Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-Nine

Dragon Rider

Chapter Twelve Continued

Dreams

‘I’ said Pyro weakly as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath to try and stem the feeling of nausea, ‘am a djinn and NOT a demon!’

‘If you say so,’ said Morpheus, his arm still protectively around Willow.  ‘It doesn’t matter.  If you don’t want to ride with us that is your prerogative but I suggest you look at what you’ll have to contend with down there before you decide.  Shall we go and sort the music out?’ he said, turning to Willow.

Willow nodded and giggled like a little girl.

‘Oh, help yourself to a drink from the bar below deck,’ shouted Morpheus over his shoulder as he walked away with Willow.

‘Blackthorn, I don’t think-’

‘When are you going to get it into your thick skull that we don’t want you to think, eh Pyro?’ said Drake, tapping Pyro on the side of his head.

‘Blackthorn, think about this!’ pleaded Pyro, ‘Willow is acting bizarre, why would she just walk off with a stranger?’

‘I don’t know,’ shrugged Drake, as he strode over to the side of the boat.  ‘Maybe she’s also fed up of hanging around you.  Besides, this boat will get us to the Fortress quicker than fighting through that lot,’ he said, pointing to the ground below them.

Pyro gulped loudly as he glanced fleetingly over the side of the boat.  From this vantage point, he could see a whole menagerie of monsters lurking in the labyrinthine Forest, from a Nemean Lion and a Chimera, to a flock of Stymphalian birds feasting on the flesh of a man.  ‘I think I need to sit down,’ said Pyro, ’this is just turning into the worst day ever.’

‘Well, I’m going for a drink,’ said Drake.  He turned and walked away, leaving Pyro curled up at the side of the boat.

Drake wound his way through the mass of dancing bodies and down the short staircase at the front of the ship just as the music changed.  He smiled in approval as Skulls of Destiny’s “Trash-time Valentine” blasted from the upper deck just as he grabbed a tall glass of clear liquid from the bar.

He took a huge gulp of the soothing drink, which tasted like cotton candy, and slumped into the nearest comfy chair.  He was so damn tired.  Why couldn’t he just go to sleep, forget everything, just be normal for once?  He took another gulp of his drink.  God, it was good, but he was so sleepy.

But something didn’t feel quite right.  It was if he could feel all of his worst fears, his nightmares, closing in around him, dancing at the very edge of his consciousness.  He could almost taste Fenrik’s cigars, could hear Vigor rasping, could taste Willow’s tears, feel the pain as Falkor was ripped to pieces.  He didn’t want to close his eyes, to see the phantoms plaguing his dreams.

‘It’s okay.’

Drake’s eyes shot open.  Had he already fallen to sleep?  He looked at the pretty girl sat next to him, dressed in black with long purple hair.  He was sure she was the girl that had winked at him before, but it couldn‘t be.  He shook his head and tried to dispel the mist that was beginning to cloud his mind.

‘It’s okay,’ she repeated, ‘everyone feels like that at first.  Take another sip, it will make it better and it will all go away.’  She smiled sweetly and lifted Drake’s glass to his mouth.  ‘Go on,’ she soothed, ‘take a sip.’

Drake took another swig.  He was so sleepy…

*****

‘Blackthorn, Blackthorn!’

‘Go away!’ snapped Drake.  He didn’t want to wake up, not yet, sleeping was just too good.  It was bliss not having to think.

‘Hey Blackthorn, get up!’

‘What do you want Pyro?’ groaned Drake, not wanting to open his eyes, ‘Can’t you just leave me alone?’

‘Blackthorn, we’re in danger,’ said Pyro, shaking Drake, the sharp edge of urgency in his voice, ‘I need you to snap out of it now!’

‘Where’s the fire Pyro?  Ha!’ grinned Drake stupidly, ‘You should know, you probably started it!’

‘You’ve been drugged!  Come on!  If you stay here much longer you will forget everything.  That drink you’ve got is Lethe-’

‘Lethe?  I don’t care what it is, it’s like ambrosia for the Gods.’  Drake hiccupped, ‘I think I need another one!’

‘Blackthorn, you idiot, Lethe is the water from the lake the boat came from, the Lake of Forgetfulness-’

‘Forget about it, Pyro, chill man!’ said Drake trying to tap Pyro on the shoulder but missing.

‘DRAKE BLACKTHORN!’ screeched Pyro, ’wake up now!’  He grabbed a silver bucket of ice from the wooden bar and threw it at Drake.

‘Wow! What was that for?’ asked Drake looking down at the water dripping from his head onto his black tee-shirt and coat.

‘And you think I’m stupid.  Look, I know you don’t like me but I really need you to listen to me now, AND FOCUS!’ said Pyro, slapping Drake across the cheek.

‘Hey!’ said Drake feeling the side of his face.  He looked up at Pyro in a sulk, ‘What was that for?’

‘I‘ve been knocking around for a good few millennia, and you need to trust me when I say that, in my time, I’ve met a few shysters-’

‘Like me?’ asked Drake, thumping his chest with his hand and slumping back on his velvet-backed chair, grinning.

‘No, not like you.  I mean guys that would pull your eyes out just for the pleasure of it.  Don’t you think it was funny Willow just walking off like that?’

Drake shrugged.

‘Or that all the monsters we saw in the Forest of Suffering were all from Greek and Roman mythology?’

