A fanfiction by Velkyn Karma

Summary: Meeting the Feral Ones had appalled her. But Lethe was too strong, too proud, to fall into their ranks...or so she thought.

Note: I could not believethat nobody had approached the Feral Ones concept and developed it a little. So, here we are—I'll do it myself! This story takes place roughly between chapters 14 and 15 of Path of Radiance. For all intents and purposes, the Apostle Sanaki has extended the number of jobs given to the Greil Mercenaries, so they're taking on a few more slave trade elimination jobs before moving on to finding the liberation army.

Warnings: This one could get a little iffy in later chapters with mentions of torture and other unsightly things. If you're not so into that, I'd turn around now before you get started.

Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, the Fire Emblem game series or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. The only thing here that's mine is the idea for the story.

"The enemy invariably attacks in one of two occasions. 1: When you're ready for them. 2. When you're not ready for them."

--Military saying

"Almost...a little closer..."

The rabbit's head twitched upwards in confusion. Its fuzzy little body froze even as its long ears swiveled in all directions, picking up the barest traces of noise with adrenaline-pumped senses.

Lethe cursed under her breath.

The noise was all the rabbit needed, and its quivering muscles burst into action. It turned and fled deeper into the brush, its little white cottontail bouncing into the coming evening gloom. With an angry yowl the female laguz leaped after it, her graceful cat form gleaming copper in the late afternoon light.

Too late. The damned little thing had slipped down its burrow hidden in the brush, and Lethe's cat form was far too large to follow. She hissed at it in annoyance and scuffed a few small rocks down the entrance to vent her ire before spinning back towards the river, returning to her half-beorc form.

It had been her own fault, really; how much more like a novice could she act, making all that unnecessary noise while on the hunt? Of course it would hear her, and run. Her own loss.

But she couldn't help it. Lethe was annoyed, and when she became overly agitated she started making careless mistakes. A dangerous fault if not careful—she would need to keep stronger discipline over herself in the future.

The laguz returned to the riverbank, perching on a large boulder to search for her partner. Carefully avoiding the river's spray—she loathed water—she lifted her face to the light air currents floating about her, searching for the human's scent.

No. Beorc, Lethe reminded herself, with another annoyed hiss. It was difficult still to regard the beorc she worked with as anything more than disrespectful garbage, but she was doing her best to cooperate with them, for her leader's sake if nothing else. It was important to set a good impression, especially when acting as King Caineghis' representative.

Certainly it was the only reason she had accepted this mission without putting up more of a fuss—or putting her claws through the beorc commander's throat. With a sigh, her mind drifted back to her briefing with Ike just that morning for the hundredth time. And for the hundredth time, the memory remained unyielding and aggravating to her every sense.

Ike summoned Lethe to the suite assigned to him just after dawn; the spacious apartments offered to him by the Begnion Apostle were presently acting as the command center for the Greil Mercenaries. She arrived promptly, ever aware of her representative status for Gallia. By no means would she allow the Gallian military's reputation to suffer.

The commander greeted her with a firm but friendly smile amidst the bustle of the temporary command center. Several of his subordinates were clustered around a large, map-strewn table in the center of the room. Lethe could smell the sharp tang of both steel and horse that indicated the female warrior, Titania, as well as the unnatural, musty scent of magic and something not-quite-right that always seemed to hover around Soren.

She exchanged glances with the advisor-mage and barely managed to contain her contempt. Despite their alliance, she had never grown to accept Ike's tactician, and still loathed him for his deplorable actions during their first meeting. Judging from the colder-than-usual look barely suppressed behind Soren's unnatural red eyes, he harbored similar feelings.

Sigrun was there as well, the scent of armor and pegasus similar to but not quite the same as Titania's hovering delicately around her. She smiled politely at Lethe's approach and turned to Ike. "Is that everyone?"

Ike nodded. "That should be it for now. Would you explain the next assignment so we can get on with it?"

Lethe's sharp eyes noticed no change from the mage or paladin, but her nose and ears were sharp as well. The flicker of scent and the slight increase in pulse rate was as good as a grimace on their faces to her. Inwardly she smirked. The commander beorc was learning, but his blunt attitude still indicated his inexperience.

