‘So, how long have you been in Aosoth’s employ?’
Daryl fidgeted with his chain before answering. ‘A very long time. I think…’ It pained him to remember, but at least he felt less weary now. ‘I think it was since I was very young.’
‘Uh…’ He attempted to remember when he first started working for Aosoth, delving into his mind to see if he could remember his first mission for her without creating another monster. As he looked at the sky for a moment, out of nowhere came a vision of him as a child, in his village, nowhere near the castle Aosoth lurked in. After he waved to a group of small dragons no older than he was, he flew up to a giant tower…
No, it was when he was that age when he joined Aosoth. Just as suddenly as he remembered the tower and his village, he remembered the overpowering darkness of Aosoth’s abode. His younger self stumbled around in the shadows, occasionally breathing small doses of fire to light his way. Nearby stood Aosoth, her finger scratching one of her fangs. ‘Don’t worry, little one,’ she said, ‘You’ll find your way around here soon enough. Then she rubbed his face with her finger, the simulated chill bringing the older Daryl back to the present.
‘I said,’ Gangrene said, his wrinkles more pronounced than usual, ‘how old were you when you joined Aosoth?’
‘I think it was about when I was ten…’ he said, shuddering.
‘Enough,’ said Coover, prodding Daryl with his sword. When Daryl howled with pain, Coover added, ‘Get up there. How far are we from the witch’s castle?’
Daryl began to flap his wings the instant Coover finished his demand. With the long walk after Spartypuss, a lot of it spent under interrogation, Daryl was eager to rise back up in the air. Extending the magical chain, Gangrene allowed him that opportunity. It took a while for him to fully ascend, but when he did, he indulged in the atmosphere. The throbbing his feet had gained from walking so much began to slip away, and his stomach began to become a little lighter. Night had begun to fall, but Daryl could still see the landmarks fine. He did breathe a small flame to make it easier to navigate though. It did not take him long to find Aosoth’s domain – with the black smoke and thunder it was hard to miss – yet he took his time in pointing it out.
Ah, the sky. This is where his species belongs.
When Gangrene tugged at the chain, and brought him back down to the ground, Daryl felt his bones ache from the walking yet again. ‘Can we stop for a rest?’
‘When I can taste our defeat over the nefarious foe?’ Coover raised his fist into the air as he usually did. ‘We must keep going!’
‘Admittedly,’ grumbled Gangrene to Coover, ‘you have a point. Now that we have the Eye and Aosoth has her crystal ball, she’ll likely send more of her minions this way. They could kill us in our sleep, and we can’t take any chances.’ With a wave of his hand, Gangrene conjured up a cup of coffee for him, Coover and Daryl, and they all took sips. ‘Hmm. The best thing to come out of that other world.’
Looking at his feet, Daryl added, ‘I heard they also have these things that make travel easier. Cars or something.’
‘Those smoking lumps?’ Gangrene sighed. ‘I’ve been there. It’s not a place you’d like to visit.’
‘Say,’ said Daryl, ‘now that you have the Eye, do you still need me?’
‘Well, yes,’ said Gangrene. ‘Should she send more of her army, we use you to bargain with them. The Eye must only be used on Aosoth, after all. Besides, I still feel we need to keep an eye on you.’
‘So…’ Daryl was about to ask a question, but it slipped away before he could ask it. Probably because it involved the word ‘kill’.
Aosoth’s castle grew closer and closer, its looming presence signified by a squirming. Not in Daryl’s head, thank goodness, but in his gut. Don’t let the monster out, think happy thoughts. Aosoth wouldn’t let these heroes intimidate her – no, who cares about Aosoth? Why should he listen to her? She was the one who gave…why don’t you just think of a monster to kill these two and then give the Eye to Aosoth, came a little voice creeping about in his skull. That’s what she would have done, but he shouldn’t do what she should, should he?
Letting another bolt of magical energy loose, Gangrene had given Daryl a small shock. ‘Don’t want any head monsters on our way there, do we?’
Bob and Gary both entered Aosoth’s laboratory, seeing it a little darker than usual. Looking down, they saw it was because their mistress’ eyes weren’t open, with her rolling around on the floor in extreme laughter. She had been like that all day. Upon hearing her lackeys enter, however, she restrained herself, and let the red of her eyes illuminate the room once more.
