When Twilight Greets the Dawn

Note: I find it laughable that Sothe, one of the so-called 'main characters' of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, has next to no proper characterization. So, this attempts to mend that. We shall follow Sothe as he returns to a very different Daein after the events of Path of Radiance…

It was an uncomfortably hot night in the dingy streets of Nevassa, and it made Sothe irritable. It was just his luck that he would arrive back here at the height of summer. He walked briskly through the empty roads, trying to ignore the sticky sweat that clung to his skin and trickled into his clothes. His scarf was already damp, and the young thief cringed whenever the fabric brushed his cheeks. Oh, how he hated the heat! It chaffed and swamped him, pressing at him from all sides, and there was no cooling breeze to allow respite. His scarf tails hung limp at his sides, hardly disturbed but for the jolt of his steps as he strode across the town that was his home.

It's good to be back, Sothe thought, recognizing familiar sights. The old run-down mill, where he had spent many a night in his younger days; the south district market, silent and empty in the darkness; and up ahead lay his destination, the cathedral. Once Daein's finest architectural feat, the grand building had now fallen into disuse, but for as long as Sothe could remember it had always been home. It had been constructed on a raised platform, so that it overlooked the slums with its tall, proud spire- a landmark which could be seen from anywhere in the city. However, the years of neglect had left the place in poor condition. Half its rear wall had collapsed, its rafters were full of nesting pigeons, and its stained-glass windows had either cracked or fallen out. Yet for the young thief, to see these things once more was as warm a welcome as a palace banquet.

However, as much as he was looking forward to reaching his old haunt, he did not rush to trot up the main path to its front doors. Instead, Sothe turned off into a narrow alley, opting for a slightly longer route. He was not fooled by the quiet, even at this late hour. Begnion patrols had been enforcing curfew in Daein since the city had been left to their charge, and every so often soldiers would prowl the main streets to ensure those who dared oppose their rule were thoroughly punished.

The thought made Sothe's blood boil. It was almost enough for him to want the Mad King back. At least under his rule the citizens had been able to make a living, and not cower fearfully in their homes. If only General Ike had taken the Begnion troops with him, then Daein could have been left alone to rejuvenate itself. They could all have started afresh, where everyone would be…

Sothe was snapped back into the present as he carelessly stepped into a patch of broken glass. The loud crunch seemed to echo around him a thousand times, and he stopped dead. Inwardly he cursed himself for losing his concentration, before he closed his eyes and listened. A bead of sweat trickled down his nose, but he fought the urge to wipe it away. He had to be absolutely silent, else he may miss an early sign of upcoming trouble.

He was right to be cautious, for after a brief minute he heard voices coming from the main path. He did not bother to look back, and instead slipped towards the wall on his left. The feel of cool brick against his arms felt delightful, but he did not allow himself to savour it. His hand was already resting on his dagger, ready to snatch it out in time of need, though he had little intent to start a fight. He would not gain much from picking night-time brawls with Begnion soldiers, no matter how drunk they would be at this hour. Besides that, he was tired, sticky and hot- and certainly not in the mood for battle.

The voices came closer, and Sothe tensed.

"…haven't seen him!" called the nearest figure. From his lighter steps, Sothe deduced that he was of small build, and his youthful voice suggested that he was not quite an adult. However, it was too dark to make out his features.

"She said he'll be back," answered the other as he followed behind his comrade, his voice much deeper, but lacking any form of menace. "And you know her predictions are never wrong."

That earned a laugh from the approaching youth, who strode right past the motionless Sothe and into the bleakness beyond. He was completely oblivious to the thief's presence.

"Anyway, she told us he loves the cathedral- it's bound to be the first place he'll go to when he gets back. Even if we have to sit there for weeks, I know we'll find him!"

"Confident as always, Edward, but it's been almost a year since the war ended. Maybe he doesn't want to…"

The conversation died down as the two comrades moved on. Sothe remained still, watching their retreating steps. He was somewhat annoyed that his destination was going to be under surveillance, and yet he was also curious. They had not behaved like Begnion troops at all, and, more importantly, it sounded like they were specifically after him. But how could that be? He had barely been back a week, and had definitely not made himself known in any public way. Yet those two knew exactly where to begin their search…

The question continued to nag at Sothe as he finally left the alley and continued through the connecting back streets. He was still intent to get to the cathedral- he knew all of its secrets, and he was confident he could easily evade his new 'spies'. Once they saw how lifeless it was, they would no doubt tire of their task and move on.

Soon he arrived at the back entrance, but did not yet make for the tiny door. Instead he crouched by the last house beside his path and waited. He could still see his two pursuers making their way past the cathedral's east tower, and onward to the neighbouring rooftop. Whilst their backs were turned, Sothe took a breath. Now was the time to cross the open path and enter the building, and they would be none the wiser.

However, just as he was about to make a swift dash to that promising wooden door, he caught some rowdy shouts on the edge of his hearing. He paused, and moments later the sound repeated, much louder. It seemed that a real Begnion patrol was nearby. As they drew closer, Sothe also heard the screams of an unfortunate girl who had been careless enough to ignore the curfew law. His heart burned with rage, and he unsheathed his dagger. He didn't care how many of them there were, to see their bodies run with red on his native streets would be a sight well worth it…

No! Sothe shook his head, beads of sweat dripping from his forehead and into his already-soaked scarf. The heat must be getting to him. Whoever the poor lass was, he could not help her. Not now. He continued to watch, however the patrol abruptly changed their mind and started to head away from the cathedral. The girl had stopped crying out, although the new silence made Sothe feel sick. When would this madness end?

