Dawn of Balance

Life is a matter of balance. Order and chaos are both necessary, like the two halves of a whole. Without the chaos and darkness of the night that is finished and the order and light of the day that is to come a dawn cannot exist.

Disclaimer: I am not Intelligent Systems. I do not own Fire Emblem. End of story.

Child of Magic

Sephiran had no idea what to expect.

All he had to go on was Yune's recommendation and the observation that red eyes and black hair made for an odd coloring for a beorc child. The latter observation did not mean anything, though. Beorc and laguz alike came in all shapes, sizes, and colorings. For Ashunera's sake, one of his best friends had been a green lion, and how common was that?

Sephiran did not let his doubts bother him too much, however. His heart was lighter than it had been for many long days – in fact, since possibly the dark day on which flames engulfed Serenes. Pelleas was in good hands. Zelgius's future held something now other than hatred and uncertainty.

Best of all, Yune had appeared before him again. This time, he knew it was her. He had suspected it, sitting alone in a dusty Goldoan library and watching the small bird on the windowsill. Suspicion had turned to likelihood when Stefan spoke of an orange bird leading him to Sephiran and to the truth about the Branded. And now the Goddess's avatar had appeared before him again, leading him onward.

It did not matter if she led him toward her medallion or towards some other task she needed him to complete for her. He was simply glad of her guidance. Out of the months of despair following the dark clouds over Serenes, his faith had finally been strengthened from a fragile thread into something he could trust once more. Yune was his Goddess, and she was still looking after her people and her land in the midst of her dreaming sleep. She would help him achieve what he had to do.

Sephiran almost felt like singing.

Within the half hour, Sephiran was wandering through the outskirts of Osin, in search of the hovel belonging to this so-called Crazy Old Greca. Needing an excuse to turn up unexpectedly at the door of an anima sage he had never met before, he had armed himself with a copy of Flux. The man had aspirations to druidism, did he? Well, he might wish to take a look at a low-level dark tome. In the meanwhile Sephiran could take a glance at his apprentice – or at whatever else Yune wished him to see.

He stopped once to ask for directions. The man pushing a cart gave him an incredulous look.

"Crazy Old Greca?" he repeated. "You want to see him? You might be a magic user, too, but the man is paranoid! He sets unexpected visitors on fire, especially if they're trying to sell him something bogus." He eyed Sephiran's bookbag as if wondering what sorts of quack medicines it contained.

"I can handle myself," said Sephiran calmly. "Just point me in the right direction, please."

"On your head be it." The man shrugged. "Go two blocks north and turn left. Keep going until you reach the end of the lane. It'll be an empty lot near the palisade. Used to be a larger building there, years ago. Now it's gone and he's got his hovel there. Not even the beggars want to live near him. The fence around the lot has all his crazy magic symbols painted on it."

"I am sure I will be able to recognize it on sight, then," said Sephiran with a nod.

The man with the cart now appeared to doubt Sephiran's sanity. He shook his head. "You're still determined, then? Good luck. You're gonna need it."

"Thank you," said Sephiran, unperturbed. Inwardly, he was thinking that a man who set unexpected visitors on fire was probably not the sort who needed to be taking an apprentice at all…

He followed the man's instructions, walking two blocks north, turning left, and going to the end of the lane. As he approached, he noticed first the gap between the houses and then the garish colors of various magic symbols painted on the fence. Amusingly, the man seemed color-blind: the runes for fire had been painted in green, and the lightning ones in purple. Or maybe he intended it to be that way, and that color scheme made sense somehow to him. Sephiran could not say.

Sephiran had always used plain black ink for the words of spell incantations himself. Now he wondered briefly if different color ink had any effect on the strength of the magical binding in a tome. It would be something to experiment with, if a day ever came wherein he had the leisure time to devote to such trivialities. Perhaps Kirsch and Lekola had already experimented in that field; it seemed the sort of thing that might interest them.

As he crossed the street, Sephiran wondered how they were doing. He composed a quick mental prayer to his two goddesses, asking them to console the family of their late Apostle in their grief, and then turned his attention to the here and now.

