Dragon Rider – Part 40

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen Continued

The Iron Fortress

‘Alchymia sent us,’ said Willow cutting through Brimo’s train of thought.

Drake glared at Willow.  Why couldn’t she just keep her trap shut?

‘What?’ screeched Brimo turning to look at Willow, her green eyes blazing with thunder.  ‘My sister has sent you?  It can’t be that important if she sends three miscreants to do her bidding!  Mind you, being down here does play havoc with her skin!’  The Overseer’s raucous laughs echoed around the room, then stopped abruptly.  ‘How do I know you tell the truth?’ she demanded, as she swept around to face Drake, her claw-like finger dangerously close to the end of his nose.

‘She gave me this,’ said Drake reaching for the Amulet of Isis but his fingers found only cold skin.  ’Damn!’ he cursed, as he remembered trading it with Arthur Tinks.  ’I forgot, I-’

The Overseer lurched at Drake and he froze still as her fiery hand felt the top of his chest.  He thought he heard a deep hiss, too low for many normal people to hear, as she removed her hand with a sneer.  Curiously the skin she had just touched felt icy cold, almost like it had been frozen using liquid nitrogen.  He looked down and there upon his chest was burned the image of the Amulet of Isis.

‘My sister has helped you too much!’ screeched Brimo.  ‘How dare she presume to send others down here to do her dirty work!  She disrespects me, always has!’  Brimo began to pace up and down ranting to herself.  ‘So, she wants to play games, does she?  Too precious to come down here and see me.  Sends these instead…insults me.’  Suddenly she stopped pacing and turned to face them, her eyes narrowed into slits.  ‘Hermes, you say?’

‘Yes,’ replied Drake.

Brimo stared off into the corner of the room.  ‘Hermes?  What could she possibly want from him?’  She turned to face them again, ‘What does Alchymia want from him?’

Drake studied her for a few moments before finally, he spoke.  ‘She wants to know where he hid The Emerald Key.’  Well, there was no point lying about it now, was there?  Not now Willow had dropped them in it.

‘I see,’ she sneered.  ‘You may seek out Hermes, he is in the Waiting Area.’

‘The Waiting Area?’ asked Drake, unable to believe it would be that simple.

‘Yes, still has unfinished business, poor fool.  You can talk to Hermes and only Hermes.  Do not talk to any other soul, or remove anything from the Waiting Area, if you do, you will be claimed by me to stay here forever, my sister cannot stop that, do you understand?’ asked Brimo, her eyes narrowing to slits again, like a snake waiting to strike.

Drake and Willow silently nodded.  Pyro was skulking at the back of the room, clearly terrified.

‘You will need these,’ said the Overseer thrusting three small cards at Drake, all with “Visitor” printed on them in bold black letters with the Overseer’s signature underneath.  ‘You have one hour to find Hermes and then to leave this place.  If you exceed that time limit your lives will be forfeit and you will languish here forever.  That is my price, my conditions, do you accept?’

Drake nodded his head once.  ‘And how do we get out of here?’

Brimo smiled broadly.  ‘As if I’m going to make it easy for my sister!  I will help you with one last thing though.  Take this.’  She reached into a small filing cabinet and took out an hourglass the size of a teacup, turned it upside down and gave it to Drake.  The liquid inside the glass began to drop down to the bottom part of the figure of eight, drop by silvery drop.  ‘I can give magickal gifts too,’ she cackled, ‘now be gone before I change my mind.’

Without any hesitation, they sprinted away from the Control Room, took the lift to the ground floor, ran across the foyer and into the yard, then followed the signs for the Waiting Room.

The Waiting Room was a single-storeyed building covered in a cream lime rendering with bay trees in terracotta pots dotted along its exterior.  A burly soldier, dressed in a dark blue uniform with a modified MP5, stood at its entrance.

‘Passes please!’ he barked, as the three of them approached.  Drake flashed the passes at him.  The guard grunted and stepped aside to let them enter.

The foyer was sterile in appearance with white walls, white ceiling and mottled floor tiles.  In the far corner a squat receptionist, dressed in a white dress two sizes too small for her with a white cap perched on top of her brown bun, sat behind a mammoth white desk, her chin barely reaching the top of it.  ‘May I help you?’

