The magical world of Kirkalan.
With the sun having reached the pinnacle of the sky, banishing away the clouds and bringing a light shade of green to the surrounding fields and hills, some of the villagers of Sturt had woken up optimistic. Days like this usually seemed to foreshadow slight improvements to this land, and with tell that the prophesied hero was on his way to eliminate Aosoth, how could they not be filled with hope?
Well, there was the fact that Aosoth still ruled, for one thing.
She may not have done anything like turn the villagers into living cabbages or made the buildings turn into black towers like her father did – at least, not yet – yet she always seemed to be watching. Half of the residents of Sturt had never seen her, yet they still kept a constant lookout for her. Her and her little pet.
Though they may not have seen her, the villagers knew full well about her dragon, and how it had gone about torching and roasting those who displeased its mistress. Dragons were like that. Reptilian abominations that hid in the mountains, hunting and incinerating humans for their own personal enjoyment. It would make sense that monsters like them would want to join up with Aosoth; after all, they had a history of aiding the mightier evil warlocks of Kirkalan.
So, as much as it pained them to do it, the villagers paid the taxes Aosoth had set them. They offered her their livestock for sacrifice, and gave her servants their recipes. Whenever her servants would pay the village a visit, they would be offered the five-star treatment – or as many stars as the village could muster. Those armoured blue gremlins would come to demand payment or wares of some sort and they would be given food and pampering before they left.
That day, though, while some villagers continued to shudder in their houses, and others wrote “Why Aosoth is Great” lists, many looked up and remembered the quest that was being embarked upon. A boy named Coover had been prophesied to find the one artefact that could destroy Aosoth, and prophesied heroes always found what they were looking for. Those heroes were the reason dragons had become more seldom, they were the bright spot in Kirkalan’s darker hours and had given people something to talk about over a stein of mead when they didn’t want to talk about politics. As they picked their crops and fed their animals, the people attempted to nurture that spark of hope the recent news had given, tried to entertain the idea that this could be the last time they would be doing their business for evil purposes.
That spark faded in seconds. The shadow came.
Their attention diverted from their shopping and their socialising, the villagers looked up to see the demonic figure rise to bathe in the sun, its form diminishing the beauty of the natural light. It hovered in the air for a few seconds, as they all stood, looking above. Then it dove, its neck stretched out so it could get a better look at its prey.
‘I knew it was going to come here.’
‘You didn’t pay your taxes, did you? I warned you this would happen!’
Their squabbling did nothing to distract the creature, whose speed decreased as it sat atop a building, resembling a gargoyle as it did so. While it was roughly the same size as an average human, the villagers still believed it towered over them. Stretching its wings to make itself seem even bigger, it looked down at all the humans. Most of them chose to remain in their home village, their mouths hanging open and their eyes trying to escape their skulls, while others scrambled away in fear. Still, as most remained stationary, so did the creature. As tendrils of smoke wafted from its nostrils, it took another gander at its future victims.
And a stone in the face.
One villager took a rock from the ground, and hurled it right at the beast’s face. ‘We aren’t afraid of you!’ The creature peered down at he who tossed that stone, its eyes narrowing. ‘That’s right! You and that witch don’t scare us, so you might as well just go home right now!’
Beating its wings, the creature took to the sky again.
‘That’s it! Go on home!’
It did not leave though.
‘Oh, so you are going to attack then? Well, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and do it!’
It snarled, saliva dripping from its jagged teeth.
‘Oh, shut up.’
‘Hey, I’m just trying to – AAAAAAGH!’
A torrent of flames escaped from the creature’s mouth. In spite of its unimpressive size, one breath was enough to engulf half the village in an ecstatic inferno. The fire swallowed several buildings within its gut, reducing places for business and residence into feeble skeletons. Those who had once stood still in awe now began to flee from their beloved home, coughing from the rising smoke. The flames caused pieces of an especially tall home to collapse, and three men found themselves trapped under the walls. Their cries for help went ignored, as those who could lend them a hand scurried away from the wrath of the creature.