Sigrun had more than enough experience to make up for Ike's lack thereof, however, and she calmly overlooked the blunder. "Of course. You completed your last assignment most excellently—the merchants you ambushed were trading illegally. Bandits, if you will. Unfortunately, while you have taken care of one band, there are several others that are still causing us trouble." She tapped the map spread out before them all, indicating two locations; the first was mere hours from the city, while the second remained a day's journey away.

"These two locations have been especially problematic," the pegasus commander continued. "The places indicated are not the bases of either band, but merely the location at which they have been sighted the most. The Apostle would like you to perform the same duties as before—stop these merchant thieves, and deliver their cargo safely back to us."

Lethe frowned slightly at the order, tail twitching. The cargo they had taken from the last group of bandits had been living, she was sure. She had heard movement inside, but the solid iron boxes had muffled any sound, and deadened her sense of smell completely. And now the Begnion leader requested more stolen, possibly living, cargo? The entire order smelt wrong.

Ike apparently shared similar thoughts, because he was frowning slightly. She had to give the beorc credit—regardless of his sometimes-green actions, he had a solid intuition that rivaled the sense of even a few laguz.

"And are we to deliver the cargo under the same terms?" he asked slowly, fingering the hilt of his sword absently as he spoke.

"Unopened and unquestioned," Sigrun acknowledged with a nod. "These are the Apostle's terms."

"I see." The young commander thought for a moment, and then nodded. "We'll take these assignments on, then. I'll look into them immediately."

The pegasus commander nodded respectfully. "Your payment will be taken care of upon completion of the task, just as last time. And now, if you will excuse me, I'll leave you to the assignments." And without another word she departed.

Lethe hissed low in her throat as soon as the woman had exited. "I do not like this job."

"I don't either," Ike admitted, still frowning slightly, "but I'll help Princess Elincia any way I can, as I said. And maybe, with luck, we can get to the bottom of all this."

The laguz swished her tail in irritation but said nothing. Hearing no further objections, Ike turned to his tactician. "So. What do you think? How should we approach this?"

Soren's eyes were already fastened on the map, lingering on the two indicated points in question. Lethe could all but taste the air around him growing colder as his mind slipped deeper into its emotionless, calculating, almost cruel state. She sniffed disdainfully under her breath but said nothing. Despite his many, many faults, the loathsome human mage was a decent tactician and excelled at keeping casualties to a bare minimum.

"Neither base is officially located," pale thing murmured after a moment. "We will have to spend time and resources locating the main base of each band in order to complete an effective rout and remove all cargo. With this in mind, it is inadvisable to attempt the further of the two locations immediately." He tapped the approximated location a day's journey from the city with one long finger.

"Why's that?" Ike asked, studying the map carefully.

"We risk ambush," Soren responded firmly. "Marching a force to an approximate location will take a full day. Without a true destination, we will be forced to camp overnight in enemy territory. Even if we post guards, we still risk lives and supplies, without any payoff or reassurance of victory." His finger moved to the closer location. "Here, however, we can transport a full force in only a matter of hours. If we leave immediately, we can be there by mid-day, giving us a full afternoon to search with a large force of fresh fighters."

"So we attack here first?"

"That is what I suggest." The mage stepped back from the table, the look of cold reason never leaving his face.

"It sounds like a reasonable plan," Ike agreed after a moment's thought. "Titania, can you go get the troops ready? I want to move out within the hour if we can."

"Of course." The woman responded with a nod and excused herself without another word, much to Lethe's relief. While she respected Titania as a powerful warrior, the scent of steel armor and weaponry was becoming overpowering in the rooms, however spacious they were.

"I will alert Mordecai and prepare for battle as well," the cat added with a decisive swish of her tail. The thought of battle invigorated her. She did not like sitting around this cold castle, filled to the brim with annoying human nobility. Her calling was action.

"Hold on, Lethe," Ike called after her as she turned to leave. "I've got a different assignment for you."

One slender cat ear cocked in curiosity and surprise as she turned back. "A different assignment? But you will need me on the battlefield."

"I need you here more." Ike tapped the second location, the one a day's length away.

She eyed the map with a frown. "And why is that?"

"We can't attack there because we don't know where the base is." Ike glanced at Soren momentarily, and the mage nodded quietly in agreement. "So before we can launch an attack, I need to have a target destination. I need you to scout out where this other base is hidden and report back to me as quickly as you can. You can manage, right?"

Lethe scoffed at the question. "Of course I can manage. That distance is nothing to any laguz worth his claws. And as for finding the human base, I could smell their stink a mile away. I can find them easily."

