Death’s Apprentice – Part 51

‘I have the Book of the Dead to help me,’ said Joe.

‘That’s not going to help you, Joe, that’s written for dead people.

‘Well, it’s got me this far.’

‘Except, that’s not very far at all,’ said Hel.

Silence fell upon the room. He didn’t know why but suddenly Joe was feeling really grumpy. He grabbed at the Book of the Dead from where he’d dropped it on the floor. He opened the front cover and looked down the contents page. He found the section he was looking for, called The Valley of the Dead. ‘Page two-hundred and eleven,’ he said to himself as he flicked to the section.

The Valley of the Dead

 The Valley of the Dead is full of dead people. Listen to the fucking witch or you’ll be joining them.

Helpful, though Joe, very fucking helpful. Why had Mrs Crow given him the sodding thing if it was this bloody useless? It even fucking sounded like her, for Christ sakes!

He slammed the book shut.

Hel spoke first. ‘What did it say?’

Joe noticed his legs were bouncing up and down and his left hand was balled into a tight little fist.

‘Nothing.’

‘It’s got to have -‘

‘It said nothing,’ he said through clenched teeth.

‘Never mind,’ said the witch, ‘I can help you if you want?’

Joe looked up at her. Agnes was looking all sweetness and light but he knew, yes he damn well knew she’d want something in return. Probably my balls on a golden platter, he thought to himself.

‘And why would you do that?’

‘Because I know I can get you through the Valley of the Dead. I travel through the valley all the time to pick up supplies -‘

‘And what would you require in return?’

Agnes smiled a wide smile that showed all of her pearly white teeth in a perfect line. It was a smile that could probably move mountains or thaw glaciers, and, maybe, just maybe, the grumpiness in Joe’s heart.

‘I have a small problem,’ said Agnes with a flutter of eyelashes.

‘What?’ Joe really doubted it would be a small problem. They never usually were. He’d learnt that off his Shitdad.

‘Son,’ his Shitdad would say, ‘I have a little problem, but don’t tell ya Ma.’ As soon as his Shitdad called him “son” he knew it was all over. He was only ever his son when he was in trouble and he needed help to get out of whatever it was, or to cover up whatever it was. Like the time his Shitdad had lost all of his mom’s bingo winnings at the bookies.

‘I have lost my heart.’

‘Lost your heart? Like, it’s been broken or something? You want me to beat someone up? Because if you do,’ said Joe putting his palms up in the air, ‘I’m not your man. I’m no good in fights, never have been.’

‘No, I’ve lost my heart,’ she said, pulling down her top ever so slightly to reveal the top of a very nasty red scar that had been crudely sewn together with thick black thread.

Joe recoiled in horror. ‘What the…? How are you…?’ Joe stood up quickly. ‘How did….?’ But he couldn’t finish his sentence because blackness took hold of his vision and he crashed to the floor.

Dragon Rider – Part 33

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fourteen

A Drink to the Future

Fenrik reclined on the black leather couch, under the large draped window in his office, casually reading The Gate, Devilsgate’s one and only newspaper, owned entirely, of course, by himself.  It was, after all, important that the people of the City were given information about what was going on in Devilsgate and he didn’t want the truth to confuse things for them.

‘So Funestus Black is the favourite to win at the forthcoming elections.  I would never have guessed,’ said Fenrik, straining his eyes to read the small print in the paper, his bushy eyebrows knitting together like the pelmet hanging over his window.  He leaned over and clicked on the small brass lamp that sat on the oak table next to the couch.

‘Who would have thought it, eh brother?  Regina Fludd drowning in the water bowl of her pet Chihuahua,’ said Vigor, draining the last dregs of Hell’s Tempest from his tumbler.  ‘Such a tragedy.’

‘Indeed,’ said Fenrik, cracking a smile as he looked over to Vigor, ‘Just like Funestus’ interview.  Remind me, did I give him permission to speak?’

‘No.  I don’t think so, brother.  The Rat.  Would you like me to bring him in?‘ asked Vigor, leaning forward in his seat in anticipation, his long pointy tongue running along his thin lips.

Fenrik held up his hand.  ‘Not yet.’

Vigor slumped back in his chair and sighed.  ‘Would you like another?’ he asked, shaking his empty tumbler in the air, the two small ice cubes clinking together in the bottom.