The tiny yard enclosed by the sigil-blazoned fence was equally haphazard, strewn with bits of burned trash and other rubble. Weeds grew in choked thickets around broken chunks of brick and wood. Burned areas patched the ground around the door to the hovel. The building itself might have been a proper house at one point, but years had reduced it to a battered wooden box, propped up with sheets of tin, salvaged wood, and bricks. The sigil for the all-seeing eye of Horakhty had been carved into the door right over the knob.

It fit in with the apparent paranoia of the man to have set up trip wards to alert him if anyone entered his yard. Sephiran opened the gate cautiously, hoping none of the anima sigils would activate, and wove his way carefully through the debris of the yard to the door.

As he reached the door, he paused. He was quite confident Ashunera's blessing would keep him from suffering any harm if Crazy Old Greca blasted him with a fire tome, but that same fact might raise interesting questions. Not many beorc sages had levels of resistance quite that high. Should he stand a little to the side of the door, instead of right in front of it, so as to escape any flames?

He never came to a conclusion. From the other side of the door he heard some shuffling, as of items being rearranged. A low, hoarse voice muttered irritably. Then the door was wrenched open, and Crazy Old Greca stood there, glaring evilly at the trespasser.

"Should set ya on fire, where ya stand," he spat.

Greca proved to be a short, thickset man, barely coming to Sephiran's shoulder. His hygiene was dreadful, to say the least. He seemed to still be wearing the remnants of the red, gold, and purple robes he would have received upon his certification as a fire sage, at least twenty or even thirty years ago. Crude sandals kept his feet off the ground, a necessity when broken glass littered his yard. Thin dark hair straggled across his brow, and his squint gave the appearance of his right eye being larger than his left.

For some mysterious reason of his own, Greca had decided to paint the sigil for Sekhmet, a fire spirit, on his forehead. The paint was wearing off. Bad things happened when sigils decayed and released their magic. Sephiran hoped the man would not spontaneously combust while he was speaking to him.

"What d'ya want?" Greca demanded, when Sephiran did not speak right away.

Sephiran decided to go straight to the point. "I hear you have an interest in druidism," he said.

"If ya want to tell me it'll ne'er work, scram," said Greca. "I've heard enough of that." His squint became more pronounced, as if he were contemplating how much magic it would take to set Sephiran on fire.

"No, no, of course not," said Sephiran. "I would merely like to state that I have a low-level dark tome you might be interested in."

"Oh, tryin' to sell me somethin', are ya?" Greca seemed torn between setting Sephiran on fire with maniacal glee and listening further. "Cartus doesn't carry many low-level tomes, least'ways not dark ones. Forgotten his apprentice days, he has. So long ago they were and all. And t'ain't many dark apprentices around here, neither."

Greca paused, then shuffled an inch or two closer. Sephiran had sudden visions of the Duke of Tanas and tried not to visibly recoil.

However, instead Greca gestured encouragingly, as if he had something to share. When Sephiran, against his better judgment, leaned down to listen, Greca confided: "I asked that whippersnapper, Avyn, to bind one for me. Low level and all. I would even pay him for it. No, he said. Can ya believe it? They're all against me, they are. They don't believe I can do it. I have no more use for them. I'm gonna leave here – set out west, or somethin'. Far away. No soldiers there to stop me from doing what I like."

Greca's fingers clenched and unclenched on the door frame. He sucked his teeth. "Ya got the tome with ya? I won't believe ya, till I see it."

Sephiran obligingly fished the Flux out of his bookbag and held it up. Greca's eyes lit up with greed.

"Very pretty, it is," he said. "Active, it is?"

"Of course," said Sephiran.

Greca cackled. "Yes, yeeeessss, yes, yes!" he chanted. "This will show Avyn. I don't need him. I don't need any of them!"

Behind Greca, inside the hovel, there came a small noise. Sephiran could not identify it, but Greca obviously could. Switching with alarming suddenness from glee to fury, he whirled around, lobbing a handful of fire in the direction of the sound – not a good idea in a wooden structure, Sephiran thought. As sparks flew everywhere, the anima sage roared, "I told ya to get out of sight, ya little varmint!"

