Dragon Rider – Part Eighteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Nine

Foxes

‘Okay, so we figure that out later,’ said Drake more to himself, ‘first we need to get into the Underworld.  I don’t suppose?’

Alchymia tilted her head and flashed a brief smile at Drake.  ‘According to the Codex, the entrance to the Valley of Death lies where the names of the dead can be heard as a whisper on the wind, a place now known as New Haven.’

Drake rubbed his chin.  ‘Never heard of it, but I’m sure with Gizmo’s help we’ll find it.’

‘You have another problem.  As you and Willow are not dead, you will not have the aid of a psychopomp to help unlock and travel through the gateway between the Land of the Living and that of the Dead.  You will therefore need a key, but unearthing such a key could be a whole quest in itself.’

‘A key?’

‘Yes, but not like the ones we use to lock our doors at night.  A key, in this instance, is a magickal artefact used for unlocking the gateway between the two worlds.  There is Proserpina’s Mirror, an artefact created by Proserpina to allow her mother to travel through the Realms with ease, but the last time the Mirror was seen was over two and a half thousand years ago.  There are spells that can act as keys, but they need macabre items such as Grave Dirt and Corpse Water and would take years to perfect.  Hecate’s Torch is another option but to find it would be a near impossible task.’  Alchymia leaned back in her chair, ‘The only other option is to find a Hand of Glory, but, as only a few exist-‘

‘A Hand of Glory?’ asked Drake.

‘Yes, it’s a pickled-‘

‘Hand,’ continued Drake, ‘taken from an executed criminal with a candle stuck in between its fingers.’

Alchymia sat upright in her seat and looked at him with an alarmed expression.  ‘How do you know about such a dark object?’

‘From a Fire-djinn, a petty criminal by the name of Pyro.  I picked him up yesterday and he had one in his pocket, reckons that he was summoned and compelled to steal it for some guy who he never actually saw.’

‘Summoned by someone he did not see at all?’

‘Yeah, apparently the bloke who summoned him hid his identity from Pyro, I thought it was a bit sus,’ said Drake shrugging, ‘but Falkor didn’t react when Pyro spilled his guts to me about it so-‘

‘That does not necessarily mean that the Fire-djinn does not know who it was that compelled him; he could have been placed under a very strong spell, such as the Bind of all Binding Spell, making it impossible for this Pyro to divulge any information-‘

‘But to get it past Falkor?’ interrupted Drake.

‘He’s not completely infallible Drake, especially if the person who called Pyro knew his real name.’

‘His real name?’

‘Yes,’ said Willow, ‘a person’s, or thing’s, real name is essential for really potent magick.  If you’ve got their real name you’ve got complete power over the thing that you’ve summoned.’

‘Okay, so say they’ve got Pyro’s real name, I still can’t believe that Falkor wouldn’t pick it up.  Anyway, I know it’s Fenrik who compelled him to steal the Hand of Glory, it’s got to be.  He’s after the other part of The Book and he’s a Demonologist-‘

‘You do not know that for sure Drake,’ said Alchymia, her eyes staring straight through the flames of the roaring fire.

‘It could’ve been anyone,’ said Willow, ‘you’ve got no proof.’

‘I don’t need proof, I know it was him.  Funestus Black told me Fenrik was after The Emerald Key and there’s Pyro just wandering around with the Hand?  No, Fenrik knows he needs to find Hermes in the Underworld and that this Hand is the key to get in,’ a big smile broke across Drake’s face, ‘I’ll just have to take it off the useless piece of-’

‘Drake!’ gasped Willow.

‘What?’ said Drake, smiling even more broadly, ‘it’ll take Fenrik ages to find another key and by that time we’ll already have seen Hermes.’

‘Drake,’ said Willow, ‘I don’t think-‘

‘So how do we find Hermes?’ cut in Drake.

Alchymia run a pale finger over the lines of text that materialized on the pages of the Codex.  ‘Hermes can be found in the Iron Fortress that lies at the end of The Valley.’  She clicked her fingers and The Codex snapped shut sending a shower of dust shooting into the air.  ‘The Iron Fortress is not only protected by the Forest of Suffering, which lies between the two great Mountain Ranges of Sorrow and Regret, but also by other more gruesome things.’

Drake opened his mouth to speak but Alchymia stopped him with a quick flick of her hand.  ‘Do not ask for details Drake, I cannot say; The Fates have forbidden it.  You must be careful, for one wrong move and you will never be able to return, you will be doomed to a half-life of suffering that you will never escape.’  Alchymia looked at Drake with a stern expression.  ’You cannot leave the way you entered and whatever you do, you must ask for permission from The Overseer of The Fortress to see Hermes.  Choose your words carefully and be aware, that if your request is granted, they will seek to take your life as payment.  And if they do not, your life will be forfeit already.’

