Lightning and Final Fantasy XIII are the intellectual property of Square Enix. No copyright infringement intended.
Bêlit was created by Robert E. Howard in his 1934 Conan the Barbarian story, Queen of the Black Coast.
This fic will eventually feature f/f content, so don't invest time in reading this fic if that's going to be a problem.
Minor, minor content warning: This fic will include brief verbal references to non-consensual relationships, but if that bothers you, don't worry, there will not be a single hint of actual sexual assault or coercion in this story whatsoever.
Queen of the Black Veil
The Argus was a merchant vessel, but it did not sail the oceans. It carried cargo from port to port and city to city, but it did not soar through the skies, or drift among the stars. The Argus was a traveller of the multiverse; it journeyed from one plane of existence to another.
In one reality, water was scarce, and very, very expensive – in another, water was abundant, and clean, and very, very cheap. In one reality, people lived to the age of thirty, and died of diseases, and infections, and rotten teeth – in another, the inhabitants had healed cancer, and learned how to replace missing limbs, and discovered the secret of immortality. In one reality, the inhabitants fought with magic, and advanced technology – in another, they fought with swords, and spears, and axes, and clubs, and magic and technology fetched a mighty price indeed
The Argus wandered through the multiverse, and sought these patterns out. Here and there throughout the cosmos, the laws of physics, chemistry thermodynamics, time and causality warped and changed – but the universal principle of supply and demand was always, always the same.
One day, a woman approached the captain of the Argus as it rested at the docks. "So I hear you're headed to Arius," she said. "I need a ride on your ship."
The captain was a shrewd judge of character – as captains must often be. He peered at the traveller, and understood at once that this was a woman that had crossed a great, tremendous distance. This woman had seen many worlds, and laid eyes upon many realms, and many cultures, and many races. The cloak that fell around her shoulders was thick and hardy and intended for the rain – and the snow, and the cold – and from the elegant craftsmanship, the captain could tell that she had obtained it in the distant world of Arcaddar. Her boots were battered and worn, but despite how faded they had become, the captain could still tell that they had been cobbled in the faraway Elave system. She wore armour, also – weathered and dented, but clearly exquisitely made, hammered into shape by the most expert blacksmith. Valhalla, perhaps?
"Ye be seekin' passage, eh?" the captain said. "And what would a little creature such as yournself have to offer the crew of this vessel?"
"I'm a soldier," the woman replied. "I was told pirates sometimes attack ships crossing the Black Veil. I can defend your crew."
Hmmm. A soldier. The woman came up to about the captain's chest. She had arms like pencils, and there wasn't much muscle on her legs – the captain wasn't a expert on biology, but he knew enough to know that, in order for an organism to be strong and powerful, it needed a little meat on the bones.
"A soldier?" the captain murmured, skeptical. "You're a bit...small...for the fighting sort."
"Then where do you think I got this armour?" The woman parted her cloak, and the captain caught a glimpse of a black pommel. "And this sword?"
"Ye could have stolen it," the captain replied. "Wouldn't be the first charlatan to swindle her way onto my ship."
The woman closed her eyes, and sighed. "I'm going to withdraw my sword from my scabbard," she explained. "Don't panic, I'm not attacking you. I just want to show you."
The captain pondered this a moment, and then nodded his assent.
The woman unveiled her weapon, and the captain's eyes widened. Silver, and sharp, and intricately, painstakingly crafted. How many hundreds of hours had an artisan slaved over this blade?
The woman gave a satisfied half-smile. "Take me on board," she said. "If I'm not what I say I am, you'll have a nice, priceless sword to hawk for compensation."
"And if ye are?"
The smile reached the other side of her mouth. "Then you can try taking it from me."
The captain stared at her...and then burst out laughing. "Fair enough, Miss Soldier!" he barked. "We'll have ye on board! Ye can be our protector for the voyage. What shall we call ye?"
"Lightning," the woman replied. "Lightning Farron."
The Argus' sails were raised, but it was not wind that carried ships through the multiverse. It was music.