‘So?’

‘So, when I said I knew that guy when we came aboard, you know, Morpheus?’

‘Morpheus,’ repeated Drake, nodding.

‘Well, I do, and that DJ guy, Hypno, they’re Greek Gods, brothers from like way back in time.  They prey on abandoned souls and steal their dreams, that’s what keeps them immortal.’

Drake guffawed.  ‘What?  No!’

‘Yeah, so you can imagine how they felt when we came aboard.  Two live ones to feed off.  Your dreams would keep them going for a very long time.’

‘What about your dreams Pyro?  Do you dream in fire?’

‘Can’t feed off a djinn, we don’t dream in the same way you do.  Lucky for you too, else you’d be gone.’

‘Gone?’

Pyro nodded and run a finger across his throat.

‘Why are you dressed like a pot plant?’ asked Drake, his face screwed up in confusion as he stared at Pyro.

‘Because,’ said Pyro, closing his eyes with a sigh, ’I am trying to go incognito, so they don‘t recognise me.’

‘I don’t think it suits you, green just isn‘t your colour.’

‘Come on,’ said Pyro, grabbing Drake’s Zephyr from the floor in one hand and Drake with the other.  He propped Drake up, managed to get the Zephyr onto Drake’s back, and then dragged him across the bar and into a hallway behind it.

‘You’ve got to get a grip!’ said Pyro, looking anxiously up and down the hallway, ’If Morpheus finds us-’

Drake smiled gormlessly at Pyro and slid down onto his bottom with a thump, his Zephyr squealing in pain as it scraped off the wall.  ’I love you Pyro.’

Pyro shook his head and tutted.  ’Stay here,’ he ordered, ’and don’t move.  I need to find some Dandelion and Burdock, and chocolate, that’ll sort you out.’  Pyro took one last look at Drake, shook his head again and disappeared off down the hall.

Drake remained seated on the patterned carpet, which looked as if someone had been sick all over it, and smiled.  He felt really sleepy and really happy as he stared at the white walls.  It was like heaven; he could stay here forever, no problems.

‘Hello again!’ he said, as Pyro reappeared ten minutes later, minus the greenery, glowing slightly orange and looking rather harassed.  ‘Did you miss me?’  Drake winked and gave Pyro a toothy grin.

‘Get this down you,’ said Pyro, tipping the contents of a brown can into Drake’s mouth.

Drake took a big gulp.  ‘Pyro, what are you doing?’ snapped Drake, shoving Pyro’s arm away before clambering up from the floor.  ’God’s sake,’ he said cradling his head in his hand, ’What the hell has happened to me?’

‘Good to see you’re back to your normal “happy” self, eat this,’ replied Pyro, unwrapping the purple foil off a chocolate bar and handing it to Drake, ’Don’t thank me for saving your butt!’

Drake shrugged.  ‘Okay,’ he said.

‘Next time maybe you’ll give me a little more respect and listen.’

Drake stared at Pyro but said nothing.

‘I did warn you not to come on this boat.’

Whatever.  ‘Where’s Willow?’

‘I locked her in the steam room for safety.  It’s on this floor, at the back.’

‘Let’s go, got any more of that stuff ?’

Pyro tapped his trouser pocket.  ’Yeah, only one can and four chocolate bars so don’t take anymore Lethe.  Come on,’ he said, leading Drake down the corridor.

‘Do you know how to get off the boat?  If it’s in the air we’ve got serious problems-’

‘It’s not in the air,’ said Pyro sheepishly.

‘Good, it’ll be easier to sneak off-’

‘Or maybe not.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Drake grabbing Pyro by the collar and pulling him around to face him.  ’Pyro?’

‘Blackthorn, you’ve been out for ages.  The Arcadia is submerged in the Lake of Forgetfulness.’

‘What?’

‘We’re totally submerged,’ said Pyro, holding out his knobbly arms, big sweat patches under his armpits on either side of his blue shirt.

‘What?  We can’t be!  How the hell are we going get off?’

‘I don’t know,’ replied Pyro shrugging.  ‘And Anyways, I don’t think we’re supposed to.’

‘We’ll see about that,’ said Drake, ‘take me to Willow.’

 

 

Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-Eight

Dragon Rider

Chapter Twelve Continued

Dreams

Drake glared at Pyro and grabbed his Zephyr before he climbed out of the carriage.  Pyro and Willow followed.

‘The Fortress is that way,’ said Charon pointing across the valley, ‘Goodbye.’

‘I’m going to complain, I am, only doing half a job, ‘shouted Pyro as Charon dashed around to the front of his carriage, ‘I ask you, what is the world coming to when even the ferryman of the Underworld won’t do his job!’

‘Good day,’ said Charon already seated at the front of his carriage.  He turned to his kelpies, shouted ‘YAH!’ and they were off, thundering back to where they had just come from, ready to collect more fresh souls.

Drake slung his guitar over his back and looked down the disintegrating bridge, a thin crooked finger pointing the way to the Fortress, its iron bulk veiled by the tangled wall of miles and miles of brambles and trees.  He inwardly sighed; they hadn’t even travelled half-way to the Fortress and they’d got so many more miles to travel.  The road before them looked never-ending.  How the hell were they going to get to the Fortress now?

