Dragon Rider – Part Fourteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Seven Continued

The Towers of Learning

The next floor was chaotic, not at all like Drake remembered; the two burgundy sofas had been slashed, their foam innards spewed up over the dark wooden floor.  Ripped pages of spell books and ancient vellums were strewn all over the place and smashed jars of pickled scorpions, mugwort and other magickal ingredients had been swept off the shelves.  The small oak table, that Alchymia used for reading the cards and scrying, had been cleaved in two, the scrying ball discarded in its ruins.  In the corner of the room, a small Rarog was whirling around and around the jagged glass remains of what had been its home.

‘They’ve been here!’ Drake spat.  The dwarves’ grubby little hands had been rifling through Alchymia’s stuff like burglars.  He stooped down and picked up the large scrying ball lying in amongst the broken ruins of the table; a large crack spiked across its surface.  It felt cold to the touch, lifeless, like the house, like its Soul had been ripped out.

‘But we heard the dwarves saying they hadn’t seen her, so she’s got to be safe, hasn’t she?’ said Willow as she scooped the Rarog up in her hands.  She began to hum Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to it, a favourite lullaby of Wind Spirits, and immediately it began to slow down.  Once it was fully relaxed and had morphed back into its usual form of a minuscule green man with pointy green ears, she grabbed an empty jar and placed the Rarog carefully into it.  She screwed the gold top back onto the jar, made sure Drake wasn’t looking and slipped it into her rucksack.

‘I don’t know.  We don’t know where she is, or if she’s okay.’  He shook his head and dropped the ball.  It landed with a dull thud and rolled towards the corner of the room.  ‘Without her, we‘re lost.’

He turned to look through the window; The view of Nowhere had been replaced by a surreal landscape of a barren land scattered with the skeletal remains of dead trees.  Above them, a purple sky whorled menacingly and heaving clouds drenched the landscape in silver rain.  Fork lightning streaked across the sky illuminating the faint wisps of beings that glided eerily over the black mud.  These were Alchymia’s enchanted windows, designed to entrap the viewer into staying there, glued to the scene for eternity.

But Drake didn’t see anything through those windows, he could only see the thoughts that were trapped in his mind.  He clamped his fists into tight balls.  Damn it, what were they supposed to do now?

He rubbed his forehead and tried to straighten out his thoughts.  The pain was building into a brain exploding crescendo.

‘We’ve got to find her,’ said Drake sifting through the rubbish, ‘there’s got to be a clue here somewhere-’

Suddenly, and from nowhere, a bright flash of orange leapt across the room like lightning and headed towards Willow.

Drake turned quickly, just as the golden blur began to circle her, burning like fire.  ‘Don’t move!’ he hissed.

‘What the?’ asked Willow, her eyes struggling to keep up with whatever it was that was circling her.

Once, twice it circled around her and then, it stopped and for the briefest of seconds the figure of a large cat could be seen blazing at the heart of the fire.  It leapt up behind Willow and gave her a sharp slap on the top of her head with its huge padded paw.

‘No!’ shrieked Drake as Willow’s legs buckled under her and she crashed to the floor unconscious.

 

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Dragon Rider – Part Thirteen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Seven Continued

The Towers of Learning

The impossibly tall timber buildings, with their magickal extensions jutting out here and there, hemmed them in on either side like a prison, a thin slice of the dark starry sky was the only thing visible overhead.

Silence hung between them, like a cloak, as they approached the top of the hill, its apex marked by an ancient stone gateway depicting The Angry Ones brandishing scales, scissors and swords as they passed their Judgement.

Drake strode under the great stone arch and almost immediately his head felt like it was going to explode; he could feel pressure building at the back of his eyes and his nose throbbed like it’d been broken.  There was a popping sound in his head and bile rose up his windpipe and into his mouth, its acrid taste burning as it travelled upwards.  He wanted to speak, to let Willow know what was happening but he couldn’t form the words.  Somehow he managed to keep putting one leg in front of the other until the feeling passed and the nausea subsided.

