Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-Six

Dragon Rider

Chapter Twelve

Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I can’t…I’m not strong enough-’

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

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

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

‘But-‘

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

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

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

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

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

‘You awake?’ asked Willow, sarcastically.

‘Yep.’  Unfortunately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Oh, it’s like that is it?’

‘Like what?’ asked Drake looking at Willow.

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

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

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Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-five

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eleven Continued

Escape

A pale figure stepped forward.  Drake could see his nostrils flaring as he sniffed the air like a wolf.  Behind the figure stood a white coach, the light he had seen in the darkness had been from the single gas lamp that hung from its helm.  Six pure white kelpies, horse-like creatures who could ride as fast as the wind, waited nervously at the front of the coach, their hooves clawing at the mossy floor.

‘It would appear that you are not dead,’ growled the figure, his steel coloured eyes locked onto Drake, his body stiff and unwelcoming.

Drake regarded the figure with wary eyes.  ‘No, we are very much alive,’ he replied.

The figure’s lip curled in distaste.  ‘Quite irregular, I usually only ferry dead people-‘

‘It’s okay,’ said Pyro, ‘I think I would rather walk, get a little travel sick.’  He made a vomiting gesture to underline the point.

The figure recoiled in disgust, his pale skeletal hands clutching at his chest.  ‘You have such a foul creature as a djinn with you?’

‘Yes, unfortunately,’ replied Drake as Pyro shrugged, a weak smile glancing upon his face.

The figure turned back to face Drake and bowed his head slightly, ‘I am Charon the Ferryman.  I assume you want to get to the Iron Fortress?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, I’m afraid I cannot help.  The clue is in my Job Description.’ said Charon, a slight curl on his lips.  ’I ferry DEAD people,’ he continued, speaking as if to a two-year-old.  He spun on his heels, the tails of his white coat splaying around him, and made to leave.

‘Excuse me!’ said Willow, flapping the scroll in the air to get Charon’s attention, ‘Excuse me!’

Charon turned to look back over his shoulder at Willow.  ‘Yes?’

‘Sorry, hi,’ said Willow offering her hand, ‘my name’s Willow-’

‘Get on with it!’  hissed Charon, ‘I’m very busy, you know.’  He spun around.  ‘Do you know how many wars are on at the moment?’

‘No,’ Willow shook her head, ‘sorry.  But erm, that doesn’t matter because actually, if you read Section 7, sub-section 1 a, of the Underworld Act, 1200 B.C, you can ferry people who are alive through the Valley of Death, as long as they satisfy certain requirements.’

‘What?’ screeched Charon.

‘What are you talking about?’ asked Drake.

‘Look it says here,’ said Willow, pointing at the Scroll of the Dead, ’You need a Totenpasse, such as The Scroll of the Dead-’

‘A what?’ asked Drake, unable to read any of the strange black symbols which had appeared on the scroll.

‘A Totenpasse, a Passport to be shown in the Underworld,’ she turned back to Charon flapping the Scroll of the Dead in his face before beginning to read from it again, ‘a valid reason for visiting-’

‘A valid reason?’ said Charon, his face screwed up like he was chewing a wasp, ’What valid reason could you possibly have?’

‘Our lives are in Mortal Peril,’ replied Willow, pointing at the words “Mortal Peril” in the text of the Underworld Act which had magickally appeared upon the scroll, ’back in the Land of the Living.  Oh, and you need to have a witch present.  That would be me.’

‘You, a witch?’ snorted Charon.

‘Yes,’ said Willow putting her hands on her hips, her face lifted slightly in a “come on then, let’s argue” kind of way.

Charon looked as if the anger in his body was about to explode, and, despite how pale he was, his face was beginning to glow red.  He turned and walked over to his carriage.  ‘Get in!’ he hissed.

The three of them ran down the granite steps not wanting to wait a minute longer in case Charon found a way to change his mind.  At the bottom the earth was spongy, its surface peppered with a dazzling array of precious stones and minerals.  Huge diamonds, the size of footballs, sat alongside boulders of vivid blue azurite and chunks of violet amethysts.

Drake tapped Pyro on the head as the djinn bent down to pluck a diamond, the size of a tennis ball, from the floor.  ‘Leave it,’ he snapped.

