The boy awoke to a roaring wave. It washed over him and kept on coming time and time again. The roar of victory, of exhilaration, of bloodlust. Savagery finally finding its triumphant release.
The roar ripped through him, leaving him unable to gain his bearings or footing. He lay there, wherever he was, on whatever that sickeningly soft and slimy surface was underneath, his limbs tingling, his mind swimming in a haze, only the raging savagery around him stirring any remains of coherent thoughts.
Slowly, familiar sensations were returning. But different somehow. Stumbling over this lumpy soft terrain, he struggled to find the certainty in his feet. As if he was only now taking his first steps. But he was already a… man… that thought did not feel right. Neither was he convinced he was a young boy.
He realised his hands and arms were smaller than they had been. Yet, he had not grown shorter. He should have been nearly as tall as the man had been. Perhaps a tiny bit shorter. Maybe by a head length or two.
He plummeted to his knees after a few successful steps, feeling exhausted beyond belief. Lightning ripped through his mind as two sets of unfamiliar memories clashed inside it. He could claim neither as his own, they were apart from him, distant.
Before he could untangle that mess of memories, sensations and emotions, his sight finally focused on the horror underneath his feet. Corpses in the hundreds crowded the street, the flagstones barely visible under the gore and guts. For a moment he only knew terror he had briefly glimpsed in nightmares.
His dry throat on fire, he screamed, the roar that had drowned his own existence dispersing on the wind and his shrill shriek of fear replacing it.
Hands suddenly gripped him and took him away. Uncaring hands that did not care how tightly they squeezed on his small frame or how roughly they herded him along the corpse-strewn street.
He was shoved harshly into a huddle of sobbing boys and girls his own age. There were few adults among them, mostly mothers or older sisters. He barely registered any of their faces, as his mind was now lost in the numb horror of what he had just witnessed. He did not want to, but his gaze was still drawn towards the street filled with the dead.
This is a war, he realised.
This city lost. But which side am I on?
Through the numbness, his own thoughts slowly began surfacing. But there was little in the way of understanding where he was and how it had come to be.
The world began taking a more orderly shape in his eyes, despite the chaos still raging in the background. As squads of soldiers gathered up the civilians, separating the men, women and children, he could still hear the victorious roar echo elsewhere in the city.
Officers barked orders as the city’s frightened officials scurried from one group of civilians to another. They carried with them scrolls they constantly consulted as they shouted names, which lone voices among the crowds answered.
Those citizens who did were then herded away. It did not take long until they made it to the group of children he was among. And with the same ruthless efficiency, most of these frightened souls were driven towards the centre of the city. Except for a few lone children, including him.
He had expected to it come to this as the memories of the boy nor the man were of this city. And around this street there were others who had been filtered out from the crowds. Men and women of all ages, some of whom now followed their captors in numb silence, resigned to what was to come and some who still protested, pleaded, raged at the injustice.
Meanwhile, a group of soldiers and a lower-ranking officer had taken an interest in the small group of teens the boy was among. He did not need to understand the words exchanged between this officer and the city officials. A callused hand reached for him and pulled him along.
An icy wave of fear ran through the boy as he thought of what could possibly happen next. And lightning ripped into his mind again as the memories of two different souls clashed again. He stumbled, disoriented. But the officer merely cursed a few words and yanked the boy along.
The boy realised he had scuffed his knees badly.
His gaze focused again, and he cast quick glances around him to understand what was going on. Gaining little in the way of new information, his eyes fixed on his captor. It was clear from the officer's greased hair and clean and lavish attire that this one had not taken part in the battle. This pompous prick was only here for the spoils.
The man's armour was spotless, in various shades of royal red and silver. What little the boy could see of the man's clothes was no different, dyed in purple, decorated with flounces, and his pointy nosed boots had several tassels on them. The officer's cloak had a fine golden embroidery woven into it.
This worm. The boy could not believe it.
He could not hold back the anger rising in him and he pulled and tugged on the officer's arm, trying to pull himself loose. But he made little in the way of progress as the man only yanked him along in a brutal motion. The pain in the boy's arm sent his mind into a searing rage.
The boy noticed a sword at the man's other hip. Without pause, he tugged on the hand holding his again, reaching around the officer's back and grasping the grip of the sword.
All I need to do is cut him. He will let go, the boy thought.
The sword in his other hand, the boy swung at the hand attached to his wrist. The blade cut effortlessly into it, and continued through the bone with little resistance until the officer's hand was completely severed.
"You fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!" The man shrieked, his eyes darting wildly between the stump in his other hand and the boy.
While this course of events had taken the boy by surprise, he had enough sense left to realise he could not pause. He darted forward, aiming at the officer's armpit, one of the few places with little armour covering it. The blade pierced clothes and skin, but just barely.
The next moment a fist came straight at the boy and everything blacked out. He came to lying in mud a few paces further from the officer than he had been. Before the boy was able to contemplate his next move, he was thrown against a nearby wall. The impact drove all breath from his lungs. He could barely regain it when something squeezed around his neck.
Through a haze he could see the officer's face inches from his own and realised what was going on. He had lost the sword and could only claw at the hand around his neck in increasing desperation. The only thing keeping him conscious was the searing white rage. It burned, inside his oxygen-starved lungs, his throat, his injured face and in his mind. He must have been close to oblivion as the boy could now see those white flames where the officer's face had been.
Without warning and with an audible groan, air rushed back into the boy's lungs, leaving him coughing on all fours. His ears rang and he could barely understand what was going on in front of his eyes. Yet a familiarly clad figure rolled around on the flagstones and mud, shrieking, trying to rid itself of the white blaze it had been enveloped in.