Dragon Rider – Part 47

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eighteen Continued

Reciprocal Damage

‘What did you just do?’

Drake spun around to see Willow sitting up, nursing her head like she’d got a hangover, dirt patches smeared over her face.  Impressive, didn’t last long, he thought.  ‘I was just helping Falkor,’ said Drake, not meeting her gaze, knowing that this was not what she was getting at.

‘Did you just drug me with your music?’ she asked, as she jumped up from the floor.

‘How do you know about the music?’

‘What do you think I’m stupid?’ she bellowed, hands on hips.

Drake shrugged.  Something told him that, at some point in the future, he was going to pay for that.  Heavily.

‘Do you think that just because you walked out of my life ten years ago I don’t know anything about you?’

Drake didn’t know what to say.  He looked away.  This wasn’t the time for this conversation, he’d got Falkor to sort out.  But he wouldn’t tell her how bad things were.  He couldn’t.

‘I have been searching for you, getting any information I could, hoping that one day I would find my big brother again!’

He could feel the lump of ice in his chest where his heart should be.  It was choking him from the inside out.

‘I..’ she looked away, her big brown eyes hidden behind her pink fringe, ‘I didn’t know about…your father.  Did Fenrik really murder him?’

Drake nodded.  He wasn’t going to talk about this.  He shrugged and managed a weak, ‘I’m sorry.’

‘For what?’

‘For taking you out with the music.’

‘Hmph!’ fumed Willow as she stomped towards Drake, her eyes blazing with fury.  She smacked him hard on the shoulder.

‘What?’ asked Drake as she stomped past him.  ‘You were collateral damage.’

‘Thanks,’ she snapped.

‘I had to take them out, didn’t I?’

‘Not when I was just about to smack the ugly one again!’

Drake scratched the side of his head.  The ugly one?  He couldn’t see any difference if he was honest.

‘So, how did you know he was working for Fenrik?’ she asked, in a slightly gentler tone.

Drake took a deep breath and steadied himself; he could feel a burning sensation in his limbs, the lactic acid building up in Falkor’s muscles.  ‘I,’ he bit down on the pain, ‘I didn’t for sure, but seeing him, like that, all crazy and with the dwarves, it all kinda fit together.  I suppose, deep down, I always knew.’  But, Funestus was, if he was truly honest with himself, a means to an end.

‘So what’s the plan?’

‘Can you fix Falkor?’ asked Drake, pointing to the gash on his belly.  God, he hoped she had some kind of spell or something; he could feel Falkor weakening at a sickening pace.  ‘It looks quite deep and he’s quite weak.’  He would not tell her just how bad this was.  He couldn’t do that to her.

Willow stooped under Falkor.  ‘It looks nasty.  I don’t know any Healing Spells, I could try the Book of Shadows?’

‘The one you got from Arthur Tinks?’

Willow bit her lip and nodded her head, ‘I know it’s a risk but it’s all I’ve got.’

‘Okay-’  Shit.  Well, if that’s all they had.

‘You’d really let me practice magick on Falkor?’

‘I trust you.’

Willow looked at him with one of those “I’m not buying it” looks that really freaked him out.

‘Okay, so I don’t trust you that much but, like you said, it’s all we’ve got,’ said Drake, shrugging.

‘Thank you for at least being honest,’ she snapped back, shrugging the bag off her back.  Before the bag was off she hit her forehead with the heel of her hand.  ‘I don’t need the book,’ she said, ‘not when I’ve got these!’  She threw her bag to the ground and fetched the leather necklace from around her neck.

‘The mermaid’s tears!’

‘You don’t have to sound so happy,’ she snapped, as she yanked the cork stopper from the vial with her teeth.  She handed the necklace to Drake and he poured some of the shimmering liquid onto her hands.  She rubbed the solution into the palms of her hands before placing them on Falkor’s underbelly and then focused her thoughts upon healing his wound.

A golden light radiated from the tears on her hands, a thin thread of healing magick which penetrated through Falkor’s flesh, knitting his wound back together and making him stronger.  Once she had finished she stepped back and admired her work, a big smile lighting up her face.