‘You can’t blame a djinn for trying,’ said Pyro.

‘Exactly why did I bring you?’ asked Drake more to himself than Pyro.

‘I don’t know, you didn’t say,’ shrugged Pyro, ‘but I would take a guess that you find me scintillating company and probably would miss me if I wasn’t here.’  A huge smile spread across the djinn’s face.

‘Yeah, whatever,’ said Drake opening the coach door.  He grabbed the djinn by the collar and threw him roughly into the coach.

‘He’s a bit lacking in personality isn’t he?’ said Pyro, as he jumped up and down on one of the red leather seats to check out the springs before he made himself comfortable.

‘Who?’ asked Willow turning around to face Pyro, her leg tucked under her other one.

‘Charon,’ whispered Pyro, pointing to the front of the carriage.

‘Well, he is the bloke that ferries dead people to the Iron Fortress,’ said Willow.

‘Willow, will you stop encouraging him,’ said Drake looking out of the carriage windows at the forest of yew, willow and oak trees looming in front of them, their branches twisted in a macabre embrace, an impenetrable barrier, like soldiers guarding the Fortress, where no branches moved and no leaves stirred.

As the carriage neared the Forest the trees closest to them were pulling their ancient roots out from the earth and were shuffling aside to create a small space just wide enough for the carriage and horses.

‘YAH!’ shouted Charon and the kelpies began their long trek through the Forest of Suffering.

 

Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-Four

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eleven Continued

Escape

They’d been travelling for a while when Drake heard a small high-pitched bleep and the map flashed up spontaneously before his eyes.  He checked the time.  It was 11.05 am and they were very close.  A small green dot began to grow and pulsate on the map, corresponding with a small mound of earth and bricks that lay due south of them, around one mile away; the entrance to the Valley of Death.

Drake switched the map off with a quick tap on his wristwatch and then wrapped his hand into Falkor’s thick turquoise crest fur, pulling it gently to the right.  Falkor reacted instantly, banking right and slowly losing speed and altitude as he glided in a circle down to the ground.  Just before landing, about three metres above the grass, he dropped Pyro’s stiff body and then touched down a short distance away.

Willow leapt from Falkor’s back and raced over to Pyro’s body.  ‘I think we’ve killed him!’ she said, crouching over his motionless body.

‘Maybe you should give him mouth-to-mouth,’ said Drake, strolling over to them, a broad grin on his face.

‘Do I have to?’ she replied, looking at the djinns flaky blue lips.

‘Well, maybe you should see if he’s got a heartbeat first.’

She touched the base of Pyro’s neck with her fingertips and recoiled in horror as the djinn flared up.  ‘OW!’ she shrieked, jumping up and blowing on the tips of her fingers to stem the burning pain.

Pyro began rolling around on the floor, laughing hysterically, small beads of petrol running from the corners of his eyes and embers of black and orange sparking from his arms and face, like bits of burnt paper.  ‘HA HA HA!’ he laughed, ‘If you could see your face, “I think we’ve killed him,”‘ mimicked Pyro.  ‘Priceless.  Like Macaroni cheese with extra cheese sauce,’ he said, wiping the black tears away with his crooked fingers.

‘Serves you right,’ said Drake, looking at the horror on Willow’s face.  ‘Looks like the Protective Spell is wearing off, I’ve always told you never to trust a djinn, they’d rob their granny for a few quid.’

Pyro jumped up from the floor, shoving his hands on his hips.  ‘How dare you!’ he said puffing his chest out, ‘I would never rob my granny, not for a few quid.  Macaroni cheese, maybe, but not a few quid.’

Drake rolled his eyes and turned to look at the mound, its prickly surface peppered with the dying remnants of wild grass, cornflowers and poppies.  A thick screen of emerald-green yew trees surrounded it on three sides like a veil of mourning, obscuring it from vision, except on the open side where a narrow pebble pathway led to the stone-lined entrance.

Thunder exploded in the distance and silver lightning forked across the blackening sky.  A black crow swooped from the gathering storm clouds and came to rest on the great stone lintel that jutted out at the top of the doorway.

‘This place is giving me the creeps,’ said Willow, wrapping her black hoodie tightly around her.