‘Come on,’ he said, his voice a strange mixture of anger and misery, ‘be careful where you tread, I don’t fancy going for a swim-’

‘I need a break,’ said Pyro, plonking himself down, his stubby legs hanging off the side of the bridge.

‘Pyro!’ hissed Drake through clenched teeth.

‘What?’ asked Pyro, turning to look back at Drake, ‘I need some fresh air.  If you don’t mind me saying, it was getting a little smelly in there.’

Drake glared back at him, trying to count to a hundred in his head, quickly, before he exploded.

‘Hey,’ said Willow, placing her hand gently on Drake’s arm, ‘Let’s take a few minutes and we can check out the Scroll.’

‘Okay,’ replied Drake, his hands pumping at his side as he tried not to put his hands around Pyro’s neck.

‘Show me the way,’ asked Willow, holding the Scroll of the Dead up for Drake to see.  Black symbols began to burn brightly on the brown parchment in front of them.

PLOP!

‘What does it say?’ asked Drake.

PLOP!

‘It’s saying that-’

Drake spun on his heels.  ‘Pyro?’ he screeched, as Pyro threw another fragment of the crumbling bridge into the lake.

‘Yes?’

‘What do you think you are doing?’

‘Trying to see if I can skim the water with these bits of rubble,’ said Pyro, holding up a handful of jagged pieces of the bridge in his hand.  ‘It’s supposed to be good for relieving stress,’ he said, lobbing another bit of bridge into the water.  The large fragment disappeared into the grey water with a loud plop.  ‘Doesn’t seem to be working though.  Maybe it’s my technique. I should’ve listened to my Great Aunt Gazit, she was Champion Skimmer in our village for five years in a row when I was growing up.  Mind you, that could’ve had something to do with the fact that everyone was scared of her, she had-’

‘Pyro?’

‘Yes?’

‘Shut up!’ screamed Drake.

‘Huh.  You asked me a question-’

Drake turned his back on Pyro.  ‘So what’ve you come up with?’ he asked Willow.

‘Well-’

‘Can you hear that?’ asked Pyro, his knobbly hand cupped to his ear.

‘Pyro, we’re a little busy at the moment,’ said Drake trying, for Willow’s sake, to keep his anger under control.

‘I can hear it,’ said Willow, looking up from the scroll, ‘it sounds like dance music.’

They all stood still, listening to the dull thump, thump of music coming from somewhere in front of them.

‘That can’t be right,’ said Drake, unsure of what he was hearing, ‘there’s nothing here, just the lake.’

‘Well, that’s definitely dance music,’ said Willow.

Drake looked out over the grey waters of the lake; something was stirring in its depths sending great bubbles of white water up to the surface and waves were beginning to lap against the bridge.

‘What’s going on?’ asked Pyro, jumping up from his perch on the edge of the bridge, the bottom of his brown chinos wet.

There was a huge explosion of water, about thirty metres in front of them, and a great white yacht emerged from the depths of the lake like a shark.  The vessel was enormous, probably around 100 metres in length, and great torrents of water gushed from its wooden decks as it surfaced.  Dance music blasted from the vessel as it sailed towards them.

‘Wow!  That is some boat,’ said Drake, as, within a matter of minutes, the yacht had drawn in alongside them.

‘Come aboard!’ shouted a man in a cream suit, peering from the deck as the gangway extended onto the bridge.

‘Blackthorn,’ said Pyro, tugging at Drake’s sleeve, ‘I don’t think we should.  I’ve got a bad feeling-’

Drake pulled his arm away from Pyro.  What was it with this guy?  ’Thanks, but we need to go to the Fortress,’ he shouted back to the man.

‘That’s okay, we’re heading that way.’

‘But you’re in a boat,’ said Willow, pointing from the boat to the Fortress, ‘and the Fortress is over there.  Behind a Forest.’

‘This is a special boat,’ replied the man with a huge flashy grin, beckoning for them to board, ’What harm can it do?’

‘Blackthorn, come on, let’s walk,’ said Pyro.

Pretend Pyro isn’t there before you explode, thought Drake.  He turned to Willow.  ‘Does it say anything on the Scroll?’

‘No,’ said Willow, taking a quick peek at the scroll.

‘Well then, it can’t be anything bad.  Let’s give it a go.’

‘I don’t know, maybe Pyro‘s right.’

‘Come on, surely it’s better than walking for miles across this bridge and then having to fight through that lot,’ said Drake, pointing to the Forest.  ‘It’ll be quicker.’

‘It’s a bad idea,’ said Pyro, stepping slowly backwards, away from the boat.

‘I could always knock you out with my music and drag you across,’ said Drake through clenched teeth.

‘No thanks.’

‘Come on,’ said Drake, grabbing Pyro by the collar and pushing him up the gangway, ‘you first. Oh, and Pyro, if you do one, I will personally kill you!’

‘Welcome aboard the Arcadia,’ said the man in the cream suit, as Pyro, Drake and Willow climbed aboard.

‘What is this?’ asked Willow, her mouth wide open as she marvelled at the heaving crowd, all dancing to the music being played by a DJ in baggy t-shirt and low-slung jeans, mixing it up on the decks behind the swimming pool.

‘This little thing,’ replied the man, pulling his Ray-Ban’s down his nose so that he could look over them with his pale blues eyes, that sparkled like sapphires next to his tanned skin, ‘is something I dreamt up as an alternative to that dreadful man, Charon.  So unrefined.’  He winked at Willow, ‘Just think of it as your last little bit of hedonism before you pass to the other side.’

