Dragon Rider – Part 47

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eighteen Continued

Reciprocal Damage

‘What did you just do?’

Drake spun around to see Willow sitting up, nursing her head like she’d got a hangover, dirt patches smeared over her face.  Impressive, didn’t last long, he thought.  ‘I was just helping Falkor,’ said Drake, not meeting her gaze, knowing that this was not what she was getting at.

‘Did you just drug me with your music?’ she asked, as she jumped up from the floor.

‘How do you know about the music?’

‘What do you think I’m stupid?’ she bellowed, hands on hips.

Drake shrugged.  Something told him that, at some point in the future, he was going to pay for that.  Heavily.

‘Do you think that just because you walked out of my life ten years ago I don’t know anything about you?’

Drake didn’t know what to say.  He looked away.  This wasn’t the time for this conversation, he’d got Falkor to sort out.  But he wouldn’t tell her how bad things were.  He couldn’t.

‘I have been searching for you, getting any information I could, hoping that one day I would find my big brother again!’

He could feel the lump of ice in his chest where his heart should be.  It was choking him from the inside out.

‘I..’ she looked away, her big brown eyes hidden behind her pink fringe, ‘I didn’t know about…your father.  Did Fenrik really murder him?’

Drake nodded.  He wasn’t going to talk about this.  He shrugged and managed a weak, ‘I’m sorry.’

‘For what?’

‘For taking you out with the music.’

‘Hmph!’ fumed Willow as she stomped towards Drake, her eyes blazing with fury.  She smacked him hard on the shoulder.

‘What?’ asked Drake as she stomped past him.  ‘You were collateral damage.’

‘Thanks,’ she snapped.

‘I had to take them out, didn’t I?’

‘Not when I was just about to smack the ugly one again!’

Drake scratched the side of his head.  The ugly one?  He couldn’t see any difference if he was honest.

‘So, how did you know he was working for Fenrik?’ she asked, in a slightly gentler tone.

Drake took a deep breath and steadied himself; he could feel a burning sensation in his limbs, the lactic acid building up in Falkor’s muscles.  ‘I,’ he bit down on the pain, ‘I didn’t for sure, but seeing him, like that, all crazy and with the dwarves, it all kinda fit together.  I suppose, deep down, I always knew.’  But, Funestus was, if he was truly honest with himself, a means to an end.

‘So what’s the plan?’

‘Can you fix Falkor?’ asked Drake, pointing to the gash on his belly.  God, he hoped she had some kind of spell or something; he could feel Falkor weakening at a sickening pace.  ‘It looks quite deep and he’s quite weak.’  He would not tell her just how bad this was.  He couldn’t do that to her.

Willow stooped under Falkor.  ‘It looks nasty.  I don’t know any Healing Spells, I could try the Book of Shadows?’

‘The one you got from Arthur Tinks?’

Willow bit her lip and nodded her head, ‘I know it’s a risk but it’s all I’ve got.’

‘Okay-’  Shit.  Well, if that’s all they had.

‘You’d really let me practice magick on Falkor?’

‘I trust you.’

Willow looked at him with one of those “I’m not buying it” looks that really freaked him out.

‘Okay, so I don’t trust you that much but, like you said, it’s all we’ve got,’ said Drake, shrugging.

‘Thank you for at least being honest,’ she snapped back, shrugging the bag off her back.  Before the bag was off she hit her forehead with the heel of her hand.  ‘I don’t need the book,’ she said, ‘not when I’ve got these!’  She threw her bag to the ground and fetched the leather necklace from around her neck.

‘The mermaid’s tears!’

‘You don’t have to sound so happy,’ she snapped, as she yanked the cork stopper from the vial with her teeth.  She handed the necklace to Drake and he poured some of the shimmering liquid onto her hands.  She rubbed the solution into the palms of her hands before placing them on Falkor’s underbelly and then focused her thoughts upon healing his wound.

A golden light radiated from the tears on her hands, a thin thread of healing magick which penetrated through Falkor’s flesh, knitting his wound back together and making him stronger.  Once she had finished she stepped back and admired her work, a big smile lighting up her face.

Drake could feel the strength return to Falkor’s body, he could feel the magick running through his veins, cleansing both Falkor and himself.  He studied the spot where the wound had been; there was a single white scar running across Falkor’s underbelly which looked as if it had been there years, not a matter of seconds.  Falkor shifted his weight and flexed his wings then shattered the tumbling darkness with a thunderous roar.