Fenrik looked over to his empty tumbler on the table, next to the lamp.  ‘Yes,’ he said, looking back to the story that had grabbed his attention.  ‘It’s just a shame that when he does win the election, he won’t be in his right mind.’

‘That is quite a shame,’ said Vigor, attempting to smile, ‘What a loss it will be to Devilsgate.’  He got up from his chair and walked over to the drinks cabinet in the corner of the room, dropping his tumbler clumsily onto its highly polished surface.  ‘But such a welcome gain for me,’ he said, picking up the silver strainer and looking at his reflection on its shiny surface.

Fenrik looked up from his paper, ‘All in good time Vigor, all in good time.’

Vigor sighed and lowered the strainer.

‘Something on your mind, Vigor?’

‘It’s just that, I was speaking to Mo Green earlier-’

‘Mo Green?’ asked Fenrik, turning his attention back to the paper.

‘Yes, the owner of Greenies, the Absinium Den on Forty-third, it seems that Funestus has been at the club a lot lately,’ said Vigor, grabbing a square decanter of deep red liquid and taking it over to Fenrik’s tumbler, along with the silver strainer.

‘And you’re worried because?’

‘Well, I need him in good health, don’t I?’ asked Vigor, as he placed the silver strainer over Fenrik’s tumbler, put three lumps of sugar on top, before pouring the deep red Hell’s Tempest over it, allowing the mixture to soak through the sugar and then into the empty tumbler below.

Fenrik looked up from his paper again and laughed heartily.  ‘Soon we will have the world at our feet, our own magick provided by The Emerald Key, no longer slaves to the demons we wield and you are worried about Funestus looking good?’

Vigor placed the decanter down on the table next to Fenrik’s tumbler.  ‘No, it’s just that I have had seventeen years of looking like someone has stretched a plastic bag over my skeleton,’ he said, taking the strainer from Fenrik’s tumbler and placing it down, ‘it would be nice to look…different.’

Fenrik folded his paper and placed it on his lap.  ‘I know,’ he said looking up at Vigor and taking the tumbler full of Hell’s Tempest from him.  ‘All in good time.  Soon the whole city will be ours to command, and when we rid it of the human filth that is clogging up our streets, it will be you, my dear brother, that will be at the helm, steering the ship through the waters, purifying it’.

Vigor filled up his own tumbler with the fiery red liquid then hoisted it into the air.  ‘To the future!’

‘To the future!’ said Fenrik.

‘Are you still thinking of using the Fiery-death?’ asked Vigor, before taking a sip from his tumbler.

‘Yes,’ said Fenrik resting the hand holding the glass of Tempest on his leg, ‘from what I have read in my Grimoire, The Emerald Key is the only place to contain the beast’s real name.  Once we have the complete book, the City will be ours.’

‘It is such an evil plan!’ said Vigor, slipping back into his seat.

Fenrik smiled, ‘I try.’  Fenrik took a sip of the fiery liquid before he spoke again.  ‘We need a vessel of fire in which to receive him when we conjure him from Hell.  I was thinking that Pyro would be the perfect candidate-’

‘But brother, Pyro is with the Dragon Rider, the dwarves saw him being taken hostage as the Dragon Rider fled Nowhere.’

‘That is not a problem,’ said Fenrik shrugging, ‘We will summon him when we need him-’

‘And if he dies?’

‘Vigor, you must stop worrying.  There are always other possibilities.’

‘Indeed, brother,’ said Vigor bowing his waxy head.

‘And what of the Scroll of the Dead?  Did the dwarves manage that small task?’

Vigor tried to shake his head but the skin on his neck was too tight, so all that he could manage was small jerky movements like his neck was encased in a collar.  ‘The witch Alchymia managed to sneak it out of her tower.  It would seem that she gave it to the Dragon Rider.’

‘So the dwarves let the Dragon Rider get away with the Scroll and the Fire-djinn?’

‘Yes, brother.’

Fenrik sighed and held up his tumbler.  He twisted it in his hand so that the Hell’s Tempest swirled around its edges like a whirlpool, the ice cubes clattering against the glass.  He stared at the red liquid for a moment before he finally spoke.  ‘The dwarves are being even more incompetent than usual.  Make sure you illustrate my displeasure at this.’

Vigor nodded.  ‘But I didn’t think you were worried about them losing The Hand of Glory or  Scroll of the Dead?’

