Dragon Rider – Part 36

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fifteen Continued

Souls and Shadows

 

Drake looked at the spirit and a smirk played across his lips, ’If this works, Pyro’s right, you are a genius!’

‘So how do we do this?’ asked Willow, a wide smile on her face.

‘Yeah, I mean, if it’s a raging tornado how are we supposed to stay, you know, alive?’ asked Pyro, his face now looking panic-stricken as he began to consider what they were about to do.

‘That’s the tricky bit-’

‘We can dive under there,’ said Willow pointing to a cleft in the earth underneath the roots of a large de-robed oak tree.

‘Well, it’s better than nothing,’ shrugged Drake,

Quickly they clambered into the small hole at the foot of the tree, along with the rotting leaves, the scuttling centipedes, gigantic woodlice and the petrifying bones of the dead.

‘Are you sure about this?’ asked Willow, kicking half a skull away with her pump.

‘Not really, but what else have we got?  Just do it.’

‘Sorry,’ whispered Willow to the green spirit who was banging its fists on the inside of the glass shouting ‘Let me out!’  Holding it firmly in her hands she gave the jar a good shake.

The spirit screamed and flew into a rage, whirring around the jar and expanding in size.  The jar shook violently in Willow’s hands as the spirit turned from green to yellow, to red, to deep blue and then it settled on the colour of the stormiest sky.  Willow managed to hold it firm until she heard the glass crack then she threw it to the ground shouting at Drake and Pyro to hold on tight.

The sound of smashing glass was completely drowned out by the Rarog’s roar, it was like a giant engine beginning to power up as it transformed into a black churning wind, a terrifying monster of Vengeance.

Drake’s eyes were forced shut as dust and bone were whipped up around him.  Somewhere above him, there was a crack as a branch was wrenched away from its trunk.  Willow grabbed onto his arm just as the storm hit them fully, lashing at them like a thousand whips.  He could hear nothing but the rage of the beast as dust and debris were hurled at the prison-like structure that had so far protected them, but he could not predict how long they could withstand the power of the storm.

The Rarog expanded rapidly, gathering trees, branches and bones as it devoured the Land of the Dead.  Drake felt it bite at the roots of the oak and he could hear the cracks as it tore huge pieces of wood from around them.  It seemed like an eternity as they sat, huddled together, under the finger-like roots of the great oak as the storm raged around them.  The Rarog continued its roaring rampage of vengeance until, gradually, it moved off into the distance accompanied by a chorus of agonised screams as it gorged itself on the Souls of the Damned.

They waited anxiously in their prison until they could hear the storm no more, except for the murmurs of it remaining in the air, like memories.  Only then did they feel safe to emerge from their refuge.

‘Geez, that was windier than me!’ exclaimed Pyro dragging himself off the floor, ‘and that’s saying something.  Yez alright?’ he said, turning to Willow.

Willow nodded.  ’I think so,’ she said, removing a twig from her pink hair.

‘Drake?’ asked Pyro.

‘Yeah, nothing ripped off anyway.’

‘So I guess we should bust a move before it comes back, eh?  Don’t fancy being here when it returns,’ said Pyro grimacing.  ‘Too much wind can kill you, you know.  I used to know a guy, who knew a guy, who died from eating too many sprouts. Tragic it was, the way he went.’

Drake could see the black funnel of the tornado cutting a path through the Forest of Suffering, towards the Sorrow Mountains, its lower half surrounded by an almost translucent maelstrom of dust, debris, trees and bones.  The Iron fortress was clearly visible now, a few miles away at the end of the Valley of Death, behind a rolling expanse of grassland, The Burning Fields, peppered with bubbling and spitting pools of mud that smelt like rotten eggs.

The journey through the Burning Fields was swift and all too soon they were confronted by the great wooden doors of the Iron Fortress.  Drake knew that nothing could prepare them for what lay ahead, for now, they were to meet Death itself.

The great doors slowly creaked open.

They had made it to the Fortress.  Quickly they slipped through the crack in the doorway and into the unknown realm beyond.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part 53

He looked at Agnes and Hel who were both studying him with a mixture of amusement and concern. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What the fuck had just happened? Why was he so grumpy? And, more importantly, why the fuck had he just fainted upon seeing a badly healing scar?

What the hell was going on?

And why the fuck was he swearing so much?

‘You ok?’ asked Hel.

No, he really wasn’t and now his face was turning red with shame.

