These headaches. A throbbing, a stinging, an explosion in his cranium that lingered throughout the day. No, actually not all day. It was really only when he was in the castle that he felt them. There were certainly things worse in this castle than mere headaches, but he certainly didn’t need them.
Some relief. Just a few minutes.
The headaches seemed to disappear when he went out for an ‘errand’, so Daryl thought that were he to stay outside for a few minutes, he’d have that relief. His ‘bedroom’ had no windows, so he pretty much had to go outside. Certainly Aosoth wouldn’t mind; he wasn’t going to leave forever now, was he? Maybe she’d just think he was pondering new ways to serve her, or he was looking for intruders.
Making sure it made no noise other than a slight creak, Daryl slowly opened the door, and stepped into the bleak corridor. He tried to walk without noise, walking on his toes as he navigated through the corridors. Was there an open window in one of these rooms? No, there wasn’t. There were no windows that could be opened, which was odd considering the harsh breeze that usually dominated the castle.
Ow, damn headache. Don’t worry, head, he told himself, don’t worry.
Ah yes, this is where the main staircase is.
‘Oh, look who it is.’
Bob and Gary, two of Aosoth’s goblin soldiers, making their way up the stairs.
‘Hello,’ said Daryl, his throat beginning to feel hotter.
‘So, what’re you doing?’ asked Bob, the fat one. Still had the stench of rotten cheese on his breath.
‘What’s it to you?’
‘Oh, nothing,’ said Bob, ‘I just thought you might have another assignment.’
‘We don’t get to do anything like that,’ said Gary, ‘I’d like to burn down a village some time.’ Daryl took a step back.
‘Me too,’ Bob cried, spreading his cheese-breath around the main hall. ‘But no, we have to stand outside all day.’
Daryl quivered as he answered. ‘Shouldn’t you be doing that now?’
‘We’re on our break,’ replied Gary.
‘And what are you doing here then?’ Bob asked, ‘I thought Aosoth wanted you to just lounge around in your room until she wanted some people killed or something.’
Daryl chose not to reply, and instead stood there, eyes on the goblins’ pale pupils. Perhaps it was the headache. Yes, that’s it.
‘You know what?’ Bob took on a playful tone, and jumped about, his armour clacking. ‘I think you’re up to something.’
‘No! I just want some fresh air!’
‘Oh, sure you do!’
‘Well,’ said Gary, ‘He is a dragon. All that fire he breathes, and being cooped up in such a small room…’
‘Yeah, that’s just what he wants you to think.’
‘Oh, shut up!’ Gary yelled, which made Daryl’s headache subside slightly.
Forgetting about subtlety, Daryl ran back up the stairs and back into his bedroom. Still with that headache. The throbbing. The scratching. The pounding. The slithering.
The slithering was outside his door. Aosoth’s slithering.
Denise flew to the temple of Aruff. She steeled herself for her arrival, as the temple was located in the land of the barbarians, and she knew how they reacted towards dragons. Sure enough, when she flew into the mountainous regions where the temple was located, spears flew up into her direction. Oh, she had dealt with spears before. They had soothed her back pains in the past, but these weren’t meant for relaxation purposes. One darted towards her, and she sent it flying away with a kick.
Peering down, she saw the barbarians – muscular, hairy, unwashed men who spoke mostly in grunts – raving at her evasion of their weapons. They wanted a fight, did they? Well, thought Denise with a smug smile, it would be impolite to refuse their request.
Diving down, Denise landed in the middle of the mob, surrounded by the bearded warriors. Just a quick little spot of fire should be enough to scare them away. Just a little. Readying the miniature flames, Denise found herself slugged in the face by a barbarian, sent stumbling backwards into another. They all laughed, the sound causing Denise’s ears to ache, and thus she took to the air again. A second later, she dove with fist outstretched, bonking a barbarian on the forehead.