‘Er yes, we’re here to see Hermes.’

‘Hermes who?’

‘Trismegestus.’

‘Sign in please,’ she said, pointing a chubby finger at an opened book on top of the desk, its pages blank.  Drake grabbed the blue biro at the side of the book and did as he was told.  She flicked through the database on her palm held notebook, ‘You’ll find him behind the Cypress Grove, under a Fig Tree in front of the sacred cave in the upper left quadrant of the yard.’

‘Thanks!’ shouted Drake, and they raced out of the automatic double doors and into the yard beyond.

The yard was covered in lush green grass surrounded by Oak trees, their leaves burning red against the dead sky of The Underworld.  A row of mobility carts sat idle just outside the foyer.  ‘Come on, we haven’t got much time, let’s take one of these,’ said Drake jumping into the nearest one.  He gave the hourglass to Willow, turned the small silver key in the ignition, and the cart spluttered into life just as Pyro scrambled into the back.

The cart chugged through the Waiting Area, struggling with the different types of terrain it had to cover, from lush grass to mud, then to baked, rocky earth.  They passed the silent figures of Geishas making tea under the pink blossoms of cherry trees, a pirate shouting commands from the helm of his battle-scarred ship, its skull and crossbones flag in tatters and faceless Spirits trudging continuously through knee-high mud, their Tommy guns held aloft as invisible shells blasted the mud around them.

Willow held up the hourglass; only half of the silvery liquid remained.  ‘We haven’t got much time left.’

‘It can’t be much further,’ said Drake staring out into the distance to where ten armoured Gladiators practised their sword strokes against the backdrop of lofty cypress trees.

‘Look!’ squealed Willow, ‘A cypress grove!  That’s where Hermes should be!’

Death’s Apprentice – Part 57

Agnes’ shoulders dropped and she sighed loudly. ‘The truth is…I was careless. I loved him. And I gave my heart away -‘

‘But you said, he stole it.’

‘Joe,’ said Hel, ‘she means she gave it away metaphorically speaking.’

‘Yes. One night we…and then…when I woke up, he’d cut my heart out.’

‘But what did he want with your heart?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’ snapped Agnes. ‘I just want it back.’

‘Okay. Fair enough,’ said Joe. ‘So, what’s he like, this Woodcutter? Is he scary? What’s the plan of attack?’

‘The plan,’ replied Agnes, ‘is for one or two of us to distract him whilst the other sneaks into his cottage and steals it back.’

‘Good plan,’ said Joe, ‘any details?’

‘Well, as I’m going to be helping you get through the Valley of the Dead after I get my heart back, I was hoping that you might be able to have some input into the plan.’

How did I know that was coming, thought Joe.

There was a howl. Joe ignored it thinking it was Hel’s hounds.

‘How are we going to find our way through the forest?’ asked Hel.

‘Yeah, that will be a bit of a problem,’ said Agnes. ‘If we’re not careful we’ll end up losing each other in that thick fog.’

Joe was so tempted to ask why that was a problem. He kind of liked the idea of losing them. They were giving him a headache.

‘Any ideas?’ asked Agnes.

‘What?’ asked Joe.

She rolled her eyes. ‘Ideas so we don’t lose each other. IN. THE. FOG.’ She said the last words very slowly.

I’m not stupid, thought Joe, but unless he came up with an idea, and fast, he would end up looking stupid. Think, think, THINK!

Breadcrumbs? He thought to himself. No, crap idea. No doubt some shitty insects or birds would eat the trail. What about…

‘Got any string?’

‘Why on earth would I bring string?’

He shrugged. ‘They use a line when people go cave diving-‘

‘What has cave diving got to do with this?’

There was another howl.

‘Well, cave divers lay a line of string down so when visibility gets really low they can-‘

‘Still find there way back,’ finished Agnes. She ruffled his hair. ‘You’re not as stupid as you look, are you?’

‘But have we got any?’

‘What?’

‘String.’ God, thought Joe, this was getting really difficult. This is why he prefered working on his own.

Dragon Rider – Part 39

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen Continued

The Iron Fortress

A tall woman, dressed in a khaki uniform, approached them.  ‘Welcome to The Processing Centre, may I help you?’ she smiled at them through thick red lips.

