A Duck, a Snake and a Ghost

This story features Anne the Duck, who previously appeared in A Duck and a Turtle.


annetheduck

‘Having falsely been accused of murdering his wife through forged confessions, Lawrence ran to this bridge and leapt off from it, ending his life. It just goes to show what a terrible thing forgery can be, even if it involves writing wrongs.’

Most of the crowd chuckled at that line, yet Anne the duck couldn’t help but feel a little pang of guilt that she was listening to someone make light of a death like that. She attempted not to cringe or show any visible distaste, so she forced a smile.

‘He thought in death he would find peace from the constant accusations, but while it was later proved he was innocent of the murders, the true murderer has never been found. So people say they have seen a ghostly dog walking the bridge, probably attempting to solve the mystery himself. Don’t know how he’s going to solve it wandering about though.’ Norbert the snake tour guide laughed at his own joke, even wiggling the tail that made up his body as he did. His son, Harry, laughed too, but no-one else did. No-one else except for Anne, her titter out of politeness.

Anne had met Harry the snake during one of her Friday night outings, when Melissa had convinced her to go down to The Jungle nightclub. When she walked up to the dance floor, Harry slithered up beside her and danced with her. After they had tired each other out, he bought a round for the both of them – without her even asking him to – and they went up to the smoking area to have a chat. They met at the club again the next week, and then they shared phone numbers and Facebook pages.

harrythesnake

Harry attended the same university Anne did, so they often stopped by each other’s dorms for help with each other’s work, or just to get to know each other better (yes, in every sense of the phrase). One thing Anne learned about Harry while in his room was that Harry was an aspiring horror writer, with shelves full of King and Barker and Halloween decorations when it was nowhere near October.

Anne had read a couple of his short stories, and thought them well-written, if not what she would call tasteful. One such story was about a serial killer who beheaded people and displayed their heads in his cellar. He had beheaded a giraffe and the scene where he cut off bits and pieces of the giraffe’s neck so it would fit on the display was described in too much detail.

Despite his interests, Anne did enjoy spending time with Harry, so when he invited her to spend the weekend with him in his hometown, she agreed. Catterville, considered one of the most haunted towns in England, with the gift shops displaying ghouls and goblins on their windows, and a ghost tour conducted by none other than Harry’s father.

‘And now we come to the street where the Slithering Snake Spectre is supposed to lurk…’ He then described a boa constrictor serial killer who crushed his victims to death before he was captured and hung for his crimes. It sounded like…something that Harry would write, in fact.

‘It’s said that his ghost still wonders these parts, continuing his killings,’ said Norbert, turning away from the tour group, ‘but we all know it’s just a story…or maybe the Slithering Snake Spectre…is right here!’ Norbert turned around, revealing his eyes were now a fiery red. Everyone in the group sighed; even Anne only flinched when Norbert took out the contacts, as it reminded her of the time she tried out contact lenses.

‘Thank you for coming,’ said Norbert to the group, ‘that concludes our tour, be sure to visit many of our fine establishments.’ The rest of the group disbanded, yet Anne stayed with Harry and his father. ‘And thank you for coming, Anne,’ said Norbert, ‘I hope you enjoyed the tour.’

‘It was…interesting,’ said Anne, ‘I can see where your son gets his inspiration from.’

‘Yeah,’ replied Norbert, ‘we’re hoping he writes the next big bestseller. Maybe he’ll even include you in his next story.’

Anne knew that remark was a joke, yet she couldn’t help but imagine herself as the victim of one of Harry’s many serial killers, her severed head rotting in a dark basement.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, which actually gave Anne a brief chill before he added, ‘Anne, how would you like me to write a story where you’re a vampire hunter? Can you imagine yourself going down into the crypts with a stake in one hand and a gun that shoots silver bullets in the other?’

Once that mental image replaced the one involving her severed head, Anne smiled widely. There she was, making her way down the stone staircase illuminated by flaming torches, pausing when she saw the coffins. It was just like those fantasies she had when she was a duckling, what she’d imagine during playtimes. The vampires would rise and bear their fangs, and Anne would raise her gun…

‘Don’t you use silver bullets on werewolves?’ Anne asked Harry.

‘They can be used on vampires too,’ replied Harry.

‘Well,’ said Norbert, ‘vampires aren’t real, so you can really do whatever you want with them. Anyway, we better get back home, dinner should be ready.’

With Norbert and Harry’s talk about death and ghosts, it was surreal to see Margaret Hepford, the matriarch of the family, be a bright green snake in a pink dress. ‘Well,’ she said as she took off her husband’s top hat, ‘did you lot see any ghosts tonight?’

‘No, we didn’t, thank goodness,’ laughed Anne.

‘Well, I bet these two were disappointed,’ replied Margaret, pointing to her husband and son with her tail.

‘A little,’ said Norbert, taking off his greatcoat.

‘Well, for dinner, we’re having stew, and here’s some bread for…’

Anne gulped. ‘I’m sorry, I really don’t like bread. Do you have any seeds or anything?’

They did not, so Anne had the stew on its own. ‘You know,’ said Anne, looking at her bowl ‘this reminds me of a story my mum told me about what happened to her friend. He was a crane, right, and he knew a fox…’ After she told the story, she changed the subject herself, ‘You know, part of me kind of did want to see ghosts tonight. It’s like, you know, when you’re a kid, and you’re looking at the flowers to find fairies…’

‘Maybe we’ll see a ghost when we go out later,’ said Harry, for he and Anne had planned to go see a movie after dinner.

Margaret sighed. ‘You’re not going to see that new House Party Horror movie, are you?’

‘No,’ laughed Anne, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, actually.’ She remembered that Harry didn’t even suggest a horror movie; Guardians was his first choice as he said it seemed like the only film on both of them would like.

When dinner was done, Harry escorted Anne out of his home, and Anne actually felt a little freer now that she was away from Harry’s parents. Anne was about to suggest they hold hands, but then she remembered what Harry lacked (he tapped out his stories with the end of his tail). Harry was happy just slithering close to Anne while Anne put her wing around him.

Anne had to admit that action movies always did make her feel more energetic. When she walked to the cinema with Harry, she wondered if she would fall asleep in the theatre, yet when the movie was over, she and Harry ran out – or Harry did his equivalent of running. She had been reminded of the fantasy she entertained earlier, and suddenly Catterville became catacombs, and all around her were opening coffins. She even found herself going ‘Pew, pew’, not caring that she was acting like a duckling.

So when Harry suggested they both go into the street where the Slithering Snake Spectre apparently lurked, she accepted.

That energy she had, those fantasies of fighting evil, they all vanished in an instant when she ran down that street. When all the people of Catterville seemed to fade away into darkness. Where were the streetlights? Where were the lit windows of the takeaways and the shops? All of a sudden, Catterville was empty and dark, with Anne and Harry as the only people there.

The only living people.

‘Hey,’ said Harry, close to Anne as he had been when they went to the cinema, ‘where did everybody go?’

Anne’s stomach sank. This sudden solitude she thought was simply her imagination, the same imagination that made her a vampire-hunting heroine. Silly Anne. No, she actually was all alone with no-one except Harry, standing on the streets of Catterville…no, it didn’t seem like Catterville anymore.

All the buildings seemed to twist and stretch, bending over Anne and Harry as if they were prey ready to be devoured. The sky had turned a complete pitch black with no moon and not a single star. There was soon light though, as all the buildings were soon bathed in an ethereal blue light.

Anne tightened her beak. As the light burned her eyes, she closed them and tried to think of her earlier fantasies. Of her other nights out. Of Terry the Turtle.

Her eyes forced themselves open. Down the street floated a gigantic glowing snake, manoeuvring its way through the bending buildings. It had hollow sockets, yet it seemed to stare right into Anne and Harry, and as it did, it grinned widely, revealing teeth like broken shards of glass.

slitheringsnakespectre

Harry, the same Harry who wrote of bloody murders and actually sought the supernatural, quivered on the spot, looking like his body was filled with water. The Spectre neared him.

