don’t they?

And, Falkor, Drake’s dragon; where have I got his name from? Does anyone recognise it? It’s from one of my favourite childhood films; A Neverending Story.

My favourite character by far though is pyro. I think, even to this day, he’s probably the best character I’ve ever written. He’s so funny and I wish I had a friendly fire-djinn just like him to keep me company.

The setting is working too. The dark brooding city of Devilsgate compared to the wondrous magic of Nowhere. I do worry about myself sometimes though when I reread some of the weird and wacky ideas I’ve come up with!

Blackthorn - Revenge of the Dragon Rider

The first cover for Dragon Rider with its old title “Revenge of the Dragon Rider” under my pen name Nikki Morgan. I don’t use the pen name anymore so I can blame her for the awful book cover. Wtf was I thinking? That cover is shockingly shit, lol!!!

I’m actually quite chuffed when I look back on what I wrote all those years ago. If anything, this has actually put a fire in my writing belly. I think I might get it edited all over again and try and improve it because, for my first attempt, I don’t think it was half bad at all.

sketch of Drake

A really bad, unfinished, drawing of Drake

But, I’m not the one that matters. What do you, dear reader, think of Dragon Rider? What do you love and, perhaps more importantly, what do you hate?

Please, let me know!

 

 

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Dragon Rider – Part Seventeen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eight Continued

Alchymia and the Cross-eyed Cat

Alchymia tore her eyes away from the pages of the book and picked up Drake’s empty mug.  She swirled the tea residue around the bottom of the mug, studying the patterns it formed, her brow wrinkled like a newly ploughed field as she turned the mug this way and that.  She dropped the mug back onto the table before consulting the book again.

After a short time, Alchymia clapped her hands and a pack of vividly coloured tarot cards materialised before her, suspended mid-air as if some invisible hands were holding them.  With a wave of her hand, the cards began to dance.  She snatched a card from the pack; it depicted a man in bright purple robes brandishing a wand; The card of the Magician Hermes.

Alchymia leaned back in her chair and sighed heavily.  She clapped her hands once more and the cards disappeared.  ‘I trust you Drake, but I cannot say the same for this Funestus Black.  I do not know him or his motives.’

‘I know that but-’

Alchymia continued.  ‘The Emerald Key is a very powerful artefact which can be used both for works of extreme good and extreme evil.  Such a dangerous object could bring about devastation on a scale not seen in this dimension before.’

‘That’s why I can’t let Fenrik get it, you know what will happen if he finds it first.’  Drake’s stomach constricted, he could feel the bile rising up his throat.

‘Yes, indeed.’  Alchymia’s eyes flicked back to the book and she sighed again, ‘But it is out of my hands-’

‘That’s it?  You’re giving up on us?’

‘No.  I mean, it is out of my hands.  I too have no say in the matter; The Fates have decided I must tell you what I know.  Unfortunately for you, Fenrik will prove more of a problem than you had hoped.  He already possesses a portion of The Key-’

‘What?’ said Drake digging his fingers into his legs as he leaned forward in his chair.

‘The Aradian Codex,’ she gestured to the book floating before her, ‘tells me that when Hermes Trismegestus-’

‘The book’s Guardian on earth?’ asked Willow.

‘Yes.  When he was given The Emerald Key, Hermes made plans to make sure that this most dangerous text was entombed with him when he died, so that, even in death, he might protect its secrets.  However, all did not go to plan, for when his body was laid to rest someone attempted to tear The Emerald Key from him.  Fortunately, only a part of the text was stolen and this is what has been handed down through generations of what are now called Guardians, although they were not really Guardians-’

‘Because they were only looking after a stolen part of the book?’ asked Willow.

‘Exactly, but truth be told, they probably never even realized that they were Guardians of a stolen object; that information was probably lost through the sands of time.  It also explains why no one Guardian has ever been able to fully exploit the book’s enormous power, for although certain information can be accessed in its current state, if you know how to translate it, the text is only truly powerful when it is read altogether, as one.’

