Dragon Rider – Part Twelve

Dragon Rider

Chapter Seven

The Towers of Learning

The dwarves?  No, he must be more tired than he thought; why the hell would they be in Nowhere?

Drake turned his head slightly, his emerald green eyes scanning the location from beneath the safety of his black hood.  Got them.  Yeah, just as he’d thought; it was the dwarves and they were standing outside the Devil’s Head Pub, laughing and joking with a group of dreadlocked boggarts.

What the hell was going on?  He turned away sharply, his body tense, the blood pounding in his ears so loudly that it was hard to think straight.

They couldn’t find him or Willow here, but if they did?  No, he couldn’t think about that now; he had to focus.  The dwarves had too many friends in Nowhere; it was, after all, the Elders of Nowhere who had invited the dwarves to join in the competition to hunt Falkor down and slaughter him in front of the baying mob.  Fortunately, with Alchymia’s help, Drake had stolen their prize and robbed them of their glory.

But why were the dwarves here now?

Was it just a coincidence that they were in the same place as Drake at exactly the same time?  Had they just come for the festivities?

No.  Not possible.  Drake knew for a fact that they rarely strayed from Devilsgate these days.

Drake’s stomach tensed, he could feel a ball of stone in his gut.  They had to be after Alchymia.  But why, and what did they want with her?  Was it to do with The Emerald Key?  And were they indeed working for Fenrik “The Spider“ Lasko as he suspected?

He looked at Willow.  Her amber eyes stared back at him, defiant and waiting for action.  But Drake couldn’t afford a showdown here, it was too dangerous.

At that moment a group of Healers, cloaked in the black robes of the order, appeared to the right of Drake and Willow, blocking Drake’s view of the dwarves as they glided past, chanting and swinging their sweet-smoking incense bowls.  Drake took his chance and pulled Willow into the group hoping that, once they were hidden by the sea of cloaks, they could safely sneak past the dwarves and onto the path that snaked up the hill to Alchymia’s tower.

But suddenly Drake stopped, the hair on the back of his neck raising like the hackles of a dog.

What was that?  What had Scarface said about Fenrik?

He looked over towards Scarface who was handing over a large wad of money to a spindly boggart with a gold ring dangling from the end of his long nose.

‘Consider it done, Scarface, consider it done,’ said the boggart, fingering the money as drool formed in pools at the corner of his lopsided mouth.

‘If you find them, you know what to do.’  Scarface grinned, revealing his yellow teeth.

The boggart stuffed the money in the back pocket of his leather trousers.  ‘Don’t worry, no one will know,’ he said, placing a large hairy hand on Scarface‘s shoulder.

‘And, while you’re at it,’ added Scarface, ’when you do find her,’ but he stopped mid-sentence, pulling a stubby finger across his throat.

The boggart nodded his dreadlocked head in agreement, a wicked smile lighting up his face, his black teeth just about visible from under his hairy lip.

The anger whipped up inside Drake with the ferocity of a tornado.  Stupid dwarves.  And Fenrik…  He curled one hand into a fist and cupped it in his other hand.  What he wouldn’t do to wipe that smile off Scarface.  If only he was in Devilsgate he’d go over and sort them out right now.

Drake’s head snapped around.  Damn it, where did Willow and the Healers go?  He was quite alone, exposed to the dwarves.  He clenched and unclenched his fists at the side of his body, unsure of what to do, his eyes scanning the crowd, searching for Willow.

Got her.  She was standing just a small way off by a stall selling animal chains and shackles, her eyes hunting for Drake.

Suddenly her eyes locked onto his.

Drake pulled his hood as far over his face as he could, dropped his gaze to the muddy floor and began the short, but very exposed, walk to her, every step feeling like it was taking a year.

‘HEY YOU!’

No.  No.  No!  Drake stopped, his heart thumping wildly in his chest like a big bass drum.

‘HEY YOU!’

Drake flexed his hands at the side of his body, preparing himself for the fight.  Slowly, he turned his head to meet Scarface’s gaze.

‘HEY YOU, FREAK!  Fetch me some beer,’ said Scarface to a small gnome, dressed in black lederhosen with knee-length grey socks, who had appeared in the crooked doorway of the pub under a mountain of beer jugs.  He jabbed at him with his leather boot and the gnome flew through the air sending the jugs and the beer smashing to the floor.  There was a roar of laughter as the gnome struggled to his feet, his grey candy floss beard now dripping wet and clinging to his chin.  Scarface waited until the gnome had managed to stand up before sending him flying again with another sharp kick to his bottom.