‘No!’ cried Anne. She kept her eyes wide open, even giving her glasses a quick clean to make sure she could see the ghost clearly. After that, she tightened her fists, imagining the stake and the gun with the silver bullets in them. All her saliva had dried up, yet she attempted to force words out of her beak.

The Spectre turned to her.

She slapped it across the face.

The Spectre spoke.

‘Huh, no-one’s ever done that.’

The giant snake spectre shrunk into a little glowing globe, which then reformed itself into a deer in a tattered dress.

deirdre

‘Who are you?’ asked Anne.

‘I’m the Slithering Snake Spectre,’ said the doe, ‘and the falsely accused murderer, the headless chicken, the cyclops dog. I’m the only ghost in this town that’s real; all the people who died here went on to the afterlife. I’m just staying on this plane to give this town the ghosts it wants.’

‘Well,’ said Anne, ‘well…’ She swallowed. ‘Certainly a ghost deer should be…impressive enough…’

‘I don’t exactly have an enthralling backstory. Nothing for the tours.’

‘Um,’ replied Anne, wringing her wings, ‘my friend here…’ She pointed to Harry. ‘…his Dad does the tours. Maybe…maybe he’ll let you be a part of them…’

‘What are you doing?’ snapped Harry.

‘Um, and he’s a horror writer. Maybe…maybe if he writes a story about ghosts you can give him some advice.’

The ghost looked at Harry and then back at Anne. ‘Why are you saying this?’

‘Well, maybe…maybe I see a bit of me in you…or something,’ she laughed, ‘Maybe we could be friends.’

‘Maybe,’ said the ghost, ‘Oh, my name’s Deirdre by the way.’ She held out her hoof for Anne.

‘Anne.’ They shook what they had for hands. ‘Harry? Wanna welcome our new friend?’

Harry fainted.

The Day Frollo Took Over Wonderland

Once I had a dream where Wonderland got taken over by Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame so I decided to write a story about it.


teacher

When I got home one evening, I said to myself what all teachers must have thought at least once: ‘My students are idiots.’ As soon as I said it out loud to myself, I imagined saying it out loud in front of said students. I probably won’t have been the first teacher to do such a thing, I thought, but it probably wouldn’t make them any less stupid.

What made me say those things, you might ask? Well, I am an English Literature teacher, and one thing you learn in that position is that children these days don’t appreciate a good story.

Certainly everyone who has ever taught English Literature has had those moments. When you had to tell your class that Frankenstein was the monster’s creator, not the monster, and the monster doesn’t have a square head. When you had to tell your class Romeo and Juliet wasn’t really supposed to be romantic. When you had to tell them there was more to the story than what popular culture told them.

It was that day I had been teaching my class about The Hunchback of NotreNotre Dame de Paris. I asked my class if they knew anything about the story. First person I pointed to, Billy, all he said about it was that it was “the story about the hunchback”. It had more than just a hunchback, I told him, and then Jenny – one of the few students who actually wrote poetry in her free time, not that the poems of hers I’ve read are anything exceptional – elaborated on Billy’s point. ‘Yeah, Quasimodo his name was, I think. And…he had to live alone in the belltower, just because he looked different. I think that sucks.’

Most of what she said wasn’t wrong, but I told her that he didn’t live alone, he had been adopted. ‘Oh yeah,’ she said, ‘it was the bad guy, King Rollo or something.’

Oh, that was it. I not only corrected her about Frollo’s name, I told her that he was more than just “the bad guy”. He did evil deeds due to his lust for Esmerelda, but he did adopt Quasimodo of his own will and he did tutor Pierre. The class only saw him as “the bad guy” because that’s how Hollywood portrayed him, because of how the story had been simplified for mass consumption.

It reminded me of something I heard – I think it was from Jenny, even – about how people often rewrite Alice in Wonderland into a horror story. Someone rewrote it so that Wonderland was a monochrome wasteland ruled by a faceless demon version of the Mad Hatter. Some people.

I remembered my youth, when I read the works of Lewis Carroll, and liked the books the way they were. After reading them, I went out into the garden on those sunny summer days and looked for a rabbit hole myself. Those memories dominated my mind as I marked the day’s papers, so I only gave them half the attention I usually did. Not that it really mattered.

Each paper I looked at, I thought about the student behind it and wondered if they ever did read a great classic that wasn’t assigned to them. They didn’t have the imagination or intelligence I had when I was their age, they just lied around playing those computer games all day, their understanding of the work was basic at best…

All of a sudden, I lost all interest in marking. There was something else that deserved my attention.

Down the hall hopped a giant white rabbit. Not just any white rabbit, The White Rabbit, complete with jacket and waistcoat. The very character I had been hoping to see running through my garden as a child was running down my halls, and seeing him made me a child once again. While I knew I should have been taking a picture or alerting the public about the existence of a fictional character, I found myself chasing after him, watching him hop outside my front door.

When he leapt down that giant hole that had suddenly appeared in my front garden, I leapt down myself without a moment’s hesitation.

I fell down a hole, yet there didn’t seem to be much of a fall. I know that Alice fell and fell and passed by several objects on the way down, and yet for me, there was no transition between diving into the hole and landing among some wet weeds.

Whatever images the word “Wonderland” conjured up for me, this place had none of that. It looked more like I was in the garden of an abandoned home than anything from Lewis Carroll. The sky was shrouded in dark grey clouds, as if a storm was coming, and I stood in an overgrown garden filled with weeds and dead flowers, shuddering from the harsh breeze.

The White Rabbit took a look around and sighed, shaking his head. ‘It’s been like this ever since Frollo took over.’

My childhood dream had turned into a mockery. I swore I even saw Jenny in the garden – dirty blonde hair, checkered shirt and all – laughing at me. Just when I think I’m entering the world of my childhood, I instead enter a world full of literary perversions. Any sense of excitement or wonder I had drained from me instantly, and I could only clutch my fists.

I almost didn’t notice the White Rabbit hopping away towards something that actually did seem to come towards a fairy tale – a giant castle, decorated with hearts on its walls, and towers that resembled red licorice.

Again I followed him, all the while trying to make sense of what I had just heard. Frollo only did the evil things he did because of lust, and he was an archdeacon; he certainly didn’t seem the type for taking over a fantasy world. Did he think Esmerelda would love him if he ruled Wonderland?

As I ran through the garden, I accidentally kicked a can into the air, and when I looked down, I saw another, along with other modern rubbish.

The modern world had invaded Wonderland. It had probably invaded Frollo’s Notre Dame as well. If Frollo knew about modern junk food, he probably knew about the adaptations of his story. His psyche was unstable enough without having to learn there were films made that portrayed him as eviller than he actually was. He had been driven to hang someone, now he had been driven to embrace popular culture’s perception of him.

Now this was my chance to be a hero, like those I had read about. Not only would I free Wonderland, I would finally put my wide knowledge of literature to good use. All would finally recognise my genius. Certainly it was no accident the White Rabbit came to me; certainly he knew that there was no-one as wise as I.

The White Rabbit ran into the castle. I would have ran in after him if not for a certain figure approaching the door. A certain bald figure in priestly robes.

Something told me this was Frollo, and all of a sudden, I fully realised where I was and what I was doing. This was the realm of my childhood, the sky and grass and ground and trees and dead plants springing from the words Carroll wrote. Here before me was a character from the lugubrious works of Victor Hugo, one driven mad by lust, no less. A figure I thought of as wholly fictional, now flesh and bone before me, staring at me in a way that made my blood cold.

frollo

Yet still I cried out to him, ‘Stop!’ He narrowed his eyes and grimaced, yet I continued, ‘I know what this is,’ I continued, ‘I know what they’ve done…those stupid…you’ve been portrayed as evil….overly evil by…you did this to Wonderland because of…how they didn’t understand you. I know you’re more complex…you don’t have to…you don’t have to…’

His response was to laugh. A laugh that stung my ears and paralysed my muscles; were it not for that, I would’ve hit him in the face right there and then. He laughed and laughed, probably how he laughed when Esmerelda was hung.

‘You think I did this?’ Frollo said, looking back at the castle, then back at me, ‘Ah, they said Frollo took over, but they didn’t say which Frollo.’

