The Paradox of Dying
by Leslie Ann Miller
Violence: This story contains a scene of graphic violence.
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I feel the blade of my sai pierce the thin leather protecting the man's chest. I feel the scrape of metal against bone as my blade slides up to the soft flesh between his ribs. I drive the point forward automatically, plunging it deep. I pull it free an instant later, watching as the blood spurts warm and wet across my hand. The man screams as I push his dying body away from me with a kick to his stomach, then spin to face my next opponent.
His eyes widen in fear and shock as he sees the gore dripping from my weapon. I know his swing is coming even before his muscles tense to throw the blow; I can see the panic in his eyes and note instinctively where they take aim upon my body... my left leg. I step forward to meet his attack, and my left sai catches his blade on the downward arc. At the same time my right arm stabs forward and upward, catching his unprotected stomach. I hear his grunt of surprise as I pull my blade free, see the confusion and pain in his eyes as he staggers backward, sword falling from numb fingers.
A moment later he collapses in the dirt, his hands feebly clutching at his belly. With heightened senses, I know the battle is over, and I turn, seeking Xena. Four bloody bodies lie at her feet. There is a look in her eye that I see more often these days, and I understand what she is feeling. Revulsion. Anger. Disgust.
I look down at the man I just stabbed. I can tell from his ragged breathing that he is still alive, but not for long. I wonder if I should stab him again to give him a quicker death, but I can't bring myself to do it. The battle rage is gone. I just feel old... old and tired beyond my years. With each new death upon my hands, I feel another part of myself slip away. It's like a piece of me dies with them, and I am powerless to stop it.
Sometimes I wonder how Xena manages to retain her humanity with all the death and blood upon her hands. She might say it was because of me, but I don't know how I, with my terrible flaws and history of mistakes, could be anyone's salvation. Once, I might have taken credit for it, but I think that it's Xena's tremendous capacity for compassion that truly saves her, not me.
It's ironic that before I learned to kill with the efficiency of a trained warrior, I always had to rely on Xena to save me. And now that I can protect myself, I find that I need to be saved more than ever before...
The man in front of me gasps for air and calls out. A shudder runs through his body, and then he lies still. I know he is dead, and I wonder to whom he called out with his last breath. A wife? A child? A mother or a father? Someone loved, no doubt, to be in his thoughts as he died. I feel the tears fill my eyes, and I turn away.
Sometimes I wonder if you can truly serve the cause of the greater good by killing. This man was a bandit, a thief, and a would-be murderer. But who was to say what desperate events might have led him to this life? Perhaps he had children who would now go hungry in his absence. Perhaps...
Perhaps. Maybe. If. I can't dwell on the possibilities, or I will go mad. Maybe it is those possibilities that cause me to die a little every time. Xena says that we make our own fates, but I think our fates are interdependent. The Fates weave a tangled web, and I can't separate the strands. Perhaps I didn't have to kill this man. Perhaps I could have knocked him out, instead. Perhaps he then would have attacked his jailer - or the next two women who came along this road - and killed them. Perhaps he would have realized the error of his ways and led a good and happy life. But now the world would never know. His thread was cut...by me.
"Are you all right?" Xena asks, kneeling to clean her sword on the shirt of one of the dead men.
I nod, unsure of my voice. I see the concern in her eyes before I, too, kneel to clean my sais.
Why is it, I wonder, that I live in a world where I have to kill? Why is it that Xena has to try to right the wrongs of her past with more violence and bloodshed? Is there some difference in the blood we shed? Is there good blood and evil blood, and by shedding more amounts of one you can tilt the scales of judgment this way or that?
It would be nice to believe that, but my heart doubts the conclusion. Blood is blood. We may argue the necessity of the battle, but in the end is it really our place to make such adjucations? Xena would say these men forfeited their right to live when they attacked us with intent to kill. But I keep coming back to all those ifs and maybes. I share a common bond with the two men before me. We are human. And mortal. And we are more alike than we are different. And I wonder if I truly have the right to kill them. But sometimes it is clearly necessary...to protect the innocent, to protect others, to protect myself.
Eli taught a different way, but how can a person follow the path of peace in a world ruled by warlords and violence? To follow that path is to die. He proved that. How many times would Eve have died without Xena's intervention? The answer is simple: if you want to live without being dependent upon the protection of others, you can't.
It is a terrible paradox, that to follow the path of peace is to die at the point of another's sword, yet to follow the path of the successful warrior is to die, slowly, kill by kill, at the point of your own.
Is there any resolution to the paradox? I do not know. But as I slowly stand, and Xena takes me in her arms and holds me close and whispers in my ear, I feel my heart respond, and I realize that without her I truly would be lost. Perhaps I don't know right from wrong anymore. Perhaps I don't know if the path I have chosen is the right one, or even if there is a right path. I only know that with three short words, she replaced a bit of what died in me today. With three words she gives me the strength to go on, for better, for worse. Perhaps those three words, when spoken honestly and bravely, are enough to save anyone, whatever their fate, whatever their choices, whatever the paradox of their lives.
"I love you."
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