‘Yes, we’re looking for the Main Tower,’ said Willow.

‘Certainly, if you just follow the central path through the Processing Yard you will reach the Tower in a few moments,’ she said, pointing the way with a bright red fingernail.  ‘Don’t look so scared, the Afterlife isn’t like this, this is just the Processing Centre.  Here we have to make sure everyone reaches their correct destination as quickly as possible.’  She thrust a piece of paper at them, ‘Please fill in this questionnaire to tell us how we can improve your experience at the Centre.’

Willow took the paper from her.  ‘We will, thanks for your help.’

Drake, Willow and Pyro negotiated the yard easily, finding themselves at the foot of The Main Tower in a matter of minutes.  Willow discarded the questionnaire into a plastic bin at the side of the entrance before they crossed the wooden bridge over the moat of liquid fire, and entered the tower through the two automatic glass doors.

The foyer of the Main Tower reminded Drake of an ultra-modern hotel like the ones that lined the Business District in Devilsgate.  It was incredibly bright; row upon row of chrome spotlights dazzled from the ceiling, the rays bouncing off the polished black marble floor like dozens of miniature fireballs which had the curious effect of making Drake feel like he was walking on the night‘s sky.  In the centre of the room stood a statue of twisted chrome (An Angel in Contemplation read the silver plaque fixed onto its base) with several designer acrylic chairs arranged around it in a semi-circle.  The receptionist, an elegant brunette, sat behind a black granite desk polishing her nails.

‘Over there,’ whispered Drake, pointing to the steel elevator situated to the right of the receptionist.

The receptionist looked up briefly as Willow, Drake and Pyro made their way over to the elevator.  The phone rang and she looked away.  ‘Hello, you are through to the Main Tower, Tracy speaking, how may I help you?’

Drake scanned the chrome sign on the wall beside the elevator that listed all the various departments within the tower.  ‘Un-human Resources…Complaints and Appeals…The Exit.  I wonder if that really is the way out?

‘Makes sense that it’s in the Main Tower,’ said Willow, ‘we better remember that for later.’

‘Ah, here it is,’ said Drake, ‘the Control Room.’

They stepped into the elevator and the doors glided shut behind them.  ‘Which floor do you require?’ asked a chirpy disembodied voice.

‘Seven-hundred and seventy-seven, please,’ replied Drake.  The elevator ascended so quickly that it didn’t feel as though they were moving at all.

There was a sound like a balloon deflating and an unpleasant smell wafted around the lift.

‘Please refrain from that kind of behaviour in the lift,’ said the Lift-voice.

Pyro shrugged.  ‘What can I say?  I’m surrounded by iron!’

After what seemed like only a second, the elevator came to a stop, a bell pinged and the doors opened.  ‘Welcome to the seven-hundred and seventy-seventh floor, The Control Room.  Please enjoy your stay,’ chimed the voice.

‘What is it with this place; why is everyone so blooming-well happy? snapped Willow.

Drake shrugged his shoulders and then stepped out onto a small landing with large steel doors that slowly opened as they approached.  ‘Let’s go and meet Brimo.’

‘I might just sit this one out,’ said Pyro, slinking to the back of the lift.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Drake, pulling Pyro out by his collar.

‘Will you quit manhandling me?  What is it with everyone thinking they can order me around?’ said Pyro, grabbing back his collar and brushing himself down, although he refrained from flaring up and burning Drake.

Tentatively they stepped through the doors.

Colours leeched out into the darkness from the television screens that covered almost every available surface, each screen broadcasting its own unique image.  Drake could see the brunette receptionist picking her nose and an image of the lobby from which they had entered the Control Room, whilst other images were clearly beaming back at them from the Land of the Living, a small hour glass counting down in the right-hand corner of each of the screens.

‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ said a cold voice from behind a black leather chair in the centre of the room.  The chair swung around to reveal a youthful, but severe, looking woman with red hair tied in a bun on the top of her head.

Drake cleared his throat.  ‘Are you Brimo, the Overseer?’

‘I am.’

‘You’re Death?’ asked Pyro stepping closer.

‘Not exactly,’ said the woman, tilting her head so that her jaw jutted out, ‘I organise the practicalities, the collecting of the Souls, making sure they have the right paperwork, that kind of thing.’