I didn’t answer, but I couldn’t tell if it were out of fear or confusion. As soon as he said that, the thought entered my mind that if the literary Frollo could come into existence, one of his cinematic counterparts could as well.

‘This world has been taken over by my brother, Jehan,’ sighed Frollo, ‘Can you believe in more than a century since this world was formed, he was the one who introduced them to alcohol? They liked beer so much, they made him the new King.’ Frollo gestured towards the garden I stood in. ‘That had nothing to do with me. The people here just don’t do as much gardening as they used to, and as for the sky, well, Wonderland has rainy days like your world does.’ He took another look at the castle. ‘I came here to talk to him about this. At least he doesn’t ask me for money anymore.’

He noticed my silence and continued, ‘Oh, do you not know my brother? Have you not read my…’

‘I have, I have!’

‘If the long descriptions dissuaded you, I won’t hold it against you…’

‘No, I have, I know how your book has been…’

‘Well,’ said Frollo, ‘in relation to an earlier point, you were half right. This is because of my story’s prominence in popular culture. You see, despite my…actions, people constantly approach me, asking me to sign copies of my book as well as the film adaptations, Quasimodo too, yet Jehan, while adapted often, never quite got the cinematic fame I have. Some adaptations of Hugo’s work are fine works in their own right, but don’t include him. That’s one reason he went and did what he did here.’

Sure enough, the front door of the castle opened again, and out came a man with unkempt blonde hair holding a tankard. Following him were several playing card men, each holding tankards of their own, stumbling out of the castle. ‘Hello, brother,’ said Jehan, for that was who he was, ‘you’ve brought a friend. Have some.’

Another tankard was shoved in my face. After all that I had seen, this was exactly what I needed.

As soon as I guzzled it, I suddenly found myself back in my home, a paper stuck to my face with saliva. Of course, the logical answer to this was that it was all a dream, yet that childlike part of me awoke again and told me it was real.

The White Rabbit had to have come to me for a reason.

I took a look inside my fridge. All my beer was gone, white fur in their place.

The Chocolate Egg

I suddenly awoke at 3:00am on Easter Sunday. My pyjamas and my duvet reeked of sweat, and my throat throbbed and stung, demanding hydration. I knew I had to stand up and open the window, I knew I had to go downstairs for water, but I couldn’t. My brain begged I get up, yet my body remained still. Only my head moved, just to look at the window that needed opening, and the alarm clock proudly displaying the time and date. 3:01am Easter Sunday.

Well, the clock didn’t actually have the phrase “Easter Sunday” on it, but that’s what came to mind when I saw the date. In fact, thinking about Easter was what actually gave me the strength to stand up and open that goddamn window. Today, I thought, today I was going to meet up with Margo, and we would give each other a big chocolate egg, complete with personalised message, and then we’d go out and have dinner. I had made the reservations, I remembered, and just before they were entirely booked too.

So I had something to look forward to that day. In order to enjoy that something, I needed to be well-rested. I couldn’t be well-rested if I was hot and thirsty. I had already opened the window, and let its refreshing breeze waft into my bedroom, so now all I needed to do was get a drink of water.

As I went downstairs, I remembered Easters past, where I woke up almost as early as I did on Christmas morning, and quietly solved the clues the Easter Bunny had left and collected my eggs. I didn’t eat them right away, but saved them until the time I was actually supposed to wake up. I couldn’t remember if it was out of respect for my parents or just so the eggs could be my trophies for a few hours.

There was another chocolate egg. A big, unwrapped chocolate egg sitting on my kitchen counter. It wasn’t the egg I was going to give Margo, nor was it any egg I had bought or had been given. I couldn’t help but stare at it, forgetting my dehydration. I made sure not to touch it and told myself to call the police immediately, yet my inner child couldn’t help but chime in with a “The Easter Bunny’s been!”

Well, no matter what my inner child thought, I walked over to the telephone, but just before I could dial, I heard a thud right behind me. Instinctively I turned around and there was the egg in the hall, now sporting spider legs and sharp teeth.

chocolateegg

I no longer cared that I was dehydrated. I no longer thought about calling the police. All I could think of at that moment was help.

‘Help!’ I screamed. ‘Help!’ I yelled until I was hoarse, in a tiny hope that someone would hear me. Nobody came, but the egg still clattered along the hall. At that point, I leapt towards the front door, pulling at it furiously with futility, for I had temporarily forgotten the concept of “locking”. Just as keys came back into my mind, the egg pounced, digging its legs into my back, making my veins burn.

I tried to scream in pain, but all that came out was a gasp. I fell to the ground, and the egg leapt up into the air, landing on my stomach. It walked towards me, each of its legs clicking as it did so, and looked me over as if deciding which part of me would be the most delicious.

Again its legs dug into my skin. Again my veins seemed to scream.

Then it stood still.

It made not a movement.

I saw my chance and I crushed it.

Now what lay on my stomach were nothing but pieces of chocolate, what you’d expect if you broke a regular hollow Easter egg. No legs or eyeballs or teeth. You’d expect a creature that looked as hungry as it did to have organs, but nothing.

I ate it. I don’t know why I did it, but I ate it.

I had bought an egg and forgotten all about it. That’s what I told myself. I bought myself a chocolate egg and had thought so much about the dinner it had completely slipped my mind. The egg being a monster was all a dream. Dreams always feel real. It’s like when you wake up in the morning, then go back to sleep and then have a dream about getting ready for the day and you think you actually have gotten ready only to suddenly find yourself in bed.

I suddenly awoke at 4:00am on Easter Sunday. I needed to have a shit.

The screaming and monsters and bad dreams forgotten, I made my way to the toilet and plopped myself on my little throne, letting it loose.

I heard cheers.

As soon as I stood up, several little chocolate eggs hopped out of the toilet and ran out of the bathroom.

Daryl and Denise – Epilogue

‘Typical.’ Denise shook her head, smirking, as Daryl rose from the temple floor. ‘Didn’t kill Aosoth, couldn’t kill the little bugger there.’ Turning around, Daryl saw the creature Aruff had created for him to fight: a small round thing that almost resembled a miniature Spartypuss. It chuckled in a high-pitched way that reminded Daryl of an especially annoying cartoon character used in an advert. Were it that or Denise’s expression he wasn’t sure, but right afterwards, he got back onto his feet and kicked away the little thing, allowing it to bounce off a wall.

‘Very good, Daryl,’ said Aruff, slowly clapping. ‘Maybe next we can move you onto goblins.’

‘Still,’ said Denise, ‘It’s a start.’

Rubbing his head, Daryl took another look at the creature he kicked, and then back at Denise. ‘How long did it take you to get as good as you are?’

Denise sighed, rubbing her forehead. ‘Oh, don’t mind that. Anyway, I think that’ll be enough training for today. Now then, Daryl, do you still want to go back to your old village and get reacquainted?’

‘Of course,’ said Daryl, straightening out his tweed jacket, his vest, his tie. ‘It’s been yoinks since I’ve been there…’

‘Yoinks?’

‘A word I picked up from a book. Anyway…’ As they usually did, a thought suddenly popped into Daryl’s mind without warning. ‘They m-might not like me though.’

‘Of course they won’t,’ said Denise, folding her arms, ‘But don’t worry. I’ll talk with them about it.’

‘Okay,’ said Daryl, similar to the way a small child may reluctantly agree to his mother’s demands.

‘Hey!’ said Aruff, his voice echoing throughout the temple. ‘Do you want to atone or not?’

Turning away from Denise, Daryl nodded. ‘Yeah, sure do!’

‘Good.’ With that, Aruff created an elephantine blob that reached to the ceiling, with no facial features save for a mouth lined with fangs. Daryl charged, and ended up swallowed by the creature, swimming in slime.

Denise rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, this is going to be fun.’

Daryl and Denise – Chapter 25

darylanddenisetalk

Letting the chair clatter to the ground, Denise collapsed to her knees, staring at the spot where Aosoth had vanished. She took a moment to collect herself, tiny flames emerging from her mouth, before she felt a hand on her shoulder. Spartypuss, his bright smile regained.

