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.

Chapter 3

Lightning knew that humiliation was coming. She knew that embarrassment was not far ahead.

She tried to put it off. She tried to delay it as much as possible. Lightning pushed Bêlit through trees, and over rocks, and down hills, and into shadows. The pair travelled for two hours – ten miles, by Lightning's estimation. They were searching for food, for shelter, for any sign of civilization.

"It must amuse you greatly to lead me around at the end of leash like a dog," Bêlit might have said, if she had been a little less tired.

"If you were my dog I'd a taught you some manners," Lightning might have replied, if she had been a little less exhausted.

But neither of them said much at all. They were weakened, and weary. Their ordeal in the ocean had sapped all the strength from them. Lightning tread carefully through the terrain, eyes fixed on the shadows. If a threat suddenly appeared from the gloom, she was determined to be ready for it...but, by Etro, Lighting was tired. She was fatigued, and drowsy, and wished nothing more than to collapse on a bed and drift off to sleep.

This was not a soldier operating at optimum performance.

All the while, Bêlit trudged morosely ahead, her shoulders slumped, her head down. Not once did she fire taunts or insults at her captor – she hardly spoke at all. All the piss and vinegar that Lightning had seen on the Tigress was gone, now.

Why did Bêlit seem so subdued, all of a sudden?

A thought occurred to Lightning. Earlier, Bêlit had promised Lightning that her crew would be scouring the shores in search of their queen, and when they found them, Lightning would be subject to the most ghastly of tortures. But...had Lightning not humiliated Bêlit? Had Lightning not taken advantage of Bêlit's pride – her ego, her vanity, her lust – and sent her tumbling inelegantly down into the waves? Had Lightning not shown Bêlit to be a fool – had she not embarrassed the Queen of the Black Veil in front of her own subjects?

Would Bêlit command the same level of respect from her slaves, now that Lightning had humbled her before them?

Oh! In the ports and taverns of the Black Veil, would sailors and merchants tell stories of how Lightning had shown the fearsome Bêlit, captain of the Tigress, to be a gullible, hormonally-driven idiot?

Lightning allowed herself a small smile.

And then Lightning remembered that she herself had a bout of humiliation in store, very soon...

()()()()()()()()()()

Enough was enough.

She had fought an entire host of beastly pirates. She had plunged into the freezing ocean, and been dragged Etro knew how many miles through its depths and currents, before being washed up on an unfamiliar coast. She trekked for miles through a strange land, and discovered nothing of use. Lightning felt as though there were concrete blocks on her feet. The simple act of staying awake filled her with misery, and she could feel the world swaying beneath her feet as she walked.

It was time to rest.

What to do, then, with Bêlit?

While Lightning was sleeping, Bêlit would rip her throat out with her teeth. While Lightning was sleeping, Bêlit would take an ember from a campfire and press it into Lightning's eyes. While Lightning was sleeping, Bêlit would take a rock, and reveal Lightning's brains to the night sky.

When the pair finally stopped for the night, Lightning built a fire from sticks and branches that she had gathered along the way. Their clothes were damp from the sea, and the bitingly cold air was little use for drying, but Lightning had a solution; when she cast barfrost, she lost heat much more slowly than normal, and the heightened temperature of her body was able to evaporate all the dampness. Lightning decided to set up camp beneath a tall embankment; it offered shelter from the wind, and if a threat did come while they were sleeping, at least they could only be attacked from one direction.

Theoretically.

Hands on her shoulders, Lightning pushed Bêlit into a sitting position on the ground. She knelt next to her. "Look at me," she said.

Bêlit gave Lightning her full, undivided attention.

"I could dislocate your shoulders," Lightning said. "And your knees. That'd probably keep me safe until the morning. Then, when it's time to resume our travels, all I'd have to do is push the bones back into place. That'd be convenient for me. Perhaps not for you, though. Reckon you might have trouble sleeping, with your joints out of whack, huh?"

