CHAPTER 1

 

 

DRAX CITY

 

 

 

 

 


The air was filled with the sounds and smells of market day. Salesmen shouted out their wares, smells of sizzling sausages and frying pancakes drifted up through the second floor window of the Ale & Cider Inn. The window frames squeaked noisily on its rusty hinges, waking Dimitri from his sleep.

He stretched and managed to half-fall out of his bed and flopped to his feet. It was the usual morning half-awakeness that plagues him. Well, not plagued, it’s not really that serious. I’m getting sidetracked.

Anyway, he blearily stared through the sleep that had collected in his yellowish-green eyes at his reflection. The face of dragon stared back. Dimitri was one of the many races that populated Drax City and the lands beyond*. He was a draglet, apparently. Except draglets were different compared to him. Not one of them had purple scales, like he did. They came in all sorts of colours, except purple. They also had hair on their heads. And ears. Not Dimitri, though. A red frill and two red vanes was what he had for hair and ears. He did have the right number of limbs, which was six, but two of his six were the wrong shape. He had an extra pair of arms instead of a pair of wings. He found it just slightly annoying. At least he still had the required tail.

The truth was, nobody knew where he came from. He was a traditional Found on Doorstep child, taken in by the Respectable Tavern Owner Mrs. Hather and raised with his adoptive brother and sister, Marco and Lucrecia, who were members of the feline cathon race. They fitted right in, no silly colours or extra limbs anywhere. His siblings treated him as an equal, because they grew up together from an early age. There were plenty of cathons in the city, along with the horse-like Equions, who hailed from the Dustbowl Desert in the North. There were a few draglets in Drax City as well, though none were like Dimitri. He really was unique. And sometimes, he felt very, very alone.

Pulling on his specially made jacket (two extra arms sewn on) he trotted down the rickety staircase of the Inn. He was also slightly jealous that his brother and sister were mages in training, called psions. Marco could control the four elements and Lucrecia had power over electricity; she could store it in herself and release it when she needed to. Dimitri had to make do with the set of swords that had been found with him when he was baby. Still, he was very skilled with the swords, and could manipulate all four of them at once if he needed to, sometimes with his tail.

As he came to the foot of the stairs he saw his swords hanging over the mantelpiece of the fire, and he felt reassured by them. They did that sometimes. When he was a child, he had given them names; Redgem, Whirlwind, Goldsheen and Onyx.

His surrogate mother, a widow from before Dimitri appeared, met him as he sauntered into the kitchen, the pots and pans on the stove bubbling furiously. He was a few feet taller than she was and she spun round as he tried to steal a cookie from the jar on the sideboard. Well, it is hard to sneak up on cats.

‘Morning Dimitri. That’s not a proper breakfast, is it?’ she scolded.

‘No mum,’ he said sheepishly. His voice was also similar to a draglets. That and his tail and snout were the only two connections between him and the draglet race.

            ‘You’ll have a waffle, my boy, and like it,’ she said, feigning anger. Dimitri chuckled, it was funny to him to see that triangular nose scrunch up like that. ‘Now, out of here, I’ve got orders to fill.’

            Dimitri walked past the stair again and into the bar, where Tunred the equion barkeep prepared the room for the coming day. They exchanged mornings and Dimitri walked to the door, munching the waffle. He was about to leave and find his siblings when something pointy jabbed the small of his back. He turned to come face to face with some empty air.

            ‘Down here, boy,’ a voice croaked. It was Jacob, the local Wise Old Man™ who was a draglet. He had jabbed Dimitri with his cane and held in his other hand a smoking pipe.

            ‘Hi, Jacob. Any news?’ Jacob could be relied on for this purpose; he was a black hole for gossip, which was why Mrs. Hather kept him around.

            ‘Yep,’ the arthritic draglet croaked. ‘Word on t’ streets is that you an’ yer brother an sister goin’ on an important quest.’

            ‘Who told you that?’