‘Wow,’ said Willow studying the afterglow of the tears on her hands.

‘You’ve done a good job, thanks.  He looks as good as new.’

Willow‘s face quickly turned to thunder again.  ‘So what do we do with him?’ she asked, poking at Funestus’ head with her pump.  ‘We should keep him tied up here, let him rot,’ she spat.  ’When I think that he’s the Chief Enforcerer and he’s been helping Fenrik all this time…’  Willow sighed, ’It just makes my blood boil.’

Drake bent down and rolled Funestus’ body over.  ‘I’ve got a better idea.’

Willow stared at Drake, her head tilted and eyes narrowed.  ‘What?’

‘I’m letting him go-’

‘Are you out of your mind?’  Willow grabbed Drake’s shoulder and forced him off the ground.  ‘He’s dangerous-’

‘Hey, relax,’ said Drake putting his palms up, ‘We can use him to lure Fenrik out.’

‘Lure Fenrik out?  We’re not in some stupid action film, this is real life, Drake!  Those kids are depending on us but you’re too messed up in there,’ said Willow jabbing at Drake’s temple with her finger, ‘to care about that.  I know he murdered your father Drake, but your obsession with him is going to get us all killed!’

‘I’m not, listen-’

‘No, you listen.  You have half of The Emerald Key,’ she said pointing to the book, ‘the bit that Fenrik is missing.  Just destroy it!’

‘I can’t do that.  We let him go, then we get Fenrik and you’re problems are over.  For good.’

Willow huffed and shook her head, her arms knitted around her chest.

‘I am going to get Fenrik, with or without you, and I am going to take him down.’  Drake turned away from her, ‘Falkor!’

Falkor grumbled but shuffled forwards to where Funestus lay and clamped his foot around the top of Funestus’ body.

Drake bent down and slapped Funestus on the cheek.  ‘Wake up!’  But Funestus remained asleep, drugged by Drake’s music.  ‘Come on!’ spat Drake smacking him on the cheek again.  He huffed, closed his eyes and tried to steady his breathing.  Now really was not the time to get worked up.

‘Move out of the way!’ snapped Willow, shoving Drake sharply with her arm.  ’You shouldn’t be doing this.  But I suppose you’re going to do it anyway.’  She grabbed her bag and pulled out the scorched Book of Shadows.  ‘Can’t think of a better person to experiment on,’ she said as she flicked through the book’s burnt pages.  ‘Here we go,’ she said, turning to face Funestus.  She uttered a single word.  ’Bregdan.’

Funestus opened his eyes and took a sharp intake of breath like he’d just been dragged out of the water.

‘Nice of you to join us,’ said Drake with a smirk.  ‘I do hope you understand the predicament you’re in.’

Funestus’ eyes were wild, bulging from their sockets, but Drake didn’t know if the fear was due to Falkor or the fact that the effects of the Absinium were wearing off.  Or both.

‘Don’t…hurt me,’ whimpered Funestus, ‘Please, I’ll do anything, but please, don’t-’

‘Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t let Falkor to crush you to death right now.’

‘No!’ screeched Funestus.  ‘You can’t.  Please.  Let me go, we can work this out.’

‘Work what out?’ asked Drake, feigning confusion.

‘Our little problem, you know, Fenrik.’

‘Go on.’

‘Call the dragon off me, I beg you, and we can talk properly-’

Drake smiled.  ‘No.’

Dragon Rider – Part 46

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eighteen Continued

Reciprocal Damage

Drake froze.  Despite the stillness of his body, inside his heart was now beating wildly and his mind was starting to ignite with questions.  How long had he got before he collapsed from the Reciprocal Damage of Falkor’s injuries?  How long had he got to free Falkor  Why was Funestus here?  What did he want with him?  Despite the many questions, he remained still, unsure of what to do.  He could smell the stench of treachery hanging heavy in the air and he didn’t like it.  Not one little bit.

‘Unfortunate, casualty.  Sorry about that,’ said Funestus, following Drake’s gaze to the injured dragon.  ‘But as you’ll both be dead in a minute, his suffering won’t last too long.  Hopefully.’

Scarface sniggered as he wiped neon blood off his hands onto a red handkerchief.

Drake curled his free hand into a fist.  ’How did you find us?’

‘The break-in at the warehouse?  That was me with a few hired Demon thugs; they’ll do anything for a good scrap.  We went there to spook your dragon knowing that he would want to find you.  All we had to do was to plant a tracker on his tail,’ said Funestus, with a sweep of his hand, ‘and he led us straight here.’

