Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-Three

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eleven

Escape

Willow grabbed Drake’s arm, ‘Look, Look!’ she cried, pointing at the sky.

Falkor hovered above them, like some primordial guardian angel, his lustrous azure body, almost invisible against the sky, sparkling in the mid-morning sun.  He roared defiantly, pinned back his wings and plummeted to the ground, his enormous jaws gaping open.  The air was thick with the smell of gas as blue-hot flames jettisoned from the back of his throat.  The sound was terrifying, like ten jet engines starting up.

The crowd scrambled for cover, screaming, as Falkor swooped in front of them, unfolding his azure wings and flashing his sabre-like fangs.  Scarface pulled Elvis in front of him to shield himself from the onslaught of fire.

Unfazed by the screaming crowd, Falkor gently landed on the cobbles, and stretched out his wings, allowing Drake and Willow to haul themselves onto his bare back.  Before the crowd could react, Falkor kicked back and propelled himself into the sparkling sky.

‘DON’T LET THEM GET AWAY!’ came the shouts from the crowd, as the Elders tried to put order to the chaos.

‘Pyro!’ hissed Drake.  He could just see the djinn’s bald head bobbing up and down as he made a run for it, as fast as his short legs would carry him, through the chaos of the crowds, to a dark alleyway and his freedom.

‘Leave him,’ pleaded Willow.

But it was no good, Drake was damned if they were going to lose Pyro and the Hand of Glory.  He didn’t have to say anything; Falkor was on to it before Drake had even finished thinking about capturing the djinn.

‘No!  Not again!’ screamed Pyro, running as fast as he could, but that wasn’t very fast as his legs had seemed to have stopped working the second he had seen the dragon heading for him.  ’AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!’ he screamed, as Falkor swooped over and scooped him up from the crowd, like an eagle grabbing a salmon from a stream, his muscular feet clamped around the top of each of the djinn’s arms.  In a beat of a wing they were once again ascending into the air and over the crowd which was now resembling more of a riot.

Once Falkor had reached a safe distance, Scarface threw Elvis to one side and clambered to his feet.  ‘Shoot that dragon!  Come on, what you waiting for?  Take him down!’ he ordered.  The boggarts immediately started shooting and the sky was suddenly alive with electricity, large bolts of lightning streaking from their stun guns, the blue tendrils crackling and fizzing millimetres from Pyro’s dangling body.

‘NO!  DON’T SHOOT AT THE DRAGON!’ screamed Pyro, ’I DON’T WANT TO LOOK LIKE A PASTA SIEVE!’

Luckily for Falkor, the boggart’s aim was abysmal.  It was just a shame, thought Drake, that they hadn’t managed to hit the djinn because that scream was starting to do his head in.

Drake peered down.  He could see the dwarves and other members of the crowd scrambling around, throwing whatever they could find into the air; shoes, stones and bits of rotting fruit, but they all missed Falkor and, instead, rained back down upon them.  He chuckled as a boggart grabbed Elvis by one of his ankles in desperation and threw him at the disappearing dragon.  The chubby dwarf failed to gain much height and instead plummeted back to earth, landing straight on top of the boggart’s head, knocking him out cold.

Within a few wing beats, Falkor had risen above the bizarre buildings of Nowhere and had cleared the town walls where the Security Goblins were trying, unsuccessfully, to load their cannons.  The Kraken was emerging from the moat, its slimy suckered tentacles slithering up the walls as it opened its gargantuan fang-filled mouth to catch the falling dragon, but Falkor was miles away before the first shot was even fired.

Drake waited until Falkor had cleared the Wild Mountains before he contacted Gizmo.

‘Gizmo, are you there?’ he said, pressing the button on the side of his watch.

There was a brief silence before Gizmo’s holographic form appeared before him, flickering like a ghost.  ‘Hiya.  See you’ve found Falkor then?’ said Gizmo, pushing his glasses back up his nose, the slight sound of frostiness in his voice.