Drake could feel the strength return to Falkor’s body, he could feel the magick running through his veins, cleansing both Falkor and himself.  He studied the spot where the wound had been; there was a single white scar running across Falkor’s underbelly which looked as if it had been there years, not a matter of seconds.  Falkor shifted his weight and flexed his wings then shattered the tumbling darkness with a thunderous roar.

‘Wow,’ said Willow studying the afterglow of the tears on her hands.

‘You’ve done a good job, thanks.  He looks as good as new.’

Willow‘s face quickly turned to thunder again.  ‘So what do we do with him?’ she asked, poking at Funestus’ head with her pump.  ‘We should keep him tied up here, let him rot,’ she spat.  ’When I think that he’s the Chief Enforcerer and he’s been helping Fenrik all this time…’  Willow sighed, ’It just makes my blood boil.’

Drake bent down and rolled Funestus’ body over.  ‘I’ve got a better idea.’

Willow stared at Drake, her head tilted and eyes narrowed.  ‘What?’

‘I’m letting him go-’

‘Are you out of your mind?’  Willow grabbed Drake’s shoulder and forced him off the ground.  ‘He’s dangerous-’

‘Hey, relax,’ said Drake putting his palms up, ‘We can use him to lure Fenrik out.’

‘Lure Fenrik out?  We’re not in some stupid action film, this is real life, Drake!  Those kids are depending on us but you’re too messed up in there,’ said Willow jabbing at Drake’s temple with her finger, ‘to care about that.  I know he murdered your father Drake, but your obsession with him is going to get us all killed!’

‘I’m not, listen-’

‘No, you listen.  You have half of The Emerald Key,’ she said pointing to the book, ‘the bit that Fenrik is missing.  Just destroy it!’

‘I can’t do that.  We let him go, then we get Fenrik and you’re problems are over.  For good.’

Willow huffed and shook her head, her arms knitted around her chest.

‘I am going to get Fenrik, with or without you, and I am going to take him down.’  Drake turned away from her, ‘Falkor!’

Falkor grumbled but shuffled forwards to where Funestus lay and clamped his foot around the top of Funestus’ body.

Drake bent down and slapped Funestus on the cheek.  ‘Wake up!’  But Funestus remained asleep, drugged by Drake’s music.  ‘Come on!’ spat Drake smacking him on the cheek again.  He huffed, closed his eyes and tried to steady his breathing.  Now really was not the time to get worked up.

‘Move out of the way!’ snapped Willow, shoving Drake sharply with her arm.  ’You shouldn’t be doing this.  But I suppose you’re going to do it anyway.’  She grabbed her bag and pulled out the scorched Book of Shadows.  ‘Can’t think of a better person to experiment on,’ she said as she flicked through the book’s burnt pages.  ‘Here we go,’ she said, turning to face Funestus.  She uttered a single word.  ’Bregdan.’

Funestus opened his eyes and took a sharp intake of breath like he’d just been dragged out of the water.

‘Nice of you to join us,’ said Drake with a smirk.  ‘I do hope you understand the predicament you’re in.’

Funestus’ eyes were wild, bulging from their sockets, but Drake didn’t know if the fear was due to Falkor or the fact that the effects of the Absinium were wearing off.  Or both.

‘Don’t…hurt me,’ whimpered Funestus, ‘Please, I’ll do anything, but please, don’t-’

‘Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t let Falkor to crush you to death right now.’

‘No!’ screeched Funestus.  ‘You can’t.  Please.  Let me go, we can work this out.’

‘Work what out?’ asked Drake, feigning confusion.

‘Our little problem, you know, Fenrik.’

‘Go on.’

‘Call the dragon off me, I beg you, and we can talk properly-’

Drake smiled.  ‘No.’

Death’s Apprentice – Part 64

Joe closed his eyes. It was another beast. All was lost. There was nothing more he could do. The adrenaline that had fuelled was quickly being consumed by the fight.

There was a yelp. The branch was knocked out of his hand with a great force.

He opened his eyes just as Cerberus was standing over the creature that had very nearly claimed his life. With one plunge of its head, it tore open the beasts neck. And the beast lay dead.

Was this really the hound that he’d been playing fetch with?

‘Good boy Cerby,’ came a child-like voice.

It was Hel. And Joe was thankful to hear it.

‘You okay, Joe?’ she asked.