‘Until now,’ spat Drake.  He jumped up from his seat, his fists clenched, his jaw tight.  ’He wants to reunite the two parts, no wonder he’s trying to find it, you’ve got to help us-’

‘Sit down,’ commanded Alchymia, her anger, the hag hidden deep within, momentarily flashing across her face.

Drake did as he was told.

‘The Codex’s great wisdom cannot pinpoint the exact location of Fenrik’s stolen part of The Emerald Key.  It seems he has a very powerful protective spell placed upon it, but it can tell me where the other part is kept, but, be warned, if you continue on this quest you will face a perilous journey that will affect you in ways that you could never imagine.  You will face grave danger from things that no living being should ever have to encounter.  Do you think you are strong enough?’

‘I have to get that Book,’ said Drake.

‘I cannot stand in your way, Drake.  The Fates have made this your quest, it is up to them if you achieve your goal or not.  To find the lost part of The Emerald Key you must venture through the Valley of Death.’

‘The Valley of Death?’ spluttered Willow, her voice breaking on the last word.

‘The Underworld…’ said Drake, ‘Why?’

‘The Underworld?’ asked Willow, her face beginning to drain of colour.

‘Hermes, as its original Guardian, still holds half of The Emerald Key and until he can reunite it with the missing half, his spirit clings on to this life, not daring to pass through into the Afterlife.’

‘Isn’t there anyone…you know…alive that can help us?’ asked Willow, her face now as white as a unicorn’s horn.

‘Unfortunately not.  Hermes still has his portion of The Book,’ said Alchymia, running a pale hand over the book floating in front of her, ‘it has not been destroyed, no, for then Hermes would not be a spirit, he would have been released from his servitude.  There is no other way.  To find The Emerald Key you must travel to The Valley of Death and get him to relinquish his half of The Book.’

‘Can’t we just summon him?’ asked Willow trying to disguise the panic rising in her voice.

‘Yeah, Willow’s a witch.  I’m sure she could help summon him,’ added Drake.

Alchymia raised an eyebrow.  ‘You are a witch?’

Willow shrugged.  ‘Not trained so I don’t possess a Book of Shadows, but I can do the odd spell or two.’

Alchymia considered this new information.  ‘No.  Even if you were an excellent witch, summoning spirits is far too dangerous.’

Drake rolled his eyes.  ‘Others, the Demonologists, they do it, it can’t be any more dangerous than going to The Valley of Death, can it?’

‘There is a difference between summoning Demons and the Elementals, which are alive, and the spirits of the dead that dwell in the Underworld.  When one summons a Demon, it is only the Demon you are calling that can travel to you.  This is not so for spirits; some are malevolent creatures who can attach themselves to the dead spirit you are summoning, so, even if you only call forth the spirit of Hermes, there may be others that escape through the crack you create in the Spirit World.  Whatever escapes and whatever havoc they create would be your responsibility and hence you might end up destroying the very things you are trying to protect.  Where would the sense be in that?  No, there is no choice; to get the information you need you will have to speak to Hermes directly.  You must charm him, apply to his ego.  As the Guardian of The Emerald Key, he will not want to give it up easily.’

‘How do we do that?’

‘That, my dearest Drake, is something you have to find out for yourself.’

 

Dragon Rider – Part Sixteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eight Continued

Alchymia and The Cross-Eyed Cat

‘You think that I can help you locate it?’ said Alchymia, still running her hand absentmindedly through Fulcanelli’s thick mane.  He purred and tilted his head, offering her his ear.

Drake’s stomach tightened and he was suddenly aware of beads of sweat forming on the back of his neck.  He hadn’t seen Alchymia for years and here he was expecting her to drop everything to help them.

And if she didn’t want to help them, there would be no arguing with her.

Alchymia was not all that she seemed.  Drake thought of her as a woman because it made her easier to comprehend, but she was much more than that.  Alchymia was a Light Being; not quite solid but fluid, like running water in a river.  But there was also a dark side to her that Drake did not wish to see and he hoped that in coming here, he wasn’t going to meet that side of her again.