‘Oh, we’re not dead,’ said Drake.

‘Really?’ said the man, flashing a gold tooth as a wide smile spread across his face.  ‘Let me introduce myself, I’m Morpheus’ he said, pointing to his smooth bare chest peeping out from under his suit, a chunky platinum chain sparkling against his orange-looking skin, ‘and that’s Hypno, our resident DJ.’  Morpheus looked at the platinum Daniel Roth watch on his wrist, ‘We will be ascending in a minute as we begin our journey to The Fortress, so why don’t you relax and enjoy the ride.’

‘Ascend?’ asked Pyro, holding his stomach with one hand, his mouth in the other.

‘Yes, how else did you think we were going to get there?’

Pyro turned to Drake.  ‘Did I ever mention that I’m not good with heights?’ he asked, his face had drained of colour, his skin taking on a green hue.

‘There’s everything you could desire aboard this vessel.  What’s mine is yours; the swimming pool, beauty salon for the lady, or you could try the sundeck or Jacuzzi on the upper floor,’ said Morpheus, gesturing at the deck with his jewel-encrusted hand, as the boat began to rise gently into the air like a Hover-copter.  The engine roared somewhere below deck before the boat turned smoothly in the air and began its journey south.

‘I really don’t like heights,’ said Pyro, grabbing tightly onto the nearest railing, his knuckles white.

‘We should be at our destination in about an hour, so enjoy yourselves.’

‘This is amazing,’ said Drake, smiling at a pretty dancer, dressed in a small pink top and white shorts, who had winked at him, ‘when I die I want to go like this.’

‘For sure,’ said Morpheus, grabbing a glass of clear liquid from a silver tray as a waiter, dressed head to toe in white, passed by.  ‘Madame.’ he said giving the glass to Willow.  He turned to Drake.  ‘Is this music to your liking?’

‘We’re more into alternative stuff, that kind of thing,’ said Drake.

‘No problem,’ said Morpheus.  ’Why don’t you come with me,’ he said, putting his long arm around Willow‘s shoulders, ’and we’ll sort that out.’

‘Okay,’ said Willow, after she had finished taking a sip of the clear liquid.

‘Don’t I know you?’ asked Pyro, still clinging tightly to the railing, before Morpheus could walk away.

‘I don’t think so, I don’t generally tend to hang around with demons,’ said Morpheus with a smirk.

Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-One

Dragon Rider

Chapter Nine Continued

Foxes

Drake grabbed Pyro by the collar again and dragged him down the steel steps.  Willow ran closely behind them, her hand firmly clamped around her rucksack.

A scream erupted across the sleepy town, followed by the hiss of a cat.  Drake skidded to a halt, yanking Pyro with him as he turned to look at the top of the stairs.  A blur of orange had launched itself at Ozzy.  The dwarf fell backwards and thrashed about on the ground, swearing loudly as he tried desperately to stop the cat from sinking its teeth into his thigh.

A smile erupted on Drake‘s face.  Maybe he did like that cat.  Drake shook his head.  No, maybe not.

Scarface appeared behind Ozzy, who was still struggling with Fulcanelli at the top of the stairs.  ‘THEY‘RE DOWN THERE!’ he barked, sending spittle flying from his grubby mouth which became trapped, like a fly on a web, in his blonde beard.  He stepped over Ozzy and the cat and moved to the side of the balcony.  ‘Get them!’ he ordered, standing upright like a victorious general, as four dreadlocked boggarts burst from the doorway and charged down the steps.  ‘Tie Alchymia up,’ he shouted to no one in particular, ‘and Ozzy, when you’ve quite finished with that cat…’

‘Shysters!’ shouted Pyro, struggling to free himself from Drake’s grip so he could get back up the stairs.  ‘I’ll have yez!’ he screamed, punching the air with his knobbly hands.

‘Behave,’ snapped Drake, whacking Pyro around the head.

‘What?  Why are we running from them?’ shrieked Pyro, making curious hand signals to the dwarves above him.  ‘I hate those dwarves!’ he spat, ‘Shysters!’

Drake rolled his eyes, grabbed Pyro and threw him over his shoulder before bounding down the steps three at a time.  They had reached the last flight of steps as a gangly boggart, wearing a white vest and beige camouflage trousers that stopped just above his ankles, flew past them, screaming.  He landed in a tangled mess on the ground, his legs at funny angles under his body, and his head was facing the wrong way.

‘Oh, that’s messy,’ said Pyro grimacing, and placing his hand over his mouth.

‘Which way?’ hissed Willow as they reached the bottom of the steps.

Drake swayed slightly on the spot as indecision gripped him.  ‘Will you hold still?’ he snarled at Pyro, who was wriggling around like a fish out of water on his shoulder.

Truth was, Drake didn’t know which way to go.  He hadn’t actually been paying too much attention when Fulcanelli was leading them to the house, he’d been too busy carting Willow around and struggling to keep his eyes on the stupid cat.

‘Hey!’ said Pyro, ‘This place looks familiar.  Those timber towers look like freaky sunflowers from where I’m lying.  Reminds me of Nowhere.  Geez, I haven’t been there since 1415.  Don’t want to go back there in a hurry either.  Last time I was there, I got summoned to deliver a love potion to the local baker for some old woman who’d only been given weeks to live, before the Grim Reaper came for her, poor old gal.’