He pushed his feelings to the back of his mind as he stood up, concentrating on his original task. Once more he scrutinized the surrounding rooftops, and spotted his two stalkers on the east side, where they would get a clear view of both the front and back of the cathedral. However, they were completely blind to the secret side entrance on the second tower, and that was where Sothe planned to go. He allowed himself a smirk as he slunk across the shadows, before he then darted forward to safety.

He pulled out the rusted grate, and then crawled inside the inlet, replacing the grille behind him. At once the stifling heat vanished, replaced by the musty coolness of the shut-up building. Sothe sighed with relief, wiping his drenched brow, before he followed the tunnel into the tower's atrium. Here he was able to stand and stretch- the tunnel was a lot smaller than he recalled.

And so, with a brief glance upwards to the great iron bell above, Sothe headed for the spiral stairs and began the long climb up to the top. He was very tired, for he had been travelling for most of the day, and so took his time ambling up the chipped stone steps. Yes, while Nevassa was not as he remembered it, the cathedral was just as he had left it.

He was surprised when he had to bend down to fit through the doorway to the bell room- he definitely had gained some height during his absence. He paused to look around, filled with nostalgia. The bell itself was enshrined under a domed pergola, which was held up by several stone pillars. Between them spanned an intricate meshing, interlaced in a criss-cross pattern, although there were wide holes all over them where rats had eaten through. In spite of their unsightly appearance, however, they were letting in a wonderfully cool breeze, and Sothe took a deep breath, savouring the freshness. It was soon interrupted by a yawn, and so after a brief stretch he headed for his usual resting spot. It was very late, after all.

He scaled the north pillar, and then made himself comfortable in the little nook between the supporting rafters and granite roof, his head resting against his rolled-up scarf. He closed his eyes, hoping that sleep would come quickly, alas his mind continued to buzz with new questions as he thought back to his recent encounter. Why had someone sent those two after him? And who was this 'she' they had kept referring to? A wistful idea fleeted through his mind, but he was quick to dismiss it. There was no way it could be her. She had left without a word nearly two years ago; she had no reason to return.

Sothe wrapped his arms around his knees, ignoring the tiny trickle down his cheek that was not sweat.

*** *

He was awoken by cheerful birdsong. He yawned, rubbing his eyes from the dust. The dawn was pleasantly cool, though he knew it would only last a couple of hours before the merciless heat took over. He sighed, savoring some last few seconds of rest, before he swung his legs over the rafter and climbed down the pillar. Then he headed towards the most worn stone column, for behind it was a little tin that caught the rainwater. He brought it to his lips and took a sip. It tasted stale, but with the weather as it was, Sothe knew he had to save as much moisture as possible.

Suddenly Sothe heard a flutter, and a bird flew inside the tower. It hovered for a moment, and then landed on the tin's edge. Sothe frowned, about to shake his makeshift cup and shoo it away, when he noted the creature's colour. Its feathers were bright orange, while its underbelly plumage was a pale cream. It stared at him with its black, beady eyes, before giving a soft cheep.

Sothe's eyes went wide. He looked hard at the bird, which had started preening its right wing, but then after a few seconds it took off, heading back out over the city. At its departure, Sothe blinked and vigorously shook his head. He was reading too much into it. There were hundreds of birds in and around Daein; to see an orange one would not be uncommon, and especially in a place which was so full of nesting sites anyway.

As he reasoned with himself, Sothe felt his stomach growl. Enough dawdling on pointless observation- it was time to get some breakfast. First, though, he would have to make sure his spies were not still on watch. Wrapping his scarf round his neck, Sothe put back his water tin and started to walk around the huge bell. From this high up, he could see every rooftop for miles, including the place where his two watchers had spent the night. The wooden floorboards creaked as he walked, his eyes concentrating on that spot below.

It was empty. In fact, all of the rooftops were empty, save for the odd washing line or roosting pigeon. The streets, however, were awash with townsfolk. The sight made Sothe glad. The hustle and bustle of life had not been entirely subdued by Begnion occupation. Not only did it show Daein resolve, but the crowds would also provide ample cover for the thief. That should allow him to grab a few necessities.

Sure that he was in the clear, Sothe ducked under the small arch and made his way down to ground level. He tried his best to leave as little trace as possible that he had been back, for it was entirely plausible that someone might come during his absence to look for clues.

He blended easily into the crowded streets, like a small stream that had entered a main river. Nobody paid him much notice, though Sothe himself was very conscious of his newfound height. As if the bell tower door had not been enough, now he could not lose himself into the masses as flawlessly as he had done in the past. If his spies were still watching out for him, he was as good as found.

Deciding to err on the side of caution, Sothe drew his scarf about his face, so that only his bright eyes were revealed. For the moment, however, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The Begnion soldiers were no-where to be seen- no doubt still recovering from their late night escapades. For perhaps another hour at least, the people of Daein would be free from their tyranny.

Or so Sothe expected. As he approached the south market, intent to find some nibbles, his eye was caught by a lone Begnion soldier, who was arguing with a grocer. He stopped by a nearby wine stall, listening in on the conversation.

"You're insane!" the shopkeeper blurted, trying to fend off the warrior with his broom. "I'll not allow you to steal all my produce to feed your lazy troops!"