Drake could feel it too.  It was like they had been transported to another time, another place totally removed from their own normal world.  For a fleeting moment, he thought he could feel the souls of those that had gone before close to the surface and hear their voices whispering, calling to him, on the breeze.

The sky, pregnant with rain, exploded above them, dispersing the murmurs of the dead as it spewed out its heavy load.

The crow cawed once before it launched itself off the lintel and disappeared into the Stygian mouth of the mound.

‘Falkor can’t fit through there, you’re going to have to stay here and keep an eye on him,’ ordered Drake, tendrils of rain running down his face like fat fingers, ‘I’ll take Pyro with me.’

Willow shook her head violently.  ‘No way!’ she said holding her rucksack over her head like an umbrella.  ‘You need a witch for the spells, remember?  Falkor can look after himself.’

‘I’m with her,’ agreed Pyro, the rain hissing and spitting as it bounced off his skin, ‘dragons can usually look after themselves.  I don’t know, could be wrong.  But if you want me to stay here-’

Drake turned and grabbed Pyro’s collar, ‘You want me to get Falkor to look after you, Pyro?’

Pyro raised his knotty hands in the air, ‘No, no, I’m fine.  I’d rather come with you.  Anyways, I don’t fancy being turned into dragon toast today, thank you,’ he said, as Drake began to push him roughly towards the entrance.

‘Who’s gonna watch your back?’ asked Willow, chasing after Drake and Pyro.

Drake snorted.  ‘I think I can look after myself, thanks.’

‘I think he can,’ said Pyro, as Drake dropped him unceremoniously by the entrance.

‘Will you shut up!’ snapped Drake.

‘Only trying to help,’ said Pyro, trying to peel his wet shirt from his skin.

Drake studied the entrance of the mound; it looked strange, unlike anything he had ever seen before.  It was darkness, but thicker, as though you could grab it in your hands.  He reached out to touch it, but his hands couldn’t penetrate the black.  It was as if the dark were like a concrete wall, an invisible barrier to the other realm which couldn’t be touched.

‘How’re we going to get through that?’ asked Willow, her bag still over her head as torrents of water spilt over its edges like a waterfall.

Drake spun around.  ‘I’ll work it out,’ he snapped, wiping his wet black hair from his face with the sleeve of his black coat.

‘What about Pyro?’ she asked, ‘maybe he can light the way in?’

‘Who me?’ shrugged Pyro, ‘I can’t get through Stygian darkness-‘

‘Stygian what?’ asked Drake, shouting over the roar of the sheeting rain.

‘Stygian darkness.  It’s a protective shield which can be used as a gateway to another realm.’

‘And you’ve known this for how long?’ asked Drake, his face turning crimson, his fists curling and uncurling into tight balls at his side.

‘Forever.’

‘So why the hell,’ spat Drake through clenched teeth, the water cascading over his body, ‘didn’t you say?’

‘Well, you told me to shut up.’

Drake huffed violently and hit his forehead with the heel of his palm.

‘Okay,’ said Willow, ‘everyone just take a deep breath.  Right, Pyro, how do we get past it?’

‘The Hand of Glory.’

Drake took a deep breath and held out his hand.  Without another word, Pyro reached into his pocket, took out the Hand of Glory and gave it to Drake.

‘So, how do we light it?’

‘So I can speak now?’ asked the djinn.

Drake paused and put on a fake smile.  ‘Yes. So?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘It’s okay,’ said Willow, ‘I bet there’s a spell on that parchment Alchymia gave me.’  She grabbed the scroll from her bag then handed the rucksack to Drake to hold over her whilst she unfurled it.  ’Would you just look at that,’ she said, her eyes full of wonder as she took in the perfect illustration of Drake, Pyro and herself stood outside the entrance to the Underworld.  ’Show us the way,’ she whispered to the scroll and black symbols began to burn upon the parchment.

‘Ah-ha,’ she said, rolling the parchment up and stuffing it under her arm.  She grabbed the Hand of Glory from Drake’s other hand.  ‘Okay,’ she muttered to herself, ‘You can do this.’  She took a deep breath.  ‘Lichte!’ she commanded, concentrating the spell’s energy on the tiny wick at the top of the candle.

At once the candle burst into life bathing them in a gentle golden glow.