‘Er…yeah,’ said Drake, ‘any more trouble back there?’

‘No,’ said Gizmo, shaking his head, ‘all’s quiet at the mo.  Is everything alright?’

‘Yeah, everything’s fine.  We need your help.  We need to get to New Haven, can you help me out and send a map?’

‘Okay, no problem; the map will be with you in a mo.’

‘Cheers Gizmo  Has Ailsa managed to find anything in Fenrik’s systems yet?’

‘No.  She’s been munching away but they’ve got it protected by one serous fire-wall, she came back an hour ago quite frazzled.  Didn’t take much to repair her though.  Oh, I nearly forgot, she managed to intercept some chatter before she got fried; it seems that that guy you picked up, er, Pyro wasn’t it?  Well, he’s been released already.’

‘Yeah, I know,’ said Drake looking at the petrified body of Pyro clamped tight in Falkor’s claws, ‘I’ve seen him hanging around.  Keep working on the computer Gizmo, and stay safe, we’ll be back as soon as we can.’

Gizmo’s image evaporated, revealing a rotating 3-D map.  Drake scanned the map, correlated Falkor’s trajectory and then pushed it into the corner of his vision with a flick of his eyes.

He could feel the pressure in his head again, he could feel the adrenaline surging through his body, plumping up his veins in his arms and on the back of his hands, and he could feel his hatred boiling in the pit of his stomach.  This was Fenrik Lasko’s fault.  It always was and always would be.

Until Drake finished it.

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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.

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!’

 

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part 39

It took a few seconds for Joe to move. He didn’t know whether Hel irritated him more than amazed him. She couldn’t be, what, more than ten years old and here she was skipping off into the dark forest with a pack of hounds. Not wanting to look foolish, Joe hurried after her.

Branches crunched under his foot as he walked deeper into the…dark forest…except it wasn’t dark anymore. A shiver ran down his back. It was as though the trees had pulled up their roots and had moved further apart in order for them to pass through.

The forest was full of what looked to Joe like giant oak trees, their crooked branches like crooked hands reaching out towards the damp earth. Their trunks were disfigured faces watching their every move.

All around him hounds raced through the undergrowth, their noses constantly twitching as they ran.

Joe tried to keep up with Hel and her hounds but they ran like the wind and he was only a mere human, and a clumsy one at that. Brambles grasped at his legs, broken branches tugged at his arms.

He was trying desperately to keep up, to keep at their pace, but that meant not looking at what his feet were doing. He knew what was going to happen before it even happened. His right heel bent at an awkward angle as his foot got caught in bramble and he crashed to the floor.

‘Shit!’ A jolt of pain ran through his crumpled body. His knees screamed in pain, and his wrists throbbed from where he had tried in vain to stop himself falling. Why? Why would he do that when he knew he couldn’t save himself? Why did anyone throw their wrists out to stop themselves falling when they were inevitably going to fall anyway?

Joe smacked the ground with his forehead and gave a long, hard growl. He was so over it! What the hell did he think he was doing running around in the Underworld? He was only one stupid human, for God’s sake!

He rolled over onto his back. There was a sky above him which surprised him because he assumed he was underground. It wasn’t the normal sky he was used to, more of a twilight coloured sky, that strange and gloomy kind of light.

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.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part 38

Joe spun around on his heels so fast that he nearly dropped the Book of the Dead.

‘Hel?’ For fuck’s sake. ‘I thought I was…’

‘What? Doing it on your own?’

‘Well…’

‘I’ve had a word with my hounds,’ she said, gesturing at the group of dogs that had began to gather around her and Joe, ‘and we’ve agreed that we need to help you.’

‘But, I’m okay. I can -‘

‘NO,’ she shouted and stamped her foot on the ground. Hel thrust her arms out rigid at her side. ‘We are coming and that’s that!’