Fenrik shot Vigor a look.  ‘No, I’m not, but we cannot have them thinking that incompetence will go unpunished, can we?’ he snapped.

‘Oh, no brother!’ said Vigor shaking his head, and averting his gaze to the parquet floor.  ‘I didn’t mean to question you-’

‘Good.  We must keep our troops in line, keep them on their toes.  I was thinking maybe you could torture the little one or something.’

Vigor looked back to his brother, a small grin on his face.  ‘Elvis?’ he asked, clapping his hands with glee.

‘Yes, if you like.  Just pick one and hammer home the point.’

‘Oh yes, brother!’

‘Just don’t get any blood on the carpets, I’ve only just had them cleaned,’ said Fenrik taking another long swig of Tempest.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part 50

‘It’s a long story,’ said Joe.

‘I know, but we’ve got time,’ she said.

But, where did he begin? ‘I don’t know how it’s all got to this point, to be honest, but, to cut that long story short, I need to find Death’s scythe -‘

‘Here, in the Underworld?’

Joe nodded. ‘Yes, Death’s sister stole it from Death, my boss.’

‘So, that’s what you’re here for,’ said Hel, ‘totally makes sense now.’

‘And you’re a human? And still alive?’ asked Agnes.

‘Yes,’ said Joe, but, he was starting to wonder whether he was actually dead and this was Hell.

‘And Death’s sister is…?’

‘I don’t know but I need to find her.’

Agnes’s covered her hand with her mouth and shook her head. ‘There’s no way,’ she said, her hand still covering her mouth.

‘No way to what?’

‘To get to Death’s sister.’

‘Why?’

‘Because Death’s sister lives in the Iron Fortress deep in the Valley of the Dead.’

‘Oh,’ said Hel.

Hades, who at some point, had woken up, sat up and gave a loud gulp. He stood up, stretched his back legs out and went over to Joe. He placed his head on Joe’s lap and began to cry.

Joe began to stroke Hade’s thick warm fur.

‘And?’ asked Joe.

‘And no person EVER has made it through the Valley of the Dead alive.’

‘I have the Book of the Dead to help me,’ said Joe.

‘That’s not going to help you, Joe, that’s written for dead people.

‘Well, it’s got me this far.’

‘Except, that’s not very far at all,’ said Hel.

Silence fell upon the room. He didn’t know why but suddenly he was feeling really grumpy. He grabbed at the Book of the Dead from where he’d dropped it on the floor. He opened the front cover and looked down the contents page. He found the section he was looking for, called The Valley of the Dead. ‘Page two-hundred and eleven,’ he said to himself as he flicked to the section.

Dragon Rider – Part 32

Dragon Rider

Chapter Thirteen Continued

Fire and Water

‘Set him free.  Who knows how long he’s been imprisoned here, poor guy, no wonder he’s got anger issues.’

‘Pyro,’ said Drake, slapping the djinn on the top of the head, ’that is probably the first slightly helpful thing you’ve said since I’ve known you.  If we hold on tight when the water comes in, he can take us to the surface.’  Drake ran over to the portable control panel, grabbed it and dragged it over to the dog.  ‘Come on then,’ he said as he wound his hand through the dog’s thick collar, ‘because when that door goes-’

‘Okay, okay,’ replied Willow climbing beside him.

‘Pyro, we haven’t got all day-’

‘I’m not going; I’m too young to die.  Did I ever tell you that my uncle Abraxas lived until he was three thousand five hundred and ninety-nine?  I always thought that was a good innings and anyways, the thought of all that water is making me feel-’

‘What?’ screeched Drake and Willow together.

‘It’s not a problem, I’ll go through the other doors, keep dry and just wait it out, well, until someone summons me.’

‘No way!’ said Drake jumping from the dog and grabbing Pyro by the scruff of his neck.  ‘I brought you here, I’ll decide when you get left behind.  Now hold on!’

‘But I-’

‘Pyro,’ said Drake, through clenched teeth, ‘you can get under my coat.  I might not like you but I’m not going to let you die.  Not yet anyway.’  Drake pushed the djinn down onto the dog and jumped up beside him.  He wrapped his coat over Pyro, ‘Hold on tight.  Okay, one…two…’

‘Drake,’ squealed Pyro, ‘I don’t do water!’

‘Three!’ shouted Drake, stamping on the control panel with his foot.