            ‘Oiave my secrets,’ he said conspiratorially, tapping his snout and hobbling over to the television in the corner of the bar. Dimitri sighed and left the Ale & Cider onto the bustling street. This street bustled all the time. Cathons and equions walked and trotted about the place, going about their business, the occasional bright shock of green or orange draglet scales flashing through gaps in the crowd. Even less frequent was the lumbering form of an oceano, massive creatures made entirely of liquid. They were a secretive race and only a few had it in themselves to leave the Glacier Glade, the frosty region further north and come to the city.

            It was sunny. That is all the weather needed to be described; it was almost as if it couldn’t be bothered being inventive and just stuck the sun in the cloudless sky. There weren’t any obvious seasons here, weather happened pretty much anytime it wanted.

            Drax City had been built by a team of psions who could manipulate rock and stone, literally sending bricks flying into houses like a kind of backwards explosion. The two leaders at the time had been Makar and Cervantes Drax, two pious and slightly barmy cathons and now their predecessor, one hundred or so years later, still ruled the city. Zephyr Drax was the type of man who had a mind like a rake in the grass; he seemed old and confused, then the wooden pole, so to speak, of his intellect would rise up and clonk you on the nose. If you were lucky.**

            The city had lots of thin winding roads which the land lizards dragging carts could just about manage to squeeze through. Land lizards were Komodo dragon type creatures the size of oxen, and just as strong. Some grunted at Dimitri as he made his way through Drax City to the park in the centre.

            Marco could be seen, wait, he himself couldn’t be seen, but he was juggling stones and they could be seen from over a small hill. The occasional ‘Damnit,’ or ‘Aww,’ could be heard was he dropped them. One of the stones always managed to catch him on the head; it’s as if they aimed for it.

            Dimitri stood at the top of the hill overlooking the small ornamental lake. Marco had started juggling again when Lucrecia noticed him and stood up.

            ‘Hiya, Dimi’!’ she yelped, causing Marco to drop his stones again. Clonk.

            ‘Damn, damn, damn.’ Marco cursed, rubbing his head. Marco was the eldest of the Hather offspring, tall and skinny, covered in dark, panther-like fur with a short black mane. His light green eyes constantly darted about the place, looking for something to do. He wore an old green waistcoat, those shorts that were like almost trousers but not long enough, you know the sort, they type that stop just beneath the knees, and his sandals. Slung across his back was his pikestaff, which he used the channel his psion powers. Two entwined blades shone in the sun atop the staff, showing this was a serious weapon, and Marco’s lanky frame hid the fact he could use it. Marco like his pikestaff, he unconsciously kept his tail wrapped around it all the time.

            Lucrecia was born just after Dimitri turned up, and she had inquisitive blue eyes under long light brown hair. Her fur was an eye catching cheetah pattern she was particularly proud of and wore a pale pink dress with a thin, dark green, long-sleeved t-shirt under it. A pink bow adorned her hair. Lucrecia gave the impression she was about to explode, her whiskers were always twitching, and so were her fingers and tail; this was usual for a psion with a habit of storing to much energy at once.

            ‘What’s the face for?’ Dimitri’s adoptive brother nudged his arm. Dimitri had been walking round slightly miffed at Jacob’s acknowledgement at their ‘little quest.’

            ‘Our thing’s supposed to be a secret, yeah? So the whole city knows.’

            ‘Ah,’ Marco tapped his chin. ‘Wondered why everybody was saying ‘good luck’ and mum was all fussy.’ Lucrecia put her hands up to her face and sighed. Her brother could be dense sometimes, and she thought he was doing it on purpose.

            ‘We’ve got to see Zephyr and get provisions and a map to…you know where.’ Lucrecia mumbled behind her hand.

            ‘Great. I know a guy who we can get maps off.’ Marco said cheerfully.

            ‘It’s not Gort, is it?’

            ‘Um…’ Gort was a short equion street urchin, and the sort who could get from one place to another without apparently covering the intervening space. It was a skill that enabled him to eavesdrop on conversations and then escape with ease.

            ‘Fine…’ Lucrecia sighed. ‘Go see Gort; we’ll go to Zephyr’s.’

 

            The air was musty and damp, with the faint tang of metal. Giant machines revolved cumbersomely, welding plates, affixing rotors, assembling an army of silver demons. Above, in another room hanging over the factory floor, two figures stood behind fibreglass window and green glowing monitors. One was giant and muscular; the other was small and spindly.