‘Interesting,’ said Pyro nodding his head as he inspected the Control Room with his eyes.

‘What?  Don‘t you think a woman should be in charge of such an operation?’

‘I don’t think he meant that,‘ said Drake.  A fight with Death?  Now that seemed too much like tempting fate.

‘Women give life to the people of the world, it seems only right that a woman also takes it away, don’t you think?’  Brimo’s green eyes blazed, challenging them to disagree.

‘Er, yes I suppose so,’ said Drake.  Was that the answer she was looking for?  God, she was even pricklier than Alchymia!

Brimo rose elegantly from her chair and glided over to the wall of television screens.  ‘So what is so important to two living beings and one fire-djinn, that they risk life and limb to travel through The Valley of Death?  What do you want?’

‘We’re looking for someone who’s dead,’ said Drake, almost immediately regretting the words he had used.

Brimo snorted in derision.  ‘Well obviously,’ she said, her jaw tensing slightly, ‘there aren’t many living things here.  Name?’

‘Hermes Trismegestus.’

‘And what makes you think you can just stroll in here demanding to see one of my Spirits?’ said Brimo looking at Drake over her shoulder.

‘I-’

‘I should strike you down now and be done with you,’ she said, sweeping around to face them, ‘What arrogance you have shown coming in here and disrupting the balance of things!  And the mess you have made of the Forest of Suffering, do you know how long that forest has been there?’

‘Er-’

‘No, I didn’t think you would,’ said Brimo.  She stroked her thin fingers over her chin, ‘So, what to do with you?’

‘Alchymia sent us,’ said Willow cutting through Brimo’s train of thought.

Drake glared at Willow.  Why couldn’t she just keep her trap shut?

‘What?’ screeched Brimo turning to look at Willow, her green eyes blazing with thunder.  ‘My sister has sent you?  It can’t be that important if she sends three miscreants to do her bidding!  Mind you, being down here does play havoc with her skin!’  The Overseer’s raucous laughs echoed around the room, then stopped abruptly.  ‘How do I know you tell the truth?’ she demanded, as she swept around to face Drake, her claw-like finger dangerously close to the end of his nose.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part 56

They’d been walking for hours before they even reached the edge of the Haunted Forest. I mean, thought Joe, how more cliché could you get than the Haunted Forest? He felt like he was in a bloody fairy tale.

Agnes had insisted on preparing him a little rucksack. She’d filled it with sandwiches full of green mushy stuff (Joe didn’t know what it was, nor was he going to ask as he thought that might get him into even more trouble than he already was in) and a flask of tea. Although, after having the last cup of tea with the Dead Man Walking, it had kind of turned him off but she was, at least, trying to be helpful. Joe had slipped the Book of the Dead into the rucksack even though it had proved pretty useless so far.

The bag itself was a little bit of a problem. It was pink with a picture of a My Little Pony on it. This raised several serious questions in Joe’s mind; why had Agnes got a pink My Little Pony Rucksack, and what did that say about her character? He buried these thoughts in the back of his head. He was far too much of a chicken to ask her.

It was pretty obvious, even to Joe, when they’d reached the edge of the Haunted Forest for a thick blanket of fog had started to envelop them in gloom.

‘So, before we go In,’ said Joe, trying to delay the inevitable moment of actually entering the forest, ‘what’s the deal with the Woodcutter?’

Agnes came to an abrupt halt. She spun around, her fists in tight little balls at her side. ‘What do you need to know other than he has my heart?’

‘Well, how did he get it? How did he steal it? It’s not really something that I thought would be easy to steal.’

‘Are you trying to say I was careless?’

‘Well, no…I…was just asking.’

Agnes’ shoulders dropped and she sighed loudly. ‘The truth is…I was careless. I loved him. And I gave my heart away -‘

‘But you said, he stole it.’

‘Joe,’ said Hel, ‘she means she gave it away metaphorically speaking.’

‘Yes. One night we…and then…when I woke up, he’d cut my heart out.’

‘But what did he want with your heart?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’ snapped Agnes.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 38

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen Continued

The Iron Fortress

‘I’ll keep it for you,’ said Willow, holding out her hand to Pyro who was standing still, his mouth agape.