Afterward, Sephiran could not say whether he had heard the cry of pain or not. For as soon as he saw those flames flash past, his mind had whirled back to the darkness of Serenes. Burning trees crackled in his ears; the scent of charred flesh assaulted his nostrils. Part of him wanted to back away, unable to face the death of innocent children all over again. He nearly gave in to the moment of weakness. But another part of him, the part of him that had resolved to be passive no longer, exploded with fury.


Blinking the red haze from his vision, Sephiran found the Flux tome clenched in his white-knuckled hands and a dazed Greca slumped against the door frame. Sephiran's magic swirled within him, begging him to open the tome and strike again. He honestly had no idea if he had already activated the tome once or not.

"Oww…" moaned the fallen sage. So Sephiran had not knocked him out, after all. "Wha… what was… that for?"

"I have seen enough children killed by fire to last me many lifetimes, I assure you," Sephiran told him, his voice as cold as the Fimbulvetr tome Kirsch had once shown him. "If you have hurt a child, you deserve far worse than a concussion."

"…My runt," Greca slurred out, trying to glare balefully up at Sephiran but managing only an irritated squint. "I can do… whatever I want."

The solid weight of the Flux in Sephiran's hands was tempting, oh so tempting. However, he had done enough damage with one swing. Greca was no longer the priority; assessing the damage and checking for victims was. Not taking any special care not to step on the fallen anima sage, Sephiran ducked the sagging lintel and entered the hovel.

Not much could be said for the building. The interior was as equally run-down and dirty as the exterior of the shack, with sagging walls and only a few bits of rough furniture. Some chipped dishes sat by a pail of dirty water, a rag draped over the side. A cupboard, painted with more anima sigils, sat in a corner, presumably holding Greca's magic books. Greca must have been concealing a small fire tome in the remnants of his robes. Sephiran was mindful not to turn his back on him.

Further evidence of Greca's madness, scorch marks decorated the walls and floor. He had apparently blown out a small section of the wall in the back, and later nailed a rusty piece of tin over the hole. The scent of fire and some lightning magic hung all over the place, as discernible as the stench of smoke to Sephiran. The last few sparks of Greca's latest pyro outburst fizzled into nothingness as Sephiran surveyed the room.

At least, he had not found a tiny charred corpse lying on the floor.

Well, if Greca had – presumably – thrown fire at his apprentice and miraculously missed, the apprentice would have tried to hide. Sephiran glanced behind the door. No luck. As he stepped back, a whiff of cleaner air danced past his face. Wind spirits, he noted. What were they doing here?

The spirit tugged at his robe. Find him, find him, it chirruped.

Sephiran checked Greca one more time. The anima sage was still propped against the door frame. If he knew what was good for him, he would realize that moving would be inadvisable. Nevertheless, Sephiran edged along the wall, never letting Greca out of his sight. As he rounded the rickety table, what he had taken to be a small heap of rags or blankest in a corner of the room stirred slightly, trying to curl up into a tighter ball.

"Child?" he called.

"My runt," Greca insisted, still dazed. "Ya… can't have him."

"Say those words again and I shall most certainly use this Flux on you," Sephiran informed him over his shoulder. The hand holding the tome had dropped to his side, but he didn't have to open the book to cast the spell. He had memorized every incantation he had ever bound, and he had enough magic to not need that stored in a tome.

Sephiran crouched down a few feet from the huddled child, moving very slowly, so as not to startle him. "Child? Are you injured?"

No answer came from the heap of rags.

"Runt don't talk," said Greca, clinging to the doorframe in an attempt to lever himself to his feet. "Runt only knows magic words."

Oh, is that so? Sephiran carefully kept any trace of the frown he felt from his face, not wanting to upset the poor child. He disliked this situation more and more. Although it was a long shot, he tried again, this time in the language of the spirits: "Child, I will not hurt you. Are you injured?"

The child flinched. Old scorch marks on his ragged little tunic did not make it hard to extrapolate that he probably expected fireballs every time he heard the ancient language.