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Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty-Five

Cerberus cowered, his hackles raised on his thick neck, his snake-tail tucked firmly in between his muscular back legs.

‘What’s a matter, boy?’ asked Joe, taking in the dog’s troubled appearance.

Joe reached out and ran his hand through Cerberus’ warm rough fur. The dog was shaking.

‘Cerberus? There you are, you naughty boy. Where have you been?’ It was a girl’s voice which made the dog shake uncontrollably.

Joe turned his head to where the sweet, little voice had come from. A small girl, probably no more than ten-years-old, stood before him dressed in a white shift dress. Her hair was the colour of the darkest night, her skin as pale as the moon. She took a tiny step forward. It was then Joe noticed the pack of hounds sitting behind her, dogs of varying shapes and sizes.

‘Who are you?’ he asked. Things were going from strange to stranger. Joe had already questioned his sanity many times since he’d entered Crow’s Funeral Home and now he was doing it again. What was a ten-year-old girl doing down here with a pack of dogs? And why was a three-headed dog so scared of her?

He gave himself a pinch. He knew, deep down, it wouldn’t work but he tried it anyway in the vain hope that he was just dreaming. Maybe his shitdad has drugged him? He certainly wouldn’t put it past him.

‘Ow!’ he screeched pinching himself again. No, he wasn’t dreaming it. This was actually happening.

The girl’s eyes narrowed and she shook her head in disbelief.

‘Why are you hurting yourself?’ asked the girl.

‘Because…’ he looked at the girl and then his arm, ‘oh, it doesn’t matter.’ He certainly wasn’t going to explain himself to a little girl.

 

 

Dragon Rider, so far, so good? – A review

I am thoroughly enjoying revisiting my very first novel, Dragon Rider. Some of it is making me cringe but, overall, I’m actually really proud of what I’ve written. It’s also allowing me to see how far I’ve come with my writing.

And, if I can progress in my writing, so can you!

What I don’t like:

Cringey, cringe – I’ve noticed a few errors. For example, I have used the word took when it should have been taken (eek! That’s embarrassing).

I’ve also noticed that some of the sentences are a bit stiff and long.

I do like to connect separate sentences with commas! (I did it so you don’t have to! Do not repeat my mistake!!!).

Falkor

How I picture Falkor.

And, maybe the story is a tad confusing? That’s one of the pitfalls of writing a story; sometimes because you’re the one in charge of the plot and you know the whole story you don’t know for sure if you’re actually explaining it to the reader properly (this is where beta readers come in handy).

It needs a good edit.

What I do like:

I still love how I have set the story up. Right from the opening lines, the tone is  dark and mysterious:

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

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

Personally, I think that works but what was your impression of the beginning of the story?

Drake Blackthorn, my main character is, in my opinion, written well (but I would say that, wouldn’t I?). Willow was going to be my main character. This all changed when I began writing; Drake just kept popping out at me, almost begging me to use him as the hero. I did as I was asked and I don’t regret the decision. He’s angry, he’s distrustful of people and faeries, he’s hell-bent on revenge, stubborn, and a general pain in the ass but I love him!

Willow

This is a picture I did of Willow Ravenwood.

I like the way the story begins with a chase scene as Drake and his dragon tease the dwarves as they compete to capture Pyro, the fire-djinn, who has a massive bounty on his head. When I wrote this scene I was using action films as inspiration. Most good action films begin with some sort of chase scene, don’t they?

And, Falkor, Drake’s dragon; where have I got his name from? Does anyone recognise it? It’s from one of my favourite childhood films; A Neverending Story.

My favourite character by far though is pyro. I think, even to this day, he’s probably the best character I’ve ever written. He’s so funny and I wish I had a friendly fire-djinn just like him to keep me company.

The setting is working too. The dark brooding city of Devilsgate compared to the wondrous magic of Nowhere. I do worry about myself sometimes though when I reread some of the weird and wacky ideas I’ve come up with!

Blackthorn - Revenge of the Dragon Rider

The first cover for Dragon Rider with its old title “Revenge of the Dragon Rider” under my pen name Nikki Morgan. I don’t use the pen name anymore so I can blame her for the awful book cover. Wtf was I thinking? That cover is shockingly shit, lol!!!

I’m actually quite chuffed when I look back on what I wrote all those years ago. If anything, this has actually put a fire in my writing belly. I think I might get it edited all over again and try and improve it because, for my first attempt, I don’t think it was half bad at all.

sketch of Drake

A really bad, unfinished, drawing of Drake

But, I’m not the one that matters. What do you, dear reader, think of Dragon Rider? What do you love and, perhaps more importantly, what do you hate?