‘Thanks,’ he said, sulkily handing the necklace to Willow who quickly placed it around her neck.

Soon they could see the two troll guards towering over a long queue of people, their broad shoulders blocking the gateway.  The guards stood behind a red cord which they unhooked every time they allowed someone to enter.  They were both dressed in black suits with black shirt and tie.

‘Name?’ asked the one on the left to a petite woman trembling before them.

‘Millar, Mrs Sarah Millar.’

The troll scanned a list of names on his palm-held computer.  ‘Sorry, names not down love, you’ll have to go back,’ he said, pointing a stubby green finger at the end of the queue, ‘to the end.’

‘But…but…my husband just went it…I want to go in…I have to go in!’ she screamed, in between rapid breaths.

‘Sorry, no can do,’ shrugged the troll.  ‘Your details haven’t been processed yet love, so you’ll have to be patient and go to the back of the queue.’

‘I can’t.  I need to be WITH MY HUSBAND!’ she screamed hysterically, pulling at her long brown hair.

‘I’m warning you, love,’ he said, tapping at a sign behind him with a fat green finger.  ‘We will not tolerate any sort of violent behaviour.  Now go back to the end of the queue.’

‘NO.  I WANT TO GO IN!’  Mrs Millar took a running jump at the bouncers.  The guard on the right calmly reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small can.  He pressed its nozzle once and a fine blue spray hit the woman straight in the face and immediately she fell in a crumpled heap on the floor.  Two imps emerged from the shadows brandishing a stretcher.  They scooped Mrs Millar up and dragged her right to the back of the queue.

Drake grabbed Willow with his free hand and dragged her and Pyro to the front of the queue, to the jeers of the crowd.  Well, he had to try something; they were a bit short on time.

‘What are you doing?’ hissed Willow through gritted teeth.

‘Trust me!’ said Drake.  He took a deep breath, puffed out his chest and turned to the guard on the left, ‘We need to get in, it’s urgent.’

‘Names?’

‘You don’t need our names, just let us through.’

‘Look, joker, we need names.’  The troll leaned in towards Drake, Pyro and Willow to take a closer look, his fat green nose widening as he sniffed at them.  Willow and Pyro smiled sweetly.  ‘You smell dead but you’re not.’  He took out a small black gadget from his suit pocket and traced it over Drake’s chest.  The gadget bleeped twice.  ‘No, your name is Drake Erick Blackthorn and you’re definitely not dead, I can detect a heartbeat.’  The troll turned his attention to Pyro, running his gadget over his chest, ‘Ignatius Crisp III, djinn, sub-species fire and you’re alive.’

Drake looked at Pyro and smirked, ‘Ignatius -‘

‘Keep quiet joker.  I need to check the girl.’

‘Willow Ravenwood,’ said Willow.

‘Well, we’ll see about that won’t we?’  The troll, his green chubby face sullen, run his sensor over her chest.  ‘Willow Circe Ravenwood, alive.’

‘That’s all very reassuring to hear,’ said Drake with more than a pinch of sarcasm, ‘but can we go in now?’

‘Look you,’ said the guard, jabbing a fat finger in Drake’s direction, ‘I don’t take too kindly to jokers.’

The second troll cracked his knuckles in a show of solidarity.

‘Oh yeah?’ said Drake.

The guard grabbed Drake by the collar, ‘Right you, in ‘ere!’  he said, hauling him over the cord and into a small room on the left.

Willow scrambled after them, dragging Pyro behind her.

‘You’re in trouble now!’ said the troll clenching his green fist in the air.

‘Now, now, let’s not get too hasty!’ said Drake, holding his hands up in surrender as the troll threw him at the wall.  Drake cringed as he heard the Zephyr crack as it hit it.

‘Not such a big man now, are you?’ said the troll.  He grabbed Drake by the neck and hoisted him off the floor.

‘STOP IT!’ shouted Willow, aiming her fist at the troll’s trunk-like leg.  ‘OW!’ said Willow as she massaged her ballooning knuckles.

The troll didn’t feel a thing.

‘Let me…down…’ rasped Drake.

‘I don’t think so, I’m looking forward to pounding you to a pulp!’

Drake raised his hand and began flapping the tickets Arthur Tinks had given him in the troll’s face.  ‘I’ve got something that you might like.’