Was he?

‘Yes. Are you?’

‘I’m fine. I don’t know where Agnes has got to though.’

‘What were those things?’

‘Werewolves. They’ll be back soon. We need to get moving.’

Werewolves? Of course, they were. It was like being in Bloxwich on a Saturday evening, thought Joe.

‘Thanks,’ said Joe.

‘I didn’t do anything,’ replied Hel.

‘I was talking to Cerberus,’ said Joe, aware of how awful that sounded.

Cerberus looked over to Joe. The middle head’s tongue was lolling out of the side of the mouth. He looked so cute, so normal, well, as normal as a dog with three heads could look. It didn’t look as if he’d just finished off a werewolf. The only tell-tale sign was a blob of blood that the first head was trying to lick off the ear of the second head. Joe strolled over to Cerberus and buried his head into the thick neck fur of the dog. He smelled of wet dog and the zingy iron smell of blood and stale meat. He reached up and stroked the back of one of the dog’s many ears.

‘Thank you,’ he mumbled into the dog’s fur. Cerberus gave a tiny rumble that Joe interpreted as dog speak for “be cool man, it’s all good.” Suddenly he felt a pang in his chest.

He really missed Lola. Dogs were so loyal and they didn’t stab you in the back.

Joe felt something nudge his leg but chose to ignore it. He needed a minute.

But the thing nudging his leg was rather insistent. It pushed its head under Joe’s arm.

‘Hades, you daft dog,’ said Joe looking down at the dog who was wildly wagging its tail and persistently nudging Joe’s arm.

Joe looked up, startled as another load howl cut through the silence.

‘They’re back,’ said Hel. ‘Come on Cerby, time to go hunting.’ She turned to Joe and said, ‘I’ll leave Hades with you. I’ll keep the wolves away from the door. You really need to go, keep following the string north until you reach the Woodcutter’s cottage, okay? I’ll meet you there.’

Joe turned to find the string. It was nowhere to be seen.

He whirled around to tell Hel it was gone, but she had already disappeared.

Dragon Rider – Part 46

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eighteen Continued

Reciprocal Damage

Drake froze.  Despite the stillness of his body, inside his heart was now beating wildly and his mind was starting to ignite with questions.  How long had he got before he collapsed from the Reciprocal Damage of Falkor’s injuries?  How long had he got to free Falkor  Why was Funestus here?  What did he want with him?  Despite the many questions, he remained still, unsure of what to do.  He could smell the stench of treachery hanging heavy in the air and he didn’t like it.  Not one little bit.

‘Unfortunate, casualty.  Sorry about that,’ said Funestus, following Drake’s gaze to the injured dragon.  ‘But as you’ll both be dead in a minute, his suffering won’t last too long.  Hopefully.’

Scarface sniggered as he wiped neon blood off his hands onto a red handkerchief.

Drake curled his free hand into a fist.  ’How did you find us?’

‘The break-in at the warehouse?  That was me with a few hired Demon thugs; they’ll do anything for a good scrap.  We went there to spook your dragon knowing that he would want to find you.  All we had to do was to plant a tracker on his tail,’ said Funestus, with a sweep of his hand, ‘and he led us straight here.’

‘But why?’ asked Willow, stepping forward, her face tilted as she searched Funestus’ face for answers, ‘I don’t understand.  You asked me and Giz to get you the Book, I would’ve brought it to you-’

‘Ah, why indeed.  The most important question I feel.’  Funestus strode over to Drake, ’The Book, if you please,’ he said, stretching out his thin pale hand.

Drake could smell the mint and aniseed on Funestus’ breath.  He was sweating hard, his wild eyes red and puffy.  Had Funestus been on Liquid Madness?  Drake scrutinised Funestus in silence, taking in every line on his face, every feature.  The eyes were the key; he was running scared.  It all fell into place in Drake’s mind.  ‘No.’

Funestus cackled.  ’I don’t think you quite understand the predicament you’re in-’

‘Oh, I do,’ said Drake, his stance proud and defiant.

Funestus looked at him in surprise.  ‘Well, if that truly is the case, enlighten us,’ he said, regaining his calm as he gestured to himself and then the dwarves.

‘You’re scared.’