One melody conveyed a vessel to the shores of Serastrium; another, carried a ship to the harbours of Ambros. One melody sent a ship to the islands of Promendesia; another, to the world of Magestra. Sailors pricked their ears to the sky, and tried to discern the strain of music that would bring them to their destination.
When ships sailed across the supernal ether that divided the realms of being, they were not immersed by the normal sounds that accompany a vessel. Sailors across the Veil did not hear the chopping of water, or the whistling of wind, or the crash of waves against rocks, or the dull, unceasing roar of the depths. When ships sailed across the multiverse, they were enveloped by the faint spectre of music; hymns, and chants, and anthems, and arias, and lullabies.
The captain found the melody that would lead them to Arius, and the Argus set sail.
The Argus took its crew from all over the multiverse, and as a result, the ship was manned by a variety of creatures, of all shapes and sizes. There were gigantic spiders that could scramble up the mast and repair tears in the sails with their silk. There were large rat men, immune to all the sicknesses and diseases that often afflicted seafarers. There was a Siren, an ethereal creature with the lower quarters of a fish and the upper body of a young woman, whose beautiful voice could carry for miles and miles.
The captain himself was an elephant that walked about on his hind legs. Serah would have found him so adorable, Lightning knew.
Lightning did her best to stay out of the crew's way. One afternoon, the captain approached her as she stood at the bow, gazing out across the ghostly ocean that separated the worlds of the universe. "Any threats on the horizon?" he asked.
Lightning turned, and gave one of her part-smiles. "I don't see anything," she said.
Joining her, the captain rested his hooves on the railing, and peered out across the waters. "What business has Miss Farron in Arius?" he said, after a few moments' silence.
"None, really," Lightning replied. "It's a just step on the way. I'm trying to get home."
"And where is Miss Farron from?"
"Pulse?" the captain said, spluttering. "Ye be a long, long way from home."
Lightning nodded. "I know."
"And how did ye come to be wandering the cosmos, Miss Farron?"
She did not answer, at first. Her eyes searched the ocean. "I guess you could say I just fell through the cracks of reality," she said.
After three weeks at sea, a melody was heard on the wind. A melody distinct from the music that was bearing them towards Arius. A frantic melody. A fearful melody.
The sailors rushed to the starboard side, and leaned over the edge, straining to hear, hushing those who were speaking or making noise. The music came to them, over the rustling of the sails, and the creaking of the ship. It was fretful. Frightened. Desperate.
"A distress call," said one.
Lightning did her best to hear. "What does it mean?" she whispered.
"Each ship that crosses the cosmos has a Siren as a member of its crew," one of the sailors explained. "Or at least if they have any sense, they do. When a ship runs into trouble, the Siren's voice can be heard miles away. She can call other ships for help."
"Or warn them to stay away," another sailor muttered.
Lightning listened closely, and the entire crew fell silent, allowing the Siren's voice to wash over them. After a while, they were able to discern a certain lyricism in the music. Words were being spoken. A message was being delivered. Be...eee...be...eee...Beli...Beli...
A wave of dread began passing through the crew.
"Well, we had a good run."
"This is no damned warship! We're not soldiers! Oh, why did I set foot on this boat? I should have got a job in a factory!"
"Alright, save the tears for when you're in your bloody bunks!" the captain barked. "Every crewmember to his post! I want a pair of hands on every damned oar! We'll get as much distance from them as we can!"
"Wait, what's going on?" Lightning demanded, sailors elbowing and shouldering their way past her. "Who is Bêlit?"
"The wildest she-devil that prowls the Veil."
"She's a pirate. The Queen of the Black Veil, she calls herself."
Lightning briefly considered grabbing hold of an oar herself, but then thought better of it – if a fight was ahead, it made no sense to waste her strength. Instead, she crouched next to a large spider that was working three oars at once. "What happens if Bêlit catches us?" she asked.
"She will slay us all, steal our cargo, and send our ship and our corpses to the bottom," the spider said.
"She's not the sort who's gonna accept a peaceful surrender, huh?"
"She has a reputation to maintain."