The troll loosened his vice-like grip and Drake crashed to the floor.  The troll snatched the tickets from Drake’s hand and studied them with interest.  ‘Where did you get ’em?  They are legit aren’t they?’ asked the troll, one bushy red eyebrow arched.

‘Completely legit.  I wouldn’t offer anything to you that wasn’t.  A little bird told me that these tickets are like gold dust and that you would like to go.  I just thought that if I gave you the tickets you might want to, you know, help us out.’

The troll’s face softened a little.  ‘Okay,’ he said rubbing his stubbly chin, ‘what do you want for them?’

‘We just want to get through to the other side,’ replied Drake.

‘To see Brimo,’ added Willow.

‘You want to see the Queen of the Dead?’  The troll guffawed.  ‘You’ll be lucky, I’ve been here years and I’ve never seen her, she never leaves the safety of the Control Room in the Main Tower.’  The troll looked long and hard at Drake and then at the tickets clasped in his hands.  ‘Okay, you can go through, but don’t tell anyone about this or I will have to find you and break every bone in your body so that you can legitimately join the back of the queue.  Capisce? ‘  He cracked his knuckles to underline what he had just said.  ‘I’m only doing it, mind, because its Ernie’s birthday,’ he motioned to the other troll who was still on crowd-control duty, ‘and he really wants to go to the Blue Pearl.  Now go on, get on wiv yah!’

Without being told twice, Willow and Drake, with Pyro in tow, bolted past the troll and into The Processing Centre.

The Main Tower of the Fortress, a soaring mass of impenetrable iron decorated with giant skulls that belched out liquid fire, lay at the rear of The Processing Centre and in front of it, sat a collection of various sized buildings with green plastic signage with white lettering.  A rather grim-looking building covered in thick barbed wire had a sign saying “Murderers this way for Judgement,” with an arrow pointing at the thick steel door and other signs pointed outbuildings such as The Waiting Room and the Sorting Office for Magickal Beings.  An iron rampart, running from either side of the Fortress, separated the Centre from The Land of The Dead that lay at the other side of the wall: The Final Destination.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 55

Joe sighed and looked at his tea. It was becoming gungy around the edges like when milk goes off. His stomach roiled in disgust.

‘Do I have to drink this?’

‘Deal?’

He sighed loudly. He hadn’t really got a choice, had he? ‘Deal.’

‘Now drink up.’

‘Do I have to?’

‘It’ll make you feel so much better.’

He looked at it, took a deep breath, and prepared himself.

‘Come on, down the hatch.’

He opened his mouth and took a big gulp. It tasted like mud and sweaty armpits and…eugh…he couldn’t. He couldn’t do it. It was only when he tried to take the cup away from his lips that he realised it was being held firmly in place by Agnes.

‘There’s a boy,’ she said, ‘drink up.’

Agnes only removed her hand from the mug when she was sure Joe had finished every last drop.

Joe felt sick. His stomach was loudly complaining about the vile muck he had been forced to drink. She said it would make him feel better. Well, he didn’t feel better. He felt like crap. He felt like he needed a really good burp.

BBBUUUURRRPPPP.

Joe felt red hot shame crawl across his face.

‘Oh, don’t worry,’ said Agnes, ‘it does that to everyone. Bet you feel better though now, don’t you?’

He thought about it. He didn’t feel sick anymore but he wouldn’t have said he felt better.

‘What’s the plan of attack then?’ Hel asked Joe.

‘I don’t know. Where’s the Woodcutter live?’

Agnes threw the bottle that had contained the green substance into the fire. It smashed into tiny little pieces as the fire devoured the glass.

‘He lives in the Haunted Forest -‘

‘The Haunted Forest? Come on, I mean, really?’

Hades gave another, louder cry.

‘That’s to the east of here, isn’t it?’ asked Hel.

Agnes sighed loudly. ‘Yes.’

‘That’s going to take forever,’ said Hel.

‘About a day’s walk, if we don’t run into trouble.’

‘A day? I haven’t got a day. Can’t we just apparate or something?’

Agnes studied Joe with narrowed eyes. She shook her head. ‘Humans,’ she said to Hel, ‘You know who I blame? J. K. Rowling, that’s who. Everyone thinks that’s how magic works. One click of your finger and you can get anywhere in a second.’

