Dragon Rider – Part 39

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen Continued

The Iron Fortress

A tall woman, dressed in a khaki uniform, approached them.  ‘Welcome to The Processing Centre, may I help you?’ she smiled at them through thick red lips.

‘Yes, we’re looking for the Main Tower,’ said Willow.

‘Certainly, if you just follow the central path through the Processing Yard you will reach the Tower in a few moments,’ she said, pointing the way with a bright red fingernail.  ‘Don’t look so scared, the Afterlife isn’t like this, this is just the Processing Centre.  Here we have to make sure everyone reaches their correct destination as quickly as possible.’  She thrust a piece of paper at them, ‘Please fill in this questionnaire to tell us how we can improve your experience at the Centre.’

Willow took the paper from her.  ‘We will, thanks for your help.’

Drake, Willow and Pyro negotiated the yard easily, finding themselves at the foot of The Main Tower in a matter of minutes.  Willow discarded the questionnaire into a plastic bin at the side of the entrance before they crossed the wooden bridge over the moat of liquid fire, and entered the tower through the two automatic glass doors.

The foyer of the Main Tower reminded Drake of an ultra-modern hotel like the ones that lined the Business District in Devilsgate.  It was incredibly bright; row upon row of chrome spotlights dazzled from the ceiling, the rays bouncing off the polished black marble floor like dozens of miniature fireballs which had the curious effect of making Drake feel like he was walking on the night‘s sky.  In the centre of the room stood a statue of twisted chrome (An Angel in Contemplation read the silver plaque fixed onto its base) with several designer acrylic chairs arranged around it in a semi-circle.  The receptionist, an elegant brunette, sat behind a black granite desk polishing her nails.

‘Over there,’ whispered Drake, pointing to the steel elevator situated to the right of the receptionist.

The receptionist looked up briefly as Willow, Drake and Pyro made their way over to the elevator.  The phone rang and she looked away.  ‘Hello, you are through to the Main Tower, Tracy speaking, how may I help you?’

Drake scanned the chrome sign on the wall beside the elevator that listed all the various departments within the tower.  ‘Un-human Resources…Complaints and Appeals…The Exit.  I wonder if that really is the way out?

‘Makes sense that it’s in the Main Tower,’ said Willow, ‘we better remember that for later.’

‘Ah, here it is,’ said Drake, ‘the Control Room.’

They stepped into the elevator and the doors glided shut behind them.  ‘Which floor do you require?’ asked a chirpy disembodied voice.

‘Seven-hundred and seventy-seven, please,’ replied Drake.  The elevator ascended so quickly that it didn’t feel as though they were moving at all.

There was a sound like a balloon deflating and an unpleasant smell wafted around the lift.

‘Please refrain from that kind of behaviour in the lift,’ said the Lift-voice.

Pyro shrugged.  ‘What can I say?  I’m surrounded by iron!’

After what seemed like only a second, the elevator came to a stop, a bell pinged and the doors opened.  ‘Welcome to the seven-hundred and seventy-seventh floor, The Control Room.  Please enjoy your stay,’ chimed the voice.

‘What is it with this place; why is everyone so blooming-well happy? snapped Willow.

Drake shrugged his shoulders and then stepped out onto a small landing with large steel doors that slowly opened as they approached.  ‘Let’s go and meet Brimo.’

‘I might just sit this one out,’ said Pyro, slinking to the back of the lift.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Drake, pulling Pyro out by his collar.

‘Will you quit manhandling me?  What is it with everyone thinking they can order me around?’ said Pyro, grabbing back his collar and brushing himself down, although he refrained from flaring up and burning Drake.

Tentatively they stepped through the doors.

Colours leeched out into the darkness from the television screens that covered almost every available surface, each screen broadcasting its own unique image.  Drake could see the brunette receptionist picking her nose and an image of the lobby from which they had entered the Control Room, whilst other images were clearly beaming back at them from the Land of the Living, a small hour glass counting down in the right-hand corner of each of the screens.

‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ said a cold voice from behind a black leather chair in the centre of the room.  The chair swung around to reveal a youthful, but severe, looking woman with red hair tied in a bun on the top of her head.

Drake cleared his throat.  ‘Are you Brimo, the Overseer?’

‘I am.’

‘You’re Death?’ asked Pyro stepping closer.

‘Not exactly,’ said the woman, tilting her head so that her jaw jutted out, ‘I organise the practicalities, the collecting of the Souls, making sure they have the right paperwork, that kind of thing.’

‘Interesting,’ said Pyro nodding his head as he inspected the Control Room with his eyes.

‘What?  Don‘t you think a woman should be in charge of such an operation?’

‘I don’t think he meant that,‘ said Drake.  A fight with Death?  Now that seemed too much like tempting fate.

‘Women give life to the people of the world, it seems only right that a woman also takes it away, don’t you think?’  Brimo’s green eyes blazed, challenging them to disagree.