The Purg Atrium, as it was known, opened out before them like a flower bursting into bloom, a mind-bending, vertigo-inducing example of Nowhere’s ingenuity; how else would such a vast square fit into such a small space?  The Elders of Nowhere had wanted a large square to dispense their unique brand of justice and lack of space was not going to stop them.  They had, with the help of very strong ancient magick, the slaughter of several thousand Nature Spirits, the sacrifice of ten virgins and the death of the Master builder in mysterious but very auspicious circumstances, made sure they had got it.

And as it had cost a small fortune, bankrupting several well-off families and resulting in many lawsuits (most notably from the families of the virgins and the Master Builder), The Elders made sure it was worth every penny by using it.  A lot.  The evidence of this was plain to see; The chair, with its rusty iron shackles and chains, was covered in thick, gloopy layers of congealed blood, the rows of empty wooden stocks were still caked in the slime of rotting fruit and vegetables thrown that very morning, bodies, at various degrees of decomposition, still hung from the gnarled branches of the evil-looking Purga Tree next to fresh nooses waiting to be filled, and the bloated body of a middle-aged man, dressed in what looked like a nappy, still floated face-down in the waters of The Great Fountain of Truth.

Drake looked at Willow; she was pale and sweaty like she was going to be…

A pile of vomit catapulted from her mouth, landing in a big splat on the floor, splashing over her pumps.

‘Are you okay?’

Willow nodded weakly, cradling her stomach with her hands.

‘Sorry, should’ve warned you about that, but -’ he stopped as Willow glared in his direction.

‘It’s only a little further,’ said Drake changing tack, ‘we‘ll be there soon.’  If he was honest, he didn’t want to linger in the square too long himself; too many horrific memories stalked him here.  He waited until she had flushed her mouth out with water before putting his arm around her to help her across the square.

‘I’m fine,’ she snapped, shrugging him off.

‘It’s just through there,’ he said, pointing to a small passageway to the left of a notice board covered in Wanted posters.

They hurried across the square, not wanting to focus too much on the gory detail although the smell of rotting flesh seemed to be clawing its way inside them, forcing itself upon their senses.  As they neared the other side a yellowing poster caught Drake’s eye; it showed the face of a small boy with a black marking around his right eye who was wanted for the theft of a dragon and various counts of vandalism.  Drake smiled to himself, is that all I’m worth, five thousand Asses?

‘Does the whole of this town smell like death and urine?’ asked Willow, covering her nose and mouth with her hand.

‘Yep, this is about as good as it gets,’ said Drake, leading her quickly through the slimy passageway, the green moss squelching under their feet like a thick mouldy carpet, until finally, they stepped out into the Mystickal Plaza of All Mystickal Magick.

The Plaza was shaped like a six-sided star and was surrounded by towers and buildings of different colours, shapes and sizes.  A large blue orb rotated and undulated at its centre about eight metres from the ground, thin tendrils of blue light stretching out from it, like long spindly fingers reaching out to each of the towers.

Willow’s mouth fell open, her eyes widening as she walked, her pink hair standing on end as they passed close to the orb.  ‘The legendary Orb of All Mystickal Magick,’ she gasped, her finger tracing a virtual line from the orb to one of the towers, ‘and those, those are the Towers of Learning.  When a Mystick studies under the Mystickal School of Magick they have to travel the Seven Steps to Fulfilment.  Each time they pass a module their tower miraculously grows taller, adding another level to their knowledge.  Only when the next level reveals itself can they start to study its secrets.’

‘Yeah, all very interesting but can we just find Alchymia please?’  Bloody girls.  One minute they were having a go, the next they were off in a world of their own.

Willow stood frozen to the spot.  ‘Oh my god, look at that,’ she said pointing to a carved stone tree with a trunk as thick as an average sized house.  Its branches supported the rooms of learning that the Mystick had already studied.  At the top of the tree a small light had begun to sparkle like a diamond; the next room of learning being born, like a new star.  ‘Isn’t it beautiful?  I wish I could learn magick like that.’

