Author's Note: Thank you SO MUCH to all of my amazing reviewers! I love to hear from you, and I'm SO thankful for your interest and feedback! Listening to what you have to say makes the story worth writing, and I can't even express how grateful I am.
Anyway, about this chapter, this is my first part that sort of branches away from the game's line of events. It's not horribly unrealistic or anything like that, but there was never a specific scenario that occurred like this. I hope you enjoy it anyway! Soren & Lethe is one of my personal favorite Soren pairings, so here's to hoping that I do them justice. Again, thanks for reading and (hopefully) reviewing!
Part 1: Lethe – Pride
Lethe had never been so completely humiliated in her entire life.
This … this was downright embarrassing.
She could already picture Ranulf's obnoxious grin in her head, and she instinctively let out a low and almost inaudible hiss. She was never going to live this down …
Being perfectly honest with herself, Lethe could barely remember how it all happened. Everything went by so fast, even with her heightened senses … there was no way for her to stop it.
She groaned and shifted onto her back, still not mustering up the strength to open her eyes. Still, despite her sluggish reaction, Lethe could immediately sense that something was very wrong. Her nose twitched, and with a start, she realized it.
She couldn't smell.
Her eyes rocketed open at the comprehension, but her sight was not the focus of her attention. Any other day, she could smell miles away. She could smell fresh prey without it moving a single step. She could smell the stench of beorc iron tainting the air beyond valleys and mountains … She could smell, well, just about anything.
But not now.
Lethe desperately whiffed the air, filling her lungs in a futile attempt to catch a scent. It easily could have appeared that she was hyperventilating. Her claws emerged in frustration as she continued breathing heavily … trying … failing …
Her head dropped in defeat, slamming against the hard stone floor beneath her. Laguz who could not smell were unheard of. It was blasphemy … she was blasphemous, and she had no idea why.
Another horrifying understanding dawned on her. She could not smell. But the rest of her precious senses …
Lethe perked up her ears, and much to her relief, she could hear her own breathing. She could see the crooked uneven stones lodged beneath her. She was not helpless, but …
Everything was dulled. She could not pick up sounds from other areas, and her eyes no longer noticed every visible detail of her surroundings. Things were blurry … almost lifeless. Was this what it was like for pathetic beorc? Did they live life in this terribly dim manner? Lethe shuddered to think about it.
The cat picked her head up once more, her inept violet eyes scanning the area to the best of their ability. It hardly took Lethe long to realize that she was locked in a dingy cell. Mold claimed most of the walls, and an ooze of an unimaginable substance climbed down the stone in a repulsive fashion. Pools of unclean water had gathered in the corners, and the lack of upkeep truly showed. Lethe assumed it smelled completely horrendous. Assumed. She really wished she didn't have to assume.
Only one thing seemed out of place in this cell: Soren.
She tilted her head, squinting, wondering if her eyes were deceiving her. Yet, the dark looking sage did not disappear after her staring, and she dared to assume he was not an illusion.
His usually arrogant erect posture was slumped, and his head was bowed in something that Lethe could almost believe was distress. His pale face was wrinkled with vexation, and those typically piercing crimson eyes were slightly glazed over, strongly accentuated with dark bags underneath them. A nagging voice in Lethe's mind pointed out that if he looked that bad, she must look even worse. She ignored this voice.
As if he could sense her gaze, his head snapped up. Soren's eyes quickly flashed several unrecognizable emotions before they settled on a clearly unsteady indifference.
"Lethe." he said shortly, his voice completely betraying the indifference he'd struggled so hard to maintain. The tone he used was thick with exhaustion, pain, and … fear? Lethe's ears were deceiving her. At least, she sincerely hoped they were.
"What happened?" she growled hoarsely.
"You don't remember?" This question was not contemptuous, disdainful, or condescending. For Ashera's sake, what was happening to this world?
Fighting for normalcy, Lethe responded with biting sarcasm. "Would I have asked otherwise, beorc?"
He did not argue with her. Part of her wished that he would. "What's the last thing you remember?"
She dug into her mind and found a vague memory of entering a battle against Begnion's forces earlier that day. Well, Lethe assumed it was that day. She was already tired of assuming things.