Almost immediately, an alarm blasted through the cargo hold and four conical lights began to flash orange as the doors slowly ground open.  The cold dark water of the lake trickled through slowly at first and then, with an almighty boom, the doors buckled under the pressure and water thundered through the opening like a waterfall crashing through rocks.

Cerberus woke abruptly and leapt to his feet, but the sheer ferocity of the water knocked his legs from underneath him.  Drake could feel the beast’s muscles pumping as it tried to fight the force of the water, but it was too powerful and Cerberus was sucked out of the hole and into the icy-cold darkness of the lake.

It took all of Drake’s strength to hold on as the dog powered through the water, he could feel his lungs burning as he fought the desire to breathe.  Everything was black around him, he could feel the pressure of the water trying to trick him into breathing.  He could feel Cerberus’ heart pounding as the dog fought for his life in the cold desolate Lake of Forgetfulness and the faint pulsing of Pyro’s heart as his life force began to melt away.  And as every second passed it was getting weaker.

No!  Pyro seemed to suddenly fall limp and his hands loosened on the dog’s collar.  Drake tried to reach out but Cerberus broke the surface of the water and he was thrown from the dog’s body.  His burning lungs drunk in the sweet-smelling air as he thrashed about and tried to keep afloat.

Drake could see Willow thrashing around in the water but Pyro was nowhere to be seen.

‘Where is he?’ spluttered Willow, as she tried to tread water, her eyes frantically searching the choppy grey lake for Pyro.

‘There!’ shouted Drake.  Pyro was lying face down, a few metres from the shoreline.  Drake plunged back into the dark water and swam towards Pyro’s lifeless body.  He grabbed him and turned him over but Pyro looked dead; his eyes were white and glazed over, his face completely stripped of any of his colour.  Drake grasped his upper body and swam, as fast as he could, for shore.

Within minutes he was dragging Pyro’s limp body through the reed bed and onto the muddy bank.  He lay him down on the floor and felt for a pulse.  ’He’s alive,’ said Drake as Willow scrambled up beside him and grabbed Pyro’s head.  She began to blow air into Pyro’s cold crusty mouth as Drake began to pump at his chest.

Pyro gurgled as water gushed like a torrent from his lungs and into his mouth.  He rolled over and spat the black water out onto the floor, his breath rattling in his chest as he struggled to breathe.

‘Ease up will yez!,’ he coughed.  ‘I know yez want to get rid of me but give me a break will yez!’  He cradled his chest in his hands.  ’Ow, that hurt.’  He flopped back onto the ground and began to laugh hysterically.

‘Are you alright?’ asked Willow, her face turning as white as a unicorn as she watched Pyro thrashing around.  ‘Did you swallow any of the Lethe?’

‘Yeah,’ said Pyro coughing again, ’but it doesn’t have the same effect on me, so don’t worry, I’m fine.  That was just a great example of fire and water not mixing.’

Drake pulled the Zephyr from his back, drained the water from it and placed it on the ground before he collapsed next to Pyro.  ’That was way too close,’ he said looking up at the dead sky.

‘Drake.’

He raised himself up on his elbows and turned to look at Willow who was hunched over her wet backpack, the Scroll of the Dead scrunched up in her hands.  ’What?’ he asked, but he already knew the answer.

‘Look,’ she said holding out the soggy Scroll to Drake.

‘Damn it!‘ he cursed as he took the paper which now resembled a ball of muddy paper mache.  He rolled it up in his hands and threw it into the lake where it bobbed around like a ship lost at sea.

‘Come on!’ said Drake grabbing his Zephyr, ‘We need to get going.’  He leapt from the floor and slung his Zephyr over his back.  He scanned the shoreline for any signs of Cerberus, but the dog was gone from sight already.  All that was left were his huge soggy paw-prints that lead off into the Forest of Suffering.

‘What’s the plan?’ asked Willow, water dripping from her black hoodie, as she pulled Pyro up by a knobbly hand from the floor.

‘I don’t have one.  We’ll follow Cerberus’s footprints into the forest and then keep walking, making sure we keep the Fortress in sight-’

‘Sounds like a great plan to me,’ said Pyro, his voice gravelly and sore after his dip in the water, ’at this rate we might get out alive in a couple of hundred years.  That’s okay for me, I age slower than you two-’

‘Got a better one?’ snapped Drake spinning on his heels.

Pyro shrugged.