Drake pretended not to hear and continued walking, hoping that Willow might get the hint and follow him.  He could hear her prancing behind him, gasping and ooh-ing like they were watching a fireworks display.  The architecture and magick of Nowhere was lost on him.  He’d seen the darker side of the town; its underbelly; the true character of the place that was nothing like the gleaming structures of wood, stone and other-worldly materials that most of the Mysticks chose as an outward demonstration of their intellect.  The same intellectuals who turned the other way as men and magickal beings were systematically tortured and butchered under their noses.

The only exception to this was Alchymia, the only being in the whole town whom Drake respected.  She had been the only one who had tried to help when Falkor had been shackled to the floor in the Purg Atrium, the only one who had protested as the Elders and the dwarves made their preparations to slaughter the last dragon in England and the only one who stopped Drake wiping this godforsaken town out of his memory for good.

Drake liked to think that Alchymia’s tower was a representation of the woman herself; it stood out in its simplicity and towered above any of the structures in the Mystickal Quarter, its apex lost in the canopy of the dark starry night.  It was the width of a small church and was made out of polished Hematite which reflected the stars from the sky, making it look as if the tower had been fashioned from the Universe itself.

A sign hung from a single nail on the wooden door.  It warned visitors to beware of the cat.

‘Be careful when we meet Alchymia,’ he warned Willow, a faint smirk on his lips, ’she isn’t all that she seems.  Oh, and beware of her cat.’

‘Her cat?’

‘Yeah, it‘s got issues and Willow-’

‘Yes?’

‘Don’t look out of the windows.’

‘Anything else?  Can I breathe?’  Willow placed her hands on her hips.

Drake rolled his eyes and turned to the door.  ‘Something’s wrong,’ he hissed; the door was lopsided, hanging off its hinges like someone had partially kicked it in.  He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck tingling, his gut reaction telling him to be very, very careful.  He raised his finger to his mouth to tell Willow to be very still and very quiet.

His eyes flicked back and forth from the door to the shadows, but he could see nothing, his eyes duller and less sensitive now he was without Falkor.  He could hear nothing unusual, just the low buzz of the orb humming gently in the background.

As sure as he could be that it was not an ambush, he lightly touched the door and it swung limply inwards revealing the dark and empty reception room beyond, dominated by a spiral staircase.  The whole room was lit only by a trail of twinkling tea lights rising up the staircase.

Tentatively they entered, their eyes scanning the shadows for movement.  In silence, they walked over to the staircase and began to climb up to the first floor.

The front door banged shut.  Drake’s heart jumped into his throat and he immediately froze where he stood.

He could feel Willow tensing behind him as she clamped her hand tightly around the bannister to steady herself.  They stood perfectly still, listening. But all Drake could hear was the pounding of the blood in his ears.

It must have been wind, thought Drake, as he began to slowly move up the stairs again.  But he felt jumpy, his heart still racing in his chest.  He was far too on edge, what the hell was wrong with him?

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.

Dragon Rider – Part Eleven

Dragon Rider

Chapter Six Continued

Going Nowhere, Fast

Drake slung his guitar over his back and headed for the door.  There was no point taking anything else as it would only slow him down and he could easily find food from somewhere, even if he had to be a little creative to get it.  And anyway, he didn’t intend on being away too long.  The only trouble was going to be getting used to the lenses Gizmo had given him to keep him in contact with the warehouse.  He could feel them irritating the lining of his eyes, but he’d give anything a go at least once.

He halted at the exit to the warehouse.  He could see the Metatron with Willow sitting on top of it, bent double under a bulging rucksack.

‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ growled Drake, his hands clenched firmly at his side.

‘I’m coming with you.’