‘Pyro!’ screamed Drake.

But the djinn continued, his stubby arms flapping about as he was talking, ‘Anyways, I ended up getting sidetracked by a bit of business in the local tavern, The Old Draconian I seem to recall, so, by the time I’d got to the baker, the old lady was already dead, but not from her illness though, no, the baker’s wife had got wind of her plan and attacked her around the head with a baguette.  The upshot was that I was charged with being an accessory to murder but I managed to do one before sentencing.’

‘What?’ asked Willow, her face screwed up in confusion.

‘It’s true,’ replied Pyro, nodding his head.  ‘Blackthorn, you’re gonna have to put me down, my gases are starting to build.’

The boggarts were virtually breathing down their necks, Drake could feel it.  ‘Come on!’ he shouted, bounding down the nearest passage, his eyes darting around for any sign of an exit, or any unwelcome movement.

‘Er Blackthorn,’ said Pyro.

‘What?’ he snapped.

‘Hate to break up the party, but don’t you think it’s a little too quiet down this way?’

Drake eyed his surroundings suspiciously.  Pyro was right but he wasn’t going to admit it.  Not out loud anyway.

All the passageways in this part of town looked the same, narrow and slimy with tall rickety buildings hemming them in, but he couldn’t go back, not into the hands of the dwarves and boggarts, so there was only one way to go and that was forward.

They raced down the passageway, emerging from the end into a wide cobbled street full of boarded-up houses and an inn that looked as if even the hardest of criminals would be too scared to enter.

‘The what?’ said Pyro, lifting his head to look at the sign of a muscular hand holding the bloodied, severed head of a green dragon, dangling limply from the crumbling wall of the pub, ‘The Old Draconian!’ he shrieked.  ‘We’re in NOWHERE!’

‘Pyro,’ hissed Drake.

‘AAAAHHHH!’ shouted Pyro, ‘We’ve got to get out of here!’

‘Shut up, you-‘ but Drake stopped dead.

‘Drake, what the -‘ said Willow as she almost collided with his back, her eyes following his gaze.  A troop of boggarts, dressed in nothing but kharki combats and with hairy chests exposed, were staggering up the road, bottles of half-drunk ale in their hands, pushing each other and shrieking loudly like a pack of hyenas.

To Drake, the thought of taking on a group of drunkard boggarts was only slightly more appealing than eating Dragon dung.  His hand reached for his guitar; it wouldn’t take a second to get Pyro off his shoulder and get his Zephyr out.  He could subdue the beasts with his music, it never failed to have them snoozing and sucking their thumbs like babies.  He jerked his hand back; no, not here where other things lurked for whom the music had no effect.

‘Drake,’ screamed Pyro, ‘I think I’m gonna spontaneously combust!’

Drake wheeled around, they’d have to go back.

But as Drake turned, he came face to face with Scarface, Ozzy and Elvis, followed closely by another group of boggarts.

They were blocked in.

Scarface snarled.  ‘Well, well…What do we have here?’

‘In here!’ said Willow, grabbing Drake by the arm and dragging him into the Draconian Inn.  They smashed through the door, sending it flying into the wall on the inside of the pub, the glass in the frame shattering on impact.

‘Blackthorn, stop with the bouncing around will yez.  I’m gonna blow!’ pleaded Pyro.

‘OI!’ shouted a dishevelled satyr, with dried vomit in his black beard.  The satyr lunged at them but collapsed, instead, in a drunken heap on top of a small, brutal-looking leprechaun with bruised eyes and bulging arm muscles.  The room erupted with fury as the leprechaun tried to throttle the satyr.

Drake and Willow ploughed on as all hell broke loose, trying to dodge the broken glass, flying chair legs and the bodies that were zooming in every direction.  A scrawny looking minotaur smashed into the glass panels at the back of the bar sending the spirits flying.  They, in turn, began shrieking as they flew around the room exploding glasses and bottles.

A large beer jug flew within inches of Pyro’s head as they reached the end of the bar.  A small hag with a particularly bad case of nose rot followed it, headfirst over the wooden counter.

Willow and Drake dived for the door that led to the back of the pub, crashing through it, interrupting a game of Poltergeist poker.  They emerged from the back of the pub into a small beer garden, covered in patchy brown grass and cigarette butts, surrounded by a six-foot brick wall.  Drake, still clinging to Pyro, quickly grabbed an empty beer crate and turned it upside down then Willow placed another on top.  Willow scrambled onto the rickety platform, jumped, and hauled herself up onto the top of the wall and then jumped down onto the other side.

‘Drake!’ screamed Pyro.

There was an explosion behind Drake as two colossal cluricaun, with great clawed eagle feet and two large fangs protruding from their mouths, burst from the pub snarling and baying for blood.  No one started a fight in their Master’s pub without paying for the damage.

Drake grabbed Pyro so that he could launch him over the wall, but it was one step too far for the djinn and the situation hit critical.  Like a great big whoopee cushion, the wind exploded from his bottom just as one of the snarling beasts lunged for Drake.  The gas hit the cluricaun straight on and the dog immediately dropped unconscious.  The other cluricaun’s long ginger tail disappeared between its legs and he whimpered, turning and running back into the pub.  Drake looked at Pyro with a look that was a mixture of gratefulness and disgust and then threw him over the wall.

