"Wake up my son," came a soft and beautiful voice.
As the boy opened his eyes, he smiled brightly as his mother's face came into view. She was tired and worn but ever beautiful to her young son.
"I saved you some breakfast," she said as she handed him tiny bits of hard, stale bread.
As he chomped down on the morsels, his happy expression changed at the reality of his world, a place he'd forget while dreaming.
He lived in a small cage with his mother, surrounded by many other cages, like a prison, all stacked together like cargo. As far as his little eyes could see in his dimly lit surroundings, cages went on forever. A vast chamber lit only by one dim bulb.
Crying, moaning, screaming, and voices of despair filled the musty air around them. Some begged for freedom while others mumbled nonsense, as if their time in this unending pit of foul stench and sickness had driven them mad. The rot of decay was fresh and old as the dead were left for days on end before removal.
The boy's expression turned to fear and despair at the sight of a disfigured woman, screaming and vomiting, desperate to be free from the prison of her captors, and her own mind. He flinched as she began to bang her bloodied and bruised face off the iron bars.
"My son, focus only on me," the boy's mother said as she took his little face into her hands, then looked deeply into his eyes. Covering his ears and drawing him close, she began to rock him as she sang sweetly to him.
He closed his eyes and nestled into his mother. No matter what horrors surrounded them, in her arms, he always felt safe.
Suddenly the mother felt a powerful vision and popped her eyes open. "Oh no," she whispered to herself as her heart began to pound. She sensed something was terribly wrong, and her eyes filled with panic. Kept safely under a cloak of her magic since his birth, the mother's sweet boy had finally been detected and was in great danger.
"Mama?" the boy said, unsure of what was happening. He could feel something was wrong.
The mother rubbed his little face quickly as she fought her tears. "Son, you need to go now, quickly."
Terrified, the boy pleaded with wide eyes. "No mama."
Just as the mother went to speak again, the sound of a large steel door clanged open, and then slammed shut. Many large and heavy footsteps headed their way. The mother quickly unwrapped a blue cloth from her neck and wrapped it around her son. "Take this with you," she said in a shaking voice as she hugged her son tightly one last time.
She raised her hand and struggled with her magic until the bars of their cage pulled apart slightly. "Go now, my son. Know that I love you, and am always with you," she said as tears fell from her big eyes.
"Mama, no!" the boy objected. He didn't understand.
"Go, son! Go hide, now!" the mother pleaded with him as she pushed him out of the cage.
Just then, many guards chugged around a corner and stopped by the cage.
The boy quickly tucked himself behind another cage and watched.
"Where's the child!?" one of the guards demanded of the woman.
The mother said nothing as she looked defiantly at the guard.
The guard looked to his comrades, then opened her cage door and pulled her out by her hair.
The boy's eyes widened as the guard smashed her with a heavy fist, then held her up.
The guards quickly examined the cage but found nothing. "One of your filthy mage sisters saw through your magic shield. We know you have a young boy with you. Where is he?" the guard demanded again.
The mother stared hard at him with tired but resistant eyes. Her bloodied lips swelled from his strike.
The guard yanked her by her long, wavy, yellow hair as he tilted her head back to look at him.
The woman winced at the motion.
"I will not ask you again," he demanded flatly.
Again, the mother said nothing.
The guard dropped the mage to the floor, then nodded to his comrades. The group of collected guards began to viciously beat her.
The boy shook in terror and rage at each strike that knocked his mother about. He leapt from his hiding spot. "No, stop it!" he screamed at the brutes that mercilessly pounded on the weakened mage.
"There he is!" a guard shouted. As many continued the assault on the boy's mother, others chased after the child.
The boy took one last hard look at his mother, then scrunched up his little face and ran. His heart pounded as his whole body shook. With tears almost blinding, he ran with everything he had. He raced past a number of cages, causing the inhabitants to scream and bang on their prisons.