‘Who wants you to find the book?’  Alchymia raised her head as she spoke, her face expressionless, her voice tinged with a touch of frost like the first days of winter.

‘Funestus, Funestus Black.’  Drake shifted in his chair, ‘The Head of the Enforcerer’s Office in Devilsgate.’

Alchymia raised an eyebrow.  ‘I would have thought someone of such importance would have plenty of people at his disposal, so why has he chosen you?’

‘He didn’t choose me, I kind of got dragged into it.  Look, it’s a long story and the only thing that really matters is that, if I don’t find that book for him, a lot of people will be in real danger.’  He sighed and shook his head, ‘I can’t let that happen.’

‘No.  No, you cannot.’  Alchymia leaned back in her chair, her brow heavily creased.  ‘I suppose the next question to ask is, why Funestus Black would want such an artefact-’

‘To stop Fenrik Lasko getting his filthy hands on it.’  Drake bit out the words.

‘and what he intends to do with it,’ continued Alchymia.

Drake dropped his mug on the table, the milky dregs splashing over the side like little teardrops.  ‘I don‘t know,’ he said, slumping back into his chair.

‘But what if -‘

‘There can be no buts, I have to find The Emerald Key,’ said Drake, running his fingers through his shaggy black hair.

‘And your desire to help Funestus Black is not because of your vendetta against Fenrik?’ asked Alchymia.

‘Vendetta?’

‘Fenrik and his brother remain unpunished for your father‘s death-’

‘You think I’m doing this just to get back at Fenrik?’

‘Are you not?’

‘No.’

‘So this hatred you carry for them is not clouding your judgement?  You really have no other option than to find The Emerald Key?  To find it for a man of which you hardly know anything?’

‘I need to find that book, if I don’t, Fenrik will, and the entire human population of Devilsgate will be destroyed.  Come on Alchymia, you know what he’s like-’

Alchymia held up her hand to silence him and Drake did not argue.  He knew better than to do that.  Instead, he watched in silence as she rose from her chair and floated, like a ghost, over to a stack of books by the bed, strands of her silvery-blue hair stirring around her like leaves kissed by a summer’s breeze.

With a quick flick of her hand, the pile of ancient books rose into the air releasing a heavy brown volume, decorated with strange symbols in gold leaf, from the bottom of the stack.  As the other books rearranged themselves into a neat pile, the book flapped into the air like a bird and followed Alchymia back to her chair, where it floated down in front of her, stopping a few centimetres above her lap.

She clicked her fingers and the brittle pages began to flick backwards and forwards.  With another click, the book fell still and she ran her eyes over the open pages.  ‘Hello Willow,’ said Alchymia, her eyes not moving from the yellowing pages of the book.

Willow sat up and rubbed the back of her head.  ‘What just happened to me?’ she asked, wincing as she found the small bloody lump there.

‘Ah, that would be Fulcanelli,’ explained Alchymia, pointing to the cat, ‘I told him that I did not want you to see where I was hiding until I had met you.  Unfortunately, he used a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  He is a little theatrical, a simple blindfold would have sufficed.  Please, come and join us,’ said Alchymia, pointing to a mahogany chair with a plump red seat that had materialised next to Drake.

Willow stumbled over to the chair and sat down.  Her eyes sparkled with delight as Fulcanelli circled around her, rubbing himself against her legs.  Eventually, he settled and looked up at her with his big green, crossed-eyes.

‘He’s so cute!’ she cooed.

Dragon Rider – Part 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.’

Dragon Rider – Part Fourteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Seven Continued

The Towers of Learning

The next floor was chaotic, not at all like Drake remembered; the two burgundy sofas had been slashed, their foam innards spewed up over the dark wooden floor.  Ripped pages of spell books and ancient vellums were strewn all over the place and smashed jars of pickled scorpions, mugwort and other magickal ingredients had been swept off the shelves.  The small oak table, that Alchymia used for reading the cards and scrying, had been cleaved in two, the scrying ball discarded in its ruins.  In the corner of the room, a small Rarog was whirling around and around the jagged glass remains of what had been its home.