Drake’s jaw tightened.  ‘Look, thank you for letting me use the Metatron, but I said I was going alone.’

‘I know what you said Drake, but I’m just not listening,’ she said, putting her hands on her hips.  ‘I can help, I have magick, you never know when you might need me-’

‘I work alone.’

‘Not this time Drake.  This concerns all of us and I’m not prepared to just sit here and do nothing.’  Willow huffed and crossed her arms over her chest.

‘They hate human witches in Nowhere even more than here,’ spat Drake.

‘I don’t care, I’m used to it,’ replied Willow.  A few silent seconds passed before she looked at him from under thick black eye-lashes.  ‘I’ll let you control the bike.’

Drake looked at Willow sitting stubbornly on the bike.  Damn it, there was no point arguing.  ‘You do as I say, okay?  And for God’s sake what have you got in that rucksack?’

Willow began to run through the list, counting them off with her fingers, ‘I’ve packed some food, rope, my make-up-’

‘Get rid of it.’

‘But Drake, I-’

Drake cut Willow a hard stare.  ‘Get rid of it.’

She heaved herself off the bike.  ‘Okay, Okay but I get to take my make-up-’

‘Whatever, just get on with it.’

Willow returned five minutes later (a couple of tons lighter) and climbed onto the bike behind Drake.  He turned the key to power the machine up; it growled at him as the jets burst into life, the blue-orange flames exploding from the back of its silver body.  It slowly rose into the air, where it hovered until Drake hit the acceleration and they sped off in a blaze of fire.

Their journey to Nowhere was swift; within half an hour they had left the oppressive darkness and squalor of the City behind and were travelling through vast forests of leafless trees peppered with the remains of devastated towns and cities.  They saw no one; Drake deliberately avoided the other cities, choosing instead the more scenic route through the Wild Country, emerging from the mountain passes as the sun was beginning to fall beyond the horizon and into Mithra’s Realm.  In the distance, Drake could see the fortified town of Nowhere, its great timber buildings silhouetted against the setting sun.

Before they hit the main elevated mud road into Nowhere, Drake and Willow discarded the Metatron beneath a pile of dead leaves and branches, under a leafless Sycamore tree; they’d have to come back for it later.  The people of Nowhere were not into the gadgets of the modern world, so they continued the journey into town on foot.

Once they’d reached the vast moat that encircled the town they dipped behind a rocky outcrop and observed the Search and Security Team controlling the heavy flow of traffic passing through the gate.

‘How are we going to get past those?’ asked Willow, as she watched a Security Troll pick up a leprechaun by his oversized collar and toss him into the moat.  He landed with a great splash and then began swimming to the side, spluttering and panting.

Drake took in the town’s defences; the eight metre high walls with sharp wooden stakes arranged at forty-five-degree angles at their apex, the hulking goblins patrolling along the battlements and the slimy, suckered tentacles of the Kraken surfacing from the murky depths of the black moat as it attempted to devour the flailing leprechaun.

‘We’ll have to wait for a load big enough to hide in,’ he replied, ‘there’s no other way.’

Once the sun had finally said goodbye to the market town, leaving in its wake a grey-blue dusk, Drake and Willow slipped out from behind the rocks and crept closer to the road.  They lay down on the great earth embankments, waiting for a suitable load to pass in which they could hide.  The road was heaving with traffic; farmers escorting their herds through the gates, long trains of carts filled with cured meats, terracotta pots, and silverware, and brightly clothed entertainers juggling or eating fire.

A farmer with a bad limp headed along the muddy road with his three sons, shepherding a large herd of Tri-horn Hairy Fairy cattle.  These huge beasts were much sought after for the magickal properties of their horns, urine and red pelts which were used to make flying carpets in the Middle East.  They were completely placid, unless you were trying to brand them with a piece of searing hot iron on their bottoms (not a good idea, as the farmer could testify), and a perfect Trojan horse to get Drake and Willow into Nowhere as they smelt worse than horse poo.