‘Okayyyy,’ said Joe. Except it really wasn’t. He didn’t function well around people. And this person was particularly annoying. And she seemed a little crazy. I mean, she had a word with her hounds? CRAZZZYYYYY.

‘So what do you suggest we do? The book says -‘

‘We don’t need the book,’ she said, flicking the book away, ‘we have the dogs.’ She turned her attention to the dogs. ‘Go on then, Cerberus, Hades, Persephone and all my little children, show us the way!’

Hades was a huge dog, not quite as big as Cerberus, but still very intimidating. He looked to Joe like a rather large version of an Irish Wolfhound, except his eyes were like pits of fire. He stood proud, his four legs straight, his hackles raised and he gave a single deep howl that seemed to go on forever. When his final note came to an end, he began again and this time all of the hounds surrounding them began to join in.

A shiver ran down Joe’s back. His stomach clenched. He was in awe but also a little scared of the dogs’ purposeful cries.

Hel ran her hand down Hade’s back.

‘Go on then boy,’ she said. He turned his head, licked her hand once then strode off into the forest. The other dogs, including Cerberus, bound after him.

Joe stood still, staring at the spot where Hades had disappeared into the forest.

‘Are you coming then?’ She asked as she turned and skipped off into the trees after them.

Dragon Rider – Part Twenty

Dragon Rider

Chapter Nine Continued

Foxes

‘You will listen now Drake, and listen good, for you will need all the help you can get.  There are things that you do not know yet, things that you will need to know if you are to travel to the Underworld and come out alive.  As I have already told you, you will need a key to gain entry into the other realm and, as you have seen this fire-djinn with a Hand of Glory, it makes sense for us to summon him now, to see what information we can gather from him.  If we are very lucky he may still have it in his possession.’

‘He’ll have hidden it,’ said Drake, huddled on his chair like a sulky child.

‘We will never know unless we give it a try,’ said Alchymia, turning her attention back to the spellbook in front of her.

‘Whatever.’

‘As I was saying, Willow,’ said Alchymia turning back to look at Willow, ‘the last time I summoned a demon was over one hundred years ago, so I may be a little rusty.  There are many ways to summon demons; some are benign, others quite evil, and, of course, all take different times to perfect and all produce different strengths of control.  Are you with me so far?’

Willow nodded enthusiastically as she drunk in every word Alchymia said.

‘As time is not on our side, I think it would be a good idea to do a quick summoning spell although this means we will not have full control over our subject.’  Alchymia pointed over to a table by the wall covered in small bottles of oils, jars of ingredients, and different coloured infusions, the long sleeve of her gown skimming the pages of the spellbook.  ‘Willow, would you collect together some of the infusions on the table over there for me?  The Come to me, and Protection drafts as well as the crushed dandelion, sweet woodruff and the cardamom pods, oh, and bring the small bronze cauldron over too, would you?’

‘Okay, got them,’ said Willow, glass bottles jangling as she brought the ingredients over to Alchymia.

‘Right,’ said Alchymia.  She clapped her hands together and the spellbook closed in front of her.  She pointed to the bed and the book gently took flight, flapping its way over to the other side of the room, coming to rest gently on it.  Alchymia rose gracefully from her chair, like a ghost.  ’Drake, if you wouldn’t mind?’

Drake stood up and moved to stand by Willow as Alchymia thrust her hands out, commanding all the furniture and books to slide to the edges of the room, leaving the bare, wood-stained floorboards free to perform magick.  With another flick of the hand she produced a white chalk stick from the air.

‘I gebannan fif-brond steorra e hring!’ she commanded, and the Chalk dropped to the floor as if guided by some invisible hand, and immediately began roughly marking the shape of a five-sided star, encompassed in a circle, onto the dark wood with thick, noisy strokes.  Once the pentagram was complete, Alchymia sprinkled all of the dry ingredients into the cauldron and then tipped in the strong-smelling Come to me draft and the blood-red Protection draft before placing it at the north point of the star.