The boy flew around a corner and lost his footing, falling hard, sliding to a stop. He quickly scampered to his feet and charged on. There, against a back wall was a large iron gate, now open as another guard wrestled a new inmate inside. The child zipped past him to the surprise of the unsuspecting guard.
The boy squinted under the bright lights of a long and dirty hallway as he raced down it. He didn't see the guard coming and a large hand picked him up by his ratty cloth shirt and slammed him into the wall. The boy felt the sting of the hard strike.
"Gotcha!" the guard said.
The child looked frantically at his captor as blood ran from a cut above his eye. He struggled, fought, and kicked to free himself but the grip was too strong. In a quick and desperate move, he bit the guard's arm. With a scream, the guard dropped him. The boy stood fast and ran again.
As he flew down the end of the hallway, it branched two ways. He looked down both a second, then picked one. Completely lost in a sea of unfamiliarity, the boy moved to survive, trying to outrun the guards, trying to find somewhere to go, to hide. Thoughts of his mother and her final moments flooded his mind. His face tightened up with great sadness. She was the only person he had ever known and he loved her dearly.
Many sick and slovenly people milled about the hall around him, carrying this or doing that. He dodged and pushed his way past them, trying to stay on his feet and ahead of his pursuers.
A hand on his ankle dropped him over, then, pulled him off his path. A hand wrapped around the boy's mouth as he was held tightly. As he struggled, someone spoke in a half-whisper. "Quiet now, boy."
Breathing fast and heart racing, the child paused as the man took his hand from his mouth. As both sat silently under the cover of a few tattered draped cloths, many guards ran past them and carried on down the hallway. The boy was shaking. He looked to the man who had rescued him. A mostly toothless and sick looking creature with thin wisps of white hair stared back at him. Boils covered his face and hands and he smiled excitedly at the child.
"Now boy, you're mine," the man said in a slur as he pulled the child in and began licking his face.
The boy pushed and hit the man but was little match for his strength. He would have screamed for help but he was sure none would come. His tiny bellows would only alert the guards.
The man held his captive tightly, refusing to let go. "Shh..." he whispered as he continued his assault on the boy.
The child clawed and scratched and tried to bite the man but was held firmly. With a quick motion, the boy threw his forehead into the man's nose, shattering it.
The man screamed as he dropped the child and covered his broken and bleeding nose. "Guards! Guards! The boy is here!" the man began shouting in anger.
The child quickly ran from his hiding place and raced back down the hallway, trying to allude his captors.
Guards thundered after him as he hopped and ducked his way around the people and debris that would surely cause him to lose his footing. His size made him nimble and he moved fluidly through the many obstacles.
As the guards gained on him and came within a grasp of the child, the one in closest pursuit tripped over a sleeping man and crashed to the ground, causing his comrades to stumble and fall over him.
The boy now had an advantage and took it. As he puffed for breaths, he ran to the end of the other hallway until he came to a pile of crates stacked to the ceiling. Without looking back, he swiftly began to scale the boxes.
Guards quickly caught up and fumbled up the boxes behind him. Some grabbed for the boy's feet but couldn't move as fast as he did.
As the boy reached the ceiling, he tucked himself into the rafters.
"You're stuck up there now, there's no way out!" a senior guard shouted, pleased with the outcome of this chase.
The boy continued to pull himself along through the rafters, eventually disappearing over a wall to another section.
The senior guard's pleased look changed to anger as he watched his young prey disappear. He shouted for the other guards to make their way around to catch him on the other side.
The boy waited silently on the wall until the guards were gone, then, he doubled back. He climbed along the rafters again and to the crates. As he tried to gain his footing back onto the top crates, he lost his grip and fell, crashing back to the floor. He sat up quickly and tightened his face. He pulled his hands into his chest as he fought the mounting pain of his fresh injuries.
With no time to waste, he looked about to ensure no one had found him. Still feeling the stings of his fall, he stood, then ran off again, his pursuers gone, for the moment.