Once more, Sephiran tried, pitching his voice soft and as gentle as he could. "Yuga, aem kei takadaro. Seis takadakua?" ("Child, I will not hurt you. Are you hurt?") Of course, when even most highly-trained magic users could not hold conversations in the ancient tongue, it was ridiculous to think that a small child could understand him. Sephiran was hoping that, if the child were indeed a Spirit Charmer, his possessor spirit would hear him and respond.

The child shuddered, but made no motion to uncurl from his tight little ball. At least, Sephiran could not detect any fresh scorch marks on his ragged little tunic, so perhaps Greca had this time missed entirely. Although he scanned the poor child's presence in the spirit world closely, Sephiran could not detect a possessor spirit. It must have gone deep into hiding within the child, then.

Does the spirit or child have a name? Sephiran asked the wind spirits darting around the hovel – two more had joined the first. At least no fire spirit had appeared. Sephiran was not really sure if something or someone had invoked the spirits' presence, even accidentally, or if they were merely curious and hanging around to see if he would smack Greca again. Sometimes spirits liked to congregate around a magic duel, just to watch the fireworks.

The wind spirits seemed to be consulting with each other. Sephiran could not catch the entirety of their conversation, but they sounded confused about some point. A few times they referenced some powerful dark spirit, whose return they feared. Finally, compromising between their fear and their desire to be free of this mysterious other spirit, they said, Soren.

Soren, Sephiran repeated to himself. Presumably, this was the child's name; otherwise, the spirits would have told him the spirit's element. In the ancient language, the name meant approximately 'dauntless' or 'severe'. Who would give such a name to the child? Greca either did not know it or did not care enough to use it. Had the poor child's mother bestowed it, or did the spirits invent it just now and deem it appropriate?

The spirits did not seem willing to tell more, however.

Sephiran tried again. "Soren? Seirc he esse aedin?" ("Soren? Is that your name?")

Finally, the child glanced up from the shelter of his arms. Dark hair hung untidily around a pinched, dirty face. A pair of large, suspicious eyes stared right back at Sephiran, their depths as red as blood.

At once, Sephiran knew the sigil on the boy's forehead was not that of a pact of Spirit Protection.

The eyes of a black dragon looked back at him.

Sephiran pushed down his shock, shoving away the questions bubbling to the surface of his mind. The fingers holding the Flux tome twitched before he reluctantly stifled the urge to strike Greca with it again.

Calm. He had to be calm. If he could not manage even the appearances of calm, he would never be able to overcome the child's distrust.

Instead, he carefully laid the Flux tome aside. Risking a glance behind him, he saw Greca slowly attempting to sit up. Hopefully, he was still not a in a condition to cast another fire spell any time soon. Sephiran was beginning to suspect he really had activated the Flux tome when he hit him with it earlier. He was a little worried by how little the thought bothered him.

Turning back to the child, the ex-heron spread his empty hands. "See? No tome. I will not hurt you, Soren."

The child stared at him for several long moments. It was rather disconcerting. Sephiran almost felt as if he were standing in front of Dheginsea again, enduring the Dragon King's disapproving gaze after he had dared to plead for action.

Then the boy abruptly whispered something – it was in the ancient language, but Sephiran could barely catch it. The wind spirits hovering invisibly in the hovel stirred, responding cheerfully to the boy. Were they interpreting for him or explaining? Whatever they said, it prompted Soren to sit a little straighter, arms wrapped around himself and his back to the wall. His gaze flicked occasionally to Greca, still trying to stumble to his feet.

"He will not hurt you again, I swear," said Sephiran. Still unsure if the child could understand him, he repeated the same in the modern tongue.

The tiny apprentice ventured no comment.

Unsure of what to do, Sephiran studied the child. His neglected appearance and obvious ill-treatment – the fireball tossing said enough in that regard – told Sephiran very clearly that Greca was not fit to take care of this apprentice. He needed to remove the child from this situation, but how should he do it? The last thing he wanted was to frighten the poor boy any more.

At the same time, Sephiran could not come to grips with the fact that here, in a hovel in a remote corner of Daein, he was crouched face-to-face with a baby dragon.

The mark on the boy's forehead did not seem to be the markings of a full-blooded dragon, but he was more dragon than not, if his appearance and magical signature were anything to go by. On top of that, he truly was a black dragon, and that fact stunned Sephiran.

