Dragon Rider – Part 36

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fifteen Continued

Souls and Shadows

 

Drake looked at the spirit and a smirk played across his lips, ’If this works, Pyro’s right, you are a genius!’

‘So how do we do this?’ asked Willow, a wide smile on her face.

‘Yeah, I mean, if it’s a raging tornado how are we supposed to stay, you know, alive?’ asked Pyro, his face now looking panic-stricken as he began to consider what they were about to do.

‘That’s the tricky bit-’

‘We can dive under there,’ said Willow pointing to a cleft in the earth underneath the roots of a large de-robed oak tree.

‘Well, it’s better than nothing,’ shrugged Drake,

Quickly they clambered into the small hole at the foot of the tree, along with the rotting leaves, the scuttling centipedes, gigantic woodlice and the petrifying bones of the dead.

‘Are you sure about this?’ asked Willow, kicking half a skull away with her pump.

‘Not really, but what else have we got?  Just do it.’

‘Sorry,’ whispered Willow to the green spirit who was banging its fists on the inside of the glass shouting ‘Let me out!’  Holding it firmly in her hands she gave the jar a good shake.

The spirit screamed and flew into a rage, whirring around the jar and expanding in size.  The jar shook violently in Willow’s hands as the spirit turned from green to yellow, to red, to deep blue and then it settled on the colour of the stormiest sky.  Willow managed to hold it firm until she heard the glass crack then she threw it to the ground shouting at Drake and Pyro to hold on tight.

The sound of smashing glass was completely drowned out by the Rarog’s roar, it was like a giant engine beginning to power up as it transformed into a black churning wind, a terrifying monster of Vengeance.

Drake’s eyes were forced shut as dust and bone were whipped up around him.  Somewhere above him, there was a crack as a branch was wrenched away from its trunk.  Willow grabbed onto his arm just as the storm hit them fully, lashing at them like a thousand whips.  He could hear nothing but the rage of the beast as dust and debris were hurled at the prison-like structure that had so far protected them, but he could not predict how long they could withstand the power of the storm.

The Rarog expanded rapidly, gathering trees, branches and bones as it devoured the Land of the Dead.  Drake felt it bite at the roots of the oak and he could hear the cracks as it tore huge pieces of wood from around them.  It seemed like an eternity as they sat, huddled together, under the finger-like roots of the great oak as the storm raged around them.  The Rarog continued its roaring rampage of vengeance until, gradually, it moved off into the distance accompanied by a chorus of agonised screams as it gorged itself on the Souls of the Damned.

They waited anxiously in their prison until they could hear the storm no more, except for the murmurs of it remaining in the air, like memories.  Only then did they feel safe to emerge from their refuge.

‘Geez, that was windier than me!’ exclaimed Pyro dragging himself off the floor, ‘and that’s saying something.  Yez alright?’ he said, turning to Willow.

Willow nodded.  ’I think so,’ she said, removing a twig from her pink hair.

‘Drake?’ asked Pyro.

‘Yeah, nothing ripped off anyway.’

‘So I guess we should bust a move before it comes back, eh?  Don’t fancy being here when it returns,’ said Pyro grimacing.  ‘Too much wind can kill you, you know.  I used to know a guy, who knew a guy, who died from eating too many sprouts. Tragic it was, the way he went.’

Drake could see the black funnel of the tornado cutting a path through the Forest of Suffering, towards the Sorrow Mountains, its lower half surrounded by an almost translucent maelstrom of dust, debris, trees and bones.  The Iron fortress was clearly visible now, a few miles away at the end of the Valley of Death, behind a rolling expanse of grassland, The Burning Fields, peppered with bubbling and spitting pools of mud that smelt like rotten eggs.

The journey through the Burning Fields was swift and all too soon they were confronted by the great wooden doors of the Iron Fortress.  Drake knew that nothing could prepare them for what lay ahead, for now, they were to meet Death itself.

The great doors slowly creaked open.

