This story is by John N. King and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was finally time.
All Luke had to do was kick down the door in front of him, and justice would be achieved. Behind that door was Sir Orion. The murderer of Luke’s village and family.
Luke’s fingers tensed on his axe at the memory: his return from a hunt, only to find his village in flames. The once comfortable smells of home replaced with the stink of ash and flames. His wife strung up like a trophy. His sister lying in a pool of her own blood.
Tears sprung to Luke’s eyes as he remembered her; once so passionate and ambitious; always dreaming of becoming more than simple villagers. Only to be reduced to a barely recognizable sack of flayed meat, too delirious to even recognize her own brother. Her last words mumbling nonsense as she drew strange shapes into the ground with her own gore.
Luke had to take a moment; to lean on his weapon, and collect himself. His poor sister. His beloved wife. Gone! And for what?
The thought of ‘what’ restored his resolve. For one name had gotten through his sister’s pain-riddled babbling. ‘Orion.’ A name Luke knew. The name belonged to a servant of the King. A Knight who was supposed to protect them!
The mere thought filled Luke with rage, but luckily, the King was on his side. He gave Luke command of a hundred men, and told him exactly where he could find Orion.
And yet… when Luke had finally arrived, after months of travel, something was off. The servants of Orion’s home were strung up… exactly like how his beloved wife had been. The same shapes his sister had scrawled were written onto the walls.
The King’s men were filled with terror. They refused to enter the house. Luke himself was tempted to go back to the King with them.
But what could he go back to? A dead wife and family? A village burned to the ground? The King had offered him a knighthood to replace Orion, but Luke couldn’t take it. Not as long as the foul former knight darkened his dreams and haunted his thoughts.
So, with what Luke dearly hoped was Justice guiding him, he kicked open the door and stormed inside.
After what had happened to his family, Luke thought he would be accustomed to horror. But the sight within gave competition to what Luke had experienced. The stench of blood assaulted Luke’s senses. Orion’s family… Luke had dreamed of what he had wanted to do to them, but his code of ethics had intended for them to stay dreams.
Unfortunately, someone didn’t share in his morals.
A mutilated body, strung up at the head of the carnage, drew Luke’s attention. He recognized the glittering eyes of Orion, his target.
At first, Luke stood before the destruction, unsure of what to do, only for Orion to suddenly cough. He still lived!
“What happened?” Luke asked. “Who did this?”
Orion coughed, gazing at Luke with despair. “You… you’re the brother of Myst?”
The utterance of his sister’s name – the reminder of why he had come – brought Luke’s rage back. He hefted his sword. “I was here to destroy you,” he growled. “Avenge my family.” The destruction around him gave him pause. “But…”
“She beat you to the punch,” Orion scoffed with a twisted grin. Blood drooled from a gaping slash in his lower lip.
Silence was Luke’s answer.
Orion coughed again. “I only did it to prevent this, you know?”
Luke glared up at him. “What are you talking about?”
“Your sister…” Orion hacked again. “She was dabbling in the dark arts. She stole one of the head mage’s Grimoires! A book for summoning demons.”
Luke’s eyes widened in horror. “L-Lies!” he snarled, aiming his sword at the beaten knight. “My sister would do no such thing! Besides, such books were guarded!”
“We’re not perfect at our jobs, Fool.” Orion managed a hacking cough. “Look around you. Do you think she could have done this without black magic? She summoned demons, and they helped her… even after I killed her.”
Luke’s sword lowered again. The strange shapes… both made in his sister’s blood… and now made in the blood of the servants. Even now, Luke could see those same shapes – those same runes – drawn in the blood of Orion and his family.
Orion nodded, seeing the comprehension dawning on Luke’s face. “In trying to stop her…” he bemoaned. “I created the very thing I wanted to destroy.”
Luke looked down at his blade in thought.
“I’m… sorry,” Orion got out. “But now you must stop her.”
Luke balked. “Why me?”
“You carry vengeance in your heart,” Orion explained. “It’s why your wife had to suffer. The head mage explained it to me: as long as one close to the summoner still holds vengeance in their heart, the demon and those who summon it will never rest.” He groaned. “I should’ve gone after you… but I didn’t know you were away…” His voice grew lower as the blood loss took its toll. “Please… put your sister to rest. Take care… of my… kingdom… for… me…”
Luke glared at him, his fury returning. “You would demand something of me?” he snarled. “After what you have taken?”
Fury drove his blade across Orion’s neck. Though judging from the sigh of relief the knight got out with his last breath, his death was a mercy compared to what Myst’s spirit had done.
As Luke left the house, he sensed a chill in the air, despite being surrounded by fire and blood. Yet the chill carried something… familiar with it.
“It can’t be…” Luke mumbled.
As his eyes widened, an unholy aura formed in front of him. Taking the shape of his sister. She smiled at him.
Luke wanted to hold her; to spring forward and embrace her as family. It brought tears to his eyes to see her alive again. And yet… the unholy aura gave him pause.
“So, it’s true,” Luke realized with a somber sigh. “You delved into the forbidden secrets of the Grimoire.”
Myst’s gaze was unsympathetic. “Orion was just the start,” she insisted. “The King would have us be slaves, Luke. He doesn’t actually care for you. He had us killed so I wouldn’t find the secrets of magic, and then he gave you Orion so you wouldn’t be a threat.” She grinned. “We will change that. We will strike the king down, and all who follow him.”
Luke battled the temptation: Orion had been the King’s knight. The King’s sorrowful voice as he approved Luke’s quest for justice; the King had cared for Orion. What were the odds he had allowed Orion to destroy Luke’s village, and now only let Luke go after him as a way to keep Luke under his thumb? Did he actually care for Luke or his people?
Yes! Luke reminded himself. Reminded himself of how the King had approved his request. Granted him justice.
With his thoughts strengthening him, Luke turned his blade on what used to be his sister. “You are avenged,” he said firmly. “Sir Orion is dead. Your quest is complete.”
Myst’s smile faded. “No,” she insisted. “No, but the King…!”
“The King gave me the means to seek justice,” Luke replied. “And justice has been given.” He leveled his sword at Myst, but not to threaten. Instead, he tapped her gently on both shoulders. “Please, my dear sister. Be at peace now. Find happiness in the next life.” His eyes filled with tears. “And… tell my wife… tell Shiva… I will see her again. Someday.”
Myst’s eyes flickered as if she wanted to protest. The unholy aura around her strengthened. Fire surged in Myst’s eyes as the demon spoke to her in some strange, hissing language. But as she gazed into her brother’s eyes, Luke saw her resolve falter. Her lust for vengeance losing against her love for family.
“Be at peace,” he pleaded.
Myst shut her eyes… and her spirit faded away. The demon’s dark aura flared before shrieking in an unearthly language. Before Luke could think of defending himself, however, it vanished into the earth. Luke was left on his own.
He took a slow breath, steadying himself on the fresh scent of spring winds. Then he set to work. Setting Orion’s home on fire, he watched as the runes evaporated, and the bodies turned to smoke in the air. Then, Luke turned his back on the ashes, and set out for the castle.
Though he would mourn the loss of his wife and sister, he would take comfort in them being avenged.
Their spirits would not haunt him as they had Orion. Anger would not torment him anymore.
Justice was achieved.