‘I’m sorry for snapping, I don’t know what’s wrong with me,’ he said, rubbing the back of his head. He’d got a nice lump developing there.

‘It’s all good,’ said Agnes, producing a large mug of tea from thin air, ‘I find a cup of tea helps in any stressful situation.’

Joe took the mug from her. It was decorated with dancing unicorns.

‘It’s this place,’ said Hel.

‘Not my cottage?’ asked Agnes.

‘No. The forest.’

‘Ahhhh, I see. Yes,’ said Agnes, rubbing her chin with her hand, ‘it is the Forest of Suffering after all.’ She looked at Joe with those large eyes full of concern and all his grumpiness began to melt away. Again. She had a habit of doing that.

‘It probably doesn’t help that you’re alive.’

‘No, it probably doesn’t,’ said Hel, looking at him in sympathy, her hand firmly on her hips.

‘Maybe we should do something about that?’

‘WHAT?’ shrieked Joe, recoiling back into his chair. ‘I’m okay alive, thanks. I don’t want to die!’

‘No silly, I’m not going to hurt you. You just need a restorative tincture or maybe something a little stronger, hang on.’ Agnes swooped over to a small cupboard in the corner of the room and began to root around in it.

Joe took a sip of his tea to calm his nerves. Things were getting way out of hand.

‘Yes, got it!’ shouted Agnes, spinning on her heels, a small bottle full of a green substance raised in the air.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s Dead Man Walking.’

Joe gulped loudly.

‘Don’t worry,’ said the witch darting over to where Joe sat.

But he was worried.

Very worried.

Dragon Rider – Part 35

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fifteen Continued

Souls and Shadows

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

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

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

And the darkness replied; ‘Come to us.’

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

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

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

‘Drake!  Drake!’

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

‘Come on Drake, come and join us.’

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

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

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

‘Drake?’

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

‘Drake, open your eyes.’

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

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

‘Open your eyes.’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Alchymia? How?’

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

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

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

Drake shook his head feebly.  ‘I-’

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

‘But-’

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

‘Golden tickets-’

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

Drake nodded feebly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Pyro was probably right.’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Willow?’ said Pyro, eyeing her suspiciously.

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

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

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

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

‘Well-’ said Willow.

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

Death’s Apprentice – Part 52

‘I have lost my heart,’ said Agnes.

‘Lost your heart? Like, it’s been broken or something? You want me to beat someone up? Because if you do,’ said Joe putting his palms up in the air, ‘I’m not your man. I’m no good in fights, never have been.’

‘No, I’ve lost my heart,’ she said, pulling down her top ever so slightly to reveal the top of a very nasty red scar that had been crudely sewn together with thick black thread.

Joe recoiled in horror. ‘What the…? How are you…?’ Joe stood up quickly. ‘How did….?’ But he couldn’t finish his sentence because blackness took hold of his vision and he crashed to the floor.

 

Joe could hear voices in the dark. He recognised them but couldn’t put names to them. He could open his eyes but he didn’t really want to. He was tired and he wanted to sleep. And his head hurt, at the back.

‘Stick that under his nose, that’ll wake him up,’ said one of the voices.

If they were talking about him, he didn’t want to know and he didn’t want to wake up. He wanted to sleep. Why couldn’t they just fuck off and leave him alone?

‘What is it?’ asked the other voice.

‘A mixture I made myself. It contains a lot of traditional ingredients and a few little extra bits I’ve added myself. I was especially pleased with the addition of the Cane Toad guts, it seems to give it an extra je ne sais quoi…’

Several things happened at once. Joe felt something cold and wet thrust under his nose and the most disgusting smell of rotting eggs and…

He didn’t want to think about it anymore. His eyes shot open. Agnes and Hel were stooped over him, a brown bottle of some sort held under his nose. His arm jerked up of its own accord and hit the bottle which fell out of Agnes’ hand and flew across the room.

‘Shit!’ screamed Agnes. ‘It can’t hit the fire.’ She threw her arm out, pointed at the bottle and screamed, ‘Beluk!’ The bottle came to halt and hovered mid-air.

‘What the fuck Joe,’ said Agnes, ‘I was only trying to help and you try and blow my house up!’

‘I don’t need any help and I didn’t mean to.’ He didn’t know why but he felt a little defensive. He dug his elbows into the Persian-carpeted floor and pushed himself up.

‘You sure about that?’