            ‘Are you sure boss will be pleased?’ The large one slurred.

            I HOPE SO. WE’VE BEEN HERE ALL NIGHT MAKING HOVER DRONES. The other one said, sort of. The voice came in your brain without bothering to use the ears.

            The large one was a big green beast. Its head was slouched over into its chest and a secondary face was on his stomach. Two more were on his shoulder as well. All of them had yellow eyes, no noses and fangs. He had odd hands as well. They were more like two hands joined at the wrists, teeth on the ends of the fingers and an eye on the outer sides with a coiled tongue in the inside. It was called Ex.

            The other was a Mantrexter, and floated along due to his psion powers. mantexters were a very secretive, toad like race, and almost all of their people had some sort of psion ability. This one had powerful levitation and psychic powers. He had big red eyes, scars, fangs and clawed hands, which was usual for the mantrexter people. It wore a white scientists coat with arm length black gloves which the claws poked through. He called itself Lucifer.

            ‘I trust everything is ready?’ said a sly, oily voice behind them.

            ‘R0BOT C0N$TRU(T1ON ¾ C0MPLETE’ Boomed a voice over a worn out intercom.

            ‘Excellent’ hissed the voice. ‘Well, gentlemen, you have you orders; carry on.’

 

            Zephyr would periodically pace from one side of his office to the other, which had a wide balcony offering a commanding view of Drax City. He was about fifty-five, and walked with the aid of a polished cane. He would scratch his short white beard and stare about with hazel eyes, finding solutions in unexpected places. The next unexpected place was the three Hather children, two of which sat silently in the plush red chairs in front of Zephyr’s mahogany desk.

            Zephyr was also explaining, with lots of arm waving, what their ‘little quest’ was. They didn’t know, they had been told to visit the leader of Drax City’s people, and Marco had formulated an idea about what it was. He was very nearly right.

            The city was under the epidemic of psionic cancer, a crippling disease that affected only psions. Each psion, when born, has his or her soul linked with a small, fist sized green gem, called a psion crystal. Whatever happened to the psion happened to the crystal, and vice versa. Zephyr had paid considerable sums of money for his crystal to be located, and it now sat on the end of his cane, glowing faintly.

The explorers and scientists of Drax City had discovered that a company, long thought bust, had started up again, on the base of the mountain the psion crystals appeared on. This company was called Biocorp, and had specialized in renewable energy sources, windmills and big mirrors, that sort of thing. Biocorp was run almost entirely by mantexters.

            One day, some years ago, the executive bosses, or whatever they call themselves, had changed tack. To large machines with wheels and cannons. These machines where powered by the psion crystals, sucking the life force of the psion.

            Almost three quarters of the psions in the city had been hit by the disease, and already the deaths were mounting.

            ‘Marco, and you, Lucrecia, are the youngest psions in the city,’ Zephyr explained. ‘Therefore, your crystals are further up the mountain and it will take longer for the machines to get them. You stand the best chance of getting there, before…’

            ‘What about me?’ Dimitri asked.

            ‘Well, you’re a good fighter, Dimitri; you take many opponents by surprise. Plus, the main draglet settlement is on the route. You might like to get among your own people, find out about your…origins.’

            He motioned for them to stand and placed a hand on one of their shoulders. ‘I have prepared a lizard and cart for you to use, and food and water. You may leave anytime, but preferably today.’ He gently led them from the room. ‘Have no fear, for you shall prevail.’

 

            In the market square, Marco searched for Gort. Gort travelled from groups of people to group, like a catalyst. He didn’t exactly involve himself in the group, but still affected them. They either moved away, or bought something. Gort was long gone before they found out it was faulty.

            Marco finally found the diminutive equion sidling up to a likely looking draglet couple, both with eye catching deep sea blue scales. The equion had pale grey hair, whether this was natural or caused by not washing was not known. He wore a large leather jacket that touched the ground, behind which he hid a massive assortment of goods. Some of these goods were, of course, bads. The couple moved away before Gort could get their attention, and he kicked the cobbles dejectedly, kicking up sparks with his hooves.

