339: Nothing Holding Me Back

People change. They can’t help it, it’s the nature of the universe to be in constant flux. But for some reason it’s important for people to feel their values are sacrosanct.

What would be the point of standing up for your beliefs if you knew they were going to change in a year or two?

The rockers who sing about hoping they die before they grow old, are the same ones selling out stadium tickets in their 70s. The young actresses flouncing around with their pert tits out are the same ones opining about the lack of roles for mature women when they hit their 40s and 50s.

We don’t just change, we eradicate the past. This is what I believe, what I have always believed, and always will.

How we think changes because how we live changes. Our bodies, our circumstances, the length of our list of regrets and shameful acts. Adjustments need to be made.

People don’t stand up for their principles, they do their best to cope with the inevitable loss of their integrity. Your principles are really just what you believe right now. If they hold fast until next Tuesday, you’re doing pretty well.

It had always been important to me that I not become like the people I saw around me in the world. People with power and influence who used it to not only take what they wanted (I had no issue with that), but also went out of their way to fuck with others for the hell of it. Because it amused them, because it relieved some of their own self-hatred, maybe because it helped to convince others of their worth. Nothing says someone’s special like a bunch of random people insisting on it.

I had never seen it as something exclusive to a few insane sociopaths who took over a country or a media empire or an international corporation. Anyone, given the opportunity, could do a bad job of being in charge. It was just that most people never got the chance. Mainly because the ones who had the power wanted to keep it to themselves.

This was all hypothetical for me, though. I wasn’t in a position to prove my point. My hate wasn’t based on facts or experience, it was hatred on principle.

And then I came to this place and I found myself in a position of power. Very little power, but certainly more than I’d ever had before. I did my best to live up to my heartfelt beliefs. I pushed people away and refused to make their choices for them.

In truth, it isn’t just the egomaniacs running around trying to grab all the power for themselves, there’s also a huge flock of sheep out there desperate for someone to tell them what to do. The giant corporations couldn’t tell everyone what to wear, what to drink, how to spend their spare time if the demand wasn’t there. Lord save us from having to work this shit out for ourselves.

Even as I became stronger and more powerful, I did my best to not let it influence my decisions. I could have easily bullied and coerced people into doing as I said. It wouldn’t even have been that hard. They wanted me to be that person, even as they complained about it.

If you’re going to have a leader, he might as well be a strong one. You don’t want the other sheeple making fun of you because their overlord is so much more demanding and unreasonable than yours.

And then they left.

I was alone, with no one to reluctantly boss around. Any kind of drastic change to your lifestyle is going to affect you, of course. It takes time to adjust. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to change. Sometimes it’s an improvement.

Did I find it easier to accumulate power because I had fewer distractions, or did I want it more?

There was certainly an attraction to the idea of meeting up with them again, and being immensely more powerful than when they last saw me. Self-improvement as a vehicle for maximum levels of fuck you.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t noticed how much easier it was for me to threaten people. To maim and kill. To watch people die, and use it to get those left alive to shit themselves in my presence.

Anyone could see the direction this was headed in. Not many would bother to resist. No one would ever mess with you again, and if you decided to do something, no one would stop you. They’d even help.

And then something strange happened. A girl I barely knew saved my life at the expense of her own.

I realised when I saw her reappear perfectly healthy that she hadn’t sacrificed herself. I didn’t really understand what she’d done, or why. I didn’t even understand what her ability was. But none of that mattered.

The moment she pushed me out of the way and I thought she put my safety ahead of hers, something inside of me broke open. People died all the time, especially around me. I didn’t care. I was untouchable.

She died for me and the strength of opposition I had to her actions was overwhelming. Do what you want, but not for my sake. Not for me.

I wasn’t grateful. I wasn’t embarrassed (saved by a girl! How would I ever live it down at the boys’ club I wasn’t a member of?). The emotion I felt was disapproval.

Disapproval of her, and of myself. What the fuck was I doing?

Another girl had saved me once. Proved her feelings for me were real when the only emotion I could give her in return was doubt. And I let her go. Something I said I’d never do.