‘You look ill,’ said Hel, pushing the knife in a little deeper.

‘I’m fine,’ he snapped, dragging himself off the floor and onto his knees, ‘it’s just low blood sugar or standing up too quick or something.

‘What like Orthostatic hypotension or something?’

‘Yeah, that.’ Joe hadn’t got a clue what she was on about and he didn’t care. He just wanted her to shut up. He stood up slowly and staggered over to the chair by the fire. He dropped into it like a stone.

He looked at Agnes and Hel who were both studying him with a mixture of amusement and concern. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What the fuck had just happened? Why was he so grumpy? And, more importantly, why the fuck had he just fainted upon seeing a badly healing scar?

What the hell was going on?

And why the fuck was he swearing so much?

Dragon Rider – Part 34

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fifteen

Souls and Shadows

 

‘What if,’ said Pyro, rubbing his neck in horror, ‘we’re actually being punished like Tantalus or Ixion?  What if we’re actually dead but we just don’t know it?’

‘What?’ asked Willow, half distracted as she fought with a bramble ensnared on her hoodie.

‘Tantalus and Ixion-’

‘Don’t tell me, from Greek mythology, right?’ said Willow, inspecting the small hole that had appeared on the arm of her hoodie.

‘Yeah,’ replied Pyro, nodding his head vigorously, ‘Tantalus had to stand in water but could never drink it, so he was eternally thirsty and Ixion, well, he was tied to a huge wheel that turned around and around and around.  Maybe we’ll be just left to wander around here for eternity, always searching for something and never quite making it, not even knowing if we’re alive or-’

‘Will you just shut up!’ snapped Drake, spinning around to face Pyro, blazing anger burning in his eyes.

‘Wow!  Who rattled your cage?’

Drake stared at Pyro, he could feel the heat rising, his anger brooding in the pit of his stomach like a snake waiting to strike.  He took a deep breath, turned around and continued on through the haunted corridors of the Forest.  Something was wrong with this place.  He could feel it.  It was unnatural, like the darkness around them that ebbed and flowed like a river, almost as if it were alive.  One minute it was twilight, the next pure black with no way of seeing through it at all, but he could feel their presence; the Souls of the Damned, their eyes staring, watching him.

A cold wind suddenly chilled his bones and he pulled his coat tightly around him but he knew it wasn’t the wind that stabbed at him.  No wind existed in this dead place.  It felt more like a thousand icy hands penetrating his skin, tearing at his heart.

Who knew how long they’d been travelling through the labyrinth of wraithlike trees, their twisted branches looming over them like giant hands waiting to grab them and gobble them up.

And who knew how long they could survive in this Godless place?

‘Got the Hand of Glory?’ asked Willow, as they paused for what seemed like the hundredth time as darkness blinded them momentarily.

‘Yeah,’ said Drake pulling it from his jacket and passing it to her.

‘Lichte,’ she commanded and the Hand of Glory sprang into life.

But the light provided no comfort for Drake; on the very edges of its existence, he thought he could just see the spectral faces of the Damned fluttering to and fro, their whispers harmonizing like a swarm of meat flies around fresh meat.

Onwards they plunged through the thickets of brambles and the warped trees, with the bones of the dead crunching under their feet.  The bitter chill swelling around them, freezing their breath as it escaped in wisps, filling their desolate hearts with ice.  But then, in the pit of his stomach, Drake could still feel the anger burning away, simmering like a furnace that was about to blow.  He could hear them whispering, hear them laughing at him.

‘You could just say thank you,’ said Pyro, cutting through the silence with a chainsaw.

‘What?’ asked Drake spinning around to face him.  Why had he brought him?  It wasn’t like he did much, except fart and whinge, in that annoying squeaky drawl of his.  Drake felt sick to the stomach to think he’d nearly felt gratitude towards him for saving them on the boat.

‘You haven’t even had the common decency to say thank you,’ said Pyro, something dangerous beginning to play across his eyes.

‘Thank you?  For what?’  No, thought Drake, looking deep into Pyro’s burning eyes, Pyro hadn’t saved them out of kindness.  No.  There was something in it for him.  And for Fenrik too?  Had to be.

‘Yez joking?’

‘No,’ said Drake, his jaw tightening with every word he spoke.  ‘You only saved us back there so we’d get out and find the Key.  What are you going to do when we find it Pyro?  Take it and give it to Fenrik?  Is that the plan?’