‘What is it, you two?’
‘Well, Bob here was getting a bit nervous about that Coover guy…’
‘Hey, you’re the one that’s nervous!’
‘Oh, calm down you two,’ said Aosoth, rubbing her crystal ball, ‘Look.’
The two did as she commanded, and sniggered. ‘Look, they’ve got Daryl on a lead,’ said Gary.
‘Yes,’ said Aosoth, sniggering along with them. ‘How the mighty have fallen. And any minute now he’s going to create a head monster, and I’ll be two enemies the less.’ Backing away from the crystal ball, she collapsed on a nearby chair, and laughed a little more. ‘I wonder how Daryl’ll feel.’
More magical cups of coffee. More speeches from Coover. More walking. Still restrained by Gangrene’s magic, Daryl wished to fly again, just to have a little taste of the night air. He enjoyed flying at night, just for the relieving effect it had on him. More memories seemed to randomly pop into his head, his younger self flying into the air at night, just to see if he could reach the moon. Though he rarely ever did it now, he used to do it with his mother quite often.
Mother? That female dragon that kept popping up in his mind’s eye? No, that wasn’t his mother. It didn’t feel like a mother, it wasn’t a parent. So who was his mother? Could it be…well, he would do everything she would tell him to, wouldn’t he?
He’d die for her.
He’d kill for her.
Turning to look at Coover, he recalled one incident – not when he was a child – where he saw a young boy, wearing the exact same clothes, and with a similar hairstyle, dead. The mother and father came towards the boy, and they looked up at Daryl. They said nothing, but rather stared at him, their eyes burning as fiercely as those of Aosoth.
With that image recalled, Daryl swallowed, as if that would wash the memory away. Shaking himself alert, he saw that he and his ‘comrades’ were nearing Aosoth’s castle. With the night bestowing more darkness on the land than Daryl usually saw, the eyes decorating the castle were glowing brighter. The whole facade was now bathed in the same red light Aosoth gave whatever room she occupied. In fact, the castle looked like a giant statue of Aosoth’s head; even the teeth had begun to appear a little jagged.
Despite the fact he had spent most of his life there, Daryl turned to run, but then remembered the chains he was bound by, and let Gangrene control his feet. His body was driven towards the castle with those gigantic teeth and eyes, making it resemble the cranium of Aosoth. The building housing more horrible thoughts waiting to be made into creatures. He had always feared the wrath of his mistress, but now she seemed to sting from within, causing a throbbing in both his head and his body.
Perhaps it was Gangrene that was doing it. He was a wizard after all. Oh look.
He just sensed that Daryl was upset. Now he’s readying another attack.
As if by instinct, Daryl punched Gangrene right under the chin. The wizard flew backwards, rubbing his head. While Daryl gibbered mindlessly at what he had done, he did notice the chain holding him had disappeared. Just as he stretched out his wings again, he saw Coover charging towards him with that sword. While knowing he should run, his limbs remained paralysed as the boy came nearer.
‘I knew we should not have taken you, vile daemon!’ growled Coover, standing for a moment. ‘Now you will finally pay for your crimes!’
Suddenly gaining control of his arms, Daryl covered his face with his arms, awaiting his fate.
That boy’s blade never touched his neck. He didn’t feel the steel piercing his scales, rather the explosion from the head. Slowly opening one eye, he saw Coover as frozen as he was just a second ago. A loud growl echoed from atop his head, and Coover suddenly fainted.
‘There! They won’t bother us now!’ Placing his claws on the cavity, Daryl noticed that this was no little monster. The creature was too big to fully escape his head, but everything above its hips had managed to rise. Daryl got a glimpse of it when it peered down to meet his eyes. It resembled a dog of some kind, only without ears, and with a larger mouth than usual for a hound. ‘Now then…’ It slammed Daryl in the face, forcing him to crouch down. Stretching its muscular arms towards Coover’s pocket, it captured the Eye.
‘What are you doing?’
The monster waved the Eye in Daryl’s face. ‘You and I, right, we’s is gonna kill that Aosoth.’
Leaning forward, the monster caused Daryl to barge through the castle doors, stumbling all the while. When Daryl had entered, he reached upwards, scrambling for the monster’s claws. ‘Give back that eye!’
