By Cali

Flames surround me, and the sounds of swords and men's shouts and the roar of the fire fill my ears. I look around, my sword in hand, blood dripping down the blade to cover my hand with its sticky ooze. I begin to run, searching for that whence I came, when I hear a shrill voice crying. I follow it to a small room in a small house in the small village we had been sent to. "Mummy!" My eyes pass over the room and finally lock on a tiny figure in a corner of the dilapidated building. "Mummy!" she calls again, her voice barely penetrating the noises outside. I glance around once more, looking for the mother of this little girl who looks so alone amidst the destruction. But my eyes find only blood and flames the wounded and dying of this tiny town.

I look again at the tear-streaked face of the child. My mind says to me in rational tones, Kill her. Your orders are to kill every member of this accursed town, no matter who they are. Do you want to lose your command? Do you want to be sent to prison for refusing to obey? Do you want to be executed as a traitor? Do it. Do it now before someone sees you hesitate. You'll be branded a coward if you don't do it now. I sigh and close my eyes, trying to fight the logic of my thoughts. I lose, and take a deep breath as I open my eyes once more. The child looks up at me, her green eyes so trusting and innocent.

My heart flutters in my chest as I pull back my sword. "Mummy?" she asks in a soft, inquisitive voice. The question tears at my heart, but I do not let myself falter as I strike. The roars and shouts fade to nothing in my ears; all that remains is the sound of my heart beating wildly in my chest and the child's screams as she falls bleeding to the ground. I shudder once as a long-forgotten scene steals over my vision.

A little child watches an enemy sword steal the life of his mother, and cruel laughter rings in his ears as the soldier turns to the little boy and says, "That's what your mother gets for not obeying the laws of the land." The man leers at the child and adds menacingly, "You'll soon find death preferable to the life you will lead."

I look down at the body of the little girl lying on the ground. I kneel at her side and whisper the old saying drilled into the little boy from when he was five and started his military training until he grew up and joined the elite fighting force and became a monster who steals the lives of innocent children: "It is better to die a free soul than to live an orphaned slave." Tears sting my eyes, but I do not allow them to fall as I straighten. "Mother...forgive me," I whisper as I leave the house to search for more rebels.