Roadside Revenge

I weave through the forest, cutting through the dense fog hanging between the trees until I have a plain view of the road. The way is bathed in eerie turquoise moonlight, the surface submerged in low-lying mist without the cover of trees to foster a more humid atmosphere. Pleased with my position, I release the gytrash, a hellish beast that haunts lonely roadways and waylays travelers. He slinks from the trees lining the roadside to wait, black coat gleaming in the ghostly moonlight. I sink deeper into the murk, my trap set, and a sly smile contorts my lips.

The gytrash is an unparalleled tracker, and once attuned to a scent, even one long dissipated by the standards of a mortal nose, he will not be kept from his query. He cost me dearly, but he was the last piece of the plan I spent precious years devising, for the beast will know when my brother and the woman I once called wife pass. I ensured it with the simple gold band Cara cast off when she thought me dead in the aftermath of the war.

But our prior relationship is no matter now, not when I can almost taste the sweet tang of revenge like the finest port wine on my tongue.

My timing could not be more opportune, nature working in my favor to mask our presence as the coach drawn by a team of two dark horses thunders down the road. The coachman does not see us waiting. Neither does my brother; he always was an inferior man.

But Cara does. Even in the gloom, her eyes lock on mine, knowing.

The moment stretches long between us, time speeding to its usual pace only as the gytrash latches strong jaws onto the throat of one of the horses. The traces snap as the horse stumbles and falls, dragging its match down with it. Untethered, the carriage careens off the road.

I emerge from the shadows, approaching once the savage scene quiets. The gytrash scents the air, eager to resume the chase, but I linger. The horses lie dead, black manes knotted like ancient Inca quipus, and I wonder what I would read in the tangles. The coachman is crumpled in the distance, his body at an odd angle. The carriage is overturned several meters away, the shadow of a body apparent in the wreckage. My heart twists as I push closer; I hope it is not Cara.

With her, I wish to take my time.

The twisted form is my brother, face down, a wooden shard from the coach protruding from between his shoulder blades. I nudge his arm with my boot to assure myself of his death. Satisfied, I peer into the carriage through the gaping hole where the door tore clean away. Cara is gone. All that remains in the coach is a blanket.

My heart trips over a beat as a barrage of emotions engulfs me; I had not known about the child. This does not alter my plan, not as it relates to the present anyhow. Cara cannot have gone far. I summon the gytrash, and we take up the hunt, a new scent filling his nostrils.

As we stalk through the trees, I hear the crack of every twig and the rustle of each leaf with lagotic precision. The gytrash is unaffected, cutting a sure path through the woods, but I know what the beast cannot comprehend. Cara is a keen adversary, and she knows I am coming. As evidence, I stumble into Cara’s first trap, a lone recruit, his outdated military uniform rotted away, his face no more than strings of sinew and white bone.

I narrowly dodge the sword he swings at my neck, casting about for a weapon to fight the undead soldier. I quickly remove my cravat and mabble my hands in either end. I know I will be unable to choke the dead recruit, but I can do him damage. With a kick, I disarm him, his sword and the hand grasping the weapon flying into the bushes. Then, I wrap my cravat around his neck and rip off his head with the unnatural crack of dried flesh and bone.

At once, the second trap leaps from the brush, lunging for the gytrash. He dispatches the huge hairy arachnid with one swipe of a deadly paw, but too late. My tracker is struck by tarantism, wiggling uncontrollably as if seizing. Knowing I cannot reverse Cara’s work and cursing her to hell and back, because even the devil cannot have her if I cannot, I continue alone.

I have been a fool, falling into all of her traps. How dare she make a fool of me?

I want to beat her senseless for it, flog her until only ribbons of crimson flesh remain.

“Best not come to a fight mad, darlin’. We both know it breaks your concentration,” Cara croons, boldly stepping from behind a massive oak.

Without pause, a set of razor-edged knives flies at me, eight pointy daggers aimed at my heart. I deflect them with a gust of conjured wind, but two slip past. Once slices my arm; another lodges in my thigh.

“I am still stronger,” I grit out. “I always was, and that will never change.”

Cara laughs without humor. “No,” she says. “You just never knew me like you thought you did.”

“I shall have a fresh start when I kill you and find the babe,” I counter.

“You will never find her,” Cara says, a fierce fire in her eyes.

“Is that a challenge?” I ask slyly, working at the knife in my leg.

Cara’s mouth is set in a firm line. “A promise.”

Offal showers me like fetid rain, and I do not recognize the gytrash until I take a second look at the severed head that landed at my feet.

“I do not need the beast to find the whelp!” I spit.

“But servants of the Dark Lord require payment. You know that, darlin’,” Cara whispers as a black jaculiferous figure steps from between the trees. “Sadly, your pitiful soul is not enough.”

The shadowy beast nears, spines quivering, and my stomach fills with dread.

“Wait!” I beg.

“Wait?” Cara asks, perfect brows raised in incredulity. “I waited years! And when I was finally happy, you had to take it from me! I am done waiting, you ungrateful bedswerver.”

The beast stands over me, blood red eyes glowing, and I see my end reflected in the demonic depths.

“I will show you the same courtesy you have shown me, darlin’,” Cara intones coldly, a chilling smile curving her lips. “I will give you the same chance you gave your brother.”

The beast darts forward faster than the shot from a musket.

Cara shouts to be heard over my screams. “I am not some plaything for you to use and discard. I am my own woman. This is my story now, and I will not have you marring its pages.”

I needed him to hear them, the words I have held within me all this time. The words I kept to myself when he made me feel small, like a lesser enchanter. The words I bit back when I watched him stray despite my love. The words I held inside me as he went off to war, still wishing for there to be no ill between us. The words I believed I would never get to say once I thought him dead. The words I held inside me once I learned he was alive and knew he would come for me and my new family.

The demon forces the man I once loved to look at me even after I speak the words. Their release comes with a sense of calm, although no amount of revenge will truly bring me peace, and I know this man does not deserve me. Not even in his last moment.

I turn and walk away. As I retreat, the demon I summoned snaps his neck like a twig.

I do not turn back.



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