Dragon Rider – Part 35

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fifteen Continued

Souls and Shadows

Drake had walked and walked.  All the darkness looked the same to him; deep, forbidding, hopeless.  Every tree looked like the last; twisted, warped and damaged, just like his soul.  Like the souls of the Damned that were converging upon him, a pack of wolves stalking a weak and injured animal.

He slumped to the ground, his heart like a lump of lead in his chest.  He could no longer feel his legs, they were numb and dead like the rest of him.

‘So, this is how it ends?’ he asked the darkness.

And the darkness replied; ‘Come to us.’

Drake could feel his heart gradually slowing down.  ‘No,’ he replied weakly.

‘You’ll never escape,’ sang the bitter-sweet darkness, like honey laced with a huge portion of cyanide.  ‘You belong with us.’

‘No.’ His voice was barely more than a whisper.

‘Drake!  Drake!’

Drake’s head snapped up as he heard his father’s voice.  He stared into the darkness, his eyes frantically searching for his father.  ‘Dad?’

‘Come on Drake, come and join us.’

‘I…’  His heart felt like it had been hacked in two.  What it would be like to see his father, to hold him!  Tears gushed from his eyes as he ached with longing.  How things could have been different!  A huge wave of melancholia crashed over him, consumed him, took his breath away like he was drowning in a deep black sea of sadness.

He wanted to go to that dark place, to the place where his father was; so he closed his eyes, surrendered himself, and let the darkness take him.

But in that dark he could feel a warmth pressing against his chest, pulsating like the heart pumping blood around his body.  With his eyes still closed, his trembling hands grappled at his chest and found a small angel, the Blood of Isis amulet that Alchymia had given him.  He smiled; what a waste it had been to accept such a precious gift!


Alchymia?  What a strange person to think of just before he was going to die.

‘Drake, open your eyes.’

‘I can’t,’ he whispered.  His eyes were just too heavy, broke like the rest of him.  He felt something cold grasp his hand but it was familiar and oddly comforting as it touched his skin.  Like an angel, he thought, taking him to the other side properly, not like the illegal immigrant he was now.  He smiled and tears welled in his eyes as the angel began to warm him from the inside out.  His pain was nearly over.

But it didn’t feel like death.  He could feel life filling his veins, dissolving the desolation, melting the ice.

‘Open your eyes.’

He was confused; he knew that voice well but she wasn’t an angel taking him to meet Death.  Slowly he opened his eyes; in front of him stood an old lady dressed in black, her sunken black eyes filled with pity and love.

‘You need to fight it, Drake.  The Damned are eating at you from the inside, taking your demons, your worst nightmares and using them against you.  It will be the same for Willow and Pyro if you don’t fight it!’

But he couldn’t, how could he fight it?  His heart was too heavy, like a stone drowning in a rushing river.  He let his eyes slowly shut again.

‘Drake, I will not let you die here.  Open your eyes!’

This time a spark jolted his heart into beating.  He did as he was told and stared into those dark eyes that had already saved him once when she helped him to save Falkor, and they were now saving him again.

‘Alchymia? How?’

‘I have been watching you ever since you entered The Valley.’

Drake looked at her, his eyes full of wonder and gratitude as he started to understand.  ‘The crow?’

‘Yes.  I can only visit my sister in this form,’ she said, looking away, a slight tinge of bitterness etched into her voice, ‘or as the crow.’

Drake shook his head feebly.  ‘I-’

‘I know,’ she said placing her hand on his chest, pressing the warmth of the amulet into his skin.  ‘I did not tell you because I could not.  I should not even be here now, upsetting the balance of things, but I could not send you into the bowels of Death’s lair without some sort of real protection.  If Brimo knew I was here…’ she broke off and stroked his face with the touch of a mother nursing her newborn.  ‘We have not got much time Drake, so I need you to listen.  This Amulet is filled with the Blood of Isis, it will bring those lost back to you.  Hold it out, let it shine and they will come.’


‘Shush, for now, just listen,’ she said holding up her wrinkled, liver-spotted hand to silence him, ‘Once you have found your two companions tell Willow to use the stowaway in her bag to set you free.’  Alchymia saw his confusion, ‘Do not worry, she will know what you mean, trust in me.  Now, once you get through the main gates of the Fortress, you must seek out Arthur Tinks, he is an old friend of mine who deals in Antiquities.  Find him and exchange the Amulet for some Golden Blue Pearl tickets.  Drake, what did I just say?’