‘I don’t think it works like that,’ said Joe.

Agnes shot him a look. ‘What?’

‘Apparating. It’s not a click of the fingers, it’s -‘

‘Yes. Rowling’s fault. Schools for witchcraft and wizardry, I ask you. Now everyone thinks if they get a stick, wave it around and mutter something incomprehensible in Latin that’s magic! Anywayyyy, rant over.’ She placed her hand on her forehead. ‘I don’t know where that came from. Must be a full moon or something.’

‘So when do we go?’ asked Hel.

Agnes sniffed the air.

‘You reading the signs? Making sure it’s the auspicious time to take the journey?’ asked Joe.

Agnes looked at him with what Joe thought might be disappointment. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I think Hades has dropped one.’

Dragon Rider – Part 37

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen

The Iron Fortress

As soon as Drake, Willow and Pyro slipped through the crack in the door they were assaulted by a riot of colour and noise.  They had entered a marketplace, like an Arabian bazaar, the air heavy with the smell of apples, cinnamon and cloves.

Around them, ramshackle houses, made from corrugated iron and cardboard, were crammed haphazardly in between stalls and carts overflowing with bright cloth, exotic spices and grave goods which could be upgraded or exchanged for gold.

In amongst the crowd, brightly cloaked hawkers peddled amulets and talismans whilst a mysterious looking man, wearing a bright red turban, charmed a Cobra out of a wicker basket.

In the distance, separated from the market by a great iron wall, the Fortress loomed like an all-seeing eye.

A small Turkish man, dressed in a cream suit with a crimson fedora perched on top of his head, sprang out in front of them.  ‘Can I interest you a soothing tea before you enter?’  Drake and Willow shook their heads.

Pyro nodded enthusiastically.  ‘Is that apple tea?’

The Turkish man nodded.  ‘Yes, it is the finest.  Come, sit down, enjoy,’ he said, beckoning to Pyro, as he produced a small glass of brown liquid on a delicately engraved silver saucer.

‘I haven’t had apple tea for, well, I think the last time was in 756 A.D.’

‘Pyro,’ snapped Drake through clenched teeth, ‘what are you doing?’

‘Can’t a djinn have a drink now?’

‘Not when we need to hurry up,’ said Drake, grabbing Pyro by the scruff of his neck, ‘now come on!’

Pyro crossed his arms over his chest and scowled as Drake dragged him through the crowd.

‘Special Scroll of Dispensation, Sir?’ asked a balding man with an English accent and horn-rimmed glasses.

‘Er, no,’ said Drake, pushing the guy aside as he searched the heaving crowd for Arthur Tinks, the man who Alchymia had told him to give the amulet to.  How he was going to do that, when he didn’t have a clue what Arthur looked like, or where he would be, was beyond Drake.  It was like looking for a dragon’s tooth in the ocean.

‘Got something for me?’ asked a grubby man in an oversized sheepskin coat.

‘What?’ asked Drake trying to push the guy off his arm as he continued to search the crowd.

‘Alchymia told me to look for you, well, a kid with a funny mark on his face anyway, said you’d got something I‘d be very interested in,’ said the man eyeing his surroundings suspiciously.

Drake looked at the man, his face askew, and crumpled with confusion.  ‘Arthur Tinks?’ he asked, unsure whether he was surprised or horrified to learn that Alchymia knew such a man.

‘That’s me; Arthur Tinks is the name, trading tat, trinkets and totally unusable objects is the game.  So?’

‘Oh yeah,’ said Drake, pulling out the amulet and removing it from his neck, ‘this.’

‘Be careful!’ said Arthur Tinks taking the amulet in his filthy hands and cradling it to his chest as he looked around, ‘you don’t know who could be watching.’  Arthur Tinks looked at the amulet in his hand and nodded his head in appreciation.  ‘A Blood of Isis amulet, very rare, only a few in existence.  It’s heavy,’ he said, as he jangled the necklace about, ‘seems genuine.’  He tested the red body of the amulet with his teeth.  ’Mmmm, like it, can swap it for two genuine Bowlex watches,’ he said, opening the left-hand side of his coat to reveal gold and silver watches, diamond necklaces and other more bizarre items such as mini skulls, bejewelled daggers and various coloured bottles lining the fluffy inside of his coat.  ’Don’t like the Bowlex?  Okay, how about this necklace?’ he said, pulling out a diamond necklace, with a small vial dangling from it that shimmered with all of the colours of the rainbow.