‘Excuse me?  You dragged me here-’

‘Convenient for you, eh?’  How he wanted to get his hands around that scrawny little neck.

‘What?’

‘You’re going to steal The Key,’ said Drake, smacking the side of his head with the heels of his hands, ‘that’s it, isn’t it?  You little-’

‘Drake! Stop!  Don’t do this,’ warned Willow, diving in between Drake and Pyro, her arms outstretched, the light from the Hand of Glory streaking across the claw-like canopy of trees.

‘What exactly is yez problem?’ asked Pyro, his orange skin pulsating with rage.  ’What exactly do yez want from me?’

Drake spat at Pyro’s feet.  ‘I want nothing from you,’ he said leaning over and glaring straight into his eyes.  He hated this djinn so much that it physically hurt inside him.

‘Good, cause yez not getting anything from me.  Yez an ungrateful piece of…’  Pyro sighed and shook his head, ‘Yez really do have a problem.’

‘At last, you’re catching on!  It’s you.  You are my problem!’

‘Me?’ asked Pyro, slapping his chest with his hand.  ‘I’m not your problem Drake.  Yez need to look in the mirror.’

‘I’m not the grubby little demon working for Fenrik!’

‘Drake, you don’t know that,’ said Willow.

‘The same grubby demon who just saved your butt!’

‘We could’ve managed-’

‘If that’s the case why bring me?  Oh, I get it, so you could use me as a punching bag.  Very impressive, must make your father so proud!’

‘Pyro, that’s enough!’ shouted Willow.

‘Oh stop press!  The hero of this story has no father, well boo-hoo!’ said Pyro flinging his arms in the air, ‘I’ll give you my shrink’s number, he’s great with nut jobs-’

‘Pyro!’

Drake grabbed Pyro by the collar, hoisted him off the floor and rammed him up the nearest tree.  ‘I ought to-’

‘Well, come on big boy, let’s do it!’ shouted Pyro, his hands flapping wildly, his body sparking like a piece of tinder.

‘Stop it!’ screamed Willow.

With a jerk of his head, Drake turned to look at Willow.  ‘Why don’t you just get lost you stupid witch!’

‘What?’ asked Willow, stepping backwards.

Drake dropped Pyro and turned to face Willow.  He could see the hurt and confusion written all over her face but still, he continued.  ‘God knows why I ever agreed to this, you’re useless, can’t even do magick properly!’

‘What?’ was all Willow could manage as she slumped against a tree.  ‘Not you Drake, I can take it from anyone but you.’  Tears began to well in the corners of her big brown eyes.

Drake huffed.  ‘Don’t cry.  Don’t you dare cry!’

Willow stood up tall, the determination not to cry clear on her face.  ‘Why did you even bother coming back?  You really don’t care about anyone but yourself, do you?’

‘I don’t need to listen to you!’ snapped Drake, turning away from her.

‘Oh, here we go.  Walk away again, it’s what you do isn’t Drake?’

Pure darkness fell on him like a stone, blasting his insides apart with its evil.  He couldn’t think, his head felt like it was going to explode.  His body was shaking, he was like a bomb on the verge of exploding and those cries of utter sadness from the depths of the darkness were really starting to drive him mad.  He stuffed his hands under his armpits and tried to keep still, to count in his head, to remember what he was doing here.  Because all he wanted to do was hit something, or someone, really hard.

He lost control, swung around and punched wildly.  He felt the jolt in his arm as he hit the unyielding trunk of an oak tree, his knuckles screamed in pain as warm blood poured from the wound.

‘Damn it!’ he hissed as he cradled his hand.

He couldn’t stay here; he could feel all those hands dragging him down, pulling him into the abyss.  He had to get away.

Without a second glance, he turned and fled into the darkness of the Forest.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 51

‘I have the Book of the Dead to help me,’ said Joe.

‘That’s not going to help you, Joe, that’s written for dead people.

‘Well, it’s got me this far.’

‘Except, that’s not very far at all,’ said Hel.

Silence fell upon the room. He didn’t know why but suddenly Joe was feeling really grumpy. He grabbed at the Book of the Dead from where he’d dropped it on the floor. He opened the front cover and looked down the contents page. He found the section he was looking for, called The Valley of the Dead. ‘Page two-hundred and eleven,’ he said to himself as he flicked to the section.

The Valley of the Dead

 The Valley of the Dead is full of dead people. Listen to the fucking witch or you’ll be joining them.

