Death’s Apprentice – Part 40

He turned his head from side-to-side. There was no sign of Hel, or her hounds. He dropped his head hard onto the rough ground. Well, at least it was quiet now.

There was no sound at all.

‘Help! Help me!’

What the hell was that? Joe lay still listening hard for the voice. Had he imagined it?

‘Help!’

No, he hadn’t imagined it. It was a man’s voice and it was coming somewhere to the right of him.

He pulled himself off the floor. He was absolutely filthy and smelled worse. Joe hated being dirty. He didn’t like dirt at all.

He held his hands out in front of him. They were caked in mud and a thick red graze covered both heels of his hands.

‘Help! Come quick!’

Joe looked at his hands, gave a deep sigh and rubbed his hands on his hoodie. Today was not a good day.

‘Over here!’

He turned towards where the voice was coming from and set off through the trees.

He’d only stumbled a few metres when a small clearing opened up before him encircled by more oak trees. There was a muddy bog in front of him, with a small, fat man stuck up to his waist in it. A large branch reached out towards him, it’s fingertips just out of the man’s reach. The man’s forehead was beaded with sweat as he was trying desperately to grab the branch but it was a couple of centimetres too far. The man was well and truly stuck.

The man looked up.

‘Help me, please,’ the man pleaded. ‘I can’t get out! I feel like I’ve been here an eternity and I don’t know how much longer I will be able to survive. I’m so thirsty, please help!’

Joe moved forward to assess the situation. ‘Hang on,’ he said, looking around for a branch long enough to reach the man.

‘Please hurry,’ said the man who seemed to have sunk a few more centimetres into the mud.

‘Okay,’ said Joe, locating a branch that he thought was long enough for the job, ‘just don’t thrash around or else you’ll sink even further.’

He grabbed the branch and began to feed it across the mud to the man.

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Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-two

Dragon Rider

Chapter Ten

Fresh Meat

 

Fenrik snapped the Grimoire in front of him shut and looked over to where Vigor stood, eyeing himself up in the full-length gilt mirror in the corner of his office.

‘It won’t be long now,’ he said, resting his hairy hands on top of the Grimoire.

‘Oh brother, I hope so,’ said Vigor, stepping closer to the mirror and pulling down the corners of his black eyes to inspect them, ‘every day I seem to be shrinking a bit more.  My skin is becoming so tight that it looks like I’ve wet myself every time I walk.  I’m beginning to think it will never-’

‘You don’t trust me?’ asked Fenrik, clenching his fists tight and pounding the book’s cover like a gorilla.

Vigor turned around to look at Fenrik, his sunken eyes almost disappearing into their sockets, ‘Of course I trust you, it’s just that…we have tried so many different ways…and nothing has worked so far.  I don’t know how long-’

‘No more of this self-absorbed nonsense!  I will not have it Vigor.  Do you understand me?’

‘Yes, brother.’

‘I brought you back to life, didn’t I?  Do you think I would let you die again?’

‘No…I…sorry brother,’ said Vigor bowing his waxy head, which was resembling the skull candle holder on Fenrik’s desk more and more every day.

Fenrik leaned back in his black leather chair and folded his hairy hands on his huge stomach, his hairy belly button peeping through a gap in his light blue shirt.  ‘Lately, I have,’ he said, twirling his thumbs around themselves, his thick gold rings glinting in the light from the tallow candle, ‘been thinking a lot about your predicament and I think I have finally found the perfect solution to our problem.’

Vigor looked up at Fenrik and clasped his hands in front of him, ‘Yes brother, go on.’

‘Your body is fading fast and up to now, we have found no cure for this, despite trawling through every Grimoire I can get my hands on.  But in this one Vigor,’ said Fenrik tapping the book in front of him, with the red dragon on its cover, ‘has provided some new insights.’

‘Yes?’

‘It seems that the dead bodies our demons exhumed were not suitable because they had no Life essence still left in them at all.  That is why the bodies provided by the Shadow Walkers have proved unsuitable too.’

Vigor nodded his head.  ‘But they were fresher.’