‘I’m gonna shoot Aosoth wit’ it. I don’t think you bloody well can.’
As Daryl shook his arms about, a familiar voice emitted from upstairs. ‘Daryl!’
‘Now’s my chance!’ said the hound with a snigger. With that, Daryl jabbed a claw into one of its muscles, making it squeal in pain. The sound was strangely mellifluous.
The blackness that usually surrounded the halls began to dissipate, with that familiar red light making its appearance. The pillars, the stairs, every stone that formed the room, all had suddenly become demonic relics. Everything was burning. Down came Aosoth, slithering towards Daryl with her eyes bulging.
Then everything was bathed in a different light.
From the Eye of Shodden came a white beam, banishing away the red of Aosoth’s eyes. It hit her right in the stomach, knocking her over backwards. As she regained her composure, her mouth hung open when she saw her body disintegrating. Her legs –or whatever was underneath that robe – eroded away, leaving nothing behind. As her hands grabbed a stair in hopes of escaping, her fingers, crumbled too, hissing as they left. Those eyes with which she used to intimidate and illuminate exploded, yet she did not scream. With her torso vanished, she hopped about for a while as a disembodied head, right before that shrunk. Her nose shrunk into her skull, her teeth fell right out of their gums, and then an invisible hand crumpled her head up like a sheet of paper.
Then she was gone.
Daryl quivered, staring at the Eye in his hand. When he had snatched it from the monster, the first thing he did with it was to kill Aosoth. When the monster subsided back into his brain, he dropped it to the ground, the artefact still remaining intact as it rolled away. Even though he was no longer holding it, his fingers still felt like they were being eaten away like Aosoth’s just were.
But Aosoth couldn’t be dead, could she? What if that was a clone, meant to fool Coover? Yes, Aosoth was cunning, she would be prepared for something like two heroes invading her home. She wasn’t dead, she was waiting in her laboratory to strike and be victorious. For the first time in his life, the thought of Aosoth’s eyes burning red in her laboratory put to rest the stinging in Daryl’s stomach.
Though if that were her plan, Daryl told himself, wouldn’t he have been aware of it? It was Coover and Gangrene the clone would be meant for; Daryl was Aosoth’s loyal servant, so he would be told. Once more his head shook.
Fluttering upstairs, he looked for Aosoth, his throat too dry to verbally call for her. He slammed open the door to Aosoth’s laboratory, expecting to see an enraged Aosoth barking at him for spoiling her plan. Instead, he found a room rendered a black void due to the lack of red light. When he left, he noticed how hollow the halls felt. Usually they were filled with a magnificent presence, dominating the castle and the minds of those who dwelled there.
No, the halls weren’t empty. There was something else filling them now.
Still unable to talk, and with his body still quivering, Daryl looked over his shoulder to see Bob and Gary running towards the stairs. Daryl ran too, and then took flight, soaring away from the castle just as Coover entered.
Picking up the Eye from the unholy surface of the damnable castle, Coover admired it before looking around. With his mighty sword still in hand, he slowly entered, before seeing two of the witch’s minions descend down the grand staircase. He raised his weapon, snarling with rage at the unspeakable evil these two must have aided their mistress over the years.
They did not attack however. Instead, they looked down on a pile of ashes on one of the stairs. ‘Is that…’
The fatter of the two sniffed the ashes. ‘Yep. Smells like her alright.’
Immediately, they held hands and began to dance around the stairs, leaving Coover standing there with an eyebrow raised. ‘We’re free! We’re free!’
‘What is this, vile servants of darkness?’ At Coover’s question, the two goblins turned around, smiling wider.
‘Look, Bob! He’s got the Eye of Shodden!’
‘He freed us!’
The two ran down the stairs, their arms stretched out in congratulation. They hugged Coover, making him drop his sword, but he did not mind how tight their clutches were. With the vile monster destroyed, Kirkalan would be able to welcome a new era of peace, with all fear washed away. No longer would the pale, twisted face of the pale, twisted and also unpleasant Aosoth fill their nightmares. And villages would no longer have to pay taxes either.
Above all else though, he would finally be treated as the hero he was destined to be. Kirkalan had lived in misery too long, and he would be the symbol of light they needed.
And that dragon had gone too.