‘Ooh, that’s nice,’ said Pyro, the rainbow colours dancing across his brown face.

‘That’s an actual fragment of Freya’s Rainbow necklace, makes the wearer attractive to any member of the opposite sex.’

‘And that?’ asked Pyro, pointing to a jam jar containing a single black flame.

‘Can’t let you have that I’m afraid, it’s very dark, Alchymia would never forgive me if I let you have that, and it’s reserved anyway.’

‘Okay,’ shrugged Pyro.

‘What’s that?’ asked Willow, pointing a purple nail at a badly singed leather book.

‘Ah, nice item, a Book of Shadows, a member of the Venetian Inquisition swapped it for a Dispensation Scroll when he passed through here,’ he lifted his hand to his face and spoke, in a whisper, from behind it, ‘didn’t want to be seen with it when he passed to the other side, you know.’  Then he winked at Willow as if they’d shared some great secret together.

‘What was he doing with a spellbook?’ she asked.

‘It killed the poor guy, or should I say, the witch it belonged to did.  Er…what was her name?  That’s it, Laura Malipero.  If I remember correctly she’d cursed it, so when the guy opened it, it burst into flames and killed him, burnt chunks of the book in the process too, but there’s still loads of useable spells in there.’

‘And what’s that?’ asked Pyro, pulling a leather strap from Arthur Tink’s coat.  An ampoule of glistening clear liquid hung loosely from it.

‘Mermaid’s tears,’ replied Arthur Tinks.

‘Is that what they look like?  So pretty.  Did you know that one drop of this stuff can cure all kinds of wounds and maladies?’ said Pyro, dangling the ampoule in front of his eyes, mesmerised.  ’I’ve always wanted to see a mermaid,’ he said distractedly.

‘How about two tickets to the Blue Pearl?’ asked Drake.

‘The Blue Pearl, eh?’ said Arthur Tinks, with another wink of his eye.

‘Yeah, the gold ones if you have them.’

‘It just so happens that I’ve got two spare,’ he said, reaching into the other side of his coat.  He took out two golden tickets, emblazoned with the words “Free Entry to the Blue Pearl – Free beer upon entry before 10 pm” and handed them to Drake.  ’I was keeping them for someone else but -’

‘Thanks,’ said Drake, inspecting the tickets.

‘I’m guessing they’re not for you?’ cackled Arthur.

‘Er what?  No,’ said Drake, shaking his head emphatically.  He knew by the look on Arthur’s face that he didn’t know the full story about the Blue Pearl, and, to be honest, he really didn’t want to.

‘Okay, if you say so, no business of mine anyway.  Doesn’t seem like a fair swap to me though,’ said Arthur Tinks, scratching his bald head with dirty fingernails, ‘don’t know what’s happening to me.  The amulet’s worth more than two tickets so I can let you have the mermaid’s tears and-’

‘The spellbook?’ asked Willow, her one eyebrow perched high on her face, ‘Please?  I’ve never had a spellbook…’

Arthur Tinks looked at Drake who just shrugged.

‘Okay,’ replied Arthur, handing the mermaid’s tears to Pyro and then the spellbook to Willow.

‘Thanks,’ said Willow taking the book and stuffing it into her rucksack.

‘You’ll need to go over there,’ said Arthur, pointing at a large gateway guarded by two equally large trolls, ‘if you want to get into The Processing Centre.’

‘Hang on a minute,’ said Pyro, his face twisted in confusion as he looked at the mermaid’s Tears which were fizzing and bubbling, ‘these are boiling!  I can’t use them if they all boil away!’

‘You’re a fire-djinn aren’t you?’ said Arthur.  ‘Water and fire don’t mix, remember?’

‘I want an exchange!’ said Pyro stamping his foot on the floor.

‘Sorry, a deal’s a deal,’ said Arthur Tinks shrugging.  And, without another word, he disappeared off into the crowds.

‘Come on, let’s get out of here,’ said Drake.