They had made it to the Fortress.  Quickly they slipped through the crack in the doorway and into the unknown realm beyond.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part 53

He looked at Agnes and Hel who were both studying him with a mixture of amusement and concern. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What the fuck had just happened? Why was he so grumpy? And, more importantly, why the fuck had he just fainted upon seeing a badly healing scar?

What the hell was going on?

And why the fuck was he swearing so much?

‘You ok?’ asked Hel.

No, he really wasn’t and now his face was turning red with shame.

‘I’m sorry for snapping, I don’t know what’s wrong with me,’ he said, rubbing the back of his head. He’d got a nice lump developing there.

‘It’s all good,’ said Agnes, producing a large mug of tea from thin air, ‘I find a cup of tea helps in any stressful situation.’

Joe took the mug from her. It was decorated with dancing unicorns.

‘It’s this place,’ said Hel.

‘Not my cottage?’ asked Agnes.

‘No. The forest.’

‘Ahhhh, I see. Yes,’ said Agnes, rubbing her chin with her hand, ‘it is the Forest of Suffering after all.’ She looked at Joe with those large eyes full of concern and all his grumpiness began to melt away. Again. She had a habit of doing that.

‘It probably doesn’t help that you’re alive.’

‘No, it probably doesn’t,’ said Hel, looking at him in sympathy, her hand firmly on her hips.

‘Maybe we should do something about that?’

‘WHAT?’ shrieked Joe, recoiling back into his chair. ‘I’m okay alive, thanks. I don’t want to die!’

‘No silly, I’m not going to hurt you. You just need a restorative tincture or maybe something a little stronger, hang on.’ Agnes swooped over to a small cupboard in the corner of the room and began to root around in it.

Joe took a sip of his tea to calm his nerves. Things were getting way out of hand.

‘Yes, got it!’ shouted Agnes, spinning on her heels, a small bottle full of a green substance raised in the air.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s Dead Man Walking.’

Joe gulped loudly.

‘Don’t worry,’ said the witch darting over to where Joe sat.

But he was worried.

Very worried.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 52

‘I have lost my heart,’ said Agnes.

‘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.

 

Joe could hear voices in the dark. He recognised them but couldn’t put names to them. He could open his eyes but he didn’t really want to. He was tired and he wanted to sleep. And his head hurt, at the back.

‘Stick that under his nose, that’ll wake him up,’ said one of the voices.

If they were talking about him, he didn’t want to know and he didn’t want to wake up. He wanted to sleep. Why couldn’t they just fuck off and leave him alone?

‘What is it?’ asked the other voice.

‘A mixture I made myself. It contains a lot of traditional ingredients and a few little extra bits I’ve added myself. I was especially pleased with the addition of the Cane Toad guts, it seems to give it an extra je ne sais quoi…’

Several things happened at once. Joe felt something cold and wet thrust under his nose and the most disgusting smell of rotting eggs and…

He didn’t want to think about it anymore. His eyes shot open. Agnes and Hel were stooped over him, a brown bottle of some sort held under his nose. His arm jerked up of its own accord and hit the bottle which fell out of Agnes’ hand and flew across the room.

‘Shit!’ screamed Agnes. ‘It can’t hit the fire.’ She threw her arm out, pointed at the bottle and screamed, ‘Beluk!’ The bottle came to halt and hovered mid-air.

‘What the fuck Joe,’ said Agnes, ‘I was only trying to help and you try and blow my house up!’

‘I don’t need any help and I didn’t mean to.’ He didn’t know why but he felt a little defensive. He dug his elbows into the Persian-carpeted floor and pushed himself up.

‘You sure about that?’

‘You look ill,’ said Hel, pushing the knife in a little deeper.

‘I’m fine,’ he snapped, dragging himself off the floor and onto his knees, ‘it’s just low blood sugar or standing up too quick or something.

‘What like Orthostatic hypotension or something?’