‘But not fresh enough to allow your essence to pass over into the new body,’ said Fenrik.  He leaned forward in his chair, and rested his clean-shaven chin on his hand, his thick gold bracelet falling beneath his shirt sleeve.  ‘What if,’ he said, his eyes locking onto Vigor’s with a burning intensity, ‘We use fresh meat?’

‘I don’t follow,’ said Vigor.

‘Funestus Black.’

‘Funestus Black, brother?’

‘Yes, what if, instead of using a dead body as a vessel for your life force, we simply transfer your essence into a living person?  Funestus would be the perfect candidate.’

Vigor tried to smile but his skin was stretched too tightly over his skull.  ‘That is perfect,’ he said, clapping his hands together in glee.  ‘Do you think it will work?’

‘As soon as the complete Emerald Key is in my hands we can do it.  The Red Dragon,’ said Fenrik, patting the book’s cover in front of him, ‘alludes to a spell that we can use for the procedure but the details are a little sketchy.  There are some preparations we can make but we will need the completed Key before we can proceed any further.  The Key will give us the magick and the instructions on how to do it.  I have no magick of my own, I can only summon demons, but once we get the two halves of The Emerald Key re-united, all that will change.’

‘Let me fetch it.  Let me fetch it!’ said Vigor, clapping his hands together excitedly like a seal.

‘Patience brother,’ said Fenrik, holding up a hand to silence his brother, ‘Only if Drake fails will I allow you to fetch it.’

Vigor nodded his head, his hands moving in front of his body like wriggly spiders.  ‘Oh brother, to have a new body!’ he said, turning back to look at his reflection in the mirror.  He tried to smile, flashing his jagged teeth and then ran his skeletal hand through his wispy hair.  ‘And one with such beautiful hair and such pretty eyes!’

 

 

Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-One

Dragon Rider

Chapter Nine Continued

Foxes

Drake grabbed Pyro by the collar again and dragged him down the steel steps.  Willow ran closely behind them, her hand firmly clamped around her rucksack.

A scream erupted across the sleepy town, followed by the hiss of a cat.  Drake skidded to a halt, yanking Pyro with him as he turned to look at the top of the stairs.  A blur of orange had launched itself at Ozzy.  The dwarf fell backwards and thrashed about on the ground, swearing loudly as he tried desperately to stop the cat from sinking its teeth into his thigh.

A smile erupted on Drake‘s face.  Maybe he did like that cat.  Drake shook his head.  No, maybe not.

Scarface appeared behind Ozzy, who was still struggling with Fulcanelli at the top of the stairs.  ‘THEY‘RE DOWN THERE!’ he barked, sending spittle flying from his grubby mouth which became trapped, like a fly on a web, in his blonde beard.  He stepped over Ozzy and the cat and moved to the side of the balcony.  ‘Get them!’ he ordered, standing upright like a victorious general, as four dreadlocked boggarts burst from the doorway and charged down the steps.  ‘Tie Alchymia up,’ he shouted to no one in particular, ‘and Ozzy, when you’ve quite finished with that cat…’

‘Shysters!’ shouted Pyro, struggling to free himself from Drake’s grip so he could get back up the stairs.  ‘I’ll have yez!’ he screamed, punching the air with his knobbly hands.

‘Behave,’ snapped Drake, whacking Pyro around the head.

‘What?  Why are we running from them?’ shrieked Pyro, making curious hand signals to the dwarves above him.  ‘I hate those dwarves!’ he spat, ‘Shysters!’

Drake rolled his eyes, grabbed Pyro and threw him over his shoulder before bounding down the steps three at a time.  They had reached the last flight of steps as a gangly boggart, wearing a white vest and beige camouflage trousers that stopped just above his ankles, flew past them, screaming.  He landed in a tangled mess on the ground, his legs at funny angles under his body, and his head was facing the wrong way.

‘Oh, that’s messy,’ said Pyro grimacing, and placing his hand over his mouth.

‘Which way?’ hissed Willow as they reached the bottom of the steps.