"You're a brave man, Banzer!" the soldier laughed unpleasantly, before snapping his lance upright, its barbed tip aimed at the shopkeeper's neck. "But you're also stupid. I thought you Daeinites would've learned by now that we run the show here! Now you either start shoving that lot onto a cart or there's going to be a nasty red mess on the floor, and it won't be tomato juice!"

Banzer swallowed, his hands trembling, but he did not make a move.

"Y-You can't do this!" he stammered, clutching his broom defensively. The soldier growled, grasping his lance more fiercely.

"Fine, act the brave hero, for all the good it's going to do you!"

At his words, Sothe bristled- he could not take this Begnion bullying any longer. And so, just as the soldier was about to jab his lance to make his point, Sothe grabbed the handle of the weapon and tugged. The soldier felt the pull, and spun around.

"What?" His eyes instantly fell to Sothe's arm, which was holding the back of the lance. "Let go, you dumb kid!"

Sothe did not answer, and instead jerked his wrist, trying to wrest the spear from the soldier's grasp. The soldier held on, finally shaking off the thief. He snarled angrily.

"Oh, you think you can stand up to Begnion as well? I'll make you see some sense…urk!"

Whilst he had been jabbering on, Sothe had made his move. In a split second he had released the soldier's lance and was now pressing his own dagger at his throat.

"G-Get off me!" the soldier spluttered, his eyes wide with fear. "Y-You wouldn't…!" Sothe did not allow him to finish. He kicked the warrior hard in the chest, and the soldier fell over, dropping his lance. Sothe stamped his foot across the weapon, so that it could not be retrieved.

"You'd best leave," Sothe said quietly, a dark edge to his voice. The soldier backed away, struggling to get to his feet.

"Daein scum!" he hissed, coughing slightly from the blow. "You'll regret this!" And without another word he stumbled away into the throngs.

Sothe scoffed at his retreat, before he bent down to remove the lance.

"I give you my thanks, friend," Banzer said, stepping forward from his stall. Sothe simply nodded in acknowledgement. "He has pushed me into feeding the bellies of those no-good Begnion brutes for weeks." He sighed, before standing tall and smiling. "The Dawn Brigade has my utmost gratitude."

The phrase made Sothe blink.

"Dawn Brigade?" he repeated. "Who's the Dawn Brigade?" The shopkeeper seemed surprised by his reply.

"You're not one of them?" Sothe shook his head. "Oh my, surely you've heard of our secret saviours, the loyal band who seek to restore Daein's freedom? They have done many great things for our people."

"Hmph, never heard of them."

Banzer bowed his head.

"My apologies, young sir. I simply assumed one so bold to stand up against our oppressors would have been a member." He paused, a new idea entering his mind. "In fact, why don't you try and meet with them? I'm sure they would appreciate an extra pair of skilled hands."

"Perhaps," Sothe murmured, as he began formulating his own thoughts. In spite of his earlier indifference, he could see that Banzer was right. If someone had had the intelligence to form a rebel group, then they had the right idea about Daein's future. He probably would do well to speak up with them. "Do you know where I can find this Dawn Brigade?"

"Oh, they keep themselves closely hidden," Banzer answered, as he began to sweep the vegetable rind from under his stall table. "They're led by the Silver-Haired Maiden. They say she can perform miracles. I once heard she healed a woman without a tome or a staff- remarkable! If such a thing's true, then I can safely say that one day Begnion better look out…"

Sothe stopped listening, a tingling feeling creeping in his chest. His heart began to beat faster. Silver hair…the ability to heal without magical items…it couldn't be…

His mind started to race. There was no other explanation- she must have come back to Daein! He hadn't been imaging things when he had seen the little orange bird that morning. Then those two who had followed him- the girl they had been talking about was the one he had been searching for all this time. A year of fruitless voyages, and here she was, right under his nose!

"Er, excuse me, young sir?"

Sothe snapped out of his musing as Banzer addressed him. Before the man could speak, however, there was uproar at the back of the crowd. Sothe glanced over his shoulder, and then swore. That soldier he had chased away; he had called for reinforcements, and now a whole platoon of them were pushing their way through the populace, heading straight for him. Quickly the shopkeeper tapped him on the shoulder.

"My friend, make haste! Take this way, else they will capture you."

Banzer pulled away the rear sheet to his stall and pointed to the pathway beyond.

"This will give you a head-start back towards the castle." He also pressed a full bag of apples into Sothe's hand. "Good luck!" Sothe gave a nod, before he ducked under the tarpaulin and ran down the semi-empty street. He had always been a strong runner, and now with his longer legs he tore up the distance to the castle. In fact, by the time the soldiers found the path, he was long gone.

Sothe stopped by the castle gates as he caught his breath. He peered into his bag, and saw about a dozen juicy green apples inside. He had to admit he had not expected such generosity, but more so, he had really surprised himself by his actions. He would never have considered antagonizing a guard for the sake of someone else before his journey with General Ike. Usually he only had regard for his own interests, and yet listening to that soldier had utterly riled him. He was glad he had intervened.

Now recovered, Sothe decided to move on- he could feel suspicious eyes upon him. He began a slow walk towards the west district. It was not an area he liked much, for it was where the merchants lived, but since the Begnion occupation it had become one of the quietest regions in all Nevassa.