Drake pulled on his hood and motioned for Willow to follow him up the embankment and into the herd of cattle.  They thundered along the road at a great speed, which was probably a good job as the air around them was putrid and full of large meat flies which had attached themselves to the cows’ bottoms.

Soon they were passing through the town gates and under the humungous hairy noses of the Search and Security Team and, although the farmer was questioned and his sons were not allowed to take in their broadswords, the group entered Nowhere fairly easily.  Once they were safely past the trolls and deep within the Common Marketplace Drake and Willow extricated themselves from the cattle and tried to take a breath of fresh air.

Only the air wasn’t fresh.

The Marketplace was worse than being stuck in the middle of the cattle; it was thick with the smell of rotting fruit, dung and urine.  They didn’t know about hygiene or street cleaners in Nowhere; it smelt like one giant toilet that hadn’t been flushed for over ten years.  Carts, laden with all types of produce from small milk containers that held infinite amounts of liquid to embroidered silk that kept the wearer toasty warm even in the Artic, trundled over mouldy vegetables, dung and more indescribable things.

Cloaked wizards were enchanting balls of blue light to hang in the air above the market stalls and tiny flower faeries were being strung up around the perimeter buildings.  In the background, Purple-haired Pygmy Pigs and Disappearing Dung Donkeys brayed and grunted amongst the chatter and singing of the excited townspeople.

Despite the bright light and the sheer amount of people in the Market place, Drake felt as relaxed as he ever would do in Nowhere.  He couldn’t believe their luck; they’d arrived on the Eve of Samhain, a Festival celebrating the end of Summer and the coming of the Dark Days, which entailed lots of drinking, dancing and the slaughtering of lots of animals.  Even though he was far from welcome in Nowhere (which would never change because he’d taken off with their dragon) he knew that they were far too preoccupied to notice him or Willow.  And if they did, they drunk so much before, during and after feasting, that they would probably think he was part of the entertainment, for at least a little while anyway.  All he and Willow had to do was to stay out of trouble as they crossed the market square and get up to Alchymia’s tower at the top of the hill before they sobered up.

But if he did get caught here, well, the consequences would bring more than tears to his eyes.  The whole place reeked of the Darkest Ages when humans were rounded up and eaten alive.  And if they caught Willow?  Well, let’s just say, they hated human witches more than they hated Drake and they would, no doubt, love to make a great spectacle out of killing both of them.

Drake and Willow made their way swiftly across the packed market, both of them keeping on their hoods as a precaution.  Drake knew Willow was the weak point at the moment; he could feel her prancing after him, her mind being seduced by the riotous entertainers as they practiced their fire dancing skills.  Why had he let her come?

Suddenly he stopped; he could hear a familiar gruff voice rising and falling over the general commotion.  He took a sharp intake of breath and waited for Willow to catch him up, not daring to look around or move one more step.  As soon as she’d reached his side, he grabbed her to hold her back.  He felt her body tense as his cold fingers closed around her arm.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could just see Scarface and the other two dwarves, Ozzy and Elvis.

 

 

Dragon Rider – Part Ten

Dragon Rider

Chapter Six Continued

Going Nowhere, Fast

Willow sat cross-legged on a crumbling window ledge, flicking through the pages of a black leather book with fat gold hinges that Drake had managed to “borrow” from an Antique Book Dealers.  ‘Here it is,’ she said, clearing her throat, ‘The Emerald Key is not a key as such, but a magickal text that allegedly allows the reader to unlock all of the wisdom in the Universe and, because of this, anyone who possesses it can wield great power.

‘It was the first book ever to be created and was written by the God Mercury at the request of Zeus so that he had a full record of everything he possessed.  Unfortunately, it was stolen from Mount Olympus, along with fire, by Prometheus who gave it to Hermes Trismegistus, the Book’s Guardian on earth.

‘The Emerald Key has been passed down through generations of Guardians who swore to protect it as Hermes had once done.  It is believed that Guardians have included Roger Bacon, Nicholas Flamel and Edward Sampson, among others.’