‘For God’s sake!  Where did that come from?’ asked Willow, flinging her hands in the air, ‘After everything we’ve just gone through can’t you two just get on?  I actually thought we were getting somewhere!’

‘Probably not,’ said Drake turning his back on them both.  He stomped over to the wall of trees, carefully following Cerberus’ fresh trail.  He couldn’t help it, there was something about Pyro that just rubbed him up the wrong way.

Pyro looked at Willow and smiled sheepishly, then followed after Drake.

‘I guess we’re going this way then!’ said Willow putting her hands on her hips, watching them walk off.  After a few seconds, she huffed before finally stomping after them.

Dragon Rider – Part 31

Dragon Rider

Chapter Thirteen Continued

Fire and Water

Drake turned his attention to the map.  He could clearly see the exit Gizmo had been talking about; it was located two floors below, on the opposite side of the boat and, luckily for them, an elevator shaft, situated just above it, would lead them straight down to it.  He spun around, the map still superimposed on his vision and headed back to Willow and Pyro.

Willow looked even worse than he felt; her eyes were heavy and she was still cradling her head in her hands.  ‘Come on,’ said Drake pulling her to her feet, ’you’ll feel better once we get outta here.’

They left the steam room and entered the gym where the man in the Bermuda shorts had another towel in his hands to put in the dirty laundry.  His eyes were black, unseeing, so they left him to it and exited into the corridor.

‘We just need to get to an elevator shaft on the opposite side of the boat,’ said Drake leading them off down the corridor.  The elevator shaft was positioned exactly as the map had shown; in a hallway by one of the ship’s many kitchens.  It looked as if the shaft was used to transport food deliveries as it was small and had a single door that dropped from the ceiling.

They all piled in and Drake pressed the large green button on the wall.  The door clattered shut behind them, enclosing them in a small steel box lit only by one sickly yellow light on the ceiling.  The elevator ground down the two floors and spewed them out into a large storage area filled with stacks of wooden boxes stamped with the cargo’s contents and origins; there were fine wines from the New World and expensive champagnes from what used to be known as France.  In the corner, puffs of smoke escaped from the chugging machine which extracted the Lethe from the Lake of Forgetfulness.  The room smelled like Pyro; petrol and gas with the hint of sweat alongside the addition of wet dog and musty cardboard.

The large service exit was located straight opposite.  Drake scanned the shadows for the operating panel, still trying to work out exactly how he was going to get them all out of the cargo hold alive.  If only there was some kind of breathing apparatus or…

Brilliant white light flooded the cargo hold as the steel doors at the side of the room were thrown open.

‘Leaving so soon?’ came the voice of a man silhouetted against the light.

‘Morpheus?’ said Drake, unable to keep the bitter sound of frustration from his voice.  Once his eyes had adjusted to the brightness he could see Morpheus was flanked by a whole army of personal guards dressed from head-to-toe in black, holding AK-47s pumped for action.

‘Did you really think you could get away that easy?  And you,’ he said turning to face Willow, ‘are a sore disappointment.  Trying to leave without saying goodbye, where are your manners?’

‘I-’

Morpheus raised his hand, dripping in platinum, to his mouth to silence her.  ‘It is too late for apologies, my dear.’  Morpheus sighed.  ‘It gives me no great pleasure to do what I must but, as you have tried to leave without payment, I must take what is owed by force.  Your dreams are what is required, alive or dead, we can extract them either way.’  He shrugged and turned to one of his guards, ‘Let him lose, come back and check on them in half an hour.’  And with that, Morpheus was gone.

‘Shit!’ exclaimed Drake, as a guard was hauled in by a three-headed black dog on a thick iron chain, his tattooed arm bulging from beneath his short-sleeved tee-shirt.  Drake was vaguely aware of Willow letting out a little squeal beside him and the sound of Pyro hyperventilating.

‘Say hello to my little friend; Cerberus,’ said the guard with a toothy grin as he unhooked the iron chain from the dog’s studded leather collar and backed quickly out of the room, the steel doors clanging shut behind him.

The dog’s black hackles were raised, his black eyes bulging with excitement as he eyeballed Drake, Pyro and Willow.  The dog’s three heads snarled, great pools of drool dribbling from the corners of curled lips.

Drake stood his ground, his fists clenching and unclenching at the side of his body.  ‘Willow, Pyro,’ he whispered through clenched teeth, ‘back up slowly, get up high, on a stack of boxes, be quick!’