Studying the child's magical presence, Sephiran found certain tells in it that spoke of a blood-relation to Dheginsea – and Cantara. Sephiran remembered the late dragon queen well enough to be sure of that, and it only puzzled him further. Whence had this child come, and how? Even if he were a full-blooded dragon laguz, he could not be more than a century old. And Sephiran could count all the black dragons alive on one hand – Dheginsea, Rajaion, Almedha, and Kurthnaga. He was very sure Dheginsea did not have a secret fourth child or any grandchildren, but what else could explain this?

Come to think of it, the child did bear a remarkable resemblance to Rajaion. He did not have the reddish skin, but his hair was dark, too dark – more black than green.

With no answers forthcoming, Sephiran realized he would only develop a headache pondering this. He could try to solve the mystery of the child's existence later. Right now, the child himself had to be cared for. That meant taking him away from this place as soon as possible, even if Sephiran had no idea what to do then.

"Do you wish to leave him?" Sephiran asked, gesturing towards Greca before repeating himself in the modern language. The anima sage had managed to clamber to his feet, but he still clung to the doorframe for balance. With a groan, he rubbed his head gingerly.

The child watched Greca out of the corner of his eye. As the sage took a step along the wall, Soren shivered and scooted a few inches further away. That was answer enough.

Sephiran studied the child's magical presence again, this time looking for a genuine apprenticeship bond. Whether it was contracted formally or informally, a magical apprenticeship generally initiated a sort of magical binding between master and apprentice. The longer they spent with each other, advancing in the ways of magic, the more they came to trust and rely on each other, the deeper and stronger their bond would become. When the apprenticeship ended, the bond did not abruptly sever or dissolve into thin air; it lost much of its strength, that was true, but its structure would remain as a testament to the years of study and friendship.

At least, that was the ideal. It was not always achieved in practice.

Being a magical binding, the apprenticeship bond helped the master keep tabs on a potentially wayward apprentice, and also helped protect the apprentice from some other magic user trying to magically enslave or otherwise mess with him. Sephiran's hope had been that Pelleas would form such a bond with Avyn, and that it would help prevent him from being forcibly apprenticed by Izuka.

Of course, an apprenticeship bond had to spring from mutual trust to have its full power. Sephiran highly doubted that that would be the case with Greca and the tiny dragon he had somehow acquired. Greca could not have had the child for very long, not according to what Avyn and Cartus had said. The short length of time, coupled with the child's fear of Greca and the sage's bad treatment of him, would mean that any apprenticeship bond would be a diseased thing, easy to break.

Sephiran had to look closely, but he eventually found it. It was no more than a tremulous thread, established only by Greca's sheer desire to pass on his magical know-how to a powerful apprentice and damaged constantly by his maltreatment of the boy, but it existed.

Not for much longer, Sephiran thought. "Do you want me to break the apprenticeship?" he asked, first in the ancient and then in the modern language. He was still not certain if Soren understood either – or if he could speak. However, an alien, adult intelligence seemed to glitter in those red eyes. "I can do so. Then you will be able to leave."

Sephiran did not intend on leaving the child with Greca in any case. A man who threw fireballs at a child simply did not need an apprentice. Additionally, while the child's own magic was strong enough to convince even experienced sages like Avyn that he was a Spirit Charmer, not a Branded, sooner or later his slow aging patterns – and, if he were part dragon, he would age even more slowly – would give it away. The populace would stone him for his supposed uncleanness, as they had almost stoned Pelleas.

It could not be borne.

The wind spirits were chattering to the boy now, encouraging him to trust Sephiran and leave this place. Having formed a sort of fondness for the boy, inasmuch as immortal creatures of the elements could be fond of something, they preferred to see him in the kind, capable hands of the goddess's Apostle than trapped in the hut of a mad fire sage. Without taking his eyes off of either Sephiran or Greca, the child listened to them.

Finally, the child nodded.

The child's permission was crucial. Permission and proper authority constituted a lot of what made certain magical acts right or wrong, possible or impossible. Breaking an apprenticeship bond would normally require lots of documentation, witnesses, and a special ceremony in addition to the agreement of both parties. However, Sephiran considered this an emergency situation. Any other sane magic user would agree with him.