Because she changed her mind? People changed all the time. It was nothing to take seriously.

I’d come all this way to an island — and I hated beach holidays — in the hope of finding cool weapons and items. In an RPG it would have made total sense. For someone wanting to stay out of the public eye, it was idiotic.

There was a fantasy somewhere in the back of my mind where I stood triumphant over the bodies of my enemies, God-King Colin. It was dumb but also sort of pleasant. And, like any desire, unstable. The way you think when you have an erection is so very different from how you think when you don’t, and I hadn’t jerked off in days.

I stood up and looked at Richina. She was entirely unhurt. Her head was very definitely still firmly connected to her neck.

There was also a decapitated body lying on the ground. I couldn’t actually see the detached head anywhere. Must have rolled away.

I wanted to get Wesley back into her body. That was a clear and definite goal that had nothing to do with my lust for power. It was something achievable.

Once I had got her out of my head, I could decide my next move. After I wanked myself unconscious, obviously.

“I don’t suppose you’re twins,” I said to Richina.

Richina shook her head. “I’m one of a kind.”

“I’m terribly sorry about what happened,” said Damicar. He picked up his knife and took out a cloth. He smiled apologetically. “Have to clean it or the stains will set in.”

There was something reassuring in Damicar’s affection for his utensils. It meant his vines weren’t permanently severed, for a start. The idea I could permanently leave someone in the same condition as me was truly appalling. My greatest crime.

“So… Arthur locked you up in there? His own step-daughter.”

“Adopted daughter,” she said, but not unkindly. “He thought it would be for the best. For my own protection.”

“Yes,” I said, “he did the same with his wife. He seemed to think the people he loved were safest locked away from the world.”

“It’s a very dangerous world,” said Richina.

“Not as dangerous as when Arthur’s girls are roaming around in it. Wesley can level mountains. What can you do?”

“Nothing that dramatic. I’m just a girl.” She held out her arms and her sarong clung to her body. You can take the girl out of the shrine, but you can’t take the manipulative bitch out of the girl. That’s a well-known saying, right? Ancient Greeks, I think.

Her act of innocent femininity was somewhat undermined by the islanders simultaneously flinching back when she raised her hands.

“You never answered my question. Is Wesley’s body down there?”

“I didn’t answer because I don’t know. It’s very dark in there. There could be all sorts of things.”

“You said there were magical artefacts.”

She nodded. “They glow in the dark, so easy to see. I haven’t explored it, I was sleeping until you woke me.” She made it sound like whatever happened next would be my fault. Wasn’t it always?

It was hard to get a read on her. She wasn’t making any demands. There were no overt reactions to anything I’d said. She was softly spoken and offered no threats. And the islanders were cowering. It was unnerving.

I peered into the hole. The steps disappeared into pitch black very quickly. I made a ball of light, which drew a gasp from people around me. It’s really hard not to get a little puffed up when you can impress people so easily. It’s also hard not to think less of people for having such low standards.

I tossed the ball down the hole. It bounced from step to step, hit a floor, and rolled away down a passage.

“Okay. I’m going to go have a look. You’re coming with me.”

“Okay.” She agreed too quickly for my liking. This could be a very bad decision. My speciality.

I turned to the islanders. “While I’m gone, let’s call a truce. No fighting, no eating people. Actually, you can have her.” I pointed at the headless body. “That’s breakfast sorted. When I come back, I’m going to leave the island, and you can carry on as before. Please don’t do anything to piss me off. I’m liable to…” I lost my train of thought. The President was crying.

He wasn’t bawling or leaking snot from his nose. He wasn’t trying to emotionally blackmail me into not going down the pub. He had his stump tucked into the opposite armpit and tears were leaking from the outer corners of his eyes. Not really surprising considering what I’d done to him.

Children had appeared among the adults —  cannibal children, mind you — and were adding to the general atmosphere of fear and intimidation. I’d already killed them once, I guess that put me in their bad books.