Alchymia stood over the cauldron, ‘Fyrwylm!’ she exclaimed and the cauldron burst into life, hissing and spitting as the ingredients fused together in a bubbling mass of sweet-smelling orange goo.

‘I think we are ready,’ said Alchymia, nodding appreciatively as she stood back to admire her work.  She grabbed a small wooden box from a pile of boxes on the floor.  ‘Drake, if you wouldn’t mind holding these?’

Drake took the box from Alchymia and clicked it open.  ‘Iron filings?’

‘Yes, it is just a precaution, in case the djinn needs to be subdued for any reason.’

‘Iron makes them weak,’ explained Willow.

Drake looked at the small particles of black metal in the box and nodded his head in approval.  ‘Must remember that.’

‘Out of your mood now?’ asked Willow.

‘Maybe,’ he shrugged.

Alchymia stood just outside the summoning pentagram, the potion in the cauldron bubbling away at the top-most point of the star, its sweet-smelling fumes making the air hot and heavy.  She stood at the opposite side of the pentagram and lifted her arms as if in supplication to the Gods, exposing her delicate arms as the sleeves of her pale blue gown slipped past her elbows.

Alchymia closed her eyes and began to chant the words, ‘Aspryttan Pyro, I gebannan eow,’ over and over again, her voice barely raised above a whisper.  The white chalk stick began to furiously scribble Pyro’s name, over and over again, inside the pentagram as its edges began to smoulder like tinder when it first catches the flame.

Suddenly it went dark, the room lit only by the orange flickering light of the pentagram as it began to burn more brightly. Alchymia continued to chant the spell until, finally, the pentagram burst into flames, snuffing out a few seconds later as the air was sucked from the room.

It was difficult to breathe; Drake could feel his lungs aching as he fought for air, the hot, sweet-smelling fumes from the potion, still bubbling fiercely in the cauldron, were catching in his throat, making him want to gag.

There was a whistling sound, like a kettle coming to its boiling point on a gas hob, accompanied by a cool breeze as refreshing air was pumped back into the room.  There was a loud thump and the sound of someone cursing in the darkness in front of them.

Daylight flooded the room revealing Pyro bent double in the middle of the pentagram, dressed in brown chinos and a stained light blue shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his knobbly brown elbows.

‘Yeah,’ he screamed, to no one in particular, ’come on, you want a piece of me?’  He smacked his butt cheeks with the palms of his hands.

‘No!’ shouted Drake, as he bounded across the room and threw the small wooden box in his hands at the back of Pyro’s head.

‘Ow!’ said Pyro as he stood up, stroking the back of his head.  ‘What did you do that for?’  He had a puzzled expression on his face and he was swaying like a branch in a gentle autumnal breeze.  His eyes suddenly snapped shut and he crashed to the floor in a heap.

‘Drake!’ shrieked Willow, ‘What have you done?’  She ran over to where Pyro lay, ‘Look, he’s got a lump the size of the Orb of all Mystickal Magick!’

‘I couldn’t let him gas us all, could I?’ said Drake.

‘That was what the iron filings were for.’

‘Oh.’

Fulcanelli rubbed himself up and down the djinn’s legs, ‘I like him Mistresssss,’ he purred, ‘Can we keep him, pleaseeeee?  He looked at Alchymia with his cute green crossed-eyes.

Alchymia was holding a glass of dark amber liquid in her hand.  She swept over to where Pyro lay and bent down, taking his head in her free hand.  ‘Here, have some of this,’ she soothed, pouring the cool liquid into his mouth.

Pyro’s eyes flickered.  ‘Am I in heaven?’ he asked, a dopey looking expression upon his face.  ‘I can hear the Cherubs playing their harps!’  But then he threw his hand up to his throat and gagged.  He continued to clutch at it, grimacing.  ‘Ah! What have you done, witch?  Whiskey and hemlock?’ he screeched, as he jumped up and backed into the corner of the room, his face full of fear.