"Yeah. People tell stories about her in the ports and taverns. They say she's unimaginably beautiful, like a goddess, but there's a fire in her eyes like a demon. She commands a ship called the Tigress, and its crewed by the worse scumbags in the multiverse. She sinks trading ships, and burns coastal towns to the ground, and she covers herself with the blood of her enemies, and tears out her opponents' throats with her teeth. Now, do you mind? It's kinda hard to row and talk at the same time," said the talking spider.
From below, rifles and swords and nets and daggers were carried up onto the deck. "If they catch us, we're no match for them," the captain said, "but let's see if we can leave a few scars behind to remind them of us."
The Tigress was borne through the seas by its own, singular melody. Clubs beating on drums. Horns blowing. The sound of war.
After a full day of sailing, a hand called from the stern. "There she is!"
A crowd formed at the rear, gazing out across the sea. There was a long, black, serpentine galley, forty oars at either side, eighty oarsmen beating a course through the ether towards them. On the deck, a horde of creatures were gathered; humanoid things with the heads of bulls, humanoid things with the heads of snakes, giant insectile organisms, hulking brutes covered in armour, all armed with swords and hammers and chains and maces, all cheering and shouting, all spoiling for a fight. Above their heads, a crimson banner whipped and flapped in the melody – Bêlit's battle standard.
"Guess that's a fight, then," Lightning said.
The Argus continued to attempt to outrun the Tigress. This, it soon became clear, was a mistake. Lightning had been a member of the Cocoon Guardian Corps, but even she, with her non-existent experience of the navy, could tell that the Tigress was the faster vessel. Ultimately, the only effect of fleeing was that the Tigress had another few minutes before she reached her enemy, during which she could leisurely lob projectiles at her prey.
"Incoming fire!" Lightning shouted. With a sickening whistling sound, jets of blue flame began raining down upon the crew of the Argus, the sailors screaming and panicking as they were skewered and transfixed.
Bounding to the stern and taking what pitiful cover she could, Lightning reached to her waist and withdrew her blade. With a mental command, an orb of magical energy began forming in her free palm, and Lightning lobbed it at her pursuer.
The first Ruin spell knocked a bull man clean off the Tigress' deck. He plunged into the ether, and Lightning didn't even want to imagine what would become of him. The second struck a serpent man full in the chest, and he toppled backwards, initiating a hugely-satisfying domino effect as Bêlit's men dragged each other to the ground. Still, the enemy's fire continued to come. At least two dozen corpses littered the deck of the Argus. Flaming blue arrows continued to fall from the sky, and here and there fires were beginning to break out, sailors scurrying about to try to extinguish them, and getting impaled for their trouble. Lightning loosed a third spell; it exploded harmlessly against the Tigress' side.
"Stop the ship, and meet them head on!" Lightning bellowed. "It's no use running! We have to fight them!"
A moment passed, and then Lightning glanced backwards. Another six crewmen had fallen. The captain was propped up against a corner, a burning arrow in his skull.
When the Argus was finally within throwing range, the raiders tossed grappling hooks, and the fate of her crew was sealed.
Bêlit's troops leapt onto the deck, and began hacking and slashing and pounding and bludgeoning anything within reach. The Argus was a merchant vessel, not a warship. Some of the crew fought bravely, others huddled fearfully in the shadows, but Bêlit's men were ruthless either way. Lightning could hear the Siren shrieking and screaming, somewhere on the vessel, and then a knife was pulled across her throat, and it took a few moments for her to become silent.
Lightning's thumb brushed against a button. Her gunblade began shifting and reordering itself, motors whirring and panels sliding into place. When the transformation was complete, she raised her weapon, and placed a finger on the trigger.
The ideal soldier utilizes the perfect mixture of instinct and analysis.
Lightning depressed the gunblade trigger three times in rapid succession, and three bullets thudded into three separate foreheads, blood blossoming outwards from the gory holes that they had created. That was instinct.
Lightning noted that around six raiders were positioned on the Argus' starboard side. That was analysis. She reached to her belt, found a grenade, removed the pin, released the catch, and propelled the grenade into the raiders' midst. That was instinct.