Some of them might insist he ask Greca first, but Sephiran already knew what the anima sage would say and did not care. Sephiran would not bring himself to break the apprenticeship without the child's permission, but after that fireball he would happily do it in the face of Greca's denial and watch the pain it caused him.

Once again, Sephiran checked to see what Greca was doing now. ("Never assume an enemy is as harmless as he appears," Soan had often said, and Sephiran, although he had not actually fought in too many battles, heeded this advice.) The sage had staggered over to the bucket of water and was taking a drink. Or retching. Possibly both. Sephiran's mouth twisted with disgust.

Ever so slowly, trying not to alarm the child, Sephiran reached out and laid his hand on the boy's knee. Physical contact greatly facilitated any magical undertaking. Sephiran did not expect this to be very hard, but he wanted to do it quickly and cleanly. Soren flinched at first, but he did not cry out or squirm away. His accusing red eyes watched Sephiran closely.

With the voices of the spirits to guide him, Sephiran let his magic stretch out. The child blinked as he felt it come into contact with his own. For a moment, Sephiran thought he might jump up and run away, but instead the child took a deep, shuddering breath and relaxed, just barely. Perhaps he could sense the lack of hostility in Sephiran's magic.

After a few moments, Sephiran had located the mockery of an apprenticeship bond. Soren winced, the contact dredging up bad memories.

"It will be over soon," murmured Sephiran quietly.

Sure enough, the weak bond snapped easily before his magic. Soren sighed with relief. Behind them, Greca groaned as if he had been punched in the gut.

Trying not to smirk, Sephiran set about cleaning up the brittle broken end of the bond on the child's side, dissolving the jagged remnants of Greca's magic into the ether. With each bit that faded away, the child relaxed visibly. It was as if Sephiran were removing thorns that had long been wedged in Soren's side, keeping the boy from breathing freely.

Finished, Sephiran withdrew his hand and asked with a smile, "That feel better?"

The boy nodded slowly. His icy expression had begun to melt from suspicion to the first warmth of the beginning of trust. His knees were still drawn up to his thin chest, but he no longer hugged them and cowered as if seeking refuge in his own shadow.

Inwardly, though, Sephiran was more troubled than ever. Breaking the apprenticeship bond had given him a closer look at the boy's magic, and something about it disturbed him. Soren's magic was strong and healthy, vibrant with the promise of the full power he would achieve when grown. However, it seemed a little too awake, too aware. Granted, the child had received some training – if it could be dignified with the word training – but not enough yet to warrant it.

And there were scars on the boy's magic, scars of dark magic, as if he had encountered some terror of the underworld and lived to tell the tale.

Who has done this to you, child?

With difficulty, Sephiran stopped himself from snatching up his Flux tome and activating it. Closing his eyes, he reasoned with himself. Dark magic strong enough to cause such spiritual scars was clearly beyond Greca's capabilities. Only a dark archsage could have done something like this – or a malicious spirit, for that matter.

Who did this? he demanded of the wind spirits.

They clustered together, elemental tails flicking nervously. They would not speak. If they knew, they were too terrified to let on.

Sephiran's mind then jumped naturally to the events he had observed in Osin during the night and the previous day. Izuka – had he done this? He appeared to have both the knowledge and the strength in the arcane arts required. But if he had done such a thing to Soren, with the intention of retaining him as his apprentice, why would he have let him go and how would the child have come into Greca's care, such as that was? If he had lost his apprentice, his most natural course of action would be to alert other magic users in the area so they could search for him or at least be on the lookout. He must not have done anything of the sort, or surely Cartus and Avyn would have mentioned it.

He could have done it illegally, of course. Sephiran frowned. Snap judgments could be so unfair, but he liked to think he retained enough of his heron gift of reading hearts to know that Izuka was a cruel man when he saw him. Izuka could have abducted a child with high magical potential as his apprentice and, when the boy mysteriously vanished, have been unable to raise an alarm about it. The abducting seemed more likely when a child with dragon heritage was involved, as impossible as that latter fact seemed.