"Greedy cowards," Sothe mumbled as he rounded a corner and made his way down a deserted avenue. Although he was exposed in the broad daylight, the thief knew that no-one would challenge him. Everyone would be shut up in their mansions, too petrified to step outside and face the wrath of Begnion. But Sothe also knew that the soldiers rarely came here. Sure, they had vandalized property and terrorized residents during the first few weeks, but the novelty had swiftly worn off and now they left the place alone.

He wandered through the narrow paths, glancing here and there at the white-brick housing, the water-leeched lawns and terra cotta roofs. When he was last in Nevassa, he never would have dared such audacity. To walk amidst the homes of some of the richest folk in Daein- he, a mere commoner- would have been a punishable offence. However, Sothe felt no joy in his impromptu ramble. This was a façade- he still had no right to be in this district, even though it appeared he was free to do so. One day, he vowed, I'll change this. I'll change it all.

He took an apple from his bag and began munching. The fruit was sweet, and softened his mood. In the distance, the cathedral's spire stood out like a black mast, piercing the edge of the high sun. For a moment Sothe paused, admiring the sight. He really had missed Nevassa during his long trip abroad. In spite of all his past hardships, he was very fond of the city. No-where else did he know every street, every nook, every cranny. No-where else could he have called a ruined cathedral his home, or have a market as his playground. And no-where else would he have met such a special person, who had shown him more kindness and love than he had ever known.

Sothe sighed, discarding his apple core into a nearby garden shrub. Now, more than ever, he was desperate to find the Dawn Brigade and confirm for himself the identity of their leader. Yet for all his eagerness, he was already stuck at his first hurdle; he had no idea where to begin his search.

"Typical," he murmured, thinking back to his unnecessary caution the previous night. "Well, those two won't be hanging around here. I'd best get back."

Gnawing on another apple, Sothe slipped into an alley and discretely made for the cathedral again. He was wary for Begnion soldiers, but it appeared his morning encounter had set them all to travel in packs, making them easy to spot, and hence avoid.

As he returned to the safety of the Daein crowds, he caught snippets of conversation that aroused his interest.

"Heard the Silver-Haired Maiden healed a boy today!" came an excited whisper from a man dressed in a blue cape.

"My friend's nephew!" beamed another proudly. "Was so sick he was, but one touch from her and he's right as rain!"

"A maiden of miracles!" proclaimed a third. "I saw it all with my own eyes. She laid her hand upon that child's brow and took his fever away in an instant. In moments he was racing with his friends, fit as a fiddle!"

And so it went on. Sothe tailored his hearing to pick out the information he needed to direct him to the site of the miracle. He was not expecting to find her still there, but he was confident he could find a clue, or perhaps make contact with the rest of her unofficial entourage. Either way, it was as good a start as he could make. It was a lot more preferable to untold hours of combing every crack and crevice in Nevassa in the searing heat.

He found the small square full of chatting locals, all commenting on the recent event. A group of children ran in between them, laughing and screaming as they enjoyed a game of tag. The humid weather did little to disrupt their play, and Sothe could not help but smile as they tore past him. The last child, a boy with a blue scarf, stumbled into him. Rapidly panting an apology, he was then off again, racing after his friends.

"Hard to believe that just an hour ago, he couldn't even sit up, eh?"

Sothe glanced over his shoulder, and spotted a man sitting on a crate beside the wine stall he himself had stood at that very morning. He was well-built, with brown hair and a beard to match, but it was his voice which had struck the thief. That low, yet friendly tone sounded familiar.

"Forgive me for being so bold," the man went on, rising to his feet and approaching Sothe, "but your name, it wouldn't be Sothe, would it?"

"And if it is?" Sothe answered, one eye studying the newcomer, while the other mapped out an escape route through the throngs. Though he was fairly sure he recognized this character from the night before, he did not like the look of the axe that hung from his belt.

The man laughed at his reply.

"Well, sir, if you are Sothe," he said, extending a hand, "then I know someone who is desperate to meet with you. She has told me much about you, and looks forward to your visit. If you'll allow me, I can take you to her. Micaiah will be most delighted that we've found you."

Sothe felt his caution vanish at those tantalizing those words. Nothing could stop this flow of emotion, and he all but blurted his answer.

"Please, let me see her!"

The man beamed.

"Then, this way, Sothe!"

*** *

Sothe felt oddly nervous as the man (who had said his name was Nolan) guided him across a particularly bleak area of the slums. The housing was practically falling apart, with their splintered doorframes, flaking cement and crumbling stone, and yet that way they would remain until the residents could afford to repair them. In between the forlorn buildings, tatty rags had been hung on the strewn lines- the finest 'clothing' available. All these things struck a chord with Sothe, as he finally realized that this was where he had first met Micaiah, almost ten years ago. From the moment he had first laid eyes on her, he had always come here as a boy, hoping that he would see her work her magic. Of course, she had soon noticed his presence, though she had never said it had bothered her. And then one day she had held out her hand; an offer he could not refuse…

Sothe was broken from his reverie as Nolan tugged at his scarf, signalling him to stop. They had come to the last house on this part of the road. Its plaster was flaking, and there were wide gaps in the brickwork, but it looked in a better state than many of its neighbouring cousins. Nolan cleared his throat, before he knocked twice on the door. Seconds later, a little sliding panel opened.

"Password?" the muffled voice demanded. Nolan sighed.

"Edward, you know it's me, stop playing around."

"Rules are rules! AND you have someone with you. So, password?" Nolan rolled his eyes.

"Alright, if you insist. Yune."

"That'll do nicely!"