Lightning dodged around a pile of crates to shelter herself from the explosion, and briefly covered her ears to protect her hearing. That was also instinct.
Lighting noted that about forty raiders had crowded onto the Argus, and were fencing her in. She also noted that about a hundred raiders still remained on the Tigress. Further, she took note of the fact that if she wasted her time with the raiders on the Argus, she would have less energy and stamina to engage the raiders on the attacking vessel. This was all analysis.
Lightning leapt onto a handrail. She waited a few seconds – waited for the ebbing of the ocean to pull the two ships slightly apart. When this happened, one of the ropes that held the two vessels together became completely taut. Lightning pranced onto the makeshift tightrope, and dashed across to the deck of the Tigress. This was all instinct.
Lightning was surrounded by a hundred raiders. She knew that if she could seriously injure one raider – critically, grievously injure him, leaving him lying on the deck, screeching and bleeding – other raiders would be momentarily fazed and afraid. Their hesitation would lend Lightning her next valuable opening to attack. This was all analysis.
Lightning lunged at one of the pirates – a snakeman, seven foot tall. She punctured his left eye, and lopped off his tongue, and dodged a desperate swing, and severed the tendon in his right foot, and opened up his belly as he crashed to the deck. This was all instinct.
The raiders recoiled in horror. They were startled, and bewildered, and uncertain, and afraid. This was all analysis.
Lightning rushed at another pirate, a lobsterman with enormous red claws. She plunged her gunblade into his chest, and pushed the trigger. This was instinct.
One of Bêlit's men smashed their clubs into Lightning's back. She stumbled forward, winded, and then curled into a roll, tumbling around and crouching to face her attacker. This was also instinct.
Lightning leaped forward, and opened up a gaping wound in a raider's chest as his mallet was still raised in the air. This was also instinct.
One of Bêlit's men managed to loop his arms around Lightning's torso. She allowed him to take her weight, delivering nimble kicks to the chins of two of his comrades, and then headbutted him in the nose, and whirled around, slashing him with her blade. This was also instinct.
Lightning severed a dog-headed creature's arm, and then embedded his axe in the temple of another raider dangling from the rigging. This was instinct.
Lightning dodged between the legs of an eagle man, and then slashed him across the back of his knees. This was instinct.
Lightning leapt onto the shoulders of a lumbering giant, emptied a shell into his skull, and then guided his falling carcass onto one of his hapless crew mates. This was instinct.
A raider slashed Lightning's back, and with a snarl she hacked off the top segment of his cranium. This was instinct.
A thrown bottle exploded on Lightning's head, shards of glass lodging themselves in the flesh, and she screamed and sent a fireball splashing over a gigantic ant. This was instinct.
Lightning's muscles were aching and her wounds were throbbing, and each time she swung her gunblade she roared and thundered to lessen the pain. This was instinct.
Lightning dashed up a wall and somersaulted through the air, so that she would have time enough to reload her weapon. This was instinct.
Lightning broke her left wrist punching an owl-faced opponent, and so kicked him instead. This was instinct.
Lightning yelled and pushed all of her body weight into a swipe, and decapitated a wolfman. This was instinct.
The fighting stopped. The raiders' weapons froze in the air, swords and spears and spikes and lances, a forest of sharp tips hovering inches from their opponent. Lightning was breathing in ravenous, frantic gulps, blood trickling down her face and staining her clothes. Her hands were trembling, the gunblade shaking in her grasp. Her legs were becoming unsteady.
Lightning gazed into the pirates' eyes. Strange. The bodies of their friends and companions lay strewn about, but Lightning saw no hatred in their expressions, nor wrath, nor anger, nor fear. An unnerving stillness reigned in the minds of these raiders; they lived lives of bloodshed and insanity, but there was nothing in their heads but peace.
The crowd parted, and a figure stepped into view.
"You gotta be kidding me," Lightning groaned.