Bêlit bared her teeth, and her eyes flared in the darkness. Little dapples of moonlight flowed across her face, making her seem even more fearsome. "Do what you will, Valkyrie," she growled. "You may twist and disfigure my body however you wish, but you will never claim dominion over my spirit! I will defy you until my dying breath!"

Lightning gave an elongated ugh of exasperation, and then she leaned in, until she was almost nose-to-nose with her prisoner, until the dim light was almost blacked out and there was nothing of her face but shadow. "You don't get to play the 'defiant prisoner', Bêlit," Lightning said, her voice low. "You're a murderer. You're a crazy criminal, and a few hours ago, you and your accomplices massacred an entire ship full of innocent people."

"They were weak, and we were strong!" Bêlit said. Her voice had lowered also. Lightning and Bêlit were hissing and snarling, inches from one another in this darkened forest, and not even the smallest, most discreet eavesdropper could hear what they were saying.

It was almost too dark for Bêlit to catch Lightning smirking at her. "You weren't strong enough to beat me, were you?" Lightning gripped the end of the cord that bound her captive, and yanked Bêlit's wrists forward. "Now, you're gonna do what I say, understand? You're gonna do what I say, and you're gonna do it quietly, and if you don't, I'm gonna hang you upside-down from a tree, and then I'll rediscover the meaning of a good night's sleep! I'm not your oppressor. You're a violent thug, and I'm not gonna let you endanger me."

Lightning rose to her full height, and gazed down at Bêlit. "Stand," she commanded, her voice returning to normal volume.

Glaring fiercely at her captor, and not blinking once, Bêlit rose to her feet. Lightning privately marvelled at how like a panther in her movements Bêlit could be.

The cord went around Bêlit's waist, and then underneath her crotch, and then around her legs, and then through her legs, and then around her wrists, and up and down her arms, and over her shoulders, and across her chest, and around her throat. Lightning used every knot she had ever learned. Some of the knots she deliberately tangled – it would be a pain in the ass to unravel come morning, but it would be worth it for the extra security.

As the procedure went on, Bêlit's face grew more and more ashen, her expression more and more wretched, her demeanour more and more pitiable. Lightning knew what she was thinking. Imagine if her raider servants saw her now! Trussed and tied like a hunted animal! She would be a laughing stock, a punchline, a joke. What a sad end to such a frightening legend – sailors and merchants in inns and taverns telling tales of a foolish woman bound in rope.

"My spirit is my own," Bêlit said, almost too quietly for Lightning to hear. "Whatever indignities, whatever degradations you inflict upon my flesh tonight, you will never conquer my soul."

Lightning froze, then, and goggled at her prisoner. Bêlit was not staring at Lightning any longer – her eyes were fixed firmly on the ground. In the dismal light, Lightning thought she could see the slightest hint of resignation in Bêlit's expression, a grim acceptance that she was about to be subjected to an unpleasant ordeal, and that there was little she could do but grit her teeth.

For a moment – for a fleeting moment – Lightning felt a twinge of empathy, of sympathy. For the briefest time, Lightning felt the instinctual urge to offer reassurance, to make clear that Bêlit would come to no harm.

And then the Argus came back to her, and Lightning remembered the captain and his crew, all drenched in blood.

Lightning tugged the cord, and Bêlit was jerked closer. "Now you listen to me," she snapped, venom in her voice. "I am not a monster. I'm not a primitive. I...I am a civilized woman! I come from an enlightened world, with laws, and morals! You're the primitive! You're the savage! I am not going to rape you, Bêlit. You were going to rape me!"

The cord went around Bêlit's back, in between her knees, under her armpits. Gradually, all the dejection and sourness in Bêlit's expression was replaced by astonishment, and bewilderment, and a definite suggestion of affront.

"Rape you?" she said, her voice loud enough for every animal in the forest to hear. "I offered you the crown of the Black Veil!"

Lightning rolled her eyes. The cord went around Bêlit's ankles.

