The faintest whispers of accusation still hang in the air. The word wraps itself around her slender neck, coiled and tight, like a snake: fangs bared and ready to strike. She lets its venomous teeth sink into her chest, sending poison straight towards her non-existent heart. It vanishes as a wisp of smoke rises.
She ignores him. Before her, the warehouse is ablaze, bright orange fire eating every brick and plywood. It is a beautiful sight. A smile forms on her cracked, bleeding lips: a smile of triumph as the sweet taste of vengeance spreads. Who is there to challenge her? Not even they can. She remembers them standing in front of her, mocking, angry, afraid and greedy. Their speeches are shallow lies, eyes reflecting their hunger for a power similar to hers. The fire grows stronger, its heat spreading outwards, caressing her face. Her smile widens as she welcomes it.
"Child," he says, and she feels a flicker of irritation at his patient, patronizing tone.
"What?" she snaps. He hovers, that vexing old man, wearing an expression of worry. She hates it when he does not answer, choosing to stare at her. She cannot break contact it would have been a sign of weakness. Yet she wants to watch the warehouse come tumbling down along with the cries, cries that are filled with terror and pain. She wants them to hurt. It is a chant resounding in her mind: hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt.
"You should not have done it."
She struggles to control the mad impulse to scream at him. Not expletives or curses or self-righteous words, but a wordless scream that goes on and on, a scream that she knows he fears. This is not the right time. The scream will give her away. Police and civilians are swarming, desperate, throwing water at the inferno rising up to the heavens. Any sound she makes would lead them to her, and she would be trapped again. She frowns at the thought.
"Flame," he says, his voice soft, "do not let it take control of you. You don't want this; it only makes you think that you do."
"You know this is not what you want to be. Clear your mind, Flame. Your anger is clouding your thoughts."
She glares at him, feeling something spark within her. The spark lights log after log, building up, an explosion of mindless rage. The expression in his eyes doesn't change. Instead, he comes near, brushing past her cheeks.
"Your face, child. How many times must I tell you to take care of yourself?" He heaves out a tired sigh. "Your bandages need changing. We will have to get new ones."
The spark dies down and she blinks, a hand reaching up to touch her scorched face. Only then does she realize its bitter sting. Her fingers trace livid red rivers, feeling every indentation, following the outlines. She glances at the warehouse. By now, it has collapsed; a few people are on their knees, wailing for the dead, mourning for the ashes that mingle with the earth.
"What have I done?" she whispers. His eyes are sorrowful, still looking at the wounds on her face. "Ash, what have I done?"
"You lost control," he says. It is a simple declaration, only an answer to her question, but the words make her head spin. She can feel herself falling into the depths of a cold, cold ocean. They freeze her as icy arms and hands grab at her body. She stares at her hands then back at him.
"I-I didn't mean to!" Her voice is wild as it seeks forgiveness, any acceptance of an apology, any way out of the ruins she has created. "It wasn't me. It wasn't me!"
"It wasn't you."
"Where is she?"
This is nothing but a dream. She isn't the one to blame. It wasn't her fault.
It wasn't her fault.
It wasn't her fault.
Somehow the truth always gets twisted behind the mirror of reality. She wants to believe, with every fiber of her being, that these hands do not destroy. She wants to believe, almost sinking into the depths of insanity, that this heart does not thirst for blood. She wants to believe, in every silence and every thought, that this mind cannot think of so many different ways to kill.
Believing is never enough to make something real.
Slowly, unnoticed, she turns into the thing she fears. Animalistic, out of control, yet calm and
indifference drugs her with their potency. She knows she is slipping. She is aware that she is losing. Ash tries to help, to hold her back, but he can only offer temporary balms for her fragmented soul. And that is what she is: a fragment, a shard of broken glass, unpredictable at every turn. Fog is a constant presence in her darkening mind, covering up the bleak corners, but creating gaps in her memory. It is a jumble of puzzle pieces, confused and littered, scattered on the fabric of what was once her life. The tapestry frays, the threads unravel, and though it retains its beauty, it becomes a malignant beauty that terrifies.
There are nights when she wakes in the streets, bodies piled up all around. Days pass with startling speed, never once helping her steady deterioration.
"Flame," Ash says. It is one of those times when she cannot remember anything, blank, unreachable, trying to understand the world that turns before her. "We must go."
Despite all that has happened, he continues to save her. She relies on him for her strength. Not knowing, through the months, the years they spend together, she drains him. Unselfishly, he gives his life to her. He hides his crippling weakness.
When the primitive heat builds up, turning her eyes into embers, they both know silently that it is their last.
The cry spreads through the city and it becomes a clamor, passed from one to another, a warning. She is living hell walking through the mess of alleys and streets that they call their home. She is living fire.
Her every touch is a flaming brand, burning down what displeases her, leaving nothing unscarred. There is nothing left within her. Ash's pleas are muted and shut out; her own self is kept under restraint; her heart is cold with indifference. Tarnished silver crown set high on her brow, once a gift from someone she loved, is a symbol of her cruelty. Beyond all hope of redemption, past any chances that once existed. She moves without knowing. She takes without caring. But inside, beneath that mask of merciless murder, is the sadness of a crying child.
She is only a child. Tainted by evil's first breath, entwined with her soul. She is only a child, and she is forced to become someone she does not want to be. If, somehow, she can escape -- but already she is sinking into the arms of an unnamed curse.
A man stands in her way, arms thrown in a protective stance as he pushes his family behind him. "Water!"
They throw the liquid over her. It does not dampen; it only feeds her insatiable hunger. The man steps back, terrified, shouting at them to run. She giggles.
Another giggle escapes, and without a thought, she sets them on fire. Something inside her explodes. It is a combination of invincibility, of fury, of inexplicable happiness. Heat increases, uncomfortable, but not something that she cannot manage.
She does not realize, until it is too late, the tongues of flame that lick her skin. Their only true sustenance is her translucent flesh -- not the sacrificial human remains. Her blood is the only equivalent to the gods' ichor. Ash tries, one last time, to warn her, to save her -- but he has taken far too much to ever last. Lost in the brightness that traps them on all sides, words not uttered, bringing a sudden death.
Flame falls to her knees, closing her eyes. They consume her, leaving nothing but a memory, the ghost of a whisper floating over the land.
The word resounds in the confines of her own funeral pyre. It echoes.
In my living fire you were born.
In my living fire you had strength.
And I will keep the pain, the hurt, the brokenness
Of my living fire.
What a waste of life.