‘Er, yes I suppose so,’ said Drake.  Was that the answer she was looking for?  God, she was even pricklier than Alchymia!

Brimo rose elegantly from her chair and glided over to the wall of television screens.  ‘So what is so important to two living beings and one fire-djinn, that they risk life and limb to travel through The Valley of Death?  What do you want?’

‘We’re looking for someone who’s dead,’ said Drake, almost immediately regretting the words he had used.

Brimo snorted in derision.  ‘Well obviously,’ she said, her jaw tensing slightly, ‘there aren’t many living things here.  Name?’

‘Hermes Trismegestus.’

‘And what makes you think you can just stroll in here demanding to see one of my Spirits?’ said Brimo looking at Drake over her shoulder.

‘I-’

‘I should strike you down now and be done with you,’ she said, sweeping around to face them, ‘What arrogance you have shown coming in here and disrupting the balance of things!  And the mess you have made of the Forest of Suffering, do you know how long that forest has been there?’

‘Er-’

‘No, I didn’t think you would,’ said Brimo.  She stroked her thin fingers over her chin, ‘So, what to do with you?’

‘Alchymia sent us,’ said Willow cutting through Brimo’s train of thought.

Drake glared at Willow.  Why couldn’t she just keep her trap shut?

‘What?’ screeched Brimo turning to look at Willow, her green eyes blazing with thunder.  ‘My sister has sent you?  It can’t be that important if she sends three miscreants to do her bidding!  Mind you, being down here does play havoc with her skin!’  The Overseer’s raucous laughs echoed around the room, then stopped abruptly.  ‘How do I know you tell the truth?’ she demanded, as she swept around to face Drake, her claw-like finger dangerously close to the end of his nose.

 

Dragon Rider – Part Eight

Dragon Rider

Chapter Five

The Spider’s Lair

Fenrik Lasko sat lazily flicking through the bruised pages of a book, bound in yellowing human skin, with a red dragon crudely painted on its front cover.  The stiff pages of the Grimoire creaked angrily as he turned them over, its ancient writing and symbols raging under the flickering light of the tallow candle placed next to it on the large oak desk, perched high upon the top of a human-looking skull.  Beside it, lay the skull of some long-dead animal, holding down a stack of vellums and parchments thick with dust.

Cigar smoke hung thick in the air like ghostly spider webs, dripping down from the ceiling and smothering the vast bookshelves, overflowing with dusty tomes, glass jars full of pickled animal body parts and other sinister substances, such as grave dirt, corpse water and a small golden cask containing the last dregs of Fenrik’s stash of dragon’s blood.

Fenrik stirred as a gentle rap came from the other side of the large door to his office.  He snapped the Grimoire shut, pushed it aside, and grunted as an ugly green demon, no bigger than a six-year-old child, floated into the room, struggling under the weight of the large silver tray he was carrying.  The demon placed the tray in front of Fenrik, spilling a small amount of green liquid from a silver goblet.  Fenrik removed the silver cover from the platter at the side of the goblet and hit the demon on the head with it, sending him crashing into the full-length gilt mirror that stood before one of the bookcases.  The mirror landed heavily on the demon but didn’t smash, so he carefully pushed the mirror off himself and back into position.  He then scrambled to his feet, trying not to anger his master anymore and bowed low before sheepishly backing out of the room.

Fenrik’s eyes bulged at the sight of the large plate of meatballs, smothered in a blood red tomato sauce, lying on a bed of steaming yellow spaghetti.  He grunted in appreciation as he shovelled meatballs into his gargantuan mouth, tomato sauce dripping down his crisp blue shirt like splatters of blood.

The door to his study opened again, this time revealing a lofty figure wearing a black pinstripe suit with a trilby hat pulled down low over his white candy floss hair.  The figure’s skin was waxy and yellowish-green as if he were an ancient Egyptian mummy that had been unwrapped for the first time.  He walked across the room and sat down on an oak chair in front of Fenrik’s desk.

This was Vigor Mortis, Fenrik’s half-brother, a creature that was neither alive nor dead after an accident with a dragon and its rider seventeen years ago.  Unable to cope alone, Fenrik had dug his brother’s body from its grave and re-animated it with Unmentionable Magick, which had left Vigor with a sallow complexion and a body that looked as if someone had stuck a vacuum up his bottom to suck the life out of him; a vacuum-packed version of Fenrik, but taller and with a lot less hair.

Fenrik dropped his fork noisily onto his plate and then wiped the tomato sauce off his chin with a napkin.  ‘Ah, brother, good news I hope?’

Vigor took off his hat and smiled, flashing his jagged teeth at Fenrik.  ‘It is as you suspected.  Gizmo and that Dragon Rider turned up whilst I was there-’

Fenrik raised a bushy eyebrow, ‘but they did not see you?’

‘No brother,’ said Vigor shaking his head, ‘Funestus was keen to keep us apart, and I played along with his game.  Lomax filled me in on everything this morning.’