Sothe heard a latch being drawn, and then the door opened. A smiling youth in a red shirt greeted them.

"So, this is the famous Sothe?" he asked, eyeing up the tall thief. Sothe felt uncomfortable under his scrutiny, and frowned. The sight made Edward laugh. "Yup, you're just like Micaiah said you would be!"

"Edward, leave the poor boy alone," Nolan said firmly, taking Sothe inside the building. Edward pouted, but his grin soon returned, and he offered Sothe his hand in greeting. Sothe took it half-heartedly, remaining silent as the butterflies in his stomach started to flutter more vigorously. She was so close- he almost could sense her presence.

"She's in the cellar- she said she wanted to talk with you alone." Edward pointed to the door on the right, as he took a seat on a torn couch. "So, whenever you're ready, Sothe?"

Sothe nodded, swallowing hard. This was it. With a final deep breath, he strode past the sparse furnishings and opened the door. It creaked loudly, revealing steps which led into semi-darkness. Sothe stole one more glance at Nolan and Edward, who encouraged him with smiles, before he gritted his teeth and descended the stone stairs.

He heard her before he saw her, for his eyes were fixed on his feet (partly to see in the darkness, but mostly because of shyness). Gathering his courage, Sothe took the last step and lifted his head, and there she was. Micaiah was sitting on a bench, arms folded in her lap. She had not changed at all; her hair was still that same shoulder-length silver, tied up with that silky blue ribbon, and her eyes shone with that alluring kindness that had drawn him to her in the first place.

Micaiah rose to her feet as Sothe entered, clasping her hands to her chest.

"Sothe?" she asked softly, taking a step towards him. Sothe stopped by the bench, as other feelings began to swirl around inside him. "It is you, isn't it?"

"Yes." Sothe gave a slow nod. He was finding it difficult to speak, for his thoughts had been thrown into conflict. On the one hand, he was happier than ever that he had been reunited with Micaiah, after a year of disappointment and misleading trails. And yet at the same time, those emotions he had felt when she had left him- the anger, the betrayal, the hurt- had also come back, and were vying for dominance.

"Oh Sothe, it's so good to see you!"

Micaiah ran across the room and threw her arms around him. Sothe let her hug him, but did nothing in reply. Micaiah was quick to notice, and pulled away.

"Sothe, is something wrong?" The sound of her voice made Sothe's heart wrench. That same tone had once been able to bring out his deepest fears, calm his anxieties, take away his insecurities. But it had been that voice that had laid a forlorn promise, had done nothing less than betray him! How could he accept it again so easily, so carelessly?

Sothe growled, and Micaiah withdrew.

"Sothe, what's the matter?"

"Why should you care now?" Sothe answered, his tone laced with bitterness. "You didn't seem so forthcoming the last time we were together."

"Sothe," Micaiah said; she had been prepared for this. "I realize what I did back then. I was scared of what was to come- and I didn't know how to begin to explain to you. So I thought that if I just…left you…it would be easier for both of us." She hesitated, searching for words. "I couldn't stay with you, Sothe. I couldn't let myself hurt you the way I've hurt so many others before…"

"And so you thought leaving me alone in a foreign land, with no explanation of where or why you were going, with no goodbye, was so much better?!" Sothe felt his temper rise, reminded of the painful memories. It had not been a pleasant stay once he had lost her.

"Sothe, I'm sorry, but I had a reason…" Micaiah took his hand, trying to calm him, but he shook her off.

"What 'reason' was so important that you had to lie to me?" Sothe retorted, almost shouting. "And what reason was so weak that allowed you to change your mind, and come back?"

"Sothe, the minute I heard Daein had attacked Crimea, I went straight back to look for you!" Micaiah's own voice was close to breaking. "Setting sail for Begnion at that time was the biggest mistake I've ever made, and I see that now! I'd left you at the mercy of two warring countries, and I feared the worst for you." She paused to take a breath. "I was so desperate to find you, to tell you why I'd gone…"

"Then why didn't you tell me in the first place?" Sothe hissed, clenching his teeth.

"Sothe, you have to understand, I was so frightened of what you'd do! You're still only a child, and…"

"I am NOT a child!" Sothe roared, slamming his fist onto the bench. "What child had to fend for himself before he could walk properly? What child learned to steal before he could speak a word? What child learned to use a knife to take someone's life before he could count to ten?!"

"Sothe, I didn't mean it like that! I was just…"

"I've heard enough," Sothe snarled, turning his back to her. "I'm just an unfeeling plaything to you, aren't I? Well, if that's all you think of me, then I want nothing more to do with you!"

"Sothe, don't…" Micaiah reached out with her hand, grasping Sothe's wrist, but he forcefully brushed her off. "Sothe, listen to me!"

But he had no intention of hearing any more. Without a backward glance Sothe strode back up the staircase and into the main room of the house. He ignored Nolan and Edward, who were sitting on the half-rotted couch, and kicked open the front door.

"Sothe?" Nolan called, but it was too late- Sothe was already out on the streets again.

He walked fast, taking the quickest route he knew to the cathedral. By now it was late afternoon, and the Begnion soldiers were trooping round, looking to cause strife. Unfortunately, Sothe was far too upset to take his usual amount of care around them, and nearly ended up bumping into a squad.

"Hey, it's that kid from the market!" exclaimed a soldier- the one whom Sothe had confronted that morning. "Get him!" Briefly distracted from his inner turmoil, the young thief turned tail and ran down the way he had come.

