Can You See Yourself For What You Are?

Can You See Yourself For What You Are?

The lash of the whip summoned a high-pitched wail, not quite human, not quite feline. Each cry pierced deeper until the screams tore through his core.

It hurt more than if the punishing blows had fallen against his flesh.

He strained once more against his bonds. Sharp metal scraped against barely healed wounds. He ignored the sting and the blood, pushing harder, grinding his teeth so hard he thought they might shatter.

How long could they go on like this? How long had he balanced the knife-edge of this abyss, held upright only by sheer tenacity, by an undying determination that burned in his chest like a fire?

There had to be a snapping point.

And as the lash fell, as screech echoed in his ears, as the manacles drew fresh, hot blood to drip across his wrists, he found it.

He expected to fall into darkness from which there could be no return. He expected to froth at the mouth. To descend into incoherent madness. Instead, something reached up from the depths of the crevice over which he’d spent most of his life poised. Something huge, incorporeal but strong. Something dark and sinister. It reached a cold hand through his chest and smothered his fire with its frozen touch.

He stood before a mirror. The surface reflected his face, battered and bloody as it had been dozens of times. But there was something different. An unfamiliar cross-shaped scar. A hint of age, of wisdom and cynicism he hadn’t yet had time to form.

“I am your mirror,” the reflection spoke with his voice, gravely and hoarse as it always was after bearing the master’s displeasure. “I am what you could have been. Should have been.” He saw the cuts now, the slashes and scratches. The burn marks across this aged version of his body. But he felt no pain. He watched, as if from a distance as his reflection said, “I am stronger than you. Even if you break me, it will gain you no pleasure. You can never be what I am.”

He held the lash in his hands. The leather was warm and damp from the sweat of his palm. He seethed, the words roiling in his stomach like a pack of angry snakes. They hissed their venom into his veins until he wanted to tear the flesh from his own body with his bare finger nails. He saw his captive, a man with his own face, battered and mangled from his handy work.

“You are a false creation. A mage’s toy, with no will of your own. You could never take my place.”

“I don’t want your place,” his battered double spat, summoning strength from some unknown reservoir. “Can’t you see what you are? A pawn, grown fat on his own ego who fancies himself as powerful as a queen. You will be your own undoing, with or without me.”

An echoing cry rent the air as the image shifted. A pale man loomed over him, surrounded by a blazing halo, as if the sun rested on one of his shoulders. His jaw, neck and chest were stained red with the blood of a thousand sacrifices.

The whip had become a sword and he drove the sword deeper into the pale demon’s chest, twisting the blade as it pierced the heart, drawing another cry from the man’s throat. When he spoke, his voice seemed to echo, as if a second, stronger being spoke through the wounded body.

“You dare? I gave you everything, raised you from the ashes of ruin, even offered you a place at my side. And this is how you repay me?”

Life fled from his body through the hole in his own chest. His heartbeat was strangely misplaced, not thrashing against the walls of his ribcage as it should have. He drew his own ragged breath and found the strength to speak.

“Hear me!” Somehow, though he couldn’t see them, he knew a thousand faces lifted toward the spectacle, to view the final sacrifice gone wrong. “The gods have grown fat on the power of men. It is from the hearts of humans their power flows. Without the sacrifice, without the determination, fear, pain and dedication of their worshipers, the gods are less than flies!”

“Blasphemy!” The bloody god croaked, closing its hand around what remained of his heart, driving him that much closer to death.

He was caught in two worlds now, and his power flowed from the other. The power to speak, and the power to slay. “Here ends the reign of gods and begins the age of man!” He drove the sword the last few inches from each realm. Familiar power flowed through his body into the blade, into his victim – the not quite man, not quite god.

Light filled his vision and a voice spoke. His voice, but deeper, softer.

Do you know what you are?

A slave, he answered without hesitation.

Do you know what you could be?

Liberator. The word came unbidden into his mind. He saw himself in a dozen different scenarios, the triumphant warrior, leader of men, conqueror of tyrants, hero to those who followed him. Dreams all of them, impossible dreams, yet he didn’t doubt there was truth to each image. He’d seen many before, in his dreams.

Do you know what I am?

His first moment of hesitation. A mirror reflection. A monster.

Power, the deeper version of his voice countered. Your power.

Again, the half-feline wails penetrated the dream haze, cutting through his entire being.

I can help you save him. All you have to do is embrace me. Accept me. Unleash me.

Like the images of the triumphant hero, he knew what would happen if he did. He saw the fire and destruction, the bodies trailing the creature that lived within him. Its power to torment and destroy seemed without limit.

It all happened in a moment, in his head, in the place where only true madness could be born. And it took less than a second for him to make the decision.

The chains binding his manacles snapped beneath the force of his fury, the sound hidden by the cries of his companion. He didn’t question his new strength, spawned by the smoldering embers in his chest. Even before his hands closed around the necks of his captors, he knew he would kill them slowly and revel in every moment.

Please check out my writing partner’s version of this prompt!

And if you’d like to participate, share a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week.

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