With Scarface’s attention clearly elsewhere, Drake hurried past them and over to Willow.  She turned away from him, her face as moody as the sky over Devilsgate.  She waited until he had passed her before she followed him up the hill and away from the fight that was now in full swing outside the pub.

Once they had reached a safe distance she spun around on her heels, her eyes blazing with fire.  ‘What happened then?’ she snapped.

‘Nothing,’ said Drake, his fists still pumping at his side.

‘Did you want them to catch us?’

‘No,’ said Drake, holding his hands in the air like he was surrendering.  ‘I overheard them talking, so I stopped to listen and when I turned around you were gone.’

Willow stared at him for a moment, the defiance still written on her face.  What the hell had happened to her since he had left?

‘Why are they even here anyway?’ she asked.

‘I think they’re after the book; they were talking about Alchymia.’

Her eyes narrowed for a brief moment, then finally, she relaxed.  ‘We need to find it first then, don’t we?’  She turned and walked off up the hill, away from the sound of smashing glass and cracking wood.

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Death’s Apprentice – Part Twenty-Eight

Joe reached out to shake Charon’s hand.

‘Obol,’ said Charon, jerking his hand away, leaving Joe’s hanging awkwardly in the air.

‘What?’

‘An obol. I need an obol.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Joe, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘An obol. I need payment. Charon looked at the confused look on Joe’s face and added, ‘Money. To transport you across. Every dead person needs to pay for passage.’

‘But, I’m not dead. Can’t I just…’

‘No. No exceptions. I need to eat you know.’

‘Oh, okay.’ Joe shoved his hand in his jean pocket and fetched out a two pence piece and a chocolate bar wrapper. ‘That’s all I have, sorry,’ said Joe with a shrug. He offered the money to Charon.

Charon screwed up his face. ‘No. That’s not going to be enough.’

‘Is there another way across?’

‘Maybe,’ said Charon, ‘but I don’t know of any.’

‘Can I row myself across?’

‘What? You think you can just come in and take my job? Do you know how long I’ve been working here young man? You young people, think you can just come in and take over.’

‘Okayyyy.’ Joe looked at the book in his hand, The Book of the Dead. He opened it, hoping that there would be some way of getting around this problem.

On the first page, the words, “The Book of the Dead, The Ultimate Guide to the Afterlife” was written in black script. He turned it over, looked at the contents page and flicked the page he needed. It read:

“Pay Charon the Obol given to you by Death. This is very important. If you do not, you will remain stranded on the banks of the River Styx for eternity. This is not a good idea as the Styx often floods resulting in the bank you are standing on being totally covered in smelly, swampy water that will give you trench foot. Trench foot is an incurable condition in the underworld. You don’t want that.”

Joe snapped the book shut.

‘Well?’ asked Charon.

‘Well…’

‘Come on, I haven’t got all day.’

‘Will you take something else?’

Joe could see he had piqued Charon’s interest.

‘How about this?’ said Joe whipping out his mobile phone.

‘What is that devilment?’ asked Charon, jumping back.

‘It’s a phone, look,’ said Joe, flicking on the screen.

‘Really?’ asked Charon, placing his free hand on his hip. ‘What do I need a phone for? Who am I going to call?’

‘So you know what a phone is?’

‘Well, yes. I just haven’t seen them so small.’

‘Ah, okay,’ said Joe, ‘this isn’t just a phone. Watch.’ He clicked on the camera icon and took a picture of Charon.

‘What was that? Are you trying to cast some sort of spell over me? It won’t work you know!’

‘No, I’ve taken your picture.’ He showed Charon.

‘Oooh,’ he said, ‘my beard needs cutting doesn’t it. And how do you do that? Show me how to take, what is it called?’

‘A photo.’

‘Yes, how do you take a photo?’

Joe showed him quickly, conscious of the fact that his phone had only nineteen percent battery.

‘And you’ll give this, to me, for passage?’

‘Yes. Deal?’

‘Deal.’

They shook hands. Joe released Charon’s hand and wiped the sweat and dirt onto his trousers.

Dragon Rider – Part Three

Dragon Rider

Chapter Three

Willow

Drake had handed Pyro into the Enforcerer’s Department, coming away with a small wad of cash for his trouble, enough to keep him going for a good few days anyway.  He’d spent the rest of the night holed up just outside the City, a few miles north of the reservoir that supplied Devilsgate with all of its water, under the wings of Falkor, as he had done every night since he had rescued him from the clutches of the dwarves.