‘Well,’ said Denise, chuckling to herself. ‘Just be glad your brother wasn’t here. I don’t know how he would have reacted to seeing how you heroically defeated Aosoth’s army.’

‘But that mean old witch’s gone now,’ said Spartypuss, raising his arms. ‘And it’s all because of you and Daryl!’

‘Yes,’ said Denise, actually feeling herself filling with a sense of confidence, ‘but Coover did his part too. Which reminds me…’

Springing off the road, Denise flew to the building where she put Coover, and took him back down to Earth, cap and all. ‘What is this sorcery?’ cried Coover. ‘What was I doing atop a building? Especially when I should be down there fighting the mistress of evil?’

‘The fight’s over,’ replied Denise, ‘Aosoth is gone. She’s given up.’

‘Of course!’ said Coover as he set foot on the ground. ‘She knew better than to deal with me, after all. Even in this ridiculous outfit, I was still too much for her to handle!’

‘Anyway,’ said Denise, turning to Spartypuss, ‘Aosoth is gone and can’t overpower you, so can you use your magic to rebuild this town?’

‘Of course!’ said Spartypuss, pointing to the air, ‘but first!’ Using his magic, he made balloons of several colours materialise from the ground, followed by an endless table filled with sweets, cakes, fizzy pop and just about everything that made up Spartypuss’ diet. ‘Hey, everyone!’ yelled Spartypuss, pushing Denise and Coover forward towards the freed humans. ‘These people helped save us!’

Cheering.

People were cheering for her. She had done her part in fighting Aosoth, and she was getting her reward for doing so. These people didn’t scream at her appearance or try to attack her. They only wanted to congratulate her, her prize for all her years of training.

‘Oh, you’re a dragon!’ came a voice from behind Denise. There stood a rather portly young man, with a bad case of acne and a t-shirt with a wizard that resembled Gangrene. ‘Oh, I love dragons! And you’re a girl one too!’ As the man sighed, Denise turned away and looked upwards.

‘Excuse me for a minute,’ she said, before taking to the air once again. Wearing these clothes made the flying a little more disjointed than usual, but she still beat her wings as quickly as possible, trying to navigate this alien world. Sometimes she would see buildings that reminded her of Kirkalanian architecture, but she found herself wondering why anyone would want to live in a giant white cube.

Soon enough, she came to some fields that would be like those of Kirkalan were they a different shade of green and if they didn’t have that big curve piercing them. Just being in a place that wasn’t the native home she had made her feel a little dizzy, and made her circle about twice before she gently landed to regain her bearings. As her head grew more solid, she told herself that she had seen a certain green and brown figure land somewhere, and tried to remind herself where it went. She flew again, but not too far from the ground, and soon enough found Daryl sitting by himself among the grass.

‘Oh,’ he said, lifting his head upward, ‘It’s you. I’m…I’m sorry I didn’t kill Aosoth.’

‘You really should have, Daryl.’

Standing up, Daryl replied, ‘It’s what she wanted me to do.’ Upon saying this, Daryl covered his face with his hands, scrunching it up. ‘I felt bad about…’

‘Yes?’

‘Never mind. What she was trying to do was make sure that I couldn’t live up to my father.’

‘I know, Daryl,’ said Denise, walking towards him. ‘Your father was a great dragon. He was the best of us.’

‘You told me that,’ said Daryl, with a slight growl in his voice. Taking a deep breath, he asked, ‘Did he really kill Aosoth’s father?’

‘What else could he do?’ said Denise, grabbing Daryl’s jacket. ‘You bloody well think…’ She slowly let go of Daryl, hanging her head.

‘I just thought…I just thought there’d be another way.’ Sighing, he added, ‘But if you want to kill me, go ahead, I guess.’

‘I don’t want to kill you, Daryl.’ Denise put her hand on Daryl’s shoulder. ‘You had no choice in the matter, did you?’

‘No,’ replied Daryl.

Denise’s eyes widened. ‘What did she do to you, Daryl? Tell me.’

Daryl described everything he could remember. All the torture and the verbal and physical abuse hurled his way, and of course, his earliest memories of his old village.

‘No dragon should have to go through that, Daryl,’ replied Denise.

‘Oh, well, thank you.’

‘I want to help you, Daryl. I know how you can be trained to have a stronger backbone against your foes, how you can be more like your father was. The way you fought Aosoth reminded me of him a little.’

Daryl’s eyes shifted back and forth. ‘I don’t know.’

‘I’ll help you go back to your village. I’ll reintroduce you to all the other dragons and…’ She shook her head. ‘I don’t know either.’

‘No, no,’ said Daryl, ‘I think it’s a good idea.’

‘So, you want to go back to Kirkalan then?’

‘I want…I want to redeem myself. I really do.’

‘I understand,’ said Denise. ‘I’ll bring you back to Kirkalan, and I’ll help you get the training you deserve.’ She put her finger to her chin as she thought it over.  ‘I know this really good trainer.’

‘I’d appreciate that a lot,’ Daryl nodded.

‘Thank you.’ Denise looked to the sky, beginning to beat her wings. ‘Now, if you’d like to join me, Spartypuss is holding a party.’

‘Okay,’ was all Daryl said before joining her.

The two dragons flew back to the street where the party was being held, and it certainly was in full swing. Speakers that were almost as tall as the surrounding buildings now stood where Aosoth’s throne used to be, letting frantic and ferocious music pound across the area. These sounds made Denise lose her sense of balance and spiralled right into a building. After she pulled herself out, blaming both the music and the general feel of her clothing, she turned around to see a smiling Daryl dancing away to the ungodly sounds emanating from the speakers.

‘You actually like that?’ Denise asked, hands on hips.

‘It took me a while to get used to it,’ said Daryl as loud as he could, ‘but it grows on you.’

‘What…’ All of a sudden, Denise noticed her body moving on its own accord. Her tail swayed back and forth, her wings opening and closing randomly and her legs moved about in several different directions. Due to the discordant nature of her legs, she once again lost balance and, her arms swaying about as much as her legs, Denise almost hit the ground. Before she could do that, however, Daryl grabbed her by the arm and brought her back to her feet. ‘That happens,’ he said.

‘Thanks,’ replied Denise, brushing herself off. The music having lost its hypnotic effect on her – those things never last – Denise walked past the people in hopes of finding Coover and Spartypuss, just to have a chat with them about how things ended up. For a minute, she stood and looked at the many people dancing and enjoying themselves – and those who were covering their ears and yelling – and noticed that they noticed her. Some waved to her, some just seemed to ignore her, but they weren’t attacking her, nor were they accusing her of any wrongdoings or anything like that.

As she looked away, though, she saw none other than Aruff speaking with Spartypuss. Though it was still hard to hear anything with the music pounding away, Denise still found herself able to overhear their conversation. Probably because they were gods, really.

‘Ooh, brother,’ said Spartypuss, ‘Did you see me against Aosoth’s army? I lasted a full hour without breaking into tears!’

‘I bet you did,’ said Aruff, ‘Still, it’s nice that you tried something new.’

‘Punch?’

‘Brought some boar’s blood,’ replied Aruff, making a stein of said blood appear before guzzling it down.

‘Aruff!’ said Denise, and when she appeared, Spartypuss used his magic to turn down the volume of the speakers slightly. ‘Do you think you’re ready to take on another student?’

‘Oh really?’ said Aruff, raising an eyebrow. ‘It’s not that Daryl, is it?’

‘Well…’

‘Because I’d be happy to take on one of Aosoth’s own!’ Aruff grinned, spilling some of his drink as he raised out his hands as if he were going to give Denise a hug. ‘It would be interesting, and Kirkalan could certainly stand to be more interesting. Where is Daryl?’

Speak of the devil, Daryl showed up. A disposable cup of Ribena in one hand, he turned to Aruff and shuddered. ‘Your brother?’ Daryl asked Spartypuss.

‘Oh no!’ Aruff slapped his face. ‘You’ve been listening to what my brother says, haven’t you? You really do need my help.’

‘What?’

‘You said you wanted training to help redeem yourself,’ said Denise, ‘Well, here you go.’