‘Golden tickets-’

‘Good.  You must remember that, you will need them to bribe the guards to let you through the Great Gates.  It is very important that you exchange the Amulet, do you hear me?’ she asked, a tuft of silver hair escaping from under her black headscarf.

Drake nodded feebly.

‘I must go now,’ she said, pulling him up from the ground.  ’Remember everything I have told you and whatever you do, do not let Brimo see the Amulet.’  She placed her cold hands on either side of his face and kissed the top of his head.  She stepped back and then was gone, replaced by an iridescent crow which cawed once before it took off into the dead sky.

Drake took the Amulet from around his neck and held it high in the air, but he was unsure of whether he had actually seen Alchymia or whether he was just delirious.  The Amulet pulsed in his hand and began to radiate light like a distress flare, it’s red light a beacon in the darkness.  All around him the Souls of the Damned shrieked in pain like vampires exposed to daylight, and they scuttled back into the shadows and away from the Amulet’s brilliance.

‘What the hell do you think you were doing?’ screeched Willow, as she appeared out of the darkness.  She launched herself at Drake, shoving him forwards.

‘Ow!  What was that for?’ said Drake spinning around.

‘What was that for?  What was that for?  Do you have any idea what you taking off just did to me?  Do you?’  She stood there, hands on her hips, amber eyes blazing from under a sea of pink hair.

Drake shrugged.  ’I’m sorry, it’s this place, it’s just…’  He could see her scowl even through the strange red light.

‘I mean, as soon as you took off the Hand of Glory went out, couldn’t get it to light again and I’m supposed to find you in this!’ she said, flinging her hands in the air.  ’Pyro said I should leave you-’

‘Pyro was probably right.’

‘I wouldn’t say that,’ said Pyro, the red light of the Amulet picking out the fluctuations in his skin colour, ’but what I would say is that this place is giving me the willies.  It’s messing with my head.  We need to get outta here as fast as we can.  Together.’

Drake nodded, but remained silent.  He could see the sincerity in Pyro’s eyes, hear it in his voice.  But to work with a demon?  Goddammit, they assisted Fenrik in his evil and even murdered his father on the guy’s orders!

Willow put her hands on her hips and sighed loudly.  ‘So, any idea how we get out of here?’

Drake sighed and nodded at Willow’s rucksack.  ‘Use the stowaway in there-’

‘The stowaway?  Have you lost your mind?  What are you…Oh…’ said Willow, looking away and fidgeting on the spot.

‘Willow?’ said Pyro, eyeing her suspiciously.

‘Look, I’m sorry,’ she said, shrugging before she slipped the bag off her back.  She opened it and rummaged inside.  ‘I found him at Alchymia’s; he was whirring around, stressed out,’ she said, fetching out the small glass jar with the gold, screw-top lid.  Inside, a little green spirit sat cross-legged, its back up against one side of the jar, its diamond-shaped head in its hands.  ’Meet the Rarog.’

‘Willow, I don’t think I approve of keeping spirits in jars you know,’ said Pyro, moving in closer to have a better look, ‘It’s not nice, I mean, look at the poor guy-’

‘He was distressed when I found him, I didn’t mean to keep him locked up for so long.  I just…forgot about him.  Sorry!’

Drake placed the Amulet back on his neck and strode over to Willow.  ’And this is going to help us, how exactly?’ he said, pointing at the grumpy looking spirit who was sticking his tongue out at them and making rude hand gestures.

‘Well-’ said Willow.

‘You’re a genius!’ said Pyro, his red eyes beaming.  ‘He’s a wind spirit and if we get him mad enough, he’ll turn into a raging tornado!’

Death’s Apprentice – Part 42

Joe had no idea how long they’d been walking through the forest. Walking? What he actually meant was stumbling through because even though the trees seemed to strangely move apart when Hel skipped through them, their gnarly roots seemed to try and trip him up whenever possible. He’d fallen over that many times that he was now considering crawling.

There was no telling what time it was down here in the underworld. There was no sun to mark the passing of the day, and no moon to show the passing of the night. Instead, there was a murky, unforgiving twilight that hung over them, a light that was completely useless for walking through a forest.

Joe’s stomach gave a long hard groan.


He hadn’t even considered how he would feed himself down here. In this…shit hole.

Yes. The further he stumbled, the more he realised this place was a shit hole. Not like his house (not home, for was the place he went to bed really a home?). No, that was a shit hole, shit hole. This dark, forbidding place was a shit hole because it stunk like a toilet that hadn’t been flushed for a month and the funny light seemed to be sucking the very life from him. His legs were burning, his eyes were burning, his lungs were burning and he felt like shit.