However, if Izuka had done this to Soren and somehow misplaced him, why had he not found him last night? Surely, Izuka would remember the feel of a child's magic he had scarred with the dark arts and be able to find him all the more easily.

It all made no sense. His mind awhirl, Sephiran tried again to push his warring thoughts away and focus on the situation at hand. At any rate, he could try to tend the deeper scars on Soren's soul later. Silently, he blessed Yune for inspiring him to research dark magic after the disaster of Serenes. He had felt utterly sick and helpless at the time, reading of the horrors that could be worked with dark magic, but now he was glad of it. He would not be able to completely reverse the damage to the boy's spirit, but perhaps he would be able to heal the worst of it.

Later, though. The sooner he took Soren away from this dump, the better. "Do you want to leave now?" he asked the boy.

Soren glanced between Sephiran and Greca, who was trying to inconspicuously sidle over to his cupboard of magic books. Having noticed that already, Sephiran drummed his fingers lightly on the cover of the Flux tome sitting on the floor near him. Greca froze instantly.

The implications were not lost on Soren. Shuffling the tiniest bit closer to Sephiran, he nodded.

Sephiran held out his hand. "Would you like to come with me?"

Soren stared solemnly up at Sephiran for a long moment. Sephiran was suddenly reminded of his theory, prompted by one too many conversations with Dheginsea, that, although only herons can read hearts, perhaps dragons can read minds. Soren certainly seemed to be evaluating his intentions, weighing them against the unkindness that was all he had ever known.

"Ta," said Soren finally, his voice barely above a whisper and husky with dryness. ("Yes.") His gaze never moving from Sephiran's face, he scrambled to his feet. Very gently, Sephiran scooped the child up in his arms. Soren made no sound, but one of his small, grimy hands grabbed the edge of Sephiran's cloak and gripped it tightly.

"I will look after you, Soren. This I promise," Sephiran said quietly.

Soren did not answer. Sephiran could understand why the child's accusing gaze had led Avyn to call him a mini demon. He was used to the expression of ancient, smoldering fury that lurked in the eyes of every dragon, but the same could not be said of the beorc.

Sephiran stood up, picking up his Flux tome with one hand and balancing the boy on his hip with the other. So armed, he rounded on Greca. The anime sage was still frozen by his cupboard of magic books, too afraid to move, but consumed with hatred for the perceived ruin Sephiran was bringing on him.

Contrary to Sephiran's expectations, Soren did not duck his head or otherwise show fear on facing his erstwhile tormentor. Instead, he held his head high and leveled Greca that eerie red stare. It was not without its effect on Greca. The anima sage's eyes slid away from the child in search of a safer sight.

"Ya can't take him from me," he muttered. "I paid for him, fair 'n' square. I'll teach him. He's my runt."

It was the wrong thing to say to Sephiran. Very much the wrong thing to say. His heron nature still unfamiliar to rage, Sephiran marveled at how this deadly emotion could be at once as hot as the inferno at Serenes and as cold as a starless morning in winter. His voice like steel, Sephiran snapped, "Where did you find him?"

"Bought him off an old woman near Nevassa," Greca responded, his eyes glued to the way Sephiran's fingers were drumming on the cover of his Flux tome.

"And where did she find him?" Sephiran continued.

"Someone dropped him off wi' a bag of gold, that's pretty much all she told me," babbled Greca, speaking faster with the desperation to be believed, to not be Fluxed into ashes. "She didn't want him. He wasn't hers. Bad luck he was, she said. A baby wi' red eyes… a demon child. She was quite happy to sell him to me. He's my runt, I tell ya, fair 'n' square. Ya can't take him."

"I do believe throwing fireballs at children would be considered unacceptable by other magic users in this town, and any court would either dismiss the case or hand it over to the magic users," said Sephiran icily. "Try your luck with them. Try to prove that you are deserving of an apprentice, any apprentice. Or try your luck with me, here, right now."

Greca licked his lips, considering this. He took in Sephiran's straight, confident posture, the creepy blood-red glare of the demon child, and the Flux tome, its pages beginning to exude a faint purple glow.