‘But why?’ asked Willow, stepping forward, her face tilted as she searched Funestus’ face for answers, ‘I don’t understand.  You asked me and Giz to get you the Book, I would’ve brought it to you-’

‘Ah, why indeed.  The most important question I feel.’  Funestus strode over to Drake, ’The Book, if you please,’ he said, stretching out his thin pale hand.

Drake could smell the mint and aniseed on Funestus’ breath.  He was sweating hard, his wild eyes red and puffy.  Had Funestus been on Liquid Madness?  Drake scrutinised Funestus in silence, taking in every line on his face, every feature.  The eyes were the key; he was running scared.  It all fell into place in Drake’s mind.  ‘No.’

Funestus cackled.  ’I don’t think you quite understand the predicament you’re in-’

‘Oh, I do,’ said Drake, his stance proud and defiant.

Funestus looked at him in surprise.  ‘Well, if that truly is the case, enlighten us,’ he said, regaining his calm as he gestured to himself and then the dwarves.

‘You’re scared.’

‘Scared?’  Funestus threw his head back and cackled, ‘No Drake, I’m not scared.’

‘Do they know,’ said Drake, pointing to the dwarves, ‘what you’re up to?’

‘What?’ asked Scarface stepping closer.  ‘What’s he up to?’

Funestus thrust his face into Drake’s.  ‘Just give me the Book.’

Yes.  Funestus was running scared; he could smell the fear on him.  ‘So when are you going to tell them?’ asked Drake, trying desperately to shut out Falkor’s whimpering cry.  He could feel his friend’s weak life force and it didn’t fill him with hope.

‘Tell us what?’

‘Well,’ said Drake turning to Scarface, ‘I can’t see Fenrik letting this loser get the book all by himself, can you?  And Vigor’s not here so, chances are, Fenrik doesn’t know our mutual friend here is collecting the Book-’

‘Funestus, what’s he talking about?’ asked Scarface, his eyes unreadable behind his thick black shades.

‘Shut up!’ screeched Funestus.  ‘You don’t even know that I am working with Fenrik.’

Drake turned to Scarface and addressed him directly; there was nothing as easy as dividing and conquering.  ‘I’d watch your back Scarface, he’s doing the dirty on Fenrik!  Fenrik doesn’t even know he’s here.’

Ozzy and Elvis were now standing by Scarface.  ‘Funestus?’

‘Of course he knows I’m here,’ snapped Funestus, over his shoulder, ‘Now give me the Book.’

‘I knew it!’ said Drake, shaking his head.

‘You’re working with Fenrik?’ asked Willow, her face pleading with Funestus for answers.

‘Of course I am, stupid little girl!’

‘No.  He doesn’t know you’re here, does he?  What do you want the Book for?  What have you done?’ asked Drake quickly, taking advantage of the confusion.  Wouldn’t be long before Funestus slipped up.

‘Just do us all a favour.  Give me the Book and then die,’ snarled Funestus.

‘Certainly,’ said Drake.  He seized his chance; stepping forward, he smashed The Emerald Key hard off the side of Funestus’ face.

Funestus hadn’t got time to react.  The Book hit him hard, sending blood and two teeth flying into the air.  He tried to keep on his feet but the blow had taken him off guard.  His eyes wouldn’t focus, his legs crumpled beneath him and he crashed to the floor.

Scarface whipped out his stun gun as Elvis charged at Drake and Willow, but, as his left arm was bandaged tightly to his chest and his face was puffy and covered in bruises, Willow stopped him without even breaking into a sweat, with a right hook to the side of his face.  He toppled backwards, unable to keep his balance.  Ozzy slowly limped towards them, wincing every time his right leg touched the ground after his run-in with Fulcanelli.

A blue bolt of electric fizzed within centimetres of Drake’s chest.  In one fluid motion, his Zephyr was off his back and in his hands.  As soon as he struck the first chord the music began to act like a drug, a lullaby of exquisite beauty, gently rising and falling as it invited its victims in, luring them into a world of dreamless sleep.  And when it begun there was no stopping it, not until the great tentacles of delicious music had mercilessly hunted each and every one of them down and had them in its shadowy iron-like grasp.

‘What’s-‘ said Willow, stumbling as she aimed her fist at Elvis for the second time.  She missed completely and crashed to the floor, face-first onto the grass, her fist still clenched and her bottom stuck high in the air.