Drake swayed slightly on the spot as indecision gripped him.  ‘Will you hold still?’ he snarled at Pyro, who was wriggling around like a fish out of water on his shoulder.

Truth was, Drake didn’t know which way to go.  He hadn’t actually been paying too much attention when Fulcanelli was leading them to the house, he’d been too busy carting Willow around and struggling to keep his eyes on the stupid cat.

‘Hey!’ said Pyro, ‘This place looks familiar.  Those timber towers look like freaky sunflowers from where I’m lying.  Reminds me of Nowhere.  Geez, I haven’t been there since 1415.  Don’t want to go back there in a hurry either.  Last time I was there, I got summoned to deliver a love potion to the local baker for some old woman who’d only been given weeks to live, before the Grim Reaper came for her, poor old gal.’

‘Pyro!’ screamed Drake.

But the djinn continued, his stubby arms flapping about as he was talking, ‘Anyways, I ended up getting sidetracked by a bit of business in the local tavern, The Old Draconian I seem to recall, so, by the time I’d got to the baker, the old lady was already dead, but not from her illness though, no, the baker’s wife had got wind of her plan and attacked her around the head with a baguette.  The upshot was that I was charged with being an accessory to murder but I managed to do one before sentencing.’

‘What?’ asked Willow, her face screwed up in confusion.

‘It’s true,’ replied Pyro, nodding his head.  ‘Blackthorn, you’re gonna have to put me down, my gases are starting to build.’

The boggarts were virtually breathing down their necks, Drake could feel it.  ‘Come on!’ he shouted, bounding down the nearest passage, his eyes darting around for any sign of an exit, or any unwelcome movement.

‘Er Blackthorn,’ said Pyro.

‘What?’ he snapped.

‘Hate to break up the party, but don’t you think it’s a little too quiet down this way?’

Drake eyed his surroundings suspiciously.  Pyro was right but he wasn’t going to admit it.  Not out loud anyway.

All the passageways in this part of town looked the same, narrow and slimy with tall rickety buildings hemming them in, but he couldn’t go back, not into the hands of the dwarves and boggarts, so there was only one way to go and that was forward.

They raced down the passageway, emerging from the end into a wide cobbled street full of boarded-up houses and an inn that looked as if even the hardest of criminals would be too scared to enter.

‘The what?’ said Pyro, lifting his head to look at the sign of a muscular hand holding the bloodied, severed head of a green dragon, dangling limply from the crumbling wall of the pub, ‘The Old Draconian!’ he shrieked.  ‘We’re in NOWHERE!’

‘Pyro,’ hissed Drake.

‘AAAAHHHH!’ shouted Pyro, ‘We’ve got to get out of here!’

‘Shut up, you-‘ but Drake stopped dead.

‘Drake, what the -‘ said Willow as she almost collided with his back, her eyes following his gaze.  A troop of boggarts, dressed in nothing but kharki combats and with hairy chests exposed, were staggering up the road, bottles of half-drunk ale in their hands, pushing each other and shrieking loudly like a pack of hyenas.

To Drake, the thought of taking on a group of drunkard boggarts was only slightly more appealing than eating Dragon dung.  His hand reached for his guitar; it wouldn’t take a second to get Pyro off his shoulder and get his Zephyr out.  He could subdue the beasts with his music, it never failed to have them snoozing and sucking their thumbs like babies.  He jerked his hand back; no, not here where other things lurked for whom the music had no effect.

‘Drake,’ screamed Pyro, ‘I think I’m gonna spontaneously combust!’

Drake wheeled around, they’d have to go back.

But as Drake turned, he came face to face with Scarface, Ozzy and Elvis, followed closely by another group of boggarts.

They were blocked in.

Scarface snarled.  ‘Well, well…What do we have here?’

‘In here!’ said Willow, grabbing Drake by the arm and dragging him into the Draconian Inn.  They smashed through the door, sending it flying into the wall on the inside of the pub, the glass in the frame shattering on impact.

‘Blackthorn, stop with the bouncing around will yez.  I’m gonna blow!’ pleaded Pyro.

