Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
4 min read


  • Fiction
  • Horror


  • dark
Content warnings: Gore, disturbing imagery

I was a child when our last Protector ascended. I remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders, watching how they gently attached him to the tree. His face held a big smile, blissful and happy, filled with the inner light that would guide him to his new role.

To become the Protector, it is necessary to leave the body behind so that the spirit may grow stronger. To let the light fill you completely so you may always guard the village against dangers seen and unseen. Our faithful guardian, our lantern against the monsters that lurk in the dark.

All creatures fear death, but Protectors assume their role smiling and contented. They leave pain behind and become pure spirit. It’s the greatest honour any of us can achieve.

When 10 years later it was time choose a Protector again I had come of age, and I confidently put my name in the bowl. I had little hopes of actually making it. My family was poor, so they couldn’t afford to bribe the priests to put my name in more than once. I had hope though. My spirit was strong, and I’d always wanted this.

When the day of the lottery came, my mother called me to her. She told me how she and my uncles had all saved up, and how they’d managed to buy one extra token with my name on it. Her eyes teared up as she gave it to me, hugged me and said:

“Do us proud son. This village could have no better protector than you.”

She turned away crying, because if I won she’d never see me again. I’d ascend to a higher calling but my family would miss me. They wanted this for me though, so they saved and scraped.

I hugged her back hard and ran out to the priests to have my token added to the bowl.

We stood in the hot mid day sun. Tension ran through the crowd as the priests carried the bowl onto the stage. My mother squeezed my hand and smiled at me.

When the priest called out my name I first couldn’t believe it. I had won the lottery! The gods truly smiled down on me that day.

I spent the rest of the evening in a daze, getting drinks from friends, hugs from people I’d only seen in passing. When midnight approached, I was called onto the stage with the priest and he handed me a simple wooden drinking bowl.

“Drink this boy, and let the light enter and guide you. Become one with the light and guard us. Ascend!”

I lifted the bowl to my lips and drank. Within seconds a deep warm glow filled me. I felt the light shine inside me and I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. So this was what it felt like! I’d do my best to be the best guardian I could.

I caught a glimpse of my mother hiding her tears, hugging my uncle, trying to put on a brave smile for me. I tried to wink at her, but I found I could no longer move. I could hear and see and feel, but my muscles no longer obeyed me. Even my face stayed as it was.

I felt them pick me up and carry me to the tree, felt them gently attach my arms to the tree, my legs. I hung there, feeling the rough bark against my skin and I was aware of the contented feeling fading. Whatever had been in the drink was wearing off but I didn’t regain any control over my muscles.

Suddenly pain exploded in my vision. I wanted to move, scream, but I couldn’t. I felt a sharp stab in my back, right underneath my shoulder blades. Hidden from view, long metal rods were being drilled through the tree and into my flesh, slow and agonising. There was no escape. My world was nothing but pain.

The priest bent his head and put his mout right next to my ear. He softly whispered:

“Tonight you learn the truth. The guardian doesn’t keep us safe by fighting evil, he is our offering to those that dwell in the dark. In exchange for peace, we offer them your pain, misery and despair. We will keep you alive for as long as we possibly can, until we have milked every last bit of suffering from you that we can. Know that your noble sacrifice is keeping us all safe… plus some extra bonuses for us priests if we get enough pain out of you… so don’t let us down!”

He let me see an evil grin for a second before setting his face in a solemn expression again.

Down in the crowd I say me mother lean against my uncle, looking up at me. Her voice carried clearly to me: “He looks so peaceful and happy up there. The gods truly are good”.

Enjoying my writing? Leave me a message on Mastodon!