‘They’ve been here!’ Drake spat.  The dwarves’ grubby little hands had been rifling through Alchymia’s stuff like burglars.  He stooped down and picked up the large scrying ball lying in amongst the broken ruins of the table; a large crack spiked across its surface.  It felt cold to the touch, lifeless, like the house, like its Soul had been ripped out.

‘But we heard the dwarves saying they hadn’t seen her, so she’s got to be safe, hasn’t she?’ said Willow as she scooped the Rarog up in her hands.  She began to hum Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to it, a favourite lullaby of Wind Spirits, and immediately it began to slow down.  Once it was fully relaxed and had morphed back into its usual form of a minuscule green man with pointy green ears, she grabbed an empty jar and placed the Rarog carefully into it.  She screwed the gold top back onto the jar, made sure Drake wasn’t looking and slipped it into her rucksack.

‘I don’t know.  We don’t know where she is, or if she’s okay.’  He shook his head and dropped the ball.  It landed with a dull thud and rolled towards the corner of the room.  ‘Without her, we‘re lost.’

He turned to look through the window; The view of Nowhere had been replaced by a surreal landscape of a barren land scattered with the skeletal remains of dead trees.  Above them, a purple sky whorled menacingly and heaving clouds drenched the landscape in silver rain.  Fork lightning streaked across the sky illuminating the faint wisps of beings that glided eerily over the black mud.  These were Alchymia’s enchanted windows, designed to entrap the viewer into staying there, glued to the scene for eternity.

But Drake didn’t see anything through those windows, he could only see the thoughts that were trapped in his mind.  He clamped his fists into tight balls.  Damn it, what were they supposed to do now?

He rubbed his forehead and tried to straighten out his thoughts.  The pain was building into a brain exploding crescendo.

‘We’ve got to find her,’ said Drake sifting through the rubbish, ‘there’s got to be a clue here somewhere-’

Suddenly, and from nowhere, a bright flash of orange leapt across the room like lightning and headed towards Willow.

Drake turned quickly, just as the golden blur began to circle her, burning like fire.  ‘Don’t move!’ he hissed.

‘What the?’ asked Willow, her eyes struggling to keep up with whatever it was that was circling her.

Once, twice it circled around her and then, it stopped and for the briefest of seconds the figure of a large cat could be seen blazing at the heart of the fire.  It leapt up behind Willow and gave her a sharp slap on the top of her head with its huge padded paw.

‘No!’ shrieked Drake as Willow’s legs buckled under her and she crashed to the floor unconscious.

 

Dragon Rider – Part Thirteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Seven Continued

The Towers of Learning

The impossibly tall timber buildings, with their magickal extensions jutting out here and there, hemmed them in on either side like a prison, a thin slice of the dark starry sky was the only thing visible overhead.

Silence hung between them, like a cloak, as they approached the top of the hill, its apex marked by an ancient stone gateway depicting The Angry Ones brandishing scales, scissors and swords as they passed their Judgement.

Drake strode under the great stone arch and almost immediately his head felt like it was going to explode; he could feel pressure building at the back of his eyes and his nose throbbed like it’d been broken.  There was a popping sound in his head and bile rose up his windpipe and into his mouth, its acrid taste burning as it travelled upwards.  He wanted to speak, to let Willow know what was happening but he couldn’t form the words.  Somehow he managed to keep putting one leg in front of the other until the feeling passed and the nausea subsided.

The Purg Atrium, as it was known, opened out before them like a flower bursting into bloom, a mind-bending, vertigo-inducing example of Nowhere’s ingenuity; how else would such a vast square fit into such a small space?  The Elders of Nowhere had wanted a large square to dispense their unique brand of justice and lack of space was not going to stop them.  They had, with the help of very strong ancient magick, the slaughter of several thousand Nature Spirits, the sacrifice of ten virgins and the death of the Master builder in mysterious but very auspicious circumstances, made sure they had got it.