Drake had to work quickly.  He didn’t know how long any of them would be out for; for some, it was a matter of minutes, like Pyro, but for others, it was hours and, very rarely, it could be days.

He pulled the vial of sleeping draft from his pocket and placed a drop in each of the dwarves’ mouths.  He grabbed the key in Scarface’s hand, then raced over to Funestus who was twitching and writhing on the ground.  Drake bent down to give Funestus a drop of the sleeping draft.

‘Fiery-death,’ mumbled Funestus, ‘Fiery-death, Fiery-death.’

Drake stopped.  Where had he heard that before?  He rubbed his chin and studied Funestus’ face.  He knew he’d heard that name before.  He put the stopper back on the vial and stashed it back in his pocket.

No.  Funestus would have to wait.  For now.  He’d got too many questions to answer and he’d deal with him once he’d sorted out Falkor.

Falkor’s cries of agony were stabbing Drake in the gut, like a blade.  He ran his hand over the dragon’s head; Falkor was clammy, his pulse weak, his strength almost spent.  He needed to get Falkor back on his feet before it was too late for both of them.

‘I’ll get you out,’ he whispered, ’just keep still.’  The dwarves had deliberately slotted the iron chains under Falkor’s teardrop scales to inflict maximum pain and damage as they forced the main body of the scales away from his flesh.  Drake could clearly see that in some parts, the chain had dug deep into his flesh exposing bone and causing the dragon to lose quite a bit of his precious neon blood.

Drake growled.  He found the padlock, placed the key in it with trembling hands and turned it.  The lock sprung open and Drake carefully began to peel the chains away from Falkor’s body, clenching his teeth, fighting the pain as he felt every last chain coming away as if it were from his own body.  Falkor attempted to raise himself off the floor as Drake pulled the very last chain away, but he was too weak, his legs infirm from being pinned to the ground and he fell face-first into the glutinous mud.

‘Come on,’ soothed Drake, trying to hide the pain in his own voice, ‘you can do it.’  Drake stroked Falkor’s neck.  ‘Come on boy,’ he said, placing his hand under Falkor’s head to try and coax him to raise it up a little.

Falkor dug the elbows of his wings into the muddy ground and with an almighty push he lifted himself up.  He stretched out his wings to balance himself and then roared defiantly, but Drake could feel the reality of Falkor’s weakness; his muscles were beginning to ache and his legs felt like jelly.  He inspected the dragon’s underbelly; a deep gash still oozed blood and he could see a long tear had punctured the membrane of his right wing.

If Falkor’s wing was broken and they couldn’t fly, what hope was there?

Dragon Rider – Part 45

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eighteen Continued

Reciprocal Damage

 

God, he hoped that he wasn’t too late to save Falkor.

There was a muted blast from outside the pod as the doors to the room were ripped from their hinges and soldiers poured in under a cloud of grey smoke.

‘YOU WON’T GET AWAY!’  It was the Overseer.  Her voice blasted inside the pod from two small speakers attached to the inside of the cask.  The Overseer was clutching the microphone on the desk, her crazy eyes bulging out of their sockets, her red hair wild, bursting from its bun.  Beside her, soldiers were pressing the buttons on the control pad, desperately trying to open the cask.

A small grizzled soldier, fed up with playing with buttons, fired at the pod but recoiled in horror as the toughened glass repelled his bullets.  Instead, they ricocheted around the room sending everyone, including the Overseer, diving for cover.  Smoke began to pour from the control panel as the bullets became embedded in it, shrouding the soldiers from view.

‘IMBECILES!  STOP THEM!’ screamed the Overseer from somewhere behind the veil of smoke.

The pod burst into life, there was a deafening sound, like nails on a blackboard, and bright white light swamped them.  Almost immediately, Drake could feel himself flying forwards at a terrifying speed but it was too fast for his mind to keep up with.  He tried to close his eyes, to stop the sensation, but he couldn’t.  He screamed, but no sound escaped from his mouth, as he realised his mind had freed itself from his body.  He looked down in horror as he saw his body lying beneath him, still and lifeless.

Then the sensation was over.  His eyes snapped shut as his mind re-entered his body and once again he could feel his heart beating, pumping his life-blood around his body.  He could feel the warmth of Willow’s breath and smell her scent of strawberry and vanilla.

The pod went black.