That creature neared them.
Flexing its claws, it reached for the heavy debris, causing the men to scream all the louder. Their shrieks of impending doom froze the creature, before it took a look at the destruction it had caused. Another growl escaped its throat before it took to the skies again.
It’s what she would have done, wasn’t it?
That idiot, throwing those stones and hurling those insults…boy, was he annoying. The first syllable that squirmed out of his oesophagus had made Daryl imagine a painful death for that man, but that was really not why he torched the village. The moments he was there, he pictured in his head how Aosoth would act if she were present. Were that man to mock her in her face, she’d blast him and make a speech about how no-one should insult one as glorious as she. Daryl, however, couldn’t make lasers emit from his fingers, and was never one for speeches, so he did the next best thing.
What else could he do?
He couldn’t very well spare the village. Aosoth would find out and she’d…oh, what she’d do. The racks and shocks of his childhood should be left there; no way should they be brought back. Aosoth wanted that village destroyed and that’s what she would get.
Those screams. For once, he was the mighty one. He wasn’t just a pawn, a flunky of someone who could kill him in a second. That village revered him, and overlooked Aosoth for a few seconds. He had been told that to have the populace fear you should be an accomplishment. Aosoth relished the fear she inspired, so why couldn’t he?
That’s what they call that feeling, isn’t it? The feeling clawing at your gut, demanding you know you shouldn’t have done what you did? What causes you to think of all the children you killed, and who they could have grown up to be? What makes you ponder on the lives of those people that you reduced to frightened worms?
If it wasn’t for that conscience, Daryl thought, he might have enjoyed that little excursion. He wouldn’t have bothered thinking about how the villagers might have felt. Aosoth wouldn’t have done that. Aosoth didn’t have a conscience. Not having one got her all that power. That fear.
After a while of flying over the wide green fields, the safe towns, the crumbling, jagged mountains, Daryl had found his way back to Aosoth’s castle. Diving down to enter, he saw the twisted tower that rose to the cloud-clogged sky, and the grin on the front. A giant grin, consisting of two red windows as eyes, and teeth carved out of stone, with the wooden front doors acting as two of those teeth. Pushing open those two teeth, Daryl stepped into a hallway bathed in blackness. As soon as he was completely inside, the front doors slammed shut behind him, because Aosoth had cast a spell on them to do that; she had found it while randomly flicking through a spell book, and thought it sounded fun.
The darkness should have been hard to navigate, but Daryl had been here for so many years that he was used to it. The stairs were here. Up we go. Here’s a hallway. The door to Aosoth’s quarters. While he could get used to the darkness, he could never get quite used to entering through that door. Yet, after searching his stomach for any iota of courage, he pushed open that door and readied himself for the red light.
Yes, the most prominent source of illumination in this place was from its owner’s eyes. The room was bathed in a crimson aura, courtesy of the bright red eyes of Aosoth. Her enlarged, bald cranium, her curved nose, her fangs, all were accentuated.
She floated towards him, her pose unmoving. A smile lit her elongated face as she approached Daryl, the latter shrinking away.
‘I saw what you did,’ she said, gesturing towards her crystal ball. ‘You have done well.’
Oh, good. Praise. He needed more of it.
‘Thank you, your evilness.’ He briefly wondered why anyone would want to be called evil – him being called so always made his stomach turn – but he never fully understood Aosoth.
Aosoth turned towards the window, and floated over there. ‘Ah, my reign is still secure. Now, Daryl, I think you’ve earned a bit of a rest. Go do what you want…’ The red in the room grew darker. ‘…but don’t go far.’
Whenever Daryl was in the same room as Aosoth, he could never bring himself to leave until she said he could. With the promise of rest, it seemed the door had just been unlocked, so Daryl flew out of the room, down the familiar corridors, into his own quarters. Lit by torches carrying his own flame, it was one of the more inviting rooms of Aosoth’s castle. Sure it had the rats and the spiders, but it gave Daryl some privacy.