And as it had cost a small fortune, bankrupting several well-off families and resulting in many lawsuits (most notably from the families of the virgins and the Master Builder), The Elders made sure it was worth every penny by using it.  A lot.  The evidence of this was plain to see; The chair, with its rusty iron shackles and chains, was covered in thick, gloopy layers of congealed blood, the rows of empty wooden stocks were still caked in the slime of rotting fruit and vegetables thrown that very morning, bodies, at various degrees of decomposition, still hung from the gnarled branches of the evil-looking Purga Tree next to fresh nooses waiting to be filled, and the bloated body of a middle-aged man, dressed in what looked like a nappy, still floated face-down in the waters of The Great Fountain of Truth.

Drake looked at Willow; she was pale and sweaty like she was going to be…

A pile of vomit catapulted from her mouth, landing in a big splat on the floor, splashing over her pumps.

‘Are you okay?’

Willow nodded weakly, cradling her stomach with her hands.

‘Sorry, should’ve warned you about that, but -’ he stopped as Willow glared in his direction.

‘It’s only a little further,’ said Drake changing tack, ‘we‘ll be there soon.’  If he was honest, he didn’t want to linger in the square too long himself; too many horrific memories stalked him here.  He waited until she had flushed her mouth out with water before putting his arm around her to help her across the square.

‘I’m fine,’ she snapped, shrugging him off.

‘It’s just through there,’ he said, pointing to a small passageway to the left of a notice board covered in Wanted posters.

They hurried across the square, not wanting to focus too much on the gory detail although the smell of rotting flesh seemed to be clawing its way inside them, forcing itself upon their senses.  As they neared the other side a yellowing poster caught Drake’s eye; it showed the face of a small boy with a black marking around his right eye who was wanted for the theft of a dragon and various counts of vandalism.  Drake smiled to himself, is that all I’m worth, five thousand Asses?

‘Does the whole of this town smell like death and urine?’ asked Willow, covering her nose and mouth with her hand.

‘Yep, this is about as good as it gets,’ said Drake, leading her quickly through the slimy passageway, the green moss squelching under their feet like a thick mouldy carpet, until finally, they stepped out into the Mystickal Plaza of All Mystickal Magick.

The Plaza was shaped like a six-sided star and was surrounded by towers and buildings of different colours, shapes and sizes.  A large blue orb rotated and undulated at its centre about eight metres from the ground, thin tendrils of blue light stretching out from it, like long spindly fingers reaching out to each of the towers.

Willow’s mouth fell open, her eyes widening as she walked, her pink hair standing on end as they passed close to the orb.  ‘The legendary Orb of All Mystickal Magick,’ she gasped, her finger tracing a virtual line from the orb to one of the towers, ‘and those, those are the Towers of Learning.  When a Mystick studies under the Mystickal School of Magick they have to travel the Seven Steps to Fulfilment.  Each time they pass a module their tower miraculously grows taller, adding another level to their knowledge.  Only when the next level reveals itself can they start to study its secrets.’

‘Yeah, all very interesting but can we just find Alchymia please?’  Bloody girls.  One minute they were having a go, the next they were off in a world of their own.

Willow stood frozen to the spot.  ‘Oh my god, look at that,’ she said pointing to a carved stone tree with a trunk as thick as an average sized house.  Its branches supported the rooms of learning that the Mystick had already studied.  At the top of the tree a small light had begun to sparkle like a diamond; the next room of learning being born, like a new star.  ‘Isn’t it beautiful?  I wish I could learn magick like that.’

Drake pretended not to hear and continued walking, hoping that Willow might get the hint and follow him.  He could hear her prancing behind him, gasping and ooh-ing like they were watching a fireworks display.  The architecture and magick of Nowhere was lost on him.  He’d seen the darker side of the town; its underbelly; the true character of the place that was nothing like the gleaming structures of wood, stone and other-worldly materials that most of the Mysticks chose as an outward demonstration of their intellect.  The same intellectuals who turned the other way as men and magickal beings were systematically tortured and butchered under their noses.

