‘Hmm…’ Coover placed his hand to his chin in what resembled deep thought, ‘Let us leave this pathetic beast, Gangrene.’
‘How strange. I actually agree with you.’ Thus, the two set off, leaving the monster created earlier to run away, and for Daryl to follow them. ‘Leave us,’ said Gangrene to Daryl, ‘I don’t think we have any more to discuss.’
‘I-I…oh, never mind…’
‘What is it?’
Daryl gulped. ‘I want to join your quest.’
The two heroes stopped in their paths. Coover laughed slightly before Gangrene held a hand to his face.
‘Y-yes. It’s…you know, to make up for what…for w-what…’ Coover and Gangrene remained silent. They may have said nothing in support, but since they also said nothing in objection, Daryl continued. ‘I can help you find Aosoth’s castle, and…um, since I can f-fly, I can detect enemies, and…’
‘Oh, spare me the simpering,’ Coover said, his nose upwards, ‘I-’
‘He might have a point.’
At this, Daryl smiled.
‘Suppose we don’t find the Eye, or fail the necessary test. Now we have a back-up plan.’ Another bolt of magical energy burst from Gangrene’s fingers, this time creating a chain for Daryl’s arm. ‘Now that we have her most significant minion,’ continued Gangrene, tugging on the magical chain, ‘we can perhaps barter with her a little more easily. And we can probably find a use for the head monsters.’
So the two adventurers now had Daryl in their clutches, and while they were searching for the special cave, Daryl looked about for whatever retaliation Aosoth would wreak upon him. A bolt of black lightning was what she usually used on traitors, Daryl had heard. Though one time, he remembered seeing her take a henchman, and boil him in a cauldron of magical potion until his skin melted right off his muscles. Daryl couldn’t eat anything for a week after that.
For what seemed like hours, the three trekked through the mountain range – all those rumours about demons in this area were apparently just rumours – until they came to a rather large staircase of stone, leading to a doorway burning white.
‘Ah,’ said Coover triumphantly, ‘this must be the place we’ve been sear-’
‘Of course it is!’ spat Gangrene, as he led Coover and Daryl up the stairs. As they ascended, an airy song, one with nonsensical lyrics and a soft tone, began to fill the air. Daryl forced himself to focus on that tune, as he thought it would help his worries and guilt fade. Yet not only did those certain emotions remain, they now had a more painful tingle to them as well.
They reached the top of the staircase, and that song actually became a command. ‘Come in.’
It had been another day training with Aruff, a rather simple one considering what the god usually pulled. The hours had flown by quicker than usual, and there wasn’t really anything noteworthy about the whole experience. Yet when Denise had left that temple, dodging the barbarian spears as per usual, she felt a certain amount of energy surge within her. All her doubt about living up to Daniel’s standards had vanished and now she had it in her mind that she could do anything. She alone could remedy the dragons’ reputation.
Her common sense soon intervened and reminded her that it likely would be suicide to pop into a human village at this point, what with Aosoth’s minion still at large. Yet that childish part of her wanted to go out and find some of Aosoth’s monsters to fight. If she had wings and fire breath, why not use them?
Common sense again. Aosoth would still be too difficult for her, and Denise wasn’t prophesied either. Still, she had to find something; she couldn’t very well waste this rare feeling. Up she rose, above the clouds, well, not above them, but rather close to them as she could see their bumpy surface. Just about every week she would hear news of a giant octopus or something of that nature terrorising the land, so this was an appropriate height to sense any trouble.
Down she dove, yet she did not land. Instead, she soared, gaining a closer look at the surroundings beneath her. Some villagers were working at rebuilding the homes Aosoth and her forces had destroyed, a scene which Denise quickly fled from. The gryphons were flapping about, looking for plump sheep as usual. Sometimes Denise briefly wondered why so many feared Aosoth, if it was possible for life to go on as usual while she was in power. Then she remembered how Aosoth’s family had sullied her species, and the destruction caused by the many minions and demons of her castle, and Denise suddenly found herself flying faster, right into a mountain.
Ah yes, she did need the training. Daniel would have never done something like that. Daniel was co-ordinated.
Seeing no trouble, and her confidence somewhat lessened by her hit, Denise just decided to relax, a miniature reward for doing such a bang-up job with her training today. She sat atop a mountain, one that overlooked her village, and just stared. It helped clear her mind, and she felt her head was one that needed some space. Yet when she looked over her home, with its huts, its statue, its people, she remembered her father, how he fought beside Daniel and died in a battle against Asteroth’s forces. The reason why she was training with Gangrene and Aruff.
Floating down, she swore she heard her old teacher.