Finally, Greca spat on the ground at Sephiran's feet. "May Baal confound your paths!" he cursed.

Sephiran raised his eyebrows. He had heard better ones from Soan stubbing his toe. "And a good morning to you, too," he responded with chill politeness. "Count yourself blessed by Ashera that I do not pay you back as you deserve."

He walked with Soren out of the hovel and did not look back.

Author's Note:

Yes, I know I have given Soren's master an Adaptational Villainy upgrade. However, I don't think I have exaggerated too much, given how canon!Soren turned out. After all, his master didn't even teach him to speak the modern language.

A bit of Fridge Logic on my part: if Soren could not speak when his master died (as he says in his PoR support with Ike), how could he use magic? All of FE's magic seems to depend on the spoken word. Therefore, I have decided that Soren could speak the ancient language, which he used for magic, but could not speak the modern tongue. His master never bothered to teach it to Soren, as he didn't want Soren to become independent of him and escape. For his part, Soren saw no point in learning it as long as he remained with his master. He might have even been actively discouraged from learning it, who knows.

At least, that's my reasoning. If any of you have better theories, please let me know!

Yes, I also showed off a bit more of my totally made-up ancient language. Since it frustrates me when I have to keep scrolling to the bottom of the page to find out what the conlang says in other fics, I put the translation right in the story. If this bothers you, I'm sorry, but it's what I find the most convenient.

Side note: I'm fairly sure the dragons of Goldoa speak mainly the ancient language, like the herons in Serenes. Since Goldoa does host continental peace talks and other affairs requiring a neutral party, obviously more Goldoans speak the modern language and can deal with the outside world, however. Still, I imagine all dragons can understand the ancient language well enough. I think Soren, with enough dragon magic in him, has a special propensity for the ancient language. He fears it right now, since it's what Greca uses to throw fireballs at him, but hopefully he will soon overcome that.

Remember those dark rites of which Izuka spoke in the Green Cauldron? Yes, he's used them before. When Ashnard was trying to figure out if his Branded son had any special powers, to whom do you think he assigned that task? Yep, he gave his own son over to Izuka. Izuka ran experiments on Soren, performed arcane rites, you name it. Eventually, he determined Soren was just a filthy Branded. Soren's magic potential wasn't enough to persuade the creepo who makes living weapons out of laguz into sparing him. (Do you seriously think Ashnard and Izuka ever intended to hold up their end of their bargain with Rajaion? Seriously?) I rather think Izuka planned to make potions ingredients out of Soren. However, someone among his researchers or other assorted minions must not have been able to go through with it and smuggled the child out, leaving him with an old woman where he'd be – well, not exactly safe, but safer.

And then, a few years later, Greca found him. Poor Soren. Greca promptly drags him off to Gallia, where the laguz pretty much cement the ice in Soren's heart.

To answer Sephiran's question of why Izuka didn't find Soren in Osin last night: Izuka believes Soren is dead. He wasn't looking for him or expecting to find him. He had noticed Spirit Charmer magic in Osin, and so that was what he was looking for, not the tainted magic of a Branded. Searching spells can be rather specific and Izuka is skilled enough to use them in that way, so Soren was overlooked. And then, in the canon storyline, Greca took Soren off to Gallia, where Izuka obviously would not find him. Canon!Greca may have done Soren a favor in that regard.

I also imagine that Soren was a pretty creepy kid. Red Eyes, Take Warning, anyone? It's a dragon thing, yes, but combine it with Soren's personality and latent talents… creepy. Soren is my favorite character and I want to hug him and feed him cookies until he's all better, but he's still kinda unnerving. Hopefully things will turn out better for him in this fic.

…Also, Sephiran is turning into either Gandalf or Jean Valjean. I'm not sure which, but I'm not really sorry. This fic began because I thought how awesome it would be to have Sephiran, Zelgius, and Soren traveling across Tellius together, so yeah. Except I have a plot now. Sort of.

Anyway, if I've done a bad job explaining something or did not explain it at all, leave an angry review telling me so and I'll be more than happy to clear it all up. Theories of your own, my lovelies, are as always welcome.

Spinner here, signing out.