            ‘Morning, Gort.’ Marco said behind the horse-like humanoid that barely reached the bottom of his ribcage in terms of height. Gort’s motto was; “If his hands are level with your shoulders, your forehead is level with his gut. Or worse, his groin.” It was a motto many people unfortunately learned when they gave chase.

            Gort spun, ready for a head-butt, but managed to put up short when he saw it was Marco.

            ‘Oh. It you,’ Gort sniffed, and sidled away. Marco caught up, trotting after the equion, who was surprisingly fast on those short legs. He may have had short legs, but short legs took less time to move about. ‘OK, what choo want?’

            ‘Just a map, man.’ Marco said calmly.

            Gort sidled closer, and whispered; ‘A general map, or one that goes somewhere?’

            ‘The second type,’ Marco whispered, ‘Why we whisperin’?’

            Gort pulled aside his jacket in the manner of street salesmen everywhere. In a pocket of their own, under some dodgy looking watches, there was a bundle of scrolls. ‘Where to?’

            Marco bent down so he could whisper in Gort’s ear. ‘Uh… Biocorp.’

            Gort flinched, hid the maps, and scuttled back. ‘Can’t help you, man. Nobody’ll go there, what with the big machines.’

            ‘Look, we really need a map.’

            ‘I thought your sis’ knew the way, huh?’

            ‘Wha-,’ Marco’s brow creased. ‘Ah, Damnit!’

 

            Lucrecia couldn’t stop giggling. ‘I did say “I knew the way there.”’

            ‘Yeah, but…’ Marco argued.

            ‘We just needed to get rid of you for a bit.’

            ‘S’not fair,’ he mumbled. They had returned to the Ale & Cider to bid farewell to their mother, who was fussing more than usual.

            ‘And you’ll remember to look after your sister, won’t you?’ she chirped as she bustled around the kitchen.

            ‘Yes, mum.’ Dimitri sighed.

            ‘And remember to brush your teeth.’ Mr’s Hather hadn’t grasped the fact that when you’re going on a quest to beat up some killer robots, the quality of your teeth is the last thing on your mind. Suddenly, the middle-aged cathon spun round and hugged him.

            ‘Be careful ,dear,’ she said softly.

            ‘I will.’

            With that, Dimitri collected his swords from above the mantelpiece and hung two from his belt and the other two on his back. He slowly unsheathed one while Marco and Lucrecia were being fussed over. This was Redgem, it was just a bit shorter than his arm, and had small red stones set into the blade, near the hilt. Whirlwind was just as long, but was made very differently. The blade split in two at the hilt, and the two blades twisted round each other once before joining together at the tip. When swung, it made a strange whistling noise as the air passed through the twist. Goldsheen was the shortest of the four, and shaped like a machete. Somebody, somewhere, had plated the blade with pieces of fool’s gold, giving it the appearance of a broken mirror. Onyx was the longest, and covered in tiny dents and nicks, showing it had been used well. A fist-sized, jet black stone was set into the hilt.

            Dimitri showed great pride in all four of them, and polished them twice a week. He sensed they were going to get used a lot as he walked out of the door and climbed onto the cart.

 

            They were riding towards the city gates on the cart given to them by Zephyr, driving by one of the massive land lizards. Marco sat on the front driving while Dimitri and Lucrecia sat under the tarpaulin covering the cart, between empty sacks and the small crate of food they had took with them.

            ‘Well, what do you think?’ Lucrecia asked them, her ears twitching.

            ‘Feel a bit nervous.’ Marco answered. His fur had drooped, and he had wrapped his tail around his waist, a sure sign that a cathon is feeling vulnerable.

Dimitri sat on the back of the cart, not answering. He had the strange feeling he was going to find out the meaning of his origins and his mysterious past.

           

 



* These lands don’t really have an official name. All the best are taken.

**If you weren’t lucky, I’d better take you back to this time I was camping. Somebody had left a rake in some grass and this guy was walking through the grass, looking for a football or similar. They next thing I heard was; thwack, and; “Yarrgh, my groin!” That will stay with me to the grave.