Years ago, before the Internet became a regular thing for me, I used our modem to play Warcraft II with my friend Peter, and I only browsed when I visited my dad’s office on the weekends, or during the summer. My two main interests in those days were Warcraft II and Magic: the Gathering, so that’s mostly what I searched.

One afternoon I found a bit of Magic fanfiction called The Fall of the Forest Cycle. It was this dark fantasy tale about a group of adventurers (planeswalkers) struggling to protect The Forest from a powerful, malevolent creature called “The Beast.”

Most of the story was the heroes psyching themselves up for the fight and getting kicked around by The Beast. And the heroes ultimately lost the battle.

The Beast was banished from the land but far from defeated, and The Forest was corrupted with all of its guardians were dead — many of said guardians reanimated as zombies and used in the final battle. Though the heroes survived the fight in the end, they went their separate ways after the banishing of The Beast.

It was one of the most unique stories I’d read up to that point and it had quite a profound impact on me. My writing grew noticeably darker as I realized the good guys didn’t have to win, and it was sometimes more interesting when they didn’t.