Joe thought that he probably used the word shit far too much but that word seemed to sum up so much of his life.

His stomach groaned again. So loud that it echoed through the trees. Or that’s how it felt to Joe.

Hel stopped stone still in front of him. Her hounds did the same. It was almost like they were connected on some telepathic level.

‘What was that?’ she whispered, slowly turning to face Joe.

Joe’s stomach roared again.

‘It’s me. Sorry,’ he said, with a small shrug.

‘Ahhhh,’ she said, as comprehension dawned on her. ‘You’re hungry?’


‘One of the problems of being alive, I suppose?’

‘Well, I wouldn’t class eating as being a problem,’ said Joe.

‘It kind of is down here,’ she replied.

‘Dead people don’t eat,’ said Joe, realising this could be a major problem. Was he going to die of hunger down here? Was he going to shrivel up like a prune, his body left to the creepy crawlies that probably lurked in the undergrowth?

Dragon Rider – Part Ten

Dragon Rider

Chapter Six Continued

Going Nowhere, Fast

Willow sat cross-legged on a crumbling window ledge, flicking through the pages of a black leather book with fat gold hinges that Drake had managed to “borrow” from an Antique Book Dealers.  ‘Here it is,’ she said, clearing her throat, ‘The Emerald Key is not a key as such, but a magickal text that allegedly allows the reader to unlock all of the wisdom in the Universe and, because of this, anyone who possesses it can wield great power.

‘It was the first book ever to be created and was written by the God Mercury at the request of Zeus so that he had a full record of everything he possessed.  Unfortunately, it was stolen from Mount Olympus, along with fire, by Prometheus who gave it to Hermes Trismegistus, the Book’s Guardian on earth.

‘The Emerald Key has been passed down through generations of Guardians who swore to protect it as Hermes had once done.  It is believed that Guardians have included Roger Bacon, Nicholas Flamel and Edward Sampson, among others.’

‘That’s it?’ asked Drake.

‘Yep, apparently the book simply vanished around 1832,’ finished Willow.  She dropped the book on to the window ledge and went to sit next to Drake on the sofa.

Drake closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  ‘Okay Gizmo, what’ve you got?’

‘Not much more than what Funestus told us,’ said Gizmo.  ‘Apparently, that Canches guy-‘

‘The one who wrote the notebook?’ asked Drake.

‘Yeah, he was friends with Nicholas Flamel, one of the most famous Alchemists of all time-’

‘Nicholas Flamel?’  Drake laughed, ‘The crackpot who allegedly created the Philosopher’s stone?’

Gizmo nodded his head.  ‘It was Flamel who had the book, he just showed it to Canches.  It was The Emerald Key that gave Flamel the instructions on how to create the stone so that he could conquer death-’

‘Conquer death?’ asked Drake, his voice full of scepticism.

‘Don’t ask me,’ shrugged Gizmo, ‘I’m just reading what it says here.’

‘Okay, sorry,’ said Drake.  Boy, was this guy sensitive.  ‘Do you think you could do some more digging, see what else you can find?’

‘I’ve got Ailsa on to it, if she comes up with anything, I’ll let you know.’

Drake sighed.  ‘We have no leads, nowhere to start.’

‘Give it a couple of hours and I’m sure Ailsa will come up with something-’

‘I don’t think we’ve got a couple of hours, Fenrik’s already on to it, I know it.’  Drake banged his fist on the arm of the sofa, ‘If only we knew what he was up to.’

‘What we need is someone magickal, someone who can give us another angle on The Emerald Key.  Know anyone at the Uni Giz?’ asked Willow.

‘No, I’m sure-’

‘That’s it!’ said Drake smacking his forehead with the heal of his hand, ‘How come I didn‘t think of that before?’  He jumped up from the sofa.  ‘I need to pay an old friend a visit, she’s a Mystick, she’ll know where we need to start.’

‘You know a Mystick?  Why haven’t you told us this before?’

Drake shrugged.  ‘Her name is Alchymia, she’s helped me out a few times, maybe she’ll be able to help again.  She’s a good place to start anyway.’

‘So where do we find her?’


‘Drake, now isn’t the time for jokes-’

‘I’m not joking.  It’s an old magickal town to the north-west of here.’  Drake rubbed his chin, deep in thought.  ‘Didn’t think I’d go back there so soon.  It’ll be dangerous, can’t risk Falkor-’

‘Dangerous, how exactly?’ asked Gizmo, who had stopped flicking his hand over the images on the screen in front of him.