The rattle of their weapons was dangerously close behind, but Sothe had no intention of giving himself up. His anger drove his feet as he propelled himself through the city, seeking those shady parts where he would be safe. The troops ran hard, edging ever closer, however, after five minutes they abruptly aborted the chase.

Sothe did not stop to see why they had stalled. He made a wide circled around the north side of the city, until finally he reached the cathedral. With sweat dripping from every pore, he crept into the secret tunnel and then made for the bell room. He took the steps three at a time, before he burst into the chamber. He was breathing hard, and so sank against a pillar, soaked to the skin. The moisture was even pricking at his eyes, and trickling down his cheeks. Sothe wiped at them with his forearm, his rage slowly subsiding. He should have known that Micaiah had never seen anything special in him. He was not worth anything to her.

He bit his lip, wanting to silence those poisoning thoughts, but they would not go away. Were the journeys they had shared really so meaningless? Was he that much of a burden to her? He, the lonely orphan who had wanted so much to learn what it was like to have a friend, to have someone he could trust and love.

The tears began to flow freely, as the last of Sothe's resolve broke down. He had given his heart to her…only to have it rejected in the end. After everything they had been through, he was just a toy to her- an object to be discarded when its use had been fulfilled.

Sothe drew his scarf around himself, shivering in spite of the heat. He had never felt so alone.

*** *

He stayed there for a long time, watching the day turn to night, and then back to day again. He was exhausted, and yet sleep would not take him in her arms. Bleary-eyed, Sothe turned onto his side and continued to observe the city below, as the empty alleys started to fill up again. From his high vantage point, they all seemed so tiny, so insignificant. Just as he was…

Sothe grumbled and put a hand to his forehead. Stop thinking like that, he chided himself. Yet that was easier said than done. He tried in vain to empty his mind, to detach his feelings, but every time the despair and unhappiness returned. He was in an even worse state than when Micaiah had first left, for now he knew it had been no accident that she had abandoned him.

He buried his face in his knees, letting out a great sigh. Everything was such a mess. His hometown was defenceless and unable to recover from its previous plight, and his closest friend had admitted that she had purposefully left him. He had no one left to turn to; Ike's mercenaries were far away in Crimea, and everyone else had gone back to their homelands. As was all too familiar with him, he was going to have to cope with this by himself- something he had quickly learned during his first days on the inhospitable streets. Though he had been hopeful that Micaiah, with her gentle, caring ways, would have shown him otherwise, it seemed that his early life lesson was true after all.

Abruptly, Sothe's musings were interrupted by a frantic chirp. Looking up, he was surprised to see the orange bird- Yune- flapping in front of him. The sight soon made him sneer, however, and he batted at the creature with a hand.

"Go away!" he growled, but the bird would not be dismayed by his swatting. Again it cheeped, nodding its head downwards, as if to ask Sothe to look down. Seeing that he was getting no-where with his sweeps, Sothe took heed and peered once more onto the streets of Nevassa.

And then he stared. Gone were the amorphous crowds; in its place were rows and rows of Begnion troops. There must have been hundreds of them- flanking the whole main street, from the south market all the way up to the castle itself. Behind the lines of armoured men stood the townsfolk, who were shouting and attempting to break through. The soldiers had everything under control, however, as those who did challenge them swiftly earned warning wounds.

Sothe looked on, mesmerized by the sudden change, until he heard the mocking shouts from the far end. It seemed the soldiers had captured an important prisoner, and were going to parade them through the city. Another tactic to shatter the already-suffering morale of the people, Sothe thought darkly.

Yune was chittering in alarm now, prompting Sothe to squint at the figure who was being hauled up the empty path. She- for it was a woman- was being roughly handled by two Begnion guards, and at their head was the leader of the army himself, General Jarod. Sothe had to wait a moment for her to come closer, but the moment he saw the silver hair he could not stop himself crying out.

"No!"

Micaiah had been captured! But how? The hideout was so well concealed, so ordinary-looking, it should not have been found so easily. Nolan and Edward had taken such care as well, to make sure it was not spied upon.

And then the realization hit Sothe. When he had run into the soldiers…he had led them right past the place, with its door still open! A terrible guilt filled him, and his thoughts turned from despair to horror. It was his turn to feel a traitor now, for he had given the Dawn Brigade away. No matter how angry he was with her, he had never meant to throw Micaiah into such deep trouble. If she were to be executed, the only hope of Daein's future independence would be wholly crushed. And it was all his fault.

Yune broke him from this thoughts as she gave him a sharp nip on the ear.

"Ow!" Sothe flinched and rubbed his sore lobe. Yune stood on his shoulder, watching him carefully.

You can still save her…

Sothe blinked, but his confusion did not last as a bellow from below reached his ears. Micaiah was about to leave the south district, and the soldiers were showing their contempt by spitting and jeering at her. The sight rekindled his temper, though now it was not directed at Micaiah, but at the soldiers. They would not get away with this insult!

Sothe poked his head through a hole in the meshwork, noting where Micaiah was by placing her amidst the many landmarks that had come to serve as his mental map of Nevassa. He then estimated where she would be by the time he had gotten to ground level, and quietly swore. The castle was only half a mile away- he would have to run very fast.

Filled with newfound determination, Sothe checked his dagger was secure, before he zoomed down the bell tower stairs. He did not bother with the tunnel and instead flung open the main door, hurrying to the outdoors. The door had barely opened a few inches before he was already sprinting down the hill. He was heading away from Micaiah's current position, toward another road that ran parallel to the main street. It was a good three or four buildings away, but here he would not be slowed by the Daein gathering, who continued to try and overpower the soldiers to save their Maiden of Dawn.