Daryl shrugged. ‘I don’t have anything better to do.’

Daryl and Denise – Chapter 24

darylvsaosoth

‘Hello, Daryl,’ said Denise, scratching at her trousers. ‘Here to help your mistress, eh?’

Just then, Daryl noticed Spartypuss beside her, and that the fellow in the baseball cap and jacket was Coover. ‘Oh,’ said Daryl, laughing a little, ‘you escaped. That’s good.’

‘Yes.’ Denise snarled a little. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, we’ve got to go face Aosoth.’

‘But…’

‘You!’ Coover pointed at Daryl. ‘Let us bring harsh punishment upon the murderous scoundrel.’

‘Let’s just leave him alone,’ said Denise, bringing Spartypuss and Coover with her, ‘He isn’t a threat. He can’t even help us. He’s nothing.’

The first dragon Daryl had seen in decades and this is what she had to say about him?

Instantly, Daryl remembered what she had told him in the dungeons. About him being a coward. And he was a coward too. Why else would he refuse to fight those skeletons and dethrone Aosoth again? Then came the image of his father, once again shaking his head and scowling at him.

But Denise would save the day, wouldn’t she? Wouldn’t Coover and even Spartypuss help out too? He wasn’t meant to help others. Some people were, some people weren’t. The peasants who had their village invaded weren’t meant to be heroes, they were meant to be saved. They didn’t endlessly complain about not being heroes, so why should Daryl? He wasn’t his father. Denise and Coover were better-trained than he was, and Spartypuss had magical powers, they were more than capable of saving England. And this world had highly-trained law enforcement too, so surely they could aid Denise, Coover and Spartypuss.

Despite telling himself that he should be staying out of this whole palaver, Daryl beat his wings and took to the air until he landed on top of a building, one that didn’t have black spires emerging out of it. Oh yes, more of those had arose, and one or two buildings now had gargoyles jutting out from them. Aosoth could create all sorts of architectural wonders from her fingertips, so Daryl wondered why she had her statue built by hand. Then he remembered Aosoth was evil. How could he forget?

Fluttering down slightly, Daryl looked as several police cars rode in near Aosoth’s throne, and some bobbies dove out. With thoughts that he might be an accessory to the crime as it were, Daryl flew right back up to the rooftops as the police drew out their guns. ‘You are under arrest for public disturbance, enslaving innocent people and having blank red eyes,’ said an officer on a megaphone. ‘Descend from your throne of pain with your hands up.’

‘And if I refuse?’ bellowed Aosoth. ‘Do you have a malicious army of the undead on your side?’

‘No,’ replied the officer.

‘Well then.’ More skeletons arose from the ground and leapt towards the policemen on the scene, poking and prodding them until they writhed on the ground in agony. ‘Now we have enough people working on my statue, so, I don’t know, throw them in a dungeon…’ She placed a finger on her nose. ‘Or better yet, have them build a dungeon!’ She laughed again, right until a bone hit her right between the eyes. Daryl descended slightly down again to see the three heroes make their way past the enslaved Brits to battle the skeleton armies. While Coover tried to fight them off with his sword, only to be punched by one in the face, Denise was dashing through the crowds, fighting whatever she could. She grabbed skeletons before they could grab her, knocking their heads off, throwing them to the ground. Still flapping above her, Daryl felt his legs tell him to go join her in the chaos, but his wings were content to stay where they were.

A loud scream pierced the air. While there were plenty of screams about, this one was the loudest and most familiar: Spartypuss.

It was the sound of his voice that made Daryl swoop down towards where the battle had just commenced. Despite his power, Spartypuss was running around with a skeleton clutching his shoulders, and another biting his leg. Slamming his foot down on the second skeleton’s ribcage, Daryl managed to get it off Spartypuss’ leg. As Spartypuss noticed having one less corpse clinging onto him, Daryl reached for the skeleton on the cat’s back. It leapt off, hands reaching for Daryl’s neck. Indeed, it did get a chance to throttle Daryl, right before Daryl kicked its leg off. Before the leg could rejoin the body, Daryl punched the skeleton to bits, making sure to toss away the skull.

‘Yay! You saved me!’ cried Spartypuss. Before he could hug Daryl, however, Daryl was knocked over backwards by a strong force. That force being none other than Coover.

‘I should have known you’d be aiding the mistress of darkness in her conquest!’ Coover spat in Daryl’s face as he placed his foot down on the dragon’s stomach. Feeling that trepidation return, Daryl closed his eyes and turned away.

He received a slight bonk on the head.

Opening his eyes, Daryl saw Coover wielding a plastic traffic cone. ‘What maliciousness is this?’ said Coover, looking over his pseudo-weapon. ‘Where is my sword?’ After he asked that question, his eyes bulged, with him fumbling about in his pockets. ‘And where is the Eye of Shodden? Did you thieve it, foul monster?’ Daryl shook his head. ‘A likely story. Perhaps a few whacks of this surreal sculpture shall make you confess?’

Coover, however, ended up whacked himself, and with his own sword at that. A skeleton now wielded it, and was about to dig it through Coover’s skull before Coover leapt out of its way. It then hit Coover right in the face, knocking him unconscious. Once again, the skeleton lifted up the sword, right before Daryl dived in and grabbed its arms. A bout of struggling ensued before Daryl managed to knock the skeleton over. As it clattered to the floor, Daryl picked Coover off of the ground, and looked for some place safe to take him.

Before he could fly upwards, however, another skeleton leapt up in front of him and touched him between the eyes. That scorching pain flooded his body again, and Daryl dropped Coover while holding the spot where he was prodded. Hearing a swooping sound, he turned around to see Denise fighting off the skeleton attacking Coover. ‘Fat lot of help you are,’ she said to Daryl.

After she had managed to get Coover to a safe place atop a building, Denise dove down to face more skeletons, while Daryl rose upwards to watch her. That energy he had gained when saving Coover had vanished, and he hoped watching Denise would have that energy return. Having brought Coover to safety, she turned her attention towards the skeletal hordes, breaking them to pieces and breaking them again when they reformed. She certainly fought better than Daryl could hope to do. A skeleton reached to touch her on the forehead, but she detached the arm right away. When the skeletons began to multiply, she rose into the air and quickly descended, just to take out many at a time.

That’s what he needed.

Just like Denise, he dove down towards the skeletons, eager to shatter them to bits, to remind Aosoth that she had no place in this world.

The skeletons piled on top of him.

That energy vanished, and all he could do now was wave his arms about as if merely doing that would stop the skeletons from trying to suppress his actions. The words of Denise filled his brain again. He was a coward. He was useless. That figure in the crystal ball, leading the dragons to victory and persuading them to rise above their reputation? That figure had nothing to do with Daryl. Daniel was supposed to inspire the dragons, to help them succeed. Daniel defeated evil and destroyed monstrosities.

What was Daryl meant to do?

These thoughts did not just suddenly appear when the skeletons had Daryl in their clutches. They had been creeping about, waiting for the right moment to strike. Ready to create another of those creatures.

Sure enough, something did come out of Daryl’s head – something that resembled a purple ghost- which sent the skeletons that had previously had him in their clutches stumbling over backwards. Daryl may have been free of the skeletons, but the spectral monster had now taken hold of him, wrapping around his body like a snake, reducing the use of his arms.

‘If you’re going to help,’ growled Denise as she approached Daryl, ‘you might want to try actually fighting the army.’

‘But why help anyway?’ hissed the monster into Daryl’s ear. ‘You’ll just fail. It won’t change anything you’ve done.’

Denise looked at the monster. ‘He’s sorta right. You shouldn’t be helping; you need help.’

Before she could return to the fight, however, Denise found herself blasted by a bolt of yellow energy. Falling to her knees, Bob and Gary grabbed her by the shoulders, and kicked her. Daryl stepped forward to help her, but the ghost-like monster constricted him tighter, and threw him to the ground, dragging him away. His head lifted up though, and Daryl watched Denise get tortured by Bob and Gary. They had those special swords that could deliver electric shocks, and used them to their full potential, giggling as Denise screamed in agony.