Ike nodded. His face held an odd mix of a friendly smile and stern eyes, an expression only he seemed able to pull off effectively. "Great. I trust you can do it. And one more thing..."

The cat's tail twitched in impatience. She had been assigned a hunting mission, and already she was eager to complete it. "Yes?"

"I want you to take one more person with you on this scouting mission. Anyone else you like—but they need to be beorc."

The laguz was appalled. "You are not serious! Why should I take a human with me on such a delicate hunting mission?" Beside Ike, Soren's eyes narrowed dangerously at the obviously insulting inflection, but he wisely held his tongue.

Ike noted her emphasis on the word as well, but rolled right over it. "Why shouldn't you? There are plenty of beorc that have joined us who have good hunting skills, and they'll be useful in a scouting mission. And I don't want you going alone. You need backup in case something bad happens."

"Then I will take Mordecai with me! I do not need human help with this. They will slow me down and drive away any hope of a secretive approach."

Ike's look was firm. "Lethe, you need to learn to work with beorc. It's important for anyone in my company to work well with other members, regardless of race."

She hissed in agitation. "I cooperate well with you in battle." The closest she would get to admitting that Ike wasn't so bad, for a hu—beorc.

He grinned slightly, understanding her meaning. "Thanks. But that won't change my order. You should learn to work with more than just one beorc. Who knows—you could learn something from them. It could even save your life one day."

The hair on her neck raised in agitation, and she could feel her tail fluffing as well. Damn. She'd lost control of her emotions. She willed herself to calm down once more—not so easy a task, with that shadow-like mage smirking at her behind the glassy, cold shield of his annoyingly red eyes.

"I will choose a partner and notify you before we leave," she answered stiffly, flicking her tail as she turned to leave.

Ike nodded quietly. "Thanks. Good luck."

And that, quite suddenly, was that.

Lethe sighed as she snapped back to the present moment, nose twitching as she finally found her partner's scent. Choosing a beorc scouting companion had been difficult—she interacted with very few beorc outside of Ike, and those she had managed to have a passing conversation with would be useless in the arts of scouting and tracking.

In the end she had chosen Zihark, the swordsman who had helped her escape Port Toah. As far as hu—beorc went, he was fairly respectful, and possessed enough skill to pass through the brush-covered, slightly mountainous region unheard and unseen...by beorc eyes and ears, at any rate. He was as loud as thunder to her sensitive cat ears and stank of sword powder and oil, but possessed an unusual grace unlike most beorc that made him tolerable—no doubt attained from his studies for the wickedly curved blade sheathed at his hip.

Most of the day-long journey had been spent moving in silence, pushing closer and closer to their general location with hardly a word spoken. Zihark had tried to strike up a friendly conversation with her numerous times, but while she responded politely her agitation was clearly apparent in her lack of enthusiastic response, and the beorc had finally taken the hint and fallen silent.

Their pace disturbed Lethe, and she had been obliged to slow down significantly to allow her partner to keep up with her. Alone, she would have reached their destined location by early afternoon at least. With Zihark in tow, they had arrived just as the sun was beginning to set.

Still, his endurance had surprised her. While not nearly so fast, the swordsman had kept up a steady pace, and did not require to rest half as much as she had thought would be necessary. Perhaps Ike was right, and she would learn something about the beorc after all.

He was now (she could tell from a light sniff of the air) off in a small forest to her left, bordering the edges of the river. While these woodlands were not nearly so majestic as the once-proud Serennes Forest—far more northwest to their own position—they still doubtless provided excellent cover for marauding thieves and cutthroats. And, apparently, also hid a selection of bushes with plentiful berries, which her partner was using to supplement his meager rations.

She sniffed disdainfully. A meal sounded appealing, but she wouldn't pick at berries and nuts like a rodent. A pity that rabbit had gotten away...

Zihark stepped from the trees, and she turned to face him with a flick of her tail before hopping off the river boulder. "Are you now satisfied?"

"Absolutely," he answered, once again giving her a friendly smile in an attempt to break the ice. "Those berries are delicious. Are you sure you don't want any?"

She curled a lip in disgust and hissed slightly. "I will not eat such things unless absolutely necessary."

"Makes sense," the swordsman admitted. "I could never get her to enjoy them either." Lethe cocked an ear in confused surprise at the statement, but before she could inquire further Zihark asked, "Were you able to find any meat, at least?"