Willow caught the djinn and placed him down on his feet as Drake landed, like a black panther, beside them.  As soon as his feet touched the ground he grabbed Pyro again and threw him back over his shoulder.

‘Be careful!’ warned Pyro, ‘I’m delicate at the moment.’

Off they went running again.  Behind them was a violent crash, the sound of falling bricks and the pounding of boots on concrete.

They flew around the next corner, down another passageway, turned the next corner and the next, until suddenly, there was a pop inside Drake’s head, a rushing sound and the mind-bending feeling of running into something that didn’t yet exist, as the Purg-Atrium burst into existence before them.

‘Damn it!’ shouted Drake flinging his arms up in defeat, nearly losing Pyro in the process.  Why had he brought them here?  To the place they could easily be cornered like foxes trapped by a pack of hunting dogs?

The dwarves and one group of boggarts burst into the square behind them as another group appeared in front with most of the inhabitants of Nowhere.  Shit.  This is what they had wanted; they’d corralled them here!

‘No!’ screamed Pyro.  Drake threw him on to the floor where the djinn proceeded to run around like a demented chicken, slapping himself on the face.  ‘You will never take me alive!  Come on!  Want a piece of me?’

Drake turned to face the dwarves, his hands flexing at his side, Willow by his side preparing to fight.

And despite the sun in the cloudless sky, blackness closed in around them.

 

Dragon Rider – Part Twenty

Dragon Rider

Chapter Nine Continued

Foxes

‘You will listen now Drake, and listen good, for you will need all the help you can get.  There are things that you do not know yet, things that you will need to know if you are to travel to the Underworld and come out alive.  As I have already told you, you will need a key to gain entry into the other realm and, as you have seen this fire-djinn with a Hand of Glory, it makes sense for us to summon him now, to see what information we can gather from him.  If we are very lucky he may still have it in his possession.’

‘He’ll have hidden it,’ said Drake, huddled on his chair like a sulky child.

‘We will never know unless we give it a try,’ said Alchymia, turning her attention back to the spellbook in front of her.

‘Whatever.’

‘As I was saying, Willow,’ said Alchymia turning back to look at Willow, ‘the last time I summoned a demon was over one hundred years ago, so I may be a little rusty.  There are many ways to summon demons; some are benign, others quite evil, and, of course, all take different times to perfect and all produce different strengths of control.  Are you with me so far?’

Willow nodded enthusiastically as she drunk in every word Alchymia said.

‘As time is not on our side, I think it would be a good idea to do a quick summoning spell although this means we will not have full control over our subject.’  Alchymia pointed over to a table by the wall covered in small bottles of oils, jars of ingredients, and different coloured infusions, the long sleeve of her gown skimming the pages of the spellbook.  ‘Willow, would you collect together some of the infusions on the table over there for me?  The Come to me, and Protection drafts as well as the crushed dandelion, sweet woodruff and the cardamom pods, oh, and bring the small bronze cauldron over too, would you?’

‘Okay, got them,’ said Willow, glass bottles jangling as she brought the ingredients over to Alchymia.

‘Right,’ said Alchymia.  She clapped her hands together and the spellbook closed in front of her.  She pointed to the bed and the book gently took flight, flapping its way over to the other side of the room, coming to rest gently on it.  Alchymia rose gracefully from her chair, like a ghost.  ’Drake, if you wouldn’t mind?’

Drake stood up and moved to stand by Willow as Alchymia thrust her hands out, commanding all the furniture and books to slide to the edges of the room, leaving the bare, wood-stained floorboards free to perform magick.  With another flick of the hand she produced a white chalk stick from the air.

‘I gebannan fif-brond steorra e hring!’ she commanded, and the Chalk dropped to the floor as if guided by some invisible hand, and immediately began roughly marking the shape of a five-sided star, encompassed in a circle, onto the dark wood with thick, noisy strokes.  Once the pentagram was complete, Alchymia sprinkled all of the dry ingredients into the cauldron and then tipped in the strong-smelling Come to me draft and the blood-red Protection draft before placing it at the north point of the star.

Alchymia stood over the cauldron, ‘Fyrwylm!’ she exclaimed and the cauldron burst into life, hissing and spitting as the ingredients fused together in a bubbling mass of sweet-smelling orange goo.

‘I think we are ready,’ said Alchymia, nodding appreciatively as she stood back to admire her work.  She grabbed a small wooden box from a pile of boxes on the floor.  ‘Drake, if you wouldn’t mind holding these?’

Drake took the box from Alchymia and clicked it open.  ‘Iron filings?’

‘Yes, it is just a precaution, in case the djinn needs to be subdued for any reason.’

‘Iron makes them weak,’ explained Willow.

Drake looked at the small particles of black metal in the box and nodded his head in approval.  ‘Must remember that.’

‘Out of your mood now?’ asked Willow.

‘Maybe,’ he shrugged.

Alchymia stood just outside the summoning pentagram, the potion in the cauldron bubbling away at the top-most point of the star, its sweet-smelling fumes making the air hot and heavy.  She stood at the opposite side of the pentagram and lifted her arms as if in supplication to the Gods, exposing her delicate arms as the sleeves of her pale blue gown slipped past her elbows.