‘Yeah, that.’ Joe hadn’t got a clue what she was on about and he didn’t care. He just wanted her to shut up. He stood up slowly and staggered over to the chair by the fire. He dropped into it like a stone.

He looked at Agnes and Hel who were both studying him with a mixture of amusement and concern. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What the fuck had just happened? Why was he so grumpy? And, more importantly, why the fuck had he just fainted upon seeing a badly healing scar?

What the hell was going on?

And why the fuck was he swearing so much?

Dragon Rider – Part 34

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fifteen

Souls and Shadows

 

‘What if,’ said Pyro, rubbing his neck in horror, ‘we’re actually being punished like Tantalus or Ixion?  What if we’re actually dead but we just don’t know it?’

‘What?’ asked Willow, half distracted as she fought with a bramble ensnared on her hoodie.

‘Tantalus and Ixion-’

‘Don’t tell me, from Greek mythology, right?’ said Willow, inspecting the small hole that had appeared on the arm of her hoodie.

‘Yeah,’ replied Pyro, nodding his head vigorously, ‘Tantalus had to stand in water but could never drink it, so he was eternally thirsty and Ixion, well, he was tied to a huge wheel that turned around and around and around.  Maybe we’ll be just left to wander around here for eternity, always searching for something and never quite making it, not even knowing if we’re alive or-’

‘Will you just shut up!’ snapped Drake, spinning around to face Pyro, blazing anger burning in his eyes.

‘Wow!  Who rattled your cage?’

Drake stared at Pyro, he could feel the heat rising, his anger brooding in the pit of his stomach like a snake waiting to strike.  He took a deep breath, turned around and continued on through the haunted corridors of the Forest.  Something was wrong with this place.  He could feel it.  It was unnatural, like the darkness around them that ebbed and flowed like a river, almost as if it were alive.  One minute it was twilight, the next pure black with no way of seeing through it at all, but he could feel their presence; the Souls of the Damned, their eyes staring, watching him.

A cold wind suddenly chilled his bones and he pulled his coat tightly around him but he knew it wasn’t the wind that stabbed at him.  No wind existed in this dead place.  It felt more like a thousand icy hands penetrating his skin, tearing at his heart.

Who knew how long they’d been travelling through the labyrinth of wraithlike trees, their twisted branches looming over them like giant hands waiting to grab them and gobble them up.

And who knew how long they could survive in this Godless place?

‘Got the Hand of Glory?’ asked Willow, as they paused for what seemed like the hundredth time as darkness blinded them momentarily.

‘Yeah,’ said Drake pulling it from his jacket and passing it to her.

‘Lichte,’ she commanded and the Hand of Glory sprang into life.

But the light provided no comfort for Drake; on the very edges of its existence, he thought he could just see the spectral faces of the Damned fluttering to and fro, their whispers harmonizing like a swarm of meat flies around fresh meat.

Onwards they plunged through the thickets of brambles and the warped trees, with the bones of the dead crunching under their feet.  The bitter chill swelling around them, freezing their breath as it escaped in wisps, filling their desolate hearts with ice.  But then, in the pit of his stomach, Drake could still feel the anger burning away, simmering like a furnace that was about to blow.  He could hear them whispering, hear them laughing at him.

‘You could just say thank you,’ said Pyro, cutting through the silence with a chainsaw.

‘What?’ asked Drake spinning around to face him.  Why had he brought him?  It wasn’t like he did much, except fart and whinge, in that annoying squeaky drawl of his.  Drake felt sick to the stomach to think he’d nearly felt gratitude towards him for saving them on the boat.

‘You haven’t even had the common decency to say thank you,’ said Pyro, something dangerous beginning to play across his eyes.

‘Thank you?  For what?’  No, thought Drake, looking deep into Pyro’s burning eyes, Pyro hadn’t saved them out of kindness.  No.  There was something in it for him.  And for Fenrik too?  Had to be.

‘Yez joking?’