Willow and Pyro scrambled up the nearest pile of boxes just as the dog lunged forward.  ‘Come on you oversized mutt!’ yelled Drake, as he darted to the left, away from Willow and Pyro.  The snarling dog followed, its black eyes locked onto him.

Drake dived over an empty crate and headed for the Lethe extractor in the corner of the room.  Cerberus bounded after him; Drake could hear it advancing upon him, its claws scratching at the wooden floor, its tail smacking into the rows of wooden boxes.  When Drake could feel the warm acrid breath of the beast, he suddenly dived to the right.  Cerberus tried to follow but its body skidded as he tried to turn, its claws failing to find grip, and it collided with a wall of boxes, which exploded, sending bottles of wine crashing to the floor.

Concentrating on a thick steel chain hanging from the ceiling, Drake ran at the port-side wall and bounced off it, throwing himself backwards and upwards to grab the chain.  He caught it and clung on tight as he flew over Cerberus’ great black heads.  As soon as his feet touched the machine he forced himself back over Cerberus’ snapping jaws until he had enough momentum to land like a cat on top of the Lethe extractor.  He let the chain go and it smashed into the side of the boat with a loud clunk.

Cerberus lunged at the extractor, his middle head just about reaching the top of the machine, his six eyes blazing with madness and fury as it kept lunging at the extractor.  Its terrifying bark ripped through the hold like thunder echoing through a mountain pass and with every attack the machine crumpled further in on itself.

Drake steadied himself on top of the swaying and creaking extractor.  He couldn’t reach the chain from where he was perched and the only other way off the machine was down, and into the jaws of Cerberus.  He looked over to Willow and Pyro, and held out his hands in supplication, hoping that for once they’d come up with the goods and get him out of this.

He could see from Willow’s expression and the movement of her lips that she was trying to cast a spell, trouble was, she didn’t have a spellbook and whatever spell she was trying from memory didn’t seem to be working.  Pyro stood at the top of his pile of boxes looking as gormless as usual, his arms outstretched in a half-hearted attempt at a shrug.  He really was going to strangle the djinn with his bare hands, if they ever got out of here alive.

Think! shrieked the voice inside Drake’s head.  I would, if I could, he shouted back.  If only that stupid dog would stop barking for one millisecond.

He banged the heel of his hand on forehead.  Damn it!  Dragons, djinns, demons; no problem.  Oversized dogs?  The Zephyr was out; it would knock everyone out and he couldn’t drag everyone to safety.  He had to get down, he had to face Cerberus somehow, he had to defeat him.

The machine groaned as it scrunched even further into itself.  And then the answer flew at him.  Three bars of purple-covered chocolate floated in front of him.  He looked over to Willow who just shrugged at him and smiled weakly.

Without a second thought, he grabbed one of the bars, ripped the foil off it and threw it to the floor.  The middle head snarled as it laid its head protectively over the bar, the other two heads snarling back in reply.  Drake unwrapped the other bars and threw them down on the floor where they were devoured by the other two heads.

Once the chocolate had been devoured the dog sat down, his thick black tail sweeping excitedly along the dusty wooden floor.  He sniffed up at Drake, its huge mouths panting excitedly.

‘Got any more?’ asked Drake.

Pyro and Willow both shrugged in reply.

Drake took a deep breath and leapt from the top of the machine, landing lightly at the side of Cerberus.  The dog collapsed onto the floor and sighed happily before rolling over, each of its long, pink, slimy tongues lolling out from the corner of his mouths.  Drake shook his head; this couldn’t be happening, right?  Things were never that easy, were they?  He leaned forward and ran his hand over the dog’s tan coarse belly fur.  He could feel the thrum of the dog’s heart in his chest and hear the contented purr as Cerberus’s eyelids drooped shut.

‘I think you can come down now,’ whispered Drake, as Cerberus began to snore like a freight train.

‘I can’t believe it ate all the chocolate,’ sighed Willow, ‘oh, it smelt so good.’

Drake stared at her with a look of disbelief.

‘What?’ she asked, shrugging, ‘I eat when I’m stressed.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Pyro, ‘I’ll get you some tasty chocolate when we get out of here, great mounds of the best stuff you’ve ever tasted.  I know a guy, a shyster called Jack the Eye, he works for a guy, who knows a guy that drives for a guy who owns a chocolate factory.  He owes me-’

‘Pyro,’ snapped Drake, ‘not now, eh?’