‘Scared?’  Funestus threw his head back and cackled, ‘No Drake, I’m not scared.’

‘Do they know,’ said Drake, pointing to the dwarves, ‘what you’re up to?’

‘What?’ asked Scarface stepping closer.  ‘What’s he up to?’

Funestus thrust his face into Drake’s.  ‘Just give me the Book.’

Yes.  Funestus was running scared; he could smell the fear on him.  ‘So when are you going to tell them?’ asked Drake, trying desperately to shut out Falkor’s whimpering cry.  He could feel his friend’s weak life force and it didn’t fill him with hope.

‘Tell us what?’

‘Well,’ said Drake turning to Scarface, ‘I can’t see Fenrik letting this loser get the book all by himself, can you?  And Vigor’s not here so, chances are, Fenrik doesn’t know our mutual friend here is collecting the Book-’

‘Funestus, what’s he talking about?’ asked Scarface, his eyes unreadable behind his thick black shades.

‘Shut up!’ screeched Funestus.  ‘You don’t even know that I am working with Fenrik.’

Drake turned to Scarface and addressed him directly; there was nothing as easy as dividing and conquering.  ‘I’d watch your back Scarface, he’s doing the dirty on Fenrik!  Fenrik doesn’t even know he’s here.’

Ozzy and Elvis were now standing by Scarface.  ‘Funestus?’

‘Of course he knows I’m here,’ snapped Funestus, over his shoulder, ‘Now give me the Book.’

‘I knew it!’ said Drake, shaking his head.

‘You’re working with Fenrik?’ asked Willow, her face pleading with Funestus for answers.

‘Of course I am, stupid little girl!’

‘No.  He doesn’t know you’re here, does he?  What do you want the Book for?  What have you done?’ asked Drake quickly, taking advantage of the confusion.  Wouldn’t be long before Funestus slipped up.

‘Just do us all a favour.  Give me the Book and then die,’ snarled Funestus.

‘Certainly,’ said Drake.  He seized his chance; stepping forward, he smashed The Emerald Key hard off the side of Funestus’ face.

Funestus hadn’t got time to react.  The Book hit him hard, sending blood and two teeth flying into the air.  He tried to keep on his feet but the blow had taken him off guard.  His eyes wouldn’t focus, his legs crumpled beneath him and he crashed to the floor.

Scarface whipped out his stun gun as Elvis charged at Drake and Willow, but, as his left arm was bandaged tightly to his chest and his face was puffy and covered in bruises, Willow stopped him without even breaking into a sweat, with a right hook to the side of his face.  He toppled backwards, unable to keep his balance.  Ozzy slowly limped towards them, wincing every time his right leg touched the ground after his run-in with Fulcanelli.

A blue bolt of electric fizzed within centimetres of Drake’s chest.  In one fluid motion, his Zephyr was off his back and in his hands.  As soon as he struck the first chord the music began to act like a drug, a lullaby of exquisite beauty, gently rising and falling as it invited its victims in, luring them into a world of dreamless sleep.  And when it begun there was no stopping it, not until the great tentacles of delicious music had mercilessly hunted each and every one of them down and had them in its shadowy iron-like grasp.

‘What’s-‘ said Willow, stumbling as she aimed her fist at Elvis for the second time.  She missed completely and crashed to the floor, face-first onto the grass, her fist still clenched and her bottom stuck high in the air.

Drake had to work quickly.  He didn’t know how long any of them would be out for; for some, it was a matter of minutes, like Pyro, but for others, it was hours and, very rarely, it could be days.

He pulled the vial of sleeping draft from his pocket and placed a drop in each of the dwarves’ mouths.  He grabbed the key in Scarface’s hand, then raced over to Funestus who was twitching and writhing on the ground.  Drake bent down to give Funestus a drop of the sleeping draft.

‘Fiery-death,’ mumbled Funestus, ‘Fiery-death, Fiery-death.’

Drake stopped.  Where had he heard that before?  He rubbed his chin and studied Funestus’ face.  He knew he’d heard that name before.  He put the stopper back on the vial and stashed it back in his pocket.

No.  Funestus would have to wait.  For now.  He’d got too many questions to answer and he’d deal with him once he’d sorted out Falkor.