Alchymia closed her eyes and began to chant the words, ‘Aspryttan Pyro, I gebannan eow,’ over and over again, her voice barely raised above a whisper.  The white chalk stick began to furiously scribble Pyro’s name, over and over again, inside the pentagram as its edges began to smoulder like tinder when it first catches the flame.

Suddenly it went dark, the room lit only by the orange flickering light of the pentagram as it began to burn more brightly. Alchymia continued to chant the spell until, finally, the pentagram burst into flames, snuffing out a few seconds later as the air was sucked from the room.

It was difficult to breathe; Drake could feel his lungs aching as he fought for air, the hot, sweet-smelling fumes from the potion, still bubbling fiercely in the cauldron, were catching in his throat, making him want to gag.

There was a whistling sound, like a kettle coming to its boiling point on a gas hob, accompanied by a cool breeze as refreshing air was pumped back into the room.  There was a loud thump and the sound of someone cursing in the darkness in front of them.

Daylight flooded the room revealing Pyro bent double in the middle of the pentagram, dressed in brown chinos and a stained light blue shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his knobbly brown elbows.

‘Yeah,’ he screamed, to no one in particular, ’come on, you want a piece of me?’  He smacked his butt cheeks with the palms of his hands.

‘No!’ shouted Drake, as he bounded across the room and threw the small wooden box in his hands at the back of Pyro’s head.

‘Ow!’ said Pyro as he stood up, stroking the back of his head.  ‘What did you do that for?’  He had a puzzled expression on his face and he was swaying like a branch in a gentle autumnal breeze.  His eyes suddenly snapped shut and he crashed to the floor in a heap.

‘Drake!’ shrieked Willow, ‘What have you done?’  She ran over to where Pyro lay, ‘Look, he’s got a lump the size of the Orb of all Mystickal Magick!’

‘I couldn’t let him gas us all, could I?’ said Drake.

‘That was what the iron filings were for.’

‘Oh.’

Fulcanelli rubbed himself up and down the djinn’s legs, ‘I like him Mistresssss,’ he purred, ‘Can we keep him, pleaseeeee?  He looked at Alchymia with his cute green crossed-eyes.

Alchymia was holding a glass of dark amber liquid in her hand.  She swept over to where Pyro lay and bent down, taking his head in her free hand.  ‘Here, have some of this,’ she soothed, pouring the cool liquid into his mouth.

Pyro’s eyes flickered.  ‘Am I in heaven?’ he asked, a dopey looking expression upon his face.  ‘I can hear the Cherubs playing their harps!’  But then he threw his hand up to his throat and gagged.  He continued to clutch at it, grimacing.  ‘Ah! What have you done, witch?  Whiskey and hemlock?’ he screeched, as he jumped up and backed into the corner of the room, his face full of fear.

‘What am I missing?’ asked Drake.  He was now standing in front of Pyro like he was a prize attraction in a Freak Show.

‘Whiskey and hemlock,’ croaked Pyro still clutching his throat.

‘It will neutralize the fire aspect of Pyro’s nature whilst we perform the interrogation-’

‘Interrogation?’ shrieked Pyro, quickly hiding his hands behind his back.

Alchymia glided over to Pyro, the hem of her blue gown smudging the chalk markings on the floor.  She grabbed the top of his head and thrust a small celestial-blue Angelite crystal into his mouth and clamped it shut with her hands.  Once she had counted to fifty-three she released him.

‘What…are you…doing?’ spluttered Pyro. spitting the crystal out on to the floor and clutching his throat again with his knotty hands.  ’What is it with everyone?’ he cried, ‘How much has one djinn got to put up with?’

Alchymia grabbed Pyro’s face in her hands and inspected it, turning it this way and that in her long fingers, before turning her attention to the blue crystal.  She picked it up off the floor and rolled it around in her hands.

‘So?’ asked Drake.

‘He has not been put under a Silence Spell but was Bound quite tightly to whoever summoned him previously.’  Alchymia swept over to Pyro, grabbing his face again in her cold hands.  ’Who ordered you to steal the Hand of Glory?’ she demanded, her eyes locked onto Pyro’s.

‘What?’ said Pyro, shrinking further into the corner of the room.

‘The Hand of Glory.’

‘I don’t know.  I already told Drake-’

‘Have you still got it?’ asked Alchymia, her eyes boring into him.

Pyro nodded weakly, his eyes wide with fear.  ’In my right trouser pocket.’

Alchymia’s body relaxed, she sighed and turned to look at Drake.  ’He still has the Hand of Glory, but as for who sent him to steal it, he was telling the truth, he did not see.’

‘Can I go now?  I’m having a really bad couple of days,’ sighed Pyro as Fulcanelli began rubbing himself against his legs.  ’I think…I need to sit down.’

‘We’ve got trouble!’ shouted Willow peering out of the window from behind the thick grime.

Alchymia and Drake swept over to her.  ‘The dwarves,’ hissed Drake.

‘I was hoping we would have more time,’ said Alchymia, spinning on her heels, ‘I have so much I need to tell you.’

‘Time’s all used up,’ said Drake, ‘we’ve got to go.  Will you be okay here?’

Alchymia laughed, ‘I think I can look after myself.’

‘Okay,’ replied Drake, ‘is there a way out of the back?’