Helpful, though Joe, very fucking helpful. Why had Mrs Crow given him the sodding thing if it was this bloody useless? It even fucking sounded like her, for Christ sakes!

He slammed the book shut.

Hel spoke first. ‘What did it say?’

Joe noticed his legs were bouncing up and down and his left hand was balled into a tight little fist.

‘Nothing.’

‘It’s got to have -‘

‘It said nothing,’ he said through clenched teeth.

‘Never mind,’ said the witch, ‘I can help you if you want?’

Joe looked up at her. Agnes was looking all sweetness and light but he knew, yes he damn well knew she’d want something in return. Probably my balls on a golden platter, he thought to himself.

‘And why would you do that?’

‘Because I know I can get you through the Valley of the Dead. I travel through the valley all the time to pick up supplies -‘

‘And what would you require in return?’

Agnes smiled a wide smile that showed all of her pearly white teeth in a perfect line. It was a smile that could probably move mountains or thaw glaciers, and, maybe, just maybe, the grumpiness in Joe’s heart.

‘I have a small problem,’ said Agnes with a flutter of eyelashes.

‘What?’ Joe really doubted it would be a small problem. They never usually were. He’d learnt that off his Shitdad.

‘Son,’ his Shitdad would say, ‘I have a little problem, but don’t tell ya Ma.’ As soon as his Shitdad called him “son” he knew it was all over. He was only ever his son when he was in trouble and he needed help to get out of whatever it was, or to cover up whatever it was. Like the time his Shitdad had lost all of his mom’s bingo winnings at the bookies.

‘I have lost my heart.’

‘Lost your heart? Like, it’s been broken or something? You want me to beat someone up? Because if you do,’ said Joe putting his palms up in the air, ‘I’m not your man. I’m no good in fights, never have been.’

‘No, I’ve lost my heart,’ she said, pulling down her top ever so slightly to reveal the top of a very nasty red scar that had been crudely sewn together with thick black thread.

Joe recoiled in horror. ‘What the…? How are you…?’ Joe stood up quickly. ‘How did….?’ But he couldn’t finish his sentence because blackness took hold of his vision and he crashed to the floor.

Dragon Rider – Part 33

Dragon Rider

Chapter Fourteen

A Drink to the Future

Fenrik reclined on the black leather couch, under the large draped window in his office, casually reading The Gate, Devilsgate’s one and only newspaper, owned entirely, of course, by himself.  It was, after all, important that the people of the City were given information about what was going on in Devilsgate and he didn’t want the truth to confuse things for them.

‘So Funestus Black is the favourite to win at the forthcoming elections.  I would never have guessed,’ said Fenrik, straining his eyes to read the small print in the paper, his bushy eyebrows knitting together like the pelmet hanging over his window.  He leaned over and clicked on the small brass lamp that sat on the oak table next to the couch.

‘Who would have thought it, eh brother?  Regina Fludd drowning in the water bowl of her pet Chihuahua,’ said Vigor, draining the last dregs of Hell’s Tempest from his tumbler.  ‘Such a tragedy.’

‘Indeed,’ said Fenrik, cracking a smile as he looked over to Vigor, ‘Just like Funestus’ interview.  Remind me, did I give him permission to speak?’

‘No.  I don’t think so, brother.  The Rat.  Would you like me to bring him in?‘ asked Vigor, leaning forward in his seat in anticipation, his long pointy tongue running along his thin lips.

Fenrik held up his hand.  ‘Not yet.’

Vigor slumped back in his chair and sighed.  ‘Would you like another?’ he asked, shaking his empty tumbler in the air, the two small ice cubes clinking together in the bottom.

Fenrik looked over to his empty tumbler on the table, next to the lamp.  ‘Yes,’ he said, looking back to the story that had grabbed his attention.  ‘It’s just a shame that when he does win the election, he won’t be in his right mind.’

‘That is quite a shame,’ said Vigor, attempting to smile, ‘What a loss it will be to Devilsgate.’  He got up from his chair and walked over to the drinks cabinet in the corner of the room, dropping his tumbler clumsily onto its highly polished surface.  ‘But such a welcome gain for me,’ he said, picking up the silver strainer and looking at his reflection on its shiny surface.

Fenrik looked up from his paper, ‘All in good time Vigor, all in good time.’

Vigor sighed and lowered the strainer.