Still dragged along by the chain of magic, Daryl had no time to admire the shimmering white walls of the cave, or the diamonds that adorned the stalactites. Still, he tried to let the white light wash over him; this wasn’t his dungeon after all.
‘Oh hello!’ came a voice, softer than Daryl expected. ‘Come on in, noble warriors!’ Daryl felt a pang of guilt at that name, but was forced to do as the voice said anyway. The three turned a corner, and all were welcomed by another grand flash of white light. ‘Oh, it’s so nice to have visitors,’ Daryl heard as he shielded his eyes.
After the light cleared, Daryl was greeted by a giant pink cat, donning a red bowtie and waistcoat. It sat on a throne, decorated with paper flowers and porcelain rabbits, its eyes bulging as it moved its head closer.
‘Spartypuss?’ Gangrene moved to the front of the group. ‘You are the guardian of the Eye of Shodden?’
The pink cat stood up, grinning widely. ‘Well, the person who usually guards it is on holiday, and,’ He clasped his hands and held them to his chest. ‘He asked me of all people to – oh my.’ That grin faded when he turned to see Daryl. Instantly, he collapsed in the throne, fingers twitching.
‘Oh, do not worry about him, friend.’ Gangrene said, gesturing towards the magic restraint. ‘We have the beast under control.’
‘Oh, that’s good, I guess…’ Spartypuss’ smile still failed to return, as he then began to think back. ‘My brother’s like that, always making sure the dragons and all the other meanie things are under control. He’s real grumpy about it.’ Then that grin made its triumphant return. ‘Now would you like a fairy cake?’
‘Actually,’ said Gangrene, tugging the chain again. ‘We are after the Eye of Shodden.’
‘Oh, here you go.’ Spartypuss dug into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a small sphere, admiring it as he did so. Gangrene wrapped Daryl’s chain around his arm, and reached out for the Eye.
‘Wait!’ Coover’s cry sent Spartypuss falling off of the throne, upsetting the pyramid of fairy cakes beside it. ‘We’re supposed to answer some riddles, to prove ourselves worthy!’
Spartypuss, on all fours, gasped at the treats scattered about. Hurriedly, he collected all of them in his arms, and began to arrange them into their former state. Then he looked up to face Coover with a frown, before that reverted to his usual big smile. ‘Okey dokey! When is a door not a door?’ At this, Gangrene sighed and shook his head, making the cat whimper. ‘What’s wrong, Gangrene?’
As the cat, the wizard and the boy spoke, Daryl found himself not listening to any of them. He had chosen to pay more attention to that bubbling in his stomach, the acid slowly eroding him from within. He was in the presence of a god – the most just and kind, at that. Him, who had done so much – you murderer you killer –in service of the most malevolent figure of this world. He had likely infected as many nightmares as Aosoth had, and he did it all to save his skin.
Spartypuss knew all that. He had to know. Gods know everything.
‘Gangrene,’ Daryl heard Spartypuss say, ‘have you seen my pocket watch?’
Still he felt a squirming in his head. Something was about to come out. His thoughts, his mind, out for all to see. The creature would be horrible because that’s the type of thing Daryl would create. He, the minion…
‘A sunburnt zebra!’
‘That’s right, here’s the eye! Have a nice day!’
Gangrene seized Daryl by the shoulders, the former’s eyes seemingly drawn to the latter’s head cavity. ‘We have the eye, dragon. Now help us find your mistress’ castle.’
Using stealth techniques Gangrene had taught her, Denise crouched behind a large rock near the cave, trying to listen to what was going on. Ah, they had got the Eye, good. A sense of excitement tingled within her stomach at the thought of Aosoth being destroyed once and for all, but then she remembered they had to reach the castle first, and that likely wouldn’t be easy. She had every confidence in Gangrene, but just listening to Coover’s voice had made her cringe.
There was someone with them too, wasn’t there?
Sure enough, the wizard and the prophesied one left, with Gangrene carrying around someone using a magical leash.
It had to be him. She had seen glimpses of him before, and the instinct she had nurtured for so long clawed at her, telling her that this was him. Her legs twitched. She knew she should restrain herself – just leaping out and tackling the other dragon would be unprofessional of her- but she couldn’t help but tightly ball her fists as the dragon passed by. He was in Gangrene’s power, which gave Denise a sense of relief, but the satisfaction that would come from pummelling him into submission teased itself. Grabbing her own wrist, she reminded herself that she shouldn’t do such a thing to someone of her own species. Maybe she could come in and try to talk with him?
No, Gangrene seemed to be doing that already. When and if Aosoth is defeated, Denise thought, maybe he’ll tell her what he learned?