Now he could see a bright light radiating and throbbing from the end of the tunnel.  And they were hurtling towards it, so fast that the pod felt as if it had stopped moving.

The pure light consumed Drake and Willow entirely, coating every part of their bodies, enveloping them like they were in some primordial womb.  They were suspended in the light, but for how long, Drake could not tell.  It could’ve been seconds, years or just the blink of an eye.

And then it was gone.

Drake could feel something real and solid beneath him; the hardness of the earth accompanied by the comforting smell of damp grass and moss.

They were home.

Drake dug his hands into the soft earth, scraping up the grass and moss with his fingernails.  He didn’t want to open his eyes, to ruin the moment.  He felt strangely at peace as his heartbeat slowly in his chest, a gentle thrumming of a drum, and his head felt strangely empty of the confusing mess that usually bubbled and churned there.

He didn’t want to think about anything, he didn’t want to have to deal with any of it.  Not now, not when he felt so calm.  He didn’t want to break the moment.

Willow’s voice broke the silence.  ‘Drake.’

Drake felt Willow leaping up from the floor.  But he didn’t want to move, he wanted to stay here and breathe in the cool air, to feel it brushing against his skin.

‘Thank you for joining us Drake, I did wonder when you would show, if at all,’ said a silky voice, fracturing his euphoria.

No.  No.  No.  Drake’s body was screaming at him; this wasn’t right.  Drake forced his eyes open and jumped up from the muddy floor, still grasping the Emerald Key tightly to his chest.  But his mind, although clear, was slow.  ‘Funestus?  What-?’

‘Yes, thought I’d come and surprise you.’

It was only now that Drake saw the dwarves standing close by, huddled around the crumpled body of Falkor who was pinned tightly to the ground under giant iron chains.  Scarface stepped forward, his black leather trousers and skull tee-shirt were covered in mud and a neon blue substance; Falkor’s blood.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 61

A shadow launched out of the fog again, it jaws slashing at the side of Joe’s face. He heard the beast’s teeth snap shut, and smelled its acrid breath, but did not see the beast they belonged to for it was just too quick. Its jaws snapped shut inches from his face before it was consumed by the shadows again.

And then, it appeared again from the other side of Joe. Hades whipped his body around as the figure emerged from the fog. It was huge. A dog bigger than any Joe had ever seen, even bigger than Hades. It looked like a human except it was covered in a thick layer of fur and it’s head had no human face because it looked more like a wolf.

Hade’s launched at the creature’s throat, his own jaws missing the target by inches.

The was another growl from behind Joe. He turned just in time to see another wolf creature merge from the shadows, its mouth smeared red with blood.

Joe jumped backwards, away from the snapping jaws. His foot connected with a gnarled tree root snaking across the floor and he lost his balance. He fell back with a thud, hitting the base of his spine on the hard floor. He felt the pain ricochet through his torso but he didn’t have time to register it as the wolf creature crouched down on all fours and launched at him.

Joe tried to push himself back, away from the creature’s snapping jaws but there was a large tree trunk in the way. He couldn’t move. He was trapped.

The beast stopped just inches away from Joe’s head. He could smell its acrid breath and see the drool pooling at the corners of its mouth. It gave a throaty growl and prepared to strike. It sprung forward, teeth bared. Joe closed his eyes. It was strange, he didn’t feel scared. He didn’t feel anything. All he knew was that he didn’t want to see the creature tearing him limb from limb.

There was another growl. Joe could make out movement in front of him that wasn’t the creature. He opened his eyes just as one of Hel’s hounds launched itself at the creature’s neck. It latched on with its canines and began to wiggle its body violently to cut off the creature’s air supply. It reminded Joe of lions when they latch on to the neck of their prey in the wildlife documentaries he’d watched growing up. The times he’d had a television that was. His Shitdad liked to pawn them for beer money.

The wolf creature stood up on its back legs and grabbed at the hound with its sharp claws. Blood was oozing from the wound in its neck but still, it kept on pulling at the hound in an attempt to yank it off its throat.

Beside him, he noticed Hades was finishing off the first beast that had attacked.

Joe pulled himself off the floor just as the other wolf creature managed to prize the hound off its throat. It held the hound in its hand-like front paws and threw the dog to the ground. The dog yelped as he hit the ground at a funny angle. Then he moved no more.

The beast turned his attention back to Joe.

