Make It Stop

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③ Hamartia

What’s the difference between a hero and a villain?

They both do the same things when you think about it. They’ve got their plans and methods that usually involve causing a lot of pain to the people around them - and most importantly, their target. I suppose the only distinction is that heroes usually end up hurting people unintentionally. Villains don’t care who they hurt. Family or alone, healthy or not, happy with life or getting sick of it, they’re just a worthless holdup.

Why are people so carefree when killing characters in games with a few swings of a sword or a couple of shots from a gun, but then cower away from the opportunity when it’s real life? Are they afraid they’ll go insane? That the victim’s blood will etch into their own, poisoning their thoughts and conscience until it’s all just a blur?

I think they are.

I think they must be.

I wasn’t though. I was just like Victor Zsasz from the murky, fictional streets of Gotham. He was an assassin too, he stuck to the target and got rid of those in the way. He even tallied off his strikes on his skin with a knife. I didn’t go that far though, obviously, but I did feel a momentary rush of pride and dark glee when I completed the job. Didn’t leave behind a single trace that nosey idiots might’ve tried to track to find me. Just the corpse, the works. Not a stain on me, but plenty on them.

I think I might be a villain. So what? This world just takes and takes without a care, so why should I care if I take from them? It’s nothing personal. It’s just what I do. It’s a living, and it’s a living I like. It gets easier the more you do it, especially when you don’t really know anything about them, or they’re just a general pain in the ass.

That’s what I expected my last contract to be like. Samey, selfish, shallow, and dead by the time I’m out the door. But they had warned me. Told me about what things she was into. Insisted on how she was obsessed with spirits and folklore and medieval curses. I laughed it all off without a second thought - ‘yeah, well, the only cure for madness is death, right?’ - despite their telling me of their being completely serious.

They called her Mazoku - or, that’s what she called herself - a middle-aged Japanese woman, pale and thin and veiny, blue eyes glazed with grey and the skin on her face wrinkled and taut, often seen wearing darkly coloured kimonos. She was described as quiet, unsettling and bitter, treating people as inferior wastes of time and staying cooped up in her small bungalow, away from the town, in the forest. Literally, like one of those cliche fairy tales. People from the town came to her with problems when they were desperate, like an illness or another baleful issue, and she would immediately whip something homemade up and hand it over with no fuss.

But then there was, of course, the payment.

She wasn’t interested in money, or what people call valuables. She was interested in favours. One dosage of her undecipherable medicines would be equal to one favour for her where and when she needed it. Nobody questioned it when they came to her at first, though a little wary, but in their state, they agreed and solved the problem. And that was that.

But then, all too soon, she’d want her favour paid. And the favour was all too high. Twisted. Wrong. Even for me? Maybe. Not the point.

For example, her curing a father’s sick daughter of a nasty virus when they had no money to buy proper medicine or hire a doctor would mean his having to tell her--

Well. Let’s just say, tell things to a child that would rid them of most of their innocence in a matter of minutes. Gory, dark, horrible things. Or in another instance, kill the family pet and bring its dead body to her for who knows what. I know, I keep repeating the word dark, but what other word is there to use?

And if the people refused to repay her with those favours, it wouldn’t be but half a year until they were declared insane, criminally so even, screaming at mirrors and lashing out at strangers for no apparent reason. All under Mazoku’s watchful eyes.

I didn’t like her already. I can’t stand smug people. Ugh.

So I agreed to the contract and travelled to her town to do the deed. Waited until night, snuck into her bungalow - a dusty, cobwebbed old building with so many books piled on top of wall shelves that it was a wonder they didn’t buckle underneath the weight - and to her room. Muffle the noise, spilt the blood, blah blah blah, and I was out of the house, satisfied.

I was convinced that killing was no different to any of the others, but it would appear not. Because after a day or two, with astounded and admiring words, along with a substantial payment from the people I carried the job out for, I started seeing things.

Call me crazy, whatever. But even if I don’t see the difference between a hero and a villain, I can’t most definitely see it between real and fake. They were real and eerie and just weird, and it didn’t take me too much longer to realise that I never really killed Mazoku. She was killing me. Inside out.

I saw her as myself when I looked in the mirror, face empty of expression and dim eyes burning holes through my head. I could hear whispers of torment in my mind, feel the sharp pain after being knocked into a wall or stabbing my leg or my arm with my own knife that I was wielding. I saw her in my dreams, the way I kept falling and she was forever rising, in power and intelligence and hatred.

There was no point in telling anyone. I’m not going to end up in the same place as all the others who ended up like me. Fogged thoughts and spiked paranoia. Insane asylums and prisons like those don’t do anything. You’re the same person, just in a different environment.

Hamartia. That’s what it’s called. A fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine. I guess every villain is their own hero. Who’s my villain now? It can’t be myself. I don’t know what’s left of myself at this point, but I’ve given up being scared. I’m stronger than the rest Mazoku’s poisoned with her presence. And I’m still an assassin. I just work for her now, that’s all.

Maybe we’re the same person.

Maybe I was never a hero or a villain to begin with. Can we make one up?

‘Who’s to stop us?’

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