Month: May 2020

The Price of Rebellion

Barandash Karandashich/

This post was originally published through Patreon on January 22, 2019.

Derrick gasped and the nightmare dissolved. He lay on his back beneath the light of the full moon, drenched in sweat, and loosed a hellish, world-shattering scream. A message. The dream had been a message, and its meaning was clear.

Derick’s family was dead.

He’d tried to protect them. He’d sent them to a place where no one could find them…or so he’d thought. He could still smell their incinerated bodies—singed hair, charred skin, smoldering flesh—a tainted, unholy perfume that would fester in his memory for the rest of his life.

It was the price of rebellion, a debt his family had paid in full.

How does it feel? The soundless words rippled through the world like the wind, an aftereffect of the dream. Was it worth it, Derrick? Was the cost of disobedience worth it?

Grief twisted his stomach into a series of progressively tighter knots. Whenever he closed his eyes, he could see his wife’s and childrens’ bloody faces: burned, angled toward the sky, eyes glazed and unseeing.

I could have done more, he thought. I could have stayed with them until I was certain they were safe, that the danger had passed.

Self-loathing battled with a searing, white-hot hatred for the men and women who’d murdered his entire family.

They died because of my carelessness.

And yet, deep in the recesses of his poisoned heart, he understood the truth: He hadn’t killed his family. They had.

And they would regret it.

Derrick scrambled to his feet, too disoriented by grief to do anything but stand while the sounds of the night cried out like a funeral dirge. He kicked the sleeping bag at his feet aside and heaved, wide-eyed, as one bone-rattling sob burst free from him after another.

“Awful, isn’t it?”

The voice came from behind—a man, judging by the tone—and Derrick spun.

“The magnitude of your grief must be incalculable.”

At that moment, all his rage surged out of him like a flash flood.

“Are you one of those murders?”

Derrick reached for the blade he always kept at his side, even when he was sleeping…only to realize it was gone.

When Derrick turned, he saw the man brandishing the curved sword as if it were his own, cold steel flashing in the monochromatic light of the moon.

“A precaution, you understand. I’ll give it back to you once you’ve heard me out.”

“My family!”

Derrick rushed to meet him, sword or no sword. If it was his fate to die this night, then at least he would return to his family. One step. Two steps. Three. Derrick was almost upon him when the man disappeared.

“I didn’t kill them, you ravenous idiot.”

This time, the voice came from where Derrick had been standing only moments before.

He spun again, sick with terror and blind, unfocused fury. The two emotions danced a lunatic jig in the dark, sweeping Derrick away, perilously close to the edge of insanity.

“You want revenge, don’t you? I can give it to you. I know who killed your family, and if you do as I say, I’ll deliver them to you.”

The Earth stopped spinning, and a deep, otherworldly stillness seized Derrick’s suddenly frozen heart.

“Yes,” the man said. “I see that got your attention.”

Time stilled, and it was a few moments before Derrick could speak again.


A shrewd clarity began to take root in Derrick’s heart, and his blood, boiling only moments ago, was already turning to ice.

“Why?” the man echoed. “Because your enemy is my enemy, and in a way, that makes us friends.”

“So,” said Derrick, “now we’re friends?”

The man shrugged.

“I have something you want, and you have something I want. If we can’t be friends, then let us be partners in a joint venture that will benefit both of us.”

Derrick’s skin prickled with alarm. Somewhere beyond the grief, in a part of himself that felt a thousand miles away, a sense of wrongness blossomed, along with a desperate warning to turn away before it was too late.

But if this man really knew who’d killed his family, and if he could help Derrick find them…

“What do you want?”

No, that distant part of Derrick cried. Don’t listen to him! But Derrick had already brushed the warning away.

The man smiled, and the horrendous, razor-sharp grin was so terrifying that Derrick took an involuntary step back.

“For now, just the promise that when I have need of you, you’ll come. Your skill with a blade is very useful, and I might require it later.”

“Then it’s killing you’re after?”

Derrick thought of those who’d killed his family. Would he now be asked to do the same to someone else?

“Does it matter?”

Derrick hesitated. His grief was still fresh, and paired with a conscience that found such an atrocity revolting, he was hard-pressed to offer this man his service. But his hunger for retribution at any cost was growing, further dulling an already withered heart, and he couldn’t quite bring himself to turn the man away.

“I could hire someone else if you’d like.”

“No!” The word sprang out of Derrick’s mouth before he could stop it.

What about your family? an interior voice asked. Would they approve?

The thought made Derrick hesitate again. This time, however, it was only long enough for him to quash the renegade voice of his conscience for good. The thirst for vengeance was too potent, too overpowering, too irresistible to ignore, and after a final futile struggle to reclaim his broken heart, Derrick gave himself over to the darkness.

“No,” Derrick continued. “That won’t be necessary. If you require a promise, then I’ll give it. As long as you promise to hand over my family’s killers.”

The man stepped forward and placed a hand over Derrick’s shoulder. The touch was a blast of arctic ice, almost painful, and Derrick recoiled. But his decision was made, and so he steeled himself and stood alongside his mysterious visitor while his soul necrotized like his childrens’ immolated corpses.

“Come with me before you go on your way,” the man said. “I would discuss our partnership further.”

He snapped his fingers, and the two of them were swallowed by the dark.

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Into the Forest

Tom Tom/

This post was originally published through Patreon on January 8, 2019.

It ended with the wind.

The sky had been overcast all morning, and a deep, abiding cold had permeated the air. The elders of my village warned me not to enter the forest, but it’d taken my brother, and I would not let it claim my only sibling for its own.

“If you won’t stay home where it’s safe,” Grandma pleaded, “at least take this.” She handed me a woolen cloak, which I draped over my head gratefully, and told me not to stay out past sunset, brother or no brother. “It’ll do us no good,” she said, “if the forest decides to take you, too.” She hugged me as if for the last time, then sent me out into the gloom to face the trees alone.

I believed I’d win, that I’d find my brother curled at the trunk of a tree, or hidden beneath a rock for shelter, and that, like so many of the heroes Master Gideon tells stories about by the light of a late-night fire, I’d emerge from the brambles and the trees triumphant, my brother in tow, ready to tell stories of my own.

But the forest had other plans.

By increments, the sky grew darker, and what started as a light, clinging mist soon turned into a drizzle. The drizzle turned into a downpour, and before I knew what had happened, the sky became a blazing torrent of thunder and lightning.

I scrambled over steep hills, tripped over gnarled roots and upturned stones, scratched my limbs against low hanging branches and thorny brambles. All the while, I pressed on, blind to pain and exhaustion, dead set on finding my brother.

Then the wind came, a violent, world-ending gale that knocked me off balance and stopped me in my tracks. I let loose a hailstorm of curses, but the forest was unyielding. Cold, weary, and out of breath, I had no choice but to huddle against a nearby tree and hug myself for warmth.

For centuries, my people had lived in fear of the forest and its ancient powers. But when its diabolical whims had culminated in the abduction of my brother, I was sure that I could best it, that somehow, the brash exuberance of youth could overpower its dark and terrifying magic.

Now, as the forest closed in around me, I discovered the awful truth, that it was no use fighting such raw, elemental strength. I’d been a fool to think myself superior to the forest, and it would punish me for my pride.

Just as I was ready to succumb to the will of the woods, a light caught the corner of my eye. I turned, and a pair of glowing green pupils looked back. I peered into their depths, and as whatever creature they belonged to edged closer, I knew that wherever the forest had taken my brother, I would soon join him.

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