Falkor’s cries of agony were stabbing Drake in the gut, like a blade.  He ran his hand over the dragon’s head; Falkor was clammy, his pulse weak, his strength almost spent.  He needed to get Falkor back on his feet before it was too late for both of them.

‘I’ll get you out,’ he whispered, ’just keep still.’  The dwarves had deliberately slotted the iron chains under Falkor’s teardrop scales to inflict maximum pain and damage as they forced the main body of the scales away from his flesh.  Drake could clearly see that in some parts, the chain had dug deep into his flesh exposing bone and causing the dragon to lose quite a bit of his precious neon blood.

Drake growled.  He found the padlock, placed the key in it with trembling hands and turned it.  The lock sprung open and Drake carefully began to peel the chains away from Falkor’s body, clenching his teeth, fighting the pain as he felt every last chain coming away as if it were from his own body.  Falkor attempted to raise himself off the floor as Drake pulled the very last chain away, but he was too weak, his legs infirm from being pinned to the ground and he fell face-first into the glutinous mud.

‘Come on,’ soothed Drake, trying to hide the pain in his own voice, ‘you can do it.’  Drake stroked Falkor’s neck.  ‘Come on boy,’ he said, placing his hand under Falkor’s head to try and coax him to raise it up a little.

Falkor dug the elbows of his wings into the muddy ground and with an almighty push he lifted himself up.  He stretched out his wings to balance himself and then roared defiantly, but Drake could feel the reality of Falkor’s weakness; his muscles were beginning to ache and his legs felt like jelly.  He inspected the dragon’s underbelly; a deep gash still oozed blood and he could see a long tear had punctured the membrane of his right wing.

If Falkor’s wing was broken and they couldn’t fly, what hope was there?

Death’s Apprentice – Part 63

Lola.

What would she do? He couldn’t leave her. He knew that she was safe with the Crows back at the funeral home but how long would that last? She’d be sent to a dog’s home. And then what?

No. He couldn’t do that. He had to fight, but how?

He turned around, fully aware that the beast was only inches from him. With a strength he never knew he had he ripped a large branch from the tree behind him. It snapped with a loud crack. He pulled it free and turned sharply just as the wolf creature reached him. He swung the branch and it connected with the creature’s head.

The wolf staggered sideways, stunned.

A feeling stirred in Joe. A feeling that surprised even him, in the heat of the battle. He wanted to live. He needed to live.

And then another creature emerged from the fog, even bigger than the beast he had just stunned. It was huge, over eight-foot-tall and its teeth looked like jagged glass inside its mouth. It looked as if it had been in battle as it had a large gash running across its left eye. The eyeball was missing and there was a gaping hole in its place. Below its eye, it’s mouth had been cut and the skin flapped down allowing Joe to see the muscle and sinew underneath. It was also missing a big chunk out of its nose.

Joe knew he should have been scared of this beast slowly advancing on him but he wasn’t. His body hummed with adrenaline and the need to survive.

He picked up the large branch and charged at the creature just as it lunged for him. The wood connected with the beasts chest, plunging through its chest cavity and spraying Joe with warm hot blood.

Joe would live. The beast would die.

But the beast kept coming for him, lunging at him with its snapping jaws. The creature kept moving forward on the branch. Joe held on tightly but he could feel the body of the beast moving forward, the branch plunging deeper into its body. On it kept coming despite the weapon splitting his chest open.

Joe held on tightly and, with all the strength he had, he twisted the branch inside the beast.

It made no difference, the beast kept on, a war machine wanting to kill its prey. Joe felt his insides turn to jelly as he realised the beast was not going to die.

There was a movement to the side of Joe.

Joe closed his eyes. It was another beast. All was lost. There was nothing more he could do. The adrenaline that had fuelled him was quickly being consumed by the fight.

There was a yelp. The branch was knocked out of his hand with a great force.

He opened his eyes to see Cerberus standing over the creature that had very nearly claimed Joe’s life. With one plunge of its middle head, it tore open the neck of the beast. And the beast was dead.

Was this really the hound that he’d been playing fetch with when he first arrived?

‘Good boy Cerby,’ came a child-like voice.

It was Hel. And Joe was thankful to hear it.