‘Long story.  Let’s just say I’m not very welcome there.  But still, it’s the only lead we’ve got.’

‘So when do we go?’ asked Willow, jumping off the sofa.

‘We don’t,’ said Drake, grabbing his Zephyr, ‘I go alone.’

‘Drake,’ said Gizmo, ‘you’ll need help.’

‘You,’ said Drake, slapping Gizmo on the back, ‘need to fix the problem you’re having breaking into the Enforcerer’s computers.  You also get to send Ailsa to infiltrate Fenrik’s system-’

‘No!’ cut in Gizmo, ‘I can’t allow that, it’s too dangerous, I-’

‘I know, but we need to know what he’s up to, what info he’s got, how close he is to finding it.  Find that out and we’ll have half a chance.’

‘And what do I get to do?’ asked Willow, her hands firmly on her hips, her eyes thunderous.

‘You get to stay here and help Gizmo.’

‘Drake?  Come on!’

‘I’m going alone.’

‘You’re not even taking Falkor?’ asked Willow, suddenly concerned.

‘Who’s Falkor? asked Gizmo.

‘No, it’s too risky, they’re not exactly pro-dragon where I’m going, and on the subject of Falkor…’

‘Dragon?’ asked Gizmo, swinging around in his chair, ‘no one said anything about dragons-’

‘No Drake, I’m not looking after him,’ said Willow shuddering, the thunder in her eyes now replaced by a look of horror.  ‘Look, I like dragons, really, I do, but I couldn’t look after one.  Anyway, if you’re not taking him you’re going to need transport.  We can use my Metatron, it’s a bike that Gizmo’s souped-up, very fast, very cool, you’ll like it.’

Drake chortled.  ’I was only going to ask if you could keep an eye out for him and give me the heads up if anything happens, that’s all.  But the Metatron sounds like a good idea.’

‘Great!  You get to go on an adventure and I get to babysit a Dragon.’

‘Will someone tell me when we got a pet dragon?’ asked Gizmo.


Dragon Rider – Part Six

Dragon Rider

Chapter Four

Funestus Black

Black’s mansion made all the other houses in the immediate surroundings look cheap by comparison.  Its vast Ionic-columned porch was topped with a pediment complete with marble sculptures depicting the moment the Faeries took over Devilsgate and behind it sat a huge golden dome that dazzled like the sun.  Not that the sun had shone in Devilsgate for a very long time.

Drake and Gizmo climbed the marble steps up to the red lacquered front doors.  Gizmo grabbed the gold doorknocker and paused to look over his shoulder at Drake, ’For some reason Willow trusts you, don’t blow it, a lot is riding on this.’  He turned back to the door and rapped the knocker twice.

‘Okay,’ sighed Drake, ’but I’ve already told you, I can’t promise anything.’

Moments later the sound of shuffling feet could be heard behind the over-sized doors.  There was a brief pause before the doors slowly opened.

Drake took a step back and shuddered.

A grey hunched-back demon, dressed in a white shirt and pique vest, appeared from behind the door.  He bowed low, so low in fact that he nearly scraped his rather long nose on the marble floor.  ‘Good afternoon.’

Drake cringed.  Demons; he hated demons.  They were the lowest, selling their souls to anyone that would have it them off them.

‘Hello, it’s Lomax isn’t it?’ asked Gizmo.

‘Ah, Mr Chetana.  I do apologise, I didn’t recognise you in present company.’  The Demon eyed Drake up and down suspiciously, his nostrils flared in disgust.

Drake squeezed his hands into fists.  That demon had some nerve.

‘We have an appointment with Mr Black at three,’ said Gizmo.

Lomax’s green eyes traced over the marking on Drake’s face.  ‘Are you sure you have an appointment?  Mr Black is very busy with guests at the moment,’ he said, speaking to Gizmo but not taking his eyes off Drake.

‘Could you please just check for us?’ snapped Drake.  This Demon was starting to do his head in.

Gizmo glared at Drake before turning back to Lomax.  ‘Please Lomax?  I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important and we do have an appointment, I booked it with Funestus myself.’

Lomax sighed.  ‘Alright.  You may come in and wait.’  He bowed low again and backed into the hallway whilst gesturing for Drake and Gizmo to follow.