‘Impressive,’ said Pyro.

‘Now you’ve got to let me go with you.  You’ll need my magick again.’

‘She’s right you know,’ said Pyro.

Drake scowled at him then grabbed the Hand of Glory from Willow.  ‘Whatever,’ he said shrugging, before turning his attention to the entrance.  He held the Hand of Glory up and peered into the darkness.  ‘We’re going to have to crawl, the roof slopes down.’

The three of them crawled into the narrow passageway, Drake making sure that Pyro was safely sandwiched between himself and Willow to avoid any chance of him escaping.  They crawled along the roughly carved slabs of rock that lined the passage.  An icy breeze drifted up from within the mound, carrying with it the smell of damp earth and rotting leaves.

‘Can you see anything?’ asked Willow, her voice echoing through the tunnel.

‘Not much,’ replied Drake, ‘It seems to be going on forever.  I can’t even see the end yet.’  He was grateful for the light that the Hand of Glory was providing but it was nowhere near enough to light the way ahead and the Fire Djinn was less than useless in these conditions.  ‘Just keep close.’

‘Are we there yet?’ asked Pyro, his face growing paler and paler as the oxygen became thinner the farther they crawled into the tunnel.

Drake’s anger was beginning to bubble near the surface again, the urge to throttle the djinn was becoming stronger and stronger as the minutes passed.  His knees were sore from the jagged stone, his hands numb from the cold.  Water droplets trickled from the ground above, drip, drop, like an eerie drum and all the while the djinn was nagging him, asking him when they’d get there.

It was impossible to tell how long they had been incarcerated within its walls when Drake came to the end of the tunnel, its ragged edges coated in the golden light of the Hand of Glory; time flowed differently here, neither forwards or backwards but undulating somewhere between the two in an obscure place, neither light nor dark, dead or alive.

Drake held up the Hand of Glory, his eyes straining to make out anything beyond the end of the tunnel, but he could only make out the sea of blackness hanging there like a cloak.

Slowly he pulled his legs around so that they were in front of him, his boots scraping against the wet muddy walls of the tunnel as he did so.  His head almost touched the dripping roof as he sat up and shuffled forwards, easing his legs off the edge, the light from the Hand of Glory dancing upon the wet surface of the cave but still unable to illuminate what lay ahead.  Not that it mattered to Drake; this was the path he had chosen, and there was no going back now.  He lowered himself gently off the edge until he felt something solid beneath his feet, a staircase of some kind, roughly hewn out of the earth.

His heart seemed to stop for a second as the call of a crow pierced through the darkness.  For some reason, he found the sound oddly comforting, like a beacon in the darkness, a call waking him from the dead as his heart started beating again.

Drake moved towards the direction of the crow, stumbling slightly as his feet tried to find the edge of the steps.  He descended further into the blackness, willing something, anything to appear.

‘What’s happening Drake?’ asked Willow from somewhere behind him, her voice muffled and distorted.  He turned to look at her, to tell her not to worry but she’d been lost to the darkness too.

The crow called to him again and he turned to look for it, but everywhere he looked was black.  He lifted his hands to his face.  He could feel the waxy Hand of Glory but he couldn’t see it or his hands anymore.  He looked down at his body, but that too had disappeared, gobbled up by the darkness.  His mind was all that was left, but he could feel that that too was becoming weak and disorientated as the darkness played with him.  For the first time, in a very long time, fear was creeping over him like a thick black fog.

It was then he saw the light.  He tilted his head, his eyes narrowing as he studied the small golden nugget of light in front of him, about the size of a fire-fly.  It was swaying from left to right, like a light on a ship, and it seemed to be getting bigger like it was travelling towards them at great speed.  He could hear the gentle tingling of a bell in the distance and then, that was gone, swamped by the sound of an earthquake as the ground beneath them began to shake.

Suddenly the whole of the landscape opened up before them, like someone had simply pulled the cover off, allowing them to see, for the first time, the haunting beauty of the Valley of Death in all its terrifying glory: The two vast Mountain Ranges of Sorrow and Regret ran along either side of the valley, their summits shrouded in veils of thick black cloud, the Forest of Suffering lay in front of them, its gnarled trees knitted together in a dance of death and then, at the end, the great Fortress itself, black and bold against the  cobalt sky.