‘OI!’ shouted a dishevelled satyr, with dried vomit in his black beard.  The satyr lunged at them but collapsed, instead, in a drunken heap on top of a small, brutal-looking leprechaun with bruised eyes and bulging arm muscles.  The room erupted with fury as the leprechaun tried to throttle the satyr.

Drake and Willow ploughed on as all hell broke loose, trying to dodge the broken glass, flying chair legs and the bodies that were zooming in every direction.  A scrawny looking minotaur smashed into the glass panels at the back of the bar sending the spirits flying.  They, in turn, began shrieking as they flew around the room exploding glasses and bottles.

A large beer jug flew within inches of Pyro’s head as they reached the end of the bar.  A small hag with a particularly bad case of nose rot followed it, headfirst over the wooden counter.

Willow and Drake dived for the door that led to the back of the pub, crashing through it, interrupting a game of Poltergeist poker.  They emerged from the back of the pub into a small beer garden, covered in patchy brown grass and cigarette butts, surrounded by a six-foot brick wall.  Drake, still clinging to Pyro, quickly grabbed an empty beer crate and turned it upside down then Willow placed another on top.  Willow scrambled onto the rickety platform, jumped, and hauled herself up onto the top of the wall and then jumped down onto the other side.

‘Drake!’ screamed Pyro.

There was an explosion behind Drake as two colossal cluricaun, with great clawed eagle feet and two large fangs protruding from their mouths, burst from the pub snarling and baying for blood.  No one started a fight in their Master’s pub without paying for the damage.

Drake grabbed Pyro so that he could launch him over the wall, but it was one step too far for the djinn and the situation hit critical.  Like a great big whoopee cushion, the wind exploded from his bottom just as one of the snarling beasts lunged for Drake.  The gas hit the cluricaun straight on and the dog immediately dropped unconscious.  The other cluricaun’s long ginger tail disappeared between its legs and he whimpered, turning and running back into the pub.  Drake looked at Pyro with a look that was a mixture of gratefulness and disgust and then threw him over the wall.

Willow caught the djinn and placed him down on his feet as Drake landed, like a black panther, beside them.  As soon as his feet touched the ground he grabbed Pyro again and threw him back over his shoulder.

‘Be careful!’ warned Pyro, ‘I’m delicate at the moment.’

Off they went running again.  Behind them was a violent crash, the sound of falling bricks and the pounding of boots on concrete.

They flew around the next corner, down another passageway, turned the next corner and the next, until suddenly, there was a pop inside Drake’s head, a rushing sound and the mind-bending feeling of running into something that didn’t yet exist, as the Purg-Atrium burst into existence before them.

‘Damn it!’ shouted Drake flinging his arms up in defeat, nearly losing Pyro in the process.  Why had he brought them here?  To the place they could easily be cornered like foxes trapped by a pack of hunting dogs?

The dwarves and one group of boggarts burst into the square behind them as another group appeared in front with most of the inhabitants of Nowhere.  Shit.  This is what they had wanted; they’d corralled them here!

‘No!’ screamed Pyro.  Drake threw him on to the floor where the djinn proceeded to run around like a demented chicken, slapping himself on the face.  ‘You will never take me alive!  Come on!  Want a piece of me?’

Drake turned to face the dwarves, his hands flexing at his side, Willow by his side preparing to fight.

And despite the sun in the cloudless sky, blackness closed in around them.

 

So, you wanna be a writer? To pants or to plot?

Have you been reading Death’s Apprentice?

If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’re not in trouble 🙂

Death’s Apprentice is a writing experiment I’m undertaking where, every Wednesday, I sit down and write a portion of my next novel without having plotted any part of the storyline. This is an experiment for me as I’m usually more of a plotter than a pantser.

But what is a pantser?

A pantser is someone who writes without plotting, they pretty much write by the seat of their pants. They let the situation and the characters determine what happens next.

As a plotter, writing Death’s Apprentice as a pantser is really taking me out of my comfort zone and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

As a plotter, I usually have a fairly good idea of my characters because I write quite detailed biographies for each one. I also pretty much know how my story will end, I just don’t necessarily know all the plot points of how I’m going to get there. Think of it as a bus journey; I know where the destination is, I just don’t necessarily know all of the stops on the way.