‘What am I missing?’ asked Drake.  He was now standing in front of Pyro like he was a prize attraction in a Freak Show.

‘Whiskey and hemlock,’ croaked Pyro still clutching his throat.

‘It will neutralize the fire aspect of Pyro’s nature whilst we perform the interrogation-’

‘Interrogation?’ shrieked Pyro, quickly hiding his hands behind his back.

Alchymia glided over to Pyro, the hem of her blue gown smudging the chalk markings on the floor.  She grabbed the top of his head and thrust a small celestial-blue Angelite crystal into his mouth and clamped it shut with her hands.  Once she had counted to fifty-three she released him.

‘What…are you…doing?’ spluttered Pyro. spitting the crystal out on to the floor and clutching his throat again with his knotty hands.  ’What is it with everyone?’ he cried, ‘How much has one djinn got to put up with?’

Alchymia grabbed Pyro’s face in her hands and inspected it, turning it this way and that in her long fingers, before turning her attention to the blue crystal.  She picked it up off the floor and rolled it around in her hands.

‘So?’ asked Drake.

‘He has not been put under a Silence Spell but was Bound quite tightly to whoever summoned him previously.’  Alchymia swept over to Pyro, grabbing his face again in her cold hands.  ’Who ordered you to steal the Hand of Glory?’ she demanded, her eyes locked onto Pyro’s.

‘What?’ said Pyro, shrinking further into the corner of the room.

‘The Hand of Glory.’

‘I don’t know.  I already told Drake-’

‘Have you still got it?’ asked Alchymia, her eyes boring into him.

Pyro nodded weakly, his eyes wide with fear.  ’In my right trouser pocket.’

Alchymia’s body relaxed, she sighed and turned to look at Drake.  ’He still has the Hand of Glory, but as for who sent him to steal it, he was telling the truth, he did not see.’

‘Can I go now?  I’m having a really bad couple of days,’ sighed Pyro as Fulcanelli began rubbing himself against his legs.  ’I think…I need to sit down.’

‘We’ve got trouble!’ shouted Willow peering out of the window from behind the thick grime.

Alchymia and Drake swept over to her.  ‘The dwarves,’ hissed Drake.

‘I was hoping we would have more time,’ said Alchymia, spinning on her heels, ‘I have so much I need to tell you.’

‘Time’s all used up,’ said Drake, ‘we’ve got to go.  Will you be okay here?’

Alchymia laughed, ‘I think I can look after myself.’

‘Okay,’ replied Drake, ‘is there a way out of the back?’

‘Yes, Fulcanelli will show you in a moment.’  She pointed to the cat who was still beside Pyro, licking his paw.  He stopped and heaved, ejecting a large orange fur-ball from his mouth onto the wooden floor.  ’But first I must tell you all that I can.  Promise me Drake that you will not leave Willow.  You will need a witch to get through the Underworld alive.  This,’ she said, producing a roll of brown parchment from within the flowing sleeve of her gown, ’is The Scroll of the Dead.  It is what the Dwarves have come to Nowhere for.  Only with this and the help of a witch can you hope to enter or leave the Underworld because only a witch can read it.  This parchment contains all of the spells you will need to successfully reach the Iron Fortress.  Guard it with your life.’  She handed the scroll to Willow.

‘Alchymia, we really need to go,’ said Drake, looking out of the window.  He stooped down and grabbed his Zephyr and Willow’s rucksack.

‘You will also be needing this,’ said Alchymia, holding out a necklace with a silver pendant suspended from the bottom of the chain.  The pendant looked like an angel to Drake, with its silver wings protectively curled around a vial of red liquid.

Drake threw the rucksack to Willow, who caught it in one hand before placing the scroll of parchment into it.  He slung his Zephyr on his back and took the necklace.  ’What is it?’ he said, placing the chain around his neck.

‘It is the Blood of Isis,’ said Alchymia, ‘an Amulet to give you protection against my sister, Brimo.’