()()()()()()()()()()

When the job was done, Bêlit wobbled and wavered before her in one spot. Lightning was pretty sure that, even if Bêlit did manage to get away, she wouldn't get far, hopping her way through this landscape.

Lightning linked her arms around Bêlit's waist, and began lowering her to the ground. "I'm going to do you a really, really big favour," she said, as they descended together towards the forest floor. "I'm going to let you choose. Which way do you prefer sleeping? On the side? On your back?"

Bêlit seemed to be giving Lightning the silent treatment. Lightning shrugged. "On the side it is."

With a deft flick, Lightning's cloak unfurled in the air, and settled upon the pair, covering them both. Lightning pushed her hands underneath Bêlit's armpits, and then interlocked her fingers just at her bosom. She tossed her left leg over Bêlit's waist, and then buried her face in the area behind Bêlit neck.

I'm spooning with a barbarian witch queen, Lightning thought. Great.

"You're probably flexible enough to wriggle your way out of all these knots," Lightning said, murmuring into Bêlit's hair. "But I think I've made it complicated enough that it'd take you about a half hour. You have no way of freeing yourself without me noticing. If you try to escape, I'll know. Now, what you need to understand about me is that I tend to be at my grouchiest when I'm sleep-deprived." Here, Lightning allowed the silence of the woods to linger for a few moments. "So if you want tomorrow to go by as painlessly as possible, it's probably in your best interests to let me rest. Don't disturb me. Just keep tight, and go to sleep. We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow."

The leaves rustled, and the wind blew, and strange animals signalled in the darkness, and Lightning waited for a response from her captive, but none came. Eventually, she lowered her head into the improvised pillow that was her rucksack, closed her eyes, and waited for sleep to come.

And then Bêlit spoke again. "Lightning," she said.

Lightning did not open her eyes. "Yes," she replied, with consternation.

All the fight had gone from Bêlit's voice. "When I offered you my hand as queen," she said, "I..."

Bêlit faltered. The silence stretched on, and Lightning opened her eyes, and waited for her to continue.

"It seems I did not make clear my...regard...for you," Bêlit said, at last. Bêlit was tired. Very tired. "I would defeat you in battle, and I would claim you as a prize, but I would never...I would never divest you of your pride."

Lightning peered into the shadows. She wasn't sure what Bêlit expected her to say.

"I would never divest you of your pride."

()()()()()()()()()()

When morning came, Lightning's throat had not been torn out. Her eyes were still in good working order. Her skull was intact.

Bêlit was still lying next to her. Emerging from sleep, it took Lightning a few moments to remember in whose company she was.

Lightning gazed at the abundance of black hair before her, and groaned in dismay.

()()()()()()()()()

From the moment they were washed ashore, to the moment they settled down to sleep, Bêlit had generally been muted and uncommunicative.

Now that Bêlit was fully rested, however, the fire inside her had leapt back to life.

First, Lightning was required to undo all the knots with which she had restrained her prisoner. For a full hour, Lightning was bent over Bêlit's sitting form, tugging at ends and picking at clumps, Bêlit mocking and chiding and taunting her every second that passed.

"Oh, I once admired you so!" she trilled. "I was so captivated by your strength, your skill, your poise! Alas, now that illusion is shattered! Your wits aren't the sharpest, are they? If you had been an intelligent warrior – a warrior worthy of Etro – you would have been able to bind me in an unfathomably complex network of knots, all of which would have come apart with the merest pull of a particular string. Regrettably, you'll never be renowned for your intelligence, will you?"

Such a fantastic way to begin the day.

Next, Lightning needed to find breakfast for the both of them. She tied Bêlit to a tree, and then set off through the woods, searching for fruit, or mushrooms, or some animal that she could

"Hah!" Bêlit crowed, her voice loud and belligerent, finding Lightning through the trees and foliage, wherever she happened to be. "You have bound my arms, you have isolated me from my crew, and yet still you serve me! Carry on, servant! Fetch your queen her breakfast!"