Please, let me know!

 

 

Dragon Rider – Part Sixteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eight Continued

Alchymia and The Cross-Eyed Cat

‘You think that I can help you locate it?’ said Alchymia, still running her hand absentmindedly through Fulcanelli’s thick mane.  He purred and tilted his head, offering her his ear.

Drake’s stomach tightened and he was suddenly aware of beads of sweat forming on the back of his neck.  He hadn’t seen Alchymia for years and here he was expecting her to drop everything to help them.

And if she didn’t want to help them, there would be no arguing with her.

Alchymia was not all that she seemed.  Drake thought of her as a woman because it made her easier to comprehend, but she was much more than that.  Alchymia was a Light Being; not quite solid but fluid, like running water in a river.  But there was also a dark side to her that Drake did not wish to see and he hoped that in coming here, he wasn’t going to meet that side of her again.

‘Who wants you to find the book?’  Alchymia raised her head as she spoke, her face expressionless, her voice tinged with a touch of frost like the first days of winter.

‘Funestus, Funestus Black.’  Drake shifted in his chair, ‘The Head of the Enforcerer’s Office in Devilsgate.’

Alchymia raised an eyebrow.  ‘I would have thought someone of such importance would have plenty of people at his disposal, so why has he chosen you?’

‘He didn’t choose me, I kind of got dragged into it.  Look, it’s a long story and the only thing that really matters is that, if I don’t find that book for him, a lot of people will be in real danger.’  He sighed and shook his head, ‘I can’t let that happen.’

‘No.  No, you cannot.’  Alchymia leaned back in her chair, her brow heavily creased.  ‘I suppose the next question to ask is, why Funestus Black would want such an artefact-’

‘To stop Fenrik Lasko getting his filthy hands on it.’  Drake bit out the words.

‘and what he intends to do with it,’ continued Alchymia.

Drake dropped his mug on the table, the milky dregs splashing over the side like little teardrops.  ‘I don‘t know,’ he said, slumping back into his chair.

‘But what if -‘

‘There can be no buts, I have to find The Emerald Key,’ said Drake, running his fingers through his shaggy black hair.

‘And your desire to help Funestus Black is not because of your vendetta against Fenrik?’ asked Alchymia.

‘Vendetta?’

‘Fenrik and his brother remain unpunished for your father‘s death-’

‘You think I’m doing this just to get back at Fenrik?’

‘Are you not?’

‘No.’

‘So this hatred you carry for them is not clouding your judgement?  You really have no other option than to find The Emerald Key?  To find it for a man of which you hardly know anything?’

‘I need to find that book, if I don’t, Fenrik will, and the entire human population of Devilsgate will be destroyed.  Come on Alchymia, you know what he’s like-’

Alchymia held up her hand to silence him and Drake did not argue.  He knew better than to do that.  Instead, he watched in silence as she rose from her chair and floated, like a ghost, over to a stack of books by the bed, strands of her silvery-blue hair stirring around her like leaves kissed by a summer’s breeze.

With a quick flick of her hand, the pile of ancient books rose into the air releasing a heavy brown volume, decorated with strange symbols in gold leaf, from the bottom of the stack.  As the other books rearranged themselves into a neat pile, the book flapped into the air like a bird and followed Alchymia back to her chair, where it floated down in front of her, stopping a few centimetres above her lap.

She clicked her fingers and the brittle pages began to flick backwards and forwards.  With another click, the book fell still and she ran her eyes over the open pages.  ‘Hello Willow,’ said Alchymia, her eyes not moving from the yellowing pages of the book.

Willow sat up and rubbed the back of her head.  ‘What just happened to me?’ she asked, wincing as she found the small bloody lump there.

‘Ah, that would be Fulcanelli,’ explained Alchymia, pointing to the cat, ‘I told him that I did not want you to see where I was hiding until I had met you.  Unfortunately, he used a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  He is a little theatrical, a simple blindfold would have sufficed.  Please, come and join us,’ said Alchymia, pointing to a mahogany chair with a plump red seat that had materialised next to Drake.

Willow stumbled over to the chair and sat down.  Her eyes sparkled with delight as Fulcanelli circled around her, rubbing himself against her legs.  Eventually, he settled and looked up at her with his big green, crossed-eyes.

‘He’s so cute!’ she cooed.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty-Three

Joe could hear the sound of heavy breathing in the dark. He opened his hand and felt grass beneath him like a thick carpet. For a second he felt disorientated and confused. Where was he? Because he certainly wasn’t lying in his bed, all warm and snuggly.