The hallway was huge, probably half the size of a small house.  A large staircase, carpeted in unicorn hair that had been dyed crimson, dominated the back wall, its large oak bannisters, dripping with carved grapes and vines, twisted elegantly up to the next floor.  And from the domed ceiling hung a diamond chandelier the size of a medium sized dining table.

Lomax knocked on black double doors to the right of the hallway.  A muffled voice told him to enter and he disappeared into the room.

A few moments passed, in which there were raised voices and a thumping sound, before Lomax shuffled out of the room, pulling the doors closed behind him.

‘Mr. Black will be out to see you in a short while, if you would like to wait in his study.’  Lomax led them through double doors on the opposite side of the hallway and into Funestus Black’s study.  He motioned for them to sit down on two antique chairs, bowed low, and backed out of the room.

‘Nice pad,’ said Drake, running his hand over the top rail of one of the mahogany chairs.  His eyes lingered on Funestus’ uncluttered walnut desk and then to the bookshelves behind it stuffed full of books, both old and new, on a vast array of subjects from the antique leather-bound “Approaching the Ars Magica”, to “Demons: Techniques in Domination and Detention” and the new paperback by Zion Collins, “Zoning into Zoroastrianism”.

Drake turned as the mahogany Grandfather Clock in the corner of the room struck three.  Rare piece, thought Drake, not many human clocks of such size or decoration survived the Appropriation Riots as the Faeries seemed to like chopping them up for firewood.  That clock, sold on the black market, would feed the Lost Souls for a while and would get him off the hook.  Would be a bit of a problem getting it out of the house though.

He smiled, shook his head and walked over to the walnut bureau sitting beside the clock.  It was adorned with photographs of a blonde haired man shaking hands or accepting gifts and accolades from various celebrities including Stud Buchanan, the lead singer of Drake’s favourite band, The Skulls of Destiny, Daniel Powell from The Witch Factor and Gizmo’s actor father Yash.

Gizmo coughed and fidgeted in his chair.

‘Relax,’ said Drake spinning around, his boots squeaking on the parquet floor, ‘I’m not going to touch anything, mind you, this whole room would probably keep the Lost Souls going for a good few-’  But Drake stopped as he caught sight of an oil painting, with a thick gilt frame, hanging over the great baroque pavonazza fireplace on the far wall.

Drake swept over to it.

‘What’s up?’ asked Gizmo, as he turned in his chair to get a better look.

‘Look at this,’ said Drake, ‘I’ve…I’ve never seen anything like it before-’

‘Yes, it is exquisite, isn’t it?’ came a silky voice from behind them.

Drake turned his head to see a slight man, dressed in a ruby red silk smoking jacket, standing in the doorway, his aftershave filling the room with the fragrant smell of crushed orchids from Shangri-La and the aromatic teardrops of the weeping blossom tree that blooms only once every fifty years.

‘That is the legendary Fiery-death, the dragon fashioned out of pure copper by Vulcan at the behest of the Gods.  It is supposed to inhabit the bowels of Hell, if you believe in such things.’

‘It’s so…vivid.  It looks so real.’

‘Yes, the artist, Joseph Banks, was very talented.  See how he has blended the gold, reds and oranges over there,’ said Funestus, coming to stand right behind Drake, his slender hand pointing to the bottom of the painting, ‘it actually seems as though the flames are projecting out at you and look here at the eyes, the eyes of the beast blaze with such a ferocity that you can feel its hatred.’  Funestus turned and extended his pale hand from under his silk jacket to Gizmo.  ‘Ah Gizmo, how nice to see you again.  How is your father?’

‘He’s good thank you, busy filming in the Honduras, and you?’

‘Oh, you know how it is, busy, busy, busy, and this is?’ he said, turning to Drake, his one eyebrow arched high, hidden under his floppy blond fringe.

‘This is Drake Blackthorn,’ said Gizmo.

‘So you are the young man that Gizmo and Willow have told me about.  Pleased to meet you.’  He shook Drake’s hand loosely, his cold hand barely touching Drake’s skin.

Drake remained silent and unrelenting as he watched Funestus’ blue eyes lingering on his own face, on his tattoo.  He was almost immune to the stares now but this guy, this guy made him feel weird, unclean even.

‘To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be seeing you.’  Funestus swept behind his desk and perched himself upon the arm of his red leather chair.  ‘I didn’t think that they’d be able to persuade you to come.’

‘Well, as Willow explained-‘ started Gizmo.

Funestus held a pale hand up to silence him and turned his gaze to Drake.  ‘Now, now Gizmo, let me talk to the young man that I’ve heard so much about.’