The only exception to this was Alchymia, the only being in the whole town whom Drake respected.  She had been the only one who had tried to help when Falkor had been shackled to the floor in the Purg Atrium, the only one who had protested as the Elders and the dwarves made their preparations to slaughter the last dragon in England and the only one who stopped Drake wiping this godforsaken town out of his memory for good.

Drake liked to think that Alchymia’s tower was a representation of the woman herself; it stood out in its simplicity and towered above any of the structures in the Mystickal Quarter, its apex lost in the canopy of the dark starry night.  It was the width of a small church and was made out of polished Hematite which reflected the stars from the sky, making it look as if the tower had been fashioned from the Universe itself.

A sign hung from a single nail on the wooden door.  It warned visitors to beware of the cat.

‘Be careful when we meet Alchymia,’ he warned Willow, a faint smirk on his lips, ’she isn’t all that she seems.  Oh, and beware of her cat.’

‘Her cat?’

‘Yeah, it‘s got issues and Willow-’

‘Yes?’

‘Don’t look out of the windows.’

‘Anything else?  Can I breathe?’  Willow placed her hands on her hips.

Drake rolled his eyes and turned to the door.  ‘Something’s wrong,’ he hissed; the door was lopsided, hanging off its hinges like someone had partially kicked it in.  He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck tingling, his gut reaction telling him to be very, very careful.  He raised his finger to his mouth to tell Willow to be very still and very quiet.

His eyes flicked back and forth from the door to the shadows, but he could see nothing, his eyes duller and less sensitive now he was without Falkor.  He could hear nothing unusual, just the low buzz of the orb humming gently in the background.

As sure as he could be that it was not an ambush, he lightly touched the door and it swung limply inwards revealing the dark and empty reception room beyond, dominated by a spiral staircase.  The whole room was lit only by a trail of twinkling tea lights rising up the staircase.

Tentatively they entered, their eyes scanning the shadows for movement.  In silence, they walked over to the staircase and began to climb up to the first floor.

The front door banged shut.  Drake’s heart jumped into his throat and he immediately froze where he stood.

He could feel Willow tensing behind him as she clamped her hand tightly around the bannister to steady herself.  They stood perfectly still, listening. But all Drake could hear was the pounding of the blood in his ears.

It must have been wind, thought Drake, as he began to slowly move up the stairs again.  But he felt jumpy, his heart still racing in his chest.  He was far too on edge, what the hell was wrong with him?

Dragon Rider – Part Twelve

Dragon Rider

Chapter Seven

The Towers of Learning

The dwarves?  No, he must be more tired than he thought; why the hell would they be in Nowhere?

Drake turned his head slightly, his emerald green eyes scanning the location from beneath the safety of his black hood.  Got them.  Yeah, just as he’d thought; it was the dwarves and they were standing outside the Devil’s Head Pub, laughing and joking with a group of dreadlocked boggarts.

What the hell was going on?  He turned away sharply, his body tense, the blood pounding in his ears so loudly that it was hard to think straight.

They couldn’t find him or Willow here, but if they did?  No, he couldn’t think about that now; he had to focus.  The dwarves had too many friends in Nowhere; it was, after all, the Elders of Nowhere who had invited the dwarves to join in the competition to hunt Falkor down and slaughter him in front of the baying mob.  Fortunately, with Alchymia’s help, Drake had stolen their prize and robbed them of their glory.

But why were the dwarves here now?

Was it just a coincidence that they were in the same place as Drake at exactly the same time?  Had they just come for the festivities?

No.  Not possible.  Drake knew for a fact that they rarely strayed from Devilsgate these days.

Drake’s stomach tensed, he could feel a ball of stone in his gut.  They had to be after Alchymia.  But why, and what did they want with her?  Was it to do with The Emerald Key?  And were they indeed working for Fenrik “The Spider“ Lasko as he suspected?

He looked at Willow.  Her amber eyes stared back at him, defiant and waiting for action.  But Drake couldn’t afford a showdown here, it was too dangerous.