So what to do now?
Maybe just have a nap.
Yeah, that’s it.
‘Why did you do that? You knew it wasn’t going to make that thing go away.’
‘Yeah, but Aosoth will know we aren’t scared of her!’
‘You really think she cares what you think about her?’
‘Well, she should!’
‘I’ll have you know that I have some very interesting viewpoints on certain subjects.’
‘Oh, come on. When we’re at the pub…’
Another dragon slunk behind the debris, her light green scales blending in with the grass. Hearing the humans blather on, she stopped listening to them and instead turned her attention to where Aosoth’s minion had recently struck. A dragon’s fire, something that should be used to eradicate evil and bring light where it is needed, used instead for an attack like this. Shaking her head, the dragon, Denise, continued to search the remains, in hopes of finding some clue or something that may specify where the witch may make her next move.
‘Hey look, Chuck! I think I see him!’
Not this again.
The two men neared her, with the usual wrinkle-creating grimaces, pretending to be passionate. That all stopped when the fire erupted from Denise’s nostrils.
‘No, I am not the dragon that burned down your village. I’m here to help you.’ They shot her a cynical expression, but another exhibition of her flame breath wiped that away. ‘Why did Aosoth choose to attack your village?’
‘It was because Chuck here didn’t pay his taxes!’
‘Oh, sure, go ahead and blame me!’
‘You didn’t pay your bloody taxes and you know what happens when you don’t! Now look what’s…happened!’
‘Co-operate,’ snarled Denise, ‘Or else.’
‘Oh, so you are evil then.’
‘No, I’m just…’
‘That’s right, you wanted to roast us.’
Hearing this, Denise rolled her eyes and took to the skies again. She had never seen Aosoth’s dragon on the attack, and had never saved any of the villages or people he had burned. Approximations of those acts still replayed themselves in her head, taunting her about not being present. With him being the same species as her, surely she could have reasoned with him.
So perhaps she could go over to Aosoth’s castle then. Search it, find the dragon and get answers. She’d convince him not to follow Aosoth and the two would…no. How could she join forces with one of Aosoth’s? That dragon committed an act of betrayal to his species, everything she had been preparing to fight for. Everything Daniel had done, everything she was hoping to emulate – that dragon pointed at it and laughed its wings off.
Let him go ahead and follow Aosoth, someone stupid enough to stay with her will get killed eventually. Maybe by – no, Denise couldn’t kill a fellow dragon. That Coover boy probably will do the deed.
Ah yes, Coover. That farm boy that just seemed to have popped out of nowhere. Him.
It was just today – just today – that when she entered the halls of Gangrene the wizard to further her training, he had told her that his time teaching her was finished. The prophets had just received a vision of who was supposed to destroy Aosoth and bring back peace to Kirkalan. That figure was Coover, and thus, Gangrene had to leave her and turn his attention to accompanying the boy on his quest.
Denise knew better than to argue with the prophets, but Aosoth’s destruction would be at the hands of a human boy? One whose parents were still alive? There had never been a good hero whose parents were still alive. Still, while she had been training most of her life, Denise had a tingle in her stomach that told her that she would never be involved in a prophecy. When that feeling arose, Denise reminded herself of Daniel’s advice about having confidence but not too much, and let herself be humbled.
Daniel was never wrong. Gangrene was never wrong. The prophets were never wrong.
Her training had not got up to the point where she could just waltz into Aosoth’s castle and thwart her, or even pirouette in for that matter. Indeed, tomorrow she was to travel to the temple of Aruff, the Kirkalanian god of war, and train under him. Aruff had trained many of this land’s greatest warriors, including Daniel, but he had also trained the barbarians, those who wanted Denise’s head on their wall. Though that wasn’t the reason why they bothered her. They were taken down soon enough, but fighting them was just so tedious. They were just so unnecessary.
Sometimes she wondered if this land was worth protecting at all.