At nine o’clock in the morning, Falkor had dropped him just outside the City walls and had disappeared into the thick cloud cover that strangled Devilsgate like a noose.  Drake had continued on foot to the warehouse that was home to the orphans, or the Lost Souls as they were now known.  The old orphanage, Drake’s home for six years before he had fled its walls, was now a burnt out shell, just another victim in the wars between humans and Faeries.  Not that Drake was sorry to hear of its demise; it held too many painful memories which he’d hidden at the back of his mind, locked up so tight that he wouldn’t be able to unlock them again.  Or so he hoped.

The warehouse was a relic from the human era, a four-storied Victorian red-bricked building which was rumoured to have once housed mental patients.  Most of the windows were boarded up from the inside; the glass smashed by the bullet fire that rained down on Devilsgate during the Appropriation Riots, the shrapnel still embedded in the holes peppering the front wall.  As if those human weapons would have held back the tide!

The air was thick with the smell of congealed blood from the adjacent meat factory where fresh animal carcasses hung from great steel hooks, waiting to be transported around the City, and the clogged up drains that were full of the detritus of life.

Drake didn’t really know why he was here; when he’d got the note from Willow asking him to come to the warehouse to discuss a proposition, he knew instinctively it was a bad idea, but even so, he found himself stood at the front steps of the crumbling building wondering.  Wondering how the years had treated her since he had left, whether she was the same person or if she had changed like he had.  He really hoped not; she had been the only thing in Devilsgate that had been good in his life.

He meandered through the corridors of the once magnificent warehouse, its walls now covered in graffiti and posters of missing people, the floorboards bare and crumbling.  Every corner seemed to be crammed full of kids, battered sofas, mattresses or books and the air sang with the shouts and laughter of the kids that now called this place home.

A small boy with fuzzy blonde hair and an oversized grey t-shirt had reluctantly shown him up to the top floor where Willow hung out.  His small blue eyes only moving from the tattoo, the Devil’s Mark, on Drake’s right cheek when Drake had placed a green note in the palm of his hand.  Even so, the kid did a runner as soon as he’d shown him upstairs, not wanting to be alone with Drake for any longer than he had to, not even if Drake had offered him another crisp green note.

Drake stood at the doorway.  He could hear the rise and fall of voices from inside.

‘What time is it?’ asked a male voice, full of exasperation.

‘Don’t worry Giz, he’ll be here,’ came the reply.

‘Nine-thirty,’ said Drake stepping into the room, ‘just like we’d agreed.’

Willow threw the book she had been reading onto the floor and leapt over to Drake.  ‘Drake-‘

‘It’s been a long time, trouble,’ he said, as she flung her arms around him.  ‘Wow, there!  I need to breathe, you know, it’ll help keep me alive.’

‘Sorry,’ she replied, relinquishing her grip on him, a huge smile lighting up her face, ‘it just seems like it’s been-’

‘Forever,’ finished Drake.  He looked at her and his heart felt heavy.  She looked exactly the same as when he had left, except that now she was a young woman with several piercings and bright pink hair.  For a second he could still see the sadness, the reality of life, etched in her almond-shaped eyes, then it was gone, replaced by a hardness which was unfamiliar.

Willow’s companion rose from his swivel chair.  ‘I’m Gizmo,’ he said, offering Drake his hand.

‘Drake,’ said Willow, gesturing at Gizmo, ‘this is Gizmo, Gizmo Chetana.’

‘Nice to meet you,’ replied Drake, taking Gizmo’s hand firmly.

‘And you,’ replied Gizmo smiling, but Drake could tell the guy was tense, almost uncomfortable in his presence and the smile didn’t extend to his amber eyes.  Interesting, thought Drake.

‘Why don’t you take a seat,’ asked Willow, pointing to the nearest threadbare sofa, the arms black with dirt.

Drake took the Zephyr from his back and propped it up the side of the sofa, before slumping onto it.

Willow jumped into the seat next to Drake, her eyes drinking in every part of him.  ‘It’s been so long, you haven’t changed a bit.’

‘Neither have you,’ replied Drake, knowing that they were both lying to each other.  He could feel an invisible wall between them, built by the years of separation.

Gizmo coughed.