At that moment a group of Healers, cloaked in the black robes of the order, appeared to the right of Drake and Willow, blocking Drake’s view of the dwarves as they glided past, chanting and swinging their sweet-smoking incense bowls.  Drake took his chance and pulled Willow into the group hoping that, once they were hidden by the sea of cloaks, they could safely sneak past the dwarves and onto the path that snaked up the hill to Alchymia’s tower.

But suddenly Drake stopped, the hair on the back of his neck raising like the hackles of a dog.

What was that?  What had Scarface said about Fenrik?

He looked over towards Scarface who was handing over a large wad of money to a spindly boggart with a gold ring dangling from the end of his long nose.

‘Consider it done, Scarface, consider it done,’ said the boggart, fingering the money as drool formed in pools at the corner of his lopsided mouth.

‘If you find them, you know what to do.’  Scarface grinned, revealing his yellow teeth.

The boggart stuffed the money in the back pocket of his leather trousers.  ‘Don’t worry, no one will know,’ he said, placing a large hairy hand on Scarface‘s shoulder.

‘And, while you’re at it,’ added Scarface, ’when you do find her,’ but he stopped mid-sentence, pulling a stubby finger across his throat.

The boggart nodded his dreadlocked head in agreement, a wicked smile lighting up his face, his black teeth just about visible from under his hairy lip.

The anger whipped up inside Drake with the ferocity of a tornado.  Stupid dwarves.  And Fenrik…  He curled one hand into a fist and cupped it in his other hand.  What he wouldn’t do to wipe that smile off Scarface.  If only he was in Devilsgate he’d go over and sort them out right now.

Drake’s head snapped around.  Damn it, where did Willow and the Healers go?  He was quite alone, exposed to the dwarves.  He clenched and unclenched his fists at the side of his body, unsure of what to do, his eyes scanning the crowd, searching for Willow.

Got her.  She was standing just a small way off by a stall selling animal chains and shackles, her eyes hunting for Drake.

Suddenly her eyes locked onto his.

Drake pulled his hood as far over his face as he could, dropped his gaze to the muddy floor and began the short, but very exposed, walk to her, every step feeling like it was taking a year.

‘HEY YOU!’

No.  No.  No!  Drake stopped, his heart thumping wildly in his chest like a big bass drum.

‘HEY YOU!’

Drake flexed his hands at the side of his body, preparing himself for the fight.  Slowly, he turned his head to meet Scarface’s gaze.

‘HEY YOU, FREAK!  Fetch me some beer,’ said Scarface to a small gnome, dressed in black lederhosen with knee-length grey socks, who had appeared in the crooked doorway of the pub under a mountain of beer jugs.  He jabbed at him with his leather boot and the gnome flew through the air sending the jugs and the beer smashing to the floor.  There was a roar of laughter as the gnome struggled to his feet, his grey candy floss beard now dripping wet and clinging to his chin.  Scarface waited until the gnome had managed to stand up before sending him flying again with another sharp kick to his bottom.

With Scarface’s attention clearly elsewhere, Drake hurried past them and over to Willow.  She turned away from him, her face as moody as the sky over Devilsgate.  She waited until he had passed her before she followed him up the hill and away from the fight that was now in full swing outside the pub.

Once they had reached a safe distance she spun around on her heels, her eyes blazing with fire.  ‘What happened then?’ she snapped.

‘Nothing,’ said Drake, his fists still pumping at his side.

‘Did you want them to catch us?’

‘No,’ said Drake, holding his hands in the air like he was surrendering.  ‘I overheard them talking, so I stopped to listen and when I turned around you were gone.’

Willow stared at him for a moment, the defiance still written on her face.  What the hell had happened to her since he had left?

‘Why are they even here anyway?’ she asked.

‘I think they’re after the book; they were talking about Alchymia.’

Her eyes narrowed for a brief moment, then finally, she relaxed.  ‘We need to find it first then, don’t we?’  She turned and walked off up the hill, away from the sound of smashing glass and cracking wood.