‘Something on your mind, Vigor?’

‘It’s just that, I was speaking to Mo Green earlier-’

‘Mo Green?’ asked Fenrik, turning his attention back to the paper.

‘Yes, the owner of Greenies, the Absinium Den on Forty-third, it seems that Funestus has been at the club a lot lately,’ said Vigor, grabbing a square decanter of deep red liquid and taking it over to Fenrik’s tumbler, along with the silver strainer.

‘And you’re worried because?’

‘Well, I need him in good health, don’t I?’ asked Vigor, as he placed the silver strainer over Fenrik’s tumbler, put three lumps of sugar on top, before pouring the deep red Hell’s Tempest over it, allowing the mixture to soak through the sugar and then into the empty tumbler below.

Fenrik looked up from his paper again and laughed heartily.  ‘Soon we will have the world at our feet, our own magick provided by The Emerald Key, no longer slaves to the demons we wield and you are worried about Funestus looking good?’

Vigor placed the decanter down on the table next to Fenrik’s tumbler.  ‘No, it’s just that I have had seventeen years of looking like someone has stretched a plastic bag over my skeleton,’ he said, taking the strainer from Fenrik’s tumbler and placing it down, ‘it would be nice to look…different.’

Fenrik folded his paper and placed it on his lap.  ‘I know,’ he said looking up at Vigor and taking the tumbler full of Hell’s Tempest from him.  ‘All in good time.  Soon the whole city will be ours to command, and when we rid it of the human filth that is clogging up our streets, it will be you, my dear brother, that will be at the helm, steering the ship through the waters, purifying it’.

Vigor filled up his own tumbler with the fiery red liquid then hoisted it into the air.  ‘To the future!’

‘To the future!’ said Fenrik.

‘Are you still thinking of using the Fiery-death?’ asked Vigor, before taking a sip from his tumbler.

‘Yes,’ said Fenrik resting the hand holding the glass of Tempest on his leg, ‘from what I have read in my Grimoire, The Emerald Key is the only place to contain the beast’s real name.  Once we have the complete book, the City will be ours.’

‘It is such an evil plan!’ said Vigor, slipping back into his seat.

Fenrik smiled, ‘I try.’  Fenrik took a sip of the fiery liquid before he spoke again.  ‘We need a vessel of fire in which to receive him when we conjure him from Hell.  I was thinking that Pyro would be the perfect candidate-’

‘But brother, Pyro is with the Dragon Rider, the dwarves saw him being taken hostage as the Dragon Rider fled Nowhere.’

‘That is not a problem,’ said Fenrik shrugging, ‘We will summon him when we need him-’

‘And if he dies?’

‘Vigor, you must stop worrying.  There are always other possibilities.’

‘Indeed, brother,’ said Vigor bowing his waxy head.

‘And what of the Scroll of the Dead?  Did the dwarves manage that small task?’

Vigor tried to shake his head but the skin on his neck was too tight, so all that he could manage was small jerky movements like his neck was encased in a collar.  ‘The witch Alchymia managed to sneak it out of her tower.  It would seem that she gave it to the Dragon Rider.’

‘So the dwarves let the Dragon Rider get away with the Scroll and the Fire-djinn?’

‘Yes, brother.’

Fenrik sighed and held up his tumbler.  He twisted it in his hand so that the Hell’s Tempest swirled around its edges like a whirlpool, the ice cubes clattering against the glass.  He stared at the red liquid for a moment before he finally spoke.  ‘The dwarves are being even more incompetent than usual.  Make sure you illustrate my displeasure at this.’

Vigor nodded.  ‘But I didn’t think you were worried about them losing The Hand of Glory or  Scroll of the Dead?’

Fenrik shot Vigor a look.  ‘No, I’m not, but we cannot have them thinking that incompetence will go unpunished, can we?’ he snapped.

‘Oh, no brother!’ said Vigor shaking his head, and averting his gaze to the parquet floor.  ‘I didn’t mean to question you-’

‘Good.  We must keep our troops in line, keep them on their toes.  I was thinking maybe you could torture the little one or something.’

Vigor looked back to his brother, a small grin on his face.  ‘Elvis?’ he asked, clapping his hands with glee.

‘Yes, if you like.  Just pick one and hammer home the point.’

‘Oh yes, brother!’

‘Just don’t get any blood on the carpets, I’ve only just had them cleaned,’ said Fenrik taking another long swig of Tempest.