‘That’s it?’ asked Drake.

‘Yep, apparently the book simply vanished around 1832,’ finished Willow.  She dropped the book on to the window ledge and went to sit next to Drake on the sofa.

Drake closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  ‘Okay Gizmo, what’ve you got?’

‘Not much more than what Funestus told us,’ said Gizmo.  ‘Apparently, that Canches guy-‘

‘The one who wrote the notebook?’ asked Drake.

‘Yeah, he was friends with Nicholas Flamel, one of the most famous Alchemists of all time-’

‘Nicholas Flamel?’  Drake laughed, ‘The crackpot who allegedly created the Philosopher’s stone?’

Gizmo nodded his head.  ‘It was Flamel who had the book, he just showed it to Canches.  It was The Emerald Key that gave Flamel the instructions on how to create the stone so that he could conquer death-’

‘Conquer death?’ asked Drake, his voice full of scepticism.

‘Don’t ask me,’ shrugged Gizmo, ‘I’m just reading what it says here.’

‘Okay, sorry,’ said Drake.  Boy, was this guy sensitive.  ‘Do you think you could do some more digging, see what else you can find?’

‘I’ve got Ailsa on to it, if she comes up with anything, I’ll let you know.’

Drake sighed.  ‘We have no leads, nowhere to start.’

‘Give it a couple of hours and I’m sure Ailsa will come up with something-’

‘I don’t think we’ve got a couple of hours, Fenrik’s already on to it, I know it.’  Drake banged his fist on the arm of the sofa, ‘If only we knew what he was up to.’

‘What we need is someone magickal, someone who can give us another angle on The Emerald Key.  Know anyone at the Uni Giz?’ asked Willow.

‘No, I’m sure-’

‘That’s it!’ said Drake smacking his forehead with the heal of his hand, ‘How come I didn‘t think of that before?’  He jumped up from the sofa.  ‘I need to pay an old friend a visit, she’s a Mystick, she’ll know where we need to start.’

‘You know a Mystick?  Why haven’t you told us this before?’

Drake shrugged.  ‘Her name is Alchymia, she’s helped me out a few times, maybe she’ll be able to help again.  She’s a good place to start anyway.’

‘So where do we find her?’

‘Nowhere.’

‘Drake, now isn’t the time for jokes-’

‘I’m not joking.  It’s an old magickal town to the north-west of here.’  Drake rubbed his chin, deep in thought.  ‘Didn’t think I’d go back there so soon.  It’ll be dangerous, can’t risk Falkor-’

‘Dangerous, how exactly?’ asked Gizmo, who had stopped flicking his hand over the images on the screen in front of him.

‘Long story.  Let’s just say I’m not very welcome there.  But still, it’s the only lead we’ve got.’

‘So when do we go?’ asked Willow, jumping off the sofa.

‘We don’t,’ said Drake, grabbing his Zephyr, ‘I go alone.’

‘Drake,’ said Gizmo, ‘you’ll need help.’

‘You,’ said Drake, slapping Gizmo on the back, ‘need to fix the problem you’re having breaking into the Enforcerer’s computers.  You also get to send Ailsa to infiltrate Fenrik’s system-’

‘No!’ cut in Gizmo, ‘I can’t allow that, it’s too dangerous, I-’

‘I know, but we need to know what he’s up to, what info he’s got, how close he is to finding it.  Find that out and we’ll have half a chance.’

‘And what do I get to do?’ asked Willow, her hands firmly on her hips, her eyes thunderous.

‘You get to stay here and help Gizmo.’

‘Drake?  Come on!’

‘I’m going alone.’

‘You’re not even taking Falkor?’ asked Willow, suddenly concerned.

‘Who’s Falkor? asked Gizmo.

