Hal remains undead for one purpose: to seek vengeance for her own demise. But with her body falling to pieces, her memories nearly gone, and a magical storm on the rise, that’s a tough job.
When a dryad offers to help Hal retrace her steps to find her killer, it seems fate might finally be on her side. Forgotten pasts are not always friendly, though. With the dryad’s life hanging in the balance, Hal must decide whether to hold to the goals of her life or choose a new path in her undeath.
This darkly whimsical short story features a fairytale wlw relationship between a zombie and a dryad. It was released as a free download through D.N. Bryn’s newsletter on July 11th 2020. Trigger warnings for this story are memory loss, mild descriptions of rot, and the general state of being undead.
|GENRE: Fantasy romance|
PAGE COUNT: 17
|PUBLICATION DATE: July 11th 2020|
AVAILABLE: Amazon and through Bryn’s newsletter.
ALSO FIND ON: Goodreads
“Beautiful prose that tugs at your heart” — Jillian Maria
“Strange, sweet, and filled with romantic mystery” — Christina DiCocco
“A folklore-like premise with delicious description and a growing sense of dread” — B. L. Radley
A Better Fate
D. N. Bryn
For every girl who feels trapped,
waiting for her happily ever after.
When I was alive, I etched my name into my forearm. Only half remains now—three ragged black letters. Their ink brands my rotting brown flesh, tracing my forgotten past between the tears in the withered skin: H A L. The rest once scrawled further down the underside of my arm. Now, a long gash in the blackening muscle cuts through it instead. Now, I am just Hal.
Hal the Undead.
A stormy breeze groans through the forest. It tugs at the final strands of my tight black curls and gusts around my few remaining pieces of dark leather armor. Its caress is the only touch I can recall, though that’s hardly a sign of anything when my decrepit memory goes back barely a day. But no matter the decay plaguing my brain, I will always know the purpose of the garish green gem in the center of my chest. An Avenger’s Enchantment—proof that vengeance was more important to me than the afterlife. Losing sight of that goal would mean losing the last piece I remember of myself.
Another gust of wind hits me square in the face. It brings a song along with it: a woman’s voice, lifted in a chaos of melodies, as high and light as the whisper of the leaves and as dark as the shadow of the thick canopy. Its familiarity prickles my ears, whether due to the singer or the tune, I don’t know. I shift my grip on my hulking sword. It’s better suited for living muscles, and I have to fight to keep the nick in its blade from catching on foliage as I push back the underbrush, revealing a small meadow.
In its center, a singing dryad crouches at the base of a tree so large it can only be her Heart Tree. She tucks a young sapling into a cleft at its massive base. As she plants it in the ground, its flailing branches calm despite the wind that churns above us. A flash of lightning rips through the dark sky in a violent green that couldn’t be more different from the soft grassy tinge of the dryad’s skin. She looks up. Her curved eyes narrow. The host of purple flowers in her bark attire quiver.
I watch her, hoping for a sign: did I know her once, or not?
The storm continues to build. Lightning blazes again, this time diving toward the meadow. It hits the grass just behind the dryad, and a flame springs to life. The sight of it sparks a little fear and a lot of instinct.
With as much fury as my weakening legs can manage, I rush into the meadow, my jaw tight and my sword aloft. The dryad’s flowers snap closed, and her song turns to a scream. She raises her hands over her face. I bring the sword down, slapping its blunt side against the flames near her feet.
Smack, smack, smack.
A small burnt patch remains, a blackened scar like the marks of decay on my own skin. The dryad shudders, both palms now pressed to her chest, but her stance softens as her purple eyes dance between my sword and the scorched earth. A vibrant laugh leaves her, and her eyes twinkle, as though she’s been meaning to give me this smile all her life.
“Are you my heroine?” she coos.
I feel like a stumbling fool, disgracing her fiercely bright grin with my buffoonery. “It was only—only a small fire.” I stop my explanation before I can cut my decrepit tongue on my proverbial teeth. “I’m Hal,” I say, hesitant, as though we are just meeting. As though I won’t introduce myself anew tomorrow if we run into each other again.
“Cedara,” she replies. “A pleasure.”
We must not have known each other after all. That’s for the best. She isn’t yet suffering from my forgetfulness.
Even amidst the encroaching gale, Cedara shines. The flowers in her outfit rebloom, starting with the half dozen that trail down her elegant neck and following the scoop of her tree-like form, until only those woven into her silky braid remain as buds. She nudges them tenderly. Beneath her touch, they too relax.
“If a gift is given in the woods,” she says, “it must be reciprocated. You’ve put out a flame in my meadow. What might I do for you in return?”
What might I do for you? If my heart still beat, it would pound like a war drum, and if my blood still flowed, it would make my cheeks burn. Maybe death has its benefits? I clear my throat and prop the blunt of my sword against my shoulder, even though the muscles the pose shows off are a mess of fabric-wrapped decay. I take it back—death is the worst. “I accept only gratitude.”
“Then my gratitude you’ll have.”
But she continues to watch me, that twinkle in her eyes again. They gleam like the shine on my Avenger’s Enchantment.
My arms sag. “There’s actually one thing, if you have the time.”