"The beginning of the battle." Anything after preparations was a hazy shadow she couldn't fight through. "Soren, what happened? Where are we, and where is everyone else?"
He closed his eyes, quietly recounting the tale. "The forces were not what we expected. Cavalry was our belief … they'd meet us head on. But, they had a much stronger magical unit than any of us could have predicted. We didn't know the bishops and sages they'd had in reserve …"
"What happened?" Lethe snapped curtly.
His eyes opened again, resting on her with a pained expression. "You were with the front line units. Ike … he wanted to get you out of there. There were too many sages with the power of fire. But … I insisted that you would be fine. We needed all the power we could get. I told him that you were fast and that you wouldn't fall to the likes of mere Begnion sages."
Soren's gaze shifted away from her, focusing intently on one of the many stones creating the floor. "There was a bishop with a sleep staff. You were being swarmed, and there was no way you … or anyone … could have seen it coming. Being surrounded like you were, there was no escaping. I don't think you even knew they were targeting you until you were fast asleep."
Lethe let out an annoyed grunt, but she restrained herself from interrupting the story.
"I thought they were going to kill you." Soren told her honestly. "There were so many, and the majority of our group was dealing with an ambush from the back. I may have been the only one who noticed your situation, but my tome was weakening. The power had almost entirely dissipated from its pages."
"Did you leave me to die, human?" Lethe spat bitterly.
For the first time in their conversation, Soren's eyes flashed with an all too familiar anger. Was it odd that it comforted her? "If I had left you to die, do you think I'd be here with you now!?"
She had to admit that he had a point. "Then what happened?"
"None of the soldiers advanced to kill you. Not a single one raised a weapon. They … stared at you, examined you, and discussed you. I thought I had time to come up with a plan. I thought … at the last second, Ike would come and tear through the soldiers, and we would emerge victorious. I thought everything would work out … because I had yet to lose a battle."
Lethe stared at him, almost feeling sympathy for the pathetic looking sage.
"But … the bishop with the sleep staff … that damn bishop." He shook his head, glaring at the ground in fury. "I was distracted … too busy searching for a solution that never came. Once I saw the spell drifting around my head, it was too late. And I had absolutely no excuse."
His hands clutched the hemming of his robe, and he dug his fingers into the cloth in frustration, refusing to look at her. Lethe momentarily studied him, and he appeared to be uninjured. Well, mostly.
His pride had cut him, practically degutted him. Soren always did seem to have to pride of a laguz despite only being a branded child. It was so strong some (herself included) went as far as to call it arrogance. Never had she seen anyone's pride lash out so hard. But the injury showed clearly on his face, every bit as real as a physical wound.
Soren seemed to swallow his pain in order to continue the recount of events. "Because I'm a sage, I've developed somewhat of a higher resistance to magic. The sleep spell was not as potent when cast on me as it would be for many others, including you. I … zoned in and out for quite some time, aware but unable to act. I felt them rob me of my only weapon, and I heard their voices … They were taking you back to the fort for some … studies." His lack of explanation on the subject worried her, but she had no chance to ask. Soren's face wrinkled scornfully as he went on. "Sadly, they recognized me as the tactician, and they chose to keep me as a hostage in hopes of a deal. They referred to me as "General Ike's pet". Hoping to force a surrender with their new captive, I was dragged back with you."
"They … didn't force us to surrender, did they?" Anxiousness clearly showed in her voice.
"I haven't heard." Soren told her dismally. "We've only been here for a night or two. I've lost track of time with no windows. If an arrangement was made, I have no knowledge of it … I pray that Ike will make no such move. I deserve to die for my idiocy. If they wish to execute me, so be it. I failed, and that is just punishment."
"Shut up, stupid beorc!" she said tersely. "Are you so foolish that you would give up after one blunder, one mistake? Is this entire struggle meaningless to you? Does your self-centeredness surround you and shun out logical thoughts?"
He had nothing to say to this, simply staring at her blankly.
"You are an annoying rude little pest, but you're as tough as they come. This … this is not the end. We are not going to lose this war, not because of one dumb mistake on your part. Make up for your stupidity. So think, damn you, and get us out of here."
"… Are you in any condition to escape?"