A true plotter would probably have mapped out all the stops. I plot as I’m going. This gives my brain time to think and gives me space to breathe. This is how I work but you will find what works for you the more you write and experiment.

What are the advantages of plotting?

You know your characters. You know what drives them; their flaws and their ambitions, their thoughts and desires. It should make writing them slightly easier as you know what they want and what they would do in any given situation.

You know, when you begin writing, the destination you’re heading for. This can give you more confidence as you write.

It keeps your writing on track and you will be less likely to ramble. You will be more likely to stick to the point. This can mean less editing (although that’s not always the case).

What are the disadvantages of plotting?

Sometimes, sticking rigidly to a plot can make your writing boring.

There are no surprises for you to deal with as you write.

Your writing process may lack spontaneity.

It can make the author less open to changing a part of the storyline if something better presents itself.

It can stifle your creativity and make the process boring.

So, what can you do?

Personally, my approach is to plan but remain open to new ideas. I’ve learnt to be flexible and that’s why I plot as I go along.

I make sure I have detailed biographies of my characters and this is one thing I don’t rush. Knowing your characters before you begin to write helps a lot. It gives me confidence as I write and, I think, it makes the characters richer as you bring them to life on the page.

I have a bare skeleton of where I’m going. With Dragon Rider, I knew that Drake, my lead character, would have to face Death in her domain. I knew he would have a face-off with Fenrik, the being that murdered his father. I knew his need for revenge would hinder him. I knew how the book would end. I just didn’t know exactly how I was going to get there.

The most important thing I’ve learnt though is to let things go when they don’t work. My original plan for Death’s domain was so boring and it didn’t make sense. I ended up cutting around 20,000 words and starting again for that section. And that’s okay.

Neither plotting nor pantsing is perfect. No one way of writing is correct and the other wrong. I believe you have to do what works for you and finding what that is will only come with experience and writing practice.

So, what have you found that works for you? Do you write detailed character biographies? Do you have a clear idea of where you’re going? Or do you, indeed, fly by the seat of your pants?

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 Seventeen

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eight Continued

Alchymia and the Cross-eyed Cat

Alchymia tore her eyes away from the pages of the book and picked up Drake’s empty mug.  She swirled the tea residue around the bottom of the mug, studying the patterns it formed, her brow wrinkled like a newly ploughed field as she turned the mug this way and that.  She dropped the mug back onto the table before consulting the book again.

After a short time, Alchymia clapped her hands and a pack of vividly coloured tarot cards materialised before her, suspended mid-air as if some invisible hands were holding them.  With a wave of her hand, the cards began to dance.  She snatched a card from the pack; it depicted a man in bright purple robes brandishing a wand; The card of the Magician Hermes.

Alchymia leaned back in her chair and sighed heavily.  She clapped her hands once more and the cards disappeared.  ‘I trust you Drake, but I cannot say the same for this Funestus Black.  I do not know him or his motives.’

‘I know that but-’

Alchymia continued.  ‘The Emerald Key is a very powerful artefact which can be used both for works of extreme good and extreme evil.  Such a dangerous object could bring about devastation on a scale not seen in this dimension before.’

‘That’s why I can’t let Fenrik get it, you know what will happen if he finds it first.’  Drake’s stomach constricted, he could feel the bile rising up his throat.

‘Yes, indeed.’  Alchymia’s eyes flicked back to the book and she sighed again, ‘But it is out of my hands-’

‘That’s it?  You’re giving up on us?’

‘No.  I mean, it is out of my hands.  I too have no say in the matter; The Fates have decided I must tell you what I know.  Unfortunately for you, Fenrik will prove more of a problem than you had hoped.  He already possesses a portion of The Key-’

‘What?’ said Drake digging his fingers into his legs as he leaned forward in his chair.

‘The Aradian Codex,’ she gestured to the book floating before her, ‘tells me that when Hermes Trismegestus-’

‘The book’s Guardian on earth?’ asked Willow.

