Vicious

I wanted to save you.

 

I didn’t want to be saved.

 

I grew up hearing about you.

About how you were a destructive force of nature. You did terrible things and you planned to do more. …More. That’s a good word for you, isn’t it? You always wanted more—more power, more glory, more fame. It was never enough. You killed innocent people to get it, breaking yourself into a million little pieces in the process until you had no humanity left.

More power, more glory, more fame.

Your victims carried their stories on their backs, tragedies of loved ones lost at your hands that weighed them down with every trudging step.

I grew up hearing those stories about you.

I thought you were a monster.

 

I lived my life in fear of you.

Or the idea of you, at least. That someone, someday, would threaten all that I believed in, would rise from the ashes of my fires to oppose me. A leader to rally those who were burdened under the weight of their losses.

The weak are many and when they are oppressed they are powerless, but unified, they are strong. I knew this. I was always scanning the horizon, watching the ashes for signs of life.

I lived my life waiting for you.

I thought you would be a martyr.

 

The first time I saw you, I thought that I was right.

You were a monster.

Your skin was riddled with scars and lines, your eyes were bloodshot like someone who never knew rest. There was something stirring in the depths of those irises that made my skin crawl. When you spoke, your voice was unnaturally cold. Your words were shards of ice, and they left me shivering and afraid.

You said that I didn’t need to fight you.

You said that I could back down and no one would get hurt. I wasn’t a threat to you, not really, not yet. We both knew it. You offered me a chance to recant, and promised that if I did, you would spare me and everyone who supported me.

But that was a lie.

Nothing could have stopped you from hunting me down, because you just needed someone to focus all of that hatred on, didn’t you? You needed an obsession, and I was willing to be that object of your unwitting fascination. A living, breathing, human target.

It kept your focus off of the other living, breathing humans.

You told me I was weak.

 

The first time I saw you, you were barely more than a child.

Young and wild, that perilous, sophomoric age where you know just enough of the world to act confidently but not enough to do it wisely. You proved that at once. You were brave, yes, but you were reckless.

I could have killed you, then.

I could have, and in hindsight, I should have. I questioned my own actions for a long time afterwards. Why had I let you slip away? I told myself that it was because it would be disgraceful, to kill a child. That I was above such cruelty.

But that was a lie.

You fascinated me.

I could see at once why they were impressed by you. You were the very image of hope, with the perfect, tragic story to accompany those starry eyes. You were defiant, you were bold. They called you a prophecy.

I could see why.

When you spoke, your voice was unnaturally warm. It made me think of slow-burning embers and future pyres. There was fear in your eyes when you looked at me, alongside that fire, but you stood tall and proud, regardless. You were covered in the ashes of my battleground, you were a warrior in charcoal armor. You were bold.

When I offered you redemption, you even had the audacity to laugh.

You told me I was wrong.

 

We didn’t see each other for years, after that.

We may not have come face to face, but you were with me all the time. One way or another, you managed to worm your way into my thoughts like a parasite. A bombing here, a shooting there. Sometimes, your massacres didn’t even make sense; it was like you just couldn’t stand to let the dust settle. You were a cyclone of destruction, and your tyranny only intensified as time went on.

I saw your image every day…which is saying something, really, as you kept your photograph out of the papers. You didn’t exactly have a face that people could trust. No, you ruled from the shadows, controlling politicians and figureheads like puppets on strings, a spider weaving an intricate web that was as falsely beautiful as it was honestly deadly. Everyone knew who you were, but few knew what you looked like. You were the stuff of nightmares, and they all had their own versions of you in their head.

But I had seen the reality.

They said it was because of me, that your bloodlust had become so manic, but I didn’t think so. Your attacks were too sporadic, too…messy. I thought you were going insane.

I thought you were a monster.

 

We didn’t see each other for years, after that.

We may not have come face to face, but you were with me all the time. You plagued my mind like a sickness that I could never quite recover from. I would hear whispers of you and your rebellion. A raid here, an congregation there. I tracked each and every one with a deadly reprisal, leaving no stone unturned in my attempt to find you. Sometimes, I could tell that I had been close, so close. I was a bloodhound and I could smell your scent still lingering in the air, could taste you on my tongue, your ghost taunting me, laughing at me.