‘So talk,’ said Drake, his eyes not faltering under Funestus’ scrutiny.  He could feel Gizmo cringing beside him, but he didn’t care.  He disliked Funestus already; he was clearly playing games and Drake hated games.  The guy was asking for all he got.

Dragon Rider

I’m probably getting really boring now but I’m going to start serialising the first novel I ever wrote, Dragon Rider, on here. In some ways, it’s my favourite book I’ve written; it was my first baby and took nearly ten years to write. So why am I sharing it? Well, it’s a good book (I know, I’m biased!) and it’s languishing at the bottom of Amazon’s rankings and I thought, sharing it here will mean a few more reads (hopefully).

Also, I thought it would be good to use it as a case study, so we can maybe discuss what is good about it, the bad points, the weak points. Let’s rip it apart and see what happens. As I’m sharing it, I thought I could also add some helpful tips for when you’re writing and also discuss method and character development and other things like that. So, let’s see where this journey take us (corny, I know :)).

I’m going to share it in cut up chunks, but not whole chapters. I thought it would be easier to break it up into easily digestible pieces.

Dragon Rider

It is said that a man with revenge in his heart should dig two graves; one for his enemy and one for himself.  Perhaps this is true, but I’m not ready to take to my grave.  Not yet.

I ask you; what do you do if there is no justice?  If the law itself is rotten and corrupt.  What then?  Should we let those who do wrong get away with it, turn the other cheek to their crimes?

Chapter One

Hunting Dwarves

A scream exploded somewhere in the distance but broke off before it reached its terrifying conclusion.  Another life sucked dry, thought Drake, as the bitter smell of blood rolled in on the mist, along with the dead leaves and the smell of decay.  He pulled his black hood over his head and slunk back into the shadows like a black panther stalking its prey, his vivid green eyes alert, his body pumped for action.

There was movement in the alleyway opposite, a slight rustle of paper, a scraping sound.  He stopped breathing momentarily, his hands curling into tight balls at his side as he listened harder.  Had his senses failed him, were the Shadow Walkers really that close?

A rat emerged from the darkness and scuttled across the road.  It ran halfway, stopped, sat up on its back legs and sniffed the air.  Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it fled back to where it had come from.

Drake silently exhaled and allowed his body to relax, but only a little; no, his instincts hadn’t diminished, they were as sharp as the tip of a dragon’s tail; the full-bodied stench of the blood told him the Shadow Walkers were about four blocks away.  And if he stayed here much longer they would smell him too.

A distant clock chimed midnight.

The witching hour.  His informant should’ve been here half an hour ago.

He searched the shadows, tracing his eyes along the graffiti-covered wall and the overflowing bins that ran down the length of the narrow street.  It had started to drizzle; he could see it falling at an angle in the light pooling around the streetlamps, like tiny shards of sparkling glass.

It was then he noticed a cloaked figure step into the light at the foot of one of the lamps.  The figure stopped, glance behind briefly, then turned and walked towards Drake, the tip-tapping of their hurried footsteps on the wet pavement cutting through the silence of the brooding city.

Drake stepped forward, emerging from the shadow.

The footsteps stopped.  ‘Drake, is that you?’ asked the figure.

Drake removed his hood and nodded.

The figure hurried forward, greeting Drake with a smile as she came to rest beside him.  He could smell the floral notes of her perfume, it was fresh, only recently applied.  He smiled to himself.

The woman removed her midnight blue hood, letting her auburn hair cascade down around her shoulders, the drizzle catching in it like diamonds.  ‘Sorry I’m late, couldn’t get away,’ she said, taking a small white envelope from her silver handbag and giving it to him.  ‘This is what you wanted.’

‘Thank you,’ he replied, taking the envelope from her and placing it in his coat pocket.  He fetched out a small roll of green notes and handed it to the woman.

She took the notes and placed them in her bag, before clicking it shut.  ‘I thought that you might like to know that the dwarves are out looking for the offender too,’ she said, through thick red lips, her pale blue eyes scrutinizing his every move.

‘Well, we’ll have to make sure we get Pyro first then, won’t we?’ he said smiling; a cool smile that said he’d had enough of talking.

‘Nice doing business with you,’ she said, placing the velvet hood carefully back over her head, ‘until next time.’  The woman nodded once, turned, and headed back into the night.