He heard a soft snort.

‘Lola,’ he called, slowly opening his eyes. He took a sharp intake of breath as he caught sight of the biggest dog he had ever seen. It had three heads and one of its noses was now sniffing at his crotch.

A short cry escaped from Joe’s lips.

Everything came flooding back to him; the new job, Death, Charon and…

And Cerberus…

Cerberus, the Guardian of the Underworld.

‘Nice doggy,’ said Joe, ‘there’s a good boy.’ He carefully lifted himself up on his elbows. The dog continued to sniff his groin.

How had he ended up here, lying on the floor?

Shit. No. No, he hadn’t…had he?

Yep. He’d only gone and fainted!

Fainted?!!!

Red hot shame swept over his face. If his shitdad had been here, he’d have never lived it down.

He hadn’t wet himself, had he? His crotch felt warm and wet and…

Joe looked down. Thank God for that, he hadn’t wet himself but…eugh…a great big glob of dog drool landed on his trousers.

He fell back onto the grass.

Today was not a good day.

He was going to be eaten by a three-headed dog. No one would know he’d died, here, alone.

Alone.

He really was feeling sorry for himself. He suddenly had a craving for pizza. A huge pepperoni pizza with tons of barbeque sauce. And a large bottle of sprite. That would probably be his last meal if he ever got put on Death Row.

He looked at Cerberus. What did he mean, if; he was already on Death Row wasn’t he? And no one knew.

Not that his mother or shitdad would care.

Joe lay rigid as Cerberus began to walk forward so that Joe’s whole body was covered by dog.

Please don’t sit down! Please don’t sit down.

Cerberus lifted its three heads and opened his middle mouth wide. Its teeth were huge, almost the size of a man’s hand. It’s breath smelled like putrid meat and ammonia. Another big glob of dog drool landed on Joe’s face.

He retched as it splatted on to the side of his face. Pepperoni pizza no longer appealed to him.

The dog’s heads swooped down.

Please don’t eat me! Please don’t eat me!

Cerberus’ tongue flopped out and he gave Joe a big fat lick on his face.

Eugh. Where had his tongue been? It felt rough on his skin, like sandpaper and it was sanding the skin off his face.

Book Review – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre, 2014)

David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks has been a difficult book to read and review. I think this is partly to do with the fact that it’s actually a series of six interconnected novellas that vary a great deal in terms of tone and genre.

The first novella, A Hot Spell 1984, is, in my opinion, the strongest. It focuses on Holly Sykes, a very likeable character, who decides to leave home after an argument with her mother. I think if David Mitchell had stayed with Holly Sykes’ story I would have loved this book right until the very end.

That’s not to say I didn’t fall in love with some of his other characters – Ed Brubeck, and Crispin Hershey (despite their flaws) were favourites of mine – but I would have preferred more on each of them.

I found myself completely lost in The Horologist’s Labyrinth, but not in a good way. The science fiction and concepts in that novella went completely over my head, although this is probably more to do with my lack of knowledge in this area rather than anything lacking in Mitchell’s writing.

I felt overwhelmed by all the different words and ideas in this section but continued reading anyway because of Mitchell’s talent.

I felt that the last novella, Sheep’s Head, was a little too preachy about the environment and man’s destructive side, although I did enjoy the fact that it was told from Holly Sykes’ perspective as she was my favourite character. I didn’t like seeing her grow old though; I would have preferred the book to end on The Horologist’s Labyrinth, whilst Holly was still in her prime rather than having her face the Apocalypse scenario as well. Not that I don’t like reading about older characters, but it was just a step too far for me in this particular novel. Too much had happened to Holly and I just wanted Mitchell to give her a break!

I did like this book (I must have because I read it quite quickly) but I didn’t love it. It was too much of a genre-bending novel for my taste. Therefore I would probably give it 3 ½ stars out of five.

Great for those who like genre-bending thoughtful and provocative novels. It’s certainly a great adventure!

Not so great for those who like a little bit of light reading that doesn’t take too much thought. Be warned – you may end up with a headache! Also not a good read if you don’t like to be introduced to too many characters.

Dragon Rider – Part Fifteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eight

Alchymia and the Cross-eyed Cat

A cat, the size of a Labrador dog, stood on his two hind legs behind Willow, his body glowing orange as if it were made of pure fire, his two piercing green eyes studying Drake closely from under his crazy orange mane.

‘Fulcanelli, what….what did you do that for?’ spluttered Drake, his voice struggling to hide his irritation.

Fulcanelli shrugged, then began to lick his paw.  ‘Because I cannnn,’ he purred.