‘No, it’s too risky, they’re not exactly pro-dragon where I’m going, and on the subject of Falkor…’

‘Dragon?’ asked Gizmo, swinging around in his chair, ‘no one said anything about dragons-’

‘No Drake, I’m not looking after him,’ said Willow shuddering, the thunder in her eyes now replaced by a look of horror.  ‘Look, I like dragons, really, I do, but I couldn’t look after one.  Anyway, if you’re not taking him you’re going to need transport.  We can use my Metatron, it’s a bike that Gizmo’s souped-up, very fast, very cool, you’ll like it.’

Drake chortled.  ’I was only going to ask if you could keep an eye out for him and give me the heads up if anything happens, that’s all.  But the Metatron sounds like a good idea.’

‘Great!  You get to go on an adventure and I get to babysit a Dragon.’

‘Will someone tell me when we got a pet dragon?’ asked Gizmo.

 

Dragon Rider – Part Nine

Dragon Rider

Chapter Six

Going Nowhere, Fast

Drake was sprawled on a threadbare sofa, his Zephyr guitar lying across his chest. He couldn’t play here, not when he would end up bewitching Willow and Gizmo. Instead, he pretended to run his fingers over the strings, mentally playing the chords to soothe his aching brain.
But no matter how hard he concentrated on the music in his mind and tried to ignore the millions of questions that rattled around with it, he couldn’t; they kept bubbling to the surface, forcing him to think.
He stopped and gently dropped the guitar to the ground, trying hard not to look at his reflection in the shiny bridge of his instrument. But just like the questions that refused to go away he could neither ignore or liberate himself from the tattoo-like marking that blighted his face, “The Devil’s Mark”, a black swirl that ran from his right eyebrow, around his eye and then down his cheek; The Mark of the Dragon Rider.
It had begun to develop when he was four years old and, from that point in his life, he had either been an object of terror or one of curiosity and infamy. The latter helped him greatly in his work, for some people couldn’t help but be attracted to him (like his informant, Heaven Cadenza, Funestus Black’s Personal Assistant in the Law Department) but Drake had learned the hard way that this attraction was not really for him, but rather for what they thought he stood for, and what they thought they could get from him. In the end, this sort of attraction was very short lived.
The only person who had seen through all of the trappings of his heritage and had loved him, not because of it, but in spite of it, was Willow. But that was long ago, in the past, before he had run out on her. And what did she know of him now and what he’d been up to in those intervening years? Did she still feel that way, or had she turned on him also, throwing him out to a dog like Funestus?
Drake closed his eyes but the heat of his anger wasn’t helping to ease the knot in his stomach. Every vein and sinew in his body shrieked at the idea of working for Funestus; he wanted to finish Fenrik off on his own, not as part of some mad quest to find something that probably didn’t even exist. But it had also become painfully clear that he couldn’t walk away from Funestus’ offer. And that troubled him. Greatly.
‘If you’re with us,’ argued Willow, bringing Drake back into the present, ‘we’ll find the book quickly; Gizmo can do the techie stuff, I can do the magick and you’ve got experience from whatever it is you do when you’re out doing whatever it is you do. It’s simple really.’
Drake huffed. ‘Simple,’ he muttered under his breath.
‘Maybe you shouldn’t help us to find it,’ snapped Gizmo, tapping codes and text onto the virtual keyboard.
‘What? Don’t say that Giz, we need him,’ said Willow, pulling up Drake‘s legs and flopping onto the sofa next to him.
‘Do we?’ asked Gizmo spinning around in his chair. ‘He doesn’t seem to be that bothered.’
Drake reluctantly opened his eyes and swung his legs down from Willow’s lap. His eyes lingered on Willow, his mind trying to work out if she’d sold him out. He sighed and shook his head. ‘When do we start?’
‘Now,’ said Willow.
Within minutes Ailsa was dispatched to Funestus Black’s residence with a message accepting his offer.
Funestus’ reply was stark; No book, No money, No protection. Find it fast before Fenrik’s Demons did.

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.’