‘Are they going to find the missing part of The Emerald Key for him?’

‘Funestus is still awaiting their answer but I think the deal is already done.  From what Lomax heard, Funestus used you as a bargaining chip to get the Dragon Rider involved.’

Fenrik smiled.  ‘Good.’

‘So, what do we do now?’ asked Vigor, playing with the trilby in his hands.

‘Nothing.’

‘Nothing?’ asked Vigor, his sunken black eyes looking up at Fenrik, ‘Don’t you want me to kill the Dragon Rider at least?  Oh please brother?’

‘No,’ said Fenrik, holding his hand up to silence the excitable Vigor, ‘Not yet.’

‘But I want to crush his skull in my bare hands for what his father did to me!’ said Vigor, clasping his trilby too hard.

Fenrik gave Vigor a warning look that silenced him.  ‘We leave things as they are.  For now.  Let them try and get The Key,’ he said, shrugging, ‘it makes no difference to me.  If they come out alive and they have it, it saves you a trip.  Rather he goes down there to fetch it than you Vigor.’

Vigor nodded his head in agreement.

‘If they die,’ said Fenrik, shrugging, ‘so be it, you will just have to fetch it as planned.  Either way, I will get the missing part of The Emerald Key and the Dragon Rider will die.  Whether it be today, tomorrow, or next week; it does not matter.  He is an insignificant fly that can be squashed at our leisure.’  Fenrik wafted his hand in the air as if he were shooing away a fly.

‘May I have the pleasure, brother?’

‘It has been a long time since we were able to harvest dragon parts, I’m down to my last drop of dragon blood,’ said Fenrik, instinctively stroking the dragon skull on top of the vellums.  ‘A new candle holder would be useful too,’ he said pointing to the human-looking skull holding the candle, ‘Erick seems to be a little down in the mouth of late.  A new model might be just what I need.’

Vigor cackled.  ‘Oh brother, you are evil!’

‘It is a talent I possess.’  Fenrik paused, picked up his fork, and stuffed another meatball into his mouth.  ‘And the Hand?’ he asked, as he chewed.

‘It is still with Pyro.’

‘But not for much longer, it would seem.  I’m surprised Funestus hasn’t confiscated it already.’

‘He tried, he sent the dwarves to get Pyro but the Dragon Rider got there first.’

‘The dwarves?’ asked Fenrik, looking up at Vigor.  ‘So Funestus uses our own men against us?  And the dwarves don’t know a thing?’

‘No brother.  When I saw Scarface earlier he was worried that you would be angry at him for losing the Hand.  I didn’t let on that you knew nothing about it-‘

‘Good.  The less that the dwarves know, the better.’

‘But why would Funestus let Pyro keep the Hand when it was within his grasp?  Why send the dwarves for it but then let it go when the Dragon Rider brings it in?  The Dragon Rider will need it.  It doesn’t make sense, not when Funestus could have handed it over to him-‘

Fenrik moved a meatball around the edge of his plate.  ‘It would seem that we aren’t the only ones being played,’ he said, spearing the meatball with his fork before continuing, ‘He doesn’t want the Dragon Rider to see any connection between me, the Hand and himself.  By leaving it in Pyro’s possession, he’s trying to distance himself from the artefact, and denying he has any knowledge of it.  He’s being careful and very, very clever,’ said Fenrik, shovelling the meatball into his mouth, ‘or so he thinks.’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Vigor, a look of confusion still on his face, ‘So, what do you want me to do with Funestus?’

‘Nothing.  Yet.  We send the dwarves to see Alchymia as planned-’

Vigor sat up straight in his chair.  ‘But won’t the Dragon Rider go there, you know, given his history with her?’

Fenrik shrugged.  ‘Probably, but if Funestus wants to play games, then who are we to deny him that pleasure?’

‘But what is the point of sending the dwarves to Alchymia if you intend the Dragon Rider to fetch The Key?’

Fenrik dropped his fork down onto his plate and sighed.  ‘Are you questioning me brother?’ he asked, looking up from under his bushy eyebrows, ‘because you know that I do not like to be questioned.’

Vigor threw his bony hands up in placation, his hat falling to the parquet floor.  ‘Of course not brother, I would never-’

‘Good,’ said Fenrik, his wolf-like eyes locking onto Vigor’s.  ‘Everything will work out. If we change plans now, Funestus will know we are on to his double-crossing ways.  We wait, see how the game plays out for a while.  I have other plans for Funestus.’

‘Yes brother,’ said Vigor, bowing his waxy head in agreement.

‘When we get our hands on the missing portion of The Emerald Key we will have our own magick and then we will wreak our revenge upon this City and those who seek to double cross us,’ said Fenrik, pounding his fist upon his desk, ‘but until then, we wait!’

‘Yes brother,’ said Vigor, ‘but let me have the Dragon Rider when it is time!’

‘When the time comes, he’s yours.’

 

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…