Déjà vu.

The ruined buildings of England began to shrink away, transforming into a set of burning huts under a sky strewn with thick clouds. By one of the burning huts, there lay another female dragon, the flames nearby reflected in her tears. Behind her stood Bob and Gary, the red light in the area making them look more demonic than they deserved to look. Suddenly, their hellish red aura became an eerie blue as Bob raised the glowing sword. Slamming it down, the female dragon screeched before covering her face. Again, Bob raised it and threw it down. Again she screamed.

The blue then melted away to make way for the red of the flame, as Gary raised a sword of his own.

Daryl closed his eyes as he heard one final scream.

Then there were more screams. Those of his people. Those of the neighbours he passed by when he was playing outside, who would often wave at him and say hello. Those of some other dragon children who would sometimes play ball with him.

‘Hey, Aosoth,’ said Bob, ‘You want us to kill the kid too?’

‘Weren’t you listening?’ Daryl heard Gary say as the claws tightened around Daryl’s arms. ‘She has plans for him.’

‘Indeed,’ came the low voice of Aosoth, running her fingers down Daryl’s neck. ‘This young lad has so much potential…’

‘No!’ Daryl raised his arms and released himself from both the memory and the monster’s grasp. Knocking it over, he dove for Bob and Gary, knocking off their helmets. With Gary under his claws, Daryl stared at his frightened face for a few seconds before plunging his fist between Gary’s eyes. Gary’s skin strangely felt like a marshmallow, but that just seemed to add to the sense of satisfaction – Gary’s face had become a giant stress ball. With Gary out cold, Daryl turned his attention towards Bob, the fat little squat running away. Daryl let him run – the mere fact that he was afraid was satisfaction enough. Another skeleton approached however, and Daryl whacked it away without a thought.

‘Daryl?’ Looking down, Daryl saw that Denise was still alive. ‘Well, I suppose I should thank you…’

While he did need some reassurance at that moment, Daryl found himself ignoring Denise, for he actually felt ideas form in his head. Nothing that could make monsters rise; actual, honest ideas on how he could help. ‘Hey! Skeletons! Come and get me!’ Flying off, Daryl forced the skeletons to follow him, until he came to a building and rose upward.

The building was a television shop.

Even in all the carnage, the televisions were still on, and the skeletons were fixated on what was playing. Their enslaving and battling were all forgotten in favour of reality shows and trashy celebrities. From atop the shop, Daryl found himself laughing at what had happened. Oh yes, he needed laughter. Even though some of his confidence had returned to him, there was still that rumbling growing stronger and quicker.

Aosoth arose from her throne. She who had enslaved him, turned him into a pathetic, snivelling little lackey and was now planning to torture him further. That’s what she lived for, wasn’t it? It was what she needed to make her feel alive. She said so herself.

It wasn’t Daryl’s fault he was seen as a monster by the people of Kirkalan. It was Aosoth’s, all Aosoth’s fault. And she needed to be punished.

Diving down from the building, Daryl fluttered in front of a grinning Aosoth, still sitting on her throne. ‘Well, well, well,’ Aosoth said, shaking her head, ‘So you thought you could save this silly little land and stop me, did you? You wanted to be the hero for once.’ Daryl tightened his fists, furious flame rising from his nostrils. ‘Oh, someone’s a little peeved. What is it? Is it because you couldn’t live up to your father? Is it because Denise doesn’t want to go out with you? Oh!’ Her eyes bulged, almost blinding Daryl with their light. ‘You remembered, didn’t you? Yes,’ she added, feigning regret by putting her arm over her face, ‘I did kill your mother and some of your dragon friends. All so I could take over. How cruel I was. So go ahead, Daryl. Put me to rest.’

As Daryl was getting ready to blow a torrent of fire in her face, she tossed him something, which he grabbed without really intending to. The Eye of Shodden. ‘What is this?’

‘You hate my guts, don’t you, Daryl? And you do want to be the hero your father was?’ She folded her arms, looking at the humans she towered over. ‘Your father killed my father, and he enjoyed every minute of it.’

‘I killed you once.’

‘Yes, but nobody acknowledged it, did they?  And look, you have an audience! The people of England will watch you kill me, and they’ll name you a hero. Maybe you won’t even have to pay taxes anymore. And look,’ She pointed downwards at a certain green figure. ‘And another dragon too!  Just think, if you destroy me, she’ll see it. She’ll tell all the other dragons, and they’ll forgive the bad reputation you gave them!  They’ll think of you the same way they did your father!’

Daryl looked at the Eye and played about with it, while staring at Aosoth. Once again, he heard her dying screams and saw her disintegrating form. He wasn’t told to kill her then, he did it because he wanted to. But he didn’t want to kill, now, did he?

Aosoth could get resurrected again, couldn’t she? That’s why she wanted him to kill her, so she could get resurrected again and could gloat at him about it. So perhaps he could just use the Eye on her anyway, it wouldn’t matter. She deserved to die as many times as possible, anyway.

‘Come on, Daryl. Hurry up. Be a hero.’ Aosoth put her arms on her hips, raising an eyebrow. ‘Maybe if I die a second time, they won’t bother resurrecting me.’

Daryl punched Aosoth right in the face.

When Aosoth rubbed her face from the pain, she still smiled. ‘Oh, they all saw that, didn’t they? They know how brave you are to face little old me. So go ahead, finish me off.’

Daryl once again looked at the Eye, and held it as he did during Aosoth’s first death, before pulling it away and observing it again. Turning around, he looked to the crowds to see skeletons not distracted by television poking some more people, Spartypuss still running away screaming, and Denise looking upwards. Her claws were clenched with anticipation; she obviously wanted Daryl to do as Aosoth was commanding. The Eye was still in his hand, and Daryl forced himself to look at it.

Then he threw it to the ground.

The Eye shattered into pieces, its power wafting away from the broken shell, making the skeleton army vanish in a second. Shuddering more than he would have done had he actually done the deed, Daryl stared at the cackling Aosoth. ‘Now look what you’ve done. I’ll enslave this land forever more, now, because of you! Just because you’re a coward!’

While flinching a little, Daryl walked up to Aosoth, chortling to himself. ‘No…no, I’m not a coward.’

‘Of course you are.’

‘It’s you who’s the coward.’ Daryl laughed again, this time a small amount of fire emitting from his mouth. ‘I know what you were trying to do. You were afraid of a fair fight.’

‘Um, Daryl,’ said Aosoth. ‘You do know I’m evil, don’t you?’

Daryl’s response to this was to not only hit her again, but pick her up and throw her down from her throne. It didn’t kill her – nothing could now – but she was still hurt from it. Rising up from the ground, a beam of energy shot out from her palm, and while it singed Daryl’s shoe a little, it still missed him. He beat his wings quicker, and flew down to where his old boss stood. Her hands lit up again, blazing as strongly as her eyes. Daryl ran to her, reaching for her hand in hopes of stopping a spell before it happened, but instead found another beam ramming him right in the stomach, sending him cartwheeling to the wall of a shop.

As Aosoth blew the smoke off her finger, she approached Daryl slowly, smirking. Daryl then pried himself away from the wall, and bore his claws. Aosoth looked just as she did all those years ago, back when she took Daryl away to her castle, where she would raise him in her own twisted way. She wore the same face she bore when she had Daryl put on the rack, when Daryl felt his limbs would be ripped off his body.

With all those memories rising once more, it was no surprise that a certain creature had returned. The pseudo-dog rose again, and lunged towards Aosoth. Aosoth created a small burst of flame as the dog approached, singing it. As it felt the flame, it rose upwards, laughing, only to come crashing down upon Aosoth’s head, almost flattening her.

While she raised her hand again in order to attack, the dog tightly clutched her wrist and threw her into the air before catching her again, beginning to juggle her. Daryl couldn’t help but chuckle.

Then the monster retreated within Daryl’s head, taking Aosoth with it.

While Daryl did gain quite a headache, his head did not change shape, nor did he actually feel Aosoth against the inside of his head. When he tried walking, he managed to keep his balance. Well, right until Aosoth splatted to the ground right before him. Trembling, she rose. ‘Wh-what…’

Then Denise hit her with a chair.

