White light consumed his vision, pushed its way into his mind, his ears, and pulsated around his body. He could feel no pain, but the sound was unbearable, as if it itself was reaching into his head then expanding to stretch his mind. He felt as though the rotors of a thousand airships were all spinning at him, sending their ruckus and their air straight into his ears. Alexis forced his eyes open, and the sound subsided. The world was muffled around him as if he were underwater. The great shadow of smoke obscured his vision, but he could still see that the world around him was on fire. Smoke rose and dust fell like grey snow in the cool Hamis air made so hot by the explosion and fire that the world shimmered in the heat. Alexis simply knew that he needed to find his mother and father. He needed them to be okay. They had been with him when the world had turned upside down. His mother's arm had been wrapped around his elbow. Subconsciously, he moved his arm to where the ghost of her touch still lingered, begging her to still be holding on to his arm, but there was no arm there. He turned. Among the whisp of shadows that followed him and obscured his vision was the discarded and broken body of his own. His stomach twisted at the sight of his own body, mangled uncomfortably over the rubble, dirty and bloody with glassy dark eyes staring at the sky above.
He was dead, and, yet, all he felt was cold. He looked at his being, his form, and watched the tendrils of shadow reach out to touch the world, to search the world.
Now, Alexis waved his fingers in the gray light the mid-morning storm clouds washed the world in. Where once his pale fingers had been slender, clean, and smooth, these dark fingers were hardened by the work someone else had always done for him. His arms were visibly stronger than he had ever known them to be beneath the clothing that itched his skin. Like a dream that one is subliminally aware of, like clothing borrowed from another's closet that one fears is too adventurous, like a morning walking out of a stranger's house before the world could catch a glance, Alexis knew that in this body he did not belong. He was made all the more aware of it by the differences he internalized, that he could not ignore.
He had been cut off from the mona. The one thing that made him superior had forsaken him, and the veins of his body felt the empty void, as if the phosphor lamps in his home refused to turn on. And he knew that, if he were a human from the start, he would not feel this comparative emptiness where the mona had filled him. Yet, he was empty. He was, as a human now, banished from everything he had known. He could not go back home. He could not use the skills he had had. He had tried again and again to reach out to the mona, to ask it to claim him again, but, for once, the mona was silent. Instead, he pushed every extra bit of energy into holding on. He had fled frantically away from Dorhaven, looking for his staircase to the next life, looking for the boat he had missed, looking for something, but he was stuck in Limbo, or so he would come to call it. He fled, looking for something to hold onto, some piece of life, somebody to anchor himself. On the path away from Dorhaven, he found it, a human nearly his age taking a break to eat a meager packed meal as he sat in the open back of his wagon. And Alexis had rushed, had rushed into his body, seeping through his skin.
The battle with his soul had not been all that hard. It was not a soul bound by love or hate of the world, and it gave in to his frantic panic easily, allowing him to take over. He blinked his eyes to adjust, and slowly, his vision faded in, a vision far blurrier than his had been. He squinted at the world around him, and felt his tendrils slowly grab a hold of the man's limbs, lifting them heavily like some obese marionette.
He had taken the man's body and carriage back to Vienda, where he lay now in wait. The intense part was over- the taking over a body, the dying- that was done.
Now Alexis had to pick up the pieces of the life he had ruined in panic and hope to gods that this man had very few loved ones that he had to convince that everything was normal. He had just made it into Vienda that night, had slept as Luther's- no, this was his now- his body felt fatigued. Now he was awake, parked away in some quiet corner of Vienda for some silence of mind. He couldn't believe that he had moved a whole wagon into Vienda in a body that felt much too heavy for him to move, but he had done it. Now, he had to keep it up. He sat up in the back of the wagon and looked around. From the little that lay here in the barren- but surprisingly clean- living space of Luther Penn, Alexis had to figure out who he was besides a name.
He had found the name engraved on the cover of a small journal, which he now struggled to pick up as it slid again and again out of the fingers he could not quite close enough to grab it. Finally, he scooped his hand underneath and picked it up. Carefully, he opened it, and, not-so-carefully, he ripped out the first page as he attempted to flip it.
"Damn it," he cursed, then jumped at the sound of his own voice, a deep but friendly voice of dirt roads and polished wood.
"Is that mine?" he laughed at himself, listening carefully to the sound of his new voice. "Guess it's not all bad." In the dim light of the wagon, he relaxed slightly, forgiving himself for his clumsiness.
"Okay, Luther. Let's try this again," he started, begging his body to work with him again. Carefully, this time, he turned the page, and a world of inky sketches met him as he smoothed the ripped page back together. Luther's mind sprawled before him in drawings of buildings, of plants, and of people. His hands had drawn these, and Alexis was in awe. His hands, the same that ripped the pages, that dropped the book, had created life in these pages. This was Luther's life in these pages, and the biggest hint Alexis was going to get handed to him- besides this book, there was but a few blankets, a few maps, and a clunky pistol. He flipped the pages some more, pulling out now and again the loose pages where he had used larger paper for more extensive projects. Here, a street with glowing lamps, there an airship in the early morning sky, and there, the face of a woman, unfinished and blank save for the head shape, the hair, and shirt. He stared at it, trying to fill in the face with Anna's.
He could not remember Anna's face. He let the book slip away from his hands, staring instead at the blank face. Anna was- well, she was pretty, he knew that. She had... brown eyes and hair and skin, and they- well, he couldn't remember. Panic sunk back into his body. He could remember her laugh. He could remember the taste of her lips, the feel of her body, the-
But he couldn't remember her face. What else had he forgotten? Was it the accident? Was it the transfer of souls? Had he lost some of himself? Frantically, he grabbed at the charcoal that had been tucked into the paper to finish the drawing, instead writing above the face- Orianna Aubellard in a struggling scrawl that was too heavy, that crushed the charcoal excessively. But he had written it. He would not forget her name, at least, but what else would he forget?
Panicked, Alexis set out to write in a painstakingly slow and unsteady hand everything important that he could remember- the way his mother's eyes crinkled when she smiled, the way his father would sigh in disappointment but not lash out, the way his home looked in the snow, the way the girl's had sounded when they sang St. Grumble carols in the spring, and he wrote into the night, scared to forget who he was.