As the boy headed down another hallway, he found some steaming pipes coming out of a wall, bending downwards, then rising up into the ceiling. He ran for them, then quickly tucked himself behind them and hid. His little heart was pounding ferociously and he struggled to slow his almost gasping breaths.
He was shaking, and the pains of his fall from the ceiling were now burning. His eyes were overflowing as his head began to swim, dizzy. With a quick and violent motion, he leaned forward and threw up. He then sat back up as his teeth chattered. He tried so hard not to sob.
A short time later, a number of guards rushed past him in all directions, still eager to find him.
He sat quietly, cradling his legs as he rocked himself. "Mama," he continued to mouth to himself as he shook with fear. He closed his eyes as he thought of his mother. He shuddered at the sharp images of her brutal beating. These were the last pictures he would ever have of her. He tried to remember her as he had always known her. Her big beautiful sparkling eyes. Her long wavy yellow hair. Her loving smile. Her adoration of him. As her perfection wrestled away the thoughts of her end, the boy fell asleep.
Safe in his mind, he floated gently. Soft and sweet darkness held him like a warm embrace and soothed his weariness. A voice, his mother's, whispered to him gently. "I am always with you," her sing song melody tingling his heart. "I am always with you," she repeated as the call echoed about his soul. "I am always with you," her voice trailing off, leaving her sweet boy at peace. For what felt like an eternity, the child rested in the echo of his mother's existence.
"There you are!" a guard shouted, waking the boy with a fright. He reached down and grabbed the child by the foot and violently yanked him out from his hiding spot. The guard looked pleased as his comrades joined him and formed a circle around the helpless child.
The terrified boy panicked to be back in the horrors of his reality. He stood to run but a large boot took him to the ground again.
"What do we do with him?" one of the other guards asked.
The senior guard, with a cold and unreadable expression, looked down at the frightened and shaking child. "We all know the rules of the Arena. The slaves must never be allowed to reproduce. If they do, their offspring must be executed," he announced.
The boy looked to the senior guard a moment in fear, then again tried to stand and run. As he struggled to his knees, he saw a flash of light and felt a sharp and bone-shattering pain as a guard's boot connected with his head. It sent the child tumbling back with a crash and a scream, into the pipes he was safe behind only moments before.
As he tried to recover through panicked sobs, another incredible pain ripped through his side as another boot connected with him. The boy crunched in on himself, unable to move, winded. His simplest pleas for mercy ignored.
Another, then another vicious kick connected with the boy's tiny frame. He ferociously jerked around with each powerful and devastating hit.
As the boy struggled to raise his now wobbling head, another boot snapped his head back and he hit the floor hard. Twitching, the boy went limp and dizzy, eyes glazing over, blood pouring from his tiny and broken face. As his breathing turned to wheezes, the thumps of powerful blows tossed his little frame about like debris in the wind.
Suddenly, an incredible and brilliantly bright beam of light shot in from nowhere and hit the boy.
The guards quickly backed away, blinded by the light that had cascaded about the area. When their eyes finally focused again, they looked confused.
The child, beaten and broken, slowly stood with a strength he did not previously possess. His eyes were now blazing white and his expression was strong and fearless.
The guards hesitated, looking to their chief for direction. The senior guard squinted at the boy a moment. The child remained steadfast and unafraid, despite the blood splattered over his little body. The senior guard coldly nodded for the rest of his brood to continue their assault.
As the uneasy guards approached, ready to continue their brutality, the little one closed his eyes and tightened his arms into his chest as a thunder built inside him.
As the guards tightened up their faces with fists balled for impact, the boy let out a ferocious and powerful scream as he threw his arms out, unleashing a massive blast of light. A wave of immense power hit the guards, sending them flying back, smacking off the walls around them, killing each and every one where they fell.
The boy paused a moment and looked at the fallen guards with eyes still ablaze with light and fearlessness. When he was content that his evil pursuers were dead, like lightning, he fired away, into the underbelly of the Universal Arena.