‘Oh,’ grumbled Aosoth as she collapsed to the road face first. ‘Well, Daryl, my spell did what it was supposed to do.’ Daryl stared at Aosoth with narrowed eyes. ‘Still, I could have done without seeing what’s in your mi…’ She shuddered again. ‘Screw it. I’m off.’ With another glowing claw, she made her throne disappear, then the new architecture, and finally herself.

As soon as Aosoth disappeared, Daryl flew away.

Daryl and Denise – Chapter 23

denisedressed

With Aosoth, Daryl, Bob and Gary out of the room, Spartypuss turned himself visible again, and re-opened Denise’s door, this time with her stepping out, albeit slowly. ‘I can’t very well stay here,’ said Denise, ‘If I do, she’ll try and make me her minion. But…’ She held her head in her hand.

‘Oh…’ Spartypuss quivered again. ‘Does this mean we’ll be going after her?’

‘No. It’s far too risky. I still feel I am unready to fight her and you…well…’ She looked about the dungeon for a while before turning back to Spartypuss, ‘First, please teleport me out of here.’ So Spartypuss raised his arms and magicked them away from Aosoth’s dungeon, and into a spot of quicksand. As Denise began to sink into the murky deep, Spartypuss then transported them to a wheat field. ‘We’ve got some travelling to do, Spartypuss, but I think we should walk to those destinations.’

‘Sorry,’ said Spartypuss, his eyes widening.

‘Don’t feel bad for yourself. We’ve got to focus. As much as a dump England apparently is, we still can’t let Aosoth take over.’

‘And we have to save Daryl too.’

‘Probably,’ replied Denise, folding her arms, ‘Now, we must find Coover, for he still has the Eye of Shodden, and maybe my mentor and your brother could be of use too.’

‘Oh no,’ said Spartypuss as he and Denise began to walk away from the field. ‘Aruff liked it when Aosoth ruled. He’s been saying Kirkalan has been boring without her!’

‘He is one of this land’s best fighters though,’ said Denise, ‘and he has the power to go up against Aosoth.’

‘Her power is far greater than that of both of us,’ said Spartypuss before he fainted, upsetting the wheat. Rolling her eyes, Denise grabbed Spartypuss by the undersides of his arms – he was very light to carry – and flew off into the sky, looking down at the scenery below. As much as she had to hide, she did have a good knowledge of how Kirkalan was laid out, and Coover’s house was certainly easy to find – and hard to miss – given how large and over-decorated it was. With the town full of people going about their business, Denise gently lowered herself and Spartypuss out of sight, and hid behind a house. With Spartypuss coming to, she gestured to him to follow her and they set off towards Coover’s residence.

Upon reaching it, Denise peeked through the window and saw that Coover was indeed inside, shining his shoes. Taking a deep breath, making sure not to let any fire escape, Denise dove in, and made the boy leap over backwards. ‘You again!’

‘Yes,’ said Denise, stretching out her wings, ‘I have something I need to discuss with you.’

‘Is it about how you wish for recognition…’

‘No!’ cried Denise, sending Coover scrambling for his sword. ‘It’s Aosoth!’

 

‘Her? The vile enchantress whom I vanquished?’

Denise held Coover by the arms, shaking him wildly. ‘She’s been resurrected and you have to stop her!’ One of her eyes bulged. ‘If you did stop her the first time.’

‘Preposterous!’ laughed Coover, ‘No-one would dare resurrect a black-hearted being such as Aosoth!’

‘Of course they would!’ Denise snarled, revealing every one of her jagged teeth. ‘There are people like that you know! Now, do you have the Eye of Shodden?’

‘Look, reptilian thing…’

‘Do you have the Eye?’

‘This is a trick, I know it!’

‘Do you have it or not?’

‘Yes. But I know what you want it for. You want to use it to destroy Kirkalan, do you not?’

Denise gritted her teeth as she released Coover. ‘I don’t want it. I want you to use it on Aosoth. Spartypuss! Spartypuss!’ Running to the window, Denise looked at Spartypuss, noticing some smoke rising from her nostrils. ‘Spartypuss, help me!’

‘B-but you’re being nasty!’

‘Well…of course I’m being nasty, what else can I be at a time like this?’

‘Coover?’ Turning away from Spartypuss, Denise saw a couple enter the room – a burly man and a thin woman – and the female of the two shrieked upon seeing Denise. ‘Son!’

‘Yes, father,’ said Coover, reaching for his sword, ‘This vile dragon was just trying to trick me out of the Eye of Shodden.’

Hearing this, Denise roared, which seemed to shake the entire house, sending both of Coover’s parents running away. ‘Monster!’ cried Coover, finally wielding his sword. As he swung it at Denise, she dove and slid down the floor. Coover lifted his sword again, but then found himself falling to the floor face-first, dropping his sword. Before he could pick it up, his hand was scrunched by a certain green claw. Once again, Denise lifted up Coover and brought his face closer to hers, with Coover sweating from how hot her breath was.

‘Listen here, you,’ said Denise, trembling, ‘Aosoth is back, I saw her get resurrected myself with my own eyes. You killed her once, you’ll bloody well kill her again, do you get me?’

‘Um,’ said Coover, eyes darting about to avoid Denise’s glare, ‘I suppose I must listen to you, despite what you are. What is Aosoth planning?’

‘She is planning to invade and dominate England. Spartypuss will transport us there and we will face her and destroy her, won’t we Spartypuss?’

Spartypuss instantly crawled into Coover’s house, looking at Denise. ‘Y-yes.’

‘Now fetch us the Eye, Coover.’ Coover did just that, opening a chest in the corner of his room and bringing out the Eye. ‘Good. Now keep it close to you at all times. We’re going to see Aruff to see if he can help us.’

‘But I told you,’ said Spartypuss. ‘He’s wanted Aosoth back.’

‘Yes,’ said Coover, ‘He’s had such little to do ever since I defeated her. The heroes he trained did want to kill her, after all.’

‘Very well then,’ said Denise as she led Coover and Spartypuss outside, ‘I’ll see if Gangrene can help us.’ So with more hiding and creeping later, Denise, Spartypuss and Coover arrived at Gangrene’s home, and he soon arrived at the door. ‘Gangrene,’ said Denise, ‘My suspicions about Aosoth were correct. She’s been resurrected.’

‘Ah, yes,’ said Gangrene, nodding his head, ‘I have sensed something evil rising.’

‘I have just escaped from the dungeons,’ said Denise. ‘My blood was used in her resurrection.’

‘Aha!’ cried Coover, pointing a finger at Denise, ‘I knew you had some part to play…’ He would have said more if small flames were not emitting from Denise’s nostrils. ‘Apparently she is to attack a little-known land known as England.’

‘That place?’ Gangrene sighed. ‘Oh, let her do that, it’ll make it more interesting.’

‘We still can’t let her get away though!’

‘Oh come on,’ said Gangrene, fingers on the door, ‘Coover saved Kirkalan from Aosoth, and you’ve been a good student. I’m too old for all of this nonsense. ‘

‘Well, fine then,’ snorted Denise. ‘I guess we three will have to defeat Aosoth on our own then. Spartypuss, send us to Aosoth’s lair, and try and concentrate this time.’

Spartypuss concentrated hard as Denise had told him to do, but teleported himself and his two friends into a cave of some kind. When a loud growl echoed throughout the cave, Spartypuss tried again, and had this time led Denise and Coover into the forest near Aosoth’s castle. ‘Close enough,’ said Denise, and she flew towards and into the castle, with Coover and Spartypuss following behind her. Ignoring the darkness and emptiness of the main hall, Denise still flew up the stairs, and searched for any sign of Aosoth. A loud crackling caught her ears, instinctively causing her to take to her feet and run to where she heard the crackling. Swinging open a prominent-looking door, Denise was greeted a flash of light. There stood Aosoth, Bob and Gary, all bathed in a brilliant white aura, and before Denise could do anything with them, they vanished.

‘Damn it,’ snarled Denise as Coover and Spartypuss caught up with her. ‘We’re too late.’