Dragon Rider – Part 45

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eighteen Continued

Reciprocal Damage

 

God, he hoped that he wasn’t too late to save Falkor.

There was a muted blast from outside the pod as the doors to the room were ripped from their hinges and soldiers poured in under a cloud of grey smoke.

‘YOU WON’T GET AWAY!’  It was the Overseer.  Her voice blasted inside the pod from two small speakers attached to the inside of the cask.  The Overseer was clutching the microphone on the desk, her crazy eyes bulging out of their sockets, her red hair wild, bursting from its bun.  Beside her, soldiers were pressing the buttons on the control pad, desperately trying to open the cask.

A small grizzled soldier, fed up with playing with buttons, fired at the pod but recoiled in horror as the toughened glass repelled his bullets.  Instead, they ricocheted around the room sending everyone, including the Overseer, diving for cover.  Smoke began to pour from the control panel as the bullets became embedded in it, shrouding the soldiers from view.

‘IMBECILES!  STOP THEM!’ screamed the Overseer from somewhere behind the veil of smoke.

The pod burst into life, there was a deafening sound, like nails on a blackboard, and bright white light swamped them.  Almost immediately, Drake could feel himself flying forwards at a terrifying speed but it was too fast for his mind to keep up with.  He tried to close his eyes, to stop the sensation, but he couldn’t.  He screamed, but no sound escaped from his mouth, as he realised his mind had freed itself from his body.  He looked down in horror as he saw his body lying beneath him, still and lifeless.

Then the sensation was over.  His eyes snapped shut as his mind re-entered his body and once again he could feel his heart beating, pumping his life-blood around his body.  He could feel the warmth of Willow’s breath and smell her scent of strawberry and vanilla.

The pod went black.

Now he could see a bright light radiating and throbbing from the end of the tunnel.  And they were hurtling towards it, so fast that the pod felt as if it had stopped moving.

The pure light consumed Drake and Willow entirely, coating every part of their bodies, enveloping them like they were in some primordial womb.  They were suspended in the light, but for how long, Drake could not tell.  It could’ve been seconds, years or just the blink of an eye.

And then it was gone.

Drake could feel something real and solid beneath him; the hardness of the earth accompanied by the comforting smell of damp grass and moss.

They were home.

Drake dug his hands into the soft earth, scraping up the grass and moss with his fingernails.  He didn’t want to open his eyes, to ruin the moment.  He felt strangely at peace as his heartbeat slowly in his chest, a gentle thrumming of a drum, and his head felt strangely empty of the confusing mess that usually bubbled and churned there.

He didn’t want to think about anything, he didn’t want to have to deal with any of it.  Not now, not when he felt so calm.  He didn’t want to break the moment.

Willow’s voice broke the silence.  ‘Drake.’

Drake felt Willow leaping up from the floor.  But he didn’t want to move, he wanted to stay here and breathe in the cool air, to feel it brushing against his skin.

‘Thank you for joining us Drake, I did wonder when you would show, if at all,’ said a silky voice, fracturing his euphoria.

No.  No.  No.  Drake’s body was screaming at him; this wasn’t right.  Drake forced his eyes open and jumped up from the muddy floor, still grasping the Emerald Key tightly to his chest.  But his mind, although clear, was slow.  ‘Funestus?  What-?’

‘Yes, thought I’d come and surprise you.’

It was only now that Drake saw the dwarves standing close by, huddled around the crumpled body of Falkor who was pinned tightly to the ground under giant iron chains.  Scarface stepped forward, his black leather trousers and skull tee-shirt were covered in mud and a neon blue substance; Falkor’s blood.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 62

There was another growl. Joe could make out movement in front of him that wasn’t the creature. He opened his eyes just as one of Hel’s hounds launched itself at the creature’s neck. It latched on with its canine and began to wiggle its body violently to cut off the creature’s air supply. It reminded Joe of lions when they latch on to the neck of their prey in the wildlife documentaries he’d watched growing up.

The wolf creature stood up on its back legs and grabbed at the hound with its sharp claws. Blood was oozing from the wound in its neck but still, it kept on pulling at the hound in an attempt to yank it off its throat.

Beside him, he noticed Hades was finishing off the first beast that had attacked.