She growled in her throat. "Almost...it got away." The rumble in her stomach, loud and unbidden, made her flatten her ears in embarrassment.

"I'm sorry." He hesitated, and then reached into his pack, withdrawing his hand to reveal a small cloth-wrapped package. Through the scent of oil and sword-powder she could smell the delicate, savory flavor of meat.

"Here," he offered, holding the package out. "I know it's not much, and it's dried, but it's better than nothing. I don't mind sharing."

Her nose twitched at the smell, even as her mind wavered suspiciously. The offer couldn't be genuine. Humans were never respectful like that...except Zihark did not appear to act like most beorc, and appeared to have a fairly decent understanding of her people. Their couldn't be any harm in the offer, could there?

"Thank you," she murmured under her breath slowly, as she reached out to take the cloth-wrapped food. He gave a small smile in return, and waited patiently as she unwrapped the dried strips of meat and dug in with enthusiasm. It was hard and salted, but it would do for now.

"So," Zihark began, once she had dug through most of her meal, "which direction do we take from here?"

Lethe finished chewing the last strip of meat and licked her lips thoughtfully. "That way," she answered after a pause, pointing across the river in a northeast direction. "The scent of iron and human sweat is carried by the wind from that direction. It is faint, but I am sure the bandit hideout is in that direction. Perhaps a few miles at best."

The swordsman glanced in the indicated direction. "We'd better look for a place to cross the river, then. It's too deep here."

She gave a low hiss, but nodded in agreement. The last thing she needed, on top of everything else, was to be forced to swim the river. "I have seen no place worth crossing at while traveling so far. It would be best to continue upstream to look for a good location."

"Good idea." The swordsman dropped his hand as he turned back to face her. "We'd better get moving, then. I don't like the thought of crossing this river in the dark. Too danger—look out!"

The cat started as Zihark's eyes widened, and he leaped towards her, drawing his sword. For a brief moment she thought he would attack her, and she crouched reflexively, extending clawless fingers. But then his free left arm knocked her aside—a surprisingly powerful blow for a beorc, she noted in shock—and his sword came slashing down with sickening speed through the air.

Something metallic cracked.

She spun to the side, regaining her footing quickly with the grace of the cat within her, and glanced down in surprise. Rolling to her feet was a broken arrow, snapped neatly in two thanks to Zihark's swift work. The now-useless weapon boasted an odd spiked barb at its tip instead of he usual arrowhead, and she recognized with growing anger that it was designed specifically to inflict great damage to laguz.

The missile had been meant for her. And, even more surprising, the beorc had just saved her life with his decidedly human weapon.

"You alright?" Zihark questioned, sparing a quick glance in her direction before tracing the arrow path into the woods. Both hands were on the hilt of that wickedly curved blade, and his muscles were completely relaxed to allow for absolute reaction time.

"Fine," Lethe hissed back, growing more and more angry. She slipped into her cat form with hardly a thought, coming to rest on all four paws, and dug her claws comfortably into the ground. She was armed now, and ready.

But something disturbed her. How had the humans managed to sneak up on her? All her senses had been attuned; she had been aware of every smell, every sound, every movement around both her and her partner. How was it that she could not have known...?

And then it was too late to question. With a sudden roar and a shriek of blood-curdling laughter men exploded from the trees on all sides, brandishing axes and swords as they streamed forward. Arrows rained down from the trees, forcing them backwards, and within moments Lethe and Zihark found themselves pressed back against the river.

Ambush. Trap. Death...

And then the roar of battle was in her ears, the smell of blood in her nose, the rage of the fight in her very being, and the hope for victory just beyond her grasp.

Only when her world went sharply red, and then black, did her battle lust desert her completely.

And there we are, chapter one finished. More were that came from—we're just getting started, oh yes.

For the record, I do love Soren, but I love him realistically. He's not a lovey-dovey sensitive sort of guy (as most IkeXSoren fans would have you believe). Actually, through at least half the game I find he acts surprisingly malicious, or very, very cold, so I wrote him accordingly. There are certain people he gets along with...and there are certain people he doesn't get along with.

Now then! If you review, kindly tell me what you like and dislike, what you think could be done better, what you thought was done well. I find constructive criticism is a fantastic tool, so don't be afraid to tell me what you think. It really helps me grow.

Velkyn Karma