I heard you all the time…which is saying something, really, as I had only heard your voice once before. It was that laughter, that audacious, smug laughter that haunted me…but your words were everywhere, too. Your ideals from the lips of others, your seeds of hope that you planted in various towns and cities, and I would vicariously hear your stories through their voices…

But it was that laughter that drove me mad.

I followed your phantom everywhere, and nothing could deter me. I thought you were becoming too influential, too…powerful.

You were supposed to be a martyr.

 

It was only a matter of time before one of your own betrayed you.

You and your whirlwind of chaos was bound to backfire eventually, and it did. A man who had known you in his youth, who had followed you from the beginning, became a victim of your unintentional wrath. You killed his son and called it an unfortunate circumstance.

You told him that this was war. Accidents happen.

He realized that you were too far gone, then, and he came to me.

He told me all about you.

For the longest time, I saw your image and remembered your words like shards of ice, and I assumed that was all that you were. A stock photo of a villain, a mass murderer who had killed so many and would kill so many more. You were the reason I never had a family, why so many others never had a family; the reason I lived in squalor, traveling under the guise of darkness from one town to another, building an underground army while living on breadcrumbs and scraps.

You were a two-dimensional picture. There was no depth to you, no story, and that made you easy to hate.

…Then he told me all about you.

He told me where you came from and how you grew up. He told me about the terrible places you’d been, about the horrible, unspeakable things that happened to you when you were a child.

Yes, even that.

He knew all of the skeletons in your closet…and he laid them out before me, one by one. Bone by bone.

The pieces came together and suddenly you were no longer a picture but a person, and you had a story.

And that was when I realized that I had been wrong.

 

You were my obsession.

 

One day, I looked myself in the mirror and jumped, because I thought it was someone else.

It had been a long time since I’d seen my reflection. That’s the kind of life I’ve been forced to live, because of you. One where I rarely see the inside of a home with luxuries such as sinks, bathtubs, and mirrors. But one day I did, and I was devastated by the person staring back at me.

I had acquired more than a few scars of my own. My skin was tanned and there were lines forming around my eyes that were not from smiling. Still bold, but I looked…worn. My eyes seemed distant and detached, even to myself. There was something stirring in the depths of those irises that made my skin crawl.

I was staring at myself, but it was you that I saw.

I turned away from the silver of the mirror and never looked back.

Life was a vicious cycle and I wanted out.

 

It was only a matter of time before your selflessness consumed you, and you came to me.

I knew that it must have been destroying you from the inside out, hearing about all who suffered at my hands for joining you, following you, concealing you. How many people would you allow to die for your hopeless cause before you surrendered?

It was only a matter of time.

…When you finally appeared to me, I hardly recognized you.

You were no longer the charcoal child I met in an ash-covered battleground. You were an adult who was burdened under the weight of loss. Still bold, but you looked…worn. The fire in your eyes had gone out; those smoldering embers had been replaced by vacant, bottomless pools of darkness.

You were brave, but you were exhausted. And you had come to me for rest.

I always knew you would.

I always knew you were a martyr.

 

It was just you and me.

You couldn’t have known that I knew everything about you. That a traitor had poured out all of your weaknesses like water into my empty cup and that I had consumed them all.

I knew you better than you knew yourself.

I knew that you would be too fascinated to not hear me out, in the end. Too captivated to not listen.

You were obsessed with me.

 

You were supposed to surrender.

You were supposed to beg for mercy, to fall to your knees and plead for the lives of your comrades, for their children, for their children’s children. You were supposed to show me that you had always been weak.

…How did you know that?

How did you know?

Why didn’t I strike you down, then?

…Why couldn’t I kill you?

 

For being such a destructive force of nature, you were surprisingly easy to cage.

I felt so stupid, having you bent and broken before me, weak, and being unable to hate you. I wanted to hate you, it was easier to hate you. Life was so much simpler when you were a stock photo of a villain with no depth and no story.

I told you I was sorry, and that I forgave you.

You weren’t a monster.

You were a victim.

 

…Why couldn’t you kill me?

 

I wanted to save you.

 

I didn’t want to be saved.

ring of fire

 

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