Drake waited until she had disappeared from sight and her footsteps had finally faded away, before he took the envelope back out from his pocket.  He tore it open, took out the piece of thin copier paper and unfolded it carefully.  Inside lay a small silver dot, no bigger than the head of a drawing pin, which Drake carefully peeled off the paper before placing it on his forehead.

Immediately the picture of a familiar djinn rotated in front of him, a crooked smile upon his brown face, as he turned, again and again, holding an Enforcerer’s crime number under his chin.

A recording of the woman’s voice began to speak to him from the Memory Spot on his head.  ‘This is Pyro,’ she whispered, as though she were recording the message in secret, ‘our intell is telling us that he is hitting the Museum of Magickal Artefacts this morning, at around one o’ clock.  Be safe.’  Then suddenly the voice and the image of Pyro disappeared along with the Memory Spot that had dissolved into Drake’s skin.

Drake grinned; he knew this job was going to be easy as he’d took Pyro into the Law Department on two other occasions already in the short while he’d been back in Devilsgate.  The guy was a nuisance; a pyromaniacal low-life, but he was no criminal mastermind.  The intelligence was strangely specific  – but Drake put this down to the djinn’s stupidity; he wasn’t the brightest spark in the box and he had a tendency to spout his mouth off so it wouldn’t have surprised Drake if one of his associates had dropped him in it.

For once it was all good news, the specific timing of the intelligence meant that there was plenty of time to put the dwarves out of action before he picked Pyro up.  He hated the dwarves and one day they would pay for their crimes, but for now, he’d have to be content with outsmarting them and claiming the bounty on Pyro’s head before they did, for he had other, greater, things on his mind at this precise moment. Their time would come, of this he was sure.

Drake cupped his hands around his mouth and called once into the night, a short deep rumbling call, like that of a lion marking its territory, and then he waited.

Within seconds an identical call answered him and Falkor broke his cover, swooping out of the thick cloud that had been asphyxiating the City for as many years as Drake could remember.  Just like Fenrik.  The dragon silently landed on the pavement beside Drake, shook his huge head to dispel the beads of water clinging to his thick turquoise beard, and snorted.

Drake found a tight grip in Falkor’s shaggy crest fur and hauled himself up onto his bare back, tucking his legs in either side of the dragon’s body, just behind his wings.

Falkor stretched out his azure wings and the light from the street lamps diffused through his paper-thin skin, highlighting the network of dark blue veins and bones that knitted them together.  He arched his muscular tail, pushed his back legs hard into the ground and propelled himself into the night.

It was time to hunt.

For now, Falkor would keep low to the ground:  The rain had sent the Shadow Walkers fleeing for cover and the smell of blood was fading fast as the rain washed the streets clean.  For a while, at least, Devilsgate would be a little safer.

They glided over the sleeping streets full of the remnants of the day’s festivities; brightly coloured confetti, Devil’s masks and fat orange pumpkins with grotesque faces carved into them; the people’s attempt to appease the evil forces that had Devilsgate on its knees.

Suddenly Falkor gave a short warning growl and Drake felt the dragon’s body tense under him.  Drake flicked his eyes over the area below and immediately he was drawn to the sight of two dwarves standing beside a racing-green motorbike with a sidecar.  A third dwarf, slightly taller and far uglier than the other two, straddled a gleaming Harley Davidson his squat body struggling to keep the bike upright.

As Drake drew nearer, he could see the smaller dwarves were huddled around a small black box from which a sharp female voice was screaming at them to turn right.

‘Stupid box!’ snapped the dwarf with fuzzy grey hair and a red Rock City t-shirt.

‘Give it ’ere,’ said the other dwarf snatching it out of his hands and giving it a good shake.  ’Nah, it’s no good.  I can hear something rattling inside it.  We’re gonna have to get another one Scarface -’

‘I don’t think so,’ cut in the dwarf on the Harley.  He looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger but in miniature, with the addition of long fuzzy hair and a blonde beard.

‘Look, Boss, it’s telling us to go right but as you can see there’s a blinking great big canal there!’

Drake tightened his hand in Falkor’s crest fur and the dragon shifted position; his head pointing towards his target, wings folded back.  Drake leaned into him, their bodies forming a living bullet hurtling towards the dwarves.  Then, just before impact, Falkor extended his back legs, opened his azure wings and silently landed behind them.

‘Still using Satellite technology?  I would’ve thought that with all your successful bounty hunting you could afford to buy something a little more up to date?’ asked Drake.