Joe pulled himself off the floor just as the other wolf creature managed to prize the hound off its throat. He held the hound in its hand-like front paws and threw the dog to the ground. The dog yelped as he hit the ground at a funny angle. Then he moved no more.

The beast turned his attention back to Joe.

The wolf creature lunged at Joe, its giant mouth, covered in bright red blood, gaping open.

Joe stood frozen to the spot. He was going to die. He knew he was going to die. Of that, he was completely certain. There was no way on earth that he could fend off that beast.

It’s not true, thought Joe, as time seemed to stand still, you don’t see your life flashing before your eyes just before death. Well, he didn’t anyway. He felt nothing. Nothing at all.

That was a lie.

He felt something, just not what you are told you will feel, or what you would expect.

He felt relief.

No more Shitdad.

No more beatings.

No more Lola.

Fuck!

Lola.

What would she do? He couldn’t leave her. He knew that she was safe with the Crows back at the funeral home but how long would that last? She’d be sent to a dog’s home. And then what?

No. He couldn’t do that. He had to fight, but how?

He turned around, fully aware that the beast was only inches from him. With a strength he never knew he had, he ripped a large branch from the tree behind him. It snapped with a loud crack. He pulled it free and turned sharply just as the wolf creature reached him. He swung the branch and it connected with the creature’s head.

The wolf staggered sideways, stunned.

A feeling stirred in Joe. A feeling that surprised even him, in the heat of the battle. He wanted to live. He needed to live.

Dragon Rider – Part 44

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eighteen

Reciprocal Damage

‘Pyro, don’t you dare!’ shouted Drake, as Pyro dropped back down onto the seat, his eyes blank, staring out into the unknown.

And then, right before their eyes, he disappeared with not even a speck of blood to show that he had even existed.

‘Drake, do you think?’ asked Willow, her voice trembling.

‘I don’t know,’ said Drake, shaking his head.  Shit.  This was not supposed to happen.  Not this way.  What if he was dead?  He wasn’t supposed to die!  What had he done?

‘Maybe he’s been summoned,’ said Willow.

‘Maybe,’ replied Drake, fixing his eyes on the small battalion of soldiers gathering at the foot of the Main Tower.  ‘When we get back, you find out.’

‘I don’t know if I can, I-‘

‘We know his real name, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then we’ll do it.  Somehow.  We owe him that much.’

‘STOP THE CART AND PUT YOUR HANDS UP!’  The Overseer’s voice rang out from the speakers situated all around the compound.

‘What the hell do we do now?’ said Willow.

‘This!’ said Drake, ramming his foot down hard on the accelerator so that the cart shot forward, straight towards the soldiers preparing to fire in front of them.

‘Have you got a death wish or something?’

The cart crashed through the soldiers sending them scattering like dominoes.

‘GET UP!’ ordered the Overseer over the tannoy.  ‘STUPID FOOLS, STOP THEM!’

The soldiers scrambled to their feet and followed the cart as it plunged over the bridge, straddling the fiery moat, and into the foyer of the Main Tower.

Drake immediately took his foot off the accelerator and slammed it on the break.  The cart screeched in fury as it struggled to stop on the slippery floor.  It finally came to rest just short of the main desk.  The receptionist behind it was standing open-mouthed, clutching an empty cup that had held the coffee she was now wearing.  Beside her stood the woman in the khaki uniform who had asked them to fill in the questionnaire.

Drake smiled at her and winked.  ‘Sorry!’

Behind them the soldiers were fighting their way through the foyer, slipping and cursing as they chased after them.  Drake turned on his heels and catapulted himself into the gaping mouth of the lift.

Willow jumped in behind him clutching The Emerald Key and breathing hard.  She leaned over and slammed her hand on the “close doors” button.  The doors began to slowly glide shut.  ‘Come on, Come on!’ she said, pressing the button again and again.

‘Please refrain from pressing the button more than once,’ said the chirpy lift-voice.  ‘Which floor do you require?’

Before Drake had a chance to answer, two strong arms, belonging to a man-mountain of a soldier with a hawkish face, began to push the metal doors back open.

‘What’s happening?’ asked the lift-voice.