She hissed fiercely. "What is that supposed to mean? Are you questioning my strength?"
"Lethe …" His voice was not laden with its usual hatred. "You've been captured by Begnion. Did you really thing the soldiers captured you just to let you sleep? I was a hostage. They had good reason to take me. In any other instance, they wouldn't have hesitated to kill you. But they didn't. Haven't you thought about the reason behind it?"
She was bewildered by this abrupt riddle, and sudden apprehension swelled up within her. Lethe refused to let it show on her face, glowering steadily back at him. "Speak plainly, beorc. What have I missed? Be honest. I don't have time for puzzles."
Being honest something Soren was quite good at, so he didn't argue. "They've been drugging you."
"They've been WHAT!?" A ferocious snarl escaped from her mouth.
"The sage obviously knew the hostility wasn't directed at him, so he continued. "Soldiers have stopped by a few times, dosing you with some sort of medication. I know nothing about the drug, but it doesn't appear to be the same used on the feral ones. You don't seem aggressive … well, any more aggressive than usual at least."
"They … drugged … me …?" Fury swept over her, and it took all the self-control Lethe possessed not to unleash her misplaced rage on Soren.
He almost looked sympathetic. "There was nothing I could do. My tome was taken from me before I was thrown in this cell, and they were fully armed guards. They came in groups of three, and there was no chance I could have even attempted to take one out."
"What have they been giving me?"
" … I don't know. They poured it down your throat so fast I barely caught a glimpse of it. It almost looked like water, but I seriously doubt it would be that simple. Do you feel ill? Is anything wrong?"
"I …" Lethe scowled at the ground. "I can't smell."
Soren's eyes widened, and she heard a sharp intake of breath. "Nothing? You smell absolutely nothing?"
She shook her head furiously. "My hearing and sight are toned down as well … Everything is too dull. I can't stand it. Beorc can't possibly live like this …"
"Beorc …" An unpleasant idea seemed to cross Soren's mind, and a look of urgency sparked in his eyes. "Can you transform?"
"I haven't tried."
Lethe attempted to stand, but her legs were too unsteady to hold her up. She staggered, and Soren quickly caught her arm before she could hit the ground. As if realizing what he'd done, a mixed expression of horror and disgust emerged on his face as he jerked his hand away, promptly wiping it on his cloak.
She glowered at him, but Soren was not the main source of her problem. Closing her eyes, Lethe attempted to focus. She willed herself to change forms, pushed herself to morph. But despite her raw desperation, her body paid no heed to her efforts and did not alter its physical state. Lethe remained on two legs with nothing to remind her of the laguz within.
"What … what did they do to me?" Fear and indignation defined her voice. She slumped down on the ground, defeated. "I am … not a laguz. I am nothing."
Soren didn't say a word, not even looking at her.
"Look what they've done to me, beorc!" she snarled. "You must have something to say! This is your fault! You've let me become this monstrosity!"
His eyes remained fixed ahead as he slowly spoke. "Begnion … Begnion is fighting a war against laguz. This drug … it restricts their enemy. It weakens them, makes them unable to defend themselves. All it takes … is one leak into our water supply. That drug would blend perfectly … how hard could it possibly be to taint our water? If that gets out …"
Soren met her gaze, making no attempts to hide his horror. "If that gets out, Begnion will not stop. We'll lose the war and the laguz will be massacred until not a single one remains. They will show no mercy … and every laguz will die."
I decided I should stop it here before it got too long. I didn't want to bore anyone by making an insanely long chapter. By the way, just a fun fact, I can't smell either. That was part of the reason I decided to take away Lethe's smell. It would make it much easier on the author because I've never smelled a day in my life. It was sort of ironic, so I thought I'd share that.
Part II will come next (Sorry, I know I promised Soren & Ilyana, but I should probably finish this first). I've already written some of it, and I can already tell it will be longer than this one. So, if you like long chapters, you'll be pleased. If you have a short attention span, I apologize. I have a problem keeping things short … like this ending note, for example.
Please tell me what you think of this chapter! It's not exactly like the other ones, so I need feedback. Did you like where I went with this, or should I revert back to the old less extreme method? Be completely honest! Again, thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing from you!