‘Okay, okay.  I was just saying.’

‘We’re going to have to move him-’

‘Move him?’ asked Willow with disbelief.  ‘He probably weighs a ton, how‘re we going to do that?

‘Well, we can’t leave him to drown can we?’ snapped Drake back at her.

‘You don’t have to,’ said Pyro, grimacing as he lifted up one of the dog’s lips to reveal its yellowing, plaque encrusted teeth, ‘take him with you, set him free.’

‘What?’

Dragon Rider – Part 30

Dragon Rider

Chapter Thirteen

Fire and Water

Pyro propped Drake up as they staggered through the bar.  It was Pyro’s idea; they had to make people believe that Drake was still under the influence of Lethe, it was the only way, he argued, to get past Morpheus and all the swaying bodies.  Trouble was Drake wasn’t pretending, his head throbbed worse than usual, he was struggling to focus properly and he couldn’t contain the tremors that were erupting all over his body.

The only thing that he could hear above the thump, thump of the music, was that little voice in his head which he tried so hard to keep hidden.  It was nagging at him, asking him how he could’ve been so stupid as to believe that taking a ride on the Arcadia was going to be easy.  Look, it said, at the people, they were nothing but shadows, zombies whose eyes stared at fading memories on the edge of their consciousness, too far out of reach, lost to the Lethe.  Their features were distorted and twisted, like the Gods that kept them enslaved on the boat for all eternity.

Drake thought he could hear their cries, their pleas for mercy, for peace, mingling in with that annoying nagging voice.  How could you have fallen for it?  Free us.  Please?  Are you so consumed by the need for vengeance that you would lead Willow into a trap rather than listen to Pyro?

He felt like screaming as the voices became louder, drowning out even the sound of the music.  Faces leered at him, strangers mocked him.  Stupid boy!  Come and join us, be one of us, forget your troubles.  Drink the Lethe!

A girl in a long black dress and heavy eye make-up grabbed him and he stumbled.  ’Dance!’ she giggled as Pyro fought to keep hold of him.

‘Out of the way!’ screamed Pyro.  ‘He’s going to be sick!’

The girl didn’t seem to register what Pyro had said, her eyes were dead like nothing existed behind them, but she continued whirling across the dance floor in a Bacchanalian trance, asking people to dance.

Drake shuddered.  He could feel zombified hands grasping at his clothes, pleading with him to save them.  But he knew it was no good; they were already dead.  He closed his eyes and let Pyro lead him across the room.

As soon as they’d exited the bar area, Pyro let Drake go.  ’It’s just back there,’ he said pointing down the corridor to the back of the boat.

Drake leant his head against the wall, allowing the cold to penetrate through his skull, to dissipate the mayhem there.  He stood up and rubbed his forehead like he was trying to iron out the creases.

‘Come on!’ snapped Pyro.

‘Okay, okay,’ said Drake.  He took a deep breath and followed Pyro down the corridor, through the gym and to the steam room.

‘In here!’ hissed Pyro as a man in Bermuda shorts strolled past them with a rolled-up towel in his hands.  Drake didn’t fear being seen by the man; he was as dead as the rest of them.

Willow was slumped on a slatted wooden bench, her head squashed up against the wall, her pink hair stuck to her face.  Luckily the steam had been turned off else her make-up would’ve been running down her face with the slug trail.

Pyro sat next to her and, tilting her head back, tipped the contents of the can of pop into her mouth.  As soon as the first sip of the fizzy brown liquid had been swallowed, she opened her eyes and groaned.

‘Where am I?’ she said, slurring her words.

‘Safe,’ whispered Pyro as he stroked her back.  ‘Have some more of this,’ he said, making sure she drained every last drop from the can.

‘My head feels like it’s been used as a football.’

‘Eat this,’ said Pyro stuffing chunks of chocolate into her mouth.

‘You alright?’ asked Drake, propping himself up the wall.  He had to get a grip.

‘Yeah,’ nodded Willow, cradling her head with her hand, ‘I think so.’

Drake took a deep breath and forced himself to stand up.  ’Sit there, eat some more chocolate.  We need to you to be as alert as possible if we’re going to get off this boat alive.’  He turned and closed his eyes momentarily, allowing the dizziness to subside.  He pressed the button on the side of his watch and waited for Gizmo to answer.