Suddenly a movement at the bottom of the granite steps caught Drake’s eye.  He spread his arms out defensively, his body poised for attack if need be.

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-two

Dragon Rider

Chapter Ten

Fresh Meat

 

Fenrik snapped the Grimoire in front of him shut and looked over to where Vigor stood, eyeing himself up in the full-length gilt mirror in the corner of his office.

‘It won’t be long now,’ he said, resting his hairy hands on top of the Grimoire.

‘Oh brother, I hope so,’ said Vigor, stepping closer to the mirror and pulling down the corners of his black eyes to inspect them, ‘every day I seem to be shrinking a bit more.  My skin is becoming so tight that it looks like I’ve wet myself every time I walk.  I’m beginning to think it will never-’

‘You don’t trust me?’ asked Fenrik, clenching his fists tight and pounding the book’s cover like a gorilla.

Vigor turned around to look at Fenrik, his sunken eyes almost disappearing into their sockets, ‘Of course I trust you, it’s just that…we have tried so many different ways…and nothing has worked so far.  I don’t know how long-’

‘No more of this self-absorbed nonsense!  I will not have it Vigor.  Do you understand me?’

‘Yes, brother.’

‘I brought you back to life, didn’t I?  Do you think I would let you die again?’

‘No…I…sorry brother,’ said Vigor bowing his waxy head, which was resembling the skull candle holder on Fenrik’s desk more and more every day.

Fenrik leaned back in his black leather chair and folded his hairy hands on his huge stomach, his hairy belly button peeping through a gap in his light blue shirt.  ‘Lately, I have,’ he said, twirling his thumbs around themselves, his thick gold rings glinting in the light from the tallow candle, ‘been thinking a lot about your predicament and I think I have finally found the perfect solution to our problem.’

Vigor looked up at Fenrik and clasped his hands in front of him, ‘Yes brother, go on.’

‘Your body is fading fast and up to now, we have found no cure for this, despite trawling through every Grimoire I can get my hands on.  But in this one Vigor,’ said Fenrik tapping the book in front of him, with the red dragon on its cover, ‘has provided some new insights.’

‘Yes?’

‘It seems that the dead bodies our demons exhumed were not suitable because they had no Life essence still left in them at all.  That is why the bodies provided by the Shadow Walkers have proved unsuitable too.’

Vigor nodded his head.  ‘But they were fresher.’

‘But not fresh enough to allow your essence to pass over into the new body,’ said Fenrik.  He leaned forward in his chair, and rested his clean-shaven chin on his hand, his thick gold bracelet falling beneath his shirt sleeve.  ‘What if,’ he said, his eyes locking onto Vigor’s with a burning intensity, ‘We use fresh meat?’

‘I don’t follow,’ said Vigor.

‘Funestus Black.’

‘Funestus Black, brother?’

‘Yes, what if, instead of using a dead body as a vessel for your life force, we simply transfer your essence into a living person?  Funestus would be the perfect candidate.’

Vigor tried to smile but his skin was stretched too tightly over his skull.  ‘That is perfect,’ he said, clapping his hands together in glee.  ‘Do you think it will work?’

‘As soon as the complete Emerald Key is in my hands we can do it.  The Red Dragon,’ said Fenrik, patting the book’s cover in front of him, ‘alludes to a spell that we can use for the procedure but the details are a little sketchy.  There are some preparations we can make but we will need the completed Key before we can proceed any further.  The Key will give us the magick and the instructions on how to do it.  I have no magick of my own, I can only summon demons, but once we get the two halves of The Emerald Key re-united, all that will change.’

‘Let me fetch it.  Let me fetch it!’ said Vigor, clapping his hands together excitedly like a seal.

‘Patience brother,’ said Fenrik, holding up a hand to silence his brother, ‘Only if Drake fails will I allow you to fetch it.’

Vigor nodded his head, his hands moving in front of his body like wriggly spiders.  ‘Oh brother, to have a new body!’ he said, turning back to look at his reflection in the mirror.  He tried to smile, flashing his jagged teeth and then ran his skeletal hand through his wispy hair.  ‘And one with such beautiful hair and such pretty eyes!’

 

 

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.