Revenge

The Price of Rebellion

Barandash Karandashich/Shutterstock.com

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.

“Why?”

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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Tallys

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This post was originally published through Patreon on October 24, 2018.

In the dark, beneath the shadows of a nearby pier, stood a woman, head covered, eyes a bright emerald green. The night was quiet and still, and only the crashing of nearby waves disturbed the tomb-like silence of the beach.

“It’s her,” Luke whispered. “The woman from our vision.”

His brother Michael nodded, though he wasn’t listening. He was focused solely on the woman.

Those eyes, Michael thought. Most of her features evaporated the moment he startled awake each night, but those eyes blazed with an otherworldly light that he could never forget.

“Well?” said Luke, and only then did Michael realize he’d stopped, that he’d fallen captive once more to the vision that had haunted them both for almost two months.

“Sorry, I was distracted.”

That the woman watched them was not in question. Her penetrating gaze had fixed on them both, weighing, scrutinizing.

“Let’s go.”

Michael nodded, and a moment later they continued walking while the ocean pulled forward and back in the eternal rhythm of an ancient song.

They paused at the pier’s edge, where only a dozen feet further, the woman stood, leaning against a barnacle-encrusted poll.

“You came,” she said, and suddenly her voice was like a second ocean, waves pounding against the shore of Michael’s mind, threatening to tear down barriers that, until today, he hadn’t realized existed. Beyond those barriers lay terrible, painful memories. He knew he needed to remember, but instinct demanded that he hold that ocean back for as long as possible.

“I wasn’t sure you’d gotten my message, but you came.”

A giant wave in that mental ocean crested, and it was all Michael could do to hold against it. He was certain he knew her—not just from the vision that came to him each night when he closed his eyes, but from someplace else.

Someplace far away.

And Michael didn’t want to remember.

“You,” he said, pointing a trembling finger in her direction while Luke looked on in a daze. “I know you.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No!” Luke’s voice called out in a strangled croak, and Michael startled. “Don’t listen to her. It’s a trick!”

The ocean in Michael’s head battered the walls of his mind, harder, harder, until at last the walls were breached and Michael’s consciousness was a boat, tossed about by one violent memory after another. Their home, in flames. Their father, murdered with knives. Seven cloaked figures, surrounding them in the middle of the night. And then, the one who saved them.

Someone dear. Someone with glowing eyes, flashing a bright emerald green as her outstretched hands closed around one of their attackers’ necks.

Tallys.

“You,” Michael said again, and this time, his throat constricted with unexpected emotion.

Then, a feral shriek from Luke. Michael’s brother broke away, knife in hand, and made to strike.

“Luke, no!”

But before Luke could close the gap he froze, suspended inches off the ground, arms and legs twitching uselessly as he struggled in vain to regain control.

Michael returned his gaze to the woman. He remembered her, and she was just as precious to him now as she had been to him back then.

Tallys.

His sister.

“You survived.”

Luke continued to struggle, but Michael saw from the tears in his eyes that the invisible restraints weren’t necessary any longer. Memory, it seemed, had breached the walls of his mind, too.

“Tallys,” Luke heaved. “I didn’t mean— The memory, it hurt so much. I was confused. I’m sorry, I—”

“I know,” she said, cutting him off. “It’s not your fault. The charm Mother and I used to block your memories was strong, and your mind wasn’t meant to give it up without a fight.”

“Mother’s alive, too?” asked Michael.

“Yes. Both of us survived. We sent you to Earth where you’d be safe, and then we set off to find the ones who tried to destroy our family.”

Luke began to bawl.

“Did you find them?” Michael asked, and a malicious light kindled in his eyes. “Did you make them suffer?”

“We found six,” Tallys replied. “And yes, they suffered.”

“What about the seventh?”

“That’s why I called you. You and your brother have skills that would help us track him down.”

Michael nodded. He had full possession of his memories now, and he knew exactly what she needed.

When she finally released Luke, he fell to the ground, cheeks flecked with sand and snot.

“I’m sorry, Tallys,” he said before descending into incoherent babbling.

“He’ll be all right,” said Tallys. “He’s not as strong as you, and the horror of his memories will haunt him a while longer, ut time and rest will make him whole again.”

“Will you take us home?” Michael asked.

“Yes.” Her eyes flashed in the dark once more. “It’s time for us to be a family again.”

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Putting On the Mask

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After three centuries of endless searching, his quest has reached its end.

The object he requires stands before him now, sparkling beneath a glass case atop a plain wooden stand that belies its incredible power. He glances about before returning his eyes to the display. He knows there are cameras recording every angle of the room—the world has advanced considerably over the course of his unnaturally long life—and though he’s sure the glamour he learned during his exile is still working, he’s paranoid. Things can’t go wrong now, not when he’s inches away from the thing that will fundamentally shift the balance of power in the world forever.

When the white men butchered his people, including, eventually, his wife and children; when they planted their flags in the blood-soaked fields and claimed their land in the name of a foreign crown and an equally foreign god; when they obliterated all traces of his once proud and affluent culture, leaving his homeland in ruins; he thought his life was over. But there was one thing that kept him going, one thing that kept the withered heart in his desiccated chest beating long after it should have stopped along with those of his people.

The mask.

The priests, having foretold their own destruction more than a thousand years before the invaders came, saw fit to pass it down from one generation to the next, not under heavy guard or behind the locked doors of a fortified structure, but through a secret succession of descendants that even he, as their king, was not allowed to know.

The priests, in their wisdom, had understood a vital truth: that the greatest security sometimes lies in obscurity. A guard or a temple would have advertised the mask’s importance and would have surely fallen. But a simple family heirloom? No matter how zealously or how violently the invaders sought to stamp out their heathen practices, there was no way for them to reach everyone—no way for them to know that somewhere, in a simple fisherman’s village, in a quiet bamboo beach house, the future restoration of their people abided in peace.

Unfortunately, the priests were slain, and with them their secret.

He searched long and hard, trudged through creeping rainforests and windswept mountains. But he never found it, and the history of his people soon faded and was lost.

Then a miracle: a report in the Los Angeles Times. An archaeological exhibit had come to the Getty Museum, and among the artifacts on display was a peculiar wooden mask.

The mask.

Now, he hesitates with arms outstretched. He knows the instant he lifts the glass, an alarm will ring. But, of course, once he puts on the mask, that won’t matter. Once he puts on the mask—once he dons the vengeful spirits of his people like a shield—nothing will be able to stop him.

He removes the glass.

An alarm bell rings.

When he places the mask over his face, a dark energy swirls before his eyes like motes of electrified dust.

The guards arrive a minute later, and he turns to greet them, face twisted in a rictus of supernatural ecstasy. Let them come, he thinks. Let them bear witness to his revenge.

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