Drake looked over to him; Gizmo was now back on his chair, three virtual computer screens flashing in front of him.  ‘This is some set up you guys have got,’ said Drake, his eyes lingering on Gizmo’s desk which was crammed full of cables, black boxes and circuit boards.  ‘So, I’m assuming you didn’t just ask me here so we could go over the good old days,’ he said, turning back to Willow.

‘No,’ she replied, pulling her legs up onto the sofa and curling her arms protectively around them.  ‘We’re in trouble Drake, we need your help.’

‘What kind of trouble?’

‘Major league,’ she replied, picking at the frayed sleeve of her black hoodie.  ‘I don’t know how much you know about what’s happening in Devilsgate-‘

‘I know Fenrik’s still in charge, so if I were a betting man, I would say things are still the same as when I left.’

‘No, they’re not the same,’ said Gizmo, casually flicking boxes of text on his screens away, back into cyberspace, ‘they’re much worse.’

Drake could hear a trace of bitterness in Gizmo’s voice.  ‘Worse how?’ he said, turning back to look at Gizmo, but Gizmo ignored him and continued flicking through the text and images.

‘Drake, the University is planning a purge of humans.  They want all of us out of Devilsgate.  We’ve got six days left and then we have to pack up and leave.’

‘And go where?’ asked Drake, bouncing around in his seat to face Willow.

‘They don’t care as long as it’s not here.  Anyway,’ said Willow, her eyes looking off into the distance, ‘it doesn’t matter what they want because we’re not leaving.  This is my home.‘

Dragon Rider – Part Two

Dragon Rider

Chapter Two

The Flaming Truth

With Pyro in sight, Drake pulled his Zephyr guitar from his back and ran his fingers over the ice cold strings.  The guitar sprang to life, pulsating like it had its own heart beating deep within it.  It begged him to play; to let its magick loose on the City.

And so he played; a quiet, haunting melody, magick to anaesthetize the soul.

‘NO, NO, NO!’ screamed the Fire-djinn as he danced frenetically upon the ground, his blazing hands stuffing chunks of cotton wool into his ears.  ’NO, NO, NO!  Not again!’

Drake shook his head and continued playing.  They’d been through this routine twice before, so you’d think even a stupid djinn like Pyro would know when to give up and stop fighting it, wouldn‘t you?

The music took effect almost instantly, racing through Pyro’s veins like a fast acting poison, making him incapable of anything except sleep.  Pyro fell heavily to the floor, his skin crusting over like the dying embers of a fire, although the smell of petrol still lingered in the air.

Drake stopped playing as Falkor landed beside Pyro’s body.  The dragon leaned forward and nudged Pyro with his bearded snout but the djinn didn’t move.  Falkor nickered softly but his body remained taut beneath Drake.

‘It’s okay,’ soothed Drake, as he slung his Zephyr across his back.  He slid off the dragon and ran his hand along the silky scales lining the side of Falkor’s neck, just below his crest.  The dragon nickered again and stretched out his front paw, clamping his green claws around the middle of the djinn’s body.  It was only then that the dragon relaxed his stance and allowed Drake to crouch beside Pyro.

Drake knew it wouldn’t be long before Pyro came to; the music’s influence was stronger on certain beings than others and for some reason this djinn was a tricky little guy who woke up almost immediately.  He had found this out the first time he had took him in for setting fire to a bin; Drake had gone to tie his hands together and had received a nasty burn on his wrists.  Luckily it was nothing that the healers couldn’t fix but Drake would never make the same mistake again.

Pyro woke up, saw Falkor’s deep blue eyes staring back at him, let out a shrill scream and fainted, his head flopping to the side with his long tongue hanging out.

Drake sighed.  ‘Now, now Pyro, you know the drill,’ he said leaning in closer, slapping Pyro’s cheek with his cold hand.

‘Huh?’ said Pyro, his red eyes struggling to focus.  His face was struck with fear as he caught sight of the dragon again, ‘Just get it off me!’

‘Sorry, can’t do that just yet.’  Drake stared hard into Pyro’s red eyes.  ‘You’re going to tell me what you’re doing here.’

‘I…I was just out for a walk-’

The dragon’s foot began to constrict.

‘Tell me the truth Pyro.’

‘I am, I am…I…’  Pyro’s eyes began to bulge in their sockets.

Drake shook his head.  ‘See Pyro, I don’t believe you,’ he said tapping his lips with his index finger.  He pointed at Falkor.  ‘My friend here wouldn’t be trying to squeeze you like a sponge if you were telling the truth.  He knows Pyro, he knows if you are lying.’