‘No,’ said Drake, his jaw tightening with every word he spoke.  ‘You only saved us back there so we’d get out and find the Key.  What are you going to do when we find it Pyro?  Take it and give it to Fenrik?  Is that the plan?’

‘Excuse me?  You dragged me here-’

‘Convenient for you, eh?’  How he wanted to get his hands around that scrawny little neck.

‘What?’

‘You’re going to steal The Key,’ said Drake, smacking the side of his head with the heels of his hands, ‘that’s it, isn’t it?  You little-’

‘Drake! Stop!  Don’t do this,’ warned Willow, diving in between Drake and Pyro, her arms outstretched, the light from the Hand of Glory streaking across the claw-like canopy of trees.

‘What exactly is yez problem?’ asked Pyro, his orange skin pulsating with rage.  ’What exactly do yez want from me?’

Drake spat at Pyro’s feet.  ‘I want nothing from you,’ he said leaning over and glaring straight into his eyes.  He hated this djinn so much that it physically hurt inside him.

‘Good, cause yez not getting anything from me.  Yez an ungrateful piece of…’  Pyro sighed and shook his head, ‘Yez really do have a problem.’

‘At last, you’re catching on!  It’s you.  You are my problem!’

‘Me?’ asked Pyro, slapping his chest with his hand.  ‘I’m not your problem Drake.  Yez need to look in the mirror.’

‘I’m not the grubby little demon working for Fenrik!’

‘Drake, you don’t know that,’ said Willow.

‘The same grubby demon who just saved your butt!’

‘We could’ve managed-’

‘If that’s the case why bring me?  Oh, I get it, so you could use me as a punching bag.  Very impressive, must make your father so proud!’

‘Pyro, that’s enough!’ shouted Willow.

‘Oh stop press!  The hero of this story has no father, well boo-hoo!’ said Pyro flinging his arms in the air, ‘I’ll give you my shrink’s number, he’s great with nut jobs-’

‘Pyro!’

Drake grabbed Pyro by the collar, hoisted him off the floor and rammed him up the nearest tree.  ‘I ought to-’

‘Well, come on big boy, let’s do it!’ shouted Pyro, his hands flapping wildly, his body sparking like a piece of tinder.

‘Stop it!’ screamed Willow.

With a jerk of his head, Drake turned to look at Willow.  ‘Why don’t you just get lost you stupid witch!’

‘What?’ asked Willow, stepping backwards.

Drake dropped Pyro and turned to face Willow.  He could see the hurt and confusion written all over her face but still, he continued.  ‘God knows why I ever agreed to this, you’re useless, can’t even do magick properly!’

‘What?’ was all Willow could manage as she slumped against a tree.  ‘Not you Drake, I can take it from anyone but you.’  Tears began to well in the corners of her big brown eyes.

Drake huffed.  ‘Don’t cry.  Don’t you dare cry!’

Willow stood up tall, the determination not to cry clear on her face.  ‘Why did you even bother coming back?  You really don’t care about anyone but yourself, do you?’

‘I don’t need to listen to you!’ snapped Drake, turning away from her.

‘Oh, here we go.  Walk away again, it’s what you do isn’t Drake?’

Pure darkness fell on him like a stone, blasting his insides apart with its evil.  He couldn’t think, his head felt like it was going to explode.  His body was shaking, he was like a bomb on the verge of exploding and those cries of utter sadness from the depths of the darkness were really starting to drive him mad.  He stuffed his hands under his armpits and tried to keep still, to count in his head, to remember what he was doing here.  Because all he wanted to do was hit something, or someone, really hard.

He lost control, swung around and punched wildly.  He felt the jolt in his arm as he hit the unyielding trunk of an oak tree, his knuckles screamed in pain as warm blood poured from the wound.

‘Damn it!’ he hissed as he cradled his hand.

He couldn’t stay here; he could feel all those hands dragging him down, pulling him into the abyss.  He had to get away.

Without a second glance, he turned and fled into the darkness of the Forest.

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.

 

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.