‘Your sister?’  Why the hell hadn’t she mentioned this before?

‘Yes, Brimo is The Overseer, the Queen of the Dead.  Be on your guard Drake because she will try and take your life.’

‘I will, thank you,’ said Drake.

Alchymia placed her icy hands on either side of Drake’s face, he could feel the cold penetrating deep into his skin.  ’Your father would be proud of you, you have grown into a strong and brave young man.  Be careful and next time, do not leave it so long before you visit me.’

‘I won’t,’ said Drake, his face turning slightly red, ‘and thanks, for everything…and I’m sorry, for earlier.’

Alchymia smiled, but it was a sad smile which did not reach her eyes.  ‘Be careful out there Drake.  And one more thing, what do you want me to do with the djinn?’

Drake laughed devilishly.  ‘I’ve been thinking about that; I’m going to take him with us.’  If I can’t find the book on my own, well, he may as well come along for the ride too.

‘Drake,’ said Willow, her voice betraying her exasperation, ‘you can’t force him to come with us-’

‘I can and I am.  Besides, you know what they say about keeping your enemies close.  When they summon the little shit for the Hand of Glory, I want to know.’  He strode over to where Pyro was cringing in the corner of the room and bent down so that his face was level with Pyro’s.  ‘Now Pyro, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way, that’s completely up to you.  Either you come quietly or I carry you out of here, the choice is yours.’

‘I’ll come quietly,’ mumbled Pyro, a look of resignation on his face as his jowls drooped low.  But Drake could see a look in his eye which made him suspect that, as soon as he could, he would try and get even.  But he’d be ready.

‘Do not worry,’ said Alchymia, holding up a purple candle bound in gold ribbon, ’with this candle I have created a basic binding spell.’  She clicked her free hand and it sprang into life.  ’It will prevent him from hurting you.  That is, I am afraid, all I have time to do.  If he thinks about, or is compelled to hurt you whilst this candle is still burning, he can only inflict minimal damage.  The effects of the whiskey and hemlock will wear off very shortly.  Fulcanelli, if you would show them the exit.’  Alchymia waved her arms in the air and the bed on the far wall disappeared to reveal a doorway leading into a bare room, dark except for small shafts of light escaping from the edges of a boarded-up window.

Drake grabbed Pyro by the collar.  ‘Ow, you little-’

‘Oops, I guess the whiskey has worn off, but I can only cause minimal damage because of the candle.’  Pyro shrugged, ‘It’s just an allergic reaction I get to annoying people.’

Drake scowled and roughly shoved Pyro through the doorway.

Fulcanelli stopped abruptly by the door.  ‘The stairsss down are behind thissss doorrr.’

‘But Alchymia told you to show us the way out,’ said Drake.

‘And I haveeee…must gooo…Mistress in dangerrrrr.’  Without another word the cat shot back across the room like a rocket and was gone.

Drake’s body tensed, his hands flexing at his sides.  He turned his body slightly and looked back to where they had come from, then he looked back at the door.

‘What’s your problem?’ asked Pyro.

‘You!’ snapped Drake pushing Pyro out of the way.  He smacked the door with his boot and it blasted outwards onto a steel balcony with a staircase that zigzagged down to the street below.  Warm sunlight flooded the room, dazzling off the wet roofs of the timber houses lining the street outside.

Drake stepped out and closed his eyes, letting the sun’s rays warm his face.  It had been so long, he thought, Nowhere might be primitive, but at least the sun does shine here.  In the distance, he could hear the Healers’ chants rising and falling on the breeze as they made their rounds.

‘Excuse me, do we really have time for sunbathing?’ asked Pyro.

There was a loud bang from somewhere below.  Drake snapped his eyes open and tilted his head to the side, analysing the commotion.  There was another bang, the sizzling of laser fire and the rhythmic drumming of boots on floorboards.

The dwarves and boggarts.

They had forced their way into the building.

And they were advancing.

Fast.