‘Okay…okay…’ gasped Pyro, struggling for air, ‘ just get the djinn-eater to ease up, please…’

Falkor loosened his grip slightly.  ‘Now talk,’ demanded Drake.

‘Thank you.’  Pyro took a deep breath.  ‘Okay, I wasn’t just out for a walk, I was feeling a bit hot under the collar, just lost a serious amount of dough on a job I was gonna do, needed to vent my frustration and I just happened to be close to the museum-’

‘Why the museum Pyro, you’ve never gone for anything that big before?’

‘You have done your homework on me, I’m impressed.  What can I say?  I can’t help it, I love fire!  Besides, thought I needed a challenge.’

Falkor began to squeeze down on Pyro‘s body, the bones crunching under his muscular foot.

‘STOP!  STOP!’ cried Pyro, ‘I CAN HEAR MY BONES…AH…POPPING!’

‘There’s no point lying.  He will kill you if you continue to lie.  Just tell the truth and he’ll release you.’

‘Okay, no more games…please…get it to stop.’

‘Go on.’

‘Alright, I wasn’t here by accident and I wasn’t here to set fire to the place, not this time anyway.  I was supposed to steal an artefact for some geezer who summoned me.’

‘Artefact?’

‘In my pocket’ said Pyro flicking his head to the right.

Drake reached down and rummaged in Pyro’s right pocket.  ‘Damn it Pyro, what have you…eugh…’ he said, fetching out a small pickled hand that clutched a stub of candle wax.  ‘What the hell is this?’ said Drake, his face scrunched up in disgust.

Pyro looked at Drake like he was a leg short of a cauldron.  ‘It’s a Hand of Glory.’

‘A what?’

‘A Hand of Glory, basically a pickled hand with a candle stuck in between its fingers-’

‘Yeah Pyro, I can see that.  What does it do?’

‘Lots of things; it lights the way for thieves, it unlocks things -’

‘It’s a key?’ asked Drake, his eyebrows arched.  He turned to look at Pyro.  ’Who were you stealing it for?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What?’  Drake looked at Falkor but the dragon didn’t move an inch.  ‘You must have had contact with someone.’

Pyro sighed.  ‘Well, this morning I was lying in bed, dreaming about a holiday I was gonna take in Sicily, after I’d off-loaded the stash of Yash Chetana movies me and Tappo had managed to get our hands on, when I was woken by a pain in my gut like I’d been punched by an eight foot Troll.  I knew immediately what was happening; I was being summoned.’

‘Summoned by magick?’

‘No, by the Enforcerer’s Office.  What d’yez think?  Of Course magick,’ said Pyro rolling his red eyes.  ‘Anyways, it comes with the job, being a djinn and all that.  No way of stopping it once it starts.  You just get sucked up,’ he said finishing with a strange sucking noise.

‘Like you say, you’re a djinn, you should be used to it.’

‘True.  But this was different.  I never saw the geezer’s face, just a shadow and a bright green light, then this voice, all distorted like on those really bad horror movies, commanded me to obey.  I was told what to steal and when, and I was under strict instructions to keep it safe until it was needed.  It said that if I put so much as a finger wrong I would be found and put in a chest freezer for all eternity, imagine that, a pyromaniac encased in a freezer.  The cruelty of it!’

Even in the dragon’s tight grip Drake could see Pyro shudder.

‘Yeah, my heart bleeds for you.  When were you supposed to give them the Hand?’

‘I don’t know, I was told I would be summoned again.’

Drake gave Pyro a sharp look.  ‘Did you recognise the voice?’

‘No.’

Drake studied Falkor with a furrowed brow and sighed, before stuffing the Hand of Glory back into the djinn’s pocket.  ’Well, the Enforcerer’s Office can deal with that,’ he said, wiping his hand on Pyro’s trousers, ‘and now I must deal with you.’  He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small glass vial.

‘Oh Drake, come on…no.’  Pyro shook his head, ‘Please not that, oh come on, there’s no need for that, I’ll be good, go in quietly, like a good boy, just not the sleeping draft, it makes me dribble.’

‘Sorry Pyro, my friend,’ said Drake, his face lit up with a devilish smile.  ‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone about your problem.’  The stopper gave a loud pop as Drake pulled it from the vial.

‘I hate you, Devil‘s spawn!’ spat Pyro, just as two drops of the grey liquid touched his lips.  His body fell limp and he immediately began to snore.

Drake scooped up Pyro and laid him on Falkor’s back, ready to be handed in.

Eugh!  That smell…