Faster than ever, Sothe zipped along the dry stone paving, automatically checking his position against the castle and flour mill. The houses sped past in a blur of grey and white, and he began to hear the rowdy soldiers again. For a second he was unsure if he had gone past Micaiah, when he heard her cry out in pain. No, he was spot on- but his chance was short. He needed to act, now!

Sothe turned left and rushed toward the main street. The Daeinite crowd was no less as thin here, but he was not planning to clash with the guards. Instead, he hurried to the building closest to the road, and then climbed its guttering. The people were too focused on Micaiah to notice, even when he accidentally snapped the pipe, however it was all to his advantage. The longer he could keep himself unknown, the better chance he had at getting away.

He tore across the flat-top roof, arriving at its edge. Micaiah was still a few metres behind, looking worse than ever. Up close, Sothe now saw that her hair was matted, her dress dirty and torn, and her left shoulder bore a bleeding cut. General Jarod was speaking- declaring how all Daein resistance was futile and would be quashed without question or trial. The soldiers cheered, lapping up the General's words and adding their own insults against Micaiah. The girl took them without a single retort, her spirit weakening as she mulled over the futility of her situation.

Mock all you want, you pathetic idiots, Sothe thought, drawing his dagger and crouching, ready to spring. I'm going to love the look on your faces when I ruin your parade.

He waited. Micaiah was dragged on, the soldiers laughing as she was thrown between her guards like a ragdoll. Once she stumbled, grazing her knee, and while she was down one of her captors kicked at her. Sothe held his anger in check. He could not mess up the timing- else he would get them both killed. He took a deep breath, and held it. She was going to approach any second now…in three…two…one…

With a loud battle cry, Sothe leapt off the roof, and landed in the middle of the main street. Jarod was startled by his appearance, but he soon lost no time in barking out rapid orders. But Sothe was even faster. In the blink of an eye he had slammed his dagger into one of the guard's legs, who then instantly released Micaiah.

"Sothe!" Micaiah cried with joy, her fighting zest coming back to her. Before Sothe could answer, she had wrest herself free from the other soldier, who was too stunned to resist.

"This way!" Sothe grabbed her hand, before running to the right line of soldiers. The warriors turned to face him, bracing their lances, however that was their biggest mistake. The Daeinites behind roared with rage, before charging down the line. With their backs turned, the soldiers stood no chance.

Soon the road was swamped with the people of Daein, who were no longer afraid of their cruel tormentors. A gap formed in the line, which steadily grew wider and wider.

"Come on!" Sothe shouted, tugging Micaiah behind him. He headed for the side street, but as they ran he heard the sound of arrows being drawn.

"Sothe, look out!" screamed Micaiah.

Sothe tried to run to one side, however he was blind to the archers and thus could not anticipate their aim. An arrow whistled through the air behind him, which then struck him mid-thigh. He groaned, stumbling, yet the heat of the moment numbed the pain and he regained his footing.

"Keep going!" he yelled, his hand still firmly clasping Micaiah's. Micaiah gripped his just as tightly, and together they escaped from the evolving rabble.

Sothe went toward the merchants' estates, knowing that the cathedral would be one of the first places to be searched now he had used the main door, and he had no intention of trapping them both in the tower. But they had to detour and avoid the major roadways, and all the while Sothe's injury was growing more and more painful.

"Sothe, we have to stop! You're hurt!" Micaiah protested.

"If we stop…they'll catch us…" Sothe panted. He was starting to feel very worn out, even though they had not been running for long. His muscles were aching, and he was burning up in the summer sun. "I…know a place…we'll…be safe…there…"

By the time they neared the rows of elegant manors, Sothe was limping. Every step was agony, and he was feeling dizzy and faint. Micaiah was now supporting him, her face wrought with concern.

"Sothe, something's not right," she said, as they staggered along the avenue. Sothe mumbled a reply- he was finding it difficult to remain awake. "Sothe? Sothe!" Micaiah shook him, and he whimpered.

"Hurts," he whispered. Weakly he lifted his finger, and pointed to a house that was on the edge of the district. "That one…back door…"

"Alright. We're nearly there, Sothe, just hold on," Micaiah soothed. She was struggling now; Sothe was not the little boy she had once picked up with ease, and her own injuries were starting to catch up with her.

She groaned as she approached the house. With its clean, white-plastered exterior and gleaming windows, it was quite a change from the hideout she had come to call home. It looked occupied, but Sothe seemed to know the place and had deemed it safe. It would be a while before the Begnion troops regained control of the masses, and longer still before a thorough search would be carried out. As Sothe had deduced, the richer area of Nevassa would not hold so much suspicion in their eyes, and thus it was the best place for them to lie low.

The back door was open. Micaiah pushed the wooden structure ajar, dragged Sothe inside, and then latched it. The acrid smell of bird droppings assaulted her nostrils, and she grimaced. The odour was so strong that it woke Sothe up. He had become very pale. As Micaiah attempted to sit him down, he resisted.

"Can't hide…here," he murmured, digging deep to find the effort to speak. "Soldiers…search…have to…get inside…further…"

"Sothe, I can't," Micaiah answered softly, wiping his sweaty brow. "But…I suppose you can, if I use Sacrifice…"

"Wait…don't!" Sothe protested, pushing her away, but he was too weak and nearly fell over.