After the brute held his head in agony, Denise fell to the ground, causing more laughter. One in particular had a laugh that made him sound – and look – like an oversized fish. Certainly even his fellow barbarians would want him silenced, so Denise had no reservations about scratching him in the face. The rest of the colourful crew ceased their laughter, and neared the dragon.
Denise shot into the air, watching with a smirk as the muscular idiots stumbled over each other. They weren’t really worth her time; it was time to go to the temple.
The temple, a stone colossus with the obligatory skull-shaped entrance, sat atop a flight of stairs, framed by the blazing torches. Denise considered climbing those stairs manually to build up a bit of lower body strength, but chose to fly to the entrance anyway, just to save time. When she landed next to the entrance, she looked behind her to see the barbarians below resuming their usual business of doing nothing. Typical, just typical.
She pushed open the large wooden doors, and entered the cavernous temple. As she entered, she stretched her body to look formal, and then noticed the ceremonial tunic she donned had been ruined in the fight. She groaned at herself. Most of the time, she, like other dragons, went about in nothing, but clothes must always be worn in the presence of a god. A statue of that god himself – a bipedal dog in armour – sat at the far end, but nothing else could be found.
After the name echoed, a flame erupted in front of the statue, causing Denise to shield her eyes until it subsided. Where there once was fire, there now stood the god Aruff, looking exactly like his statue. A brown-furred hound, standing proudly with a shining helmet on his head, and a matching suit of armour. The Dog of War. Rocking back and forth casually, he observed his new visitor.
‘I saw you fighting my barbarians.’
Denise folded her arms. ‘And what else was I supposed to do?’
‘You were so sloppy,’ said Aruff, shaking his head, ‘I suppose you’re here for some training, eh?’
‘Yes.’ Denise shook before taking a deep breath. ‘Gangrene sent me.’
‘Gangrene? That old coot?’ Aruff chuckled slightly as Denise clenched her fists. ‘He was right to send you to me though. I’ll teach you some real stuff.’
With that, Aruff let loose a loud whistle, causing Denise to stretch her appendages and ready her fire breath. Silence. Nothing happened at first, but Aruff still smiled and Denise still snarled. Soon enough though, a group of barbarians charged through the door, summoned by their master. They yelled their usual unintelligible battle cries, and wielded their makeshift weapons.
This shouldn’t be too hard.
Denise let loose an array of fire, throwing it across the room. Trying to remember what Gangrene had taught her about controlling her flame, she flew upwards and torched them from above. Just as one torrent ended and she was about to start another, however, a spear flew up, which she narrowly dodged. Having lost balance, she fluttered downwards, where one barbarian grabbed her by the wrist and threw her against a pillar.
Before she could arise and continue the fight, she saw Aruff clap. ‘Okay, guys,’ said Aruff, the barbarians pausing at the sound of their master’s voice, ‘take five.’ And with that, the rabble all shrugged and left the temple. Denise picked herself up and ran for the door, but as Aruff waved his hand, it immediately shut with a force that almost blew her over. ‘So typical of Gangrene’s students,’ said Aruff, shaking his head, ‘So impulsive and overconfident.’
Denise balled her hand into a fist, and almost struck Aruff, but something within her prevented her from doing just that. Aruff flinched, but then smiled again. ‘I think you really need me.’
‘Well, well, Daryl,’ Aosoth looked to the ceiling, yet Daryl still felt like she was watching him. ‘You have served me well. I don’t think I could have the hold I have over this land if it weren’t for you.’
‘Oh…thank you,’ said Daryl as they entered Aosoth’s laboratory. Her eyes illuminated every room she entered, but this room was where they burned most brightly. All the vials, bottles and beakers revelled in the light of Aosoth’s eyes, as it made them look all the more imposing. Daryl peered into a flask, and briefly pondered on the purpose of its contents. The mental image of him drinking that and gaining two extra arms flashed before him. Then the mental image of Aosoth with two extra arms entered his mind. He held his hand over his mouth to hide his smirk. A difficult task, considering the size of his mouth.