Lightning groaned. If she happened to find mushrooms, she was testing them on Bêlit first to see if they were poisonous.

Eventually, Lightning returned with a bundle of fruit piled in her arms. For variety, there were large grub-like creatures that she had scooped out of a cavity in the side of a tree.

Bêlit had a ravenous appetite. With eager fingers, she shovelled the grubs into her mouth. She gorged herself on the fruit, biting and munching and chewing, her lips and teeth smearing with red, juice trickling down her jaw and dripping from her chin.

Lightning watched from the corner of her eye. She watched, and Lightning knew that Bêlit knew she was watching.

Was Bêlit's entire life a performance?

How did Bêlit behave when she believed that the eyes of others were not upon her?

()()()()()()()()()()()

The forest was vast, and Bêlit's constant snipes and barbs did not help with the passing of time. The pair walked for hours and hours, and not once discovered any signs of intelligent creatures inhabiting the woods – no cabins, no little cottages, no villages, no vessels drifting down rivers.

Sometime in the late afternoon, Bêlit turned, and viewed Lightning askance. "What are your intentions, Valkyrie?" she said.

Lightning seemed almost wistful. "Getting away from you, as far as I can."

Bêlit gave a snort of derision. "And so you keep me in bondage, and guide me about as though I were your hound?"

"I'm not stupid, Bêlit," Lightning said. "You're nuts, and if I let you go – not to say that I wouldn't like the peace and quiet – you'll be hiding around in the shadows, or in the undergrowth, waiting for your chance to cut my throat."

"I do not skulk in the muck, Valkyrie, any more than you do. If you release me, I would regain my strength, and confront you in plain sight."

"Yeah, yeah," Lightning said, scanning the near-distance.

Another few paces, and then Bêlit spoke again. "When you are rid of me," she said, her attentions not turning from the way ahead, "what then?"

Now a faraway look came across Lightning's face. "I'm going to continue my journey home," she said.

"Ah, yes. You mentioned your world's name, what was it...Pulse, was it? Tell me of your world."

There may have been a few people in the multiverse that Lightning was willing to give free history lessons; Bêlit was not one of them. "It's seen better days," she said, simply.

"Do you have a family in Pulse? A mother and father? Brothers and sisters? A husband? A wife?"

"Wouldn't you like to know."

Bêlit cackled, and peered at Lightning with a scandalous glint in her eyes. "Do you imagine me jealous?"

"No," said Lightning, returning her gaze. "I imagine that you're crazy enough to go after them, when you realize you can't beat me."

This gave Bêlit food for thought. "Perhaps I am," she said. "I would have to be quite obsessed with you to hunt after your family though, wouldn't I?"

Then the trees thinned out, and Lightning and Bêlit found themselves in a clearing.

In the centre of this clearing was a sculpture.

Sometime in the not-at-all distant past, an artist had taken tools – hammers, and chisels, and picks, and scalpels, and saws, and blades – and carved an image from a lump of material.

The sculpture was floating in the middle of the clearing, now. It had been suspended in the air, about fifteen feet above the ground, by ropes tied to trees.

The sculpture was not carved from stone.

The sculpture was not carved from wood.

The sculpture was not carved from mud, or clay, or ice, or metal, or plastic.

When she first saw the sculpture, Bêlit's pace slowed to a halt. Lightning noticed that she had stopped, and then she saw the sculpture, also.

The two women slowly crossed the clearing, drawing as close to the carving as they found comfortable. Bêlit ventured the furthest; a tug of the cord, and she was pulled back. Lightning had gone white, her eyes wide and horrified, her mouth twisted in a sickened grimace. Bêlit peered with detached fascination at the pool of dried gristle that had collected beneath the piece.

A cloud of flies buzzed around the shape.

"Monstrous," Bêlit whispered.

"Well," Lightning muttered. "This, uh...this changes things."