Drake threw his hands to his head.  ‘But Fulcanelli…we don’t have time for this-’

‘Mistress wants to see youuuu.  I will take youuuu.’  He pointed at Willow, lying like a baby on the floor, ‘She can’t seeee.’

‘Surely there were easier ways of doing that,’ said Drake, rubbing the top of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.  Things were never simple; Willow, the cat (if that’s what he was), why couldn’t they just leave him alone and let him get on with it?

‘Damn it, Fulcanelli!’ cursed Drake, as the cat leapt, without warning, out of the room like a lightning bolt.

Drake looked at Willow lying on the floor.  Why the hell hadn’t she just stayed at home?  He rolled his eyes and scooped her off the floor where she hung limply in his arms, a small trail of drool trickling from the corner of her mouth, gleaming like a slug trail.  The faint hint of a smile curled his lips; he couldn’t wait to tell her about that.

Fulcanelli moved like a firestorm tearing up a forest as he weaved his way through the dark backstreets.  Drake followed the orange afterglow with Willow still dangling in his arms.  He eventually found the cat sitting outside the door of a shabby four-storied house that looked as if it hadn’t been lived in for decades; bare pockets of brick lay exposed to the elements where the rendering had been eaten away and most of the glass was missing from the windows.

‘You took your timeeee,’ said Fulcanelli grooming his paw.

Drake scowled; of all the annoying beasts he had ever met…

It was a few moments before Fulcanelli moved, he rapped the sun-bleached door three times before pushing it open.  He bounced into the house and disappeared up the staircase at the far end of the room.

Drake scoured the area before he followed the cat into the darkness.

Damp, decay and death oozed from every surface; from the mottled wallpaper to the basement peeping through the crumbling floorboards.  With only thin slivers of moonlight to illuminate his way, Drake struggled across the rotting floor and up the stairs after Fulcanelli.  Gaping holes smiled at him as he climbed, waiting for him to fall into the rats that scuttled and scratched beneath them.

The second floor was also dark and as rotten as the floor below.  Grey net curtains flapped loosely over the glassless windows and withered leaves gently scraped across the floor with the ebb and flow of the breeze.

With no sign of Fulcanelli, just the distant sound of purring coming from somewhere above, Drake continued upwards.  He emerged into yet another room, a red door standing open at its far end, the purring, louder now, was coming from the other side of it.

Drake walked carefully through the narrow doorway and into a warm and homely room, smelling of lemon and tarragon, that clearly had an enchantment on it since it was larger than the whole house itself.  A simple wooden bed, shrouded in layers of thick patchwork blankets, lay at the centre of the far wall, surrounded by stacks of leather-bound books, jars and scrolls of parchment.

Alchymia sat in front of a roaring fire to the left of the room with Fulcanelli resting his head on her lap, purring loudly as spittle erupted from his mouth.  At the other side of her, a wooden table strained under a pile of books, a chopping board, fresh herbs and a myriad of bottles and containers filled with different coloured oils and infusions.

‘Drake,’ said Alchymia, her eyes fixed on Fulcanelli, ‘you can place Willow on the bed.’

Drake sighed with relief; Alchymia was, at least, safe.  He said nothing but stumbled over to the bed and tipped Willow on to it and let the blankets swallow her up in layers of warmth and comfort.

‘Come and sit down,’ said Alchymia softly, pointing to a chair that she had magicked beside her.

Drake slumped heavily onto it.

‘Tea?’

Drake nodded once and a small dark wooden table appeared in front of him, with a steaming mug of milky tea on top of it.  He took the mug and wrapped his cold hands gratefully around it.

‘It has been quite some time Drake, so I can only assume that you are in trouble.’

Drake nodded again, his eyes unwilling to look at her, to betray his shame.  Why was it that she was the only one who could make him feel like a little child again?

‘I also assume that it has something to do with the fact that the dwarves have ransacked my home?’

Again Drake nodded, he could feel the tiredness taking over his body.

‘What are they looking for?’

Drake looked up and sighed.  ‘I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s probably the same thing we’re looking for.’

Alchymia looked at him, eyebrow arched, waiting for his answer.

‘The Emerald Key,’  he said quickly, before gulping down a mouthful of tea.

Alchymia’s eyes widened momentarily.  ‘I see…’ she said, turning her attention back to Fulcanelli, running her fingers through his orange mane, ‘and why are you are looking for The Key?’

‘I need to find it, I have no choice,’ he said, studying the tea in his mug.  ‘Someone wants it and if I don’t find it for him, well, let’s just say that’s not an option.’  He sighed heavily.  ‘I need your help Alchymia.’