‘Yes, Fulcanelli will show you in a moment.’  She pointed to the cat who was still beside Pyro, licking his paw.  He stopped and heaved, ejecting a large orange fur-ball from his mouth onto the wooden floor.  ’But first I must tell you all that I can.  Promise me Drake that you will not leave Willow.  You will need a witch to get through the Underworld alive.  This,’ she said, producing a roll of brown parchment from within the flowing sleeve of her gown, ’is The Scroll of the Dead.  It is what the Dwarves have come to Nowhere for.  Only with this and the help of a witch can you hope to enter or leave the Underworld because only a witch can read it.  This parchment contains all of the spells you will need to successfully reach the Iron Fortress.  Guard it with your life.’  She handed the scroll to Willow.

‘Alchymia, we really need to go,’ said Drake, looking out of the window.  He stooped down and grabbed his Zephyr and Willow’s rucksack.

‘You will also be needing this,’ said Alchymia, holding out a necklace with a silver pendant suspended from the bottom of the chain.  The pendant looked like an angel to Drake, with its silver wings protectively curled around a vial of red liquid.

Drake threw the rucksack to Willow, who caught it in one hand before placing the scroll of parchment into it.  He slung his Zephyr on his back and took the necklace.  ’What is it?’ he said, placing the chain around his neck.

‘It is the Blood of Isis,’ said Alchymia, ‘an Amulet to give you protection against my sister, Brimo.’

‘Your sister?’  Why the hell hadn’t she mentioned this before?

‘Yes, Brimo is The Overseer, the Queen of the Dead.  Be on your guard Drake because she will try and take your life.’

‘I will, thank you,’ said Drake.

Alchymia placed her icy hands on either side of Drake’s face, he could feel the cold penetrating deep into his skin.  ’Your father would be proud of you, you have grown into a strong and brave young man.  Be careful and next time, do not leave it so long before you visit me.’

‘I won’t,’ said Drake, his face turning slightly red, ‘and thanks, for everything…and I’m sorry, for earlier.’

Alchymia smiled, but it was a sad smile which did not reach her eyes.  ‘Be careful out there Drake.  And one more thing, what do you want me to do with the djinn?’

Drake laughed devilishly.  ‘I’ve been thinking about that; I’m going to take him with us.’  If I can’t find the book on my own, well, he may as well come along for the ride too.

‘Drake,’ said Willow, her voice betraying her exasperation, ‘you can’t force him to come with us-’

‘I can and I am.  Besides, you know what they say about keeping your enemies close.  When they summon the little shit for the Hand of Glory, I want to know.’  He strode over to where Pyro was cringing in the corner of the room and bent down so that his face was level with Pyro’s.  ‘Now Pyro, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way, that’s completely up to you.  Either you come quietly or I carry you out of here, the choice is yours.’

‘I’ll come quietly,’ mumbled Pyro, a look of resignation on his face as his jowls drooped low.  But Drake could see a look in his eye which made him suspect that, as soon as he could, he would try and get even.  But he’d be ready.

‘Do not worry,’ said Alchymia, holding up a purple candle bound in gold ribbon, ’with this candle I have created a basic binding spell.’  She clicked her free hand and it sprang into life.  ’It will prevent him from hurting you.  That is, I am afraid, all I have time to do.  If he thinks about, or is compelled to hurt you whilst this candle is still burning, he can only inflict minimal damage.  The effects of the whiskey and hemlock will wear off very shortly.  Fulcanelli, if you would show them the exit.’  Alchymia waved her arms in the air and the bed on the far wall disappeared to reveal a doorway leading into a bare room, dark except for small shafts of light escaping from the edges of a boarded-up window.

Drake grabbed Pyro by the collar.  ‘Ow, you little-’

‘Oops, I guess the whiskey has worn off, but I can only cause minimal damage because of the candle.’  Pyro shrugged, ‘It’s just an allergic reaction I get to annoying people.’

Drake scowled and roughly shoved Pyro through the doorway.

Fulcanelli stopped abruptly by the door.  ‘The stairsss down are behind thissss doorrr.’

‘But Alchymia told you to show us the way out,’ said Drake.

‘And I haveeee…must gooo…Mistress in dangerrrrr.’  Without another word the cat shot back across the room like a rocket and was gone.

Drake’s body tensed, his hands flexing at his sides.  He turned his body slightly and looked back to where they had come from, then he looked back at the door.

‘What’s your problem?’ asked Pyro.

‘You!’ snapped Drake pushing Pyro out of the way.  He smacked the door with his boot and it blasted outwards onto a steel balcony with a staircase that zigzagged down to the street below.  Warm sunlight flooded the room, dazzling off the wet roofs of the timber houses lining the street outside.

Drake stepped out and closed his eyes, letting the sun’s rays warm his face.  It had been so long, he thought, Nowhere might be primitive, but at least the sun does shine here.  In the distance, he could hear the Healers’ chants rising and falling on the breeze as they made their rounds.

‘Excuse me, do we really have time for sunbathing?’ asked Pyro.

There was a loud bang from somewhere below.  Drake snapped his eyes open and tilted his head to the side, analysing the commotion.  There was another bang, the sizzling of laser fire and the rhythmic drumming of boots on floorboards.

The dwarves and boggarts.

They had forced their way into the building.

And they were advancing.

Fast.