I understood what I’d done was horrible. I knew how it would be viewed by others, and I accepted they would be correct in their assessment of me as a monster. I understood it, but I didn’t feel it. I had no paralysing sense of regret and guilt. I used to have those sorts of feelings, over the most insignificant things.

I didn’t feel bad looking at the President, but I understood that any sane person would.

Was this what it meant to be untouchable?

To be aware of everything deplorable about yourself, but able to shrug it off?

“Give me your hand,” I said to the President. “Come on, before someone gets peckish.”

He looked up at me, reluctant to do as I said, but knowing the consequences of disobeying, and held out his hand.

I took it and grabbed him by the stump. I could feel the poison spreading into me and pushed it away. It took ten seconds to reattach his hand. I let go and he fell back.

It wasn’t an act of compassion. There was no kindness to it. I just didn’t want to be the kind of person I would look down. Time to hold myself to a higher standard. Yes, to impress others, but the person whose approval I sought most was me.

“You’re not president anymore, are you?” The first light of dawn had appeared. A new day. “Who’s next?”

“She’s dead,” said one of the other islanders. There was a heavy implication that I was responsible.

“Then we need to hold a new election, right? I nominate me. Can I get a second?”

“I second the nomination,” said Damicar.

The islanders were a bit stunned by my deft political manoeuvring.

“I suppose I should give a speech outlining my manifesto. If elected, I plan to leave this tropical hell-hole at the first opportunity. If you don’t vote for me I’ll have to set up home here, and make things the way I like them. I should warn you, I have very peculiar tastes.” I smiled like a politician would. “You wouldn’t like what I have in mind, although what’s wrong with orange and mauve. Don’t knock it until you’ve seen it with a hangover. The point is, it’s a one-day appointment, and I plan to use that time to vacate the premises. A vote for me is a vote for returning to the old days. The ones when I wasn’t here.”

The islanders weren’t really following, but they were getting the general gist of it. No one stood against me. The vote was unanimous. President Victor Sifuentes was sworn into office. I was the Cannibal-in-Chief.

“My first order, can you get one of my ships afloat?” It would be the easiest way to leave.

“In one day?” said the ex-president. “I don’t think that would be possible. We could…” His voice tailed off. He looked around at the other who nodded at him. “We could lend you a ship.”

“You have a ship?” I don’t know why I was so surprised, they had to have arrived here by sea. “Big enough to take us all?”

He nodded. “It might need some work before it’s ready to sail, though.”

I turned to Captain Somya. “Take the crew and prepare their ship. I should be back soon, but if I don’t return before dawn, you have permission to leave without me.” He turned to leave. A bit too sprightly if you asked me. “Hey, wait, that doesn’t mean leave early because you think I have no chance. And keep mum under control.”

“I see disaster ahead,” said Mrs Somya.

“You’re blind! You can’t see fuck all.” I really wasn’t happy with her contribution so far. “And no more dolls.”

“No more advice from me,” she said, like it was a punishment.

Captain Somya picked up his mother and swung her onto his back. “You won’t take any men with you?”

“No, why ruin a fun expedition with professionals? I expect the island has more to fear from me than I do from it.” I know how up my own arse that sounded, but it was true. Wesley had my back.

“I’m ready,” said Damicar. By which I think he meant he’d finished cleaning his knife. But also that he was coming with me. I was kind of glad he still wanted to.

We approached the yawning opening. I made another light. Richina gingerly put her foot on the first step. I realised she wasn’t trying to avoid something disgusting, she was squirming her toes around to get them good and squishy.

“You seem better,” said Wesley.

“I am. Just had to get it out of my system. I know what I want now, and that makes all the difference.”

“I don’t trust that girl.”

Richina looked eager to get going.

“Neither do I, but Arthur seemed to have faith in her.”

“No,” said Wesley. “She’s lying.”

“How do you know?”

“Because there’s something I didn’t tell you. Something I should have. We aren’t going to find Arthur, not here, not anywhere. He’s dead.”

“And how do you know that?”

She sighed. “Because I was the one who killed him.”

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