‘Yes.  When he was given The Emerald Key, Hermes made plans to make sure that this most dangerous text was entombed with him when he died, so that, even in death, he might protect its secrets.  However, all did not go to plan, for when his body was laid to rest someone attempted to tear The Emerald Key from him.  Fortunately, only a part of the text was stolen and this is what has been handed down through generations of what are now called Guardians, although they were not really Guardians-’

‘Because they were only looking after a stolen part of the book?’ asked Willow.

‘Exactly, but truth be told, they probably never even realized that they were Guardians of a stolen object; that information was probably lost through the sands of time.  It also explains why no one Guardian has ever been able to fully exploit the book’s enormous power, for although certain information can be accessed in its current state, if you know how to translate it, the text is only truly powerful when it is read altogether, as one.’

‘Until now,’ spat Drake.  He jumped up from his seat, his fists clenched, his jaw tight.  ’He wants to reunite the two parts, no wonder he’s trying to find it, you’ve got to help us-’

‘Sit down,’ commanded Alchymia, her anger, the hag hidden deep within, momentarily flashing across her face.

Drake did as he was told.

‘The Codex’s great wisdom cannot pinpoint the exact location of Fenrik’s stolen part of The Emerald Key.  It seems he has a very powerful protective spell placed upon it, but it can tell me where the other part is kept, but, be warned, if you continue on this quest you will face a perilous journey that will affect you in ways that you could never imagine.  You will face grave danger from things that no living being should ever have to encounter.  Do you think you are strong enough?’

‘I have to get that Book,’ said Drake.

‘I cannot stand in your way, Drake.  The Fates have made this your quest, it is up to them if you achieve your goal or not.  To find the lost part of The Emerald Key you must venture through the Valley of Death.’

‘The Valley of Death?’ spluttered Willow, her voice breaking on the last word.

‘The Underworld…’ said Drake, ‘Why?’

‘The Underworld?’ asked Willow, her face beginning to drain of colour.

‘Hermes, as its original Guardian, still holds half of The Emerald Key and until he can reunite it with the missing half, his spirit clings on to this life, not daring to pass through into the Afterlife.’

‘Isn’t there anyone…you know…alive that can help us?’ asked Willow, her face now as white as a unicorn’s horn.

‘Unfortunately not.  Hermes still has his portion of The Book,’ said Alchymia, running a pale hand over the book floating in front of her, ‘it has not been destroyed, no, for then Hermes would not be a spirit, he would have been released from his servitude.  There is no other way.  To find The Emerald Key you must travel to The Valley of Death and get him to relinquish his half of The Book.’

‘Can’t we just summon him?’ asked Willow trying to disguise the panic rising in her voice.

‘Yeah, Willow’s a witch.  I’m sure she could help summon him,’ added Drake.

Alchymia raised an eyebrow.  ‘You are a witch?’

Willow shrugged.  ‘Not trained so I don’t possess a Book of Shadows, but I can do the odd spell or two.’

Alchymia considered this new information.  ‘No.  Even if you were an excellent witch, summoning spirits is far too dangerous.’

Drake rolled his eyes.  ‘Others, the Demonologists, they do it, it can’t be any more dangerous than going to The Valley of Death, can it?’

‘There is a difference between summoning Demons and the Elementals, which are alive, and the spirits of the dead that dwell in the Underworld.  When one summons a Demon, it is only the Demon you are calling that can travel to you.  This is not so for spirits; some are malevolent creatures who can attach themselves to the dead spirit you are summoning, so, even if you only call forth the spirit of Hermes, there may be others that escape through the crack you create in the Spirit World.  Whatever escapes and whatever havoc they create would be your responsibility and hence you might end up destroying the very things you are trying to protect.  Where would the sense be in that?  No, there is no choice; to get the information you need you will have to speak to Hermes directly.  You must charm him, apply to his ego.  As the Guardian of The Emerald Key, he will not want to give it up easily.’

‘How do we do that?’

‘That, my dearest Drake, is something you have to find out for yourself.’