Micaiah grabbed him by the shoulders, wondering why he had become so ill so suddenly. She sat him down and looked at the arrow which was still embedded in his thigh. She had not wanted to take it out, in case she made the bleeding worse, and yet now she saw her folly.

"Oh no!" she gasped, her eyes wide. "The arrow, it's poisoned! No wonder you've become so sick. That settles it- if I don't heal it now, you'll die. Be still…"

"Micaiah! Don't…you…DARE!" Sothe snapped, finding some strength and grappling with Micaiah's arms, but he could not stop her. The spell had been cast, and the magic was already seeping into his wound. The arrow started to shake, and then it fell, poison-tip and all, to the stone floor. The pain eased, and then vanished as the blue light healed the flesh and mended the skin. Sothe felt his others aches and sickness subside, until they too disappeared. He was healthy again.

Micaiah moaned as the last of the magic left her. She swayed, and then lost her balance, drained of energy. Sothe was quick to catch her, but although healed he was not strong enough to hold her upright and so they sank to the floor. For a moment they sat there in a heap, both weary, until Sothe forced himself to move; they had to get inside the house, else they would be found.

Slinging her arm over his shoulder, Sothe made his way to the inner doorway. Once inside, he slid another latch into place, before beginning the long ascent up the stairwell to the first floor. His progress was slow, and Micaiah's extra weight was no help, but eventually, they got to the top. Breathing heavily, Sothe barged open a bedroom door with his hip, and then entered. The room was empty- the house had been abandoned for some time- but it was good enough for the thief. He gently laid Micaiah down, and then slumped against the wall, exhausted.

Gradually, Micaiah's rapid breathing went back to normal, and she sighed. She sat up, but she was giddy and ended up tumbling into Sothe. Sothe let her rest on his shoulder, curled up beside him. They were still for several moments, before Micaiah began to chuckle.

"What's so funny?" Sothe asked. Micaiah did not answer right away, her laughter fading to a soft murmur.

"I was thinking…of the irony," she said quietly, nestling against Sothe's scarf.

"What?"

"You probably don't remember," Micaiah murmured, closing her eyes. "A few months after we met, you became very ill. Even my healing powers couldn't do anything. All I could do was hold you and pray your little heart didn't stop beating. I was so sure the plague had gotten you, and I felt awful. So much life ahead of you, and here it was, about to be snatched away. You were like that for ten days. I don't think either of us moved. You just slept, and I was so scared that you'd never wake up.

"And then one day you opened your eyes, and held onto me. You couldn't speak yet, but I could see in your eyes how thankful you were that I stayed." She paused, her voice faltering. "I should have known then that I had to stay by your side, no matter my curse." She swallowed. "I've hidden it long enough from you, Sothe. It's time I told you the real truth."

Sothe watched as she hoisted herself into a sitting position, before she unfastened the strap at her left shoulder. He looked on, puzzled, as she rolled down her sleeve.

And then he saw it. Just there, scratched across the back of her hand, was a black pattern, akin to the one on her dress. Yet this one was emblazoned on her skin, as much a part of her body as her hair or her eyes.

"You're…" Sothe was almost shocked to speechlessness. "You're Branded…"

Micaiah nodded, her body tensed. However, instead of shying away from her, as she expected, Sothe reached out and ran his thumb across the mark.

"Why didn't you ever say anything?" he asked, as suddenly he understood. Micaiah could not look at him, and stared down at her knees.

"Sothe, I've known you for so long," she said at last, finding the courage to speak. "I…I know how you feel about the laguz. It's only natural- that's the way you were brought up. I was terrified to tell you. You'd become so close to me- if you ever found out that I had laguz blood in my veins, I…I was so sure you'd react badly. That, and the curse it placed upon me. As each day passed by, you were growing, but all I could think was that it was another day less that I could spend with you. I don't age like beorc, Sothe. Look at you- hardly a year has gone by and you're already taller than me. But I haven't changed at all. I'm still the same as the day you met me, a decade ago."

Micaiah stopped there, as Sothe put his finger to her lips. He could feel that she was still apprehensive, and wanted to put her at ease.

"Micaiah, I'm not the person I was when you left," he began. "You're right, I didn't like the laguz, because everything I'd been taught said that they were barbaric, ruthless creatures, whose hatred of beorc was only matched by their cruel ferocity. But when I joined Commander Ike, I fought alongside some wondrous laguz. I met Tibarn, the Hawk King, and his companions; Muarim, who'd become a parent to an orphan beorc, like me; Moredcai, Lethe, and many others. I finally saw that all I had been told were rumours and lies." He turned, looking Micaiah straight in the eye. "The laguz are just like us beorc, and likewise, even if you're Branded, that doesn't make you any different. I…understand why you were afraid to tell me before. But you don't have to be scared anymore, Micaiah. I'll…I'll always be there whenever you need me. If you'll let me?"

Tears filled Micaiah's eyes, and she flung herself into Sothe's embrace. This time, Sothe returned the hug. His heart was soaring- and he had never felt happier.

"You've really changed, Sothe," Micaiah said softly. "You've grown in so many ways, and I'm proud of you." She pulled away from him, and then held out her hand. "I only have one thing left to ask. Will you help me- help us, the Dawn Brigade- to fight for Daein's freedom?"

Sothe smiled, and took her hand, clasping it firmly.

"I'd be honoured."

THE END