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Chosen Paths

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Colin was on his back with all four of his paws in the air, squirming in pleasure as the girl concentrated on tickling the little writhing little monster's fluffy belly.  Byleth watched them, first in amusement and then with a bit of confusion.

'How come he can see you?'  She asked the child suddenly.  'How are you touching him?'

'He's a cat.'  She replied simply, a luminous smile on her face.

'I know he's a cat.'  Byleth's brow knitted.  'Is this an indication that you are not simply a figment of my imagination?' 

'Do you really believe that your limited imagination could stretch to create the wonder that is me?'  The girl replied tartly, glancing at the young woman and tossing back her long green hair.  'Have you never witnessed a cat staring intently at an empty space before?  It is quite normal for a feline to see things that others cannot.' 

'But you are physically stroking him.' 

The child giggled.  'He insisted to me that he required to be stroked and his own will made it happen.  He is a cat, after all.'

Byleth's bemusement grew. 

'Besides which, this place we have come to...'  The child's look became intense.  'Everything is different here.  I feel... much freer -  so maybe I am touching the cat in reality.'   She shrugged, her dainty shoulders making the gesture quite adorable.

Byleth sat at the table and poured a cold cup of tea from the dregs in the pot.  She drank it down quickly.  'I'm probably just insane.' She decided.

'How very dramatic.'  The girl said dryly.  'That is what Jeralt believes though, I can think of no other reason for him to have brought you here.'

'He didn’t bring me here.  It was just chance that we rescued those young people.' Byleth objected.

'This was his intended destination.  I am sure of it.'

Byleth's brow rose.  'Suddenly, you know everything?'  She challenged.  'You only remembered your own name a day ago.'

'Sothis.'  The girl nodded.  'It is an excellent name, don’t you think?'

'And you learned you can turn back time.'  Byleth paused.  'Actually, that did really happen.  Another indication that you are real, I suppose.'

'Made you look quite the hero.'  Sothis smirked.  'Rescuing the fair maiden from the nasty bandits.  No wonder all those brat's want you for themselves.'

'So what did you make of them?'  Byleth asked curiously.

'The brats?'  Sothis was silent for a second.  'I think it's what you thought of them that was more interesting personally.'  Her reply was cryptic, and she gazed at Byleth with an infuriatingly enigmatic smile.

'Oh?  Care to expand on that, or are you just trying to annoy me even more?'

'You were amused many times this afternoon.  I have not felt that emotion from you before.'  Sothis noted.

'Generally, there isn’t much amusement to be found in day after day of relentless fighting.' 

'Hmm.  I see your point.'  The girl agreed.  'What is it that is different here then?  Is it that you are not going to working as a mercenary?'

Byleth's impassive expression betrayed some surprise as she thought about the question.  'I don't dislike being a mercenary.'  She replied.  'I did think that I was going to have to work as a servant here.  I doubted I would be required as a fighter since they have the Knights.  Of course, I didn’t know that Jeralt had led the Knights at one stage.'  The words sounded sour in her mouth, but she quickly tried to shake away her budding resentment.  'I am curious as to why he left and took to the road.'  She admitted.  'It was obviously not because he had shamed himself - judging by the welcome he's received at his return.'

'You could ask him.'  Sothis sounded amused.

'Then he would unquestionably believe that I had become unhinged.  We don’t do talking.'

'Things change child.'

'Not that much.'  Byleth chuckled suddenly.  'I admit that I am also finding myself feeling freer Sothis.  Do you think that is simply because you do?'

'Perhaps, or maybe it's just that we are both affected by the same ambiance.'  Sothis leaned forward to peer at Byleth closely.  'You also seem more engaged.'  She decided.  'Less... distant.'

'I am feeling curiosity.'  Byleth agreed.

'It's a good feeling for you.  It seems to have sparked your brain into action.  You are not quite so much the dullard I initially feared.'  Sothis' smirk was back.

'Sadly you are still just as forgetful, however.'  Byleth retorted.  'Are you going to tell me what you thought of the students?'

'The usual mix of intention, fear, and hormones.  Rather usual for their age.'  Sothis replied sagely.  'Genuinely an eclectic mix of personalities though.  Have you decided which you wish to mentor?'

'No.'  Byleth scowled.  'Claude suggesting that I would be rejecting the others by choosing one has just made things much harder as well.'

'Do you care what they think?'

'I...'  Byleth again looked surprised.  'No... I mean, no - I don’t care, but at the same time I don’t want to disappoint.  If I am given a job I do it.  As well as I can.'

'Your job is to pick.'  Sothis pointed out.

'Right.  Yes right!' 

'So, whom do you pick?'  Sothis was grinning at the chagrin on Byleth's face.  'All of your sudden expression is also interesting... and amusing!'  She laughed.

Byleth ignored the girl and knitted her brow.

'It should be easy to choose.'  She muttered.  'It would surely be best if I were to utilize my known abilities and mentor the house with the most martial potential.  From my interactions I would gage that to be the Lions.  Not only does their leader have actual field experience, but there are already existing ties between the majority of house members and at the very least Dimitri, Ingrid, Dedue and Felix look to have established skills.  Annette and Mercedes also have prior training in magical arts as well as a positive relationship.  Ashe is eager, and Sylvain... is a bit of an unknown.'

'So you will pick the Prince and his Lions?'  Sothis asked.

'Well, there is the consideration of whether I should instead choose to mentor the team that has the least coherency and experience instead - rather than just take on the strongest.  Use my experience to build something out of nothing.'  Byleth's fingers were drumming the table as she studied the house list.  'I would deem that to be the Deers.  It would be a proper challenge - but it should be achievable with some hard work.  I noted a measure of enthusiasm at least...'

'Indeed, so you favor the Scheming Lord and his misfits?'  Sothis sounded less sure this time.

'But then there is the middle ground.  Edelgard is a strong woman, and there are some with obvious ability in her house, and some that are just plain odd.  Merging them into a team would challenge but strengthening what exists and making it more is... exceptionally appealing.'

'You have no idea do you?'  Sothis grumbled.

'None.'  Byleth agreed.

'So what will you do?'  The girl removed her hand from the now sleeping kitten and stood.

'I believe I will ask to be assigned a team and go with what I am told.  I have no preference.  I'd rather be a teacher to them all if I am to be a teacher at all.'

'You can't avoid choosing your own path forever Byleth.'  Sothis murmured, daintily stepping across the room to the window.  'Your handsome stalker is right outside again.'  She noted with a smile.

'Shit.  Really?'  Byleth groaned.

'He is looking rather confused too.'  Sothis added.  'After all, you have been talking rather animatedly to yourself for a while now!'

Byleth had marched to the window and flung it open, dumping the contents of the copper kettle that had been resting away from the fire over the young man's head as he crouched under her sill.

'Get lost, Claude.'  She barked.

'You are so violent!'  He accused with a huge grin, standing himself up and planing away the dripping water from his hair.  'But hey, now I know you were telling the truth when you told me you hadn’t decided who you would pick.  Means I'm still in with a shot right, teach?'

'Much less of one now, you sneak!'  She snarled, slamming the window shut.

'You really do like him, don't you.'  Sothis observed.

'Liking him would be both ill-advised and dangerous.'  Byleth muttered watching the lad stroll away as if nothing had happened.

'So what is your next plan of action?' 

Byleth sighed and replaced the kettle by the fire.  'I will talk to the other Professors next and get their insight I think.'

'Actually that's a good plan!'  Sothis approved.

'Im getting a sore throat from all of this damned talking.'  Byleth complained.