Scarface ran a leather gloved hand over his garnet studded beard.  ‘Look what’s just turned up boys,’ he spat, ‘I thought I could smell something rotten.’  He put his hand up to his nose as if to emphasise the point.

Ozzy and Elvis, the two dwarves with the GPS, were now staring at Falkor with hungry eyes.

‘Better watch your dragon,’ said Elvis fingering the dragons’ teeth strung around his neck on a black cord, ‘we lost him once and we won’t do that again.’

Ozzy, his pot belly bulging over his scuffed leather trousers, looked at their battered motorbike and then back to Falkor, his eyes wide with longing.

‘Looking for Pyro?’ asked Drake.

Scarface sat motionless on his bike, his face cold and passive.

‘Pity you haven’t got wings!’ said Drake, digging his heels into Falkor’s scaly side.  The dragon responded by launching himself rapidly into the inky sky.  ‘See yah!’ shouted Drake over his shoulder as they glided over the canal’s murky water.

Behind him, Drake could hear swearing as the dwarves raced to get their bikes started.  ‘I don’t know why they bother,’ said Drake, shaking his head, ‘they don’t stand a chance.  Falkor, let’s play!’

The dragon tilted right, turning into a square lined with smart Victorian buildings.  He stopped mid-air, his wings beating slowly, silently, like a Hover-copter.

Drake scanned the area for their quarry.

But he wasn’t searching for Pyro.  Not yet.

A dull throbbing sound began to draw nearer.  ‘Any second now Falkor…GO!’ shouted Drake, as Scarface, closely followed by Ozzy and Elvis, shrouded in a cloud of smoke, burst into the square below them.

‘YOU WON’T WIN FAERY-BOY,’ bellowed Scarface to the sky, ‘THIS ONE’S OURS!’

Drake dug his heels into Falkor’s side and the dragon swept out of the square, the growling of the motorbikes a few seconds behind.

Falkor tore down the broad streets lined with towering apartment blocks and glass-fronted offices, he flew so low that his three-inch claws brushed the tops of the bare-branched trees that decorated the sides of the road.  Drake could see the lamplight bouncing off the pavement like millions of little diamonds, the day’s newspapers and confetti clogging up the stinking drains.

Drake gently pulled on Falkor’s fur so that the dragon swept right onto New Street.  He knew that the dwarves were following them as planned; he could hear the low drone of their machines, but now he was getting bored of his parasites.

Falkor knew the drill; he threw himself at the end of the road and straight towards the Council House sitting directly at the end of it.  Then, just when it looked as if he would collide with the building, Falkor extended his azure wings and stretched out his feet in front of him like brakes.  The dragon stopped for a quarter of a second before tucking his wings back into his body then propelling himself skywards like a missile.

There was the screeching of brakes, the smell of burnt rubber and the usual thick clouds of smoke.

Drake chuckled.  Yes, dwarves were really that stupid.

Falkor turned a sharp right into a small square, surrounded by the extravagant architecture of the University, and dived towards the ground, heading for the narrow road on the other side.  At the end of this short road the dragon banked left and then, almost immediately, he turned right and headed straight for the multi-storied car park.

As they drew closer Falkor folded his wings into his body and aimed for the small mouth of the car park.  They burst through the entrance, Falkor’s azure head narrowly missing a chunky concrete support, and over the roofs of the expensive cars and ultra-fast motorbikes, until suddenly they were exploding over the top of the concrete barrier at the end of the building and flying into the open space beyond.

Time seemed to stop as Drake and Falkor hung in the air before the dragon flicked his agile body around and reared up like a horse.

Drake saw Scarface jumping from his bike and then racing over to the barrier, his face as red as the blood-soaked mouths of the Shadow Walkers.  ‘YOU WON’T GET AWAY WITH THIS FAERY-BOY!’ he shouted.

‘Pardon?’ said Drake, holding his hand to his ear, ‘I can’t stop to talk, need to find Pyro before he causes too much damage and as you’re not going to get there in time…’  Drake shrugged, his broad smile clearly visible.

‘Come on Falkor, let’s stop teasing the little mice,’ he said turning back to the dragon and patting the side of his head.

Falkor snorted his approval and took off again into the black sky.  But this time he climbed higher so that they could scan a wider area.  Not that they would have to look too hard; Pyro was usually easy to spot whenever he was up to no good.

Drake could make out the outline of the Museum in the distance; its grand burnished copper dome, the clock tower that adorned the west wing and the luscious gardens that surrounded it.

And there, in the gardens, a speck of orange glowed in the darkness.



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