‘Nothing that you need to worry about,’ said Drake, punching the soldier on his beak-like nose.  The soldier stumbled backwards, momentarily losing his grip on the doors as he cradled his nose which was pouring with crimson blood.  The doors slowly began to close, but the soldier launched himself at the doors, growling as he pushed them apart again, the muscles in his arms nearly popping with the effort.

Willow hit the soldier’s bloodied hands with the book as he tried to scramble into the lift, the other soldiers behind him now forcing him forward.

‘Exit please,’ said Drake.  He rammed his boot into the soldier’s stomach sending him flying backwards and onto the soldiers behind him, his enormous bulk pinning them to the ground.

‘That was close,’ gasped Willow as the doors finally closed.

The lift quickly dropped to the basement.  The doors opened and they pelted out, the shrill alarm still blaring around the compound.

They were now in a large rectangular hall with steel double doors in front of them.  Two small flies buzzed around the flickering florescent strip light running along the centre of the dirty polystyrene-tiled ceiling, adding to the air of abandonment in this part of the tower.

They ran over and entered the room beyond the large double doors.  The room looked to Drake like some sort of old control room, maybe a relic from the human era, as it reminded him of pictures he had seen, when he was a small boy, of the NASA control room in the 1950 s, with its large control panel on the side of one wall and its old-fashioned lights that flashed green and red.  A large microphone covered in grey foam sat at its centre, in front of a blank green computer screen.  To the right of the panel hovered a cylindrical glass pod, in front of a dark chute, its door hinged open at the top with small chrome fixings.

‘That’s got to be the way out!’ said Drake, pointing at the pod, ‘Now if we can just get it to-’  He doubled over, cradling his stomach in both of his trembling hands, as pain gripped him in her tight claws.  He clenched his teeth and let the agonizing feeling pass.

‘Are you okay?’ asked Willow, her hand on his shoulder as she bent over to get a good look at him.

He nodded, unable to speak.  But he knew something was horribly wrong.  He just didn’t know what.

‘Okay,’ said Willow, but Drake could tell she didn’t believe him.  But then again, he wasn’t really hiding the fact he was in trouble.  ‘I’ll see if I can get the pod working,’ said Willow, stuffing the Emerald Key under her arm as she turned her attention to the control panel.

Once the pain had subsided, he managed to wedge the door shut with an old wooden chair.  He didn’t know how long they’d got before the soldiers got here, but even if it didn’t hold the doors shut for long, it might just give them the valuable seconds they needed to get out of this place.

Willow was desperately pounding at the buttons on the control panel.  She hit a green button and almost immediately there was a sound like an engine starting up and the pod began to shake violently, the computer screen now lit up with a picture of the pod’s sparkling interior.

Drake froze as more pain wracked his body, but this time it was like his flesh was being cut from his skin.  He gritted his teeth as the pain took control.  He stumbled, his eyes unable to focus, as his stomach tightened as nausea swept over him.

There was shouting outside the room and the double doors began to shake as the soldiers tried to ram their way in.

Drake was shaking and he could feel sweat, clammy and wet, under his tee-shirt and coat, where his Zephyr lay.  Suddenly, it felt as if someone had grabbed his arm and had ripped it off backwards.  He let out a muffled cry of pain and then gagged as bile rose up his windpipe.  He closed his eyes, bit down on the pain and fought to keep control, to not let the pain take him.

Willow grabbed his arm.  ‘Are you-‘

‘Yeah,’ he said, a little too harshly, ‘I’m fine.’  As the pain started to subside, Drake was now gripped by the crushing fingers of dread; Falkor was in deep trouble and Drake now knew that he was feeling the Reciprocal Damage.

Goddammit.  He’d got to get back, to see if Falkor was okay.  ‘QUICK!’ he shouted, running over to the pod.  He turned and beckoned for Willow to hurry.

Willow looked at the hourglass still clasped in her hand; there was only a drop of silver, no more than the size of a tear, left in the top half of it.  She threw it on the floor where it smashed into tiny pieces, the silver liquid oozing out over the floor like quicksilver.

Willow thrust the Emerald Key at Drake then threw herself into the pod.

Drake climbed in beside her, clutching the book to his chest.  He could feel his Zephyr underneath him, its bridge jabbing into his back.

The pod snapped shut behind them.