The headache throbbed all the more, making Daryl’s head feel like it was going to erupt. Aosoth wouldn’t care about that though, so Daryl remained silent.
When Aosoth turned to Daryl, her eyes narrowed, creating shadows in the corners of the laboratory. ‘You have been a good minion,’ she cooed, patting Daryl on the head, ‘and good minions are hard to come by these days. I unfortunately learned that the other day, when I gave Jeremy that one small task to do. It was his last chance to prove himself you see, and…’ Daryl backed away into a table, causing the bottles to rattle slightly. ‘I hope you weren’t friends with him.’
‘I’m always in need of minions, you see, and I want to experiment with something.’ Once again, she patted Daryl on the head, this time circling her finger around his skull afterwards. ‘You have some interesting thoughts, don’t you? Well, just imagine we can extract them from that little head of yours. And not only that, but convert them into living beings?’
Daryl shuddered against the table. Certainly he did have some thoughts that he wanted to see given flesh, but those were likely not what Aosoth would want, nor would they be anything he’d want her to know.
‘I’ve seen the way you destroy those villages. You clearly have a lot of anger, a lot of power. I was thinking the other day, if only more people could be like you. Then I found I could make more people like you.’ From her pocket, she unleashed a knife. Daryl rushed for the door, finding it locked. ‘You’re usually more co-operative than this.’ That line, and her blazing stare, rendered Daryl immobile. ‘I dipped this knife in a special potion, thus it is strong enough to not only cut open your head,’ she continued, her tone calmer, ‘but to bring to life all your thoughts and dreams. Well, my dreams, perhaps.’
Even as the blade approached his cranium, Daryl remained paralysed. Whether it was his own fear or a spell he didn’t know, yet he saw that knife and his headache got all the worse. His wings twitched, wishing for a window they could fly out of, and his throat ached along with his head, demanding Daryl roast Aosoth with his breath.
Daryl couldn’t fly now. He couldn’t breathe fire. All he could do was shriek in pain as the knife entered his skull.
He made no other sound as Aosoth continued the process. That headache had transformed into something else, a new sensation dancing through his mind, digging into his skin. Tears dripped down his scaly face, mucus crawled from his nostrils, and his mouth quivered.
Yet when the process was complete, the headache was gone.
Suddenly finding himself able to move his arms again, Daryl touched the top of his head, still closing his eyes. Yes, a thin ridge, where Aosoth had made her incision. Moving off the edge, he pushed his arm in. Right up to his elbow. He expected to feel his brain, but instead, it felt like an empty chasm.
No, it wasn’t empty.
A warm, fat specimen of some kind crawled onto Daryl’s hand. Daryl removed it from his head, and brought it to his face, yet he still didn’t manage to open his eyes. What he held in his hand made gibbering noises, reminding Daryl of the imps that usually roamed Kirkalan at night. Just as Daryl was about to dare open his eyes, the slimy thing was snatched up by the cold fingers of Aosoth.
‘Hmmm…I don’t think this one will be much use.’ The creature’s dying scream made Daryl blink his eyes open. ‘Still, I have the utmost confidence you’ll create something better.’
Aosoth punched Daryl in the face.
Feeling the headache return, Daryl fell to the ground before Aosoth kicked him in the stomach. As he yelled, he saw Aosoth grab a potion from a table. Daryl shielded his face with his hands.
All over his body went the potion, burning and stabbing at his scales. With his scream of agony, the new headache disappeared. Out from his head emerged what resembled a rat, only with larger forelegs. Upon laying eyes on this creation, it hit Daryl in the nose.
‘Excellent!’ said Aosoth, picking up the specimen. ‘A little on the small side, but I’m sure you’ll think bigger soon enough. You may go now.’
Daryl twitched on the ground.
‘I said you can go.’
Forgetting the pain for a second, Daryl leapt onto his feet and ran back to his bedroom.