‘Gizmo?’  There was no reply, just a dull buzzing of a dead line.  ‘Must be the room, I’ll go out and try, give me a mo.’  Drake stepped outside, steadied himself up the wall, and tried again.

‘Gizmo?’

After a brief pause Gizmo’s smiling face appeared before him.  ‘Hi Drake, how’s it…’ said Gizmo, pushing his glasses back up his nose and squinting, ‘oh, you look a bit rough.’

‘I’m okay,’ replied Drake, his voice calm but slightly betraying his lack of control.  But, even with his Lethe hangover, he could sense that Gizmo was more relaxed with him.  Maybe Gizmo losing Falkor had thawed him out a bit.  ’I need you to do something for me.  We’re stuck on a boat called the Arcadia, got any info on how to get off it?’

‘Can‘t you just get off the deck by the gangway?’ asked Gizmo, his usually smooth brow creased with lots of wrinkles.

‘It’s a bit more complicated than that.  Is there another way?’

‘Just a sec.’  There was silence on the line as Gizmo disappeared.  ‘Okay,’ he said reappearing a few seconds later, ‘according to this, the Arcadia was a mega-yacht owned by the Russian Billionaire Vladimir Berezovsky, hang on, no, that doesn’t make sense.  Drake?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Berezovsky drowned along with over two-hundred partygoers when it vanished in Bermuda in 2011.’  Gizmo looked up at Drake, his face draining of colour as this information slowly sunk in.  ‘Drake, where are you…exactly?’

‘Like I said, it’s complicated.  Can you find any plans?  Any info on how to get off it?’

‘Yeah, the plans are floating in cyberspace.  Hang on.  Okay, here you are; there’s a service exit on the third level below deck, at the back of the ship, port side,’ he said, as the plans of the Arcadia appeared, before Drake’s eyes, superimposed in blue upon his vision.

‘Okay, thanks,’ said Drake, cutting Gizmo off.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 47

Joe paused.

What he got to lose? His life was pretty fucked up already. I mean, everyone hated him in the upper world. And here?

Well, no one hated him here. Yet. But what kind of loser ends up in the Underworld when they’re still alive? And, even though he was still alive, that could easily change and he could end up dead.

But then, he was in the right place for it.

And, his life had kind of been a waste up until this point.

The only thing he’d got going for him was Lola and sometimes he thought she’d be better off without him. He often thought of all the nice families she could’ve ended up with, with big gardens, nice comfy dog beds and a shitdad that didn’t hit her.

What kind of miserable person was he? He kept Lola because of his own selfishness. And he knew it. He was alone in the world and Lola made him feel that little bit less alone but was it worth her being mistreated?

Joe’s heart sank.

He really was a piece of shit, wasn’t he?

Joe pushed thoughts of Lola from his mind. He couldn’t help her down here so he had to forget her for a bit then, when he got back he’d….

No, he couldn’t think of that, not yet.

He climbed the steps and entered the cabin, with his heart feeling like it was in his feet.

Colour and smells seemed to assault him from every direction. His stomach groaned loudly again as he smelt the stew. Beef, he thought, with…carrots…and dumplings. God, he thought it smelled so good that he’d probably commit murder just to have some. His mouth began to water.

He looked over to the black cauldron bubbling in the hearth. Beside it, in the coals, sat a large black iron kettle. On the mantelpiece sat loads of knick-knacks – cat statues, a small crystal ball, a figurine of a naked woman, and some jars filled with what looked like black gloop and a strange clock with lots of dials and fingers and moons. A crooked broomstick leaned up the side of the brick fireplace.

The walls of the cabin were made from a silver-coloured wood that had been covered in colourful drapes and tapestries. And over at the far side of the single-roomed house sat the comfiest bed Joe had ever seen. It was covered with a thick layer of blankets and furs. He yawned. It sure did look inviting.

‘Here you re then,’ said Hel holding out a wooden bowl of steaming stew.

The saliva was beginning to pool at the corners of his mouth.

He took the bowl and began to shovel it into his mouth before he even sat down on the wooden chair placed next to the hearth.

Hades yawned and stretched out his front paws before he circled around in front of the fire several times. He crashed to the floor in a big dog-doughnut and before Joe had taken two mouthfuls of the stew, he was snoring loudly.