‘If you cannot bring us to this accursed abode on time,’ said Coover to Spartypuss, ‘Can you at least give us some illumination?’ Spartypuss created a torch to lighten up the dank depths of Aosoth’s castle, and to reveal his wide mouth trembling.

‘We can’t stay here though,’ Denise shook her head, ‘We have to get to England.’

‘Well,’ said Spartypuss, ‘Like I told Daryl, you can’t go there like that; you need some new clothes.’

‘Wait, did you just say…?’ Before Denise could finish her sentence, she found herself engulfed in a burst of smoke. When the smoke cleared, she found herself wearing a pair of black trousers and a white shirt, both of which had holes for her wings and tail, and her toes were contracted by a pair of neat black shoes.

‘Hmm, maybe Coover too. People don’t dress like that there.’ Creating another burst of smoke, Coover’s wardrobe changed as well; he now bore a t-shirt, a bomber jacket, jeans and the ensemble was topped off by a backwards baseball cap.

‘What is the meaning of this?’ Coover yelled, ‘Throwing away the clothes of a warrior for these ridiculous articles! You may be a god, but this is a blasphemy!’

Hearing this, Spartypuss buried his head in his hands and began to cry again, before Denise slapped him on the shoulder. ‘Get on with it!’


Daryl knew this street. He had walked down it several times, flown past it several times, and had done so much of his shopping there. Didn’t he even consider a job in one of the shops there? All the time he had spent in this world, this street had a more magical air than some of the more enchanted spots in Kirkalan, with each of the shops promising new things for Daryl to try and use. He still hadn’t gotten round to eating chocolate Weetabix.

Not that he would ever get a chance to, now that Aosoth had arrived in England. Her grand entrance, being engulfed by a torrent of flame which was then punctuated by a flurry of bats flying upwards into the sky, did not go unnoticed. The passersby all stood still and looked at the sorceress from another world that had invaded theirs.

Yet one had thrown an empty can at her.

‘Who did that?’ bellowed Aosoth, as a hoody came forward, chuckling to himself. ‘You dare insult the majesty that is Aosoth?’

‘You wha?’ said the hoody as he came up to Aosoth. ‘What, you some sort of goth?’ Laughing again, he flicked Aosoth on the nose before running away.

Before he could go back to whatever sanctuary he had, Aosoth had raised her arm and had reduced the rather crude young man into ashes. More people ran to the scene of the crime, and all were silent, except for the man who said ‘Can you saw him in half too?’

‘Listen, people of England! I am Aosoth! I once ruled the glorious land of Kirkalan, but now I have selected your world to be my new dominion! What happened to that brat there…’ She gestured towards the ashes on the pavement. ‘…will surely happen to you if you do not follow my every word!’

‘Well,’ said a passerby, ‘Can’t be worse than the Tories.’

That passerby was forced to face Aosoth. ‘Oh, you think you’re funny, do you?’ The man shook his head, still with a slight smile. ‘And what are “Tories” anyway? They sound like some sort of goblin.’ Aosoth tossed the man away and turned her attention back towards the crowds. ‘Now, unless you lot want to suffer my wrath, you will do as I command and make me your queen.’ Raising her hands again, she created another portal to Kirkalan, which an array of skeletons emerged from.

While Daryl had been expecting this, the skeletons arriving made him leap over backwards, and yet another head monster arose, this one resembling a human skeleton with skeletal spider legs. This monster did join its inspiration in holding the people captive, forcing them to watch as Aosoth used her powers to create a throne for her to admire her world atop.

‘Now, scary skeletons,’ said Aosoth, proudly pointing towards the sky, ‘get these people to build a statue of me! Come on, chop chop.’

As Aosoth ordered above her throne and Daryl stood still, the skeletons tried to push the humans below into creating a monument to their ruler. One person was about to be grabbed by a skeleton when he kicked it right in the hips and made it collapse. When that person was about to walk away proudly, the skeleton reassembled itself and poked the person in the back. That would-be hero squealed in pain, as he was given some sculpting tools by the skeleton, the latter’s eyes glowing red.

What could Daryl do? His father wouldn’t have let those people suffer under Aosoth and her armies. Those images he saw in the crystal ball replayed in his head once again, with Daryl clutching his cavity to ensure it didn’t cause anything to escape. Could he have been at the forefront of a dragon army, leading his species to greatness? Those visions played again, and played faster, like when Daryl had that video cassette and experimented with the remote control.

As quickly and unconsciously as he killed Aosoth, he ran towards the skeleton that had just hurt that man and stared at it. Though the skeleton had no facial muscles, Daryl could still tell what it was thinking as it looked over him. Again, his claws were balled into a fist, and he tried to create an image of him hitting the skeleton or Aosoth in the face, but before he could, the skeleton poked him in the snout.

It felt like his own fire burning his face. Clenching his snout in pain, he hopped about screaming as some of the people around him began to laugh. Upon hearing the laughter, the pain of the skeleton seemed to mysteriously vanish, only to be replaced by a new kind of pain. Indeed, this stinging brought forth yet another head monster: a giant green blob that bellowed, ‘STOP LAUGHING AND GET BACK TO WORK!’

Seeing this made the laughing people silent and Aosoth erupt in her own brand of laughter. ‘See, Daryl, you can be useful.’ A rumbling began in Daryl’s gut, but he could sense a small sliver of pride in there somewhere, which made the rumbling grow stronger.

He could stop them. He could stop the skeletons and he could stop Aosoth. If he did, he would be living up to his family’s name, he would be a hero and would no longer be the pariah among Kirkalan and his own species. Even if they did have a painful touch, he could still stop the skeletons.

Aosoth had conjured a huge block of stone in the middle of the street, and the skeletons were using their powers to make sure the humans were going to make it into a statue of Aosoth’s visage. Daryl  was sure, however, that one person said ‘Got nothing better to do.’ Nonetheless, Daryl tried to look for any courage he had. He killed Aosoth once, didn’t he?

That again. Once more he found himself back in the halls of Aosoth’s castle, where the glow of the Eye disintegrated Aosoth. Aosoth was alive now, so that image shouldn’t have bothered him as much, but he did it, he killed her, and there was nothing he could do to change the past.

He looked upon the skeletons, and briefly wondered what they were like before their flesh rotted away. Having lurked in Aosoth’s castle for so long, Daryl had seen the skeletons of the knights that had failed to dethrone Aosoth and her family. When he was bored, he would ponder on how those bones were when they had muscle and flesh. Did they have wives and children mourning their passing? Or even just girlfriends who were waiting to be wed? So what of these reanimated corpses then?

With that in mind, the invisible barrier between Daryl and Aosoth grew stronger, and he froze, letting the skeletons go about their enslaving. Then all Aosoth had to do was yell ‘Daryl!’ and he flew up to her throne. ‘You know, Daryl,’ said Aosoth in thought, ‘This place is nice, but it doesn’t really scream “Evil” to me. Any suggestions?’

‘W-well, you are b-building…’ Daryl was about to remind Aosoth of the statue, but looking at her hand, the hand that could deliver his punishment for killing her, he thought that maybe he shouldn’t talk back. ‘How about a few black spires he-here and there?’

‘Yes, I think that would do fine,’ said Aosoth, as she waved a finger. All of a sudden, huge spires emerged from the ground, reducing a poor little corner shop to rubble. Good thing the shopkeeper and the customers got out in time. Oh wait, the skeletons got them, never mind.

Daryl backed away again, this time landing in Aosoth’s lap. ‘S-sorry…’

‘Oh, go and do something useful with yourself,’ snarled Aosoth, using her magic to lift Daryl off of her throne and throw him down onto the pavement. Picking himself up, Daryl began to feel rather dizzy, stumbling about through the skeletons and enslaved people with no sense of direction. Eventually, he came to a wall, where he lay against until he was able to regain his balance. Still all those thoughts twirled in his head in a disorganised dance. His father back in the day, his time with Aosoth, how his fond memories of being in England would be tarnished by this invasion. Though he was now a bit firmer, he still walked about aimlessly as he decided what he should do.

Then he saw Denise.