Bêlit was pale, strikingly so, and an abundance of rich black hair fell about her shoulders and down to her waist. She wore gold, and jewels, and lengths of silk, and the longer Lightning gazed at her, the more she realized that the purpose of these effects was to guide the eyes of others along the lines and contours of her form. Bêlit was youthful, and supple, and unblemished; she was surrounded by deformed, disfigured savages, but Lightning could not find a single scratch or scar on her.
The eyes of Bêlit's minions were icy, and quiet, and lifeless. When Lightning peered into Bêlit's eyes, however, she saw nothing but fire, and hunger, and passion, and jealousy, and possessiveness. Bêlit was fury, and lust, and vengeance, and fleeting, fickle obsession, and at that moment, all her attention, all of her thought, was focussed entirely upon this remarkable enigma that had slaughtered her crew.
"Who are you?" she breathed, her voice faint with wonderment.
Indignation and disgruntlement flared up inside Lightning. "I was a passenger on that ship that you attacked!" she spat. "You killed all those people!"
Bêlit shook her head. "No," she said. Bêlit drew closer. She paid no heed to Lightning's sword, thick as it was with the blood and viscera of her crew. Her thigh brushed against the blade as she came close, and she searched Lightning's eyes. "Who are you, truly? By Ishtar, I've never seen your like. I've travelled the Veil, up and down and far and wide, but I have never encountered a creature such as you. Where are you from?"
For some reason, Lightning's resolve faltered. She did not respond with an insult. She did not attack this woman, though she knew that soon she would lose the opportunity. She simply sighed. "Cocoon," she said. "My name's Lightning. I'm from Cocoon."
Bêlit's forehead creased in confusion. "Cocoon?" she said. "Strange that a realm which puts forth such remarkable warriors has escaped my notice."
Lightning flicked a glance towards the stern. The rear of the Tigress was covered by an enormous black canopy, the Queen's throne obscured by shadows. It was then that Lightning realized: Bêlit had been watching her fight.
Lightning spoke again, though she wasn't sure why. "Ummm...I spent a few years' service in...Valhalla."
The fire in Bêlit's eyes leapt and climbed and rose to the sky. "Valhalla!" she cried. "You are a Valkyrie! A servant of the goddess Etro!"
Bêlit threw her arms wide. "Behold, Lightning!" she said, circling around her captive. "I am Bêlit, Queen of the Black Veil! My stories are told in every tavern in every port in the multiverse. My name is on the tip of every tongue of every sailor that braves these ghostly seas. Oh, angel of Etros, you are as fierce and frightening as your name suggests! You are the finest prize I have ever claimed, reaving these oceans. You are the most magnificent spoils I have ever won."
At about that time, the raiders had begun to carry crates from the Argus. All of the crew had been slaughtered, by now. Bêlit put a fingertip to Lightning's cheek, and regained her attention.
"Over the years, I have sent countless men to the Beyond," she said. "To whichever underworld they believed in. But you...you are far too glorious to be squandered. Far too splendid to be lost. You are mine, Lightning. Mine to do with as I please. But you are different than all the others I have vanquished."
Bêlit paused a moment, and Lightning realized that she was trying to regain her own composure. Her breathing had become fluttery and unsteady. Her pale skin was flushed in places. Bêlit licked her lips and swallowed, and when she spoke next, it was in a whisper, so that only Lightning could hear.
"I claim you for my own," she said. "I will glorify you. I will venerate you. Become my consort. Become my queen. We will rule the Black Veil together."
Lightning held Bêlit's gaze for a moment, and then looked about. All the raiders were staring at her. Lightning looked into their faces, one after another. Still no rage, still no emnity. No envy or resentment, either – they seemed strangely accepting of the possibility that their enemy was about to steal their queen.
None of them seemed to be fighting back laughter, either, so Lightning supposed she should rule out the possibility that this was all an utterly bizarre, sick joke.
Three minutes had passed since the fighting had ceased. All the adrenaline had drained from Lightning's body. She was covered in her own blood, her arms and legs felt like lead, and her gunblade was as heavy as a boulder. She cocked her head, and gave a grim little smile, and then turned back to Bêlit.
"Okay," she said.
Chapter Two will be uploaded leisure time and inspiration permitting.