Dragon Rider – Part 43

Dragon Rider

Chapter Seventeen Continued

Hermes Trismegistus

‘Come on,’ said Drake, ‘we need to get out of here before he changes his mind.’  Pyro and Willow followed him out of the cave just as a scream pierced the silence.  Outside Mr Nansi was pursuing Hermes around the boulder, the magician’s skeletal arms were flapping wildly, his toga falling off both of his shoulders.

‘Get away!’ screeched Hermes, ‘You said you wanted The Wisdom!’

‘There came a big spider,’ laughed Mr Nansi as he slunk around the boulder, ‘who sat down beside him and frightened Hermes away!’

‘You got what you asked for!’

‘Are chu sure about that Hermes?  I’ve had a good long time to chew things over.’

Willow, Drake and Pyro jumped back into the cart.  Drake thrust The Emerald Key at Willow and then fired the cart up, ramming his foot on the reverse pedal for a second, before slamming it on the emergency brake whilst locking the steering wheel left, so that the cart spun one-hundred and eighty degrees. Then, as he hit the accelerator, the cart shot forwards.

‘Where the hell did you learn to drive like that?’ spluttered Willow, her knuckles turning white as she clung onto the book.

Drake shrugged. ‘You should know, living on the streets you learn things.’  He kept his eyes fixed on the reception of the Waiting Room.  The cart was spluttering and making a strange banging sound, large plumes of black smoke spiralling from its rear end as Drake pushed it to its limits.

‘Hold on!’ screamed Drake, as they approached the building.

‘I‘m not good with speed,’ screamed Pyro from the back of the cart.

‘Drake!’ shouted Willow, ‘You’re supposed to slow down when you get close to…buildings!’

The reception doors glided effortlessly open and Drake ploughed on through the reception.  ‘Get your head down!’ he screamed at Willow and Pyro, just as the cart was about to hit the glass doors at the front.  There was a loud crack on impact and tiny shards of glass were thrown into the air before they tumbled back down to the earth like droplets of rain.

The guard outside jumped sideways, howling an alarm call.  He held his modified gun up and began firing red bolts of hot light at the escaping cart.

A shrill alarm began to resonate around the compound.

‘Drake, not a good idea,’ shrieked Willow clutching The Emerald Key even harder.

Drake brushed shards of glass from his coat with his left hand.  ‘No, probably not one of my best,’ he said, smiling devilishly, ’but then I think Brimo will probably be angry at us anyway, for taking The Key.’

‘What?’

‘We’re not supposed to take anything from the Waiting Room, remember?’

One, two shots zipped past them, missing them by inches.

Drake glanced over his shoulder; another shot had been fired and it was aiming straight for the back of his neck.

‘Get down!‘ shouted Drake.  But it was too late, he felt a white-hot pain stabbing his chest.  He looked down, but he could see nothing; no wound, no blood.  What the hell?

Before he had time to think, to process what was happening, he felt movement on the back seat.  He turned just as Pyro leapt up and twisted around, taking the full impact of the red hot bullet.  ‘NO!’ screamed Drake.

‘Pyro!’ screamed Willow.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part 58

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.

‘You want string? I can give you string. Look in your bag.’

Joe stared at Agnes for a second. He knew there was no string in his bag. Why on earth was she pretending there was?

‘Go on then.’

Joe sighed and did as he was told. He took the bag off his back and unzipped it. He peered inside and low and behold there was a ball of string in there. A big ball of crimson string. He put his hand in and retrieved it.

‘How did you…?’

Agnes just winked at him. ‘Come on then, no time like the present.’ She held her hand out.

It was the first time he’d noticed that her hands were decorated in intricate patterns that reminded him of Henna tattoos. He placed the ball of string on the palm of her hand.

She took the string and began to tie it around the nearest tree. It looked like a tall Beech tree to Joe. It was very tall, and silver with pockmarked bark. There were no leaves on it so that it looked like a skeleton. If trees had skeletons, that’s what they’d look like, thought Joe. Once she’d finished she gave the string a ping with her finger.

‘Seems strong enough,’ she said. ‘It reminds me of that Greek myth. You know the one, Hel?’

‘You mean the one with Ariadne?’

‘Yes, that’s the one, except everyone knows it as the Theseus and the Minotaur myth when, in fact, if it hadn’t been for Ariadne giving Theseus the thread he would never have been able to find his way back out of the maze.’ Agnes looked off into the distance before adding, ‘ Bloody typical.’

‘And how did it end for Ariadne?’ asked Hel.

‘He abandoned her,’ said Agnes, looking straight at Joe.

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.