Soren swallowed hard. “I’m not.”
“But you have a mark on your forehead.”
“I...” Soren found himself automatically backing away. “I didn’t...”
Ike touched his arm. “Calm down. Didn’t I just say I had laguz friends?”
Soren screwed up his eyes, forcing himself to stay in control. Now wasn’t the time to break down. “I’m not a laguz. I’m a filthy abomination of the Goddess’s teachings.”
“Stop saying that to yourself! That’s an order.” Ike shook him by the shoulders. “You’re not filthy, and you’re certainly not an abomination. I don’t care who your parents were, Soren. It only matters who you are. Soren, look at me.”
Reluctantly, Soren opened his eyes.
“If the Goddess didn’t want you born, then you wouldn’t have been born.” Soren made to open his mouth, but Ike continued before he had the chance to say anything. “Even if laguz and beorc relationships seem...cursed, doesn’t that mean that your parents wanted you even in spite of that? Your laguz parent knew exactly what would happen. They sacrificed their powers because they thought that your life was worth it. And my father must have thought that you were worth something, too, if he saved your life.”
Soren turned away. “You simply don’t understand.” The skies were darkening around them, and drops of cold rain hit the skin on his bare hands and face like shards of ice.
“Then help me to.”
“Fine!” Soren angrily turned to face Ike once again. “My father tricked my mother into loving him because he was desperate for an heir! He didn’t know about the Branded - when he found out the truth, he disowned me! I spent the early years of my life being raised by a woman who despised every fibre of my being and made no secret of it. She eventually sold me off to an old sage who saw my mark and thought I was a spirit-charmer - the only time in my entire life that anyone ever showed any interest in me, and it was only because he mistakenly thought that I had special powers.”
“Soren...” Ike’s voice ached with sympathy, but the young mage ignored it.
“The sage died when I was eight years old. I’ve had to fend for myself ever since then - and I don’t know how long that is, other than longer than my body would attest to. I cover myself up to hide the fact that I age so slowly, but my height still gives me away. When I was younger, I realised that the beorc children threw stones at me when they saw my Brand. Because I couldn’t easily hide it, I tried so hard to scrub it off that my forehead was raw and bleeding by the time I had finished. And it was still there, like a stain I couldn’t get rid of. The mark of a curse. The mark of the curse that my own parents wrought on me by their thoughtlessness! The parents that you claim loved me so much!” Soren broke off, choking on the bitterness of his own voice.
The rain was coming in torrents now, streaming down the faces of both young men. Despite the oppressive cloud, there was no storm - no thunder or lightning to break the heaviness of the air. “I’m sorry.” Ike’s words were nearly lost on the wind. “And I know that my feelings don’t change anything, either. But...I’m glad I understand.”
Soren remained silent. After such an outburst, he had very few words left. Truthfully, he couldn’t quite believe that he had said so much in such a short span of time - nor, indeed, that he had said it to someone whom he had no reason whatsoever to trust. But there was something about Ike that drew Soren to confide in him. And Soren hated him for it.